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Hard choices: Hillary Clinton admits role in Honduran coup aftermath October 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Hillary Clinton, History, Honduras, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: With respect to U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America, there is virtually no distinction between Democratic and Republican presidencies.  Hillary Clinton as Obama’s Secretary of State, for example, was no less hawkish in is asserting the interests of U.S. corporations and military than John Foster Dulles or Henry Kissinger.  The role of Lanny Davis in serving the perpetrators of the military coup against President Zelaya, Clinton family friend and legal counsel is striking.  I follow up the Clinton article with a fascinating study of the manipulation of public opinion (what Noam Chomsky refers to as “manufacturing consent) in the overthrowing of democratically elected governments in Latin America, with, in the case of Guatemala in 1954, the direct participation of the infamous “father of public relations,” Edward Bernays.

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Hillary Clinton with Pepe Lobo, the newly “elected” president of Honduras, who has recently come to power in an election rejected and considered illegitimate and fraudulent by virtually every government around the world that is not a virtual puppet of the US.  This photo by itself is capable of generating resentment towards the United States throughout the entire Latin American world, not to mention the vast Latino population in the States.

September 29, 2014 6:00AM ET
Clinton’s embrace of far-right narrative on Latin America is part of electoral strategy
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a review of Henry Kissinger’s latest book, “World Order,” to lay out her vision for “sustaining America’s leadership in the world.” In the midst of numerous global crises, she called for return to a foreign policy with purpose, strategy and pragmatism. She also highlighted some of these policy choices in her memoir “Hard Choices” and how they contributed to the challenges that Barack Obama’s administration now faces.

The chapter on Latin America, particularly the section on Honduras, a major source of the child migrants currently pouring into the United States, has gone largely unnoticed. In letters to Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, more than 100 members of Congress have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating security situation in Honduras, especially since the 2009 military coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. As Honduran scholar Dana Frank points out in Foreign Affairs, the U.S.-backed post-coup government “rewarded coup loyalists with top ministries,” opening the door for further “violence and anarchy.”

The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.

Despite this, however, both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton describes her role in the aftermath of the coup that brought about this dire situation. Her firsthand account is significant both for the confession of an important truth and for a crucial false testimony.

First, the confession: Clinton admits that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton writes. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

This may not come as a surprise to those who followed the post-coup drama closely. (See my commentary from 2009 on Washington’s role in helping the coup succeed here, here and here.) But the official storyline, which was dutifully accepted by most in the media, was that the Obama administration actually opposed the coup and wanted Zelaya to return to office.

Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on US foreign policy in the hemisphere.

The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton’s defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.

Clinton’s false testimony is even more revealing. She reports that Zelaya was arrested amid “fears that he was preparing to circumvent the constitution and extend his term in office.” This is simply not true. As Clinton must know, when Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and flown out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, he was trying to put a consultative, nonbinding poll on the ballot to ask voters whether they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the constitution during the scheduled election in November. It is important to note that Zelaya was not eligible to run in that election. Even if he had gotten everything he wanted, it was impossible for Zelaya to extend his term in office. But this did not stop the extreme right in Honduras and the United States from using false charges of tampering with the constitution to justify the coup.

In addition to her bold confession and Clinton’s embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as secretary of state. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere’s governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Floridian Cuban-Americans and their political fundraisers.

Like the 54-year-old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere.

Mark Weisbrot is a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the president of Just Foreign Policy.

 

By Brendan Fischer on December 27, 2010

(Part two of a two-part series)

bananasIn the first part of this series, the Center for Media and Democracy reported how the 2009 coup d’etat that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was successfully maintained not through the use of force, but through the power of lobbying and spin. That tale, whose details were revealed through Wikileaks‘ publication of diplomatic cables and research into lobbying activities, had some echoes of the role PR played in an earlier “regime change” in the region. Here is the story of how the Chiquita banana company successfully used PR spin to help topple Guatemala’s left-leaning government in 1954, and how they may have done it again in Honduras, 2009.

The term “banana republic” was coined at the turn of the 20th Century in reference to the economic and political domination of weak or corrupt governments in Central America by the United Fruit Company, the corporation now known as Chiquita. (This article will refer to the company formerly known as United Fruit as “Chiquita”). Throughout much of its modern history, Honduras has been the quintessential “banana republic,” a poor country ruled by a small group of wealthy elites, with national politics controlled by multinational business interests, particularly Chiquita. In fact, Chiquita has historically been known as “El Pulpo” (“The Octopus”) in Honduras, as the company’s tentacles had such a firm grip on Honduran national politics.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chiquita maintained its grasp on Central American politics with a range of illegitimate tools, including the use of mercenary force and bribes. Since the birth of modern public relations in the mid-20th century, though, Chiquita has successfully fought many of its battles for political control with the power of spin. Recent revelations suggest they have done the same in the case of Honduras in 2009.

Edward L. Bernays, Chiquita, and the CIA-backed Guatemalan Coup

Chiquita’s most famous act of interference with Central American politics is its role in toppling Guatemala’s left-leaning government in 1954. For the first half of the 20th century, Chiquita poured investment capital into Guatemala, buying the country’s productive land and controlling shares in its railroad, electric utility, and telegraph industries; as a result, the Guatemalan government was subservient to Chiquita’s interests, exempting the company from internal taxation and guaranteeing workers earned no more than fifty cents per day. At the time of the 1944 Guatemalan revolution, Chiquita was the country’s number one landowner, employer, and exporter.

In 1950, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected with 65% of the vote, and Chiquita perceived his agrarian land reforms as a threat to their corporate interests. Chiquita, with the help of the father of modern public relations, Edward L. Bernays, waged a propaganda war and managed to convince the American public and politicians that Arbenz was secretly a dangerous communist who could not be allowed to remain in power. With McCarthy-era hysteria in full swing, President Eisenhower secretly ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz in a 1954 covert operation. The CIA armed and trained an ad-hoc “Liberation Army” under the command of an exiled Guatemalan army officer, and used them in conjunction with a diplomatic, economic, and propaganda campaign. At the time, the American public was told that Guatemala was undergoing a “revolution;” the CIA’s involvement was long suspected and fully revealed when the agency released thousands of documents in 1997. The overthrow precipitated a 40-year civil war that killed over 200,000 people, and “disappeared” another 100,000.

Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays

In the Bernays biography The Father of Spin, Larry Tye writes that Bernays began working as Chiquita’s public relations counsel in the early 1940s, peddling bananas by claiming they cured celiac disease and were “good for the national defense” (the company had lent its ships to the U.S. military in WWII). As the Guatemalan government became concerned with the needs of its impoverished majority, Bernays began a PR blitz to spin the left-leaning government as covertly Communist. He urged Chiquita to find a top Latin American politician to condemn Guatemala’s actions, and hire a top attorney to outline the reasons for outlawing the land reforms. Bernays planted stories in major newspapers and magazines on the “growing influence of Guatemala’s Communists,” prodded the New York Times to assign reporters who were sympathetic to his cause, and even managed to obtain coverage in liberal journals like The Nation. In 1952, Bernays brought a group of journalists to the region at Chiquita’s expense to “gather information,” but with everything the press saw and heard carefully staged and regulated by their host. When articles supportive of Chiquita’s claims were printed, Bernays would offer to help distribute reprints of the article to top government officials and other writers, and to help get a Congressperson to reprint the article in the Congressional record. Bernays also set up a network of “intelligence agents” to “undertake a private intelligence survey” of the “political and ideological situation” in Guatemala, and fed reports from these phony agents to the press as warnings from an “authoritative source” or an “unnamed intelligence official.” Throughout the conflict, Bernays remained a key source of information for the press. As the invasion began, he gave major U.S. news outlets the first reports on the situation.One of Bernays’ fellow PR men quoted in The Father of Spin notes that Chiquita’s executives were initially unsupportive of Bernays’ PR efforts, but not because they were uncomfortable with media manipulation; instead, “they wanted to do business the old way, to foment a revolution and get Arbenz the hell out of there.” Bernays managed to convince Chiquita executives to take his more subtle and clever approach.

In addition to Bernays’ carefully planned PR campaign, many indicators suggest Chiquita played a more direct role in convincing the U.S. to overthrow Arbenz. The company had very close ties to the CIA– former Chiquita executive General Walter Bedell Smith, who was later named to the board of directors, was a former Director of Central Intelligence, and the Dulles brothers (Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and then-current Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles) had provided legal services to the company through their association with the New York-based law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. Notorious spymaster E. Howard Hunt, who headed the CIA’s Guatemalan operation (and was later jailed for his role in the Watergate break-in) insisted in later years that lobbying by Chiquita persuaded the Eisenhower Administration to get involved in Guatemala.

Bernays’ carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita’s interests and was internationally condemned. In turn, the overthrow fueled an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in Latin America about U.S. intentions in the region, and Che Guevara’s wife Hilda Gadea later wrote “it was Guatemala which finally convinced [Guevara] of the necessity for armed struggle and for taking the initiative against imperialism.” The U.S.-led regime change precipitated four decades of military rule and hundreds of thousands of deaths in Guatemala.

Chiquita’s Role in Honduras, 2009?

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

When the Honduran military deposed President Manual Zelaya on June 28, 2009, many took it as an unfriendly reminder of the banana republic era. Chiquita remains a major presence in Honduras, and at the time, some questioned whether the fruit company played a role in backing the 2009 coup, as it did in 1954 in neighboring Guatemala. As the coup crisis progressed, though, Chiquita’s name was hardly mentioned.Elite business interests, including Chiquita as well as the Honduran manufacturing sector, were disturbed by Zelaya raising the minimum wage by sixty percent, so nobody was surprised that the country’s business council CEAL (the Honduran equivalent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) wanted to spin the coup as constitutional, and to paint Zelaya as a Hugo Chavez-aligned would-be-dictator.

To push this message, CEAL hired Lanny Davis (and his associate, Eileen M. O’Connor) from the lobbying firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP. Their efforts were aided by the Honduran government hiring Bennett Ratcliff and the lobbying firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. Davis was a longtime political insider described by the infamous G. Gordon Liddy as one who “can defend the indefensible.” (Davis has most recently been in the headlines for serving as spinmeister for Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to relinquish power after losing elections in November and has since been committing what the United Nations calls “massive violations” of human rights.) According to Robert White, former U.S. ambassador and current president of the DC-based Center for International Policy, “If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is, you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis.”

While Chiquita was a member of CEAL, its role in supporting the post-coup PR blitz was never analyzed or discussed. The coup that ousted Zelaya clearly helped Chiquita’s interests, but considering the company’s history of interference in Latin American politics, it understandably kept a low profile during the crisis. Through its membership in CEAL, Chiquita’s name never came up, and powerful lobbyists successfully attracted attention elsewhere.

The PR Machine At Work

The 2009 PR blitz was right out of Bernays’ 1954 playbook. Davis worked with a former Honduran foreign minister and Supreme Court Justice Guillermo Pérez-Cadalso to prep him for testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Davis also testified personally.

Right-wing Honduran legal “experts” made creative legal arguments about the legality of Zelaya’s removal, which were then cited by an official government report. Honduras’ lobbying firm appeared to help organize trips to the country for sympathetic legislators, briefed reporters on their interpretation of events, and placed op-eds in newspapers and magazines; Davis appeared personally on talk shows and drafted his own op-eds alleging the coup’s constitutionality.

It is unclear how much money Chiquita provided to the Honduran equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEAL, during the PR offensive supporting the coup. The company understandably wanted to maintain a public distance from the events in Honduras. While Lanny Davis carried out his PR blitz on behalf of CEAL and the coup, Chiquita also maintained its own lobbyists from McDermott, Will & Emory, paying the firm $140,000 in 2009. Chiquita has had a long relationship with McDermott, working with the lobbying firm since at least 1999. Because Chiquita is incorporated in the U.S., lobbying activities directly on its behalf are not reported. Throughout the course of the coup crisis, Chiquita and CEAL maintained separate lobbying firms and the banana company successfully managed to avoid accusations of meddling in Honduran politics.

By the fall of 2009, though, the Honduran coup had slipped from American headlines. So few noticed when Davis and O’Connor left Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to join Chiquita’s firm, McDermott, Will & Emory; CEAL also brought their business to McDermott.

With American news media focusing attention elsewhere, perhaps Chiquita no longer felt it necessary to maintain the appearance of separation from the coup supporters. The coup regime and its backers had successfully spun America into believing the coup was a constitutional response to an illegal power grab by a pro-Chavez president. Most who were following the story, including policymakers, had accepted Zelaya’s removal as legal, and the “banana republic” allegations had faded from the limelight. However, with increasing political violence, oppression, and human rights violations at the hands of the right-wing post-coup government, and Chiquita’s apparent connection to the coup supporters, perhaps Honduras really has become a banana republic once again.

 

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD’s General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

- See more at: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2010/12/9834/banana-republic-once-again#sthash.YDLc9p4f.dpufThe views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

US Support for Regime Change in Venezuela is a Mistake February 18, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: Only the wilfully naive can believe that the United States government is not providing all the support to the anti-Venezuelan government protests it can get away with.  As we have seen in the recent past with Honduras and Egypt, the U.S. government will set aside its sacred belief in democracy  in favor of military takeovers when it serves its geopolitical interests.  This is not to say that there aren’t serious problems in Venezuela or that Venezuelan government security forces have not on occassion reacted with undue force.  Violence begets violence.  But this does not alter our view of  the big picture.  Beginning with the era of Chavez, the Venezuelan government has been a serious thorn in the side of Uncle Sam, and the latter has acted as he always has, regardless of the party in power, which is to use whatever means necessary to maintain quasi and sometimes not that quasi client regimes south of the Rio Grande.

Oh, and by the way, don’t expect this kind of analysis to appear in the American mainstream media, quite the opposite.  No???

 

Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by The Guardian/UK

The US push to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro once again pits Washington against South America

 

by Mark Weisbrot

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela on 4 February 2014. (Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters)

When is it considered legitimate to try and overthrow a democratically-elected government? In Washington, the answer has always been simple: when the US government says it is. Not surprisingly, that’s not the way Latin American governments generally see it.

On Sunday, the Mercosur governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela)released a statement on the past week’s demonstrations in Venezuela. They described “the recent violent acts” in Venezuela as “attempts to destabilize the democratic order”. They made it abundantly clear where they stood.

The governments stated:

their firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and, in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.

We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That’s not because they didn’t love President Dilma Rousseff; it’s because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil’s democratically-elected government.

The Obama administration was a bit more subtle, but also made it clear where it stood. WhenSecretary of State John Kerry states that “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors,” he is taking a political position. Because there were many protestors who committed crimes: they attacked and injured police with chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails; they burned cars, trashed and sometimes set fire to government buildings; and committed other acts of violence and vandalism.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government’s “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela”, and said that there was an obligation for “government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens”. He was joining the opposition’s efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any “regime change” strategy.

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerry did the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Kerry’s recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition’s attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro’s party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56% and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Hugo Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry – have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded.

There were plenty of complaints about the government and the economy, but the rich, right-wing politicians who led the opposition did not reflect their values nor inspire their trust.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López – competing with Capriles for leadership –has portrayed the current demonstrations as something that could force Maduro from office. It was obvious that there was, and remains, no peaceful way that this could happen. As University of Georgia professorDavid Smilde has argued, the government has everything to lose from violence in the demonstrations, and the opposition has something to gain.

By the past weekend Capriles, who was initially wary of a potentially violent “regime change” strategy – was apparently down with program. According to Bloomberg News, he accused the government of “infiltrating the peaceful protests “to convert them into centers of violence and suppression”.

Meanwhile, López is taunting Maduro on Twitter after the government made the mistake of threatening to arrest him: “Don’t you have the guts to arrest me?” he tweeted on 14 February:

Hopefully the government will not take the bait. US support for regime change undoubtedly inflames the situation, since Washington has so much influence within the opposition and, of course, in the hemispheric media.

It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the US in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April’s presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington’s support for regime change in Venezuela.

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Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Sorry, Venezuela Haters: This Economy Is Not the Greece of Latin America November 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: As a fact checking exercise I went to the web site of the World Bank cited at the end of this article.  On its page for Venezuela I was unable to find data to confirm the statement that poverty has dropped by 20% in the past year.  What I did find was a chart that showed that poverty as a percentage of population dropped to 25.4% in 2012 from 31.6% in 2011, which does mean a drop of 6.2%, which indeed is approximately a 20% drop for the previous year.  This is the World Bank, folks, you can’t go wrong.

 

Predicting a Venezuelan apocalypse won’t make it happen: in this oil-rich country the only thing imploding is poverty

Women queue to buy toilet paper at a supermarket in Caracas as a result of the shortage of basic goods. (Photograph: Reuters/Jorge Silva)

For more than a decade people opposed to the government of Venezuela have argued that its economy would implode. Like communists in the 1930s rooting for the final crisis of capitalism, they saw economic collapse just around the corner. How frustrating it has been for them to witness only two recessions: one directly caused by the opposition’s oil strike (December 2002-May 2003) and one brought on by the world recession (2009 and the first half of 2010). However, the government got control of the national oil company in 2003, and the whole decade’s economic performance turned out quite well, with average annual growth of real income per person of 2.7% and poverty reduced by over half, and large gains for the majority in employment, access to health care, pensions and education.

Now Venezuela is facing economic problems that are warming the cockles of the haters’ hearts. We see the bad news every day: consumer prices up 49% over the last year; a black market where the dollar fetches seven times the official rate; shortages of consumer goods from milk to toilet paper; the economy slowing; central bank reserves falling. Will those who cried wolf for so long finally see their dreams come true?

Not likely. In the opposition’s analysis Venezuela is caught in an inflation-devaluation spiral, where rising prices domestically undermine confidence in the economy and currency, causing capital flight and driving up the black market price of the dollar. This adds to inflation, as does – in their theory – money creation by the government. And its price controls, nationalisations and other interventions have caused more structural problems. Hyperinflation, rising foreign debt and a balance-of-payments crisis will mark the end of this economic experiment.

But how can a government with more than $90bn in oil revenue end up with a balance-of-payments crisis? Well, the answer is: it can’t, and won’t. In 2012 Venezuela had $93.6bn in oil revenues, and total imports in the economy were $59.3bn. The current account was in surplus to the tune of $11bn, or 2.9% of GDP. Interest payments on the public foreign debt, the most important measure of public indebtedness, were just $3.7bn. This government is not going to run out of dollars. The Bank of America’s analysis of Venezuela last month recognised this, and decided as a result that Venezuelan government bonds were a good buy.

The central bank currently holds $21.7bn in reserves, and opposition economists estimate that there is another $15bn held by other government agencies, for a total of $36.7bn. Normally, reserves that can cover three months of imports are considered sufficient; Venezuela has enough to cover at least eight months, and possibly more. And it has the capacity to borrow more internationally.

One problem is that most of the central bank’s reserves are in gold. But gold can be sold, even if it is much less liquid than assets such as US treasury securities. It seems far-fetched that the government would suffer through a balance-of-payments crisis rather than sell its gold.

Hyperinflation is also a very remote possibility. For the first two years of the economic recovery that began in June 2010, inflation was falling even as economic growth accelerated to 5.7% for 2012. In the first quarter of 2012, it reached a monthly low of just 2.9%. This shows that the Venezuelan economy – despite its problems – is very capable of providing healthy growth even while bringing down inflation.

What really drove inflation up, beginning a year ago, was a cut in the supply of dollars to the foreign exchange market. These were reduced by half in October of 2012 and practically eliminated in February. This meant more importers had to purchase increasingly expensive dollars on the black market. This is where the burst of inflation came from.

Inflation peaked at a monthly rate of 6.2% in May, then fell steadily to 3% in August as the government began to provide more dollars to the market. It jumped to 4.4% monthly in September, but the government has since increased its auctions of dollars and announced a planned increase of food and other imports, which is likely to put some downward pressure on prices.

Of course Venezuela is facing serious economic problems. But they are not the kind suffered by Greece or Spain, trapped in an arrangement in which macroeconomic policy is determined by people who have objectives that conflict with the country’s economic recovery. Venezuela has sufficient reserves and foreign exchange earnings to do whatever it wants, including driving down the black market value of the dollar and eliminating most shortages. These are problems that can be resolved relatively quickly with policy changes. Venezuela – like most economies in the world – also has long-term structural problems such as overdependence on oil, inadequate infrastructure, and limited administrative capacity. But these are not the cause of its current predicament.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate dropped by 20% in Venezuela last year – almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world. The numbers are available on the website of the World Bank, but almost no journalists have made the arduous journey through cyberspace to find and report them. Ask them why they missed it.

Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Media Hate Fest for Venezuela Keeps on Keepin’ On February 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Published on Friday, February 1, 2013 by Al-Jazeera

by Mark Weisbrot

Last week there was a real media hate-fest for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, with some of the more influential publications on both sides of the Atlantic really hating on the guy. Even by the hate-filled standards to which we have become accustomed, it was impressive.

Spanish flagship newspaper El Pais – known to be hostile to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – retracted its online and print editions after publishing on its front page a fake photo of Chavez using a breathing tube. (Reuters)

It’s interesting, since this is one of the only countries in the world where the reporting of the more liberal media – NPR or even the New Yorker - is hardly different from that of Fox News or other right-wing media (more on that below).

The funniest episode came from El País, which on Thursday ran a front page picture of a man that they claimed was Chavez, lying on his back in a hospital bed, looking pretty messed-up with tubes in his mouth. The picture was soon revealed as completely fake. Oops! The paper, which is Spain’s most influential publication (and with a lot of clout in Latin America, too), had to pull its newspapers off the stands and issue a public apology. Although, as the Venezuelans complained, there was no apology to Chavez or his family. Not surprisingly, since El Pais really hates Chavez. For a really funny pictorial response to El Pais, click here.

The New York Times, for its part, ran yet another hate piece on its op-ed page. Dog bites man. Nothing new here, they have doing this for almost 14 years - most recently just three months ago. This one was remarkably unoriginal, comparing the Chavez government to a Latin American magical realist novel. It contained very little information – but being fact-free allowed the authors to claim that the country had “dwindling productivity” and “an enormous foreign debt load”. Productivity has not “dwindled” under Chavez; in fact real GDP per capita, which is mostly driven by productivity growth, expanded by 24 percent since 2004 (for an explanation of why 2004 is a reasonable starting point, see here). In the 20 years prior to Chavez, real GDP per person actually fell. As for the “enormous foreign debt load”, Venezuela’s foreign public debt is about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is about 2 percent of GDP. If this is enormous – well let’s just say these people don’t have a good sense of quantity.

The authors were probably just following a general rule, which is that you can say almost anything you want about Venezuela, so long as it is bad – and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for very little when the media is presenting its ugly picture.

This is especially true for Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the January 28 issue of the New Yorker (“Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela?“). He mentions in passing that “the poorest Venezuelans are marginally better off these days”. Marginally? From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half. And this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chavez took office.

I shouldn’t have to emphasise that Venezuela’s poverty reduction, real (inflation-adjusted) income growth, and other basic data in the Chavez era are not in dispute among experts, including international statistical agencies such as the World Bank or UN. Even opposition economists use the same data in making their case against the government. It is only journalists like Anderson who avoid letting commonly agreed upon facts and numbers get in the way of their story.

Anderson devotes many thousands of words, in one of America’s leading literary magazines, to portraying the dark underside of life in Venezuela – ex-cons and squatters, horrible prisons: “A thick black line of human excrement ran down an exterior wall, and in the yard below was a sea of sludge and garbage several feet deep.” He draws on more than a decade of visits to Venezuela to shower the reader with his most foul memories of the society and the government. The article is accompanied by a series of grim, depressing black-and-white photos of unhappy-looking people in ugly surroundings (I couldn’t help thinking of all those international surveys that keep finding Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in Latin America and the world – did Anderson never meet even one of these Venezuelans?).

I am all in favour of journalism that exposes the worst aspects of any society. But what makes this piece just another cheap political hack job is the conclusions that the author draws from his narrow, intentionally chosen slice of Venezuelan reality. For example:

They [Venezuelans] are the victims of their affection for a charismatic man… After nearly a generation, Chavez leaves his countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It began with Chavez, and with him, most likely it will end.

Really? It sure doesn’t look that way. Even Chavez’s opponent in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, had to promise voters [SP] that he would preserve and actually expand the Chavez-era social programmes that had increased Venezuelans’ access to health care and education. And after Chavez beat him by a wide margin of eleven percentage points, Chavez’s party increased its share of governorships from 15 to 20 of 23 states, in the December elections that followed. In those elections, Chavez was not even in the country.

But it’s the one-sidedness of the New Yorker‘s reporting that is most overwhelming. Imagine, for example, writing an article about the United States at the end of President Clinton’s eight years – interviewing the homeless and the destitute, the people tortured in our prisons, the unemployed and the poor single mothers struggling to feed their children. Could you get away with pretending that this is all of “What Clinton has wrought in America?” Without mentioning that unemployment hit record lows not seen since the 1960s, that poverty was sharply reduced, that it was the longest-running business cycle expansion in US history?

This is an imperfect analogy, since many people outside the US know something about the country, and wouldn’t buy such a one-sided story line. And also because the improvements of the Clinton years didn’t last that long: the stock market bubble burst and caused a recession in 2001; the gains from the recovery that followed went mostly to the richest one percent of the population; and then the housing bubble burst, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression – from which we are still recovering. Unemployment today is considerably above the level of Clinton’s first year in office, and poverty has rebounded dramatically; and we could take another decade to get back to full employment. Whereas in Venezuela, progress has not been reversed; there really is no going back now that the majority of the country has gotten used to sharing in the country’s oil wealth – not just through government programmes but primarily through a higher level of employment and income in the private sector. Maybe that’s not “revolutionary” enough for Anderson, but it’s enough for Venezuelans to keep re-electing their president and his party.

As for the media, it is a remarkable phenomenon, this outpouring of animosity towards Chavez and his government, from across the western media spectrum. How is it that this democratically elected president who hasn’t killed anyone or invaded any countries gets more bad press than Saddam Hussein did (aside from the months immediately preceding invasions of Iraq)? Even when he is fighting for his own life?

The western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it. Fortunately for Venezuelans, they have access to more information about their country than the foreigners who are relying on one-sided and often inaccurate media. So they keep re-electing the president and the party that has improved their lives – much to the annoyance of the major media and its friends.

© 2012 Al-Jazeera
Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Why Washington Is Worried About Peru June 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Peru.
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Published on Thursday, June 2, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

If its preferred candidate Keiko Fujimori loses to Ollanta Humala, the US will be isolated against South America’s left governments

In just a few days, on Sunday 5 June, an election will take place that will have a significant influence on the western hemisphere. At the moment, it is too close to call. Most of official Washington has been relatively quiet, but there is no doubt that the Obama administration has a big stake in the outcome of this poll.

The election is in Peru, where left populist and former military officer Ollanta Humala is facing off against Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former authoritarian ruler Alberto Fujimori, who was president from 1990-2000. Alberto Fujimori is in jail, serving a 25-year sentence for multiple political murders, kidnapping and corruption. Keiko has made it clear that she represents him and his administration, and has been surrounded by his associates and former officials of his government.

Fujimori was found to have had “individual criminal responsibility” for the murders and kidnappings. But his government was responsible for many more widespread murders and human rights abuses, including the forced sterilisation of tens of thousands of women, mostly indigenous.

Between the two candidates, whom do you think Washington would prefer?

If you guessed Keiko Fujimori, you guessed right. I spoke Monday night with Gustavo Gorriti in Lima, an award-winning Peruvian investigative journalist who was one of the people that Alberto Fujimori was convicted of kidnapping. “The US embassy strongly opposes Humala’s candidacy,” he said. Harvard professor of government Steven Levitsky, who has written extensively on Peru and is currently visiting professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), came to the same conclusion: “It’s clear that the US embassy here sees Keiko as the least bad option,” he told me from Lima on Tuesday.

Humala’s opponents argue that Peru’s democracy would be imperilled if he were elected, pointing to a military revolt that he led against Fujimori’s authoritarian government. (He was later pardoned by the Peruvian Congress.) But his record is hardly comparable to the actual, proven crimes of Alberto Fujimori.

Humala is also accused of being an ally of Venezuela‘s President Hugo Chávez. He has distanced himself from Chávez, unlike in his 2006 campaign for the presidency. But all of this is just a rightwing media stunt. Chávez has been demonised throughout the hemispheric media, and so rightwing media monopolies have used him as a bogeyman in numerous elections for years, with varying degrees of success. Of course, Venezuela is also irrelevant to the Peruvian election because almost all governments in South America are “allies of Chávez”. This is especially true of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay, for example, all of whom have very close and collaborative relations with Venezuela.

As in many other elections in Latin America, rightwing domination of the media is key to successful scare tactics. “The majority of TV stations and newspapers have been actively working for Fujimori in this election,” said Levitsky.

The thought of another Fujimori government is so frightening that a number of prominent conservative Peruvian politicians have decided to endorse Humala. Among these is the Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who hates the Latin American left as much as anyone. Humala has also been endorsed by Alejandro Toledo, the former Peruvian president and contender in the first round of this election.

So why would Washington want Fujimori? The answer is quite simple: it’s about Washington’s waning influence and power in its former “backyard” of Latin America. In South America, there are now left-of-centre governments in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. These governments have a common position on most hemispheric issues (and sometimes, other international issues, such as the Middle East), and it often differs from that of Washington.

For example, when the Honduran military overthrew the country’s elected left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, and the Obama administration sought to legitimise the coup government through elections that other governments would not recognise, it was Washington’s few rightwing allies that first broke ranks with the rest of South America.

Prior to last August, the only governments in South America that Washington could count as allies were Chile, Peru and Colombia. But Colombia under President Manuel Santos is no longer a reliable ally, and currently has very good co-operative relations with Venezuela. If Humala wins, there is little doubt that he will join the rest of South America on most issues of concern to Washington. The same cannot be said of Keiko Fujimori.

And that is why Washington is worried about this election.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Venezuelan Elections Show Democracy at Work September 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Venezuela.
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Published on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

The Venezuela election was not a major blow to Hugo Chávez. It shows politics is working properly again

by Mark Weisbrot

Last weekend’s election for 165 representatives in Venezuela’s national assembly is significant but unlikely to bring about major change, despite the opposition having done better than expected. On the latest count the pro-government United Socialist party has 94 seats, with 60 for the opposition Democratic Unity, five for other parties and the rest undecided. The opposition claims it won a majority of the popular vote, but apparently it was very close between the two main parties.

As expected, most of the international press and its sources hailed the results as a “major blow” to Hugo Chávez, paving the way for his possible removal in the presidential election in 2012. But this is exaggerated.

The vote was widely seen as a referendum on Chávez, and it would be an anomaly in electoral politics if the government did not lose support after a recession last year that continued into the first quarter of this year. Chávez’s popularity has always reflected the economy, reaching a low during the recession of 2002-03 – regardless of the fact that it was caused by an opposition oil strike. His approval rating has fallen from 60% in early 2009 to 46% last month.

For comparison President Obama’s approval rating has fallen from 68% last April to 45% this month, and his party is expected to take big losses in the congressional elections. This is despite him having clearly inherited economic problems from his predecessor.

It is not clear why anyone would expect Venezuela to be exempt from the workings of electoral politics. The opposition has most of the wealth of the country – and most of its media. They have no problem getting their message out. Obama also faces a strong rightwing media, with Fox News now one of the most popular sources for coverage of the autumn elections, but there is much less of an opposition media in the US.

Much has been made of the opposition getting more than a third of the national assembly, thus being able to block legislation that would “deepen the revolution”. Again, the importance of this is greatly exaggerated.

In reality it is unlikely to make much difference. The pace at which it adopts reforms has been limited more by administrative capacity than by politics. The Financial Times recently added up the value of industries nationalised by the Chávez government. Outside oil, it came to less than 8% of GDP over the last five years. Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state has as much a role in the economy as it does in, for instance, France.

On the positive side, the most interesting result of this election is that the opposition participated, has accepted the results, and now has a bloc of representatives that can participate in a parliamentary democracy.

This could be an advance for Venezuelan democracy, which has been undermined by an anti-democratic opposition for more than a decade. As opposition leader Teodoro Petkoff has noted, the opposition pursued a strategy of “military takeover” for the first four years, which included a military coup and a devastating oil strike that crippled the economy. In 2004 the opposition tried to remove Chávez through a referendum; they failed, and then promptly refused to recognise the result – despite its certification by international observers such as the Carter Center and the Organisation of American States.

They then boycotted the last election in 2005, hoping to portray the government as a “dictatorship” and leaving them without representation. This newly elected bloc could potentially draw the opposition into real political participation. If that happens, it would be a significant advance for a country that has been too polarised for too long.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

The Anti-Venezuela Election Campaign March 19, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Published on Friday, March 19, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Venezuela’s election is not until September, but the international campaign to delegitimise the government has already begun

by Mark Weisbrot

Venezuela has an election for its national assembly in September, and the campaign has begun in earnest. I am referring to the international campaign. This is carried out largely through the international media, although some will spill over into the Venezuelan media. It involves many public officials, especially in the US. The goal will be to generate as much bad press as possible about Venezuela, to discredit the government, and to delegitimise the September elections – in case the opposition should choose to boycott, as they did in the last legislative elections, or refuse to recognise the results if they lose.

There’s no need for conspiracy, since the principal actors all know what to do. Occasionally some will be off-message due to lack of co-ordination. A fascinating example of this occurred last week when Senator John McCain tried to get General Doug Fraser of the US Southern Command to back his accusations that Venezuela supports terrorist activities. Testifying before the Senate armed services committee on March 11, General Fraser contradicted McCain:

“We have continued to watch very closely … We have not seen any connections specifically that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection.”

Oops! Apparently Fraser didn’t get the memo that the Obama team, not just McCain, is in full campaign mode against Venezuela. The next day, he issued a statement recanting his testimony:

“Assistant Secretary Valenzuela [the state department's top Latin America official] and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the Farc. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement.

“There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the government of Venezuela and the Farc … we are in direct alignment with our partners at the state department and the intelligence community.”

Well it’s good to know that the United States still has civilian control over the military, at least in the western hemisphere. On the other hand, it would be even better if the truth counted for anything in these Congressional hearings or in Washington foreign policy circles generally. The general’s awkward and seemingly forced reversal went unnoticed by the media.

The “documented and historical and ongoing evidence” mentioned by General Fraser refers to material alleged to come from laptops and hard drives allegedly found by the Colombian military in a cross-border raid into Ecuador in 2008. Never mind that this is the same military that has been found to have killed hundreds of innocent teenagers and dressed them up in guerrilla clothing. These laptops and hard drives will continue to be tapped for previously undisclosed “evidence”, which will then be deployed in the campaign against the Venezuelan government. We will be asked to assume that the “captured documents” are authentic, and most of the media will do so.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton‘s attacks on Venezuela during her trip to South America were one of the opening salvos of this campaign. Most of what will follow is predictable. There will be hate-filled editorials in the major newspapers, led by the neocon editorial board of the Washington Post (aka Fox on 15th Street). Chávez will be accused of repressing the media, even though most of the Venezuelan media – as measured by audience – is still controlled by the opposition. In fact, the media in Venezuela is still far more in opposition to the government than is our own media in the United States, or for that matter in most of the world. But the international press will be trying to convey the image that Venezuela is Burma or North Korea.

In Washington DC, if I try to broadcast on an FM radio frequency without a legal broadcast licence, I will be shut down. When this happens in Venezuela, it is reported as censorship. No one here will bother to look at the legalities or the details, least of all the pundits and editorial writers, or even many of the reporters.

The Venezuelan economy was in recession in 2009, but will likely begin to grow again this year. The business press will ignore the economic growth and hype the inflation, as they have done for the past six years, when the country’s record economic growth cut the poverty rate by half and extreme poverty by 70% (which was also ignored). Resolutions will be introduced into the US Congress condemning Venezuela for whatever.

The US government will continue to pour millions of dollars into Venezuela through USAid, and will refuse to disclose the recipients. This is the non-covert part of their funding for the campaign inside Venezuela.

The only part of this story that is not predictable is what the ultimate result of the international campaign will be. In Venezuela’s last legislative elections of 2005, the opposition boycotted the national elections, with at least tacit support from the Bush administration. In an attempt to delegitimise the government, they gave up winning probably at least 30% of the legislature.

At the time, most of the media – and also the Organisation of American States – rejected the idea that the election was illegitimate simply because the opposition boycotted. But that was under the Bush administration, which had lost some credibility on Venezuela due to its support for the 2002 coup, and for other reasons. It could be different under an Obama administration.

That is why it is so ominous to see this administration mounting an unprovoked, transparently obvious campaign to delegitimise the Venezuelan government prior to a national election. This looks like a signal to the opposition: “We will support you if you decide to return to an insurrectionary strategy,” either before or after the election.

The US state department is playing an ugly and dangerous game.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Clinton’s Latin American Blunders March 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, March 5, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Offensive remarks on Honduras, gratuitous insults in Brazil – Hillary Clinton’s Latin American tour has not been a success

by Mark Weisbrot

Hillary Clinton‘s Latin America tour is turning out to be about as successful as George W Bush’s visit in 2005, when he ended up leaving Argentina a day ahead of schedule just to get the hell out of town. The main difference is that she is not being greeted with protests and riots. For that she can thank the positive media image that her boss, President Obama, has managed to maintain in the region, despite his continuation of his predecessor’s policies.

But she has been even more diplomatically clumsy that Bush, who at least recognised that there were serious problems and knew what not to say. “The Honduras crisis has been managed to a successful conclusion,” Clinton said in Buenos Aires, adding that “it was done without violence.”

This is rubbing salt into her hosts’ wounds, as they see the military overthrow of President Mel Zelaya last June, and subsequent efforts by the US to legitimise the dictatorship there as not only a failure but a threat to democracy throughout the region.

It is also an outrageous thing to say, given the political killings, beatings, mass arrests, and torture that the coup government used in order to maintain power and repress the pro-democracy movement. The worst part is that they are still committing these crimes.

Today nine members of the US Congress – including some Democrats in Congressional leadership positions – wrote to Clinton and to the White House about this violence. They wrote:

“Since President Lobo’s inauguration, several prominent opponents of the coup have been attacked. On 3 February, Vanessa Zepeda, a nurse and union organiser who had previously received death threats linked to her activism in the resistance movement, was strangled and her body dumped from a vehicle in Tegucigalpa. On 15 February, Julio Funes Benitez, a member of the [water and sewage workers] trade union and an active member of the national resistance movement, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen on a motorcycle outside his home. Most recently, Claudia Brizuela, an opposition activist, was murdered in her home on 24 February. Unfortunately these are only three of the numerous attacks against activists and their families … “

Clinton will meet on Friday with “Pepe” Lobo of Honduras, who was elected president after a campaign marked by media shutdowns and police repression of dissent. The Organisation of American States and European Union refused to send official observers to the election.

The members of Congress also asked that Clinton, in her meeting with Lobo, “send a strong unambiguous message that the human rights situation in Honduras will be a critical component of upcoming decisions regarding the further normalisations of relations, as well as the resumption of financial assistance.”

This was the third letter that Clinton received from Congress on human rights in Honduras. On 7 August and 25 September members of Congress from Hillary Clinton’s own Democratic party wrote to her to complain of the ongoing human rights abuses in Honduras and impossibility of holding free elections under these conditions. They did not even get a perfunctory reply until 28 January, more than four months after the second letter was sent. This is an unusual level of disrespect for the elected representatives of one’s own political party.

For these New Cold Warriors, it seems that all that has mattered is that they got rid of one social democratic president of one small, poor country.

In Brazil, Clinton continued her cold war strategy by throwing in some gratuitous insults toward Venezuela. This is a bit like going to a party and telling the host how much you don’t like his friends. After ritual denunciations of Venezuela, Clinton said “We wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile and other models of a successful country.”

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim responded with diplomacy, but there was no mistaking his strong rebuff to her insults: he said that he agreed with “one point” that Clinton made, “that Venezuela should look southwards more … that is why we have invited Venezuela to join MERCOSUR as a full member country.” Clinton’s rightwing allies in Paraguay’s legislature – the remnants of that country’s dictatorship and 60 years of one-party rule – are currently holding up Venezuela’s membership in the South American trade block. This is not what she wanted to hear from Brazil.

The Brazilians also rejected Clinton’s rather undiplomatic efforts to pressure them to join Washington in calling for new sanctions against Iran. “It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall,” said Brazilian president Lula da Silva.” The prudent thing is to establish negotiations.”

“We will not simply bow down to an evolving consensus if we do not agree,” Amorim said at a press conference with Clinton.

Secretary Clinton made one concession to Argentina, calling for the UK to sit down with the Argentine government and discuss their dispute over the Malvinas (Falklands) Islands. But it seems unlikely that Washington will do anything to make this happen.

For now, the next crucial test will be Honduras: will Clinton continue Washington’s efforts to whitewash the Honduran government’s repression? Or will she listen to the rest of the hemisphere as well as her own Democratic members of Congress and insist on some concessions regarding human rights, including the return of Mel Zelaya to his country (as the Brazilians also emphasised)? This story may not get much US media attention, but Latin America will be watching.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government Is on With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras December 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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(Roger’s Note: this photo tells it all.  It shows Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, shaking hands with Pepe Lobo to congratulate him on his election victory in Honduras in an illegitimate election that was held under a regime installed by a military coup and in an atmosphere of violent repression; an election that has be soundly condemned and rejected by governments and international bodies around the world [with the exception of a handfull of US puppet governments such as that of Uribe in Colombia].  The can be absolutely no doubt that from Day One the US government under Mr. Obama was in support of the right-wing military coup that deposed Honduras’ democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya.  So much for democracy.  This is the same United States of America whose governments past and present have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan in the name of democracy.)

Published on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

by Mark Weisbrot

At dawn on June 28, the Honduran military abducted President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint and flew him out of the country. Conflicting and ambiguous statements from the Obama administration left many confused about whether it opposed this coup or was really trying to help it succeed.  Here are the top ten indicators (with apologies to David Letterman):

  1. The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.  Since U.S. officials have acknowledged that they were talking to the Honduran military right up to the day of the coup – allegedly to try and prevent it – they had time to think about what their immediate response would be if it happened.
  1. The Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations General Assembly, and other international bodies responded by calling for the “immediate and unconditional” return of President Zelaya. In the ensuing five months, no U.S. official would use either of those two words.
  1. At a press conference the day after the coup, Secretary of State Clinton was asked if “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.
  1. On July 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced President Zelaya’s attempt to return to his own country that week as “reckless,” adding that “We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence.”
  1. Most U.S. aid to Honduras comes from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency. The vast majority of this aid was never suspended. By contrast, on August 6, 2008, there was a military coup in Mauritania; MCC aid was suspended the next day. In Madagascar, the MCC announced the suspension of aid just three days after the military coup of March 17, 2009.
  1. On September 28, State Department officials representing the United States blocked the OAS from adopting a resolution on Honduras that would have refused to recognize Honduran elections carried out under the dictatorship.
  1. The United States government refused to officially determine that there was a “military coup,” in Honduras – in contrast to the view of rest of the hemisphere and the world.
  1. The Obama administration defied the rest of the hemisphere and the world by supporting undemocratic elections in Honduras.
    On October 30th, U.S. government representatives including Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. State Department official for Latin America, brokered an accord between President Zelaya and the coup regime. The agreement was seen throughout the region as providing for Zelaya’s restitution, and – according to diplomats close to the negotiations – both Shannon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances that this was true.
    Yet just four days later, Mr. Shannon stated in a TV interview that the United States would recognize the November 29 elections, regardless of whether or not Zelaya were restored to the presidency. This put the United States against all of Latin America, which issued a 23-nation statement two days later saying that Zelaya’s restitution was an “indispensable prerequisite” for recognizing the elections. The Obama administration has since been able to recruit the right-wing governments of Canada, Panama, and Colombia, and also Peru, to recognize the elections. But its support for these undemocratic elections – to which the OAS, European Union, and the Carter Center all refused to send observers – has left the Obama administration as isolated as its predecessor in the hemisphere.
  1. President Zelaya visited Washington six times after he was overthrown. Yet President Obama has never once met with him. Is it possible that President Obama did not have even five minutes in all of those days just to shake his hand and say, “I’m trying to help?”
  1. The Obama administration has never condemned the massive human rights violations committed by the coup regime. These have been denounced and documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as Honduran, European, and other human rights organizations. There have been thousands of illegal arrests, beatings and torture by police and military, the closing down of independent radio and TV stations, and even some killings of peaceful demonstrators and opposition activists.
    The United States government’s silence through more than five months of these human rights crimes has been the most damning and persistent evidence that it has always been more concerned about protecting the dictatorship, rather than restoring democracy in Honduras.

The majority of American voters elected President Obama on a promise that our foreign policy would change. For this hemisphere, at least, that promise has been broken.

The headline from the latest Time Magazine report on Honduras summed it up: “Obama’s Latin America Policy Looks Like Bush’s.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C.

Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere November 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, November 20, 2009 by The Sacramento Beeby Mark Weisbrot

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”

Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.

“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.

On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.

Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.

Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.

Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.

Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.

What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!”  It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.

© 2009 McClatchy Newspapers

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Posted in honduras

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karlof1 November 20th, 2009 2:49 pm

Weisbrot asks: “Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? The biggest threat to any amount of People Power–real participatory democracy–is centered in Depravity Central, Metropole of the US Empire, because real participatory democracy will reduce the oligarchy of Fat Cats that holds power in the US Empire and its allies in placess like Honduras, Paraguay, Venezuela, etc., while allowing the masses to better their livelihoods.

Cee Miracles November 20th, 2009 6:15 pm

karlof1: “Weisbrot asks: “Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot?”

… and to your answers to that question, karlof1, I add … because we have been so brainwashed for so many years that we haven’t understood that this government is only a PRETEND DEMOCRACY. We are really a Fascistic Corporatocracy now, and for quite some time, and all the rules and regs for our total suppression were put in place during the GWBush administration after the very well-planned Inside Job of 9-11 with the neo-cons and our partner Israel.

Obama is obviously trying to finish the job in his mild-mannered way. He’s a phony, a well-behaved puppet, and a shill for Mega-money/Mega-power.

Support genuine democracy in Honduras and help restore the elected president brought down by a military coup? R U kidding? The Honduran president was doing what Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales and others are doing, starting to really help The People to even up land ownership and a share of the wealth of the countries they live in.

Obviously, the U.S. wouldn’t be setting up seven more military bases in Colombia [our sock puppet "friend" who gets military supplies & money from us] to be ready to strike any South American or Latin American country AGAIN if the rich corporatists don’t get their way, retrieve all their assets, and retain their power.

United Fruit Cakes have been calling the shots for more than an hundred years. And sock-puppet Obama is right there to help them, and Hillary too.

The problem for the folks of the U.S. is that as more and more and more rottenness and corruption is exposed, only a small percentage go past the TV babble, open their minds to possibilities other than what they are being told, and read sites like this.

[personal musings]

I have a lovely daughter and son, both 50-ish, good parents and family people and solid middle-class. We don’t live near each other, and my life is very different from theirs. Obviously I became a maverick in my thinking, in what I did, what I risked, quite a long time ago now, and my lifestyle is no longer the mainstream one it once was by any stretch of the imagination.

As I have evolved and the blinders came off, what I think or have to say to my family or even local people, is not really welcome. There is no way to interest them or rouse them to the seriousness of what’s happening in this country or in this world, and that includes mates and in-laws and step-siblings and cousins. They are all busy with their lives and children and the usual demands of family life and home ownership, and they cannot stretch beyond that.

They are not unusual.

Our president is of their generation, and I keep getting astounded because I know he doesn’t get it; he doesn’t feel it; he lacks all passion.

The malaise for recent generations seems to be an apathy of the soul. The buzz words of the ’60′s, the Civil Rights movement, the era of Vietnam protests were about Soul, including Soul Food, Soulfulness, Singing from the Soul … and PASSION for JUSTICE and the RIGHT. Dangerous stuff that was programmed away … deliberately. Much easier to have a nation of apathetic souls with passions made tepid and minds that are educated to think small and not deal with complexities and complex questions and issues.

I am unusual for my generation. I know that too. It’s been a most unusual journey, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Even though it is frustrating as hell at times, it is better to be able to see and hear and cut through the crap to understand the bamboozlement that is passed off as TRUTH by those who lead us or provide us with information.

What goes around comes around. It continues to be an interesting ride.

… and I do appreciate so the thoughtful, knowledgeable and intelligent comments many of you make. And I delight when I hear the passion in some of you.

The essays and headline information gathered by the folks who run this site are frequently outstanding, some of them a little so-so, and a few not so good, but the “audience”/you commenters set it right immediately by what you say.

I’m in that childlike feeling of long ago, right now, of deeply wishing that we on this earth could all just get along and help each other and respect each other as fellow human-beings. It seems such an easy solution, but I guess you have to see and feel it that way.

peace, cm

Paul Revere November 20th, 2009 12:41 pm

When Chavez accused Obama of being a prisoner of the military, he was exactly right.He has been told to back the coup d’etat in Honduras by the people that really run our foreign policy, namely the MIC, but he is very good at hiding what he has been ordered to do.

nativetongueredux November 20th, 2009 1:25 pm

I guess he hides it wherever he hides his smoking habit?

This is just one of hundreds of gringo-planned and gringo-executed, then gringo-justified savage suppressions of democracy–aka the will of the people–in this hemisphere.

The MIC has pulled off so pretty good coups in Gringotowm, too–they were so successful that the bovine “voters” did not even realize they were coups.

The situation in Honduras, coupled with the installation of the gringo military throughout Colombia is nothing more and nothing less than a rapid-fire cancer developed to destroy the dignity and human rights of the folks in Latin America, and rip off all their resources.

Stone November 20th, 2009 12:27 pm

Obama supposts the American oligarchs that feel threatened by South America’s many country’s peoples who have reestablished people control over their governments at the expense of corporations. Obama wants to undo this before it spreads to America. So, he supports the coop in Honduras and the establishment of an enormously powerful American military base in Columbia. In my opinion, Obama is a dangerous man who opposes democracy and supports the corptocracy.

mtdon November 20th, 2009 12:27 pm

Let’s not discount Hillary Clinton’s involvement in this attack against democracy…..up to her neck in corruption and knee deep in blood…….

nice legacy!

Cygnus-X1-isaHole November 20th, 2009 11:24 am

Now that Chiquita is in the driver’s seat can we accurately call the Honduran government a Banana Republic?

AD November 20th, 2009 11:04 am

This article is pretty much right on the mark. The USA could take action which would bring a half to the coup gangsters running the Honduran government.

AD

Vern November 20th, 2009 10:40 am

Obama’s inaction on every front is breathtaking in it’s scope.

mujeriego November 20th, 2009 10:32 am

Obama is all about political expediency….witness the reform-less health reform, the justice-less terrorist show trials, the solution-less climate change policy, the dumb, deaf and blind “looking forward” past Bush criminal activities.

His main goal seems to be getting through his first term without giving the GOP any ammunition to use against him. Unfortunately this means he will neither be giving his supporters any reason to continue supporting him.

All in all. Obama is a dud.

Vern November 20th, 2009 10:43 am

Expediency has a short shelf life and the GOP will attack him even if he serves their agenda exclusively. A dud he is.

corvo November 20th, 2009 10:02 am

The Obama Administration has no problem with the coup regime.

Humbaba November 20th, 2009 9:57 am

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians — like Chiquita and Dole….and a few Republicans.

phasor November 20th, 2009 11:18 am

Exactly! Now that is the point!

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