Russia has confirmed signing more than USD 4.2 billion worth arms contracts with Iraq during the second half of 2012, making it the country’s largest arms supplier after the US.
According to a joint statement issued on Tuesday at a meeting between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his visiting Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki, the contracts were signed during visits to Russia by Iraqi delegations including Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi.
“The delegation members familiarized themselves with the Russian military production, discussed the technical and commercial options of the offer with Rosoboronexport (state) supplier, and signed contracts worth more than $4.2 billion,” read the statement.
On Monday, the Iraqi premier arrived in Moscow to consolidate political, economic and defense ties with Russia and discuss the recent developments in Syria.
Prior to Maliki’s first visit to Moscow, Russian reports said the deals would all be sealed jointly this week and totaled some USD 4.3 billion.
The two countries also negotiated Iraq’s purchase of 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems.
Maliki said in the Russian Foreign Ministry mansion on Monday that Iraq needs Russia’s help in defense and military areas and needs arms to “defend itself and fight terrorism” in the country.
The two countries were said to further negotiate Iraq’s acquisition of MiG-29 jets and heavy armored vehicles along with other weaponry.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, the Iraqi prime minister is visiting Moscow for the first time in three years and a half at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Iraq reportedly has contracts with Russia to buy weapons worth $4.2bn (panarmenian.net)
Senate Report: Counterterrorism “Fusion Centers” Invade Innocent Americans’ Privacy and Don’t Stop Terrorism
The Department of Homeland Security’s 70 counterterrrorism “fusion centers” produce “predominantly useless information,” “a bunch of crap,” while “running afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties” and are “possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.”
These may sound like the words of EFF, but in fact, these conclusions come from a new report issued by a US Senate committee. At the cost of up to $1.4 billion, these fusion centers are supposed to facilitate local law enforcement sharing of valuable counterterrorism information to DHS, but according to the report, they do almost everything but.
DHS described its fusion centers as “one of the centerpieces of [its] counterterrorism strategy” and its database was supposed to be a central repository of known or “appropriately suspected” terrorists. In theory, local law enforcement officers, in conjunction with DHS officials, conduct surveillance and write up a report—known as a Homeland Intelligence Report (HIR)—for DHS to review. If credible, DHS would then spread the information to the larger intelligence community.
Yet, the Senate report found the fusion centers failed to uncover a single terrorist threat. Instead, like so many post-9/11 surveillance laws passed under the vague guise of “national security,” the system was overwhelmingly used for ordinary criminal investigations, while at the same time facilitating an egregious amount of violations of innocent Americans’ rights.
An entire section of the Senate report is dedicated to Privacy Act violations and the collection of information completely unrelated to any criminal or terrorist activity in the HIRs. In one instance, a DHS intelligence officer filed a draft report about a US citizen who appeared at a Muslim organization to deliver a day-long motivational talk and a lecture on positive parenting. In another, one intelligence officer decided to report on two men who were fishing at the US-Mexican border. A reviewer commented, “I… think that this should never have been nominated for production, nor passed through three reviews.” A report was even initiated on a motorcycle group for passing out leaflets informing members of their legal rights. A reviewer commented, “The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment.”
Over and over again the Senate report quotes reviewers chastising DHS officials for recording constitutionally protected activities and for publishing such reports. One reviewer wrote, “The number of things that scare me about this report are almost too many to write into this [review] form.” In some cases, DHS retained cancelled draft reports that may have contained information in violation of the Privacy Act for a year or more after the date of the reports’ cancellation. Worse, the intelligence officials responsible “faced no apparent sanction for their transgressions.”
While it’s commendable the Senate exposing these civil liberties violations, the problems detailed in the report are not new. Since the government started its various information sharing programs after 9/11, media organizations have extensively documented how, when they’re not being outright abused by local law enforcement, are overwhelmingly used for ordinary investigations that had nothing to do with terrorism. EFF has long warned that completely innocent Americans’ privacy has become collateral damage in the government’s thirst to collect more and more digital information on its own citizens.
Even DHS’ own internal audits of the fusion centers showed they didn’t work, according to the Senate report. The privacy disaster is also a boondoggle for taxpayers: DHS can’t account for much of the money it spent on the program, estimating they spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion—a discrepancy of more than $900 million dollars.
Despite these facts, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines in March for the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) that dramatically expanded the NCTC’s information sharing powers. The NCTC can now mirror entire federal databases containing personal information and hold onto the information for ten times longer than they could before—even if the person is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism. Journalist Marcy Wheeler summed up the new guidelines at the time, saying, “So…the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.”
Now that the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has issued this unusually harsh report lambasting the same type of information sharing centers, Eric Holder should also rescind his new data retention guidelines for NCTC counterterrorism centers until new safeguards are put in place. EFF also joins the ACLU’s call for full Congressional hearings on the DHS fusion centers. In fact, the government should issue a moratorium on all fusion centers until this problem is fixed. Local governments can also prevent their law enforcement agencies from participating.
While “information sharing” centers were sold to the American people as providing “a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” it’s clear all they’ve done is play a vital role in violating American’s civil liberties.
The mortar used to attack the Turkish town of Akcakale is a design specific to NATO and was given to Syrian rebels by Ankara, according to Turkey’s Yurt newspaper. The mortar killed one adult and four children from the same family on Wednesday.
An article by the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Merdan Yanardag, states that the newspaper received information from a reliable source, which claimed that Turkey itself sent the mortars to rebels in the so-called “free army.”
“Turkey is a longtime member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and they’re going to act in conjunction with other NATO powers, so it’s unsurprising that this has happened,” editor of the Pan-African news wire, Abayomi Azikiwe, told RT.
NATO has so far shunned any military involvement in the conflict, but Azikiwe says the alliance is deeply involved in every decision that Turkey makes.
“Ankara isn’t taking any military actions or contemplating any type of military strategy without being in full cooperation with NATO forces,” he said.
Turkey retaliated at Syria for a sixth consecutive day on Monday, after a mortar from Syria landed in Turkey’s Hatay province.
And as Turkey fights to defend its border towns, the country’s president says the country’s military will take any action necessary.
“The worst-case scenarios are taking place right now in Syria … Our government is in constant consultation with the Turkish military. Whatever is needed is being done immediately as you see, and it will continue to be done,” President Abdullah Gul said in a statement on Monday.
But it’s not only leaders within Turkey that are stating their opinions on the conflict.
Earlier on Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of the consequences that the conflict could bring to the region.
“The escalation of the conflict along the Syrian-Turkish border and the impact of the crisis on Lebanon are extremely dangerous,” Ban said at the opening of the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France.
The exchange of fire began last Wednesday, when Syrian mortar shells killed a woman and four children from the same family in Akcakale.
Many fear the situation will lead to regional conflict, with political analyst Dan Glazebrook, saying that Ankara aims to drag NATO into a war with Syria.
“On the one hand the [Turks] are trying to give cover to the rebels to continue their fight, as they know that the rebels are getting defeated on the ground so they are bombarding Syria as a way to help the rebels not lose too many of their positions,” Glazebrook told RT. “But I think also they may be hoping that they can somehow nudge, provoke NATO into taking action as well, into prompting a kind of blitzkrieg that is actually the only thing really that would enable the rebels to win now at this state.”
- usually the FSA mortars are described as russian-made and stolen from the syrian army (niqnaq.wordpress.com)
- Nato has ‘plans in place’ to back Turkey in Syrian war (morningstaronline.co.uk)
Abdullah al-Kidd is a Kansas-born American citizen, a father, and a graduate of the University of Idaho where he was a star football player. And in 2003, he became the victim of the FBI’s misuse of a little-known federal law to imprison him without charges. He was arrested and imprisoned under harsh conditions for more than two weeks—even though the FBI had no probable cause to believe he had done anything wrong. The ACLU represents Mr. al-Kidd in his effort to hold the government accountable for its violation of his rights. Last week, the federal district court in Idaho issued two long-awaited decisions calling the FBI to account for Mr. al-Kidd’s unlawful arrest.
Mr. al-Kidd’s ordeal began after 9/11 when the FBI started investigating Muslims in Idaho—including Mr. al-Kidd, who converted to Islam in college. The FBI spoke with Mr. al-Kidd on multiple occasions, and he always voluntarily cooperated with their requests for interviews. Yet in March 2003, as he was preparing to travel to Saudi Arabia to study abroad on a scholarship, the FBI arrested him without warning. For 16 days, he was imprisoned under extremely harsh conditions. He was held in high-security cells that were kept lit 24 hours a day. He was stripped naked in full view of criminal inmates and guards. He was shackled, humiliated, and subjected to multiple body-cavity inspections. Although he was treated like a dangerous criminal, he was never charged with any wrongdoing. Finally, the court released him from jail on the condition that he relinquish his passport, live with his in-laws, and limit his travel to four states. Mr. al-Kidd lived under these conditions for more than a year. During this time, he lost his scholarship, had difficulty finding work and saw his marriage disintegrate.
How did this happen? Mr. al-Kidd’s imprisonment was the result of the FBI’s misuse of a little-known federal law called the “material witness” statute. This statute allows the government to arrest a witness who is needed to testify in the criminal case against someone else. It is intended only to allow for the brief detention of witnesses who are truly necessary to the trial and who otherwise would not cooperate with a subpoena. In the wake of 9/11, however, the government began abusing this limited power in an alarming new way. As the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found, the government began using the statute to arrest, preventively detain, and interrogate scores of people—almost all Muslim men—whom the government viewed with suspicion, but against whom they had no probable cause to justify a traditional arrest. Calling these people“witnesses” was a pretext. In Mr. al-Kidd’s case, the government never even called him to testify at the trial for which he was supposedly needed.
What’s more, in Mr. al-Kidd’s case, the FBI agents misled the court in order to get the arrest warrant they wanted. There was simply no reason to believe Mr. al-Kidd wouldn’t voluntarily show up to testify if asked. On the contrary, he was a U.S. citizen with a wife and child in Idaho and strong community ties, who had previously cooperated with the FBI on every occasion. So instead, the FBI submitted a warrant application riddled with omissions and falsehoods. The FBI did not tell the court that Mr. al-Kidd was an American citizen with family members living in the United States; instead, the application strongly implied that he was a Saudi national leaving the United States for good. Nor did they tell the court about Mr. al-Kidd’s past cooperation with the FBI. The FBI’s warrant application even falsely claimed that Mr. al-Kidd had purchased a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia—when in fact, he had a round-trip ticket with an unscheduled return date, exactly what you’d expect of a student going to study abroad.
Last week, the court in Idaho—the very same court that granted the FBI’s request for a warrant in 2003—took the FBI to task for this “misleading and highly suggestive” warrant application. Judge Edward J. Lodge, adopting the recommendations of Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams, ruled that the FBI agent who sought Mr. al-Kidd’s arrest violated the Fourth Amendment by recklessly misleading the court. Judge Lodge also ruled that the United States was liable for false imprisonment, and that Mr. al-Kidd’s “abuse of process” claim—his claim that the government had misused the material witness statute “for a purpose other than to secure testimony”—deserves a trial.
As national commentators have recognized, the court’s rulings are a “big deal.” It’s the first time that a court has found on the merits that the government violated the constitutional rights of a person wrongfully arrested as a material witness after 9/11. It’s a reaffirmation of the judiciary’s role in preventing unjustified imprisonment. And most importantly, it’s a reminder that the FBI isn’t above the law.
Last year, the Supreme Court decided that former Attorney General John Ashcroft can’t be held liable for directing a policy of using the material witness statute to preventively detain and interrogate people after 9/11. But four out of the eight Justices considering the case (Justice Kagan was recused) agreed that there were serious questions about “whether the Government’s use of the Material Witness Statute in [Mr. al-Kidd’s] case was lawful.” Magistrate Judge Williams and Judge Lodge have now answered this question decisively in Mr. al-Kidd’s favor. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her concurring opinion in last year’s case against Ashcroft, Mr. al-Kidd’s “ordeal is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.” Mr. al-Kidd’s victory last week is an important step towards holding the government accountable for its abuses of power, and preventing them from ever happening again.
- Is torturing “material witnesses” constitutional? (digbysblog.blogspot.com)
The head of the Unasur delegation sent to Venezuela to follow Sunday’s electoral process, Carlos Alvarez said that the country had given the world a lesson of democracy because of its extraordinary electoral system and the attitude of the opposition, among other positive elements.
“Venezuela has given the world a very important lesson because there were important sectors of the international community that had doubts or questioned the functioning of Venezuelan democracy”, said Alvarez during a press conference in Caracas.
On Sunday’s election, President Hugo Chavez won for the fourth consecutive time with a 54.84% support of ballots while the opposition leader Henrique Capriles managed 44.55% according to the official results from the Electoral Council having counted 95% of votes cast.
Alvarez admitted that many members of the international community “had doubts about how elections in Venezuela were won” and described as “ill-intended those who cast doubts over the functioning of the electoral system”, which he went on to describe as “excellent”.
“It’s an extraordinary lesson for the international community” and the fact that turnout was 80% is “a moving event” for a country were voting is not compulsory, and even more “if one looks back into history and remembers that only 25% to 30% of those registered use to vote”, underlined the former Argentine Vice-president and currently secretary general of the Latinamerican Integration Agency, Aladi.
“We have witnessed a process of excellence; the National Electoral council displayed an extraordinary job, parties and candidates admitted the results and we have accumulated a great experience for the creation of a South American Electoral Council”, said the head of the Unasur observers’ mission. “We came across a highly reliable electoral system and of technological excellence”.
Alvarez said that Unasur complied with all of its objectives and was present all over the Venezuelan territory, with forty delegates from ten different countries.
“It was a double challenge, we were one of the few organizations that came to follow the electoral process and at the same time the first such a mission was sent by Unasur. We are a technical mission, committed to transparency and the efficiency of the electoral systems of our countries”, pointed out Alvarez.
“I’m leaving on Wednesday after I present my report and I will with the satisfaction of the job accomplished, and the happiness of having been witness of the Venezuelan democratic festivity and of an historic event”, concluded Alvarez.
- A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Chavez Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election with 54% of the Vote (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Last Wednesday’s presidential debate, and the flurry of fact-checking that followed, helped sustain the illusion that Republicans and Democrats are bitter rivals. Reporters and analysts obsessed over the accuracy of each candidate’s claims, ignoring the two parties’ broadly similar goals, which mainstream political scientists now take for granted. “Government”—both parties are implicated—“has had a huge hand in nurturing America’s winner-take-all economy,” Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write in Winner-Take-All Politics, their study of the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Americans since the 1970s. George Farah’s research has shown how cross-party collaboration extends from economic issues to the debate’s structure. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation both parties created, ensures independent candidates will be excluded, and more generally that the events will remain the sterile, predictable spectacles familiar to viewers.
No doubt the foreign policy debate in a few weeks will offer much of the same. In the real world, meanwhile, Obama embraced and extended Bush’s foreign policy, as the case of Honduras illustrates especially well. After the Honduran military staged a coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton backed the ensuing fraudulent elections the Organization of American States and European Union refused to observe. Porfirio Lobo won the phony contest, and now holds power. “The conclusion from the Honduras episode,” British scholar Julia Brixton wrote in Latin American Perspectives, “was that the Obama administration had as weak a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as the preceding U.S. presidency.”
The coup’s plotters, it should be emphasized, knew exactly what they were doing. Colonel Bayardo Inestroza, a military lawyer who advised them on legal issues, was very open about it, informing the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro, “We committed a crime, but we had to do it.” U.S. officials seem to have taken slightly longer to recognize the obvious, but Wikileaks documents indicate that, by late July, they understood that what had transpired was “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Obama’s legal training, cosmopolitan background and cabinet stuffed with intellectuals were all irrelevant in this situation, like so many others. A different set of factors drives U.S. foreign policy, which is precisely why, to cite just one example, Matt Bai’s analysis of “Obama’s Enthusiasm Gap” is featured prominently on the New York Times homepage as I write, below the Ralph Lauren ads and feature about a Pennsylvanian high school’s underdog football team. In determining what’s “fit to print,” triviality seems to be one of the crucial considerations.
A more serious analysis of Obama might start, for example, by observing that his “enthusiasm gap” failed to materialize as he drafted lists of people to murder. It also was mysteriously absent when he stood firmly behind the Honduran coup’s leaders, two of whom graduated from the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Renamed the Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, the name-change was, predictably, just a rebranding. Nico Udu-Gama, one of the leading activists working to close the institution, emphasized recently on Al Jazeera that the school’s graduates have continued to violate human rights over the past decade. This is the main reason why Udu-Gama and others organize for School of the Americas Watch, and currently are gearing up for its annual demonstrations at Fort Benning the weekend of November 16-18.
Returning to Honduras, we see that conditions there are beginning to call to mind those of, say, El Salvador in the ’80s—good news, perhaps, for aspiring financial executives eager to launch the next Bain Capital. But as the business climate improves, everyday life for Hondurans working to secure basic rights has become nightmarish. Dina Meza’s case is just one example. A journalist and founder of the Committee of Families of Detainees and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Meza received two text messages from the Comando Álvarez Martinez (CAM) last February. The group, named for an SOA graduate, threatened her: “We are going to burn your ‘pipa’ (vagina) with caustic lime until you scream and then the whole squad will have fun.” The follow-up warning told her she would “end up dead like the Aguán people,” referring to the poor campesinos that are being slaughtered on land owned mainly by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest Hondurans.
Conflicts over land, to be sure, are nothing new in Central America. The most recent government-led assault on Honduran farmworker rights can be traced back to the 1992 Law of Agricultural Modernization. International finance lobbied aggressively for that decision, which reversed the limited land reform implemented in the preceding decades, and drove the desperately poor into city slums or out of the country, inspiring those who remained to form self-defense organizations. The Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is one of these groups. With the help of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a human rights lawyer, the campesinos recently won back legal rights to several plantations. On September 23, Trejo took some time off to celebrate a friend’s wedding at a church in Tegucigalpa. During the event he received a call, and stepped outside to take it. The gunmen were waiting for him. They shot him several times, and he died soon after arriving at the hospital. “Since they couldn’t beat him in the courts,” Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesman for Bajo Aguán’s peasants, explained, “they killed him.” They killed Eduardo Diaz Madariaga, a human rights lawyer, the following day, presumably for similar reasons.
It is in these conditions that Honduras has been opened for business. The American economist Paul Romer proposed recently that several neoliberal “charter cities”—complete with their own police, laws, and government—be built there, and an NPR reporter recently reviewed this idea enthusiastically in a piece for the New York Times. But despite much misleading discussion of what is considered Romer’s bold entrepreneurial vision, his plan is directly in line with longstanding US goals for the region, as the constitutional chamber of Honduras’ Supreme Court explained recently. Voting 4-to-1 that the charter cities are unconstitutional, the judges concluded that Romer’s plan “implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution;” worth recalling is that Zelaya was thrown out for allegedly violating the same document. But this fact and others are considered beyond debate this election season, an indication of how much change we can expect, regardless of November’s winner.
- Honduras: A Second Human Rights Attorney Is Murdered (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Honduras: Lawyer for Aguán and “Model Cities” Struggles Is Murdered (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Honduras: “Model Cities” Project Set to Begin? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
To understand why Chávez’s electoral victory would be apparent beforehand, consider that from 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14%, whereas since 2004, after the Chávez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5% each year.
At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of widely shared growth and government programs cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70%—and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.
However, the establishment media broadly anticipated that yesterday’s election would be a repudiation of the Chávez administration’s policies. Consider The Guardian headline, “Hugo Chávez: A Strongman’s Last Stand,” for example. To be sure, if Chávez were to win, the press explained, it could be chalked up to a climate of fear and repression or voter suppression. Even with a tight victory, his now-anemic support would still augur the beginning of the end to a failed, 14-year experiment.
Inconveniently for this narrative, over 19 million people in a country of 29 million were registered to vote, and any supposed intimidation did not prevent a historic turnout of 81%. With 96% of the votes counted, the country’s National Electoral Council has shown that Chávez has thus far received 1.5 million more votes than Capriles. And the electoral system’s credentials are sterling—Jimmy Carter, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his democracy-promotion work with the Carter Center after his presidency, commended the record of Venezuela’s voting process a month before the elections:
Although some people have criticized the result—which is Hugo Chavez having won—there’s no doubt in our mind, having monitored very closely the election process, that he won fairly and squarely. As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world. They have a very wonderful voting system…
This, apparently, wasn’t as newsworthy as the inane question of whether Venezuela is a dictatorship. A LexisNexis search for all English-language news containing the terms “Jimmy Carter” and “Venezuela” between September 11, when Carter made those comments, and October 7, returned 45 results. In that same time period, 78 news items mentioning both the terms “Hugo Chavez” and “dictator” appeared. (To be fair, some of the 78 pieces refuted the notion that Chávez is a dictator, but even these articles are a reflection of the pervasiveness of the nonsensical topic.)
This contrast in the media’s priorities is symptomatic of the overwhelmingly disgraceful portrayal of Venezuela’s elections. The Hall of Shame that follows is a sampling of some of the most typical distortions, gratuitous slurs, and incorrect predictions that readers have been exposed to over the past few weeks:
• In a Saturday editorial, The Washington Post falsely attributed the question, “If Hugo Chavez is an autocrat, how could he be in danger of losing the Venezuelan presidency in an election on Sunday?” to economist Mark Weisbrot, “one of Mr. Chavez’s dwindling band of American supporters.” In fact, Weisbrot energetically argued, using statistical analysis of polling data, that there was virtually no chance that Chávez was in danger of losing. The editorial went on to compare Chávez to Putin and Ahmadinejad, incorrectly claiming that Chávez controls “most television channels.” In actuality, the BBC reported that “some 70% of Venezuela’s radio and TV stations are in private hands,” while “just under 5% are state-owned.” The Post misleadingly asserted that “many voters, too, are intimidated by high-tech polling machines that read their fingerprints; polls show that they suspect their votes will not be secret.” But whether these fears are well-founded was left unanswered. The editorial board ignored the Carter Center’s report on the technical features of Venezuela’s voting system, which concluded that “this concern has no basis…The software of the voting machines guarantees the secrecy of the vote.” Finally, the Post ended its editorial by conjuring up a menacing hypothetical scenario: “Venezuela’s neighbors, and the Obama administration, should be ready to react if [Chávez] attempts to remain in power by force.” Never mind that during the elections Chávez repeatedly said, “We will recognize the results, whatever they are,” and previously demonstrated this when, after losing a referendum vote in 2007, he publicly stated, “I congratulate my adversaries for this victory.”
• Jon Lee Anderson, writing for The New Yorker’s News Desk, erroneously declared that “Venezuela leads Latin America in homicides.” That distinction actually goes to Honduras, which leads the world in per capita homicides. But a mention of this would have been off message, as Honduras’s illegitimate post-coup regime receives $50 million a year in arms and training from the United States for its repressive security forces. And unlike in Venezuela, being an opposition activist in Honduras carries a significant chance of being disappeared or killed. Anderson continues by predicting that, irrespective of the election’s outcome, “this will probably represent the final eclipse of the long, heady reality show that his leadership has become.” Capriles “or someone else like him,” says Anderson, can “carry on with the task of making Venezuela a fairer and safer society.” His piece (originally titled, “The End of Chavez?,” but quietly revised to “Chavez The Survivor”) concludes with a quote from a journalist who ponders the prospect of a defeat for Chávez, while also using the term “autocrat” in reference to him—somehow, a ruler who by definition has absolute power can also be defeated in a competitive election. This is not the first time that Anderson has obscured the differences between democratically elected leaders and actual autocrats: he once lumped Haiti’s ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with the country’s Duvalier dictators—in Anderson’s rendering, they were all “despots and cheats.”
• The New York Times, a day before the election, ran an op-ed with the instantly dated headline, “How Hugo Chávez Became Irrelevant.” Its author, Francisco Toro, offers a confused attempt to separate Latin America’s left into “radical revolutionary regimes”—Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba—and a “more moderate set of leaders”: Brazil, Uruguay, and Guatemala. In Toro’s account, apparently, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, a School of the Americas-trained special forces officer once in charge of counterinsurgency operations under military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, is now one of the left-leaning Latin American leaders who do not turn “their backs on democratic institutions.” Toro also contends, without providing evidence, that “behind closed doors,” Brazilians “sneer” at Chávez. While it is impossible to refute such a claim, it is worth noting the effusiveness with which, at least publicly, former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva endorsed Chávez’s reelection bid in July. In a video statement, Da Silva said: “Chavez, count on me…Your victory will be ours… and thanks, comrade, for everything you have done for Latin America.”
• The Times also ran an October 5 news article by William Neuman, reporting that a young law student intended to vote for Chávez for fear that voting on a secret ballot for her preferred candidate, Capriles, would expose her to professional retribution. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research found, however, a quick search on Twitter showed that the law student had no qualms about publicly uploading a photo of herself kissing a poster of Capriles. (William Neuman might be remembered as the author of a Times piece on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which bizarrely claimed that Assange “had refused to flush the toilet during his entire stay” at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The sentence was later erased on the Times‘ website with no explanation.)
• And as a final example (even though there are countless more articles to criticize), one of the most glaring acts of journalistic misconduct within the mainstream press appeared in U.S. News & World Report. Other prominent media outlets have taken some small steps to veil their denunciations against Chávez. U.S. News & World Report was much more brazen: it published a news, not opinion, article by Seth Cline on October 1 that put Venezuela’s “fair and free elections” in quotation marks but offered no scare-quotes in its very first sentence, which introduces the reader to “President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan dictator.”
* Update (10-8):
Bloomberg Businessweek published a 994-word report by Charlie Devereux last evening on Bloomberg.com, following the election. Surprisingly, the piece included this paragraph:
Under Chavez, poverty fell to 31.6 percent at the end of 2011 from about 50 percent when he first took office, according to the national statistics institute. Extreme poverty declined to 8.5 percent from about 20 percent over the same period. Venezuela has the lowest level of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations.
Today, however, a reworked 960-word article, now co-authored by Charlie Devereux and Alexander Cuadros, occupies the original hyperlink at Bloomberg.com. The segment above on poverty and inequality has been eliminated (although it can be still be found in a version republished on the website of the San Fransico Chronicle).
Keane Bhatt is an activist in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the United States and Latin America on a variety of campaigns related to community development and social justice. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a range of outlets, including NPR, The Nation, The St. Petersburg Times and CNN En Español. He is the author of the NACLA blog “Manufacturing Contempt,” which critically analyzes the U.S. press and its portrayal of the hemisphere. Follow his blog on Twitter @KeaneBhatt
- Chavez Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election with 54% of the Vote (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A five-member panel of Honduras’ Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled in a 4-1 decision on Oct. 3 that legislation creating Special Development Regions (RED), autonomous regions also known as “Model Cities,” is unconstitutional. The only opposing vote came from Justice Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, who failed to recuse himself despite an apparent conflict of interest: he is a close friend of National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández, a promoter of the project, and has visited Korean economic development zones in Southeast Asia with Hernández. Because the decision was not unanimous, the full court of 15 justices must make the final determination. Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Avilés has set Oct. 17 as the date for the session.
The “Model Cities” project has sparked dozens of legal challenges [see Update #1145]. Although much of the opposition comes from the left, the plan is unpopular across the political spectrum. In September Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, a conservative, announced his opposition to the project, which proponents claim will spur economic development. “[If] you want to have a developed country, it should be the whole country, not privileged zones,” he wrote in a communiqué, adding that “the national territory can’t be divided because that would be finishing off the country and putting an end to the nation.”
Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa said on Oct. 6 that he would push ahead with the project. “[I]f Honduran society today is afraid to make the leap, we’ve talked with the Supreme Court of Justice about sitting down to dialogue and about what changes would have to be made for [the RED] to be compliant with the law.” (Honduras Culture and Politics 10/3/12; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 10/5/12; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 10/6/12)
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