Operation Condor Trial Tackles Coordinated Campaign by Latin American Dictatorships to Kill Leftists March 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
Tags: amy goodman, cia, dina, dirty war, ed koch, history, human rights, john dinges, juan gonzalez, kissinger, Latin America, letelier, operation condor, pinochet, roger hollander, ronni moffitt, U.S. imperialism
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Roger’s note: The world media is focused on Argentina from where the worlds largest patriarchal, misogynist, authoritarian, homophobic institution has chosen its new leader. At the same time in Argentina, a trial is being held which reflects on the world’s most violent imperial nation. The two events are related with respect to the massive and systematic violation of human rights.
http://www.democracynow.org, March 2, 2013
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial that began Tuesday in Argentina is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign, known as Operation Condor, involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. They worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labeled as terrorists: leftist activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.
The campaign was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and evidence shows the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. At least 25 military generals are facing charges, and more than 500 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial. Last August, an Argentine federal judge issued a formal request to the Obama administration’s Justice Department to make Kissinger himself available for questioning. The Obama administration did not respond.
AMY GOODMAN: This trial is taking place in Buenos Aires, the site of a former auto mechanic shop turned torture camp. Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor. All of this comes just weeks after Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had allowed similar prosecutions in that country.
Well, for more, we’re joined by John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. The book brings together interviews and declassified intelligence records to reconstruct the once-secret events. Before that, Dinges was with NPR and worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America. He is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
John Dinges, welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN DINGES: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this trial that’s now underway in Argentina.
JOHN DINGES: Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.
This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, for folks who have never heard of Operation Condor or know little about it, the origins of it, how it began, and the nations or the governments that spearheaded it, could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Well, it is a Chilean invention. Augusto Pinochet had dominated his opposition by—the coup was in 1973; by 1974, there was no internal opposition to speak of. But many of the people who had been part of the previous government, that he had overthrown, had gone overseas. There was a very major, important general who was living in Argentina. Political leaders, for example, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States, somebody who would have lunch with Henry Kissinger, was living in Washington. People were spread around, in Europe and all over Latin America, and Pinochet wanted to go after them. And so he mounted Operation Condor.
And he convinced the other countries—Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay—to go along with him, with the argument that there are these guerrilla operations that are a threat to all of them. And there was indeed a guerrilla operation, called the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta, of people who were taking up arms against these governments. And the idea was that they would cooperate in tracking these people down. And they did.
Most of the—the biggest part of the exiles were in Argentina, because Argentina was the last country to give up its civilian government. It wasn’t a dictatorship until March of 1976. And this was created in late 1975. So they were all geared up. And when the coup happened in Argentina, they began killing hundreds of people, of these foreigners. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the Automotores Orletti. This is that auto repair shop that was used as a torture center, and that’s where they kept the international prisoners.
AMY GOODMAN: We, Democracy Now!, went there, visited this shop. I want to read from a declassified record of a CIA briefing that shows that American officials were aware that Latin intelligence services were casting their net wide in Operation Condor. It says, quote, “They are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’ … a word which increasingly translates into nonviolent dissent from the left and center left.”
It goes on to another document that you obtained, John Dinges, that’s from the Chilean secret police, known as the DINA. It details the number of dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine intelligence. The cable, sent by DINA’s attaché to Buenos Aires, says he’s, quote, “sending a list of all the dead,” which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid-’78, he reported, quote, “they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared.” Talk about the the number of the dead and what the U.S. knew.
JOHN DINGES: Well, let’s do the U.S. first. The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments. Whatever it was, the result was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.
When they began mass killings, the United States was aware of these mass killings. When they—they learned of Condor shortly after it was created. There’s no evidence that they knew about it the day it was created. The earliest evidence is a couple months after it began its operations. But they certainly knew these things were happening. And if you look at the meetings, the transcripts of the meetings between Henry Kissinger and these leaders, both in Argentina and in Chile, where we have the records, what do they say in private? You know, “We support what you are doing. We understand that you have to assert your authority. Try your best to release some prisoners, because I’m under a lot of pressure in Congress, because the Democrats are trying to make me, you know, defend human rights. Do the best you can, but I understand what you’re doing.”
And in one case, two weeks after Kissinger visited Santiago, there was a—the second major meeting of all the Condor countries to discuss Condor. And at that meeting, in June 1976, they approved operations for assassination outside of Latin America. The first assassination that occurred was in Washington, D.C. Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister, was killed on the streets of Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: This is an astounding story. You wrote a book about it, in fact.
JOHN DINGES: And this is—I’ve written actually two books, one about the assassination, in which I, for the first time, wrote a chapter on the discovery of Operation Condor. I didn’t have a lot of detail. In fact, I was misled by the State Department, to a certain extent.
And then, years later, after Pinochet was arrested in London, a flood of documents, including many, many—60,000 pages of documents released by—ordered released by President Clinton, I was able to then, you know, really dig in and understand it from the point of view of the United States. But also, many, many documents were revealed in Latin America. And that is, I think, even more important, because if we just had U.S. documents, it’s always subject to: “Well, that’s the U.S. view of these things.” What was really going on in those Latin American governments—
AMY GOODMAN: But explain how Ron—how Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in the streets of Washington, D.C., in the United States, in 1976.
JOHN DINGES: Pinochet began this operation shortly after that meeting with Kissinger. Within a month, he gave the order approving this. They sent an agent who had been working for DINA for several years named Michael Townley, an American. I don’t believe it was any accident that they made an American working for them the hit man on this, because, obviously, as soon as suspicion was cast on them, they said, “Oh, this guy was working for the CIA.” And a lot of people like to believe the CIA does all these things. In fact, both the extreme right and the extreme left were saying, “Oh, it was the CIA who did it.” There’s no evidence that Townley was working for the CIA, but he certainly was working for the Chileans.
He allied with some Cubans up in New Jersey, anti-Castro Cubans. They came down to Washington. They—Townley crawled under the car, installed a bomb that he had constructed himself. It was run by one of those old beeper devices. They followed the car down Massachusetts Avenue, and at Sheridan Circle, right outside near the Chilean embassy, they pushed the button, killed him. Ronni Moffitt was the wife of Michael Moffitt, who was actually Orlando’s assistant. She was sitting in the front seat, and that’s why she was killed. Michael survived, and Orlando of course was devastated, died immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: And Townley went to jail for a few years. And then—
JOHN DINGES: Townley—the Chileans turned him over. The story of how we solved this case is incredible. The presumption was that the United States is not going to investigate this very strongly. Everybody that thought that was wrong. The FBI did—made an enormous investigation, solved the case, got pictures of the people. And that’s the long story that I tell in the book. When they identified the people that had come up to the United States to carry this out, they went down to Chile, asked for the cooperation of the Pinochet government. And Pinochet eventually—they had two choices: Either they were going to kill Townley—and there’s evidence that that was one of their plans—or they had to turn him over. And they eventually turned him over. He was taken to the United States, and he began to give testimony. And another flood of information came from Michael Townley. Townley still lives in the United States. He served only five years in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: And then went into witness protection.
JOHN DINGES: And was in witness protection for a while. I understand he’s not anymore in witness protection. He lives in the Midwest. And he’s—he has cooperated. I don’t know whether there’s any remorse on his part, but he has cooperated with many investigations since his imprisonment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I’d like to ask you about an unusual figure that you talk about in the book and his role in trying to end Operation Condor: Ed Koch, the recently deceased mayor of New York, who was then a young liberal congressman and who began asking all kinds of questions about what was going on and angered our own government. Could you talk about that?
JOHN DINGES: Ed Koch, a beloved figure in this city, and certainly everybody that’s dealt with him has had the same experience. And I was reporting this story. He was very cooperative with me. And he came to my book party, so I love him, too.
Ed Koch was a congressman. He spearheaded a bill, an amendment to a bill, to cut off military aid to Uruguay. The Uruguayans were members—this was 1976. The Uruguayans were members of Operation Condor. And the CIA discovered—and I think the evidence is that they discovered because they were—they talked about it in front of them, that they said they were going to get the Chileans to go up to Washington to kill Koch. And whether that actually was put into action, we don’t know. But George Bush, who was head of the CIA at the time, called up Ed Koch and said, “Ed” — and it’s wonderful to hear Ed Koch tell this story — ”I’ve got to tell you something: There’s a plot to kill you.” And Ed Koch said, “Are you going to provide me protection?” They said, “No, no, no. That’s not our job. We’re the CIA. We’re just telling you, and it’s up to you to provide your own protection.” Ed Koch didn’t know this was Operation Condor. He just thought this was some crazy people from the dictatorship.
Later on, in my investigation, I was—I actually talked to one of the people who was involved in this, one of the Uruguayans, and who—it was a Condor operation. It was kind of a typical one, even though it didn’t actually kill anybody, luckily. But it was the modus operandi. In order to cover their tracks, one country would use another country’s nationals to do their dirty work in the operations that were planned outside of Latin America. Inside of Latin America, you had a much more systematic and effective way of operating, in which they would just track down each other’s dissidents in whatever country they happened to be—Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, mainly in Argentina. And then they would—the methodology was simple: capture them, kidnap them, torture them, kill them, make their bodies disappear. Very few victims have survived Operation Condor, almost none. It’s very difficult to find a survivor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, today in Latin America, many of the leaders of the new populist governments were folks who had emerged from some of the very groups that Condor was tracking. And Uruguay especially, a former Tupamaro. And throughout the region, those dissidents now are part of the governing apparatus of their countries.
JOHN DINGES: I was in Bolivia just two weeks ago, and I interviewed one of the—one of the people in the Ministry of Communications, and a man who’s among the many, many, many indigenous people who are in the Morales government. And he described how his father had been a prisoner, had been in Chile as an exile. When the military coup happened, he was imprisoned and kept prisoner for seven months and tortured. And I talked to, in that same office, another person who also had been involved in the Bolivian resistance in the 1980s, going back with the group that had fought together with Che Guevara in the 1960s. His father had been involved with them.
These are revolutionaries, but they are a different brand of revolutionaries. They are as dedicated, I think, but they’re not taking up arms. I really believe that they realize that that did not lead to successful revolutions, and so I’m much more optimistic about what’s going on with the—with this current group of governments.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?
JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—
AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.
JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?
JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?
JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.
The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.
I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Dave Riker and actress Abbie Cornish about a new film about human smuggling on the border, called The Girl. Stay with us.
How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth February 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Chile, Latin America, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: 9/11, bagram, cia prisons, counterterrorism, donald rumsfeld, globalizing torture, greg grandin, Guantanamo, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, mahar arar, operation condor, pinochet, rendition, roger hollander, torture, war on terror, wikileaks
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The Latin American Exception
(Max Fisher — The Washington Post)
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”
In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.
Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.
The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome. The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.
When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques — and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks. In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces. Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage. Then 9/11 happened.
“Oh My Goodness”
In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers. “Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important.” Indeed.
This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got. Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point? After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.
There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” — an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.
“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.” Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere. Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”
“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”
A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers. On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.
Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit. As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”
Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains. Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.” His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”
Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.
Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment… caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”
Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets. Rahma froze to death.
And so the Open Society report goes… on and on and on.
Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments. Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command. As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.
But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side. His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history. It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model — think of it as Reaganism on steroids — that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years. Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.
Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela. Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S. In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another. In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.
In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region. Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.
A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.
“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said. It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law. “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”
In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act. It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.
Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.” The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.
One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” — that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties – “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.” In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many. One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.
Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.
In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez. Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.” But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”
There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place! It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington. The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.
Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War
Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched. It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico. The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years. Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom — the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America — can operate more or less at will. A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.
Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations. U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic. The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.
But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine. Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.
Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Tags: amazonia, Brazil, environmeni, genocide, gold miners, indigenous, mining, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: profits from the extraction of valuable metals by miners versus human lives. Who wins?
Published on Thursday, August 30, 2012 by Common Dreams
Up to 80 Yanomami in Venezuela killed by Brazilian gold miners
As many as 80 Yanomami Indians have been killed in a “massacre” carried out by unauthorized gold miners from Brazil, leaving charred remains of a community and polluted rivers in its wake.
Survival International, a London-based groups that works for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide, says that the massacre took place in July but news of the event is only coming to light now due to the community’s remote location in Venezuela’s Momoi region close to the border with Brazil.
The Guardian reports on the details of the massacre: “According to local testimonies an armed group flew over in a helicopter, opening fire with guns and launching explosives into Irotatheri settlement in the High Ocamo area. The village was home to about 80 people and only three had been accounted for as survivors, according to people from a neighbouring village and indigenous rights activists.”
Witnesses who saw the aftermath of the massacre reported seeing “burnt bodies and bones” and a burnt communal home.
Luis Shatiwe Yanomami, a leader of the Yanomami organization Horonami, told Survival International that the problem of illegal mining has been ongoing. “‘For three years we have been denouncing the situation. There are lots of goldminers working illegally in the forest.”
Luis Bello, a lawyer in Puerto Ayacucho who defends indigenous rights, says that these mining activities are on the rise and “have also become more sophisticated. They used to fly in and land in clandestine strips, now they come in helicopters and use huge extracting machinery that is decimating the jungle.”
Survival International says that the number of unauthorized gold miners in Yanomami territory now number 1,000. When they come, they bring diseases like malaria to the isolated tribe. The mining itself is devastating to the local environment, as it pollutes rivers with mercury. On top of the mining, the tribe faces threats from cattle ranchers who bring deforestation to the rainforest.
“This is another appalling tragedy for the Yanomami – heaping crime upon crime. All Amazonian governments must stop the rampant illegal mining, logging and settlement in indigenous territories. It inevitably leads to massacres of Indian men, women and children. The Venezuelan authorities must now bring the killers to swift justice, and send a signal throughout the region that Indians can no longer be killed with impunity. The mining and logging must be stopped,” said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International
Tags: bleo monte, Brazil, brazilian congress, brazilian dam, brazilian judge, environmentalists, evnironment, greenhouse gas, hydro-electric dam, indigenous
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Brazilian Federal court finds Belo Monte hydro-electric dam licenses invalid, indigenous peoples were not consulted
(photo: International Rivers via Flickr)
A victory came to activists in Brazil on Tuesday when a federal judge halted construction on the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Amazon, saying that the indigenous peoples had not been consulted.
The impacts of the dam, which would have been the third largest hydro-electric dam in the world, had long been slammed by indigenous groups and environmental activists who said that it would have displaced thousands and wreaked havoc upon the ecosystem while contributing to greenhouse gases.
When the Brazilian Congress gave approval for the dam in 2005, there were no consultations with the indigenous peoples about the environmental impacts, a fact that Judge Souza Prudente found in violation of the Brazilian Constitution.
“A study on the environmental impact of the project was required before, not after, work on the dam started. The legislation is flawed,” Judge Souza Prudente told O Globo newspaper.
“The Brazilian Congress must take into account the decisions taken by the indigenous communities. Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” he said.
Souza Prudente remarked at a press conference that “only in a dictatorial regime does a government approve a project before holding consultations.”
Indigenous groups lauded the court ruling. “It’s a historic decision for the country and for the native communities,” said Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Vivo indigenous movement.
“It’s a great victory which shows that Belo Monte is not a done deal. We are very happy and satisfied.”
Zachary Hurwitz of International Rivers writes that “the decision supports the arguments that the affected tribes have been making over the lifetime of Belo Monte: tribes will face downstream livelihood impacts as a result of a reduction in the flow of the Xingu River on the 100-km stretch known as the Volta Grande or ‘Big Bend,’ and were never properly consulted, much less gave their consent.”
Hurwitz adds that the economic rationale dam proponents pushed is fundamentally flawed. “Economic rationale for the dam is based on a projected economic growth of 5% or more a year, but over the past few quarters, GDP has been lucky to grow at even a measly rate. As far as Belo Monte’s importance to Brazil’s economic race, this is really a case of the horse following the wagon.”
“And, as illustrated by this historic court decision, the wagon has been trampling on indigenous people and their rights, along the way,” writes Hurwitz.
Occupy the Dam: Brazil’s Indigenous Uprising July 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: #occupy movement, belo monte, Brazil, brazil government, brazil rainforest, civil disobedience, coffer dams, environment, hydroelectric, indigenous, john perkinsl, protest, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: the author of the article posted below, John Perkins, has written ”Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” his account of his personal involvement in measures to create debt in third world countries in order to gain political leverage over their governments. These “measures” range from bribes to falsified reports to the probable assassination of the presidents of Panama and Ecuador. I highly recommend this book: it is available as an Ebook.
In the Amazonian backcountry, tribes are challenging construction of the world’s third-largest dam—by dismantling it. Here’s what they can teach us about standing up to power.
Indigenous tribesmen stand firm near the Belo Monte Dam. (Photos courtesy of International Rivers)
Last month, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators began dismantling a dam in the heart of Brazil’s rainforest to protest the destruction it will bring to lands they have loved and honored for centuries. The Brazilian government is determined to promote construction of the massive, $14 billion Belo Monte Dam, which will be the world’s third largest when it is completed in 2019. It is being developed by Norte Energia, a consortium of ten of the world’s largest construction, engineering, and mining firms set up specifically for the project.
The Belo Monte Dam is the most controversial of dozens of dams planned in the Amazon region and threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Amazonian people, plants, and animals. Situated on the Xingu River, the dam is set to flood roughly 150 square miles of already-stressed rainforest and deprive an estimated 20,000 people of their homes, their incomes, and—for those who succumb to malaria, bilharzia, and other diseases carried by insects and snails that are predicted to breed in the new reservoir—their lives. Moreover, the influx of immigrants will bring massive disruption to the socioeconomic balance of the region. People whose livelihoods have primarily depended on hunting and gathering or farming may suddenly find themselves forced to take jobs as manual laborers, servants, and prostitutes.
History has shown again and again that dams in general wreak havoc in areas where they are built, despite promises to the contrary by developers and governments. Hydroelectric energy is anything but “clean” when measured in terms of the excruciating pain it causes individuals, social institutions, and local ecology. The costs—often hidden—include those associated with the privatization of water; the extinction of plants that might provide cures for cancer, HIV, and other diseases; the silting up of rivers and lakes; and the disruption of migratory patterns for many species of birds.
The indigenous cultures threatened by the Belo Monte Dam, including those of the Xikrin, Juruna, Arara, Parakanã, Kuruaya and Kayapó tribes, are tied to the land: generations have hunted and gathered and cultivated the same areas for centuries. They—as well as local flora and fauna—have suffered disproportionately from the effects of other hydroelectric dams, while rarely gaining any of the potential benefits. Now they are fighting back.
Indigenous leaders from these groups have asked the Brazilian government to immediately withdraw the installation license for Belo Monte. They demand a halt to work until the government puts into place “effective programs and measures to address the impacts of the dam on local people.” They point out that a promised monetary program to compensate for the negative impacts of the mega-dam has not yet been presented in local villages; also, that a system to ensure small boat navigation in the vicinity of the cofferdams, temporary enclosures built to facilitate the construction process, has not been implemented. Without such a system, many will be isolated from markets, health care facilities, and other services. The cofferdams have already rendered much of the region’s water undrinkable and unsuitable for bathing. Wells promised by the government and Norte Energia have not yet been drilled. The list of grievances goes on and on and is only the latest in a very old story of exploitation of nature and people in the name of “progress.” Far too often, this has meant benefiting only the wealthiest in society and business.
Yet here in the backcountry of Brazil, there is a difference: the makings of a new story. The indigenous people’s occupation of the dam garnered international attention, connecting their situation to other events across the globe—the Arab Spring, democratic revolutions in Latin America, the Occupy Movement, and austerity strikes in Spain and other European nations. Brazil’s indigenous protesters have essentially joined protesters on every continent who are demanding that rights be restored to the people.
Stories take time to evolve. This one—the story of people awakening on a global level to the need to oppose and replace exploitative dreams—is still in its beginning phase. And the first chapter has been powerful, elegant, and bold.
A few years ago I was invited, with a group, to Ladakh, a protectorate of India, to meet with the Dalai Lama. Among a great deal of sage advice he offered was the following: “It is important to pray and meditate for peace, for a more compassionate and better world. But if that is all you do, it is a waste of time. You also must take actions to make that happen. Every single day.”
It is time for each and every one us to follow that advice.
Opposing the Belo Monte Dam project provides an opportunity for you and me to honor those words, and those leading resistance to it can help us understand the importance of looking around—in our neighborhoods as well as globally—to determine what else we can do to change the story.
Click here to view photo essay of the indigenous resistance to the Belo Monte Dam construction.
John Perkins is the author of New York Times bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hitman and, most recently, Hoodwinked: An Economic Hitman Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded—and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.
Amazon Indians Occupy Belo Monte Dam Site in Brazil June 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: amazon rainforest, belo monte, Brazil, brazil amazon, environment, gabriel elizondo, indigenous, indigenous protest
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An estimated 200 indigenous people from Brazil’s Amazon region have occupied a work area at the Belo Monte dam construction site, at least partially halting work on the controversial mega project on the Xingu river.
Indigenous people protesting the Belo Monte dam project on last week as the Rio+20 conference opened in Brazil. They say the dam will destroy their livelihoods along the Xingu River and have now occupied the construction site in hopes of shutting down the project. (European Press Photo Agency)
The indigenous people are from at least four tribes – the Xikrin, Juruna, Parakana and Araras – and are protesting against what they say is the negative effects of the construction.
They say the construction runoff is muddying the waters and drying up parts of the river they use to fish.
They are also upset that mitigation projects or compensation promised to the indigenous people by the builders to minimize effects of the construction have been slow to materialize.
The indigenous people have occupied one of work sites of the dam since last Thursday, making it the longest occupation of its kind on the construction site.
Click here to watch a video, shot by the Indian tribes during the opening phase of their occupation of a work site:
The builders have halted work on the part of the dam that is being occupied by the indigenous people, but say work continues unabated in other areas. (The construction site is so big it’s divided up into multiple work sites).
According to a local federal prosecutor, the builders’ judicial request to have the Indians removed by force by police was rejected by a federal judge over the weekend.
The Belo Monte Dam is the most controversial construction project in Brazil. It is scheduled to cost roughly $14bn, and the first turbine is expected to be operational by February 2015.
When completed, the dam will be the third largest in the world.
The Brazilian government says Belo Monte will provide much needed energy at minimal environmental impact. They also argue that hydroelectric dams are clean energy.
But environmentalists have said for years the social impacts – displacement of thousands of people, mostly indigenous people – not to mention environmental damage, are far worse than any potential benefits.
The dam, which was first proposed in the 1970s, has gone through numerous judicial and environmental injunctions in the past couple years. But with most of the hurdles seemingly passed last year, construction on the dam began in July 2011.
The construction ramped up in January this year.
As for the protest by Indians, nobody knows where this will go from here.
On Thursday a delegation from the capital Brasilia will arrive at the work site to speak directly to the Indians to try to reach a compromise.
In the meantime, hundreds of more indigenous peoples are reportedly in boats making their way to provide support.
In late January, I visited the construction site, and towards the end of the day the builders said we had to move away from the immediate work area. Why, I asked? Because there will be an explosion, we were told. A couple of times a day engineers use dynamite to blast away hard rock to make way for the dozens of bulldozers.
I saw the explosion. It’s powerful symbolism that could easily be interpreted as the builders’ way of saying: The time for debate is over, this project is moving forward.
As we are witnessing now, the indigenous people didn’t get the memo.
With the occupation of the dam work site they too are sending a clear signal:
The final chapter in the fight against this mega dam in the Amazon has yet to be written.
Murder in the Amazon June 22, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, Latin America.
Tags: amazon rainforest, avaaz, Brazil, brazil government, clear cutting, deforestation, dilma, earth summit, environment, roger hollander
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The Amazon is in serious
danger, the lower house of the Brazilian congress has approved a gutting
of Brazil’s forest protection laws. Unless we act now, vast tracts of our
planet’s lungs could be opened up to clear-cutting devastation.
The move has sparked widespread anger and protests across the country. And tension is rising — in the last few weeks, several prominent environmental advocates have been murdered, purportedly by armed thugs hired
by illegal loggers. The timing is critical, they’re trying to silence criticism just as the law is discussed in the Senate. But President Dilma can veto the changes, if we can persuade her to overcome political pressure and step onto the global stage as a leader.
79% of Brazilians support
Dilma’s veto of the forest law changes, but their voices are being
challenged by logger lobbies. It’s now up to all of us to raise the
stakes and make Amazon protection a global issue. Let’s come together now in
a giant call to stop the murders and illegal logging, and save the
Amazon. Sign the petition below — it’ll be delivered to Dilma when
we reach 500,000 signers:
People love Brazil! The sun, the music, the dancing, the football, the
nature — it’s a country that inspires millions around the world. This is
why Brazil is hosting the next World Cup, why Rio has the 2016 Olympics and
next year’s Earth Summit, a meeting to stop the slow death of our planet.
Our love is not misplaced — the Amazon Is vital to life on earth –
20% of our oxygen and 60% of our freshwater comes from this magnificent
rainforest. That’s why it’s so crucial that we all protect it.
Brazil is also a rapidly developing country, battling to lift tens of
millions out of poverty, and the pressure to clear-cut and mine for profit on
its political leaders is intense. This is why they’re dangerously close to
buckling on environmental protections. Local activists are being murdered,
intimidated and silenced, it’s up to Avaaz members across the world to stand
with Brazilians and urge Brazil’s politicians to be strong.
us have seen in our own countries how growth often comes at the expense of our
natural heritage, our waters and air get polluted, our forests die.
Brazil, there is an alternative. Dilma’s predecessor massively reduced
deforestation and cemented the country’s international reputation as an
environmental leader, while also enjoying huge economic growth. Let’s come
together now, and urge Dilma to follow in those footsteps — sign the
petition to save the Amazon, then forward this email to everyone:
In the last 3 years, Brazilian Avaaz members have taken massive leaps
towards the world we all want: They won landmark anti-corruption legislation,
and have lobbied their government to play a leadership role at the UN, protect
human rights and intervene to support democracy in the Middle East, and help
protect human rights in Africa and beyond.
Now, as brave Brazilian
activists are being killed for protecting a critical global resource,
let’s come together, and build an international movement to save the
Amazon and herald Brazil as a true international leader once more. Sign
the petition, then forward this email to everyone:
Emma, Ricken, Alice, Ben, Iain, Laura, Graziela, Luis
and the rest of the Avaaz Team
BBC — Brazil
passes ‘retrograde’ forest code:
– Another Amazon activist killed in logging conflict:
– Majority of Brazilians reject changes in Amazon Forest Code:
Science Insider — Furor Over Proposed Brazilian Forest Law:
– Death in the Amazon: a war being fought for us all:
Washington Post — Brazil’s lower house approves looser forest
Brazil’s forest bill threat to Amazon
Support the Avaaz
community! We’re entirely funded by donations and receive no money from
governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest
contributions go a long way — donate
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Tags: Brazil, catholic bigotry, catholic church, civil unions, gay marriage, gay rights, gay rights revolution, homophobia, human rights, katie soltis, Latin America, lgbt, same sex civil union, same-sex marriage
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The Brazilian Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex unions in early May marks the latest victory for gay rights in Latin America. The Court’s ruling grants equal legal rights to same-sex civil unions as those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, including retirement benefits, joint tax declarations, inheritance rights, and child adoption.While the Supreme Court did not go so far as to legalize gay marriage, gay rights groups such as Rio de Janeiro’s Rainbow Group have nevertheless praised the decision as an “historic achievement.”1 The decision passed 10-0 with one abstention, but the justice who abstained had previously spoken in favor of same-sex unions.
An Unlikely Victory
As the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, Brazil was an unlikely venue for such a promising gay rights victory. The Roman Catholic Church has actively fought proposals for same-sex unions in Brazil, arguing that the Brazilian Constitution defines a “family entity” as “a stable union between a man and a woman.”2 The Catholic Church responded to the recent ruling with outrage. As Archbishop Anuar Battisti put it, the Supreme Court’s decision marked a “frontal assault” on the sanctity of the family.3
The Catholic Church is losing its power in Brazil, which helped pave the way for the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of homosexuals. Nevertheless, homophobia retains a tenacious grip on Brazilian society. Despite the fact that the nation boasts the world’s largest gay pride parade, the LGBT movement has been unable to achieve fundamental progress and quell discrimination at a societal level. For instance, Marcelo Cerqueira, the head of the Gay Group of Bahia, claims the country is “number one when it comes to assassination, discrimination and violence against homosexuals.”4 Additionally, in a disconcerting report, the Gay Group of Bahia found that 260 Brazilian gay people were murdered in 2010, exemplifying the level of hostility towards homosexuals.5 Because of this discriminating environment, gay rights activists traditionally have had little success in Brazil. Most notably, Congress disregarded proposals for gay rights legislation for nearly ten years.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling was therefore a major turning point after a history of protracted, unsuccessful struggles. The judicial decision was made in response to two lawsuits, one of which was filed by Rio de Janeiro Governor Sérgio Cabral and the other by the Office of the Attorney General. While Congress repeatedly ignored requests for equal rights for gay Brazilian citizens, the Supreme Court argued that “Those who opt for a homosexual union cannot be treated less than equally as citizens.”6 In this way, by appealing to the judicial system, the LGBT movement was able to achieve success despite deep-seated hostility throughout Brazilian society and in other branches of the government.
Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution
Professor Omar Encarnación of Bard College calls the recent string of gay rights legislation in Latin America a “gay rights revolution.”7 Brazil’s ruling came on the heels of several other noteworthy gay rights victories in Latin America, such as Uruguay’s legalization of same-sex civil unions in 2007. Shortly thereafter, in 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American nation and eighth nation worldwide to legalize gay marriage. Other landmark decisions in the past few years include Uruguay’s decision to allow all men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, to serve in the military and Mexico City’s legalization of same-sex civil unions.
The recent surge in gay rights victories throughout Latin America is altogether stunning, considering the region has generally been regarded as very homophobic. The Catholic Church has traditionally been a formidable enemy to gay rights movements in the region, but the secularization of much of Latin America has led to the impressive expansion of opportunities for gay rights movements.
Yet this success of gay rights movements throughout Latin America cannot be attributed solely to the declining importance of religion in the region. It is equally important, if not more so, to recognize the vital roles played by gay activist groups and the dynamic strategies these groups employ. For instance, gay rights groups in Brazil were able to reverse legislation banning gays from the workplace by forming partnerships with progressive businesses. In recent years, the use of social media has provided much of the gay movement’s momentum by enhancing activist groups’ ability to communicate and spread information. For instance, as Javier Corrales notes, by simply posting a video of a hate crime in San Juan or of a gay wedding in Argentina on YouTube, gay rights groups have been able to reach thousands of people and garner support.8 These innovative strategies have brought success despite a notably hostile environment towards homosexuals.
Through a comparison with the United States, we can see how remarkable the success of gay rights in Latin America has been. Latin America is marked by a much more homophobic environment than the U.S., according to a survey conducted by Mitchell Seligson and Daniel Moreno Morales.9 However, although the U.S. has lower levels of societal discrimination towards gays, it is hard to imagine that the United States would completely legalize same-sex civil unions or gay marriage on a national scale. The fact that this legalization occurred in several Latin American nations, despite the formidable opposition there, makes these recent rulings even more significant.
Furthermore, the recent victories for gay rights exemplify the considerable progress toward the region’s consolidation of democracy. The three Latin American countries that have now legalized same-sex unions—Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay—were each ruled by repressive military regimes just over two decades ago. Even Colombia, which is one of the region’s worst human rights violators, granted same-sex unions equal rights regarding social security benefits and inheritance rights in 2007. The fact that gay liberation movements have been successful in these unlikely places is a testament to how far these countries have progressed in recent years.
References for this article can be found here
The Amazon is Dying June 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment.
Tags: amazon, amazon deforestation, amazon rainforest, brazil rainforest, brazilian amazon, brazilian government, deforestation, global warming, greenpeace, illegal deforestation, lula da silva, roger hollander
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The Brazilian government is legalising deforestation and western superbrands are benefiting from it. This needs to stop now
by John Sauven
Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, writing in the Guardian in March, offered us these words of hope: “No country has a larger stake in reversing the impact of global warming than Brazil. That is why it is at the forefront of efforts to come up with solutions that preserve our common future.” Lula’s words are fine. But we are still waiting for real action.
For the last 10 years, Greenpeace has been working in the Amazon alongside communities to protect the rainforest. Last week, Greenpeace released a report which was the result of a three-year investigation into the role of the cattle industry in driving illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, reveals the devastating impacts cattle ranching is having on the climate, biodiversity and local communities.
Cattle ranching is the biggest cause of deforestation, not only in the Amazon, but worldwide. The report reveals that the Brazilian government is a silent partner in these crimes by providing loans to and holding shares in the three biggest players – Bertin, JBS and Marfrig – that are driving expansion into the Amazon rainforest.
Greenpeace is now about to enter into negotiations with many of the companies that have either found their supply chain and products contaminated with Amazon leather and beef or who are buying from companies implicated in Amazon deforestation – big brands such as Adidas, Clarks, Nike, Timberland and most of the major UK supermarkets. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the federal prosecutor in Para state has announced legal action against farms and slaughterhouses that have acted outside of the law. It has sent warning letters to Brazilian companies buying and profiting from the destruction. Bertin and JBS are in the firing line – companies part-owned by the Brazilian government.
While this is a positive step, it’s clear that we can’t bring about real change and win an end to Amazon destruction for cattle without real action from the government and from big corporations in Europe and the US, who are providing the markets.
Another, worrying example of the widening chasm between rhetoric and reality is a new bill that has just passed through the Brazilian senate. If Lula gives his consent, it will legalise claims to at least 67m hectares of Amazonian land – an area the size of Norway and Germany put together – that is currently held illegally. A second bill, before the Brazilian congress, proposes to more than double the percentage of Amazon rainforest that can be cleared legally within a property. If passed, the effect of both these bills will be to legalise increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Lula’s decision to fund the cattle ranching industry with public money makes no sense when its expansion threatens the very deforestation reduction targets that Lula champions. The laws now waiting for his approval will represent a free ride for illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. It is clear that Brazil now faces a choice about what sort of world leader it wants to be – part of the problem or part of the solution.
Protecting Brazil’s rainforest is a critical part of the battle to tackle climate change and must be part of a global deal to protect forests at the climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year. But while world leaders are making speeches, we are losing vast tracts of rainforest. We must also tackle the dirty industries that are driving deforestation if we are to protect the Amazon and the climate for future generations.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Will Dams on Amazon Tributary Wreak Global Havoc? April 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment.
Tags: amazon dam, amazon deforestation, amazon rainforest, amazon river, belo monte, belo monte dam, brazil environment, carbon dioxide, global warming, greenhouse gas, lula da silva, roger hollander, solar energy, tropical rainforest, tyler bridges, wind enerby, xingu
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Published on Sunday, April 5, 2009 by the McClatchy Newspapers
VOLTA GRANDE, Brazil – The Xingu River, the largest tributary of the Amazon, runs wide and swift this time of year. Its turquoise waters are home to some 600 species of fish, including several not found anywhere else on the planet. A thick emerald canopy of trees hugs its banks, except in places where man has carved out pastures for cattle.
Now man, in the form of the Brazilian state power company, wants to harness a section of the Xingu by building the world’s third-biggest dam.
Called the Belo Monte, the dam would drown 200 square miles of tropical rainforest – an area equivalent to the sprawling city of Tucson, Ariz. – and would flood the homes of 19,000 people. It would be only one of more than a dozen dams that the Brazilian government is planning to construct on tributaries of the Amazon, the world’s mightiest river.
Belo Monte would be only the latest assault on the Amazon tropical rainforest, which is home to one in 10 of the world’s known species and covers an area as large as the United States west of the Mississippi River.
Stephan Schwartzman, the director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that 18 percent of the Amazon, an area nearly two times the size of California, had been cleared since the mid-1960s.
He added that deforestation peaked in 2004 and has since declined because of falling beef and soybean prices and because the government has stepped up enforcement of protected areas.
What happens to the Amazon rainforest has wide consequences, because a shrinking rainforest hampers the planet’s ability to rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that trees and other green plants absorb.
Brazilian government officials, however, say that Belo Monte and the other dams are necessary to switch on more living room lights, power expanding companies in the world’s ninth largest economy and create jobs as Brazil begins to slide into recession.
The impact of Belo Monte on the Indians who’d be displaced is central to the dam’s opponents. Under Brazil’s Constitution, Indians must “be heard” when dams would affect their land, which potentially gives them veto power over new dams.
Environmentalists are organizing riverside dwellers to rise up against Belo Monte by describing how it would submerge their homes and land. They organized a meeting March 21 in the community that locals call Volta Grande, which in Portuguese refers to a curve in the Xingu known as the Big Bend.
It took place in a barnlike house on the banks of the Xingu, about an hour downriver by motorboat from Altamira, the closest city.
Euclides de Oliveira listened quietly in a portion of the home that had been converted into a makeshift classroom with a dirt floor.
De Oliveira, a wiry 32-year-old fisherman with a dark mustache, sat on a bench with his back to a wall on which schoolwork covered the wooden planks. He wore a T-shirt and flip-flops, like most everyone else there.
The heat was stifling, and everyone swatted at the mosquitoes as activists described an unhappy future.
“What you say makes me afraid,” de Oliveira said when he finally spoke up. “It will end our way of life.”
Environmentalists emphasize the bigger picture, that Belo Monte would increase global greenhouse gases by devastating the rainforest and by releasing the methane gas stored in river vegetation. They add that the Xingu’s low level during the dry season would force the government to build five more dams to regulate the water flow.
Some critics even say that dams such as Belo Monte could become white elephants if global warming dries up parts of the Amazon, as some computer models suggest.
Instead of building dams, a World Wildlife Fund-Brazil analysis found, the government could meet the country’s energy needs by upgrading existing energy systems and pushing for the rapid development of wind, solar and biomass. In one example, the study reported that Brazil loses 16 percent of the power it generates through an old and faulty distribution system, compared with an international rate of about 6 percent.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has won plaudits worldwide for his role in pushing for Brazilian cars to switch from gasoline to cleaner ethanol produced from sugarcane.
However, Lula has continued to champion big energy projects that create jobs, devastate the rainforest and produce campaign contributions to his Workers Party from big construction companies.
He also has said pointedly: “The Amazon belongs to Brazilians.”
Lula provided crucial support for two controversial dams that are under construction on the Madeira River, in the western Amazon.
Belo Monte would be built in the heart of Para, a state that’s home to an explosive mix of poor settlers, cattle ranchers, loggers and scammers who fake land titles.
The latter are known as “grileiros.” They draw up backdated land deeds and put them in a drawer full of crickets, “grilos” in Portuguese. The crickets secrete acids that yellow the deeds and allow the scammers to pass them off as years older.
In 2005, a gunman in Para hired by a wealthy rancher shot and killed Dorothy Stang, an American nun who’d fought the powerful on behalf of the landless.
A sign of the tension over Belo Monte came at a public meeting in Altamira last May.
There, Indians in feathers and war paint clubbed and slashed an electric company executive. After the bloody executive was led away, the Indians danced in celebration, waving their machetes.
“It was a shocking and regrettable act,” said Glenn Switkes, the Brazil-based representative of International Rivers, a California-based nonprofit group. “But it defines what’s at stake and shows that the determination and resistance by indigenous people is likely to be strong.”
Bishop Erwin Kraulter has 24-hour police protection because of death threats for opposing the dam and butting heads with the powerful ranchers association.
“The dam will have an irreversible impact,” Kraulter said in his residence in Altamira.
He has some hope that the government won’t advance the dam after he met with Lula on March 19 and got the president to agree to meet with opponents in late April.
Business and political leaders in Altamira support Belo Monte because of the development it will bring.
“With the dam, we’d have more income to improve infrastructure,” said Altamira’s mayor, Odileida Sampaio. She hopes that the dam will produce money to pave 600 miles of the Transamazon highway and connect Altamira to the city of Maraba to the east.
Altamira’s streets were paved only five years ago. Its population has doubled in the past 20 years to 62,000, but it retains a small-town feel. It has two stoplights, and all its telephone numbers have the same prefix.
Sampaio and others in Altamira fear that the expected influx of job seekers would overwhelm the city’s ability to handle them.
“The population of Altamira will double in three or four years,” said Silverio Fernandez, Altamira’s deputy mayor.
Sampaio said the company that wins the project to build the dam must pay for new roads, schools, health clinics and houses.
She said she’d heard that an avalanche of unemployed workers flooded Tucurui when a massive dam was built on the Tocantins River, east of Altamira, during the 1970s.
The debate over whether to build dams in the Amazon isn’t new. Opponents stopped one massive dam planned for the Amazon in 1989.
It was an earlier version of Belo Monte. A coalition of U.S.-based environmentalists, Brazil’s Kayapo Indians and the star wattage of Sting, who shone an international spotlight, prompted the World Bank to withdraw needed loans.
Jose Antonio Muniz remembers that episode.
Now the president of Eletrobras, the gigantic state power company, Muniz showed a 1989 magazine article to a visitor to his Rio de Janeiro office. The article featured a photo of a Kayapo Indian placing a hunting knife against Muniz’s left cheek in Altamira. It was a friendly warning not to mess with the indigenous people.
Belo Monte now is a kinder and gentler dam, Muniz said.
“It’s the best site in the world for a dam,” he said during an hour-long interview. “It will produce a lot of energy and have a minimal impact on people and the environment.”
Eletrobras submitted its environmental impact statement on Feb. 27 to Brazil’s environmental agency. It has yet to be made public.
Muniz said he expected to win approval to let construction bids in October and begin work on Belo Monte next year. The dam would cost $10 billion and wouldn’t open until 2014 at the earliest.
Muniz said the government had learned from its mistakes and was taking many steps to protect the environment and minimize the impact on indigenous peoples. He promised to compensate those affected, even those without land titles.
“Brazil needs dams if it wants to become a developed country,” Muniz said. “It is a clean form of energy.”
Opponents, who’ve already won several court orders halting the project temporarily, hope that the courts will reject it because of the damage it will do to indigenous people and the rainforest.
At the meeting March 21, about 70 people gathered at one of the riverside dwellings in Volta Grande. It was the home of Fernando Florencio de Sousa, who grows cacao, coffee, rice, corn and yucca on 600 acres that abut the Xingu River.
Officials from the electric company have visited the area four or five times.
“They promise us that we’ll have a much better life,” de Sousa said, “that we’ll have electricity, running water and live in a nice house. I don’t believe it.”
Antonia Melo, an activist for a nonprofit group called Xingu Lives, which organized the meeting, showed an hour-long documentary on the destruction and failed promises of the Tucurui and Madeira River dams. Afterward, she and Ignez Wenzel, a nun from Altamira, taught the group a chant against Belo Monte.
A stout man in a red baseball cap named Liro Moraes, who’d been silent for most of the meeting, recalled a recent meeting with electric company officials.
“They only talk about the good things,” said Moraes, 51, his voice rising. “We shouldn’t let them into our communities anymore!”
Everyone burst into applause and began chanting, “Down with Belo Monte.”