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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Brendan Fischer on December 27, 2010

(Part two of a two-part series)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays

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

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

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

Chiquita’s Role in Honduras, 2009?

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

The PR Machine At Work

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brendan Fischer

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

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

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Why Eric Holder Represents What’s Wrong with Washington January 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice.
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www.motherjones.com

David Corn, January 14, 2009

Eric Holder Jr., by all accounts, is a decent, smart, caring, competent fellow. President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be attorney general had a brilliant career in public service: he graduated from Columbia University law school, worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was a trial attorney at the Justice Department, a Superior Court judge in Washington, DC, a US attorney, and, then deputy attorney general. He has served on various nonprofit boards: George Washington University, the American Constitution Society, Morehouse School of Medicine, Save the Children Foundation, the District of Columbia’s Police Foundation, and the Innocence Project. He’s been a member of Concerned Black Men for over 25 years. He also, in a way, represents what’s wrong with Washington.

That’s not because of Holder’s infamous role in the Marc Rich pardon. That episode–which Holder will certainly be asked about during confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin Thursday–was a case of Washington pay-to-play. There’s little doubt that Rich, a fugitive financier indicted for tax evasion, racketeering, and trading with the enemy (Iran), was able to win that last-minute pardon from President Clinton (with Holder, as deputy attorney general, leaning slightly in its favor) because he had hired a former Clinton White House counsel to argue his case and because Rich’s ex-wife had pledged money to Clinton causes.

Holder’s role in the Rich pardon may not have been instrumental, but it was a mistake–a terrible way to cap off decades of public service. But he is a poster child for something perhaps more pernicious and extensive in the nation’s capital: selling out. Months after the Clinton administration ended, Holder went to work for the influential law firm and lobbying shop of Covington and Burling. (He also joined the boards of Eastman Kodak and MCI.)

Holder was doing what so many routinely do in Washington: cashing in. He took years of experience he had gathered as a public servant and rented it to corporations accused of serious wrongdoing. He smoothly went from doing good to doing well. In 2008, according to his confirmation questionnaire, he made $2.1 million at Covington and Burling. And he expects in 2009 to bring in over $2.5 million, including his separation payment.

Holder’s private legal work for the Chiquita banana company, which faced the possibility of federal charges for having paid protection money to Colombian terrorists, has earned media attention. Holder also helped Merck settle a massive Medicaid overbilling case that culminated in a $671 million civil settlement. The pharmaceutical company had been accused by the Justice Department of cheating the government regarding Vioxx, its arthritis drug, and Zocor, its cholesterol drug.

But it may be a lesser-known piece of lawyering that best symbolizes how Holder went from prosecuting bad guys to protecting them.

In 2001, Darrell McGraw Jr., the longtime Democratic attorney general of the state of West Virginia, filed a civil case against Purdue Pharma in 2001, the manufacturer of OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller approved for serious pain treatment. He alleged that the company had engaged in “coercive and deceptive” marketing of OxyContin. McGraw charged that Purdue had disseminated misleading advertisements and had promoted the inappropriate use of OxyContin for minor pain. His lawsuit contended that Purdue had offered doctors free trips to “pain management” seminars where the firm pitched the drug as safe and effective for treating minor pain–without mentioning the drug was supposed to be used only for severe pain and easily abused. McGraw also alleged that Purdue had told “pharmacists that they can get in trouble if they do not fill prescriptions, even if they believe someone may be an abuser of the drug.” He maintained that the firm’s underhanded practices had caused users in West Virginia to become addicted to the drug. And he noted that while Purdue’s annual sales revenue from OxyContin had surpassed $1 billion, the state of West Virginia was saddled with the cost of treating people who had become addicted due to misuse of the drug encouraged by Purdue.

This suit was a serious threat to the drugmaker, and it eventually called in Holder. And in November 2004, the morning that the case was about to go to trial, Holder helped negotiate a settlement. Working in the judge’s chambers in West Virginia, he forged an agreement under which the firm would have to pay $10 million over four years into drug abuse and education programs in West Virginia. Purdue would not have to admit any wrongdoing. (Days earlier, the firm had offered the state about $2 million to settle; McGraw had turned down Purdue and had not bothered to produce a counter-offer.)

The settlement was a big win for the company. Ten million dollars was a piddling amount compared to what Purdue was reaping from OxyContin sales. More important, this settlement helped keep the lid on the firm’s criminal activities. There would be no trial–and no public release of documents or testimony about the company’s actions, which were already being investigated by federal prosecutors. In late 2002, the feds had begun an investigation of Purdue, with the first of what would be nearly 600 subpoenas for corporate records related to the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of OxyContin.

In May 2007, the company and its three top executives pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraudulently marketing OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. Purdue and the three execs agreed to pay fines of $634.5 million*. At the time, US attorney John Brownlee summed up the case:

Even in the face of warnings from health care professionals, the media, and members of its own sales force that OxyContin was being widely abused and causing harm to our citizens, Purdue, under the leadership of its top executives, continued to push a fraudulent marketing campaign that promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal. In the process, scores died as a result of OxyContin abuse and an even greater number of people became addicted to OxyContin; a drug that Purdue led many to believe was safer, less abusable, and less addictive than other pain medications on the market.

That is, Darrell McGraw, the West Virginia attorney general, had been correct.

Yet Holder had helped the company slip past McGraw’s charges. And that permitted the drugmaker to continue its fraudulent ways until the Justice Department finally stopped them. “We didn’t know why they settled with us,” says Frances Hughes, McGraw’s chief deputy attorney general. “Our suspicion is that they did not want anything to come out at the trial.” Is it possible that because of Holder’s efforts (whether he realized it or not), patients suffered–and perhaps died? But Holder did nothing wrong–in the legal or ethical sense. He was merely working for a client.

Corporate miscreants do have the right to legal representation. Yet Holder, who as a government official in earlier years had targeted wrongdoers, had no obligation to become a hired gun after leaving the Justice Department. He could have become a university president, a law school dean, a nonprofit chairman, a public interest lawyer. True, he would have had to get by on perhaps $250,000 or so a year instead of ten times that amount. But he would have continued a life of service.

Holder did what so many Washingtonians–Democrat and Republican–do upon leaving government: he left the public interest behind. The money was more important. (In his confirmation questionnaire, Holder did note he has “done more than fifty hours of pro bono work in every year except one” at Covington & Burling.) Many of the people who follow this sort of path like to continue to define themselves by their public deeds. When they serve on boards or write op-eds, they tend to ID themselves as a former government official–not as a current shill for this or that in-trouble corporation. They assume they can easily move back and forth between public service and private service–and they are right. In Washington, public officials are not snubbed or denigrated when they become private profiteers. When it’s time for them to return to public life, it’s usually no big deal. The capital’s revolving door spins people into and out of government.

Holder may get a slap or two from the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee for the Rich pardon or something else. But he’s likely to be confirmed. He may well become a good attorney general. Someday, down the road, he might be feted at a fancy testimonial dinner, and all his rather impressive accomplishments will be repeatedly noted. And with the encomiums flowing, there won’t be any mention of the Purdue Pharma victims and the highly-paid work Holder did to protect the people and company who caused their suffering.

*This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Purdue and its executives paid $634.5 million in fines, not $634,515. Sorry.

Colombia Confirms It Cannot Meet Necessary FTA Prerequisites; Death Squads on Rise December 20, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Dan Kovalik, December 4, 2008

www.huffingtonpost.com

(UPDATED) In his final debate with John McCain, President-elect Barack Obama made it clear why he opposed passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – because of the problem with union assassinations in Colombia (still the highest in the world) and because the Colombian government has failed to investigate and prosecute those killings. This statement echoed Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, just last year, set forth the yard marks which were necessary for consideration for the Colombia FTA – namely, “concrete and sustained” results in dealing with continued violence against trade unionists, impunity and the role of paramilitary groups in that violence.

2008-12-04-fernandoboteromasacre.jpg
Fernando Botero, “Masacre”

On the issue of impunity, the Colombian government has successfully investigated and prosecuted around only 3% of the almost 2700 union killings since 1986, resulting in an impunity rate of 97%. And, recently, the Colombian Office of the Attorney General confirmed that this impunity rate will not be appreciably lowered.

Indeed, as Human Rights Watch recently explained in a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Congressman George Miller and Congressman Charles Rangel, “[t]he Office of the Attorney General reports that as of October 20, the specialized prosecutors unit is only reviewing a total of 1,272 cases involving anti-union violence – including both threats and killings (even though nearly all of the 2,685 reported killings and more than 3,700 threats remain unresolved).” (emphasis added).

In short, impunity will not decrease very much in Colombia because the Colombian government, by its own admission, is not even looking into the vast majority of anti-union violence cases. This is an incredible admission by the Colombian government given its continued full-court press for passage of the Colombia FTA. This admission should finally end Colombia’s chances at passage of the FTA, at least so long as Barack Obama is President and Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House.

What’s more, the other key issue blocking passage of the FTA – ongoing anti-union violence – continues to be a big problem. As Human Rights Watch noted in its same letter, “[a]fter dropping to 39 last year, the number of killings has increased once again in 2008. Through October, 41 trade unionists have been reported killed, compared with 33 through October 2007. More than 150 unionists have reported being threatened so far this year.”

Addressing Speaker Pelosi’s third concern about continued paramilitary violence in Colombia, particularly against trade unionists, Human Rights Watch makes it clear that this problem remains grim and is actually getting worse. Indeed, as Human Rights Watch noted, while there was some temporary abating of paramilitary violence as a result of the demobilization which accompanied the “Justice and Peace” process, the paramilitaries are now re-mobilizing. As Human Rights Watch explained, “new armed groups often led by mid-level paramilitary commanders have cropped up all over the country. The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission verifying the demobilizations has identified 22 such groups, totaling thousands of members. The groups are actively recruiting new troops and are committing widespread abuses, including extortion, killings, and forced displacement.”

These conclusions about the paramilitary resurgence in Colombia were just reinforced by a Dec. 5, 2008, L.A. Times article by Chris Kraul, entitled, “Paramilitary groups still spread terror among Colombia’s people.” This article concluded that, in spite of President Uribe’s denial of the existence of any paramilitarism in Colombia, there are as many as 100 new paramilitary “gangs” in Colombia, “including as many as 10,000 fighters.” As this article reports, the rise of these new death squads is “creating an enormous catastrophe” with massive new displacements of people, adding to the already almost 4 million internal refugees — the second largest in the world. According to the L.A. Times, the hyper-violent Black Eagles “may account for half of the newly emerged fighters.”

The strong re-emergence of the paramilitary death squads does not bode well for trade unionists, for as Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General reported in March of 2008, of all the persons convicted of killing unionists, 73% belonged to paramilitary groups.

Finally, the Colombian government continues to turn a blind eye to the participation of government officials and major corporations in the murder of unionists. As Human Rights Watch explained, the Colombian government has done little to investigate the credible allegation that Jorge Noguera, the former chief of Colombia’s DAS (the analogue of the FBI which has actually received U.S. monies to protect unionists) passed a hit list with the names of trade unionists to the paramilitaries with the intent that the paramilitaries carry out the assassination of said unionists.

Further, Human Rights Watch noted that the Colombian government has failed to abide by the order of a well-respected judge to investigate the role played by the Nestle Corporation in the murder of union leader Luciano Romero. The issue of such corporate responsibility in the murder of trade unionists continues even as Colombia, on December 6, commemorates the 80th anniversary of the massacre of striking banana workers in the town of Cienaga, Colombia at the behest of then United Fruit Company (now, Chiquita Banana, a company which has continued to fund atrocities in Colombia). This event inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s portrayal of the murder of banana workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude – a book I am told is the very favorite of none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Sadly, this history of anti-union violence at the hands of elites in Colombia is repeated today on a regular basis. And, to put an end to this, Congress must continue its refusal to consider passage of the Colombia FTA.