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A Tale of Two Foreign Policies February 26, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Angola, Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, South Africa.
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Roger’s note: here are two articles that appeared in the same online edition of http://www.counterpunch.org.  They coincidentally make an excellent comparison of the foreign policies of a Goliath nation (the United States of America) and a tiny David (Cuba).

US foreign policy is characterized by overpowering military strength and aggression, and an overwhelming concern for protecting its corporate interests that is only matched by its lack of concern for human rights.  Cuba, on the other hand, has shown an abiding concern for justice and human needs (cf. its sending doctors around the world). 

Colombia and South Africa are only two nations among many, but the contrast in the actions of the United States and Cuba towards them can be seen as a microcosm with respect to overall foreign policy strategies.  It is notable that the first foreign visit made by Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison was to Cuba to thank Castro and the Cuban people.  As well, it hardly needs to be mentioned that with respect to a capacity to act for human good, the United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world whereas Cuba, in addition to being a third world country historically repressed by Spain and the US, has suffered for over 50 years under the US economic blockade.

 

The American Fingerprints on Colombia’s Dead

A Historian Instructs Peace Negotiators on U.S. Role in Colombian Civil War

by W.T. WHITNEY Jr.

Colombia is seemingly a “no-go” zone for most U. S. media and even for many critics of U.S. overseas misadventures. Yet the United States was in the thick of things in Colombia while hundreds of thousands were being killed, millions were forced off land, and political repression was the rule.

Bogota university professor and historian Renán Vega Cantor has authored a study of U.S. involvement in Colombia. He records words and deeds delineating U.S. intervention there over the past century. The impact of Vega’s historical report, released on February 11, stems from a detailing of facts. Communicating them to English-language readers will perhaps stir some to learn more and to act.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government have been at war for half a century. Vega’s study appears within the context of negotiations in Cuba to end that conflict. Negotiators on both sides agreed in August, 2014 to form a “Historical Commission on Conflict and its Victims” to enhance discussions on victims of conflict. The Commission explored “multiple causes” of the conflict, “the principal factors and conditions facilitating or contributing to its persistence,” and consequences. Commission members sought “clarification of the truth” and establishment of responsibilities. On February 11 the Commission released an 809 – page report offering a diversity of wide-ranging conclusions. Vega was one of 12 analysts contributing individual studies to the report.

Having looked into “links between imperialist meddling and both counterinsurgency and state terrorism,” he claims the United States “is no mere outside influence, but is a direct actor in the conflict owing to prolonged involvement.” And, “U. S. actions exist in a framework of a relationship of subordination. … [T]he block in power had an active role in reproducing subordination, because, (Vega quotes Colombia Internacional, vol 65), ‘there existed for more than 100 years a pact among the national elites for whom subordination led to economic and political gains.’” As a result, “Not only in the international sphere, but in the domestic one too, the United States, generally, has the last word.”

In 1903, after 50 years of minor interventions, the United States secured Panama’s independence from Colombia as a prelude to building its canal there. As a sop to wounded Colombian feelings and to secure oil- extraction rights, the United States paid $25 million to Colombia under the Urrutia-Thompson Treaty of 1921. Colombia that year sent 72 percent of its exports to the United States, thanks mostly to U.S. banana and oil producers and U.S. lenders.

Vega highlights Colombia’s “native” brand of counterinsurgency. Under the flag of anti-communism, the Colombian Army violently suppressed striking oil, dock and railroad workers. On December 6, 1929 at the behest of the U.S. United Fruit Company, that Army murdered well over 1000 striking banana workers near Santa Marta. According to Minister of War Ignacio Rengifo, whom Vega quotes, Colombia faced a “new and terrible danger … The ominous seed of communism is being sprinkled on Colombian beaches [which] now begin to germinate in our soil and produce fruits of decomposition and revolt.” Having investigated those events, Representative Jorge Eliécer Gaitán told Colombia’s Congress in 1929 that, “It was a question of resolving a problem of wages by means of bullets from government machine gunners, because the workers were Colombian and the Company was American. [After all,] the government has murderous shrapnel for Colombians and a trembling knee on the ground before American gold.”

From the late 1930’s on, Gaitán and the left wing of the Liberal Party were leading mobilizations for agrarian and labor rights. With the advent of Conservative Party rule in 1946, repression with anti-communist overtones led to thousands of killings. By then U.S. military missions and instructors were operating in Colombia. U.S. military units no longer needed specific permission to enter Colombia. Colombia and other Latin American nations in 1947 signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a military security agreement. Then on April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated.

Colombian cities erupted in destruction and chaos. Within two weeks, 3000 died. Prompted by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Colombian government blamed communists for Gaitán’s killing. Marshall was in Bogota that day presiding over a hemisphere-wide meeting at which, for cold war purposes, the Pan-American Union became the Organization of American States. Over the next ten years, war between the Colombian Army and peasant insurgents took nearly 200,000 lives. Most insurgents were affiliated with the Liberal Party but were labelled as communists.

The two nations signed a military assistance agreement in 1952 in response to an alleged “communist conspiracy.” Colombia was the only Latin American nation to send troops to the Korean War. Returning home, “Korea Battalion” veterans attacked insurgents and strikers. Colombia established its “School of Lancers” in 1955, modeled on and facilitated by the U.S. Army Ranger School. That year, with U.S. advisers on hand, Colombian troops used napalm in an unsuccessful effort to eradicate peasant insurgents in Tolima department. In 1959 U.S. military advisers secured President Alberto Lleras Camargo’s approval for a helicopter-equipped, 1500 – person counter-insurgency unit. A “secret CIA team” visited military detachments and inspected security archives to expand counterinsurgency and psychological warfare capabilities.

Yet rural uprisings continued, and, increasingly, insurgents were identifying themselves as communist. In response U.S. General William Yarborough and a U.S. Special Forces team visited four Colombian army brigades in 1962. They were there “to evaluate the ‘effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations’” and plan U.S. assistance. The U.S. army soon stepped up training and technical assistance, and provided new equipment, especially helicopters. Significantly, the Yarborough report, in a “Secret Supplement,” proposed that the “Colombian state organize paramilitary groups in order to ‘execute paramilitary activities like sabotage and/or terrorism against known partisans of communism. [The report emphasized that,] The United States must support this.’” It recommended new “interrogation techniques for ‘softening up’ prisoners.”

The FARC did not yet exist. In 1964, however, the Colombian army sent 16,000 Colombian troops into small-farmer communities in the Marquetalia region of southern Tolima. The U.S. government provided $500,000, and U.S. advisers were on hand as soldiers descended upon a relative handful of rebels. They escaped and within weeks established themselves as the FARC.

Continuing, Vega details:

* The subsequent flow of U.S. equipment and funding to the Colombian military

* Training of 10,446 Colombian soldiers – torture techniques included – at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas between 1946 and 2004 (5239 between 1999 and 2012).

* S. launching of Colombia’s FBI-like police and intelligence agency known as the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) in 1960

* Military and police assistance costing $10.7 billion between 1999 and 2007 under U.S. Plan Colombia. Its implementation caused the FARC in 2002 to end peace negotiations with the government.

* Use of the U.S. “drug war” as a new pretext for military aid, beginning with the Reagan administration

* Collusion between CIA teams and Colombian drug lords

* Deployment of U.S. soldiers and military contractors in Colombia

* Impunity for U.S. personnel accused of civilian killings and anti-women violence

* Establishment of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia in 2009

* S. use of Colombian personnel to train security forces in U.S. client states throughout the world

*High – technology intelligence equipment supplied for targeting FARC detachments and leaders, often with direct U.S. participation

The U. S. protégée DAS monitored opposition politicians, journalists, unionists and government officials, including Supreme Court justices. Adverse publicity led to its dissolution in 2011. The DAS had used paramilitaries to murder many of those under surveillance. Vega says U.S. embassy officials identified civilians for DAS targeting.

Vega reports on the 5000 or so civilians whom soldiers killed and then dressed in FARC uniforms to make them look like casualties of war. The scandal of the so-called “false positives” broke in 2008. It came about in part because extra U.S. funding was available to military units demonstrating effectiveness. The way to do that was to exhibit a high number of FARC casualties.

Vega quotes from the U.S. Institute of Policy Studies: “Everything indicates that support from the CIA or U.S. Special Forces to paramilitaries was the tool allowing them to be consolidated like never before.” He cites a “quantitative study” of municipalities showing that proximity to military bases receiving U.S. military assistance was associated with increased numbers of paramilitary attacks against civilians. From the bases, paramilitaries secured armaments, logistics, and intelligence, plus access to “helicopters or airplanes acquired from the United States.”

Having reported on what happened between the United States and Colombia, Vega then drew conclusions. Their essentials appear below in translation:

“During much of the twentieth century, Colombian governments and dominant classes continued a strategic alliance with the United States that was mutually beneficial to both sides …”

“A native counterinsurgency exists in Colombia nurtured on anti-communism that preceded the advent of the counterinsurgency doctrine. Anti-communism was renewed and integrated with the latter for the sake of U.S. geo-political interests during the cold war.”

“U. S. interference in the social and armed conflict in our country has been constant and direct since the end of the 1940’s …”

“Successive U.S. governments of the last seven decades are directly responsible for the perpetuation of armed conflict in Colombia. They have promoted counterinsurgency in all its manifestations and stimulated and trained the armed forces in their methods of torture and elimination of those seen as internal enemies …”

“The Yarborough mission of 1962 was directly responsible for the consolidation of paramilitarism in Colombia … “

“The United States has contributed to militarization of Colombian society through financing and support of the Colombian state and its armed forces …”

“The United States shares direct responsibility for thousands of assassinations committed by the armed forces and paramilitaries … It sponsored military brigades dedicated to that type of crime and backed private groups of assassins.”

“Direct U. S. control of DAS from the time of its formation to its recent dissolution makes that country responsible in part for the numerous crimes committed by that security organism against the population, [especially] unionists and social leaders …”

“In promoting the so-called drug war, the United States in a direct way participated in the destruction of the small-farmer and indigenous economy all over Colombia …”

“By virtue of agreements between the United States and Colombia, privatization of war promoted by Plan Colombia and the new counterinsurgency encourages utilization of mercenaries in our country’s internal war. They commit crimes … with full impunity. This encourages the “culture of impunity” characterizing the Colombian armed forces.”

“Since the late 1940’s state terrorism in Colombia has been promoted not only through military and financial support from the United States but also by our own dominant classes intent upon preserving their power and wealth and rejecting basic economic and social reforms of a re-distributive nature.”

“Some firms based on U. S. capital, like Chiquita Brands, having financed and sponsored paramilitary groups, are directly responsibility for hundreds of crimes …”

Reflections from a northern vantage point are in order. First, it’s not clear that the U. S. government, a force for war in Colombia, will accept a peace settlement reflecting FARC ideas of peace with social justice. Surely the time is now for fair-minded North Americans to pay attention to and get involved with solidarity efforts on behalf of the peace process and justice itself in Colombia. Secondly, while the thrust of Professor Vega’s study should be understandable by one and all, appreciation of the Colombian conflict as struggle between social classes will help with a full understanding and with movement toward action.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Source: http://www.rebelion.org/docs/195465.pdf   (The author translated.)

 

 

 

Maduro Confirms Arrest of Caracas Mayor for Coup Plotting February 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: One dimension of US foreign policy can be summarized in two words: regime change.  And, with apologies to Malcolm X, one would add, “by any means necessary.”  They achieved it a few years ago in Honduras, which today under the US puppet regime has become the most violent country on earth.  They achieved it last year in the Ukraine, thanks to a popular revolt against a corrupt, albeit democratically elected government, aided and abetted by neo-Fascist gangs.

Syria and Venezuela are next on the list, but Syria may be useful in combating ISIS, so that leaves Venezuela (they would love to achieve regime change in Ecuador and Bolivia, but that remains on the back burner for a future date).   The New York Times published the other day an updated report on Venezuela, which was somewhat more balanced, but which parroted the US official line that the government’s opposition is a victim of government oppression, thereby ignoring the reality that it is being being held criminally responsible for its attempt to overthrow the government with a military coup

The opposition leader under arrest, Antonio Ledezma, as Mayor of Caracas was responsible for multiple deaths during the failed 2002 coup and the 1987 and as Mayor he directed state troops which assassinated as many as 4000 civilians during the Caracazo uprising of 1989.  For this he has to now gotten off Scott free.

Here is the latest on Venezuela. 

maduro12.jpg_1718483346

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with supporters at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, February 19, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

 

Published 19 February 2015, Telesur

Antonio Ledezma was arrested Thursday afternoon in Caracas after being named in the recently-foiled U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the detention on Thursday of the ultra-right wing Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is accused of participating in the thwarted coup attempt against the democratically-elected government.

“He was detained and will be tried by the Venezuelan justice system” due to his link to plans to topple the government of Maduro with backing from Washington, the Venezuelan president added.

Maduro emphasized that the White House is directly involved in the coup plans that were foiled last week by the Venezuelan government.

Also see: Venezuela Coup Thwarted

Also see teleSUR’s special coverage: The War on Venezuela’s Economy

The Speaker of Parliament Diosdado Cabello said Ledezma was involved along with opposition lawmaker Juolio Borges in a plan to kill Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader in jail for his participation in last year’s Guarimbas violence that left 43 people dead in an opposition and U.S.-backed attempt to overthrow Maduro.

Ledezma is one of the persons responsible for ordering the massacre of up to 400 students during the Caracazo of Feb. 27, 1989, which was a popular rebelion against the ill-conceived neoliberal policies imposed by the U.S. and its allies in many countries, including Venezuela.

Antonio Ledezma is accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Antonio Ledezma was arrested for plotting to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: teleSUR)

“Today, [Ledezma] is being processed by the Venezuelan justice system, the constitution. I ask for all the people’s support in order to consolidate justice. Enough with the conspiracy,” said Maduro. “Those who do not agree with the revolution, that’s fine, we respect that. They can organize, they can launch their own political party. There are elections this year.”  Ledezma, a long-time opposition leader to the Bolivarian process who has been linked to ultra-right wing attempts to destabilize the Venezuelan government, published on his personal Twitter account earlier today that officers from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Officers were attempting to enter his office in the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas.

His wife, Mitzsy Capriles, said that he was taken to SEBIN headquarters in Plaza Venezuela.

On Feb. 13, President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello gave a televised address providing information about the foiled coup plans, with those detained providing information about the involvement of Ledezma and other opposition leaders in the plot.

Socialist legislator and President of the Latin American Parliament Angel Rodriguez announced that Friday he would formally report Ledezma and right-wing opposition leader Maria Corina Machado to the Venezuelan general prosecutor for their “National Agreement for Transition” statement, which was published one day before the coup plot was to take effect.

The document alleges that Nicolas Maduro’s government is in its “final stage” and called for a dissolution of powers, the privatization of the country’s oil industry, and the deregulation of the economy, among other measures.

President Maduro has also said that “almost all” opposition leaders had known about the plans.

Last year, Ledezma was also linked to Lorent Saleh, a young opposition activist who organized violent protests, but who was arrested after being deported from Colombia for registering in a military college with false documentation. The Venezuelan government released several Skype video conversations where Saleh speaks openly about having weaponry, as well as plotys schemes to generate violence, including through assassinations.

In one of the videos released in September 2014, Saleh says, “Ledezma is key…he is an old fox, you cannot sell nor buy that kind of experience … the politician that has most supported us is Ledezma, for that reason he was our presidential candidate.”

The young opposition leaders explicitly named Ledezma as providing material support for the 2014’s violent opposition-led protests, which claimed 43 lives.

The Bolivarian government continues to defend the country’s institutions despite ongoing destabilization attempts. During a nationally televised speech Thursday night, Maduro reiterated his allegations that the U.S. embassy was participating in the plans, including attempting to turn officials on the government via bribery.

 

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Op-Ed on Venezuela Slips Past NYT Factcheckers

Raul Castro of Cuba and Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro in this file photo. (Photo: AFP)

A February 15, 2015, op-ed on Venezuela by Enrique Krauze seems to have slipped by the New York Times‘ factcheckers.

Krauze’s thesis (a tired one, but very popular with Venezuelan and Cuban right-wingers in South Florida) is that Venezuela has not only followed “the Cuban model,” but has recently outdone Cuba in moving Venezuela further along a socialist path even as Cuba enacts economic reforms. This idea is not merely an oversimplification–as it might appear to the casual observer of Latin American politics–but is largely misleading. To bolster his case, Krauze–a prominent Mexican writer and publisher–includes numerous false statements and errors, which should have been caught by the Times‘ factcheckers.

Krauze begins by claiming that the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and then his successor Nicolás Maduro, has taken control over the media. Chávez “accumulated control over the organs of government and over much of the information media: radio, television and the press,” we are told, and then Maduro “took over the rest of Venezuelan television.”

A simple factcheck shows this to be false. The majority of media outlets in Venezuela–including television–continue to be privately owned; further, the private TV audience dwarfs the number of viewers watching state TV. A 2010 study of Venezuelan television found that

as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share. Of the other 94.6 percent of the audience, 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels, and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV.

A 2013 Carter Center report found that Venezuela’s private TV outlets had about 74 percent of the audience share for coverage of “recent key newsworthy events.”

The media landscape has changed little since. National opposition station Globovisión was sold in 2013, but to a private party; it was not “taken over” by the government. And opposition voices continue to appear on national TV outlets–even the ones that are often described as “pro-government”–free to make the harshest criticisms of the government and to encourage people to protest, as several prominent opposition figures did last year during the violent street blockades and demonstrations aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.

Globovisión, for example, aired interviews–following its change in ownership–with opposition leader María Corina Machado and Juan Guaido of Leopoldo López’s Voluntad Popular party; during her interview, Machado argued that people have the right to overthrow the democratically elected government. And many other Venezuelan networks also frequently broadcast opposition voices.

In fact, the New York Times issued a correction last year after reporting that Globovisión was “the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” It’s a shame that the same standards for accuracy in the Times‘ news section apparently do not apply to the opinion page.

Krauze then says that Maduro “confronted” those “protesting students with arrests and gunfire,” and that “many were killed” as, supposedly, Maduro “suppressed demonstrations by the opposition.” A quick review of events last year–as covered by the New York Times, among others–reveals a wholly different story.

First, most of those killed were either pro-government or were bystanders. Many of those killed (at least 11, according to David Smilde of the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, who in turn cites the opposition paper El Universal) were National Guard officers, police or pro-government counter-protesters. A number of bystanders and motorists (at least 10) were also killed as a result of the protesters’ violent tactics, which included stringing barbed wire across the streets in order to decapitate Chavista motorcyclists. (Two died this way.) Demonstrators fired on Guard and police officers, killing at least seven.

It is true that some security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least three. Yet as over a dozen members of Congress noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Maduro government arrested some 20 security state agents in connection with these incidents. This was not a case of government-ordered crackdown on protests; if it were, the opposition’s street blockades might have been cleared in days–instead, they remained for weeks–and motorists and cyclists might have been saved from decapitation, crashing into barricades, or getting shot when they got out of their stopped cars.

Having attempted to present the Venezuelan government as some sort of dictatorial regime where freedom of press and assembly are crushed, Krauze goes on to present a series of flawed statements about Venezuela’s economic relationship with Cuba.

First, Krauze writes that “Venezuela absorbs 45 percent of Cuba’s trade deficit.” Official data on Venezuela/Cuba trade is opaque, so it is unclear where Krauze is getting his figure. In terms of its overall trade, Cuba does not have a trade deficit, but a small trade surplus ($697 million USD, according to the WTO). So this statement is false.

Krauze states, “Chávez-era economic agreements with Cuba were all highly favorable to the island nation.” But that the agreements are favorable to Cuba does not preclude them from being favorable to Venezuela as well. They are complementary exchanges: Venezuela has a surfeit of oil yet lacks human capital in some sectors. It could be the case that what Venezuela receives is of a lesser value than what it sends, but unfortunately there is a paucity of information to prove this either way.

What is certain is that the services exported to Venezuela extend far beyond the services of 40,000 Cuban medical professionals. Venezuela sends hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to Cuba for various operations (including Operación Milagro, which extends eye treatments to people in numerous Latin American countries at the joint cost of Venezuela and Cuba). Thousands of Venezuelans have been given scholarships, particularly for the study of medicine. Cuba also exports substantial quantities of pharmaceuticals to Venezuela. It also sends educators and other professionals.

In further arguing that Venezuela is somehow putting Cuba’s interests before its own, Krauze claims, “The expenses for the Missions…involved Venezuelan payments of about $5.5 billion annually, of which the Cuban regime retained 95 percent, the rest going toward paying the doctors.” But this ignores that Cuba provides other services to Venezuela. It also ignores the difficulties in comparing salaries with Cuba, given the vast subsidies for goods that exist in the Cuban economy. The salaries for medics on these foreign postings are vastly larger than normal public sector salaries in Cuba.

Krauze also writes that “thousands” of the Cuban doctors that Venezuela is paying for “have defected to other countries in recent years.” Despite US government efforts to actively encourage such defections, which the New York Times has condemned, the overall defection rate of Cuban medics on overseas missions is less than 2 percent (as of 2011, using US figures on the number of defectors and Cuban figures for the number of medics on overseas missions). The amount of defections  in Venezuela from 2006-11 was 824, which works out to a rate of about 1.1 percent–slightly less than the overall rate.

Krauze claims: “Oil was supplied at such low prices that Cuba could turn around and refine and export some of it at a profit.” This makes something normal sound very conspiratorial–those two-faced Cubans, getting oil on the cheap from Venezuela then selling it out the back door! Actually, Venezuela has invested heavily in Cuba’s downstream capabilities–renovating a moribund Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, owns a 49 percent stake in the refinery and therefore shares in its proceeds. The aim of the investment project was to create a refinery that could help satisfy Cuba’s domestic requirements but also turn Cuba into a hub for exports of refined products to the Caribbean. Thus it guarantees purchases of Venezuelan oil and allows Venezuela to better access Caribbean markets (i.e. it has a similar justification to Venezuela’s ownership and investments in several US refineries).

Krauze writes, “Mr. Maduro’s government insists that the crisis is an ‘economic war’ conducted by the right and refuses to alter the nation’s currency controls.” Krauze may have missed the news last week, but the Times‘ fact-checkers shouldn’t have: As reported by the Times, the Venezuelan government announced “an easing of the tightly controlled exchange rates that critics say have fed the nation’s economic crisis.”

Maduro’s claim of “economic war”? While there’s little doubt that most of Venezuela’s economic woes stem from its problematic exchange rate regime, the government’s recent documented busts of massive hoarding of essential items by private companies should not be dismissed out of hand, either.

Perhaps Krauze wouldn’t have felt he needed to stretch the truth so far–and present so many inaccurate claims–if his thesis weren’t so flawed. Chávez and Maduro have never claimed that they wanted to bring the Cuban model to Venezuela; this is a fantasy of the Venezuelan right. To the contrary, after announcing his plan for “Socialism for the 21st Century,” Chávez said, “Some are saying that we want to copy the Cuban model. No…. It would be a very serious mistake for Venezuela to copy a model like the Cuban, or any other.”

For his part, Raúl Castro has also expressed support for Latin American countries pursuing their own respective economic and political choices: “Each [leader] is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren’t the godfathers and they aren’t the heirs,” he told Oliver Stone in the 2010 documentary South of the Border.

The fact is, whether Krauze wants to admit it or not, Venezuela is a democracy, and the Maduro government was democratically elected–as were the Chavista municipal officials who won a majority of elections half a year after Maduro was elected, in a stunning defeat for the opposition. Krauze doesn’t have to like the current Venezuelan government, but he shouldn’t confuse it with an unelected one, as in Cuba.

Nor should he be so easily confused by the Venezuelan economic system–where the private sector enjoyed strong growth in the years after Chávez took office–versus the Cuban model of socialism. More worrying is that the New York Times opinion page would be so baffled by these important differences.

Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela since 1977. His most recent book is his edited Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps February 21, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Immigration, Latin America, Race, Racism.
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Roger’s note: this article ran, in a sense (at least to my mind), side by side with this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/sunday-review/surviving-the-nazis-only-to-be-jailed-by-america.html?_r=0) in the same online edition of the New York Times the other day.  An uncanny juxtaposition.  The heartless racism — buttressed by capitalism’s inherent inequality — that infects America, which has its roots in the First Nations genocide and the African slave trade, is not a matter of the past, as we see here.  You can talk about practical politics all you want, but sending children back “home” to be violated and tortured constitutes a moral and ethical crime of the highest nature.  President Obama and his heartless Homeland Security (sic) bureaucrats have deported more refugee claimants than his immediate predecessors.

The back story to all this, of course, is that the corruption and violence in the Mexican and Central American nations from which masses are trying to escape to the United States is a direct result of the US government’s policies.

 From left, Vanessa Sischo, Christina Brown and Barbara Hines in Karnes, Tex., where they have been advocating on behalf of detained immigrants. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.

As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.

As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”

Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”

As Brown emerged from the trailer that evening, she already knew it would be difficult to leave at the end of the week. The women she met were just a fraction of those inside the camp, and the government was making plans to open a second facility of nearly the same size in Karnes County, Tex., near San Antonio. “I remember thinking to myself that this was an impossible situation,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and sad and angry. I think the anger is what kept me going.”

Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today.

Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.

The explosion of violence in Central America is often described in the language of war, cartels, extortion and gangs, but none of these capture the chaos overwhelming the region. Four of the five highest murder rates in the world are in Central American nations. The collapse of these countries is among the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time. While criminal organizations like the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha exist as street gangs in the United States, in large parts of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador they are so powerful and pervasive that they have supplanted the government altogether. People who run afoul of these gangs — which routinely demand money on threat of death and sometimes kidnap young boys to serve as soldiers and young girls as sexual slaves — may have no recourse to the law and no better option than to flee.

The American immigration system defines a special pathway for refugees. To qualify, most applicants must present themselves to federal authorities, pass a “credible fear interview” to demonstrate a possible basis for asylum and proceed through a “merits hearing” before an immigration judge. Traditionally, those who have completed the first two stages are permitted to live with family and friends in the United States while they await their final hearing, which can be months or years later. If authorities believe an applicant may not appear for that court date, they can require a bond payment as guarantee or place the refugee in a monitoring system that may include a tracking bracelet. In the most extreme cases, a judge may deny bond and keep the refugee in a detention facility until the merits hearing.

The rules are somewhat different when children are involved. Under the terms of a 1997 settlement in the case of Flores v. Meese, children who enter the country without their parents must be granted a “general policy favoring release” to the custody of relatives or a foster program. When there is cause to detain a child, he or she must be housed in the least restrictive environment possible, kept away from unrelated adults and provided access to medical care, exercise and adequate education. Whether these protections apply to children traveling with their parents has been a matter of dispute. The Flores settlement refers to “all minors who are detained” by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its “agents, employees, contractors and/or successors in office.” When the I.N.S. dissolved into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, its detention program shifted to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Federal judges have ruled that ICE is required to honor the Flores protections to all children in its custody.

Even so, in 2005, the administration of George W. Bush decided to deny the Flores protections to refugee children traveling with their parents. Instead of a “general policy favoring release,” the administration began to incarcerate hundreds of those families for months at a time. To house them, officials opened the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center near Austin, Tex. Within a year, the administration faced a lawsuit over the facility’s conditions. Legal filings describe young children forced to wear prison jumpsuits, to live in dormitory housing, to use toilets exposed to public view and to sleep with the lights on, even while being denied access to appropriate schooling. In a pretrial hearing, a federal judge in Texas blasted the administration for denying these children the protections of the Flores settlement. “The court finds it inexplicable that defendants have spent untold amounts of time, effort and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family-detention program, knowing all the while that Flores is still in effect,” the judge wrote. The Bush administration settled the suit with a promise to improve the conditions at Hutto but continued to deny that children in the family detention were entitled to the Flores protections.

In 2009, the Obama administration reversed course, abolishing family detention at Hutto and leaving only a small facility in Pennsylvania to house refugee families in exceptional circumstances. For all other refugee families, the administration returned to a policy of release to await trial. Studies have shown that nearly all detainees who are released from custody with some form of monitoring will appear for their court date. But when the number of refugees from Central America spiked last summer, the administration abruptly announced plans to resume family detention.

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 L., an asylum seeker in her early 30s, fled Honduras with her young son. After surrendering to U.S. officials at the border, they were detained at the federal facility in Artesia, N.M., for three months. They were made to sleep four families to a room; during their stay, the boy became ill first with chickenpox, then tonsillitis and was eventually hospitalized with a high fever. L. and her son are currently out on bond and awaiting an asylum hearing. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

From the beginning, officials were clear that the purpose of the new facility in Artesia was not so much to review asylum petitions as to process deportation orders. “We have already added resources to expedite the removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come from these three countries without children,” the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, told a Senate committee in July. “Then there are adults who brought their children with them. Again, our message to this group is simple: We will send you back.” Elected officials in Artesia say that Johnson made a similar pledge during a visit to the detention camp in July. “He said, ‘As soon as we get them, we’ll ship them back,’ ” a city councilor from Artesia named Jose Luis Aguilar recalled. The mayor of the city, Phillip Burch, added, “His comment to us was that this would be a ‘rapid deportation process.’ Those were his exact words.”

During the first five weeks that the Artesia facility was open, officials deported more than 200 refugees to Central America. But as word of the detention camp began to spread, volunteers like Christina Brown trickled into town. Their goal was to stop the deportations, schedule asylum hearings for the detainees and, whenever possible, release the women and children on bond. Many of the lawyers who came to Artesia were young mothers, and they saw in the detained children a resemblance to their own. By last fall, roughly 200 volunteers were rotating through town in shifts: renting rooms in local motels, working 12-hour days to interview detainees and file asylum paperwork, then staying awake into the night to consult one another. Some volunteers returned to Artesia multiple times. A few spent more than a month there. Brown never moved back to Denver. She moved into a little yellow house by the detention facility, took up office space in a local church and, with help from a nonprofit group called the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, she began to organize the volunteers pouring in.

As Brown got to know detainees in Artesia, grim patterns emerged from their stories. One was the constant threat of gangs in their lives; another was the prevalence of sexual violence. A detainee in Artesia named Sofia explained that a gang murdered her brother, shot her husband and then kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter. A Guatemalan woman named Kira said that she fled when a gang targeted her family over their involvement in a nonviolence movement at church; when Kira’s husband went into hiding, the gang subjected her to repeated sexual assaults and threatened to cut her unborn baby from her womb. An inmate named Marisol said she crossed the U.S. border in June after a gang in Honduras murdered the father of her 3-year-old twins, then turned its attention to her.

Less than a week after her arrival in Artesia, Brown represented the young Salvadoran mother she met on her first day. It was a preliminary hearing to see whether the woman met the basic preconditions for asylum. A frequent consideration in the refugee process is whether an applicant is being targeted as a member of a “particular social group.” Judges have interpreted the phrase to include a refugee’s victimhood on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. At the hearing, Brown planned to invoke the pervasiveness of gang violence and sexual assault, but she says the immigration judge refused to let her speak.

“I wasn’t allowed to play any role,” Brown said. Speaking to the judge, her client described her husband’s murder and the threats she faced from gangs. “She testified very well,” Brown said. But when the judge asked whether she felt targeted as a member of a “social group,” the woman said no. “Because that is a legal term of art,” Brown said. “She had no idea what the heck it means.” Brown tried to interject, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. He denied the woman’s request for an asylum hearing and slated her for deportation. Afterward, Brown said, “I went behind one of the cubicles, and I started sobbing uncontrollably.”

Detainees who passed their initial hearings often found themselves stranded in Artesia without bond. Lawyers for Homeland Security have adopted a policy they call “no bond or high bond” for the women and children in detention. In court filings, they insist that prolonged detention is necessary to “further screen the detainees and have a better chance of identifying any that present threats to our public safety and national security.” Allowing these young mothers and children to be free on bond, they claim, “would have indirect yet significant adverse national-security consequences.”

As the months ticked by in Artesia, many detainees began to wonder if they would ever be free again. “I arrived on July 5 and turned myself in at 2 a.m.,” a 28-year-old mother of two named Ana recalled. In Honduras, Ana ran a small business selling trinkets and served on the P.T.A. of her daughter’s school. “I lived well,” she said — until the gangs began to pound on her door, demanding extortion payments. Within days, they had escalated their threats, approaching Ana brazenly on the street. “One day, coming home from my daughter’s school, they walked up to me and put a gun to my head,” she said. “They told me that if I didn’t give them the money in less than 24 hours, they would kill me.” Ana had already seen friends raped and murdered by the gang, so she packed her belongings that night and began the 1,800-mile journey to the U.S. border with her 7-year-old daughter. Four weeks later, in McAllen, Tex., they surrendered as refugees.

Ana and her daughter entered Artesia in mid-July. In October they were still there. Ana’s daughter was sick and losing weight rapidly under the strain of incarceration. Their lawyer, a leader in Chicago’s Mormon Church named Rebecca van Uitert, said that Ana’s daughter became so weak and emaciated that doctors threatened drastic measures. “They were like, ‘You’ve got to force her to eat, and if you don’t, we’re going to put a PICC line in her and force-feed her,’ ” van Uitert said. Ana said that when her daughter heard the doctor say this, “She started to cry and cry.”

In October, as van Uitert presented Ana’s case to an immigration judge, the lawyer broke down in the courtroom. “I’m starting to make these arguments before the judge, and I just couldn’t,” she said. “I sounded like a barking seal, just sucking and gasping, and because I was crying, a lot of people started crying. The attorney next to me was crying, Ana was crying, her little girl started crying. I looked over at the bailiff, who actually ended up being my friend when I went back another time. He had tears in his eyes.” The judge granted Ana’s release on bond; she is currently waiting for an asylum hearing in North Carolina.

Many of the volunteers in Artesia tell similar stories about the misery of life in the facility. “I thought I was pretty tough,” said Allegra Love, who spent the previous summer working on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. “I mean, I had seen kids in all manner of suffering, but this was a really different thing. It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards. There’s this look that the kids have in their eyes. This lackadaisical look. They’re just sitting there, staring off, and they’re wasting away. That was what shocked me most.”

The detainees reported sleeping eight to a room, in violation of the Flores settlement, with little exercise or stimulation for the children. Many were under the age of 6 and had been raised on a diet of tortillas, rice and chicken bits. In Artesia, the institutional cafeteria foods were as unfamiliar as the penal atmosphere, and to their parents’ horror, many of the children refused to eat. “Gaunt kids, moms crying, they’re losing hair, up all night,” an attorney named Maria Andrade recalled. Another, Lisa Johnson-Firth, said: “I saw children who were malnourished and were not adapting. One 7-year-old just lay in his mother’s arms while she bottle-fed him.” Mary O’Leary, who made three trips to Artesia last fall, said: “I was trying to talk to one client about her case, and just a few feet away at another table there was this lady with a toddler between 2 and 4 years old, just lying limp. This was a sick kid, and just with this horrible racking cough.”

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 M., a 21-year-old asylum seeker who fled El Salvador because of threats from local gangs. She was held, with her infant son, for nearly five months in a federal detention facility in Artesia, N.M. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

In early August, a paralegal from Oregon named Vanessa Sischo arrived at the camp. Raised in a small town near Mount Hood, Sischo did not realize until high school that her parents brought her into the United States from Mexico as an infant without documentation. She gained protection from deportation under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. When Sischo learned that children arriving from Central America were being incarcerated in Artesia, she volunteered immediately. She arrived a week after Christina Brown, and like Brown, she stayed. After about a month, AILA and another nonprofit, the American Immigration Council, hired Brown as the pro bono project’s lead attorney. Brown recommended Sischo for the job of project coordinator. The two women began rooming together in the small yellow house near Main Street.

Brown and Sischo make an unlikely pair. Brown, who has a sturdy build and dark brown hair, has an inborn skepticism and a piercing wit. Sischo is six years younger and preternaturally easygoing. Until she discovered her own immigration background, she had little interest in political affairs and spent much of her time in Oregon as a competitive snowboarder. For both, Artesia was a jarring shift from life at home. As they sat together one evening in December, they described a typical week. “The new volunteers come in on Sunday, go through orientation, and by Wednesday night, everyone is crying,” Brown said. “A lot of the attorneys come in and say: ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve seen all of this before. I’ll be fine.’ ”

“I remember the first time I went in,” Sischo said. “I just stopped, and all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”

“Kids vomiting all over the place,” Brown said.

“There was a big outbreak of fevers,” Sischo said. “It sent an infant into convulsions.”

“Pneumonia, scabies, lice,” Brown said.

Officials for ICE say these accounts are exaggerated. But they declined multiple requests to visit the Artesia facility and took weeks to answer questions about its facilities. Brown, who oversaw more than 500 detainee cases as lead attorney, was also unable to gain access to the camp’s housing, dining, medical and educational facilities. “I requested three times to be taken on a tour,” she said. “I sent it through the appropriate channels. No one ever responded, to date, to my request.”

Visitors who did gain access to the facility have raised troubling questions about the ethics — and legality — of how it handled children. The Flores settlement requires the government to provide regular schooling for juveniles in detention, but the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, said that on several visits to the compound, the classrooms were always empty. “I was told that children were attending classes,” he recalled. “Did I personally witness it? No. And none of the tours that I made did I see the children actually in class.” Members of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, who toured the facility in October, say that officials also showed them the empty school. When one member asked why the building was empty, an ICE official replied that school was temporarily closed. Detainees have consistently told their lawyers that the school was never reliably open. They recall a few weeks in October when classes were in session for an hour or two per day, then several weeks of closure through November, followed by another brief period of classes in December.

In response to questions about the school, ICE officials would say only that “regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, and ended Dec. 17.” Asked whether the school was open consistently, and for how many hours, ICE officials declined to respond. The deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Esther Olavarria, who has purview over ICE, said that she was aware “there were challenges” at the Artesia school, but couldn’t say exactly when it was open or for how long. Olavarria has a distinguished record as advocate for refugees and previously served as a top immigration adviser for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She said that she was under the impression that attorneys in Artesia were granted access to the facility, and she could not explain why Brown was not. She also believed that the meal service in Artesia was adapted to reflect the dietary norms of Central America and that medical care was adequate and available. After hearing what detainees, attorneys, faith advocates and elected officials described in Artesia, Olavarria promised to look into these issues and provide further documentation. Despite several attempts to elicit that documentation, she provided none. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said: “The regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, but was suspended shortly thereafter in order to ensure appropriate vetting of all teachers.” Officials say that school resumed on Oct. 24 and continued through Dec. 17.

Attorneys for the Obama administration have argued in court, like the Bush administration previously, that the protections guaranteed by the Flores settlement do not apply to children in family detention. “The Flores settlement comes into play with unaccompanied minors,” a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security named Karen Donoso Stevens insisted to a judge on Aug. 4. “That argument is moot here, because the juvenile is detained — is accompanied and detained — with his mother.”

Federal judges have consistently rejected this position. Just as the judge reviewing family detention in 2007 called the denial of Flores protections “inexplicable,” the judge presiding over the Aug. 4 hearing issued a ruling in September that Homeland Security officials in Artesia must honor the Flores Settlement Agreement. “The language of the F.S.A. is unambiguous,” Judge Roxanne Hladylowycz wrote. “The F.S.A. was designed to create a nationwide policy for the detention of all minors, not only those who are unaccompanied.” Olavarria said she was not aware of that ruling and would not comment on whether the Department of Homeland Security believes that the Flores ruling applies to children in family detention today.

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 The shadows of the Salvadoran asylum seeker M. and her son, who is now 1. They have been released on bond from a federal detention facility pending an asylum hearing. Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

As the pro bono project in Artesia continued into fall, its attorneys continued to win in court. By mid-November, more than 400 of the detained women and children were free on bond. Then on Nov. 20, the administration suddenly announced plans to transfer the Artesia detainees to the ICE detention camp in Karnes, Tex., where they would fall under a new immigration court district with a new slate of judges.

That announcement came at the very moment the president was delivering a live address on the new protections available to established immigrant families. In an email to notify Artesia volunteers about the transfer, an organizer for AILA named Stephen Manning wrote, “The disconnect from the compassionate-ish words of the president and his crushing policies toward these refugees is shocking.” Brown was listening to the speech in her car, while driving to Denver for a rare weekend at home, when her cellphone buzzed with the news that 20 of her clients would be transferred to Texas the next morning. Many of them were close to a bond release; in San Antonio, they might be detained for weeks or months longer. Brown pulled her car to the side of the highway and spent three hours arguing to delay the transfer. Over the next two weeks, officials moved forward with the plan.

By mid-December, most of the Artesia detainees were in Karnes, and Brown and Sischo were scrambling to pack the contents of their home and office. On the afternoon of Dec. 16, they threw their final bags into a U-Haul, its cargo area crammed with laundry baskets, suitcases, file boxes and hiking backpacks, all wedged precariously in place, then set out for the eight-hour drive across the desert to central Texas.

The next morning, a law professor named Barbara Hines was also speeding into San Antonio. Hines is a wiry woman in her 60s with a burst of black curls and an aspect of bristling intensity. In the battle over refugee detention, she is something of a seminal figure for advocates like Brown and Sischo. As co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas, Hines helped lead the 2007 lawsuit against the Hutto facility, which brought about its closure in 2009 and the abolition of widespread family detention until last summer. When the Obama administration announced plans to resume the practice in Artesia, Hines was outraged; when officials opened the second facility in Karnes, just two hours from her home in Austin, Hines began to organize a pro bono project of her own. Although she’d never met Brown or Sischo, she had been running a parallel operation for months. Now that they were in Texas, Hines was eager to meet them.

But first, she had a client to represent. Hines pulled into a parking lot behind the immigration court in downtown San Antonio and rushed inside, up a clattering elevator to the third floor and down a long hallway to a cramped courtroom. At the front, behind a vast wooden desk, sat Judge Glenn McPhaul, a tidy man with slicked hair and a pencil mustache. He presided from an elevated platform, with a clerk to his right, an interpreter to his left, and a large television monitor in the corner. On screen was the pale and grainy image of a dozen exhausted Central American women.

These were just a few of the Karnes detainees, linked by video feed to the courtroom. Another 500 women and children were in the compound with them. There was no legal distinction between their cases and those of the women in Artesia; they had simply been sent to a different facility, weeks or months earlier. Each of them, like the women in Artesia, had already been through the early stages of the asylum process — presenting herself to immigration authorities, asking for refugee status and passing the “credible-fear interview” to confirm a basis for her claim. But the odds of release in Karnes were worse. One of McPhaul’s colleagues, Judge Gary Burkholder, was averaging a 91.6 percent denial rate for the asylum claims. Some Karnes detainees had been in the facility for nearly six months and could remain there another six.

The sitting area of the courtroom was nearly empty, save for half a dozen attorneys. Many of the volunteers at Karnes are friends and former students of Hines, who has been drafting every licensed lawyer she can find. As she slid down the long bench to a seat, she nodded to some of the attorneys in the room and stopped to whisper with another. Then she spent a few minutes fidgeting with her phone until the clerk called her client’s name, and Hines sprang forward, slipping past the bar rail to a table facing the judge. On the television screen, her client, Juana, was stepping toward the camera at Karnes. She was a young woman with a narrow face and deep eyes. Her hair was pulled back to reveal high cheekbones and a somber expression.

McPhaul asked the stenographer to begin transcription, then he commenced with the ritualized exchange of detention proceedings, recording the names of the attorneys, the detainee and everyone on the bench. He noted the introduction of a series of legal documents and confirmed that Juana was still happy to be represented by Hines. There was a stream of legal jargon and a few perfunctory remarks about the status of the case, all of it in clipped judicial vernacular and a flat, indifferent tone. Then McPhaul set a date for the next hearing, at which Hines could begin to present an argument for Juana’s release on bond.

For now, Juana’s turn was over; the whole affair took less than 10 minutes, without any meaningful discussion of her case or its merits. As Hines stepped out of the courtroom, Juana was turning away from the camera to return to her children in Karnes. It was impossible to say how much of the hearing she understood, since none of the proceedings were translated into Spanish. The courtroom interpreter was there only to translate the judge’s questions and the detainees’ responses; everything else was said exclusively in English, including the outcome. For all that Juana knew, she might have been granted reprieve or confined for another six months.

Over the next two hours, the scene would repeat a dozen times. Each time McPhaul called a name, a new lawyer would step forward, taking a seat before the bench and proceeding through the verbal Kabuki. In a few cases, McPhaul offered the detainee the opportunity to post bond — usually around $3,000. But the courtroom interpreter was not allowed to convey this news to the detainee, either. If the pro bono attorney spoke Spanish fluently, there might be a few minutes at the end of the session to explain what happened. If not, the detainee would return to custody and might not discover that she had been granted bond until, or unless, someone paid it.

These, of course, were the lucky women with an attorney to represent them at all. Although the families in Artesia and Karnes have been detained in an environment that closely resembles incarceration, there is no requirement in American law to provide them with the sort of legal representation afforded to other defendants. Unlike the Artesia project, where the involvement of AILA brought in hundreds of volunteers from across the country, Hines could scrape together only so many friends and compatriots to lend their time. She formed a partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or Raices, in San Antonio, and the law firm Akin Gump assigned a young lawyer named Lauren Connell to help organize the Karnes project. But there still weren’t enough lawyers to represent the detainees, and Hines and Connell were forced to evaluate which cases were most likely to win. The remaining refugees would proceed to court alone. They would understand little of what happened, and most would be deported.

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 Children entering a dormitory at the Artesia Family Residential Center in New Mexico last September, before its residents were moved to Texas. Credit Juan Carlos Llorca/Associated Press

It was difficult for Hines to think about what might happen to those women next. The refugees who are returned to Central America can be subject to even greater harassment by gangs for having fled. Hector Hernandez, a morgue operator in Honduras, has said that children who come back from U.S. detention “return just to die.” Jose Luis Aguilar, the city councilor for Artesia, recalled a group deportation on the day in July when Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility. “He came in the morning, and that same night, they took 79 people and shipped them to El Salvador on the ICE plane,” Aguilar said. “We got reports later that 10 kids had been killed. The church group confirmed that with four of the mortuaries where they went.”

Hines was hoping the attorneys from Artesia would help represent the women in Karnes, but she had no idea whether they would be willing to do so. This was her agenda for the first meeting with Christina Brown, which took place that afternoon in a sunlit conference room in the downtown offices of Akin Gump. Hines sat at the head of a long table, with Lauren Connell to her left and an attorney from Raices named Steven Walden to her right. After a few minutes, Brown appeared in the doorway. She was wearing the same green T-shirt and black leggings she had been wearing the day before in Artesia, and she smiled sheepishly, offering a handshake to Hines.

“I’m really sorry,” Brown said with a small laugh. “I want to let you know that I believe very strongly in first impressions — but I am living out of a U-Haul right now.”

Hines smiled sympathetically as they sat down. “So,” she said. “What are you all going to do here?”

Brown paused. “Well, we know we’re going to be continuing our cases,” she said.

“Mmm-hmm,” Hines said.

“And I’m working on cleaning up our spreadsheet and figuring out who’s here,” Brown said. “Many of our clients who were transferred here had already been granted bond.”

“Wait,” Connell said. “They transferred them here to have them bond out?”

Brown sighed. “Yes,” she said.

“That’s ridiculous,” Connell said.

“We’ve had numerous fights on this issue,” Brown said. “We’ve had family members go to pay, and they can’t because the client is already in transit to Karnes.”

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 An unidentified Guatemalan woman inside the spartan facility. Credit Juan Carlos Llorca/Associated Press

Hines shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” Brown said.

“Do you have people who have been detained more than 90 days?” Hines asked.

“Every one we’re going forward with on merits has been detained more than 90 days,” Brown said. “So I want to see how you all are moving forward, so I can see what resources are here for Artesia clients.”

Hines laughed. “We can barely staff our cases,” she said. “My hope was that people who were at Artesia, after they’re finished your cases, are going to help with ours.”

“If she says that enough, maybe it will come true,” Connell said.

Brown shook her head. “At the moment, I can commit to nothing,” she said. “Right now, I’m the only attorney, and there’s no guarantee that other volunteers are coming.”

Hines and Connell exchanged a look. Even if the Artesia lawyers could double or triple their workload, the number of detainees was about to overwhelm them regardless. The day before, officials in Karnes had approved a plan to expand the detention facility from about 500 beds to roughly 1,100. At the same time, two hours west of Karnes, in the little town of Dilley, the Department of Homeland Security was about to open another refugee camp for women and children. It would be the largest detention facility in the country, with up to 2,400 beds. If Hines and Brown had trouble finding lawyers to represent a few hundred women and children, there was little chance of generating support for more than 3,000.

After the meeting, Brown returned to her motel and spent the afternoon searching for an apartment, but the options were limited, and by late afternoon, she and Sischo still had nowhere to live. They decided to spend their first evening in Texas at a vegetarian restaurant downtown. As they settled into a booth at the back of the cafe, they talked about the situation they’d left behind in Artesia, where much of the town opposed the detention facility and the lawyers with equal measure. Town-hall meetings in Artesia became so heated that city officials asked the police to stand guard.

“For people there, it’s a resource issue,” Brown said. “They blame the immigrant community for coming in and being jailed, and for us having to educate their children, when they would like more resources put into their own schools.”

Sischo nodded. “That’s what a guy at the electronics store said: ‘Oh, you’re helping the illegals?’ That’s how they view it. I remember a sign that a protester was holding that was like, ‘What about our children?’ ”

Photo

 Credit Dan Winters for The New York Times

“It’s a legitimate question,” Brown said. “They don’t have a lot of resources in that town, and they should have more.”

“I agree,” Sischo said. “We should not be spending resources on detaining these families. They should be released. But people don’t understand the law. They think they should be deported because they’re ‘illegals.’ So they’re missing a very big part of the story, which is that they aren’t breaking the law. They’re trying to go through the process that’s laid out in our laws.”

For Sischo, seeing the families struggle — families much like her own — was almost more than she could stand. On visits to her parents in Oregon, she struggled to maintain composure. “Every time I’ve gone home, I’ve just cried pretty much nonstop,” she said. “It’s grief and anger and hopelessness and confusion as to how this could happen and whether we’re making a difference.”

For Brown, by contrast, the same experiences seemed to have amplified her energy and commitment. “I haven’t had time to go home and cry yet,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get a job at Dilley, because then I won’t have to process anything!” Brown laughed, but she acknowledged that some part of her was ready to commit to the nomadic life of a legal activist, parachuting into crises for a few months at a time. “That appeals to me,” she said. “It’s nice to be where people need you.”

As dinner came to an end, Brown and Sischo stepped outside into the night. They had parked the U-Haul in a nearby lot, and it had just been towed.

Over the next year, most of the families who are currently in detention will wend their way through the refugee system. Some will be released on bond to await their asylum hearing; others will remain in custody until their hearings are complete. Those without an attorney will most likely fail to articulate a reason for their claim in the appropriate jargon of the immigration courts and will be deported to face whatever horror they hoped to flee. Of the 15 families who have been shepherded through the process by the volunteer lawyers so far, 14 have received asylum — “Which should be all you need to know about the validity of their claims,” Brown said.

By late spring, the construction of the new facility at Dilley should be complete. It already represents a drastic departure from the refugee camp in Artesia. Managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, the South Texas Family Residential Center has its own promotional website with promissory images of the spacious classrooms, libraries, play areas and lounges that will eventually be available to refugees in long-term detention. Architectural drawings for the site show eight distinct neighborhoods on the campus, with dormitory housing, outdoor pavilions, a chapel and several playgrounds. How much of this will ultimately materialize remains to be seen. Last week, C.C.A. listed job openings for child care workers, library aides and mailroom clerks at the site.

Esther Olavarria, the senior counselor for immigration issues at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in Artesia but described the Dilley facility as a correction. “We stood up Artesia very, very quickly and did the best that we could under the circumstances,” Olavarria said. “As concerns were brought to our attention by advocates, we worked with them to try to address the concerns as quickly as possible.”

Many advocates have expressed concerns about the Dilley facility as well. Its management company, C.C.A., is the same firm that ran the Hutto detention center, and it has been at the center of other significant controversies in recent years. In 2006, federal investigators reported that conditions at a C.C.A. immigration jail in Eloy, Ariz., were so lacking that “detainee welfare is in jeopardy.” Last March, the F.B.I. started an investigation of C.C.A. over a facility the company ran in Idaho, known by inmates as the “Gladiator School” because of unchecked fighting; in 2010, a video surfaced of guards watching one inmate beat another into a coma. Two years ago, C.C.A. executives admitted to fraud in their government contracts at the prison, including 4,800 hours of falsified business records. The state has now taken control of the facility.

The management contract at Dilley was also created with unusual terms. In their hurry to open the new facility, officials for the Obama administration bypassed normal bidding procedures and established Dilley under an existing contract for the troubled C.C.A. jail in Eloy. Although the Dilley camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from Eloy, all federal funding for the new camp in Texas will flow through the small town in Arizona, which will keep $438,000 of the annual operating budget as compensation. Eloy city officials say they do not expect to monitor, or even visit, the Dilley facility.

Any new refugees who surrender this spring may spend more than a year in Dilley before their asylum hearings can be scheduled. Olavarria said that officials hope the process will move more quickly, but it will depend on the immigration courts in San Antonio, which fall under the Department of Justice. “From what I’ve heard from the Justice Department, generally it’s not taking 18 months,” Olavarria said. “We’re hearing that cases are being completed in a shorter time. But it’s a case-by-case situation that depends on the complexity, it depends on continuances that are provided to seek counsel, to prepare for cases, all those kinds of things.” The cost to house each detainee at Dilley is about $108,000 per year. A study funded by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, of more than 500 detainees between 1997 and 2000, found that 93 percent will appear in court when placed in a monitoring program. The savings of such a program for the 2,400 detainees at Dilley would be about $250 million per year.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say the facilities in Karnes and Dilley are still insufficient to house the detainees they expect to process in the coming year. “Last year, we saw 60,000 families come in,” Olavarria said. “We’re hoping we don’t see those kinds of numbers this year, but even if we see half, those two facilities would hold a fraction of those numbers.” Olavarria said the department was not yet considering additional facilities. “We are in the middle of a battle with the Congress on our funding, so there’s very little discussion about long-term planning,” she said.

For now, the Artesia facility is closed, its bunk beds and hallways empty. Brown and Sischo remain in Texas; they rescued their U-Haul from an impound lot and found an apartment soon thereafter. That same week, an email from the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, was circulating among city residents. “The pro bono attorneys have left our community,” he wrote. “Hopefully not to return.”

Venezuela: a Coup in Real Time February 2, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: For those with eyes to see, the U.S. government’s foreign policy these days consists of transparently blatant regime change toward those countries that do not fall into line with (or, via setting bad socialist examples, are in direct opposition to) American geopolitical interests.  Nevertheless, an opaque smoke screen is effectively thrown over the machinations of the State Department, the CIA, the NSA, USAID and god knows what other agencies that infiltrate to support the most reactionary and sometimes neo-fascist elements, by the mainstream media.  We see this happening most clearly today in the Ukraine and in Venezuela.

The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well, only these days we don’t send the marines, we send the spooks and agents provocateur.  Post WWII has seen illegal interventions in Guatemala, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Honduras, Argentina … well, virtually the entire southern hemisphere.

 

The Same Old Dirty Tactics

 

by EVA GOLINGER

There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie. At every turn a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumors spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic. Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.

This week, as the New York Times showcased an editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic” (“Mr. Maduro in his Labyrinth”, NYT January 26, 2015), another newspaper across the Atlantic headlined a hack piece accusing the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin (“The head of security of the number two Chavista defects to the U.S. and accuses him of drug trafficking”, ABC, January 27, 2015). The accusations stem from a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer, Leasmy Salazar, who served under President Chavez and was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.

Two days later, the New York Times ran a front-page piece shaming the Venezuelan economy and oil industry, and predicting its downfall (“Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare”, Jan. 29, 2015, NYT). Blaring omissions from the article include mention of the hundreds of tons of food and other consumer products that have been hoarded or sold as contraband by private distributors and businesses in order to create shortages, panic, discontent with the government and justify outrageous price hikes. Further, multiple ongoing measures taken by the government to overcome the economic difficulties were barely mentioned and completed disregarded.

Simultaneously, an absurdly sensationalist and misleading headline ran in several U.S. papers, in print and online, linking Venezuela to nuclear weapons and a plan to bomb New York City (“U.S. Scientist Jailed for Trying to Help Venezuela Build Bombs”, Jan. 30, 2015, NPR). While the headline leads readers to believe Venezuela was directly involved in a terrorist plan against the U.S., the actual text of the article makes clear that no Venezuelans were involved at all. The whole charade was an entrapment set up by the FBI, whose officers posed as Venezuelan officials to capture a disgruntled nuclear physicist who once worked at Los Alamos and had no Venezuela connection.

That same day, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki condemned the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela, when asked by a reporter about fugitive Venezuelan general Antonio Rivero’s arrival in New York to plea for support from the United Nations Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention. Rivero fled an arrest warrant in Venezuela after his involvement in violent anti-government protests that lead to the deaths of over 40 people, mainly government supporters and state security forces, last February. His arrival in the U.S. coincided with Salazar’s, evidencing a coordinated effort to debilitate Venezuela’s Armed Forces by publicly showcasing two high profile military officers – both former Chavez loyalists – that have been turned against their government and are actively seeking foreign intervention against their own country.

These examples are just a snapshot of increasing, systematic negative and distorted coverage of Venezuelan affairs in U.S. media, painting an exaggeratedly dismal picture of the country’s current situation and portraying the government as incompetent, dictatorial and criminal. While this type of coordinated media campaign against Venezuela is not new – media consistently portrayed former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, elected president four times by overwhelming majorities, as a tyrannical dictator destroying the country – it is clearly intensifying at a rapid, and concerning, pace.

The New York Times has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela. The Editorial Board blissfully applauded the violent coup d’etat in April 2002 that ousted President Chavez and resulted in the death of over 100 civilians. When Chavez was returned to power by his millions of supporters and loyal Armed Forces two days later, the Times didn’t recant it’s previous blunder, rather it arrogantly implored Chavez to “govern responsibly”, claiming he had brought the coup on himself. But the fact that the Times has now begun a persistent, direct campaign against the Venezuelan government with one-sided, distorted and clearly aggressive articles – editorials, blogs, opinion, and news – indicates that Washington has placed Venezuela on the regime change fast track.

The timing of Leamsy Salazar’s arrival in Washington as an alleged DEA collaborator, and his public exposure, is not coincidental. This February marks one year since anti-government protests violently tried to force President Maduro’s resignation, and opposition groups are currently trying to gain momentum to reignite demonstrations. The leaders of the protests, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, have both been lauded by The New York Times and other ‘respected’ outlets as “freedom fighters”, “true democrats”, and as the Times recently referred to Machado, “an inspiring challenger”. Even President Obama called for Lopez’s release from prison (he was detained and is on trial for his role in the violent uprisings) during a speech last September at an event in the United Nations. These influential voices willfully omit Lopez’s and Machado’s involvement and leadership of violent, undemocratic and even criminal acts. Both were involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez. Both have illegally received foreign funding for political activities slated to overthrow their government, and both led the lethal protests against Maduro last year, publicly calling for his ouster through illegal means.

The utilization of a figure such as Salazar who was known to anyone close to Chavez as one of his loyal guards, as a force to discredit and attack the government and its leaders is an old-school intelligence tactic, and a very effective one. Infiltrate, recruit, and neutralize the adversary from within or by one of its own – a painful, shocking betrayal that creates distrust and fear amongst the ranks. While no evidence has surfaced to back Salazar’s outrageous claims against Diosdado Cabello, the headline makes for a sensational story and another mark against Venezuela in public opinion. It also caused a stir within the Venezuelan military and may result in further betrayals from officers who could support a coup against the government. Salazar’s unsubstantiated allegations also aim at neutralizing one of Venezuela’s most powerful political figures, and attempt to create internal divisions, intrigue and distrust.

The most effective tactics the FBI used against the Black Panther Party and other radical movements for change in the United States were infiltration, coercion and psychological warfare. By inserting agents into these organizations, or recruiting from within, that were able to gain access and trust at the highest levels, the FBI was able to destroy these movements from the inside, breaking them down psychologically and neutralizing them politically. These clandestine tactics and strategies are thoroughly documented and evidenced in FBI and other US government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and published in in Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s excellent book, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (South End Press, 1990).

Venezuela is suffering from the sudden and dramatic plummet in oil prices. The country’s oil-dependent economy has severely contracted and the government is taking measures to reorganize the budget and guarantee access to basic services and goods, but people are still experiencing difficulties. Unlike the dismal portrayal in The New York Times, Venezuelans are not starving, homeless or suffering from mass unemployment, as countries such as Greece and Spain have experienced under austerity policies. Despite certain shortages – some caused by currency controls and others by intentional hoarding, sabotage or contraband – 95% of Venezuelans consume three meals per day, an amount that has doubled since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is under 6% and housing is subsidized by the state.

Nevertheless, making Venezuela’s economy scream is without a doubt a rapidly intensifying strategy executed by foreign interests and their Venezuelan counterparts, and it’s very effective. As shortages continue and access to dollars becomes increasingly difficult, chaos and panic ensue. This social discontent is capitalized on by U.S. agencies and anti-government forces in Venezuela pushing for regime change. A very similar strategy was used in Chile to overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. First the economy was destroyed, then mass discontent grew and the military moved to oust Allende, backed by Washington at every stage. Lest we forget the result: a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet that tortured, assassinated, disappeared and forced into exile tens of thousands of people. Not exactly a model to replicate.

This year President Obama approved a special State Department fund of $5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Additionally, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with over $1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government. There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funneled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.

President Maduro has denounced these ongoing attacks against his government and has directly called on President Obama to cease efforts to harm Venezuela. Recently, all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), publicly expressed support for Maduro and condemned ongoing U.S. interference in Venezuela. Latin America firmly rejects any attempts to erode democracy in the region and will not stand for another US-backed coup. It’s time Washington listen to the hemisphere and stop employing the same dirty tactics against its neighbors.

Eva Golinger is the author of The Chavez Code. She can be reached through her blog.

 

The Invasion Of Panama December 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Imperialism, Latin America, Panama.
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Roger’s note: This article represents a look at history, a “looking back.” if you will.  The president of the United States does not believe in looking back.  “Look forward,” he tells us, when it comes to the issue of what to do about gross legal and moral violations represented by the American torture machine (as if, by the way, that torture is over with, which is a big lie, but that’s not my point).  If you take a wrong turn at the fork in the road and refuse to look back, then you are doomed.  That is what Obama’s strategy amounts to.  I chuckle as I am reminded of the efforts of another war criminal president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to pressure CBC television not to broadcast Pete Seeger singing a certain song on the pioneering Smothers Brothers Show.  The punch line of that song was “Waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on.”  An obvious reference to the U.S. bogged down in Vietnam (I’ve pasted the full lyrics at the end of this post).  So, whether it’s looking back 25 years to the U.S. massacre in Panama; or back to the other 9/11, the CIA backed bloody Pinochet coup in Chile; or all the way back to the slave trade and the genocide of the First Nations Peoples; I say it is the only way we’re ever going to get off this road to Hell.  Summed up perhaps, in four of the most insightful words in the English language: NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.

 

The Proclamation Of A Lone Superpower Above The Law

invasion-a-panama-hace-20-annos-07-540x356

invasion-panama-06
by MATT PEPPE

Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.

The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: “People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere,” writes William Blum. [1]

Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose “hands still tremble” when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.

“I take pills to calm down,” Marín told the paper. “It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things.”

In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.

U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush’s needed to shed his image as a “wimp.” So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.

Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.

Washington began disseminating propaganda about “human rights abuses” and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.

“It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows,” Noam Chomsky writes. “A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to ‘villain’ and ‘scum’ when he commits the crime of independence.”

Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama – from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.’s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.

The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors’ harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.

The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response.

“Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama,” said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended “to create an international incident… have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. [2]

After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the “Hard Chargers,” was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began.[3]

Targeting Civilians and Journalists

Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: “It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed.” [4]

Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire,” recounted an anonymous witness in the film. “They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.” [5]

People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.

Spanish fotographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.

“’Get back!’ the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot,” she wrote. “’We just want to pick up our things.’ He didn’t pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn’t return.”

While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.

American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began – before the killing in El Chorillo – by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was “100% certain” of Noriega’s location “but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities.”

No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.

The report stated that “most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare.”

The CODEHUCA report documented massively “disproportionate use of military force,” “indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians” and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.

When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: “Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.”

‘Flagrant Violation of International Law’

Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.

“The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter,” wrote the New York Times.

After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a “flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States.”

The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.’s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over ‘nonintervention.’”

In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that “the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights” in Panama. The violations occurred on a “massive scale” and included “illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and … tight control of the Panamanian media.”

Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen “since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d’ etre after the fall of Communism.

No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations.  Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of “humanitarian intervention.”

“Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies,” writes James Peck. “A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time.” [6]

The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.

The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military’s obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.

Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme international crime,” different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains “the accumulated evil of the whole.” People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.

Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate.

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

Works Cited

[1] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II – Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.

[2] The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-p4cPoVcIo&list=PLBMiR6FLgz2-BEFx0w_V-jE6hKb9uP3Wh&index=3, (30:54)

[3] Ibid (31:40)

[4] Ibid (34:08)

[5] Ibid (37:06)

[6] Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.

 

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WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were — neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

Writer: PETE SEEGER
Copyright: Lyrics © T.R.O. INC.

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/p/peteseegerlyrics/waistdeepinthebigmuddylyrics.html

 

Ferguson and Ayotzinapa December 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Police.
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The Ties that Bind

ayotzinapa
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by ENRIQUE C. OCHOA and GILDA L. OCHOA

Mourning and outrage are shaking parts of the United States and Mexico. As U.S. families grieve and demonstrators denounce the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many more at the hands of the police, people are also protesting state violence and police impunity throughout Mexico. Just this past week, the body of Alexander Mora was identified as one of the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Guerrero who were disappeared after being confronted by police.

In recent interviews, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry critiqued the crimes happening in Mexico as having “no place in civilized society.” They offered U.S. assistance “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened [to the missing students in Mexico].” Such a response is part of a long practice of demonizing Mexico as a corrupt nation in need of the assumed superior support of the U.S.

U.S. officials would do well to heed their own words and get to the root causes of what is happening in both the U.S. and Mexico. These struggles in Ferguson and Ayotzinapa are tied. The state violence against Black and poor indigenous young people must be seen in the context of rabid class inequality and racism where the working poor and people of color are criminalized and treated as disposable.

Corporate-driven economic transformations and policies such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have ravaged communities in the U.S. and in Mexico. Once industrial hubs, U.S. urban areas have been gutted of industry leaving a crumbling infrastructure and few living-wage jobs in their wake. Many of these neighborhoods are now being “revitalized” by pushing the Black and Brown urban poor out through gentrification. In the Mexican countryside, imports of subsidized U.S. grain, the growth of industrial farms, and the expansion of foreign companies combine to expel families from their livelihoods and communities. As a result, inequality has grown in both countries, and is among the worst of all developed economies.

According to a 2013 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, of its 34 member countries the United States has the 4th highest level of income inequality, and Mexico the second. When controlling for inflation, the income of those in U.S. households in the top ten percent of the economic ladder – those making over $150,000 per year – has increased over 30% since the 1970s. In contrast, the income of those in the bottom half of the economy has basically stagnated, or slightly decreased. And, the minimum wage in both countries is far from a livable wage. The working poor often have to work several jobs to try to make ends meet.

Wealth and power disparities are closely correlated with race. Both countries have witnessed a boom in the number of millionaires and billionaires, including producing the two wealthiest people in the world Carlos Slim and Bill Gates who according to Forbes have a combined net worth of over $150 billion.  In contrast, researchers with Mexico’s national evaluation agency, find that 46% of the total population lives below the poverty line, and 20% reside in extreme poverty. Throughout the county, the rate of extreme poverty is five times higher for indigenous peoples than for the general population. In the southern states, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations live, poverty rates are between 15 and 30 points higher and in the state of Guerrero (the home of the disappeared students) 70% of the population lives in poverty. In the U.S., the compounding generations of racism and class inequality are such that Latina/o and Black households have a median net worth of less than $7,000 compared to over $110,000 for White households.

Since the 1980s, as a result of neoliberal reforms, both countries have slashed public programs in education, health care, transportation, social security, and public housing. Privatization and the ideology of free trade seeks to eliminate most state social programs leaving the poor to fend for themselves in an economy that looks to bargain down wages to maximize profits. While these support systems were not as strong as they could have been, they were important reforms that were won through popular struggle, and their erosion has hurt the working poor and the historically marginalized most.  For the youth of working poor there are diminishing opportunities.

As the U.S. and Mexico disinvest in social programs, they divert funds to police poor communities through the war on drugs and other tough on crime policies. In the U.S., according to a Justice Policy Report, since the early 1980s spending on police protection has skyrocketed over 400% — from about $40 billion to nearly $200 billion. The number of state and local sworn officers has also increased over 50% during this period.

The war on drugs has been a war on poor people of color. Although multiple studies suggest that the majority of drug users are White, Blacks have been the most impacted by drug prosecutions and punitive polices such as mandatory minimums. As Law Professor Michelle Alexander reports, there are more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850 – devastating families and fueling the prison industrial complex where private prisons and immigration detention centers are big business.

The power elite in Mexico has increasingly militarized the state in an attempt to maintain order for foreign investors and domestic capitalists to expand their markets.  Under the guise of the war on drugs and Plan Mérida, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into military and police assistance in Mexico. Critics argue that the training and weaponry has been used against social movements and human rights activists. Collusion between criminal operations, military, government, and police officials occurs making it difficult to distinguish who is perpetrating the violence. Over the past decade, approximately 100,000 Mexicans have been killed in the failed “War on Drugs.” According to the UK newspaper The Telegraph, since 2007 nearly 23,000 Mexicans have been disappeared (over 5,000 this year alone!) through cartel and police violence, the two often working together.

The recent killings and grand jury verdicts in communities from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Ayotzinapa must also be placed in the context of a legacy of racism. The roots of racism in both the U.S. and Mexico are as deep as the economic fissures. They are embedded in society’s laws, institutions, and government structures. In the U.S., they are apparent in police profiling and the unequal application of zero tolerance and stop and frisk policies, the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, the deportation and destruction of immigrant families, and the impunity by which members of the police force can kill primarily Black boys and men and have those atrocities supported by state policies — such as the Supreme Court’s 1980s rulings justifying the use of deadly force by officers. In Mexico, similar disregard for the lives of poor and indigenous people is rampant. Mexican journalist Fernando Camacho Servín reporting in La Jornada finds that the “effects of racism include the criminalizing of certain groups by their physical appearance, to blame them for their poverty, to displace them from their lands, or simply depriving them of their basic rights.”

In the wake of massive dissent against state violence, Presidents Barak Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have suggested new policies. These focus on policing, impunity, and corruption. While they are small step, none of these changes will go very far unless the foundations of such atrocities are addressed head-on.

Enrique C. Ochoa is professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.

Gilda L. Ochoa is professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College

 

31 Years After the U.S. Invasion of Grenada October 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Grenada, History, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: Having failed for decades to dislodge the thorn in its side known as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the United States in 1983 invaded a tiny island in the Caribbean which had had the audacity to form a socialist government.  Following the usual paradigm for Latin America intervention (otherwise known as “send in the Marines!”), including the slaughter of civilians, it was little challenge for the United States brave army to defeat the defenders of a nation of barely one hundred thousand inhabitants.

 

“A Lovely Piece of Real Estate”

by MICKEY Z

As I’m sure everyone knows, we’re fast approaching the 31st anniversary of a truly momentous American victory — a crucial military operation that not only warmed Ronald Raygun’s cold, cold heart but was also deemed film-worthy by the former mayor of Carmel, California.

Yes, of course, I’m talking about the Oct. 25, 1983, “liberation” of Grenada.

Urgent Fury

In March 1979, socialist leader Maurice Bishop took over Grenada in a bloodless coup. Once deemed “a lovely piece of real estate” by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, Grenada is a small East Caribbean island of some 133 square miles and 110,000 inhabitants. At the time of the U.S. invasion, half of Grenada’s nationals lived in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.

The United States worked to destabilize the Bishop regime but, in early October 1983, he was ultimately deposed and later murdered by a group even more to the “Left” than he. That’s when America decided to risk awakening this sleeping Caribbean giant by launching a preemptive military strike.

After adding the obligatory statements about Soviet and Cuban designs on the island, the Great Communicator sent roughly 8,000 U.S. soldiers in to lead an operation called “Urgent Fury.” The fighting was over in a week. Casualties included 135 Americans killed or wounded along 84 Cubans and some 400 Grenadians dead.

“Forced on Us”

“The American media rarely mentioned Grenadian casualties of U.S. aggression,” explains Ramsey Clark. “It barely reported the mental hospital destroyed by a Navy jet, leaving more than 20 dead.” (Sound familiar?)

Raygun declared that the invasion was “forced on us by events that have no precedent in the eastern Caribbean,” leaving the United States with “no choice but to act strongly and decisively.” (Sound familiar?)

By a vote of 108 to 9, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Sound familiar?)

Wall Street Journal headline blared: U.S. INVADES GRENADA IN WARNING TO RUSSIA AND CUBA ABOUT EXPANSION IN THE CARIBBEAN. It was also a warning to potential critics.”The invasion was already under way, so even if we opposed it, there was nothing any of us could do,” Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil said at the time. “I had some serious reservations, and I’m sure my Democratic colleagues did as well, but I’d be damned if I was going to voice any criticism while our boys were out there.” (Sound familiar?)

Let’s not forget the “Grenada 17.” Amnesty International’s UK media director, Lesley Warner, wrote in 2003 that these 17 prisoners were “initially held without charge in cages, before being tried before an unfair, ad-hoc tribunal. They were denied access to legal counsel and to documents needed for their defense. After sentencing, the Grenada 17 were held in tiny cells with lights left permanently on.” (Sound familiar?)

“Stepping on a Flea”

In October 1983, Raygun stopped short of donning a flight suit, but did make a speech on the fourth day of the invasion, which, according to William Blum, “succeeded in giving jingoism a bad name.”

“The president managed to link the invasion of Grenada with the shooting down of a Korean airliner by the Soviet Union, the killing of U.S. soldiers in Lebanon, and the taking of American hostages in Iran,” says Blum.

“Clearly, the invasion symbolized an end to this string of humiliations for the United States. Even Vietnam was being avenged,” Blum adds. “To commemorate the American Renaissance, some 7,000 U.S. servicemen were designated heroes of the republic and decorated with medals. (Many had done no more than sit on ships near the island.) American had regained its manhood, by stepping on a flea.”

It’s all so familiar, but when will we learn?

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here

Bolivians Demand Justice for 2003 Gas War Massacre October 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado.  The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world).  It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them.  Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency.  God Bless America.

 

by BENJAMIN DANGL

Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.

“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”

Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)

On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.

There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.

“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”

The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.

El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.

Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.

A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”

A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.

A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.

All photos by Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl 

WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.

 

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BY GLENN GREENWALD

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”

It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.

But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.

Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.

To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

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.

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