Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
Tags: cocaine, drug addiiction, drug cartels, drug war, felipe calderon, harm reduction, laura carlsen, marijuana, medical marijuana, mexico drug wars, obama's drug war, plan colombia, reefer madness, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Since its inception, the War on Drugs has cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The civilians caught in the crossfire say it’s time for change.
- A still from the 1936 film, Reefer Madness.
In the 1930s, a church group commissioned a film “to strike fear in the hearts of young people tempted to smoke marijuana.” But it was not until the 1970s that Reefer Madness—billed as “the original classic that was not afraid to make up the truth” due to its grotesque portrayal of the supposed dangers of marijuana—obtained cult status.
After the scare tactics of the 1930s, U.S. marijuana policy varied depending on the political climate, even as scientific research consistently debunked extreme claims that the plant caused uncontrollable violent behavior, physical addiction, and insanity.
Then on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon launched his signature “war on drugs.” The new crackdown on illegal drug use shifted the issue from a local health and public safety problem to a series of federal agencies under the direct control of the president. President Ronald Reagan later doubled down on the drug war, ushering in an age of mass incarceration.
The drug war model not only criminalized but also, like teh film before it, demonized illegal drug dealing and use—and the individuals involved—in moralistic and military terms. In many states, selling marijuana carried longer sentences than murder. Although the abuse of legal drugs now kills more people than illegal drugs, the architects of the drug war continues to promote the view that it is some inherent evil of the substance, rather than the way individuals and groups use it, that determines whether a drug is a threat to society or an accepted social custom.
Why Punish Pain?
A hit of compassion could keep drugs from becoming a crime problem.
The Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that U.S. authorities arrest some 800,000 people a year
for marijuana use. Two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons
for drug offenses are black or Hispanic, even though consumption rates
for whites are equal. Largely because of drug laws and draconian
enforcement, the United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people, often destroying the hopes and futures of its youth. The United States spends more than $51 billion a year on the domestic war on drugs alone.
Exporting the War
The export version of the drug war has an even darker side. It makes the implicit racism of the domestic war overt. Foreign drug lords are stereotypically portrayed as the root of an evil enterprise that, in fact, takes place mostly in the United States, where street sales generate the multibillion-dollar profits of the business. Under the guise of the drug war, the U.S. government has sponsored military responses in other countries that the Constitution prohibits domestically—for good reasons.
Attention is diverted from the social roots of drug abuse and addiction at home to a foreign threat to the American way of life—a way of life that, regardless of one’s moral beliefs, has always been characterized by the widespread use of mind-altering drugs. The false war model of good vs. evil, ally vs. enemy precludes many community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective. U.S. taxpayers pay billions of dollars to fumigate foreign lands, pursue drug traffickers, and patrol borders as well as land and sea routes to intercept shipments.
None of this has worked. More than a decade and $8 billion into Plan Colombia, that Andean nation is the number-one cocaine producer in the world. Mexico has exploded into violence as the arrests and killings of cartel leaders spark turf battles that bathe whole regions in blood.
drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country.
Last month, 52 people lost their lives in an attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico. The news shocked Mexico since it represents yet another escalation of violence, but it’s become almost routine alongside daily drug-war deaths. For U.S. citizens, it was further proof that Mexico is under an assault by organized crime.
According to some Mexican researchers, the sudden rise in violence in Mexico correlates directly to when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown in the war on drugs by sending troops and federal police into the streets in 2006. Meanwhile, Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country and demand a change in strategy. Calderon has refused to consider alternative models.
Obama’s Drug-War Failure
This year the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that concludes that “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead, the Obama administration has added fist and firepower to the drug wars. Ignoring 40 years of policy failure, Obama has broken campaign promises to seek a more humane and effective drug policy. His administration has failed to support international harm reduction models, reversed a decision not to
go after state medical marijuana regimes voted by popular referendums,
reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 controlled
substance with no medical value, and expanded drug wars in Mexico and
The government reprehensibly continues to expand the failed drug war in the face of the budget crisis and drastic cutbacks in schools, healthcare, and basic social programs. A good example is the multimillion-dollar boondoggle called the “Merida Initiative.” Under this ill-conceived regional security cooperation measure, the United States sends intelligence and defense equipment and provides military and police training for Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central American countries. This drug-war strategy has increased violence in Mexico and led to a severe deterioration in public safety, rule of law, and human rights. The resources go to Mexican security forces notorious for corruption and even complicity with organized crime.
Photo by Fronteras Desk
The results of the drug war in Mexico have been nothing short of catastrophic. Since it began, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-war-related violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, children have been orphaned and traumatized, men, and thousands have been kidnapped and still missing.
The attacks on cartels—including the killing or capture of leaders—spark turf wars that rage throughout Mexico, with the worst concentrated along the northern border. In response, some cartels have reorganized, with splinter groups frequently employing far more violent tactics than their parent organizations. Military operations have pushed the violence around the country in what experts call a “whack-a-mole” strategy that shows no signs of letting up.
The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness—government perseverance with lethal and ineffective policies. The
drug war, with its exaggerated claims and mistaken focus on confronting
drug trafficking with police and military force, has cost the United States and its targeted suppliers like Colombia and Mexico millions of dollars and thousands of lives.
In Mexico, a peace movement has arisen against the drug war. It has opened up dialogue with the government but been met with an absolute refusal to consider other options. In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions, but politicians dismiss the issue because it’s taboo or too risky for their political aspirations.
Policymakers must come to their senses regarding the madness of the drug-war strategy. If they don’t voluntarily propose reforms, then citizens will have to force them to do so.
US Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region March 19, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, War.
Tags: roger hollander, Latin America, human rights, Colombia, plan colombia, foreign policy, uribe, hillary clinton, us bases, correa, military bases, benjamin dangl, latin america politics
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On the shores of the Magdalena River, in a lush green valley dotted with cattle ranches and farms, sits the Palanquero military base, an outpost equipped with Colombia’s longest runway, housing for 2,000 troops, a theater, a supermarket, and a casino.
Palanquero is at the heart of a ten-year, renewable military agreement signed between the United States and Colombia on October 30, 2009, which gives Washington access to seven military bases in the country. Though officials from the U.S. and Colombian governments contend the agreement is aimed at fighting narcotraffickers and guerrillas within Colombian borders, a U.S. Air Force document states the deal offers a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full spectrum operations” in the region against various threats, including “anti-U.S. governments.”
The Pentagon sought access to the bases in Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa canceled the lease for the U.S. military base in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. capability in Colombia will now be greater than at Manta, which worries human rights advocates in Colombia and left-leaning governments throughout the region.
“The main purpose of expanding these bases is to take strategic control of Latin America,” opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Polo Democrático Alternativo told me over the phone from Bogotá.
Every president in South America outside of Colombia is against the bases agreement, with Hugo Chávez of neighboring Venezuela being the most critical. Chávez said that by signing the deal the United States was blowing “winds of war” over the region, and that the bases were “a threat against us.”
“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States,” said Chávez in a televised meeting with government ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country. . . . It is a kind of colony.” The Venezuelan president responded by deploying troops to the border in what has become an increasingly tense battle of words and flexing of military muscle.
Correa in neighboring Ecuador said the new bases agreement “constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”
Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”
But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.
The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.
The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”
The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.
“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”
“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.
The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.
In a July 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd wrote: “What are the implications of further deepening our relationship with the Colombian military at a time of growing revelations about the widespread falsos positivos (“false positives”) scandal, in which the Colombian military recruited many hundreds (some estimates are as high as 1,600) of boys and young men for jobs in the countryside that did not exist and then summarily executed them to earn bonuses and vacation days?”
The military base agreement needs to be understood in the context of two other U.S. initiatives in Colombia.
First, Plan Colombia, which began under President Clinton, committed billions of dollars ostensibly to fight the war on drugs but also to fighting the guerrillas, intensifying the country’s already brutal conflict in rural areas. This has led to increasing displacement of people from areas that are strategically important for mining multinationals.
Second, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was signed in 2006, could pry open the country to more U.S. corporate exploitation. But it has been met with opposition in the United States, delaying its ratification. Daza says the signing of the bases deal is part of “a military strategy that complements the push for the free trade agreement.” The trade accord will serve “transnational corporate investments,” and these investments, he says, “are sustained by a military relationship.”
Opposition to the military bases agreement is vocal in Colombia. In a column written in July 2009, Senator Robledo denounced it, saying, “There is no law that allows bases of this type in Colombia.” One struggle, Robledo said, is on the legal and political front. The other is among social movements in Colombia and beyond. “It is important to organize a type of democratic citizens’ movement, a national campaign against these foreign bases, as well as a continental social alliance that promotes the denunciation of this agreement,” he says.
Daza is working with Mingas, a cross-border solidarity organization consisting of activists in Colombia, Canada, and the United States. Mingas wrote a letter to Obama, condemning the President’s decision to go forward with the deal on the bases. “At the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 you promised to foster a ‘new sense of partnership’ between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” the letter states. “But your Administration has yet to address the grave concerns expressed by national leaders throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean regarding the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.”
By signing this bases agreement, and by equivocating over the coup in Honduras, Obama has sent ominous signals to Latin America.
“Obama has not renounced the policies of Bush,” Robledo says. “Speaking in economic and military terms, on the fundamental issues, the similarities between Bush and Obama are bigger than the differences. Obama has not produced a change.”
© 2010 The Progressive
Tags: Colombia, colombia air bases, colombia bases, colombia military, foreign policy, gary leech, hillary clinton, Latin America, Latin America military, palenquero, plan colombia, roger hollander, u.s.-colombia
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South America to Slam US-Colombia Base Deal August 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: alan garcia, Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, colombia military, hillary clinton, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america politics, lula da silva, plan colombia, south america, U.S. imperialism, u.s. military bases, UNASUR, Venezuela
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SAO PAULO – South American presidents are expected to slam a US plan to use military bases in Colombia when they gather for a summit in Argentina at the end of the week specifically to discuss the issue.
The anti-US leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have already vociferously criticized the announcement that Washington wanted to expand its military presence in Colombia to access seven bases.
The more moderate presidents heading up Brazil, Chile and Argentina have likewise expressed concern at the decision, first announced last month by Bogota.
The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit in the Argentine ski resort of Bariloche on Friday is to examine claims by Venezuela President Hugo Chavez that the increased US deployment could be used to invade his country.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is to attend, after having snubbed the previous Unasur meeting in Ecuador early this month because of regional friction over the deal.
Ahead of that last meeting, Uribe embarked on a tour of South America to speak to leaders one-on-one about the bases deal, but failed to win any support except from Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
US officials say that, while the deal on the bases was finalized this month, the agreement with Colombia has yet been signed.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected to ink the accord soon.
She also insisted that the beefed-up US military presence was exclusively aimed at “narco-traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia.”
But Chavez on Sunday charged that “they are turning all of Colombia into a (US) base.”
He said in his weekly broadcast he had a document that showed the US military intended to operate unhindered “in strategic areas” — which he interpreted as including the Orinoco Delta in eastern Venezuela and Brazil’s northern Amazon basin.
The US aim was to “dominate South America and act freely across the continent,” he alleged.
Brazil’s defense minister, Nelson Jobim, was to travel to Colombia on Tuesday to talk over the bases decision with his counterpart, Gabriel Silva Lujan.
On Monday, he met with Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim also met with Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Fander Falconi.
Falconi said Colombia had requested that several agenda items be discussed in conjunction with the bases issue at Friday’s summit, including other military deals in South America.
That latter point could touch on Venezuela’s recent purchases of billions of dollars of Russian weaponry, including sophisticated fighter jets and tanks, and Brazil’s deal with France to buy five submarines, one of which will be outfitted as a nuclear-powered vessel. Brazil is also poised to buy 36 new fighter aircraft from France, the United States or Sweden.
“There are no off-limit subjects at the meeting,” Falconi said.
“We think that all aspects linked to security in the region need to be tackled by the presidents. It’s not about accusing anybody, only holding transparent dialogue with the aim of strengthening regional unity,” he said.
Unasur groups Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guayana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged US President Barack Obama to attend a Unasur summit to hear the grievances.
Obama said only he would “look at possibilities” and would next meet with Lula on September 24-25, at a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, in the US state of Pennsylvania.
Under a current cap exercised by the US Congress, the number of US citizens deployed to bases in Colombia cannot exceed 800 uniformed and 600 civilian personnel.
The US daily The Washington Post claimed in an editorial on Monday that Chavez was stirring up trouble over the bases to distract attention from his alleged support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel organization deemed a “terrorist” group by Washington.
The newspaper, which has good sources in US defense and political circles, asserted that giving the US military access to seven bases in Colombia was an “unremarkable” expansion of existing US operations in the country.
© 2009 Agence France Presse
Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
Tags: bachelet, colombia bases, foreign policy, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, Hugo Chavez, james jones, Latin America, latin america government, latin america politics, Lula, Mexico, mexico politics, miguel tinker salas, military bases, obama administration, plan colombia, plan merida, right wing, roger hollander, u.s. imperialsim, u.s. military bases, UNASUR, uribe, Venezuela, zelaya
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The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.
Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.
But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.
The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.
Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!
The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.
All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.
None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.
Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.
Tags: Colombia, colombia abuses, Colombia atrocities, colombia human rights, colombia military, colombian army, foreign policy, human rights, Latin America, latin america poitics, military bases, moira birss, obama administration, plan colombia, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, u.s. military bases, uribe
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by Moira Birss
In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama administration’s Latin America policy. Clearly, O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it’s tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.
Why is the Obama administration pushing for these bases, despite having previously criticized Colombia’s human rights record?
The Administration’s goals for the military facilities are “filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia,” according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, would serve to expand the U.S. military’s counter-narcotic operations in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war, and combat “other international crimes,” according to Colombia’s Foreign Minister.
Despite these hints at the intention of the bases, many serious questions remain. In fact, even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests. Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South America tour to convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed his own Congress.
Such secrecy is worrisome. Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay Poland, who has spent years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, “the locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions ‘beyond Colombia’s borders’ are U.S. planners contemplating?”
Even if we had answers to these questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the bases.
In cooperating with the Colombian army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with an atrocious human rights record. More than 1,000 civilians have been murdered by the Colombian army in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing these seven bases unmasks Obama’s previous statements calling for the improvement of Colombian’s human rights record as merely lip service.
Colombian forces aren’t the only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes. US negotiators have made it known that “even if they won’t interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia’s borders.” And there is precedent that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old girl, and have yet to be punished. When confronted by the girl’s mother, the soldiers were quoted as saying, “Yeah, we raped her, so what? We are in Colombia, the law doesn’t affect us.” An all too accurate depiction of the US military’s mentality in Colombia.
These bases would lack oversight in the financial arena as well. While Plan Colombia funding has been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.
The many unanswered questions and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised alarms among Colombia’s neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions. Venezuela has frozen diplomatic relations, and Ecuador has threatened “increased military tensions” over their concerns about the increased U.S. presence in the region. Brazil’s President Lula said last week he was “not happy” at even one base being handed over for U.S. operations.
Many Colombians are opposed as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval. Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.
The bases agreement has not yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S. leaders to scrap the idea. The Fellowship of Reconciliation has compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases in Colombia.
Two Colombian Generals Face Charges June 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, colombia drugs, colombia human rights, colombia military, colombia palm oil, colombia paramilitary, colombian farmers, Colombian generals, fort benning, human rights, human rights abuses, nation magazine, patrick leahy, plan colombia, roger hollander, School of the Americas, sherwood ross, soa, USAID
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June 8, 2009
Two Colombian generals, both of whom received training at the U.S. Army’s “School of The Americas”(SOA) at Ft. Benning, Ga., have been accused by authorities there of crimes involving narcotics and collaborating with criminal paramilitary groups, according to a report in the June 15th issue of The Nation magazine.
Brig. Gen. Pauxelino Latorre has been charged “with laundering millions of dollars for a paramilitary drug ring, and prosecutors say they are looking into his activities as head of the Seventeenth Brigade,” investigative journalist Teo Ballve reports, noting that criminal probes repeatedly linked Latorre’s unit “to illegal paramilitary groups that had brutally killed thousands” of Colombian farmers in an effort to seize their land for palm oil production.
Another general, Rito Alejo Del Rio, former Seventeenth Brigade leader, is in jail on charges of collaborating with paramilitaries, gangs that have been responsible for widespread atrocities. He also received training at SOA.
Various firms engaged in palm oil development since 2002 apparently have received $75 million in U.S. Agency for International Development money under “Plan Colombia,” Ballve writes. And some of the firms appear to be tied to narco-traffickers, “in possible violation of federal law.” The writer notes Colombia’s paramilitaries are on the State Department’s list of foreign “terrorist” organizations.
“Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,” The Nation quotes Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, as saying. “The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers.”
President Alvaro Uribe has urged Colombians to increase palm production from 750,000 to 15 million acres to cash in on the expected boom in biofuels.
“Oil palm, or African palm, is one of the few aid-funded crops whose profits can match coca profits,” Ballve notes. But human rights groups have long accused palm companies, notably Urapalma, of cultivating stolen lands, he adds.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has attached an amendment to this year’s Plan Colombia funding (for 2010) to ban palm projects that “cause the forced displacement of local people” but in the bill’s current draft, Ballve says, Leahy’s amendment is marked for deletion.
Urapalma submitted a grant application to the Bogota, Colombia, offices of ARD Inc., a rural development contractor based in Burlington, Vermont, which The Nation reports does business in 43 countries and has received $330 million in revenue from USAID.
In January, 2003, ARD began administering $41.5 million for USAID’s Colombia Agribusiness Partnership Program and Urapalma was one of its beneficiaries. Urapalma has been accused of taking land illegally from Colombian peasants.
In July, 2003, just before Urapalma’s USAID application, Colombia’s national daily El Tiempo reported that “the African palm projects in the southern banana region of Uraba are dripping with blood, misery, and corruption.” The region is where Urapalma is active.
The Nation article goes on to report that in 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights singled out Urapalma for collusion with paramilitaries in these words: “Since 2001, the company Urapalma SA has initiated cultivation of the oil palm on approximately 1,500 hectares of the collective land of these communities, with the help of ‘the perimetric and concentric armed protection of the Army’s Seventeenth Brigade and armed civilians'”, i.e., paras.
All of the above, of course, has gone on by fleecing American taxpayers, courtesy of SOA and USAID.
Sherwood Ross formerly worked for The Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and as a columnist for wire services. He currently runs a public relations firm for “worthy causes”-. Reach him at email@example.com.
Obama’s Real Plan in Latin America April 30, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Colombia, Cuba, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, bay of pigs, colombia human rights, Colombian military, cuba embargo, farc, felipe calderon, foreign policy, Free Trade, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, Latin America military, merida initiative, meridia initiative, mexico drug war, mexico human rights, oas, obama latin america, plan colombia, plan mexico, rio group, roger hollander, shamus cooke
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|Written by Shamus Cooke
|Wednesday, 29 April 2009, www.towardfreedom.com
|At first glance Obama seems to have softened U.S. policy toward Latin America, especially when compared to his predecessor. There has been no shortage of editorials praising Obama’s conciliatory approach while comparing it to FDR’s “Good Neighbor” Latin American policy.
It’s important to remember, however, that FDR’s vision of being neighborly meant that the U.S. would merely stop direct military interventions in Latin America, while reserving the right to create and prop up dictators, arm and train unpopular regional militaries, promote economic dominance through free trade and bank loans and conspire with right-wing groups.
And although Obama’s policy towards Latin America has a similar subversive feeling to it, many of FDR’s methods of dominance are closed to him. Decades of U.S. “good neighbor” policy in Latin America resulted in a continuous string of U.S. backed military coups, broken-debtor economies, and consequently, a hemisphere-wide revolt.
Many of the heads of states that Obama mingled with at the Summit of the Americas came to power because of social movements born out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy. The utter hatred of U.S. dominance in the region is so intense that any attempt by Obama to reassert U.S. authority would result in a backlash, and Obama knows it.
Bush had to learn this the hard way, when his pathetic attempt to tame the region led to a humiliation at the 2005 Summit, where for the first time Latin American countries defeated yet another U.S. attempt to use the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), as a tool for U.S. foreign policy.
But while Obama humbly discussed hemispheric issues on an “equal footing” with his Latin American counterparts at the recent Summit of Americas, he has subtly signaled that U.S. foreign policy will be business as usual.
The least subtle sign that Obama is toeing the line of previous U.S. governments — both Republican and Democrat — is his stance on Cuba. Obama has postured as being a progressive when it comes to Cuba by relaxing some travel and financial restrictions, while leaving the much more important issue, the economic embargo, firmly in place.
When it comes to the embargo, the U.S. is completely unpopular and isolated in the hemisphere. The U.S. two-party system, however, just can’t let the matter go.
The purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere.
The real purpose behind the embargo is what Cuba represents. To the entire hemisphere, Cuba remains a solid source of pride. Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans. This profound break from U.S. dominance — in its “own backyard” no less — is not so easily forgiven.
There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo. The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism).
And although the “fight against communism” may seem like a dusty relic from the cold war era, the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question: is there another way to organize society?
Even with Cuba’s immense lack of resources and technology (further aggravated by the U.S. embargo), the achievements made in healthcare, education, and other fields are enough to convince many in the region that there are aspects of the Cuban economy — most notably the concept of producing to meet the needs of all Cubans and NOT for private profit — worth repeating.
Hugo Chavez has been the Latin American leader most inspired by the Cuban economy. Chavez has made important steps toward breaking from the capitalist economic model and has insisted that socialism is “the way forward” — and much of the hemisphere agrees.
This is the sole reason that Obama continues the Bush-era hostility towards Chavez. Obama, it is true, has been less blunt about his feelings towards Chavez, though he has publicly stated that Chavez “exports terrorism” and is an “obstacle to progress.” Both accusations are, at best, petty lies. Chavez drew the correct conclusion of the comments by saying:
“He [Obama] said I’m an obstacle for progress in Latin America; therefore, it must be removed, this obstacle, right?”
It’s important to point out that, while Obama was “listening and learning” at the Summit of Americas, the man he appointed to coordinate the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, was busily spewing anti-Venezuelan venom in the media.
This disinformation is necessary because of the “threat” that Chavez represents. The threat here is against U.S. corporations in Venezuela, who feel, correctly, that they are in danger of being taken over by the Venezuelan government, to be used for social needs in the country instead of private profit. Obama, like his predecessor, believes that such an act would be against “U.S. strategic interests,” thus linking the private profit of mega-corporations acting in a foreign country to the general interests of the United States.
In fact, this belief that the U.S. government must protect and promote U.S. corporations acting abroad is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Latin America, but the world.
Prior to the revolutionary upsurges that shook off U.S. puppet governments in the region, Latin America was used exclusively by U.S. corporations to extract raw materials at rock bottom prices, using cheap labor to reap super profits, while the entire region was dominated by U.S. banks.
Things have since changed dramatically. Latin American countries have taken over industries that were privatized by U.S. corporations, while both Chinese and European companies have been given the green light to invest to an extent that U.S. corporations are being pushed aside.
To Obama and the rest of the two-party system, this is unacceptable. The need to reassert U.S. corporate control in the hemisphere is high on the list of Obama’s priorities, but he’s going about it in a strategic way, following the path paved by Bush.
After realizing that the U.S. was unable to control the region by more forceful methods (especially because of two losing wars in the Middle East), Bush wisely chose to fall back a distance and fortify his position. The lone footholds available to Bush in Latin America were, unsurprisingly, the only two far-right governments in the region: Colombia and Mexico.
Bush sought to strengthen U.S. influence in both governments by implementing Plan Colombia first, and the Meridia Initiative second (also known as Plan Mexico). Both programs allow for huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to be funneled to these unpopular governments for the purpose of bolstering their military and police, organizations that in both countries have atrocious human rights records.
In effect, the diplomatic relationship with these strong U.S. “allies” — coupled with the financial and military aide, acts to prop up both governments, which possibly would have fallen otherwise (Bush was quick to recognize Mexico’s new President, Calderon, despite evidence of large-scale voter fraud). Both relationships were legitimized by the typical rhetoric: the U.S. was helping Colombia and Mexico fight against “narco-terrorists.”
The full implication of these relationships was revealed when, on March 1st 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC base in Ecuador without warning (the U.S. and Colombia view the FARC as a terrorist organization). The Latin American countries organized in the “Rio Group” denounced the raid, and the region became instantly destabilized (both Bush and Obama supported the bombing).
The conclusion that many in the region have drawn — most notably Chavez — is that the U.S. is using Colombia and Mexico as a counterbalance to the loss of influence in the region. By building powerful armies in both countries, the potential to intervene in the affairs of other countries in the region is greatly enhanced.
Obama has been quick to put his political weight firmly behind Colombia and Mexico. While singing the praises of Plan Colombia, Obama made a special trip to Mexico before the Summit of the Americas to strengthen his alliance with Felipe Calderon, promising more U.S. assistance in Mexico’s “drug war.”
What these actions make clear is that Obama is continuing the age old game of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, though less directly than previous administrations. Obama’s attempt at “good neighbor” politics in the region will inevitably be restricted by the nagging demands of “U.S. strategic interests,” i.e., the demands of U.S. corporations to dominate the markets, cheap labor, and raw materials of Latin America. And while it is one thing to smile for the camera and shake the hands of Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, U.S. corporations will demand that Obama be pro-active in helping them reassert themselves in the region, requiring all the intrigue and maneuvering of the past.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
US-Trained Human Rights Abusers April 21, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: Amnesty International, civilian killings, Colombia, death squads, foreign policy, house foreign affaris, human rights, human rights abuses, john lindsay-poland, Latin America, plan colombia, rand corporation, roger hollander, School of the Americas, southern command, u.s. military assistance, u.s. military schools, us military aid
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Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus
President Barack Obama has reversed a few of the Bush administration’s most egregious policies violating human rights and international law, such as the announced closure of the detention center in Guantánamo. But it remains to be seen to what extent he will lead the military toward respect for human rights, and change the institutional impunity to which American commanders and U.S. military allies have become accustomed.
Last month, combatant commanders came before Congress to make their case for funding. Southern Command Chief Admiral James Stavridis didn’t hesitate to say how critical funds are for military training, especially the former School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). “The camaraderie developed among our military officers at these institutions,” Stavridis said, “and the schools’ strong emphasis on democratic values and respect for human rights are critical to creating military establishments capable of effective combined operations.”
But what evidence is there that the specific military units in 149 other nations receiving U.S. training and other assistance actually respect human rights more after receiving the training? Legislation known as the “Leahy Law” since 1997 has prohibited U.S. assistance to foreign military units that have committed gross human rights abuses. But the focus is on abuses committed before assistance is given. The United States doesn’t conduct any institutional evaluation of the human rights impacts of its military assistance after it’s given.
Is It the Students, Or the Training
The underlying article of faith for evaluating other nations’ human rights records to see if they are worthy of U.S. military assistance, is that such assistance will “professionalize” other armies, or at worst be neutral for its impact on respect for human rights.
In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. A study of School of Americas graduates in 2005 found that soldiers taking more than one course at the school were several times more likely to have allegedly committed abuses than those who took just one course. A 2006 study by the RAND Corporation found that U.S. military training supported forces that continued to commit gross violations in Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Similar claims could be made about assistance given to Iraq and Israel, to consider two obvious examples. In Colombia, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Amnesty International reviewed data on army units receiving U.S. assistance – especially training. We found that nearly half (47%) of civilian killings reportedly committed by the army in 2007 were committed by units that had been reviewed and received U.S. assistance in 2006 and 2007. Many more were committed by units from which individual officers were drawn and received leadership and other training at U.S. military schools.
Periodic evaluation is a basic prerequisite for any government program, but especially one that imparts lethal skills and equipment. As Congress’ comptroller, the General Accountability Office should study whether assistance is fulfilling U.S. human rights policy objectives. Instead its reports focus on limited questions of efficiency in the use of funds. A GAO evaluation of Plan Colombia last year, for example, that was two years in the making, didn’t once address the impacts on respect for human rights – for good or bad – of the $5 billion in U.S. military aid to Colombia since 2000.
In Colombia, progress on human rights is measured by macro-factors, such as overall levels of political violence, instead of by violations by the institutions that were directly assisted by the United States or by the extent that those violations were prosecuted in civilian courts. The result is that, while political violence has diminished as a result of dominion by the State and – in many areas – the mafia, over insurgent groups, killings of civilians by the Army trained and equipped by the United States has risen dramatically, 72% since 2002.
The Colombian military’s long history of gross human rights abuses should have suggested long ago that the departments of State and Defense evaluate their military training for human rights. But although international military training aims to “emphasize an understanding of internationally recognized human rights,” the military doesn’t evaluate human rights performance, either. The U.S. Southern Command, for example, typically measures success of training by promotions of officers receiving assistance, by the officers’ positive image of the United States, and whether they rise to positions of prominence such as defense attaché, or even the presidency.
Addressing the Problem
Today, a reform process of the Foreign Assistance Act undertaken by the House Foreign Affairs Committee offers an unprecedented opportunity to require periodic and comprehensive evaluation of the human rights impacts of U.S. military assistance. As part of such evaluation, the government should establish an independent commission to investigate the past activities of U.S. military schools, and make recommendations to establish safeguards to prevent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The commission should include representatives of relevant government agencies, as well as human rights organizations and academics. Most importantly, such a commission should be given access to detailed data on who has received U.S. assistance and on human rights violations over long periods.
Periodic evaluation of the human rights performance of military training beneficiaries could draw on information already gathered by U.S. embassies from local courts, human rights NGOs, intelligence and enforcement agencies, and media reports. Basic criteria for evaluation should include whether there are credible reports of beneficiaries or troops under their command committing gross human rights abuses, and whether civilian courts are successfully trying those crimes. This evaluation should be transparent and made available to the public, and it should apply to assistance given through the Defense Department and other agencies, as well as the State Department.
Policymakers aren’t given to asking “why” questions. In the case of the human rights performance of client armies viewed as strategic allies, however, we should all be asking: If the United States is excluding abusive units from assistance, and training the rest in human rights, why so many of these armies continue abuse and kill their civilian compatriots? In the meantime, where the results of U.S. assistance are executions, torture, forced displacement, and other violations, the Obama administration should terminate military aid and cooperation.
Tags: al-Qaeda, alba, Alvaro Uribe, april howard, ben dangl, Bolivia, bush administration, china trade latin america, cia, Colombia, colombia auc, colombia paramilitaries, counterinsurgency, cyril mychaelejko, DEA, dirty wars, Ecuador, Evo Morales, farc, foreign policy, Free Trade, Free Trade Latin America, guatemala, hamas, hezbollah, hillary clinton, Hugo Chavez, human rights, IMF, Latin America, latin america politics, Lula de Silva, negroponte, obama administration, plan colombia, plan guatemala, plan mexico, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, Venezuela, war on terror, washington consensus
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|Written by Cyril Mychalejko|
|Tuesday, 27 January 2009|
Source:New Politics Winter 2009, Vol. XXII
Much is being made across the political spectrum in the United States about Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. The region has seen an emergence of left and center-left presidents voted into office, many as a result of budding social movements growing democracy from the grassroots. Some pundits and analysts are suggesting that this phenomenon is occurring because of the Bush Administration’s perceived neglect of the region. Rather, what is happening is blowback from Washington’s continued meddling in the economic and political affairs of an area arrogantly referred to as the United States’ “backyard.” Latin America’s growing unity in rejecting the Washington Consensus remains fragile in the face of U.S. opposition. Washington has been quietly using the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and a neo-cold war ideology to institutionalize a militarism in the region that risks returning us to the not so far off days of “dirty wars.”
Breaking the Chains
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 sparked the beginning of the leftward electoral paradigm shift in the hemisphere. After he orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 1992, he was elected six years later based on a campaign that promised to lift up the impoverished nation’s poor majority through economic policies that ran counter to the free market fundamentalism and crony capitalism pursued by the country’s oligarchs, with the aid of Washington and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez also began to challenge the idea of U.S. hegemony in the region by advocating a united Latin America based on the ideas of one of his intellectual mentors, Simón Bolívar, the 19th century revolutionary instrumental in defeating Spain’s control of the region. Chavez, who also claims to be influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, has championed what he calls a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” A fierce and outspoken critic of neoliberalism, Chavez has said “I am convinced that a path to a new, better and possible world is socialism, not capitalism,” words that have been scarce in the region’s capitals with the exception of Cuba.
Since Chavez’s ascent to power, we have seen presidents elected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay which translates into a majority of countries in the region advocating center-left and left-wing political programs (while Mexico and Peru missed joining this new Latin American consensus by narrow, if not fraudulent, election outcomes).
While it is true that, despite these developments, socialism is a long way off from taking hold in the region, the rejection of Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) back in 2003, long before the left had firmly taken hold in the hemisphere, marked the beginning of an outright challenge to free market orthodoxy, U.S. hegemony, and corporate power. Since then we have seen multinational corporations booted out of countries and defiantly confronted by social movements, U.S. ambassadors expelled from three nation’s capitals, free trade agreements protested, illegitimate foreign debts challenged, and U.S. drug policies rejected. In addition, alternative political and economic institutions and policies have been advocated and created.
Venezuela’s Chavez developed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an antithesis to the FTAA that advocates a trade regime based on economic, social, and political integration guided by the principals of solidarity and cooperation. Even Honduras, long seen as a U.S. satellite state dating back to the days it assisted Washington in overthrowing Guatemala’s government in 1954, has joined ALBA, showing that the creeping tide of Bolivarianism is extending to the still fragile Central America. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Lula de Silva, viewed by Washington and the U.S. corporate media as part of the “acceptable” or “responsible” left, declared in 2007 that “Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations . . . it is time to wake up.” And the region has woken up as the “Bank of the South” was formed to make development loans without the draconian economic prescriptions of Washington-controlled financial institutions, which in the past have forced countries to cut social spending, deregulate industries, and open markets to foreign capital — policies that have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the past and as a result compounded dependence on foreign capital and Washington.
In terms of security cooperation, both Brazil and Venezuela have led efforts to create a South American Defense Council, a NATO-style regional body that would coordinate defense policies, deal with internal conflicts and presumably diminish Washington’s influence in its “backyard.” While U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said back in March that Washington “had no problem with it” and looked “forward to coordination with it,” Bloomberg News reported that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States should “watch from the outside and keep its distance,” and that “this is a South American council and we have no obligation to ask for a license from the United States to do it.” In a similar challenge to U.S. military presence and influence, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa decided to force the United States. to close its military base in the port city of Manta. And then there is China’s and Russia’s growing economic and political ties to the region — something that would not only be unheard of in the past, but not tolerated.
Developments such as these led the Council on Foreign Relations to declare in May that the “era of the United States as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” Frank Bajak, writing for the Associated Press on Oct. 11, echoed this observation when he wrote, “U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades” and that “it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post took a more indignant and belligerent position in an Oct. 6 editorial when it questioned whether Washington should “continue to subsidize governments that treat it as an enemy” while “a significant part of Latin America continues to march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism that has governed the region for a generation.”
While conventional thinking has led many to believe that Latin America’s independence from the United States may be an irreversible paradigm shift, behind the scenes Washington has put into place policies that could unleash a reign of terror not seen since the 1980’s. Colombia has served as laboratory for this new counterinsurgency program that can be interpreted as a continuance of U.S. supported state terrorism and a re-emergence of the national security state in Latin America.
The U.S. government has sent more than $5 billion in mostly military and counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia since 2000 to fund “Plan Colombia,” a counter drug program said to be designed to fight cocaine production and narco-trafficking, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in turn further intensifying the country’s long-standing civil war. But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in 2001 in a study sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, “The protection of U.S. oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug-trafficking right-wing guerrillas by U.S. allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking.”
The ICIJ investigation also found that “Major U.S. oil companies have lobbied Congress intensely to promote additional military aid to Colombia, in order to secure their investments in that country and create a better climate for future exploration of Colombia’s vast potential reserves.” In addition, corporations with interests in the region were reported to have spent almost $100 million lobbying Congress to affect U.S. Latin America policy.
Eight years later, Colombia has evolved into a full-fledged paramilitary state. President Álvaro Uribe, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, his extended family, and many of his political supporters in the government and military are under investigation for ties to paramilitaries and right-wing death squads. As far as U.S. corporate collusion goes, Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement in 2007 for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Even more damaging is the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it. Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., Inc. and Coca-Cola have also been accused of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate, murder or disappear trade unionists. This is what the ICIJ meant when they wrote about securing investments and creating a “better climate” for business.
According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, Colombia accounts for more than 60 percent of trade unionists killed worldwide. There have also been at least 17 murders of trade unionists just this year, which, according to a report released in April 2008, accounts for an 89 percent increase in murders over the same time period from 2007. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported in August that the collateral damage from Colombia’s civil war has resulted in more disappearances than occurred in El Salvador and Chile, while Colombia’s attorney general believes there could be as many as 10,000 more bodies scattered across the country — meaning totals would surpass those from Argentina and Peru.
Despite what should be considered as a total failure from a policy and, more importantly, human rights standpoint, this same Colombian model has been promoted by Washington to other nations in the region, and — remarkably — has been embraced by these countries. In 2005, Guatemalan officials called for their own “Plan Guatemala,” while Oscar Berger, president at the time, asked for a permanent DEA station in the country and for U.S. military personnel to conduct anti-narcotics operations. In addition, he was a proponent of a regional rapid deployment force, initially conceived to fight gangs, but later adjusted to include counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in order to attract U.S. support. It should be noted that the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint, allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), on April 23, 2008, charging the Guatemalan government with not upholding its labor laws and for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members — which include rape and murder. This speaks to the idea of securing a “business-friendly” climate like in Colombia, which many in Washington want to reward with a free trade agreement. Guatemala’s government is currently led by President Alvaro Colom, a politician who represents the country’s ruling oligarchs. Pre-election violence during his campaign claimed the lives of over 50 candidates (or their family members) and political activists, in a country Amnesty International reports is infested with “clandestine groups” comprised of members of “the business sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and possibly ex and current members of the armed forces” responsible for targeting human rights activists.
This regional militaristic strategy finally materialized into policy on June 30 when President Bush signed into law the Meridia Initiative, or “Plan Mexico,” which according to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program “could allocate up to $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean countries for security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”
Just one day later, investigative journalist Kristen Bricker reported that a video had surfaced showing a U.S.-based private security company teaching torture techniques to Mexican police. This led Amnesty International to call for an investigation on July 3 to determine why techniques such as “holding a detainee down in a pit full of excrement and rats and forcing water up the nostrils of the detainee in order to secure information” were being taught. Later in July the Inter Press Service published a story about a 53-page report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2007-2008 that suggested “Central America is backsliding badly on human rights issues, and social unrest could flare up into civil wars like those experienced in the last decades of the 20th century.”
Nevertheless, Washington continues to push for the re-militarization of the region, as evidenced by a $2.6 million aid package given to El Salvador in October to “fight gangs.” Coincidentally, this was announced just months after the Inter Press Service reported in a June 16 article that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “expressed concern over supposed ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),” while also announcing that “the Bush administration is on the alert to Iran’s presence in Central America.”
Playing the Terror Card
In order to up the ante as a means of promoting this militaristic vision for the Americas and to vilify strategic “enemies” such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Washington has added the “War on Terror” into the equation by spreading unfounded allegations about Islamic terrorist infiltration into the region.
Journalists Ben Dangl and April Howard of Upside Down World, reporting for EXTRA! in Oct. 2007, wrote “In the Cold War, Washington and the media used the word ‘communism’ to rally public opinion against political opponents. Now, in the post– September 11 world, there is a new verbal weapon — ‘terrorism.'” This puts into context Washington’s evidence-lacking assertions that the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, is a hub for Islamic Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, claims the mainstream media have obsequiously parroted, yet Dangl and Howard helped disprove. Dangl and Howard, reporting from Ciudad del Este, a city located in the center of this alleged “hotbed” of terrorsim, talked with Paraguayan officials, as well as local residents, all of whom denied there was any presence of foreign terrorist groups. They pointed out that the governments of Brazil and Argentina have also denied the claims. But the terrorist assertions haven’t stopped there.
Norman A. Bailey, a former U.S. spy chief for Cuba and Venezuela, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 17 that “financial support has been provided [by drug traffickers] to insurgent groups in certain countries, most notoriously to the FARC in Colombia, as well as to ETA, the Basque separatist organization, and most importantly to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, through their extensive network in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.”
The State Department’s David M. Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, gave a statement on Oct. 8 claiming that international terrorist organizations will collaborate with regional criminal networks to smuggle WMD’s across the U.S.’s border with Mexico.
“Fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we ‘surface them,’” stated Luna. He also went on to regurgitate the empty claims of the Tri-Border Islamic threat.
That same day the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials were concerned with alliances being formed by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Latin American drug cartels.
“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Charles Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”
And on Oct. 21 The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. and Colombian officials allegedly dismantled a drug and money laundering ring used to finance Hezbollah.
This post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering, being carried out for years now, has served as a pretext for Washington to deploy Special Operations troops in embassies across the globe, including Latin America, “to gather intelligence on terrorists…for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.”
The New York Times, which broke the story on March 8, 2006, reported that this initiative, led by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was an attempt to broaden the U.S. military’s role in intelligence gathering. The soldiers, referred to as “Military Liaison Elements,” were initially deployed without the knowledge of local ambassadors. This changed after an armed robber in Paraguay was killed after attempting to rob a group of soldiers covertly deployed to the country. Senior embassy officials were “embarrassed” by the episode as the soldiers were operating out of a hotel, rather than the embassy.
But in a follow-up by The Washington Post on April 22, “the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform — rather than gain the approval of — the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country” when deploying these “elite Special Operations Troops.” This development has remained largely under the radar, with the exception of analysis by Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America.
A New Cold War?
In Oct. 2006 President Bush signed a waiver that authorized the U.S. military to resume certain types of training to a number of militaries in the region which had been suspended as a result of a bill intended to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would grant immunity to U.S. citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
Bush was forced to act as a result of Venezuela’s growing influence in the region, as well as the “red” threat that China’s growing business in the region presented.
“The Chinese are standing by and I can’t think of anything that is worse than having those people go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe we should address that because that’s a very serious thing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), at a March 14, 2008, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), at the same hearing, said this was “a serious threat” and called for ending the restrictions on U.S. military training programs imposed on Latin American nations for refusing to sign the bilateral immunity agreements. Of course, Latin American nations should not be subject to sanctions for quite properly rejecting the immunity agreements; but neither should there be training programs for their repressive militaries, to teach these militaries repressive practices.
The Associated Press reported in Oct. that “China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. [And] In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.”
These developments should further perpetuate the “Red Scare” making its way through the Senate. Then there is Russia’s military sales and cooperation with Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report’s Alastair Gee wrote a fear-mongering article on Oct. 14, 2008, in which he stated, “This is not the first time Russians have sought close links with Latin America. In 1962, the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly precipitated nuclear war with the United States. The Soviets also funded regional communist parties and invited students from the region to study in Soviet universities.”
But more importantly, it is the region’s “march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism” that has drummed up a cold war mentality in Washington. With democratically elected presidents in the region openly embracing socialism and socialist-style policies, economic programs in various countries that include nationalizing industries and “redistributing the wealth”, and social movements ideologically and physically confronting free market capitalism, it should come as no surprise that anti-globalization movements have found themselves classified as a national security threat to the United States. A declassified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” states, “Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.”
Developments in Latin America are reason for hope and optimism that “a new, better and possible world” could be on the horizon. But these very same reasons are cause for concern.
With Washington’s imperial stretch on the decline, both militarily and economically, both history and current conditions suggest it will try to reassert itself in Latin America — just as it did after Vietnam.
But because of the deeply embedded and institutionalized nature of Washington’s imperial machine, it doesn’t matter much which party controls the White House and Congress. To fight these developments, we need to continue to grow grassroots media projects and support independent journalists, build long-term solidarity with Latin American social movements and build social movements in the United States, fight free trade and do our part to shed light upon the structural violence threatening Latin America’s promising future — which is directly tied to ours.
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org.