The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the military’s decision to dissolve the Egyptian parliament and has demanded that a referendum be held on the issue.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which secured the biggest bloc of seats in two rounds of parliamentary elections in December 2011 and January 2012, issued a statement on Saturday saying “dangerous days” were ahead and the political gains of the revolution that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 could be wiped out.
The parliament should only be dissolved by a popular referendum, and the order to dissolve the assembly “represents a coup against the whole democratic process,” the statement added.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) — the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood — said in another statement that the decision showed the military council’s desire to “take possession of all powers despite the will of the people.”
Egypt’s ruling military council formally announced the dissolution of the parliament on Saturday following a Supreme Court ruling earlier in the week.
Some critics have compared the move to the beginning of Algeria’s civil war in 1992, when the army cancelled an election an Islamic party was winning.
Egyptians are casting their ballots in a two-day presidential runoff election that began on Saturday and runs until Sunday which pits the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Morsi, against former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq.
More than 50 million people are eligible to vote.
Early results of expatriates’ votes show Morsi has won 78 percent.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has vowed to hand over power to the winner of the election by July 1.
Many Egyptians fear that Shafiq is the undeclared candidate of the junta and that the military-appointed election committee overseeing the election will rig the vote in favor of Shafiq.
Angry Egyptian protesters have held many demonstrations across the country in which they urged the authorities to ban all remnants of the Mubarak regime from running as candidates in elections.
Forty-four US Republican and Democrat senators have written a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to stop talks with the Islamic Republic altogether unless Iran “agrees to take immediate steps to curb its uranium enrichment activity.”
“Steps it [Iran] must take immediately are shutting down of the Fordow [nuclear] facility, freezing enrichment above five percent, and shipping all uranium enriched above five percent out of the country,” the letter published on Saturday added.
The US senators’ letter is verbatim echo of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks in an address he made to the Civil Services Commission in Jerusalem (al-Quds) on May 21, just two days before the P5+1 sit down in Baghdad for talks with Iran.
Netanyahu said in his speech that “Israel would only be satisfied if Iran halted all uranium enrichment and shipped its stockpiles out of the country.”
He added that Tehran must also close its underground Fordow nuclear facility at the city of Qom, south of the capital Tehran.
“This is the only way it will be possible to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear bomb…. This is Israel’s position. It has not changed, and it will not change,” Netanyahu emphasized.
Referring to a third round of talks between Iran and the P 5+1– the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany –, scheduled for Moscow on June 18 and 19, the senators wrote, “Were Iran to agree to and verifiably implement these steps, this would demonstrate a level of commitment by Iran to the process and could justify continued discussions beyond the meeting in Moscow.”
“On the other hand, if the sessions in Moscow produce no substantive agreement, we urge you to reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exist,” they added.
The senators also threatened that “the window for diplomacy is closing” on Iran.
Iranian officials have frequently said the country would never give up its inalienable right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including by mastering the full cycle of nuclear fuel and all its components such as enriching uranium to levels allowed for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
On Friday, June 15, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili once more emphasized that Tehran expects its right to nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, be recognized during the upcoming talks with the P5+1 in Moscow as that right is clearly defined by the NPT.
He added that Iran’s nuclear activities are entirely under the control of the IAEA and the Islamic Republic is conducting its nuclear energy program in full compliance with the NPT.
Signed by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), James Risch (R-ID), Ron Wyden (D-OR), David Vitter (R-LA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), John Boozman (R-AR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Scott Brown (R-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jeff Merkeley (D-OR), Daniel Coats (R-IN), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Lee (R-UT), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dean Heller (R-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Mark Begich (D-AK).
- RAND Corp: ‘Sanctions against Iran are doomed’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Russia’s Universal Cargo Logistics Holding (UCL Holding), owned by billionaire Vladimir Lisin, dismissed on Saturday media reports claiming that the company’s vessel had shipped weapons to violence-hit Syria, UCL Holding said.
“It was a general cargo of non-military purpose featuring electrical equipment and repair parts (rotor blades) in containers and wooden crates,” the company said in a statement, calling the reports “absurd speculations.”
The UCL Holding’s statement comes after several Russian and Western media as well as a U.S.-based advocacy group, Human Rights First, reported in late May that the Russian-flagged bulk cargo vessel Professor Katsman, operated by Lisin’s shipping company, docked at the Syrian port of Tartus on May 26, allegedly carrying weapons for the President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces.
Soon after the reports the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have lashed out at Russia over its alleged arms supplies to Syria. Moscow strongly rejected the claims, saying that Russia was not “delivering to Syria, or anywhere else, items that could be used against peaceful demonstrators.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow was “completing right now the implementation of military contracts that were signed and paid for a long time ago.”
All the contracts feature anti-aircraft defense, Lavrov said.
“We feel really upset when some politicians use inaccurate and unverified information. As a result, a well-respected people support statements which are based not on pure facts, but on gossips and their own stereotypical notions from the times of “Cold War,” UCL Holding said.
Syria is one of Russia’s major weapons clients, and Moscow has opposed a proposal for a UN arms embargo on Damascus.
Russia has supplied Syria with Bastion coastal missile systems with Yakhont cruise missiles and Buk surface-to-air missile systems under a contract signed in 2007.
- Russia Rejects U.S. Allegations on Arms Deliveries to Syria (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The US has acknowledged that its foreign military sales exceeded $50 billion, with expectations that this year would be a record-breaking year in military sales, thanks to Saudi Arabia, whose US-linked sales account for three-fifth of the total sum.
Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, stated, “We have already surpassed $50 billion in sales in the fiscal year 2012.”
It’s worth mentioning that in the year 2011, the US also reached a record in military sales that accounted for $30 billion.
“The sale to Saudi Arabia was very significant,” Shapiro added, as the $29.4 billion deal included 84 new fighter jets, and 70 old jets to be modernized.
In an interview with Russia Today (RT), Canadian diplomat Peter Dale Scott said that the Saudi-US military sales contribution is directly related to the “arms for petrol” relations between both countries.
“During the oil price hikes of 1971 and 1973 the US negotiated an agreement to pay Saudi Arabia higher prices for crude, on the understanding that Saudi Arabia would recycle the petrodollars, many of them through arms deals. So recently the imports of American hardware to Saudi Arabia have grown significantly,” Scott stated.
Also, according to the US State Department, one of the deals that helped the sales reach a record was a $10 billion deal with Japan.
Greece faces the unenviable choice between accepting the terms of “the Troika” and facing the continuation and deepening of a socio-economic crisis, which includes five years of negative growth, over 23% unemployment, an astronomical rise in poverty (from less than 15% to over 40%) and mounting suicides, or a rejection of the “memorandum”, and a likely cut-off of Eurozone funding and capital markets with virtually few reserves to cover salaries, pensions or public services.
While the immediate cost of a break with catastrophic conditions imposed by Eurozone bankers may be high, it opens up the possibility of transforming the internal and external relations and structures which led Greece to ground zero.
Crises as Opportunity?
The prolonged and unending downward spiral of the Greek economy and living standards, the disastrous and destructive policies pursued by the formerly dominant two parties (PASOK and New Democracy) has conclusively demonstrated that Greek “capitalism” and EEC integration has been an unmitigated disaster; tried tested and failed to meet the minimum standards of human existence. Only dogmatic true believers in the innate virtues of ‘capitalism’ and the EEC can continue to prattle about the “need” to continue the same “austerity” policies which have devastated the lives of 80% of the people, closed half the business establishments in the country and failed to provide jobs for half of the young labor force (under 30 years of age).
The profound crisis demonstrates the need for basic changes in the organization of the economy, the urgency for new political leadership and the desire for a new political system responsive to the vast majority.
The old ruling oligarchies are totally discredited. The existing links to the EEC only bleed the economy: providing loans which deepen debt and which pass through the economy to overseas bankers. EEC ‘integration’ is in fact a great suction pump which depresses the economy and living standards in order to extract wealth for overseas bondholders.
No capitalist or politician of the old order provides any redeeming argument. In the past they plundered the economy; in the present they extract and transfer wealth abroad; and for the future they can only promise more of the same.
The basic challenge is not the abysmal conditions of the present but the opportunity that exists for a fundamental transformation. The problem is fashioning a transition from an unmitigated disaster to an equitable, dynamic and participatory economy. The problem facing a transition is the flawed structural and behavioral features of contemporary Greek society, polity and economy. Greece is deeply embedded with the legacy of a culture of pervasive state-party corruption and kleptocracy and bloated expenditures for the military and cliental bureaucracies. Most important Greece is dominated by rent seeking economic elites which pretend to be capitalists, but profit from state and overseas handouts from the Eurozone bankers and states.
To effect a transition requires that we first face the negative legacy of the past in order to see what proposals are viable and necessary.
The Negative Legacy and Debt Default: Greece is not Argentina
Many radical critics of the ‘austerity’ and debt crises in Greece cite the “Argentine example” of debt default, (over $100 billion dollars) and its ability to fashion a successful recovery and growth model based on ‘self-financing’. The critical advocates ignore the profound differences in the economic and social structures of the two countries as well as their respective locations in the regional economies.
Argentina, at the bottom of its crisis, was actually in a worse situation than Greece today. Unemployment hovered between 25% – 30% and over 50% in many working class districts, compared to 24% in Greece. Poverty levels in Argentina exceeded 45%; in Greece they exceed 35%. The depression in Argentina led to a negative growth rate of approximately 20% over the 3 year duration, equal to the loss in Greece over the past 5 years.
Despite starting from a more difficult and worse situation Argentina had several strategic advantages.
In the first place, in Argentina the ouster from power of the crises driven ruling elite was affected by a mass popular uprising (December 2001 – January 2002). In Greece, while mass demonstrations have certainly politicized, mobilized and radicalized a part of the electorate, the radical coalition vying for power (SYRIZA), has taken the electoral route. Secondly, the Argentine upheaval was a continuous process as mass unemployed picketers (piqueteros) blocked all roads and transport as a negotiating tool to ensure that resources were transferred from debt payments to unemployed workers’ family allowances and in reviving the economy. In Greece the vast army of unemployed has neither the organized capacity to sustain constant transport blockage nor can they count on neighborhood and trade union organizations for anything more than repeated one day work stoppages and marches.
Argentina immediately drastically devalued its currency – eliminating the dollar peg – from one to one, to three to one and vastly increased the competitiveness of Argentine export products. The center-left regime encouraged the substitution of local products for costly imports. Argentina, unlike Greece was not part of a currency union and could set its own currency rate. Greece, is bound to the euro and will have to convert to the drachma in order to take control over its finances, currency rate and monetary and investment policy tools.
Argentina possessed a substantial industrial – manufacturing sector, idled by the crisis, but with the worker-engineering-management capacity to respond to a new stimulus program. In addition, Argentina had a dynamic highly competitive agro-business sector, a world leader in beef, grains and soya, as well as energy (oil) and mineral wealth, which the center-left regime could activate.
Greece, during its 30 year membership in the European Union actually saw its meager and backward manufacturing and agricultural base shrink, in the face of cheap and better imports from developed capitalist countries like Germany, France, Holland and elsewhere. Unlike Argentina, Greece received billions of dollars in “transfers”, compensation funds to upgrade its economy and competitiveness and prepare it for full integration (lowering of tariff barriers). However, the “transfers” were not channeled into productive activity either by the two ruling parties or by the ‘capitalists’ and ‘farmers’. The ruling parties used the transfers to build extensive electoral patronage machines; they squandered funds for overpriced state contracts to provide builders engaged in non-productive building projects (including the multi-billion dollar swindle around the Olympic Games). Tens of thousands of unemployed graduates and party loyalists bloated the national, regional and local bureaucracy, increasing consumption, blocking any meaningful productive activity.
Capitalists designed “productive projects” and then transferred EU- loans and handouts to local and overseas real estate investments and luxury purchases. The Greek elite transferred loans to London, Swiss and Cypriot bank accounts – while the government signed off as ultimate guarantor.
In the agriculture sector, many property holders were doctors, dentists, lawyers and high officials who used the ownership of a few dozen olive or orange trees to receive low interest loans, import tax free luxury 4 x 4 vehicle imports and to build second or third vacation houses. Many farmers who received loans and grants, purchased land for homes for their married children or for extra room to rent to tourists or to send their sons and daughters to overseas universities.
Most important, the economic elite – bankers, ship owners, construction-real estate – politicians, speculators skimmed off billions from the EEC transfers in the form of illicit loans to cronies and in the form of fees, management charges for credit dealings and pension funding.
The European bankers, government officials and exporters were acutely aware that the “transfers” were being pillaged – but they went along, for obvious reasons of economic and political gain: lucrative interest payments flowed into their coffers; exporters took over Greek consumer markets; bankers and investment houses found willing pension fund manager’s ‘open’ to dubious investments. Even tourists enjoyed the sun and imports which reminded them of home: wiener schnitzel, English ale, Dutch feta. Moreover, Greece spent 15% of its budget on the military, serving NATO goals and bases.
Contrary to superficial appearances, Greece was not ruled by capitalists, small business people and farmers’ as some political scientists claim. Greece was ruled by an extensive class of kleptocrats, tax evaders and rentiers who pillaged, borrowed, consumed and invested overseas. Technologically Greece was among the most backward agro-manufacturing countries. Its overseas trained and educated professionals, returned and ‘adapted’ to the kleptocratic-rentier culture: most held several positions in public-private activities, guaranteeing a mediocre performance and conflicts of interests.
In summary Greece is not Argentina. A Greek default is an absolute necessity to begin the process of transition toward a productive and equitable economy. But the horrendous Greek legacy raises a whole series of new problems and challenges with few economic resources and in the absence of leading productive classes.
The Difficult Road Out of Crises
Any road map out of the Greek crises will be difficult, complex, and arduous – given the “scorched earth” economy which a left government (LG) will inherit. The first and most basic concern of a LG is to end the policies and especially the agreements with the “Troika” that demand further mass firings of public employees, the reduction in social services, the cuts in minimum wages and pensions. A new LG needs to impose a series of emergency measures to avoid economic bankruptcy.
It is absolutely clear that European bankers and regimes want to punish Greece for transgressions of their “austerity pact”. If Greece should succeed in renouncing the austerity pact, the Euro bankers fear that other countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Ireland might follow suite.
Greece should suspend debt payments, impose tight capital controls and freeze bank deposits to avoid capital flight, in the face of the Troika cut-off of funding. The LG should convoke a series of emergency commissions to (1) secure alternative sources of emergency financing from several reserve funds with Euro holdings. They must seek loans from Russia, Iran, Venezuela, China and other states not beholden to the Troika (2) make an inventory of available and potential productive enterprises – bankrupt or troubled firms, indebted enterprises – and convert them into state sponsored worker-employee operated co-operatives (3) investigate public debt to determine what can be classified as ‘legitimate’ (loans channeled into productive employment) or illegitimate (loans that enriched speculators, corrupt contractors, political leaders) (4) investigate and attach overseas holdings of wealthy Greeks who were engaged in multi-year multi-million tax evasion and who accumulated illicit income via unpaid loans and money laundering. Greek auditors should proceed to demand that Eurozone creditors should collect debt payments from the bank accounts of wealthy Greeks who laundered and deposited funds in London, Zurich, Frankfurt, New York and elsewhere.
The principle of the LG should be “those who borrowed the loans and profited, should pay them”. The European bankers who lent to corrupt politicians and business kleptocrats must assume the loss, for failing to exercise “due diligence” – oversight into the viability of the activity they were financing. After all private business ‘justifies’ its profits by the “risks” it takes. In the case of Greece, Euro-bankers’ demands that private bank loans and repayments be “guaranteed” by the state (no matter how badly they were managed) risk ‘moral hazard’: Guaranteeing bankers’ profits, irrespective of their ‘soundness’, encourages a repetition of reckless speculation such as had transpired in Greece over the past 30 years.
The LG should repudiate illegal debts (the vast majority) and renegotiate and roll-over the rest over an extended time frame, pending an economic recovery.
What should be recognized is that past Greek governments (despite being formally elected) engaged in illegitimate activity which prejudiced the sovereignty, productive capacity and livelihood of an entire people.
What is not acceptable is to force an entire people to sacrifice their lives because a minority of Greeks borrowed and didn’t invest or pay their debts to overseas creditors. Currently the kleptocratic millionaires are given “cover” and their illicit multi-billion Euro bank accounts and real-estate holdings are protected by the banks demanding payments from the Greek government. Their current demands are based on a savage demolition of living standards for a whole people. For outstanding obligations, the Greek LG can transfer tax debts of Greek tax evaders to creditors, letting them attach the overseas accounts of their Greek clients.
The LG can self-finance a recovery by drastically changing budget priorities: mainly by slashing its military budgets. Greece’s military expenditures as a percentage of its total budget, is one of the highest in the European Union. By eliminating expenditures for NATO operations, overseas military expeditions and numerous military bases, a LG can prioritize industrial and service investments.
Greece needs a (1) growth tax – a flat tax on the self-employed – professions, shop keepers, hotels, etc. – to ensure that they pay their share in financing the new economy. While the very rich engaged in mega swindles and evasions, it was also the case that the 50% self-employed sector imitated their behavior at the micro-level (2) a tourist tax – at airports, ferry-docks, tour ships stops – with tight oversight and or replacement of corrupt tax inspectors/collectors and customs officials who take a big cut of proceeds. Incarceration of corrupt officials should be mandatory. (3) A real estate tax which reflects the real value of land and property, especially of unused or uncultivated lands. (4) A tax on financial transactions and an end to tax exemptions for major banks, corporations and so-called property developers.
Exploiting Unused or Underutilized Human Resources
The new government has many sources of ‘human capital’ – hundreds of thousands of unemployed young educated people who can be mobilized for work in productive activity through selective public investments in priority areas, especially outside of the “greater Athens region”.
There are many regions and islands which have the potential to provide income and employment, properly addressed. One of the most salient is in food processing; one of the many perversities of the Greek economy is the production and export of apples and citrus products to Germany and the import of juices. Another is the failure to link local food and manufacturing to the 14 million tourist sector. Most food and furniture is imported; most vacation packages benefit overseas multi-nationals and foreign transport agencies. As a result the Greek economy and labor force derives a small share of total income from its “leading sector”.
The New Economy Cannot be Built with Kleptocrats of the Past
As mentioned above, Greece had few if any real entrepreneurs, who invested their own profits, invested in research and development and modernized their plant.
Public sector enterprises were overloaded with the unemployed ‘party members’, many virtually ‘no shows’; and many public sector unions engaged in nepotism and multiple-employment at the expense of efficient services, profitability and long-term development strategies. Public sector enterprises require a kind of re-nationalization’, to generate revenues and income to finance new jobs in new enterprises. Management of public enterprises should be transferred from the hands of stagnant ‘life time job-holders’ to dynamic workers – entrepreneurial – engineering management teams looking to broaden the scope and quality of activity within the new economy.
Pension funds and other savings must be mobilized alongside the billions retained by the state’s debt default to pay current expenses (pensions, salaries, basic imports etc.), to stimulate the revival of production among enterprises which show a willingness to rebuild the economy and collaborate in activating production and employment. Public profits should finance worker takeovers of factories and services abandoned by their previous owners, of which there are thousands.
The public sector must take the lead in investing, servicing and producing to create “confidence” among the small and medium size producers. The public sector must take the lead in negotiating with potential lenders and economic partners outside the Eurozone: new markets and financial arrangements will be necessary if the Eurozone cuts off all funding as a consequence of debt default or a moratorium.
The danger is that SYRIZA follows through on the default and has no alternative emergency plan in place to respond to a Eurozone cut-off. In the face of an EU/IMF offensive and lacking an alternative, a sector of SYRIZA (ex. PASOK public sector unionists) may back-track and seek to accept some form of “renegotiated” pact … which would divide and undermine the prospects for a truly viable and radical transformation and condemn Greece to its catastrophic downward spiral.
SYRIZA has been raised to a serious contender for state power by the most devastating capitalist crisis to affect a Western European country since WWII. It gained adherence through its dynamic grass roots organizing and the relative cohesion of its disparate components. It’s clear and forthright exposé of the corruption and pillage of the dominant parties and its image as a party with ‘clean hands’ has propelled it forward among a broad spectrum of classes, regions and generational groups. However, the very depth of the crisis, the total pillage and emptying of the treasury by the kleptocratic political-business class and the dismantling of the entire productive sector and the transfer of billions of Euros abroad by the millionaire rentier class, has created an immensely difficult terrain from which to launch the necessary transformation. The new government can and must guarantee the sovereignty of the nation by rejecting imperial dictates and end any further degradation (“austerity”) of the Greek people. Emancipation requires that first and foremost the new leadership takes the lead in making sacrifices: cutting out all the perks of office, salaries and overseas commitments. The new social priorities demand severe cuts in military budgets – bases, NATO, arms purchases. The new leaders must tell the Euro-bankers to collect payments from the accounts of the overseas billionaires who borrowed, bled the country and are now sheltered in the same banks.
The Left must move from criticism to practical deeds; from theorizing to creating jobs! Greece with a new government can put an end to open-ended austerity and decay. It can and must change its place in the international economy. In the final analysis, it is Greece’s last best hope.
The US is once again hell bent on establishing death squads in its militarization of Central America. This is a stark reminder of the 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Ollie North were funding the contras with drug money, but now it is reinforced with lessons learned in terrorizing the people of Iraq and Afghanistan through night raids and counterinsurgency tactics. Another tactic that the current US administration has reinvigorated comes from the “War on Drugs” playbook of past administrations: by using the DEA as a front for creating and sustaining havoc, it can attempt to justify the military buildup and control the policies of the host country while manipulating the flow of drugs, all the while appeasing the tax payers back home and the folks in the host country who see the build up as necessary. Not abating by any measure the flow of narcotics into the U.S., the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has actually increased the narcotics industry in Central America and provided a bogus rationale for the increased militarization of yet another Latin American county; this time Honduras.
On May 11th on the Rio Patuca near Ahuas, a small municipality in the Moskitia, a helicopter titled to the US State Department sprayed bullets into a pipante, a long, narrow dugout canoe, which carried sixteen locals. Four people were killed: 28-year-old Juana Jackson (six months pregnant), 48-year-old Candelaria Pratt Nelson (five months pregnant), 14-year-old Hasked Brooks Wood, and 21-year-old Emerson Martínez Henríquez. At least four more were seriously injured. The DEA confirms that its Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) participated in the operation supporting a Honduran National Police Tactical Response Team.
I first heard of the tragedy while in the process of preparing for a human rights delegation to Honduras coordinated by the Alliance for Global Justice and led by Karen Spring from Rights Action. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press have all published stories glorifying the role of the DEA in seizing a huge quantity of drugs in the incident. They not only down played the killing and injuring of innocent people (some reports even questioned if there even were casualties), but also some of the news reports stated that those shot were actually involved in drug trafficking. In typical mainstream media fashion there was over-the-top anonymous quoting of US and Honduran officials and not much fact checking.
I arrived in Honduras on May 18th for the delegation. The original itinerary focused on the struggles of the campesinas and campesinos of the Aguan Valley and their fight to win back the land stolen from them by the oligarchs with the backing of the illegitimate post-coup government of Pepe Lobo. As important as the land rights struggle is to us, it did not take long for the delegation (made up of academics, human rights and labor activists, Canadian and U.S. citizens, several with extensive experience in Honduras) to agree that the massacre in the Moskitia was of a greater urgency especially in light of the contradictory reports coming from the US State Department and the DEA.
We spent our time in Ahuas talking to the survivors of the incident and families of those slaughtered by the US supplied M-60 bullets. We also spoke to several village leaders, the Mayor of Ahuas, and to many locals in order to piece together as best we could the incident and the aftermath. What we got was a startling look into how our government conducts its military adventurism and then obfuscates in order to cover up its crimes. We also witnessed the increased militarization of the region as platoons of masked Honduran soldiers, automatic weapons slung across their chests, patrolled up and down the muddied streets of Ahuas. An older commanding officer, whose Velcro name and rank patches were blank, stated that they would be there “for as long as necessary,” another chilling echo from the Iraq/Afghanistan quagmires.
Getting to Ahuas is no easy feat. We took a small plane from La Ceiba, closer to the Western end of the Caribbean coast of Honduras, to Puerto Lempira, which is on the Laguna Catrasco in the Moskitia on the Eastern side of the country near the Nicaraguan border. Once in Puerto Lempira we hired a small lancha, a motorboat with a capacity of about 15 people, to take us across the Lagunas. It was approximately an hour and a half in the scorching midday sun before we reached the port. Once there, we loaded into a giant pickup truck fastened with wooden planks for seating, which are placed across the truck bed, for the thirty-minute bumpy ride into Ahuas.
After our boat ride across the Laguna and through the rivers, which act as highways for the local people, it became clear to us what one of the survivors had been quoted as saying in the press, and that we were later to hear first hand. The reason that the pipante had been on the river at 2 AM was because they waited until the sun had set to take the boat home in order to avoid the mid-day heat. This is significant in light of the statement by the Honduran foreign minister, Arturo Corrales. He was quoted in the New York Times (05/18/12) as saying “it was totally dark, in a place that is not a fishing spot.” He added, “It’s in the jungle. It is very hard to believe that at 2 a.m., in the jungle, the people in a boat that is beside another boat with 400 kilograms of cocaine were fishing,” the implication being that they, the victims, were drug smugglers.
The ill-fated pipante had disembarked way downstream at the mouth of the river where it runs into the Caribbean, fighting against the current in order to get to Ahuas. Those that we interviewed said that they had been on the river for 8 hours. The owners of the boat had dropped off lobstermen at the opening of the Caribbean earlier in the day and waited for the sun to begin to set before heading back to Ahuas. This is a routine that they have been undertaking daily for 25 years. As they returned, heading into the current, they picked up other passengers along the way, some heading home and some heading toward jobs or to visit relatives. Many of them slept during the journey only to be awakened by the sounds of gunfire and the burning feeling of having M-60 rounds rip through their bodies.
The details of what exactly prompted the occupants of the helicopters to fire on the pipante are murky at best. The reports from the State Dept. and the DEA have not been consistent and leave out many details, which calls into question their depiction of the events of that night. While witness and victim testimonies have been consistent, the U.S. government versions are shrouded in a haze of information that cannot be divulged, parsed statements that are obviously leading, and “facts” that do not shed light on the operation and the role of U.S. government agents in it. COFADEH (Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared), a Honduran human rights group, put it most succinctly in a press release days after the incident, “To keep an act of terror covered up in the midst of media confusion was always a strategy of psychological warfare, a special chapter of state terrorism. We should not accept this.” Audio recordings of communications from the helicopters that evening or surveillance video, if it exists, could potentially clarify many of these issues. The release of such recordings is something that the delegation would like to see Congress demand in any congressional investigation that it conducts. Until such data surfaces, we will never know the true motivation of those in the helicopters who pulled the trigger nor what they were truly doing on the Rio Patuca.
The events of the immediate aftermath became clearer once our delegation took the time to interview numerous witnesses to the shooting and those who rushed to the river upon hearing that loved ones had been shot at. We spoke to Hilda Rosa Lezama Kenreth, 53, laid up in the Ahuas hospital, an underfunded facility run by an evangelical church. She stated that as the shots were being fired from the helicopter she felt a pain across both of her thighs. A bullet had ripped through her left leg and cut across her right leaving huge gaping wounds. She instinctively jumped from the pipante and swam as best she could for cover in the reeds that hugged the bank of the river. She stayed there clinging to the reeds for at least two hours while going in and out of consciousness waiting for help.
Hilda’s son and daughter, Hilder and Elmina, who had been in town when they heard of the shooting, and were awaiting family members to arrive, rushed to the landing, a small sandy area where pipantes and other riverboats were moored. When they got there a helicopter was landing on an open area near were the boats were moored. Before Hilder could begin to search for his mother and brother-in-law he was approached by what he described as three large white men in uniforms who spoke to each other in English. The soldiers ordered him, in broken Spanish, to sit down while pointing guns at his and his sister’s head and chest. They asked him where gasoline was stored. He told them that there was a building nearby that had gas for the boats. They ordered him at gunpoint to take them there often hitting him in the back of the head causing him to fall. When they arrived, the tall white soldiers kicked in the door of the building and stole two 18-gallon barrels of gas. They returned to the landing and ordered Hilder to fill a boat motor with the gas. He did so and then was ordered to get in the boat. They went down river to where the massacre had occurred and Hilder saw a boat with two more tall white soldiers sitting in it. Once they got along side this boat he was further ordered to move bags from it to the boat they had arrived in. He stated that the soldiers told him in broken Spanish to “move the drugs.” Once he was finished he and the five soldiers returned to the landing with the drugs. The soldiers then moved the bags from the boat to the helicopter, not allowing Hilder to look for his mother and brother-in-law. Instead, they hit him again and handcuffed him with plastic zip ties and forced him sit until they left. Once they were gone, another villager cut the ties from his hand. He found the body of his brother-in-law and loaded it onto a boat. He then searched for his mother and was able to find Hilda in the water semi-conscious, but alive several hours after he had gotten there and was detained by the soldiers.
Another survivor, Clara Wood Rivas watched as bullets shattered her fourteen-year-old son Hasked’s skull. As she described the tragedy, she lifted her arm in the air to show the downward trajectory of the bullets, motioning her hand toward the top of her own head and passing it downward mimicking the bullets exiting Hasked’s chin. She stated that he had been shot so many times that she couldn’t recognize his face. Her son slumped over and fell into the water. Ms Wood jumped in to avoid the rain of bullets. Unable to find her son, she swam to shore. When she made it to the landing, “tall gringos” who did not speak Spanish pointed guns at her. She saw her nephew, who had come to the landing to meet her, handcuffed with zip ties and also being held at gunpoint. Through tears she told us, “I thought they were going to kill me. I passed through a war there. I’m blessed to be alive. I’ll never see my son again!”
Traveling with Clara and Hasked was Walter Wilmer, also aged 14. We were unable to meet with him in the hospital in La Ceiba. According to the preliminary report put out by COFADEH, at the time when the bullets began riddling the pipante Wilmer was asleep. He awoke to sounds of screams and blasts of gunfire. He managed to escape the boat unharmed, but the helicopter gunners aimed at him in the water, destroying his left hand. Wilmer managed to swim using only his right until he reached the bank of the river. He could still see the helicopters hovering over the river so he ran through the darkness making it to the hospital in Ahuas. He was later transferred, at great expense to his family, to the hospital in La Ceiba, but it was too late to save his hand.
Members of our delegation were able to meet with Lucio Adnan Nelson, 22, in the hospital at La Ceiba. He had been shot in the back and in his right elbow where he still has bullet fragments. Under sedation he was able to speak to us, but only briefly. Lucio jumped from the boat when it was fired upon. He felt a burning pain in his back as he clung onto a tree branch sticking out of the river. He managed to swim to shore using one hand and ran through the woods until someone found him and helped him to the hospital. Lucio’s father stated that they had to sell some of their livestock in order to pay for the transportation to La Ceiba hospital. He also stated that if his son doesn’t recover fully, which he most likely won’t, he fears that Lucio’s only option in life is to become a beggar in the street.
The AP and the New York Times have revised their reports many times since the incident. The AP in particular has given a clearer picture of the events, but the overarching bent is still on the justification of the DEA and Honduran military’s presence in the Moskitia. They continue to imply that it was simply a tragic mistake in identity, an example of collateral damage in the War on Drugs. I spoke with a Honduran lawyer who represents the interests of the people of the Moskitia. He stated that there have been several reports of US and Honduran military drug interdiction in that region. The common link to these reports is that in all of them the narcotraffickers have gotten away, but the military have seized the drugs. This raises serious questions, not just to the efficacy of the military in drug interdiction, but indeed, what truly is the US and Honduran militaries’ role in the trafficking. In the wake of the DEA’s implication in drug trafficking as related to Plan Colombia and Plan Mexico, as well as the nefarious scheme of the ATF in supplying arms to drug lords in Mexico, plus the rampant corruption of the Honduran military and police and their interrelationship to narcotraffickers, the questions linger as to the true motivations of the US military/DEA presence in Honduras.
The US’s military motivations come under sharper scrutiny when the issue of recently discovered oil reserves in the Moskitia region are brought to light. Texas based Honduras Tejas Oil and Gas Company, which is pursuing an oil and gas concession in La Moskitia, estimate that there are six to eight billion barrels of oil reserves there. Honduras Tejas has lobbying ties to Tea Party nut job Rep. Louis Ghomert (R. TX), who introduced legislation on their behalf, HR 532 (110th): Recognizing the energy and economic partnership between the United States and Honduras. Its ties to the Honduran government as well as the US State Department need to be further investigated.
Many people we spoke with, including representatives of indigenous organizations, are deeply concerned that militarization and violence generated by the “drug war” are negatively impacting their communities and are focused where there are significant natural resources, rivers with hydroelectric potential, petroleum, gold, and forests with many of these natural resources being privatized.
In light of what our delegation observed on our visit and the concerns raised, we demand:
- That the U.S Congress investigate and hold hearings about the U.S. role in the events of May 11, 2012 in La Moskitia.
- That serious and independent investigations take place exploring the role and responsibility of agents of the U.S. government in the May 11 massacre in Ahuas, be they DEA agents, private security contractors under the direction or contracted by agencies of the U.S. government or other security forces. This investigation should include identifying criminal responsibility of specific individuals.
- That the rights and decisions of indigenous communities and popular movements be respected rather than treated as drug traffickers and insurgents with complete disregard to fundamental human rights.
- That the U.S. government speak out publicly against the presence of individuals widely known to have involvement in drug trafficking and death squads within the Honduran justice system today.
- That in light of the abuses we documented, the U.S. government must withdraw all U.S. security forces including DEA and private contractors from Honduras, cease military assistance and training, and stop promoting re-militarization in Central America.
On June 6th the State Dept. was asked to provide an update on the DEA agent investigation in Honduras and on what is being done to assist the victims?
“DEA’s internal investigation is ongoing and should be completed in the next few weeks and we refer you to the Department of Justice for further information. A Honduran special task force conducted an initial investigation and we understand their preliminary conclusion is that the Honduran security forces were justified in firing in self-defense. The Honduran Government referred the investigation to their Attorney General’s office. The U.S. government is working closely with the Government of Honduras and offered transportation for investigators and additional assistance.
All Honduran citizens are eligible to receive care through the Honduran public health system.”
After four weeks of inadequate care in Honduran hospitals where horror stories are common, such as the lack of sutures for routine stitching procedures let alone for major surgery, The International Red Cross and UNICEF have agreed to intervene and pay for the surgeries of Walter Wilmer and Lucio Nelson at La Ceiba Hospital. Meanwhile, the other survivors are left in the care of an inefficient underfunded healthcare system, while the family members of the deceased have not even received so much as an official apology from U.S. or Honduran government officials.
With the ever escalating US military presence in Honduras, we can expect the events described above to become commonplace, just as the horror stories that have come out of Iraq and Afghanistan are never ending. Can drone attacks be far behind?
Greg McClain was a member of the Human Rights Delegation to Ahuas, La Moskitia, Honduras.
- Uniformed US soldiers involved in killing of six Honduran civilians (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- DEA Agents Helped Kill Two Pregnant Women in Honduras Last Week (reason.com)