In the north of Honduras, in the community of San Manuel Cortés, three peasants were killed and two others wounded on Friday, when they tried to enter the lands that were expropriated last year by the Instituto Nacional Agrario (National Agrarian Institute). Valentín Caravantes, Celso Ruiz y Celedonio Avelar, who died at the scene, were members of the Farmers’ Movement of San Manuel Cortés (MOCSAM), located about 200kms from the capital.
The men entered the land because they obtained an order from the Court of Criminal Appeals, which stated that the evictions carried out in February 2012 against MOCSAM were illegal, reports the National Popular Resistance Front of Honduras (FNRP). “Security guards from the Honduran Sugar Company (CAHSA) fired at the three farmers,” FNRP added.
Brothers Aníbal and Adolfo Melgar were also seriously injured in the shooting and were immediately taken to a hospital in the municipality of San Pedro Sula.
For three years now MOCSAM has been demanding more than 3,000 acres of land which is currently possessed by the CAHSA company and exceeds 250 acres, the maximum a person or a firm can own in Valle de Sula under the country’s agrarian law.
The incident is the latest in a long series of clashes, which have ended up with many deaths over the past few years. In February, more than 1,000 peasants took back land after being expelled by British/South African beverages multinational SAB Miller in August 2012. And earlier this year, in March, the ongoing conflict between farmers and the Honduran government has resulted in the eviction of over 1,500 people from their land in the south of the country.
- The New York Times on Venezuela and Honduras: A Case of Journalistic Misconduct
- Senator Menendez Meets with President Lobo to Discuss U.S. Funding for Honduras
- Honduras: Terror in the Aguán
- Will the World Bank Stop Investing in Campesino Assassinations?
- Killings Continue in Bajo Aguán as New Report Documents Abuses by U.S.-Trained Honduran Special Forces Unit
- Honduras: Murdered Lawyer’s Brother Killed in Aguán
- Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty
- World Bank Must End Support for Honduran Palm Oil Company Implicated in Murder
TEHRAN – Iranian car maker Iran Khodro will establish an assembly line with the capacity of 30,000 units per year in the Iraqi city of Iskandariya by the next month.
Preliminary agreements were made three years ago, IRNA quoted Iran Khodro deputy director for exports Abdol’azim Sa’dian as saying.
Iran Khodro has been exporting its products to Iraq for about a decade, he said.
Iran plans to manufacture at least three million cars by 2025 and export some one million sets, Iranian Industry, Mines and Trade Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari has said.
Iranian car manufacturers produced 1.648 million cars in 2011, ranking the country 13th in the world, according to a report by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers.
Meanwhile, Iran imported over 44,000 cars, worth more than $1 billion, during the past Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20.
The United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Kuwait were the main sources of exporting cars to Iran.
Preliminary surveys of Lebanese offshore fields show reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 660 million barrels of oil, Lebanon’s energy minister said on Thursday, adding that production could begin within four years.
Speaking at the Arab Economic Forum, Gebran Bassil said scanning was now complete on 70 percent of the country’s territorial waters — an area of some 15,000 square kilometers (5,791 square miles).
“In just 10 percent of that area… we have 30 trillion cubic feet (850 million cubic meters) of gas and 660 million barrels of oil,” he said.
Speaking to Agence France Presse, Bassil said the amounts were “very large and promising as initial estimates.”
Production from the reserves was linked to the speed of the exploration phases and installation of wells, but “theoretically ranges from three to seven years.”
“If we meet all the deadlines, we hope to have completed the first exploration phase in the period between 2016 and 2017 and to begin thereafter development and production,” he added.
Last month, Bassil announced the name of 46 firms that had qualified to bid on a first round of licenses to explore Lebanon’s offshore fields, with 12 qualified to bid as operators.
The bidding round opened on May 2 and is scheduled to be completed by November 4.
In January, Bassil said Lebanon hoped to have exploration contracts with international oil companies signed and sealed by the end of the year.
In August, parliament passed a law setting Lebanon’s maritime boundary and Exclusive Economic Zone.
Lebanon has submitted to the United Nations a maritime map which is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949, and that conflicts with one proposed by the Zionist entity.
The disputed zone consists of about 882 square kilometers, and suspected energy reserves there could generate billions of dollars.
According to a statement by the FAO Director General José Graziano Da Silva, Venezuela will receive a certificate of recognition at the organization’s next conference to be held in Rome beginning June 15. The recognition is for successfully halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, a goal established in 1996 to be achieved by 2015.
FAO statistics say that 13.5% of Venezuelans suffered from hunger in 1990 – 1992, compared to 5% in 2007 – 2012.
The other countries that will be recognized for meeting this goal are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Thailand, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
Since the start of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, the Venezuelan government has developed a series of policies regarding food and nutrition, that have been recognized by the FAO as helping eradicate hunger in the country.
Local FAO representative Marcelo Resende said in March that the government has been able to “understand that food is everybody’s right and not just the privilege of a few, and it worked based on that.”
Bloomberg’s Nathan Gill wrote a particularly one-sided article on Thursday, in which he states that “Ecuador’s bid to reduce poverty by taxing its banks is threatening to deepen the nation’s economic slump.”
“Slump” seems somewhat dire to describe the state of the Ecuadorian economy. In 2012 the economy grew by 5 percent, and it is projected to grow by 4.45 percent for 2013.
The report also offers no convincing evidence that Ecuador’s taxation of its banks is hurting the economy.
The article specifically focuses on a set of reforms that took effect on January 1, including the elimination of banks’ tax deductions for reinvested profits and a 0.35 percent tax on assets held abroad. The reporter argues that a sharp drop in bank profits in the first quarter of this year was a result of the taxation. He then argues that an increase in the banks’ interest rates must also be due to the reforms:
Non-government banks, including Citigroup Inc (C).’s local unit, raised rates on corporate loans by an average 0.21 percentage point in the first quarter to 8.88 percent, the highest since November 2010, according to central bank data. That compares with a decline of 0.72 percentage point to 8.81 percent in Colombia and an increase of 0.01 percentage point to 5.79 percent for similar loans in Peru.
However, this causality is not at all clear. It is more likely that this modest increase in interest rates is attributable to a recent uptick in inflation. Consumer prices increased at an annualized rate of 4.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, as compared to a rate of 0.2 percent in the last quarter of last year.
The reforms that increased taxes on the banks were reportedly enacted to pay for increasing cash subsidies for the country’s poor, and they were passed by congress in a 79-5 vote. Gill describes these changes as having been motivated by an election race that Correa was all but certain to win, rather than being the latest step in a determined and so-far successful process to transform a country that, like many in the hemisphere, has been historically plagued by inequality. It is perhaps worth noting that Ecuador has seen some of the region’s highest growth over the past few years. Furthermore, economic gains have been broadly shared and increased social spending has significantly improved the quality of life of a broad portion of the country’s citizens.
As CEPR’s recent report on Ecuador’s financial reforms describes, President Rafael Correa’s actions in recent years are a major reason why the government has raised revenue and consequently been able to pursue expansionary fiscal policy and increased social spending. The results of this policy regime have included the lowest unemployment rate on record, a near-halving of the poverty rate, and a doubling of education funding, among other gains.
Yet, from this article, one would be led to believe that new taxes on the financial sector have only led to lower bank profits, which are presented as a serious problem for the country’s macroeconomic outlook. Among Gill’s quoted sources are the CEO of Ecuador’s biggest brokerage firm, the director of a market research and consulting firm, and the president of the country’s Private Banking Association. Their views should come as no surprise, but they are not necessarily the full picture or even accurate.
The article (on the second page) also quotes Pedro Solines, Ecuador’s banking superintendent, as saying “Less profits for the banks, yes, but where does it go? To the people who receive the subsidy.” The quote continues with Solines saying, “If I receive the subsidy, I’m going to say that the impact is very good. If I run a shop where the person who receives the subsidy spends not $35 but $50, I’m going to say it’s good. If I’m a bank, I’m going to say I’m doing badly.”
Correa was re-elected on February 17, receiving 57 percent of the vote compared to his closest competitor’s 23 percent.
- Ecuador begins to roar | Fander Falconi (guardian.co.uk)
Turkmenistan is persevering with efforts to persuade an international oil major to join the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, according to reports in India, despite being unwilling to give up a stake in its gas fields to potential investors.
A series of road shows in New York, London and Singapore in the autumn, aimed at attracting international oil and gas companies to the project, ended in failure, even though companies including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, BG Group, RWE and Petronas attended. That disappointment flew in the face of claims from Turkmen officials that they had all expressed an interest in the project, which carry gas from the secretive Central Asian state via Afghanistan to the Indian sub-continent.
Ashgabat’s refusal to allow participating companies to take a stake in the Turkmen hydrocarbons fields that would fill the pipeline has been cited as the main reason for the flop, although the continuing instability in Afghanistan is another factor.
India’s Economic Times cites an unnamed Indian government official as saying that, as the four participating countries prepare for a meeting on May 15, Turkmen officials continue trying to persuade an unnamed international oil major to take part. “Our understanding is that [Turkmenistan is] quietly working with international oil companies to work a way around the question of upstream stake,” the official said.
However, he also noted that the ban on sales of stakes in Turkmen fields to foreign buyers remains a sticking point. “They have told us that they have passed a law after the Chinese were given a stake and this now does not allow them to give a stake to anybody else in the gas fields,” the official said. It’s unclear to which deal he was exactly referring.
Ashgabat is secretive over its agreements in the oil and gas sector. In 2007, China’s CNPC was given the right to develop the Bagtyyarlyk gas field, which supplies the Central Asia-China (CAC) gas pipeline exporting to China. However, the level of access Bejing enjoys to the Galkynysh (previously South Yolotan) gas field remains unknown after the Chinese State Development Bank pledged $4.1bn to help develop it in 2010. On the one hand, it’s thought Turkmenistan may have signed over a stake. Other speculation suggests Ashgabat has offered no more than a firm commitment that CAC is filled.
Either way, India is clearly pushing for a similar level of security. It has been pushing for an equity stake in the massive Galkynysh for itself, to ensure supply issues do not compromise the massive financial commitment needed to build TAPI. Indian officials say that since CNPC has been given access to upstream assets in Turkmenistan, India’s state owned GAIL should have the same privilege.
At the same time, the four states participating in TAPI have maintain that they aim to start construction of the pipeline, which has support from the Asian Development Bank, by the end of 2013. However, on top of the jockeying between themselves, they are trying to drum up support from international oil companies to invest in the project, which may cost as much as $12bn.
Agreements on the price of gas exports to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan have already been signed. In September, the four participating governments agreed to proposal from Turkmenistan to set up a company with shared capital of $20m to carry out a feasibility study and design the pipeline.
Fifteen people died and more than 200 others were injured following an explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant last month, and lawyers for the facility now admit that the plant’s owners aren’t prepared to pay for the damages.
Despite some estimates concluding that the April 17 fire at the West Fertilizer Company and the subsequent explosion caused more than $100 million in destruction, attorneys hired by the plant’s insurers to represent the facility say that factory had only $1 million in liability coverage.
West Fertilizer Co. has yet to be formally held liable for the horrific blaze last month that claimed the lives of over a dozen people, largely first responders, and leveled buildings for blocks in every direction. If they are asked to pay up, though, their attorneys suggest settlements could be smaller than what the plaintiffs would want.
The Dallas Morning News broke the story on Friday when they confirmed from an attorney for United States Fire Insurance Co. of Morristown, New Jersey that West Fertilizer had only $1 million in liability coverage “with no excess or umbrella coverage.”
On Saturday, attorney Brook Laskey confirmed to the Associated Press that the plant’s liability coverage ended at one million dollars.
Randy C. Roberts is an attorney representing a number of plaintiffs suing the fertilizer plant for losses caused by last month’s explosion, and he told the AP, “It’s rare for Texas to require insurance for any kind of hazardous activity.”
“We have very little oversight of hazardous activities and even less regulation,” he said of the Lone Star State.
“The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we’ve seen from the fertilizer plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility,” Roberts told AP.
Speaking to the Dallas Morning News, Roberts said having only one million in coverage was “a pathetic amount for this type of dangerous activity,” and compared the facility’s plan with the insurance coverage that is mandated in other industries.
“If you want to drive a truck down the interstate, you’ve got to have $750,000 in coverage, even if you’re just carrying eggs,” Roberts said. “But if you want to put this ammonium nitrate into this town next to that school and that nursing home and those houses, you’re not required to carry insurance.”
According to the plant, 270 tons of ammonium nitrate was on site as of the end of last year. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire last month that likely caused an explosion that left a crater with a radius of 90 feet through the small Texas town. An elementary school, a nursing home and dozens of houses were destroyed during the blaze. Those that lost their homes aren’t likely to be helped all that much, though.
Cindy Grones lost her home because of the explosion but told Dallas Morning News that she doesn’t plan to sue the fertilizer plant. “If you did sue, what would you get?” she said. “One thousand dollars? Two thousand dollars? If that. Then you have to pay the lawyer to take it to court.”
Roberts added that he expects the plant’s owner to divide the $1 million in insurance money among the plaintiffs, then file for bankruptcy.
Tehran: In a strategically significant move to counter China’s presence in the region, India has announced that it will upgrade Iran’s crucial Chabahar port that gives a transit route to land-locked Afghanistan.
India’s decision was conveyed by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Tehran today during his meeting with his counterpart.
An expert team from India will visit Iran to assess investment needed for the upgrade of the port on the Iran-Pakistan border facing the Arabian Sea. Sources say an investment to the tune of $100 million is required for the upgrade.
The move comes despite strong pressure from America, which doesn’t want any investment in developing infrastructure in Iran to put pressure on the Western Asian country over its covert [sic] nuclear programme. But India has been worried and keen to open an alternative route to Afghanistan ever since China took over Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the region, which is just 76 km from the Chabahar port.
Chahbahar port, which is surrounded by a free trade zone, is crucial particularly since Pakistan does not allow transit facility from India to Afghanistan.
India will also discuss ways to increase trade with Iran as it is concerned over the “grave” imbalance. The two-way trade is around US $15 billion, out of which Indian exports account only for around US $2.5 billion.
Oil is the biggest item of Indian import from Iran but India feels there is a lot of scope for increasing Indian exports to the Persian country particularly in pharmaceuticals and food.
However, efforts to enhance trade have been facing hurdles because of sanctions imposed by the UN and European Union, which make payment difficult.
There are also problems like re-insurance of oil refineries and transportation of consignment from Iran because of the sanctions.
- India to sign pact with Iran soon to ship goods to Afghanistan (en.trend.az)
- Iran, India to discuss gas pipeline extension (news.in.msn.com)
- Iran, India set to ink economic co-op MOUs (alethonews.com)
Civil society groups have finally seen a leaked copy of the most recent version of the Master Plan for the ProSAVANA programme, which is dated March 2013. The copy makes clear the project’s intentions and confirms that the governments of Japan, Brazil and Mozambique are secretly paving the way for a massive land grab in Northern Mozambique. Several organisations from Mozambique and their international partners are now making this plan publicly available, along with some of their initial reflections. (Download the Master Plan here: part 1, part 2, part 3.)
ProSAVANA is a programme between Japan, Brazil and Mozambique to support agricultural development in Northern Mozambique. According to the copy of the Master Plan leaked to civil society, the programme will cover an area of over 10 million hectares in 19 districts within 3 provinces of Northern Mozambique– Nampula, Niassa, and Zambézia. Over 4 million people live and farm in this area, which has been dubbed the Nacala Corridor.
The entire process of developing the ProSavana programme and its Master Plan has been characterised by a complete lack of transparency, public consultation and public participation. While agribusiness corporations have been part of government delegations to investigate business opportunities in the Nacala Corridor, the 4 million farmers living in the affected area have received no information about the intentions shown in the Master Plan. Three governments have refused to make this version or earlier versions of the Master Plan available to the public.
The Master Plan was produced by a team of foreign consultants with close linkages to multinational agribusiness corporations, some of which are already acquiring land in the ProSavana area.1 There were no meaningful consultations with local communities and the plan does not consider their needs, their histories and knowledge, or their aspirations for the future. Nor is there any appreciation of their local farming and food systems.
ProSAVANA is presented as a development/ aid programme but the leaked version of the Master Plan makes it clear that it is simply a business plan for the corporate takeover of agriculture in Mozambique.
What does this Master Plan mean for small farmers?
The proponents of the ProSAVANA programme have said repeatedly that this is a programme to support small farmers. But the Master Plan only considers how small farmers can support agribusiness. This boils down to two main directives:
1. Push farmers out of traditional shifting cultivation and land management practices into intensive cultivation practices based on commercial seeds, chemical inputs and private land titles.
Although zero analysis was made of the effectiveness of traditional farming practices in the area, the Master Plan says the “transition from shifting cultivation to settled farming is an urgent need” and says this is “the key strategy proposed in the Master Plan”. It even calls for actions “combating the practice of shifting agriculture.”
The plan acknowledges that farmers are likely to resist giving up their traditional forms of agriculture, so it proposes several means to encourage them to do so, such as the formation of “leading farmers” who can demonstrate the advantages of intensive agriculture, “a pump-priming subsidy system for chemical fertilizers”, and, most importantly, private land titles (DUATs) for those farmers that make the switch.
It is clear to us that the real objective behind these efforts to push farmers into intensive cultivation is to privatise the land and make it more available to outside investors. Relegating farmers to a fixed parcel is a way to mark off lands more clearly for investors and to make it possible for provincial governments to establish the land banks (state land earmarked for commercial use by private investors) that the plan calls for. It also allows investors to bypass negotiations with communities to access lands. The Land Registration of the Small Scale and Medium Scale Farmers component of the Master Plan clearly states that its objective is to “facilitate the identification of areas for the promotion of agriculture by large farmers, private companies and medium scale farmers.” It is also described as a means to “create an environment of cooperation and integration between the small scale farm and new investors.”
2. Push farmers into contract farming arrangements with corporate farms and processors.
The Master Plan divides the Nacala Corridor into zones, and defines which crops should be grown in these zones, where and how they should be grown, and by whom they should be grown (small farmers, medium farmers or corporations). Within these zones, the plan lays out several projects for the production of commodities, some of them based exclusively on large corporate farms, others based on a mix of large or medium farms and contract production arrangements with small farmers.
Contract farming will not improve the lives of small farmers in the area. It will instead make them dependent on a single corporation for everything from their seeds to the sale of their crops. One of the proposed contract farming projects in the plan envisions a return on investment of 30% per year for the company while farmers in the project will be forced to devote 5 out of the 5.5 ha they will be allocated to the production of cassava under contract production with the investor.
A paradise for corporations
The plan lays out several business opportunities that companies can invest in and get huge projected returns of between 20%-30% per year. Companies that invest will be able to tap a $2 billion Nacala Fund that is being financed by governments and investors in Japan and Brazil. Although details of this fund are still missing from the leaked version of the Master Plan, other sources indicate that the fund will be registered in the fiscal paradise of Luxembourg and called the Africa Opportunity Fund 1: Nacala.2
Some of the projects within the plan will provide large areas of land to investors. The Integrated Grain Cluster, which is planned for Majune District, Niassa Province, will be managed by one vertically integrated company that will operate nine 5,000 ha farms, within a 60,000 ha zone, to produce a rotation of maize, soybeans and sunflower, mainly for export. According to the plan, “the project has a high profitability and the internal rate of return was calculated at 20.3% and the payback is 9 years.” The Master Plan calls for projects such as this one to be expanded and reproduced throughout the Corridor.
Corporations will also benefit from several Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that are proposed in the plan. In these zones, companies will be free from paying taxes and customs duties and will be able to benefit from offshore financial arrangements. These SEZs will be located at the main sites that the project is planning for processing and trading facilities, which will cut deeply into any revenues that could accrue to the government through the planned development of agro-export industries.
Since the planning for ProSAVANA began in 2009, many foreign investors and their local partners have already acquired large parcels of land in the programme area, leading to numerous conflicts over land with local communities. The intention of the Master Plan is to bring even more investors to the area, which will make land conflicts even worse.
The main solution that the Master Plan proposes to these growing conflicts are the “ProSAVANA Guidelines on RAI” (Responsible Agricultural Investment). These guidelines are essentially a checklist based on the seven RAI principles that were developed by the World Bank and have been widely denounced by peasant organisations and civil society groups. The “ProSAVANA Guideline on RAI” will be included as an annex in the “Data Book for Private Investors” that will be released by August 2013 as part of efforts to promote agribusiness investment in the Nacala Corridor.
The guidelines are weak and only voluntary and the plan does not call for any new laws or regulations that could really defend communities against land grabs. The plan only says that “private investors interested in agricultural development in the Nacala Corridor will be requested to comply with these principles, in addition to their internal codes of conduct and voluntary self-regulations.”
What’s the end result of this plan?
The Master Plan, in its current form, would destroy peasant agriculture by wiping out farmer seed systems, local knowledge, local food cultures and traditional systems of land management. It will displace peasants from their lands or force them on to fixed parcels of land where they will be obliged to produce under contract production for corporations and to go into debt to pay for the seeds, fertilisers and pesticides required. The peasants that do get private land titles will be left at extreme risk of quickly losing their lands to corporations and big farmers.
It is telling that only one of the seven clusters in the Master Plan is aimed at small scale farmers and family food production. And this cluster only proposes the same old failed green revolution model of development. The Master Plan puts no real thought and energy into the needs and capacities of peasants in the Nacala Corridor.
Corporations are the big beneficiaries of this Master Plan. They will get control over land and production and they will control the trade of the foods produced, which will be exported along the roads, rail lines and Nacala port that other foreign corporations will be paid to construct with public funds from Mozambique and Japan. Foreign seed, pesticide and fertiliser companies will also make a killing from this massive expansion of industrial agriculture into Africa.
Some Mozambicans will profit from this. For example, Portugal’s richest family has set up a joint venture to acquire lands and produce soybeans in Northern Mozambique with a national company controlled by the friends and family of Mozambique’s President and in partnership with one of Brazil’s largest corporate farmers. But these profits will be made at the expense of regular Mozambicans.
Seeing the Master Plan only confirms our determination to stop the ProSAVANA programme and to support Mozambican peasants and people in their struggle for food sovereignty.
Justiça Ambiental, JA!/ FoE Mozambique (Mozambique)
Forum Mulher (Mozambique)
LPM – Landless Peoples Mouvement (Member of Via Campesina . South Africa)
Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (Member os Via Campesina – South Africa)
AFRA – Association for Rural Advancement (South Africa)
Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) (*The world’s largest grassroots international environmental federation with 74 national member groups and more than two million individual members.)
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) / Friends of the Earth (FoE) Uganda
Amigos da Terra Brasil / FoE Brazil
Movimiento Madre Tierra, Honduras
NOAH Friends of the Earth Denmark
GroundWork (South Africa)
Amigos de la Tierra España / Friends of the Earth Spain
Environmental Rights Action / FoE Nigeria
Sahabat Alam Malaysia/ FOE Malaysia
SOBREVIVENCIA, Friends of the Earth Paraguay
CESTA, FOE El Salvador
Earth Harmony Innovators (South Africa)
Ukuvuna (South Africa)
Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (Zambia)
(As of 29 April 2013)
1The Master Plan was drawn up by a group of consultants from the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV). These consultants are also directors with Vigna Brasil, also known as Vigna Projetos, which provides agribusiness consultancy services to corporations such as Galp Energia, Vale, Syngenta, Petrobras, and ADM. Galp, owned by the Amorim family of Portugal, is already invested in a large-scale soybean farming operation in the ProSAVANA project area through a joint venture called AgroMoz with Intelec, a holding company partly controlled by the family of the Mozambican President. Vigna Brasil has the same contact address as the company 4I.Green, which is described as the technical manager for the Nacala Fund– the main financing vehicle for the big agribusiness projects in the Nacala Corridor.
- The smallholders’ last stand (newint.org)
At a speech celebrating May Day in Bolivia today, President Evo Morales announced the expulsion of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country. According to the AP, Morales stated:
“The United States does not lack institutions that continue to conspire, and that’s why I am using this gathering to announce that we have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia.”
The role of USAID in Bolivia has been a primary point of contention between the U.S. and Bolivia dating back to at least 2006. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell characterized Morales’ statement as “baseless allegations.” While State Department spokespeople and many commentators will characterize USAID’s work with oppositional groups as appropriate, a look at the agency’s work over the past decade paints a very different picture.
Documents obtained by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood show that as early as 2002, USAID funded a “Political Party Reform Project,” which sought to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [Morales’ political party] or its successors.” Later USAID began a program “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” some of which were pushing for regional autonomy and were involved in the September 2008 destabilization campaign that left some 20 indigenous Bolivians dead. Meanwhile, the U.S. has continually refused to disclose the recipients of aid funds. As a recent CEPR report on USAID activities in Haiti concluded, U.S. aid often goes into a “black box” where it becomes impossible to determine who the ultimate recipients actually are.
Some of these USAID programs were implemented by the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) from the period 2004-2007. A document obtained by CEPR through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals the role OTI plays in U.S. foreign policy. The document notes that OTI “seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests,” adding that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.” It was through OTI that USAID was funding regional governments prior to the September 2008 events.
While USAID has since closed the OTI office in Bolivia, and overall funding levels have been greatly reduced, USAID has still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.
Wikileaks cables reveal that the U.S. has long taken an adversarial approach to the Morales government, while even acknowledging the clandestine and oppositional nature of U.S. aid.
In one cable written by Ambassador Greenlee from January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, he notes that “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” In the same cable, Greenlee acknowledges that “[m]any USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”
The cable goes on to outline a “carrot and sticks” approach to the new Bolivian government, outlining possible actions to be taken to pressure the government to take “positive policy actions.” Three areas where the U.S. would focus were on coca policy, the nationalization of hydrocarbons (which “would have a negative impact on U.S. investors”) and the forming of the constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Possible sticks included; using veto authority within the Inter-American Development Bank to oppose loans to Bolivia, postponing debt cancellation and threatening to suspend trade benefits.
Another cable, also written by Greenlee, reporting on a meeting between U.S. officials and the Morales government notes that the Ambassador stated in the meeting, “When you think of the IDB, you should think of the U.S…. This is not blackmail, it is simple reality.”
Later cables, as reported by Green Left Weekly, show the U.S. role in fomenting dissent within indigenous groups and other social movements.
Not Why, But Why Not Sooner
The AP spoke with Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, reporting that she “was not surprised by the expulsion itself but by the fact that Morales took so long to do it after repeated threats.” Given the amount of evidence in declassified documents that point to U.S. aid funds going to opposition groups and being used to bolster opposition to the Morales government, the expulsion indeed comes as little surprise. Further, as evidence continues to mount of the role of USAID in undermining governments, governments from across the region have become more openly critical of the U.S. aid agency.
As Brazilian investigative journalist Natalia Viana recently detailed in The Nation, USAID was funding groups in Paraguay that would eventually be involved in the ouster of President Lugo. Viana writes that through USAID’s largest program in Paraguay, they would end up supporting “some of the very institutions that would play a central role in impeaching Lugo six years later, including not just the police force but the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court.”
Additionally, the role of USAID in funding opposition groups in Venezuela has been well documented. A recently released Wikileaks cable reveals the U.S. government’s five point strategy for Venezuela, which the cable makes clear USAID worked to implement. The goals were; “1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.”
Last June, immediately following the Paraguay coup, the ALBA group of countries (of which Bolivia is a member) signed a declaration requesting that “the heads of state and the government of the states who are members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, immediately expel USAID and its delegates or representatives from their countries, due to the fact that we consider their presence and actions to constitute an interference which threatens the sovereignty and stability of our nations.”
At the time, President Correa of Ecuador stated that he was writing up new rules for USAID engagement in the country and that “If they don’t want to follow them, then ‘So long.’” While Bolivia may be the first of these countries to actually expel USAID, the question may not be why Bolivia is doing this, but rather why didn’t Bolivia do this sooner?
The controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation. For this reason, all of the BRICS have much at stake in how the Iranian nuclear issue is handled.
Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); these approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of international order. Which interpretation of the NPT ultimately prevails on the Iranian nuclear issue will go a long way to determine whether a rules-based view of international order gains ascendancy over a policy-oriented approach in which the goals of international policy are defined mainly by America and its partners. And that will go a long way to determine whether rising non-Western states emerge as true power centers in a multipolar world, or whether they continue, in important ways, to be subordinated to hegemonic preferences of the West—and especially the United States.
The NPT is appropriately understood as a set of three bargains among signatories: non-weapons states commit not to obtain nuclear weapons; countries recognised as weapons states (America, Russia, Britain, France, and China) commit to nuclear disarmament; and all parties agree that signatories have an “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. One approach to interpreting the NPT gives these bargains equal standing; the other holds that the goal of nonproliferation trumps the other two.
There have long been strains between weapons states and non-weapons states over nuclear powers’ poor compliance with their commitment to disarm. Today, though, disputes about NPT interpretation are particularly acute over perceived tensions between blocking nuclear proliferation and enabling peaceful use of nuclear technology. This is especially so for fuel cycle technology, the ultimate “dual use” capability—for the same material that fuels power, medical, and research reactors can, at higher levels of fissile isotope concentration, be used in nuclear bombs. The dispute is engaged most immediately over whether Iran, as a non-weapons party to the NPT, has a right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
For those holding that the NPT’s three bargains have equal standing, Tehran’s right to enrich is clear—from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen states having developed safeguarded fuel cycle infrastructures potentially able to support a weapons program. On this basis, the diplomatic solution is also clear: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for greater transparency through more intrusive verification and monitoring.
Those recognising Iran’s nuclear rights take what international lawyers call a “positivist” view of global order, whereby the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. Such a rules-based approach is strongly favoured by non-Western states, including BRICS—for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful.
Those who believe nonproliferation trumps the NPT’s other goals claim that there is no treaty-based “right” to enrich, and that weapons states and others with nuclear industries should decide which non-weapons states can possess fuel cycle technologies. From these premises, the George W Bush administration sought a worldwide ban on transferring fuel cycle technologies to countries not already possessing them. Since this effort failed, Washington has pushed the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to make such transfers conditional on recipients’ acceptance of the Additional Protocol to the NPT—an instrument devised at US instigation in the 1990s to enable more intrusive and proactive inspections in non-weapons states.
America has pressed the UN Security Council to adopt resolutions telling Tehran to suspend enrichment, even though it is part of Iran’s “inalienable right” to peaceful use of nuclear technology; such resolutions violate UN Charter provisions that the Council act “in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations” and “with the present charter.” The Obama administration has also defined its preferred diplomatic outcome and, with Britain and France, imposed it on the P5+1: Iran must promptly stop enriching at the near-20 per cent level to fuel its sole (and safeguarded) research reactor; it must then comply with Security Council calls to cease all enrichment. US officials say Iran might be “allowed” a circumscribed enrichment programme, after suspending for a decade or more, but London and Paris insist that “zero enrichment” is the only acceptable long-term outcome.
Those asserting that Iran has no right to enrich—America, Britain, France, and Israel—take a policy-or results-oriented view of international order. In this view, what matters in responding to international challenges are the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place—not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This approach also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states—those with the resources and willingness to act in order to enforce the rules. Unsurprisingly, this approach is favoured by established Western powers—above all, by the United States.
BRICS need to call Washington’s bluff
All of the BRICS have, in various ways, pushed back against a de facto unilateral rewriting of the NPT by America and its European partners. Since abandoning nuclear weapons programmes during democratisation and joining the NPT, Brazil and South Africa have staunchly defended non-weapons states’ right to peaceful use of nuclear technology, including enrichment. With Argentina, they resisted US efforts to make transfers of fuel cycle technology contingent on accepting the Additional Protocol (which Brazil has refused to sign), ultimately forcing Washington to compromise. With Turkey, Brazil brokered the Tehran Declaration in May 2010, whereby Iran accepted US terms that it swap most of its then stockpile of enriched uranium for new fuel for its research reactor. But the Declaration openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich; for this reason, the Obama administration rejected it.
The recently concluded 5th BRICS Summit in Durban saw a joint declaration Declaration that referred to the official BRICS position on Iran:
“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue.”
At the same time, the BRICS have all, to varying degrees, accommodated Washington on the Iranian issue. Russian and Chinese officials acknowledge there will be no diplomatic solution absent Western recognition of Tehran’s nuclear rights. Yet China and Russia endorsed all six Security Council resolutions requiring Iran to suspend enrichment. Beijing and Moscow did so partly to keep America in the Council with the issue, where they can exert ongoing influence—and restraint—over Washington; at their insistence, the resolutions state explicitly that none of them can be construed as authorising the use of force against Iran.
Russia, China, and the other BRICS have also accommodated Washington’s increasing reliance on the threatened imposition of “secondary” sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic. Such measures violate US commitments under the World Trade Organisation, which allows members to cut trade with states they deem national security threats but not to sanction other members over lawful business with third countries. If challenged on this in the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism, America would surely lose; for this reason, US administrations have been reluctant actually to impose secondary sanctions on non-US entities transacting with Iran. Nevertheless, companies, banks, and even governments in all of the BRICS have cut back on their Iranian transactions—feeding American elites’ sense that, notwithstanding their illegality, secondary sanctions help leverage non-Western states’ compliance with Washington’s policy preferences and vision of (US-dominated) world order.
If the BRICS want to move decisively from a still relatively unipolar world to a genuinely multipolar world, they will, at some point, have to call Washington’s bluff on Iran-related secondary sanctions. They will also have to accelerate the development of alternatives to US-dominated mechanisms for conducting and settling international transactions—a project to which the proposed new BRICS bank could contribute significantly.
- Nuclear warheads in US, Europe threaten all of humanity, Soltanieh says (alethonews.wordpress.com)