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Clintonians Flock With Vultures Over Argentina July 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Argentina, Congo, Economic Crisis, Latin America, Peru.
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Roger’s note: I confess to an intense dislike of the Clintons and their retinue.  Whereas right wing ideologues and bigots make no secret of where they stand, the Clinton crowd pose as progressives as they and their close friends and supporters become millionaires whilst enacting and promoting policies that are damaging to the constituencies they claim to represent.  From Bill the president we had drastic welfare reductions camouflaged as “reforms,” and the deregulation that led to the 2008 economic crisis that resulted in thousands losing their homes.  From Hillary the Secretary of State we had super hawk foreign policy, a continuation of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, and support for military coup d’etat in Honduras, Egypt and now the Ukraine —  all in the service of US corporate and geopolitical interests.  A pox on their house.

 

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By OpEdNews Op Eds 7/24/2014 at 15:16:53

It is no surprise that right-wing Republican and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer should be trying to wring hundreds of millions of dollars out of Argentina for a debt that Buenos Aires doesn’t really owe him. He screwed tens of millions of dollars out of poverty-stricken Peru and the Republic of Congo using the same financial sleight of hand. What may surprise people, however, is that key leaders in the administration of former President Bill Clinton are helping him do it.

Singer, who owns Elliot Management, a $17 billion hedge fund, is the leading “vulture investor” — a financial speculator who buys up the bonds of debt strapped nations for pennies on the dollar and then demands payment in full. When Argentina defaulted on its foreign debt in 2001, Singer moved in and bought up $48 million in bonds. He is now demanding that those bonds be paid at full-face value — $1.5 billion — plus interest and fees. It is a move that could derail Argentina’s long climb back into solvency, as well as undermine debt settlements worldwide.

A recent decision by federal District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan may not only force Argentina to pay the vultures, it could unravel a 2006 debt deal between Buenos Aires and other creditors. Under the highly controversial principle of “pari passu” (“equal ranking among creditors”), if the vultures are compensated, so must all the other creditors, even those who settled back in 2006. That bill could reach $15 billion. Given that Argentina has only about $28 billion in foreign reserves, the tab could send Buenos Aires into a recession or force the country into bankruptcy.

The “sleight of hand” involves the fact that the countries the vultures prey on are not really in debt to creditors such as Singer and Eric Hermann of FH International Asset Management LLC. The hedge funds look for distressed countries, then buy their debt at bargain basement prices and sit on it. In the meantime, other creditors cut a deal to take a reduced payment on their bonds, which in turn helps improve the debtor’s economy and allows it to emerge from default.

That’s when the vultures sue, threatening to shut down outside aid programs, seize assets and freeze debtor nations out of international finance if they don’t pay up. Recent examples involving Singer include the Republic of Congo being forced to pay him $90 million on a $10 million investment. Singer’s investment of $48 million in Argentina’s debt would net him a 1,608 percent profit if Buenos Aires pays in full. Peru was similarly plundered.

It is more than dollars and cents at stake in all this. As journalist Greg Palast points out, “In Congo-Brazzaville [the capital of the Republic of Congo] last year, one-fourth of all deaths of children under five were caused by malnutrition.” That $90 million might have made a difference.

Singer’s rap sheet is consistent with hard-nosed vulture tactics. He is a leading Republican fundraiser, and a member — along with former Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraq War designer Richard Perle — of the right-wing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. He helped bankroll Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and is a bitter critic of “unpayable” social welfare programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

But the people who head up the main lobbying organization behind Singer’s current campaign, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), sit on the high councils of the Democratic Party and would likely be part of any Hillary Clinton administration.

The task force is essentially a front for several vulture funds, conservative and libertarian business groups, and agricultural organizations, like the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which would like to damage Argentina’s cattle export business. And its executive director is Robert Raben, former counsel for liberal Congressman Barney Frank, Democratic counsel for the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration.

ATFA’s two co-chairs are Clinton’s former undersecretary of commerce, Robert Shapiro, and Clinton appointee to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg. Shapiro was an adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and a senior adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 run for the White House. Soderberg, who served as a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy, was also a member of Clinton’s National Security Council and an alternative representative to the U.N. with the title of ambassador. She is currently a Democratic Party activist in Florida and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Raben, Soderberg and Shapiro have written numerous opinion pieces on Argentina using their Clinton administration credentials and, depending on the publication, have not always disclosed their lobbying ties. The three snookered the progressive Huffington Post into running opinion pieces until journalists Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim uncovered their ties to ATFA. HuffPo subsequently removed the articles from its website.

Because of the huge debt burdens borne by nations from Latin America to Europe, the Griesa decision has opened up a Pandora’s box of trouble. A number of financial institutions and countries — including the International Monetary Fund and organizations representing 133 nations — have condemned the vultures or filed amici curiae briefs on behalf of Argentina, fearing that the decision could chill future debt negotiations and threaten economies trying to work themselves out of the red.

Given the ongoing hangover from the 2007-08 international meltdown, there is a lot of vulture food out there.

The key role being played by important Democratic Party activists in this cruel business — for there is no other word to describe taking money from countries struggling to emerge from debt and recession — may seem contradictory. And yet it was the Clinton administration that deregulated national and international finance and fought so hard for policies that ended up impoverishing some of the countries the vultures are now preying on.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pushed Argentina to privatize its state-owned industries, tie its currency to the dollar and institute the “Washington Consensus” of combining tax cuts with austerity. The result was economic disaster. From 1998 to 2002 Argentina’s economy shrank 20 percent and half the population fell below the poverty line.

Buenos Aires defaulted on its $100 billion debt in order to staunch the hemorrhage and pull the country out of an economic death spiral. In 2006, it negotiated a deal with 92.4 percent of its debt holders to pay 30 and 50 cents on the dollar. It was that deal that drew the vultures, which swooped in, scooped up some of the debt and then refused to accept the settlement.

The 2001 default blocked Argentina from tapping into international finance to tide it over until the economy recovered, but policies to end austerity and increase government spending eventually did the job. The economy grew at an average rate of 6 percent from 2002 to 2012 and Argentina paid off the IMF in 2006 and the Paris Club countries (representing the world’s 20 largest economies) in 2014.

But the vultures now threaten to undo much of this.

The Obama administration has come down on the side of Argentina because it is worried that financial institutions will shift their business to London if “pari passu” is allowed to stand. Hillary Clinton, however, has been quiet on the subject of international debt and Argentina. Given that her husband’s administration helped push Argentina off the cliff, that is hardly a surprise.

What is disquieting is that Clinton and people such as Raben, Shapiro and Soderberg have an economic philosophy that many times marches in step with that of Wall Street.

According to The New York Times, the financial sector was the second largest contributor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run for the White House. She is also close to the center-right Third Way think tank that advocates cutting Social Security and tends to be allergic to financial regulations. It is hard to imagine a Hillary Clinton administration stacked with Wall Street insiders and hedge fund lobbyists coming down on the vultures.

Clinton’s most recent comment on the debt crisis was to complain that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001, rhetorically putting herself in the same boat as tens of millions of indebted people in the U.S. and around the world. “Dead broke” in Chappaqua, N.Y., is not quite the same as “dead broke” in Brazzaville, or in the growing number of homeless encampments around the U.S.

Argentina is currently negotiating a compromise with the vultures, who have Buenos Aires over a barrel. The country desperately needs outside financing to exploit its huge Vaca Muerta gas reserves and to underwrite agricultural exports. “These hedge funds are equipped with an instrument [the New York court decision] that forces struggling countries into submission,” saysEric LeCompte, executive director of the anti-poverty religious organization Jubilee USA Network.

Countries are wising up to the hedge funds. Many of them now require that a debt agreement include a collective action clause (CAC), in which a majority or two-thirds vote by creditors is binding on all and would block a handful of vultures from tying up agreements. Because they signal economic fragility however, the CACs will string out negotiations and may result in higher interest rates.

In the meantime, the vultures have backed Buenos Aires against the wall. At a minimum, Democratic candidates for the presidency should make it clear that they stand with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. One way would be to endorse campaigns by organizations such as Oxfam and Jubilee to forgive foreign debt, and to make it clear they will also press for financial regulations to block vulture speculation.

In the world, vultures are estimable creatures. There is a “yuck” factor, but at least they wait until their prey are dead before making a meal of them, and they do clean up after themselves. The vultures of Wall Street prey on the living and leave behind an unspeakable mess.

Read more of independent journalist Conn Hallinan’s work at his blog, Dispatches from the Edge.

Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, “A Think Tank Without Walls, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the (more…)

The human rights detective May 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America, Peru.
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ROGER’S NOTE: NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE GOVERNMENTS OF PERU AND GUATEMALA UNDER WHOSE AUSPICES  THESE ATROCITIES WERE COMMITTED, WERE AT THE TIME ACTIVELY SUPPORTED BY THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

Friday, May 11, 2012 06:00 PM EST, www.salon.com

 

How Kate Doyle pursues war criminals in Latin America

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Kate Doyle, human rights investigator, combines legal activism with forensic science. (Credit: Reuters/Jorge Lopez)

Kate Doyle’s job isn’t exactly journalism, though she’s nailed more big stories than many Pulitzer Prize winners. Her work does not quite qualify as law enforcement either, though a few bad guys living in confined quarters rue the day she came into their lives. “Human rights detective” sounds flippant, so she prefers “forensic archivist.”

Whatever you call it, war criminals have to pay attention. Last month Doyle, a senior analyst at the non-profit National Security Archive, testified as an expert witness in the Peruvian government’s prosecution of Vladimir Montesinos, the country’s former intelligence chief, who is on trial for ordering the execution of 14 captured leftist guerrillas in 1997. Doyle authenticated a declassified CIA cable she had obtained that included a first person account of Montesinos’s actions.

In the near future, she hopes to take the stand as an expert witness against former de facto Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt, who presided over a genocidal “scorched earth” war that killed an estimated 200,000 people in the early 1980s, the worst genocide in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. An investigation documented 626 different massacres committed by the U.S.-backed military forces between 1979 and 1984; most of the victims were unarmed Mayan Indians.

Doyle’s forensic investigations over the last 20 years have made her an irritant to governments everywhere — including Washington — as well a friend to the families of the victims of human rights abuses throughout Latin America. She has won a host of awards, including this year’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive and Puffin Foundation award for human rights activism, one of the world’s largest prizes in the field. She will share the award with fellow investigator Fredy Peccerelli, who is the executive director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation.

“She speaks with such strength because she speaks as an American,” Peccerelli said in an interview. “Very few times do you have someone investigating their own government and pointing to their own officials about their involvement. Kate speaks about the responsibility that Americans bear because of what they did. It’s very powerful.”

(Full disclosure: Doyle is a friend. I relied on CIA documents she obtained from the National Security Archive to write my book Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. Like many journalists in Washington and Latin America, I have found her work to be built on a solid foundation of official documentation from the U.S. and other governments. )

She’s also a passionate advocate of freedom of information laws. Thanks in part to her work, seven Latin American countries have adopted freedom of information laws since 2000. The most distinctive feature of these laws is that, unlike the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, they explicitly forbid the withholding of information about human rights abuses on grounds of “national security.” A provision she calls “very important but untested.”

“Having a legal mechanism to obligate the state to provide information is just the beginning,” says Doyle. She shares the information with prosecutors to develop cases based on “criminal patterns of action” that yield specific details of a disappearance or a massacre. Peccerelli’s forensic anthropologists exhume bodies and do DNA analysis.

Doyle has been largely frustrated in Mexico and El Salvador, where legal authorities are reluctant to confront the abuses of the past. But in Guatemala, she and her colleagues have uncovered some remarkable stories that have led to the prosecution of military officers involved in war crimes.

In the late 1990s, a source gave Guatemalan human rights activists a 54-page army log that revealed the fate of scores of people who were “disappeared” by security forces during the mid-1980s. The log included photos of 183 of the victims, along with coded references to their executions.

For the families of the victims, the results of the discovery of the so-called “death squad dossier” were close to miraculous. Not only are the officers named in the documents now under investigation, but thanks to Peccerelli’s DNA work, the bodies of five of the victims were identified and returned to their families, who had never known what had happened to their loved ones 30 years ago.

In 2009, another source gave Doyle a set of internal military documents about the scorched earth campaign of the early 1980s that were so damning in their details that the source recommended she immediately leave the country. “This person was worried that anybody who had possession of such incendiary documents would be targeted,” Doyle said.

The documents will be used by prosecutors in the trial of Rios Montt. “We have a very strong case,” Doyle says. But the continuing power of the Guatemalan military means the 86-year-old retired general may be able to avoid justice.

I asked her if she ever get discouraged by the enormity of the crimes she investigates.

“I don’t,” she replied. “I”ve met so many beautiful, dedicated people in Guatemala who have been working on this for 30 years that I feel privileged. What Fredy’s group has done with DNA findings is amazing. I’m inspired, not discouraged.”

Working with the families of people who have lost loved ones, she says, “is always painful. But I can bring them information that they’ve never been able to get. That’s mitigates the pain.”

I asked her if she ever gets scared.

“I have received threats,” she says with a rueful laugh. “But I’ve never felt one iota as frightened as my colleagues who have to stay in Guatemala all the time. Pressure and hostility and threats come with the territory” — the territory of the forensic archivist.

 
Jefferson MorleyJefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday). More Jefferson Morley.

Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Latin America, Peru.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:56
 

Source: The Dominion

 

Earlier  this summer, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru  successfully  ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory.  “In  spite of  government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight  to the  bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and  oil  companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.

The  David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising  highlights the  vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The  country’s economy  has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per  cent growth  expected this year—one of the highest growth rates  internationally.  Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income  comes from the  mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over  $40 billion  in the next 10 years on mining operations.

Yet  this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the  population.  The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the  countrysde,  two in three people live under the poverty line. Today,  there are over  200 communities organized against mining across Peru.

On  June 5, left-leaning presidential candidate Ollanta Humala  defeated  right winger Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president and  human  rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Humala, who won resounding  support in  the poor countryside, promised to redistribute wealth by  increasing  taxes on the lucrative mining industry.

But another political force, from the grassroots, may end up being a powerful force of change under Humala.

In  May and June of this year, hundreds of local residents in Puno   organized road blockades, strikes and protests to demand that the   government rescind a concession to the Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining   Corporation. Activists also called for an end to future mining   concessions in their area, due to the industry’s impact on the   environment.

According  to Bear Creek, at the time of the protests the  company had already  invested some $25 million in the mine. Company  Director Andrew  Swarthout said the mining would not impact on Lake  Titicaca (a massive  fresh water lake shared by Bolivia and Peru) and  would create  approximately 1,000 jobs. But local residents were not  convinced.

Walter  Aduviri is the president of the Front for the Defense of  Natural  Resources in Southern Puno, and a leading organizer in protests  against  Bear Creek and mining in general in the area.

“It  is as though we, the Aymaras, do not have any politicians or   representatives in the congress,” Aduviri told a reporter from the   Peruvian newspaper La Republica.   He critiqued outgoing president Alan García, who he says governed only   for those who have money. “We do not ask for money, we ask for respect   for our rights, our property and territory,” said Aduviri.

“The  president [Alan García] has sold off our territory without  consulting  us,” Paolo Castro, a farmer who joined the protests against  Bear Creek  told Al Jazeera.   Farmer Alejandro Tucuuhami agreed, telling the news outlet, “We know   that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so   that’s why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries.”

Indigenous  campesinos on the Bolivian side of the border began road  blockades in  solidarity with the Peruvian activists. Overall, the  blockades put a  standstill to inter-country traffic, stopping hundreds  of trucks, local  passengers and tourists.

On  June 24, following seven weeks of strikes, protests, road  blockades  and bloody police repression of activists, then President  García broke  with Peruvian political tradition and heeded the demands of  the  protesters by cancelling the Bear Creek contract, and putting a   three-year hold on future mining deals for the region. In addition,   recently inaugurated Ollanta Humala has pledged to move forward on   legislation that will make community input necessary before mining   operations anywhere in the country can proceed.

Just  hours after García overturned Bear Creek’s concession, a  conflict  erupted at the airport in Juliaca, north of Puno. There,  activists  protesting other mining operations and a hydroelectric plant  occupied  the airport only to be attacked by police who shot and killed  five  protesters. Major English media outlets inaccurately reported that   García’s decision against Bear Creek was linked to the massacre at the   airport, when in fact the airport protest was linked to separate proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Jennifer Moore, the Latin America Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, told The Dominion that García’s decision to annul the concession “is an important   indicator of the strength of local organizing that we have been seeing   for awhile in Peru.” Moore said García has been “extraordinarily bent on   handing out mining concessions without consulting with local   communities first.”

In  response to García’s decision, Bear Creek has applied for a   constitutional injunction against the Peruvian government. Swarthout   contends that the cancellation of the concession is unconstitutional and   in violation of foreign investment laws. Moore noted that it is   plausible that Bear Creek could use the Canada-Peru Free Trade   Agreement, signed in 2009, to challenge the loss of their concession.

The  wave of strikes and conflicts that have swept across Peru in  recent  months, along with the election of Humala, are likely to have a   long-standing impact on the regulation and taxation of the multinational   extractive industry in Peru. On August 23, at the time of this  writing,  the Peruvian congress signed into law a bill that requires  mining and  oil companies to consult with Indigenous communities before  constructing  extractive projects. Humala now has to sign the bill into  law for it go  into effect.

The  people’s victory in Puno against Bear Creek may set the stage for  a  new struggle in the country that will test the political will of   Humala, and challenge social movements to pressure from below.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

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

Massacre in the Amazon: The US/Peru Free Trade Agreement Sparks a Battle Over Land and Resources June 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Peru.
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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2009 by the America’s Program

by Raúl Zibechi

On June 5, World Environment Day, Amazon Indians were massacred by the government of Alan Garcia in the latest chapter of a long war to take over common lands-a war unleashed by the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Peru and the United States.

Three MI-17 helicopters took off from the base of the National Police in El Milagro at six in the morning of Friday, June 5. They flew over Devil’s Curve, the part of the highway that joins the jungle with the northern coast, which had been occupied for the past 10 days by some 5,000 Awajún and Wampi indigenous peoples. The copters launched tear gas on the crowd (other versions say that they also shot machine guns), while simultaneously a group of agents attacked the road block by ground, firing AKM rifles. A hundred people were wounded by gunshot and between 20-25 were killed.

The population of the nearby city of Bagua, some thousand kilometers northeast of Lima near the border with Ecuador, came out into the streets to support the indigenous people’s demonstration, setting fire to state institutions and local office of the official party APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana). Several police officers were attacked and killed in the counter-attack, and other indigenous protestors were killed by police. At the same time, a group of 38 police who were guarding an oil station in the Amazon were taken hostage. Some were killed by their captors, while some 1,000 Indians threatened to set fire to Station Number 6 of the northern Peruvian oil pipeline.

The versions are contradictory. The government claimed days after the events that there are 11 indigenous dead and 23 police. The indigenous organizations reported 50 dead among their ranks and up to 400 disappeared. According to witnesses, the military burned bodies and threw them into the river to hide the massacre, and also took prisoners among the wounded in the hospitals. In any case, what is certain is that the government sent the armed forces to evict a peaceful protest that had been going on for 57 days in the jungle regions of five departments: Amazonas, Cusco, Loreto, San Martin, and Ucayali.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH), part of the Organization of American States, condemned the violent acts on June 8 and reminded the Peruvian government of its obligation to clear up the facts and to compensate for the consequences and called on both sides to promote a process of dialogue.1 On June 9, the National Coordination of Human Rights announced that it found a series of irregularities and possible human rights violations in the Bagua area. It denounced the government’s refusal to divulge what police are in charge of the investigation of the events, and expressed concern for the situation of 25 detained at the El Milagro base and the 99 arrested since a curfew was imposed in Bagua.2

President Garcia accused the Indians of being “terrorists” and spoke of an “international conspiracy,” in which, according to government ministers, Bolivia and Venezuela are involved because as oil- and gas-producing countries they want to keep Peru from exploiting these resources and becoming a competitor.3 Just a few weeks ago, Peru granted asylum to the anti-Chavez leader, Venezuelan Manuel Rosas, accused of corruption, and three former Bolivian ministers from the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lazada prosecuted for the death of nearly 700 persons during the “gas war” of October 2003.

On Tuesday, June 9, the minister of Women and Social Development, Carmen Vildoso, resigned in protest of the way the government handled the situation. According to Prime Minister Yehude Simon, her resignation was due to her disapproval of a publicity spot emitted by the government in which, with the background of photos of dead police and indigenous people throwing spears and arrows, it presented the natives as “savages,” “fierce assassins,” and “extremists” that follow “international orders” to “stop Peru’s development” and keep the country from taking advantage of its oil.” The spot claims there was no repression but rather “a savage assassination of humble policemen.”4

The leader of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP, by its Spanish initials), that groups some 300,000 indigenous persons and 1,350 communities, Albert Pizango, was considered a “delinquent” by the Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas and ordered captured. Pizango sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. The parliamentary group of the official party accused the left, the leader of the Nationalist Party of Peru Ollanta Humala, and the media in the Amazon region of “having induced acts of violence so that the natives would attack the police,” and threatened to accuse them of terrorism.

History of the Conflict

The conflict began on April 9, when Amazon peoples mobilized to block the highways and gas and oil pipelines to protest the implementation of a series of decrees passed to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But the situation got worse on June 4, when the APRA stopped Congress from debating repeal of some laws questioned by the indigenous peoples that had already been declared unconstitutional by a Constitutions Commission.

The FTA with the United States was negotiated beginning in May of 2004 under the government of Alejandro Toledo (2000-2005). The treaty was slated to replace the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act signed in 2002 and in effect until December of 2006. The FTA eliminated obstacles to trade and facilitated access to goods and services and investment flows. Modeled on the North American free Trade Agreement, it also includes a broad range of issues linked to intellectual property, public contracting and services, and dispute resolution.5

The U.S-Peru FTA was signed on Dec. 8, 2005 in Washington by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alan Garcia. In June of 2006 it was ratified by Peru and in December of 2007 by the U.S. Congress. On Feb 1, 2009, the agreement went into effect after Bush and Garcia signed it on January 16 of that year.

The signing of the FTA caused huge mobilizations in 2005, especially among peasant farmers who were the most harmed by the elimination of tariffs and trade protections. Although the government said it would provide compensation to producers, these never arrived. On February 18, 2008 they staged a National Agrarian Stoppage with road blocks throughout the country that led to four dead from police repression and the imposition of a state of emergency in eight provinces.

On October 28, 2007, Alan Garcia published a long article in the daily paper El Comercio of Lima under the title “The Syndrome of the Orchard Dog.” Garcia described nature as a resource, and maintained that to refuse to exploit it was foolish, ignoring the debate over the conservation of the Amazon region. “The old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donned the label of an environmentalist in the 21st century.”

In his opinion, those who oppose the intensive exploitation of the Amazon region are like an orchard dog, that “doesn’t eat or let anyone else eat.”

“There are millions of hectares that the communities and associations have not cultivated or will cultivate, as well as hundreds of mineral deposits that cannot be worked and millions of hectares of sea that cannot be used for aquaculture and production. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountain range are a fortune that pours into the ocean without producing electric energy,” Garcia states in the article.

“The first resource is the Amazon,” he maintains. There are 63 million hectares that he proposes be parceled out into large properties of “5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 hectares, since in less land there is no formal investment long term and high technology.”

On the land, he notes that one should not “deliver small lots of land to poor families that do not have a penny to invest,” and that “this same land sold in large lots will attract technology.” He cares little that these lands are the collective property of the communities, since in his opinion they are just “idle lands because the owner does not have the training or the resources economic, that’s why their property is feigned.”

The Free Trade Agreement and the Legislative Decrees

Based on this logic of converting everything into merchandise, the government asked Congress for faculties to legislate issues relative to the implementation of the FTA through Legislative Decrees (LD). On December 19, 2007, Congress gave full faculties to the government to legislate for six months by decree issues related to the FTA, through Law 29157. Mandated by these powers, the executive drafted 99 laws that are at the root of the current conflict.

An independent judicial report distributed by Oxfam America concludes that the executive branch took advantage of the powers granted it by Congress “to issue a large number of norms with no or very little effective links to the FTA, distorting and alienating the terms of the delegation of powers approved by Congress.”6

Consequently, the report establishes that “such decrees can be qualified as unconstitutional for reasons of form,” and that therefore “merits their derogation” by Congress or the Constitutional Tribunal. It also notes that through the 99 LDs “a substantial reform of the organizational and jurisdictional framework of various government entities has been attempted, as well as the regulatory framework applicable to economic activities of special relevance,” without strict relation to the FTA.7

The most controversial of the degrees are numbers 1015 and 1073, declared unconstitutional by the Oxfam report. Theses decrees modify the number of votes required to sell communal lands (just three votes could place community land up for sale). Number 1015 was repealed by Congress in August of 2008. Decree 1064 (legal Framework for Use of Agrarian Lands), abolishes the requirement of the previous agreement to undertake projects and is also considered unconstitutional.

LD 1083 (Promotion of Efficient Use and Conservation of Hydraulic Resources) favors the privatization of water to large consumers such as mining companies. LD 1081, 1079, and 1020 deregulate diverse aspects of legislation in areas of mining, timber, and hydrocarbon exploitation. But it is LD 1090 (Forestry and Woodland Fauna Law) that is at the crux of the debate. It leaves out of the forestry framework 45 million hectares, that is, 64% of the forests of Peru, including their biodiversity in flora and fauna, making it possible to sell them to transnational corporations.

On April 9, the 1,350 communities that make up the AIDESEP agreed to start demonstrating within their communities. Prime Minister Simon called the April 18 indigenous demands “capricious.” On May 5, the bishops of eight Catholic dioceses demanded that President Alan Garcia repeal the decrees because they consider them “a threat to the Amazon.” On May 10, the government decreed a State of Emergency in five regions of the country where road blocks and blockages of ports and oil pipelines were taking place.

On May 19, the Constitution Commission of parliament declared LD 1090 unconstitutional. The report of the Commission8 concludes that the decree “does not respect the limitations that are established in Articles 101 and 104 of the Political Constitution, in terms of areas that cannot be legislated.” It also notes that “it goes against Article 66 of the constitution, by regulating in the area of natural resources, that is exclusively reserved for the organic law.”

In short, legislators agreed that the executive branch does not have the faculties to legislate by decree in certain areas according to the constitution, and that must be done in Congress. The decision of the Commission must still be debated in Congress, but on May 22 the minister of justice, Rosario Fernandez, denounced Alberto Pizango, leader of the AIDESEP, for sedition and conspiracy. On May 26, Awaj’un and Wampis took over the Belaunde Terry highway on Devil’s Curve and some 1,200 indigenous people surrounded Station 6.

On May 26, there was a huge demonstration in Lima in support of the Amazon struggle. On May 28, community landholders from the Cusco jungle took over a second valve of the gas pipeline of Kamisea. On June 1, industrialists and exporters demanded that the government “apply the law” to free the highways and pipelines in the Amazon. On June 2, the president of the Permanent Forum of the United Nations on Indigenous Questions asked the Peruvian government to “immediately suspend the state of siege against indigenous communities and organizations and “avoid any action, such as military intervention, that could increase the conflict.”9

On June 4, the APRA majority of parliament decided to suspend the debate on the unconstitutionality of LD 1090. The People’s Defender presented a grievance of unconstitutionality against LD 1064. On June 5, 639 agents of Special Operatives and staff of the armed forces attacked the indigenous on Devil’s Curve with dozens of dead, and hundreds of wounded and disappeared.

The Amazon protest has not died down since the massacre-nearly all the 56 Amazon indigenous peoples reaffirmed that they would continue the road blocks until the government repeals the Legislative Decrees that the violate Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and their rights over their territories. According to their testimonies, the situation is explosive. Alan Garcia has a history of violent repression. Under his first presidency in 1986, the armed forces forcefully put down a coordinated prison riot that left over a hundred prisoners shot dead. In this context, the Peruvian government could very well increase the violence unleashed on the indigenous movement.

Hugo Blanco, a well-known Peruvian movement activist and editor of the monthly Lucha Indígena, takes a long look in a recent editorial: “After 500 years of silencing, the Amazon peoples receive the support of the peoples of Peru and the world. It could be the greatest achievement of this campaign has been to make these nationalities visible, weaving links between diverse sectors of the country, as divided as those who dominate. By defending the Amazon we are defending the life of all of humanity; and by not ceding to the deceit of the government, they are rewriting history, recuperating for all the sense of the word dignity.”

End Notes

  1. Servindi, June 9, 2009.
  2. Idem.
  3. La Jornada, June 7, 2009 base on reports from Reuters, AFP, and DPA.
  4. Página 12, June 10, 2009.
  5. Peru Gets its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4726.
  6. Francisco Eguiguren, ob. cit. p. 96.
  7. Idem p. 97.
  8. “Informe sobre DL 1090. Comisión de Constitución y Reglamento,” May 19, 2009 at www.servindi.org.
  9. Chronology taken from Lucha Indígena No. 35 and Ana Maria Vidal ob. cit.

Translated for the Americas Program by Laura Carlsen.

© 2009 Center for International Policy (CIP)

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program (www.americasprogram.org).

‘Police Are Throwing Bodies in the River,’ Say Native Protesters June 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Peru.
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Published on Tuesday, June 9, 2009 by Inter Press Service by Milagros Salazar

LIMA – There are conflicting reports on a violent incident in Peru’s Amazon jungle region in which both police officers and indigenous protesters were killed.

The authorities, who describe last Friday’s incident as a “clash” between the police and protesters manning a roadblock, say 22 policemen and nine civilians were killed.

But leaders of the two-month roadblock say at least 40 indigenous people, including three children, were killed and that the authorities are covering up the massacre by throwing bodies in the river.

And foreign activists on the scene in the town of Bagua, in the northern province of Amazonas, report that the police opened fire early in the morning on the unarmed protesters, some of whom were still sleeping, and deliberately mowed them down as they held up their arms or attempted to flee.

In response, the activists quote eyewitnesses as saying, another group of indigenous people who were farther up the hill seized and killed a number of police officers, apparently in “self-defense.”

National ombudswoman Beatriz Merino reported Sunday night that at least 24 police and 10 civilians had been killed, and that 89 indigenous people had been wounded and 79 arrested. But the figures continue to grow.

“We have killed each other, Peruvians against Peruvians,” lamented indigenous leader Shapion Noningo, the new spokesman for the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP) – which groups 28 federations of indigenous peoples – said Sunday night.

AIDESEP has led the protests that began two months ago, which have included blockades of traffic along roads and rivers and occupations of oil industry installations in various provinces.

A few hours earlier, President Alán García had said there was “a conspiracy afoot to try to keep us from making use of our natural wealth.” He was referring to the fierce opposition by the country’s native peoples to 10 decrees issued by his government that open up indigenous land to private investment by oil, mining and logging companies and to agribusiness, including biofuel plantations.

The decrees, which were passed by the government under special powers received from Congress to facilitate implementation of Peru’s free trade agreement with the United States, are considered unconstitutional by the indigenous protesters. A legislative committee also recommended last December that they be overturned.

On Thursday, Jun. 4, governing party lawmakers suspended a debate on one of the decrees, the “forestry and wildlife law”, fueling the demonstrators’ anger.

“In whose interest is it for Peru not to use its natural gas; in whose interest is it for Peru not to find more oil; in whose interest is it for Peru not to exploit its minerals more effectively and on a larger-scale? We know whose interests this serves,” said García. “The important thing is to identify the ties between these international networks that are emerging to foment unrest.”

The president blamed the conflict on “international competitors,” but without naming names.

Two neighboring countries that are major producers of natural gas and oil, Venezuela and Bolivia, are governed by left-wing administrations that have been vociferous critics of “neoliberal” free trade economic policies like those followed by the García administration.

“We will not give in to violence or blackmail,” said the president, who maintained that Peru “is suffering from subversive aggression” fed by opponents who “have taken the side of extreme savagery.”

A large number of the traffic blockades on roads and rivers are in the northern and northeastern provinces of Loreto, San Martín and Amazonas, which have large natural gas reserves.

According to the 1993 census, indigenous people made up one-third of the Peruvian population. But more recent estimates put the proportion at 45 percent, with most of the rest of the population of 28 million being of mixed-race heritage.

In Loreto, indigenous protesters reportedly attempted to occupy installations belonging to the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol. The company said it had closed down activity on its 1AB lot, to avoid violent clashes.

Business associations estimate the losses caused by the protests at more than 186 million dollars.

The government is broadcasting a television spot showing images of dead policemen, along with messages like: “This is how extremism is acting against Peru”; “extremists encouraged from abroad want to block progress in Peru”; and “we must unite against crime, to keep the fatherland from backsliding from the progress made.”

Leaders of the indigenous protests say the government is manipulating information and blaming them for incidents that could have been avoided if Congress had repealed the decrees that sparked the first native “uprising” in August 2008, which flared up again in April this year.

“The government is underreporting the number of indigenous people killed and missing. It is insulting us and treating us like criminals, when all we are doing is defending ourselves and our territory, which is humanity’s heritage,” Walter Kategari, a member of the AIDESEP board of directors, told IPS.

Kategari forms part of AIDESEP’s new leadership, which was formed when the group’s top leader, Alberto Pizango, went into hiding after a warrant for his arrest was put out on Saturday. Pizango said he fears for his life.

The leaders of the indigenous movement are demanding that the curfew prohibiting people from leaving their homes in Bagua between 3:00 PM and 6:00 AM be lifted. According to Kategari, the curfew is being used to conceal the bodies of the Indians who were killed.

“Our brothers and sisters in Bagua say the police have been collecting the bodies, putting them in black bags and throwing them in the river from a helicopter,” Kategari told IPS. “The government cannot make our dead disappear.”

There is great insecurity and fear in the jungle, he added. “People are calling us on the telephone, desperate.” He said he is preparing a list of victims based on the names he has been given by people in Bagua, to counteract the official reports.

Gregor MacLennan, program coordinator for the international organization Amazon Watch, said “All eyewitness testimonies say that Special Forces opened fire on peaceful and unarmed demonstrators, including from helicopters, killing and wounding dozens in an orchestrated attempt to open the roads. “It seems that the police had come with orders to shoot. This was not a clash, but a coordinated police raid with police firing on protesters from both sides of their blockade,” added the activist, speaking from the town of Bagua. “Today I spoke to many eyewitnesses in Bagua reporting that they saw police throw the bodies of the dead into the Marañon river from a helicopter in an apparent attempt by the government to underreport the number of indigenous people killed by police,” said MacLennan, in an Amazon Watch statement.

“Hospital workers in Bagua Chica and Bagua Grande corroborated that the police took bodies of the dead from their premises to an undisclosed location,” he added.

According to MacLennan, shortly before the killings in Bagua, the police chief and mayors met with the indigenous leaders, and the police chief said he had orders to dismantle the roadblock.

Early Friday morning, the activist told Amy Goodman in an interview on the Democracy Now radio program, an estimated 500 police bore down on the protesters at the roadblock, some of whom were still sleeping, and opened fire.

MacLennan said a local leader told him that demonstrators kneeling down with their hands up were directly shot by the police. After that, he said, the police continued firing as the demonstrators attempted to flee.

With respect to the deaths of the policemen, he said “All the indigenous people I’ve spoken to are very upset about that equally…they say…they’re all Peruvians, and they all have families. It appears that as the police were attacking this huge group of indigenous people…some people came down from the mountains, who were sleeping up there, and jumped on the police and killed some of the police in self-defence, an act that’s understandable, but, as the leaders I’ve spoken to say, not excusable.”

He said the indigenous leaders want a “transparent” investigation and for all of those responsible for the killings to be brought to justice.

Unconstitutional government decrees

AIDESEP spokesman Noningo said “the political system has fomented this confrontation.” He pointed out that a multi-party legislative commission recommended in December that the decrees be repealed.

The congressional constitution committee also said the “forestry and wildlife law”, which according to critics endangers the rainforest that is home to the indigenous groups, is unconstitutional.

On Thursday Jun. 4, the ombudsperson’s office filed a lawsuit against the law, alleging that it is unconstitutional and that it undermines indigenous peoples’ rights to cultural identity, collective ownership of their land, and prior consultation.

Under the Peruvian constitution and International Labor Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, indigenous groups must be previously consulted with respect to any investment projects in their territory.

The “forestry and wildlife law”, whose stated aim is to “create the necessary conditions for private sector investment in agriculture,” violates the property rights of indigenous communities, according to the ombudsperson’s office.

But the president of Congress, Javier Velásquez Quesquén, said the legislators will not give in to “blackmail” by indigenous people.

Sociologist Nelson Manrique at the Pontificia Universidad Católica, a private university in Lima, said “the indigenous protesters are being accused of asking for too much because they are demanding compliance with the constitution, when it is the government that is breaking the law by refusing to revoke the decrees.”

The analyst told IPS that the arguments set forth by the authorities are like those of the ruling elites, who “use two stereotypes in their depictions of indigenous people: the manipulated savage who cannot argue anything in legal terms because he is incapable of thinking, or the bloody, irrational savage who is a threat to the country.

“With this discourse, the government feeds into old racist prejudices that have deep roots in Peruvian society: that of the uncivilised, inferior native. And democracy is impossible with a view like this,” said Manrique.

He said the controversial decrees form part of García’s free trade political agenda based on promoting foreign investment.

Manrique supports the indigenous groups’ demand for an independent commission to investigate what happened in Bagua, saying it was hard to believe that police armed with AKM assault rifles simply fell prey to indigenous people armed with bows and arrows and homemade weapons.

Wilfredo Ardito, lawyer for the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos human rights association, told IPS that international bodies should intervene, because “there is a climate of total distrust and fear that evidence of the massacre will be hidden.”

Ardito said that since García took office in July 2006, there have been 84 reports of deaths of protesters or extrajudicial killings by the security forces. “This is a regime that undermines human rights and that is doing nothing to redress its errors,” said the legal expert.

Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service

Bush Excluded by Latin Summit as China, Russia Loom December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Latin America.
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www.bloomberg.com

December 17, 2008

By Joshua Goodman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathering in Brazil tomorrow will mark a historic occasion: a region-wide summit that excludes the United States.

Almost two centuries after President James Monroe declared Latin America a U.S. sphere of influence, the region is breaking away. From socialist-leaning Venezuela to market-friendly Brazil, governments are expanding military, economic and diplomatic ties with potential U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“Monroe certainly would be rolling over in his grave,” says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of the 2006 book “Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”

The U.S., she says, “is no longer the exclusive go-to power in the region, especially in South America, where U.S. economic ties are much less important.”

Since November, Russian warships have engaged in joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the first in the Caribbean since the Cold War; Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free-trade agreement with Peru; and Brazil invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.

“While the U.S. remains aloof from a region it no longer sees as relevant to its strategic interests, other countries are making unprecedented, serious moves to fill the void,” says Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 until 2001. “Countries in the region are more aware than ever that they live in a globalized, post-American world.”

A Castro Triumph

The two-day gathering, called by Brazil at a beach resort in Bahia state, is also a diplomatic triumph for Cuban President Raul Castro, making his first trip abroad since taking over from his brother Fidel two years ago. The communist island was suspended from the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States in 1962 over its ties with the former Soviet Union.

“A lot of this is designed to stick it in the eye of the U.S.,” says Peter Romero, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 1999 to 2001. “But underlying the bluster, there’s a genuine effort to exploit the gap left by a distant and distracted U.S.”

The effort is most evident in the bloc of countries allied with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivian President Evo Morales last month expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that DEA agents were conspiring to overthrow him; U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the charges as absurd and suspended trade privileges for the Andean nation.

Drug-War Defeat

In Ecuador, meanwhile, President Rafael Correa has refused to renew the lease on the U.S.’s only military outpost in South America, a critical platform for the U.S. war on drugs.

For Brazil, tomorrow’s summit caps a decade-long diplomatic drive to use its growing economic and political stability to play a bigger role in the world.

While little concrete action is expected from the first-ever Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t invited has symbolic importance, says Lampreia.

The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, says the nature of American influence is only changing, not declining, as the region matures.

No Invitation Sought

The U.S. “didn’t ask to be invited” to the summit, he says, although it had discussed with Brazil and Mexico ways the meeting’s agenda could be used during the U.S.-backed Summit of the Americas, in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We don’t subscribe to the hydraulic theory of diplomacy that when one country is up, the other is down — that if China and Russia are in the area our influence has somehow waned,” Shannon said in a telephone interview.

The fact that “there’s no warfare, weapons proliferation, suicide bombers or jihadists” in Latin America may make its issues “less urgent,” though no less important, Shannon said. The U.S. remains the region’s dominant investor and trading partner: Foreign aid to Colombia to fight drug traffickers and Marxist rebels totals $700 million a year, and remittances from Latin Americans living in the U.S. totaled $66.5 billion last year.

Monroe’s Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, which dates back to 1823, declared Latin America off-limits to European powers. Whether welcomed by the region or not, it has been invoked whenever real or imagined security threats to U.S. interests arise, says Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale University historian of American foreign policy.

“Its essence is unilateralism; no Latin American country had any say in it,” says Smith, whose more than a dozen books on American foreign policy include “The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine.”

The real battle is for a larger share of the region’s abundant resources and expanding economies, and China has led the way.

Two-way trade with the region shot up 12-fold since 1995 to $110 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s share of the region’s imports also jumped, to 24 percent from 9.8 percent in 1990, while the U.S. share shrunk to 34 percent from 43 percent. Two years after reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement, China’s demand for copper made it Chile’s biggest export market in 2007, replacing the U.S.

Hu’s Trips

Since making his first of three trips to Latin America in 2004, China’s President Hu Jintao has spent more time in the region than Bush — 22 days to 20 for the U.S. president. In October, as the global credit crunch dried up lending in the region, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a $350 million loan to finance small businesses. This month it pledged $10 billion in loans to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA so Brazil can develop the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil discovery since 1976.

“The Chinese play up the development side of diplomacy so much better than the Americans,” says William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a Ph.D. in Chinese and Latin American history. “Deals come with none or very few strings attached.”

Even Colombia, which is spending $115,000 a month lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a stalled free-trade pact, signed an investment treaty last month with China. During this year’s U.S. campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he opposed the accord over concerns that Colombia isn’t doing enough to stamp out violence against labor organizers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today canceled his plans for the summit to monitor rescue efforts involving 200,000 people affected by flooding over the weekend.

Arms Deals

Changing relationships are also evident in arms deals. Chavez turned to Russia for at least $4.4 billion in weapons after the U.S. blocked sales of aircraft parts. Brazil, the region’s largest economy, is also shopping around: Defense Minister Nelson Jobimsaid in Washington this month that his government will only buy weapons from countries that agree to transfer technology for local production.

Plans to purchase 36 new fighter jets, in which Boeing’s F- 18 is competing for a contract against Stockholm-based Saab AB and France’s Dassault Systemes SA, “can only be justified politically if they contribute to national development,” Jobim said.

Brazil may sign a deal with France for four nuclear submarines intended to help secure its oil basins in the Atlantic when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this month.

Reactivating a Fleet

The U.S. plan to reassert its naval presence by reactivating the Fourth Fleet after 58 years to patrol the Caribbean has triggered negative reactions ranging from Chavez’s threat to sink the convoys to the more-diplomatic Lula’s demand for explanations from the Bush administration.

Latin American leaders are looking to Obama to restore relations after the Bush presidency’s initial pledges of greater engagement gave way to a focus on the 9/11 terror attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the honeymoon with Obama may be short-lived, says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter- American Dialogue in Washington. He says that the issues that have dominated Latin American relations — including Cuba, immigration and U.S. trade barriers on agricultural products — may remain in dispute.

“Latin America wants the U.S. to be engaged, but in very different terms that it has in the past,” says Shifter. “In any case, they’re not waiting around for the U.S. to change its mindset.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 10:40 EST

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