MANAGUA – Nicaraguan naval forces and Russian drug enforcement agents seized 100 packages of cocaine on the high seas, state media reported, citing military spokesmen.
The seizure was made 30 nautical miles from Quitasueño key in the Caribbean waters administered by Colombia for 84 years until an International Court of Justice ruling on Nov. 19, 2012, restored sovereignty over the area to Nicaragua, armed forces spokesman Col. Orlando Palacios said.
The cocaine was being smuggled in a two-engine boat and arrests were made, Palacios said, without specifying how many suspects were detained.
Nicaragua’s Caribbean region provides a natural smuggling corridor for drug traffickers moving narcotics from Colombia into the United States.
The Nicaraguan armed forces seized 6,870 kilos of cocaine, arrested 143 people and confiscated 52 boats in 2012, the government said.
Nicaragua and Russia signed an agreement to fight drug trafficking.
Russian officials placed the cornerstone for an anti-drug training center in Managua in March.
- Nicaragua, Russia Break Up Drug-Trafficking Ring (rferl.org)
White smoke is rising in Havana, Cuba where the negotiators of the Juan Manuel Santos and the insurgents of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been negotiating since early last year. The two sides have almost agreed on the most important issue on the agenda: the agrarian question. I said almost because of the FARC’s insistence on the expansion of Peasant Zones.
So far, the FARC has clearly demonstrated its commitment to a peaceful compromise provided that the state commits to find a solution of the enduring institutional legacies of Spanish colonialism: the encomienda, which was succeeded by the hacienda system, which in turn gave grounds to the emergence of latifundios (large land ownership)—all of which were sustained by the mita (tribute) system in which the indigenous population were forced to sell their labor of 15 or more days per year to the latifundistas and to the mine owners. The mita system was supplanted by sharecropping which remained an important form of labor exploitation well into the 20th century.
In Colombia, the outcome of these institutions was one of the most skewed land distributions in Latin America, alongside Brazil and Guatemala, where large landowners retained significant political power. The Colombian recalcitrant large landowning elite hindered two previous attempts (1936 and 1968) of land reforms that would have allowed the creation of economies of scale fomenting capitalist development based on large-scale agribusiness and industry. The process was derailed and the peasantry paid the heavy price on top of centuries of exploitation, dispossession, and brutal oppression.
The last attempt at land reform coincided with the emergence of the narcotraffickers in the 1970s through the marijuana “Golden of Santa Marta,” which created the first bonanza of narco-dollars, most of which being invested in land and real estate. This was followed by the second and more significant influx of billions of dollars in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, which was invested in land put to use through cattle ranching. This boosted the landed elite ranks, furthering the concentration of land ownership from 0.80 to 0.85 (where zero is perfect equality and the value 1 indicates that all properties are owned by one person). According to the Geographic Institute Agustín Codazzi (Igag), this translates into a mere 1.62% of landowners owning 43% of the lands.
More important, the emergence of the narcobourgeoisie faction gave a boost to the landowning elite, allowing them to reassert their political and economic power. The narcobourgeoisie invested heavily in land due to the relative ease in using property as a money-laundering scheme, which conflicted with the interests of the peasants and the rebels. This in turn created a class affinity between the narco-bourgeoisie and the traditional landed oligarchy.
The inequitable distribution of land and power cemented class interests and allowed the narcobourgeoisie the economic capacity to build private armies capable of safeguarding the class interests of the entire landed elite. This may explain their success in exercising influence and political power in an economy where the agrarian sector contributes to only (a diminishing) 7% of the GDP, while the service sector contributes 55% and manufacturing 38%.
This is the paradox that Colombia presents to insurgents, academia, and policy makers. It is an interesting case in which pre-capitalist modes of production, as the ones mentioned above, were embedded in new modes and relations of production only to become entangled with a contingency such as narcotrafficking. To this paradox add that Colombia is today the fourth largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.
The FARC, for example, acknowledging the contradictions and mutations of the country’s economic history— colonial and post-colonial—that produced it as a rebel movement, is bringing into the forefront the expansion of “Peasant Zones” to safeguard the peasant economy. The idea is not new. The creation of Peasant Zones was promulgated in Law 160 of 1994, but was never seriously pursued or implemented by the state. Since the introduction of this Law, only 830,000 hectares were redistributed and benefited only 75,000 people. This was while millions of subsistence peasants were exposed to violence, increasing dispossession, and aggressive encroachments of large landowners, narcobourgeoisie, speculators, bio-fuels industries, multinational mining corporations, and oil companies.
The FARC is calling for the expansion of the protection of “Peasant Zones” to include 9,5 million hectares and provide these peasant communities autonomy similar to the ones that the 1991 constitution granted the Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups. This sparked the ire of the reactionary faction of the landed elite, led by the cattle ranchers and political conservatives such as the Minister of Agriculture a descendant of the Antioquia dominant class and coffee elite. Statistics are showing that the peasant economy is more efficient and productive than the so-called capitalist large-scale farming.
Currently the small-scale peasant economy produces more than 60% of the country’s food needs which are cultivated in only 4.9 million hectares. If the peasant zones were to expand on the magnitude suggested by FARC, Colombia will not only secure its food supply, but it will generate enough surpluses improving the standards of livelihood of almost 35% of its population and create a multiplying effect on the overall economy. This may lay down solid foundations for a durable peace and a sustainable development. This is a proposal that merits serious attention.
Friday March 22, two thousand peasants are gathered for their third national meeting in San Vicente del Caguan to push forward the initiative to expand the Peasant Zones. This meeting represents the historical affinity and organic links between the peasantry and the FARC.
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that he will initiate “an agenda of transformation” in the 16 months he has left in office.
This announcement comes as Santos continues peace negotiations with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Congress announced last week that a resolution will be made with the armed revolutionary group by August.
“Our vision is of a just, modern, and safe Colombia,” Santos said, according to El Tiempo.
He added that disarming FARC is not enough and that the system must change in order to avoid similar situations in the future.
“Some people continue to be stuck in the past, selling us a vision of a Colombia condemned to another 50 years of violence, paralysed by fear and without the capacity to imagine anything more than what it has always been,” he said. “However we, the large majority, believe in our future.”
Officials and Santos finalised this new “comprehensive government strategy” in a meeting Monday.
Beginning today, union directors and business owners will begin meeting to design and begin this project that Santos called “an emergency plan for growth and productivity.”
Beyond lowering rates of violence in the country, the president announced goals of a more “modern Colombia,” including plans to build 317 kilometres of highways this year.
Santos added that he is “committed… to making it so that Colombia can say ‘we have peace’ before leaving the government.”
The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)’s negotiating team, Iván Márquez, underscored the group’s willingness to agree to a bilateral ceasefire with government forces while historic peace talks between the two continue.
At the start of the fifth round of peace talks in Havana, Cuba, Márquez praised the proposal for a ceasefire written by Colombian politician and former cabinet minister Álvaro Leyva in a column for the El Nuevo Siglo newspaper.
Leyva called for a bilateral truce with international verification and oversight.
“For us a ceasefire requires a huge effort,” said Márquez, “but we know it is an important step to demonstrate a will for peace on both sides.”
FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire for two months after peace talks began in November last year, but did not extend the measure after the government refused to reciprocate. Even as peace talks continued, there has been an upsurge in violence since that ceasefire ended on 20th January, with seven Colombian soldiers killed in the latest incident.
The government has so far refused to accept a ceasefire agreement, over concerns that it would allow the guerilla group to re-arm and consolidate its position.
On Jan. 25 Colombian judge William Andrés Castiblanco sentenced Jaime Blanco, a former contractor for the Alabama-based Drummond Co. Inc. coal company, to 37 years and 11 months in prison for masterminding the March 2001 murders of two union leaders in the northern department of Cesar. The court found that Blanco, who supplied food services for Drummond’s La Loma mine, had arranged with rightwing paramilitaries, including one known as “Tolemaida,” for the killing of Valmore Locarno and Víctor Hugo Orcasita, leaders of the mine’s union. Blanco’s assistant, Jairo Charris, was convicted in 2009 in the same murder plot and was sentenced to 30 years.
Judge Castiblanco also sent trial records to Colombian prosecutors so that they could investigate other people possibly connected to the crimes: Drummond’s president, Garry Drummond; two company directors, Augusto Valencia and Jean Adkins; Alfredo Araújo Castro, Drummond’s public relations director for Cesar; and former Colombian legislator Jorge Castro Pacheco, who was convicted in 2010 of maintaining ties to paramilitary organizations. In addition, the judge supported a request by the victims’ relatives to ask the Supreme Court to investigate former assistant prosecutor Edgardo Maya for allegedly failing to act to protect unionists in Cesar; Maya is Jaime Blanco’s half-brother.
Drummond management has long been suspected of involvement of the murders of Locarno and Orcasita and of another La Loma unionist, Gustavo Soler, who was killed later in 2001. The US-based International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a civil suit against Drummond in March 2002 under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama, where the company is based. The Birmingham jury found the company not liable in 2007, but ILRF executive director Terry Collingsworth announced plans to appeal [see Update #911]. In an April 2011 interview Blanco told the Associated Press wire service that Drummond senior managers ordered the murders of Locarno and Orcasita and that if he was convicted, they would be able to “wash their hands” of the case. (El Tiempo (Bogotá) 2/5/13; Miami Herald 2/6/13 from AP)
- Mine contractor jailed for trade unionists’ murders (morningstaronline.co.uk)
The Pentagon signed $444 million in non-fuel contracts for purchases and services in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 2012 fiscal year, an overall decrease of nearly 15% from the previous year. But US military spending in the region is still considerably higher than during the George W. Bush administration, when the equivalent Pentagon spending in Latin America averaged $301 million a year.
Fellowship Of Reconcilliation conducted an analysis of Defense Department contracts listed on usaspending.gov for Fiscal Year 2012, building on the review we did last year.
More than a third of funds for these contracts in the region are being carried out in Cuba, with $158 million for housing upgrades, intelligence analysis, port operations and other services. The United States maintains the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, site of the 11-year-old detention center that holds 171 prisoners without trial, many of whom have been cleared for release.
An additional $130 million in Pentagon contracts was for fuel purchases, including more than $44 million in Brazil, $35 million in Costa Rica, and $24 million in Honduras. Such fuel purchases supply the Fourth Fleet of the Navy, as well as military aircraft and land vehicles used in exercises, operations, and training.
Colombia remained the country with the largest amount of Pentagon contracts in continental Latin America, with $77 million. A multi-year contract shared by Raytheon and Lockheed for training, equipment and other drug war activities accounted for more than a third of Pentagon contract spending in Colombia. Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.
The US Southern Command (SouthCom), responsible for US military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is assisting the Panamanian border police, known as SENAFRONT, by upgrading a building in the SENAFRONT compound. The force was implicated in killings of indigenous protesters (PDF) in Bocas del Toro in 2011, and fired indiscriminately with live ammunition (PDF) on Afro-Caribbean protesters last October.
Many countries that host US military activities hope to receive economic benefits and jobs as a result. But more than five of every six Pentagon dollars contracted for services and goods in the region went to US-based companies. Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefited from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts.
A few corporations dominated Pentagon contracts in the region. CSC Applied Technologies, based in Fort Worth, Texas, received more than $53 million in contracts to operate the Navy’s underwater military testing facility in the Bahamas. Lockheed Martin received more than $40 million in contracts, almost entirely for drug war training, equipment and services in Colombia and Mexico.
Pentagon Focus on Guatemala
Although the Pentagon spent less in most Latin American countries in 2012 than the year before, DOD contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009. In addition, the US military spent another $8.1 million on fuel in Guatemala last year, probably for “Beyond the Horizon” military exercises held there and in Honduras from April to July, and perhaps to support the deployment of 200 Marines to Guatemala in August.
The contracts included new assistance to the Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, former members of which have been implicated in giving training to the Zetas drug cartel, as well as the worst atrocities during the genocide period of the 1980s. Two contracts, funded by SouthCom and signed in September, were for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the Kaibiles training base in Poptun, Petén.
SouthCom also funded a contract for construction of a new $3 million counter-drug base in Santa Ana de Berlin, in Quetzaltenango. This year, SouthCom is slated to build a $1.8 million counternarcotics operations center and barracks in Mantanitas, Guatemala, according to an Army Corps of Engineers presentation.
The expenditures included equipment. For the last two years, SouthCom has been providing Boston whaler boats, radios, and tactical vehicles (Jeeps) to Central American militaries. Guatemala is receiving more of the equipment than other countries in the region – 47 Jeeps and 8 Boston whalers, according to a SouthCom document. SouthCom signed a $2.5 million contract in September for Jeeps for Guatemala, and it has purchased more than $2.8 million of Harris military radios for Guatemala since September 2011.
Department of Defense contracts, summaries of which are posted on usaspending.gov, only represent a portion of Pentagon spending. A report to Congress last April (PDF) of Defense Department assistance worldwide showed more than $15 million in military aid to Guatemala in 2010, including $9 million for intelligence analysis, training, boats, trucks, night vision devices, and a “base of operations.” These funds also included more than $6 million of unspecified support for Guatemalan police operations in Cobán, in the Guatemalan highland department of Alta Verapaz. The report didn’t include data after 2010.
On December 7, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency signed a $1.4 million contract with a Guatemalan firm to manage a 10,000-barrel supply of turbine fuel for the next five years in Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala’s southern coast. This followed a July 2012 solicitation to deliver 63,000 gallons of jet fuel to another southern Guatemalan site, in Retalhuleu.
FOR compiled data on the “country of performance” for contracts. For Guatemala, we also examined data on additional contracts that reference the country, which included a $2.5 million contract signed in late September with a Chrysler distributor to deliver tactical vehicles – some of the Jeeps slated for the country. The US Army also purchased $7.6 million worth of trousers from a producer in Guatemala in 2012.
Some legislation for DOD drug war construction of bases and other infrastructure limits projects to $2 million, and the Southern Command continues to employ this authority frequently to construct a variety of facilities all over the Americas. Here are some of the facilities the US military is constructing around Latin America.
|City, Country||Amount of contract||Date signed||Description|
|Tecun Uman, Guatemala||$550K||Dec. 5, 2011||Health post refurbishment|
|Champerico, Guatemala||none — part of multi-award contract||Sept 17, 2012||Counter Narco-terrorism (CNT) Ops Center; pier and fuel|
|Santa Ana de Berlin, Guatemala||$3 million (Army Corps of Engineers says $4.1 million)||Sept 29, 2012||CNT Barracks, Latrines, refurbish chow hall, motorpool|
|Las Mantanitas, Guatemala||$1.8 million||Not known; see ACE FY13 plan.||CN Operations Center/Barracks|
|Summit, Panama||$1,078,971||Sept 22, 2012||Counternarcotics maintenance facility|
|Hunting Caye, Belize||$1,778,420||August 10, 2012||Construction of operations barracks/maintenance facility|
|Puerto Castilla, Honduras||$374,882||March 9, 2012||Construction of helicopter landing pads and team room improvements|
|Dominican Republic||$1.8 million||Sept 28, 2012||Construct dormitory building|
|Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic||$414,444||Jan. 24 and March 8, 2012||Refurbish peace keeping operations training school buildings|
|Antigua||none — supplemental to existing contract||October 19, 2011||Emergency response warehouse|
|Tarapoto, Peru||$1,049,265||September 12, 2012||Disaster relief warehouse and search and rescue training facility|
|Puno and Huaraz, Peru||$1,037,808||July 27, 2012||Emergency Operations Centers|
|Piura and Concepción, Peru||$853,500||July 27, 2012||Emergency Operation Center and Disaster Relief Warehouse|
AP Investigation: U.S. Spends $20 Billion Over 10 Years on Increasingly Bloody Drug “War” in Latin America; Rejects Drug Policy Reform
It started in Colombia in 2000, moved on to Mexico in 2008 and now rages in Central America. Since the beginning of the century, the U.S.-backed “war on drugs” has progressively spread throughout the northern part of Latin America, leaving tens of thousands of lost lives in its wake. An in-depth investigative piece published by the Associated Press over the weekend explains how this so-called “war” – which relies on U.S. funding, training, equipment and troops – has grown in recent years to become “the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War.”
The article, authored by Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Martha Mendoza, describes how the U.S. has “spent more than $20 billion in the past decade” and deployed U.S. army, marine and navy troops to support a heavily militarized campaign to fight drug trafficking throughout the region. The fact that the efforts have been accompanied by soaring violence – with, for example, 70,000 Mexican lives lost in the last six years – doesn’t seem to trouble the U.S. officials in charge of implementing U.S. drug policy internationally. In fact, they seem to consider spikes in violence to be a sign that the “strategy is working.”
William Brownfield who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told Mendoza that “the bloodshed tends to occur and increase when these trafficking organizations… come under some degree of pressure.”
For others in Washington, the shocking number of lives lost suggests that the strategy is in fact not working. New York Congressman Elliot Engel, a moderate Democrat who is now the ranking minority member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the AP that he supports a congressional review of counternarcotics programs in the Western Hemisphere.
“Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said. “In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between.”
Particularly worrying is the fact that the administration seems to be unable to account for enormous sums that have been authorized to be spent on military equipment. The article notes that,
neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras — although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.
The first major militarized anti-drug campaign that the U.S. supported in the region was Plan Colombia in 2000, and the U.S. administration frequently presents that initiative as a shining example for the region given that homicide rates and cocaine production have fallen in that country. But this assessment disregards the tragic “side effects” of the Colombian campaign, including thousands of abuses carried out by the Colombian military and by paramilitary groups, and the displacement of millions of poor Colombians from their lands. Furthermore, Colombia continues to be one of the top cocaine producers in the world and is still the number one exporter of cocaine to the U.S.
Today Central America is increasingly the focus of U.S. militarized counternarcotics programs. As the New York Times revealed in early May of last year, tactics and personnel that were previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan have been transferred to Central America, including the DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) that first operated in Afghanistan.
Only days after the Times article was published, four innocent villagers – including a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old boy — were killed in an anti-drug operation in northeastern Honduras which involved at least ten FAST team agents. The killings were denounced by human rights groups in Honduras and the U.S., particularly after it became clear that the victims had been abandoned by authorities and that the Honduran attorney general’s investigation of the incident was deeply flawed. Consequently human rights groups and 58 members of Congress have called on U.S. authorities to carry out a full investigation of the incident to determine what role may have been played by U.S. agents.
As a result of this and other recent incidents, $30 million in aid to Honduras has been put on hold by Congress, according to Mendoza. Yet, she notes, “there are no plans to rethink the strategy.” Instead, Brick Scoggins, who manages counternarcotics programs at the Defense Department, told Mendoza: “It’s not for me to say if it’s the correct strategy. It’s the strategy we’re using (…) I don’t know what the alternative is.”
President Obama and Vice President Biden cannot pretend to be as unaware of alternatives to the administration’s “war on drugs.” In recent multilateral meetings, both Obama and Biden were asked by regional leaders to reconsider the current militarized approach to fighting drugs and to consider paths toward drug decriminalization or, at the very least, to consider placing a greater focus on reducing demand for drugs in the U.S. and treating the drug problem as a public health issue. Both rejected any change of course in the current war on drugs, and – despite the fact that the president of Colombia himself supported the discussion of alternative policies – both Obama and Biden have insisted that Plan Colombia is the model to follow.
All things considered, 2012 was a terrible year for online privacy against government surveillance. How bad was it? States around the world are demanding private data in ever-greater volumes—and getting it. They are recognizing the treasure troves of personal information created by modern communications technologies of all sorts, and pursuing ever easier, quicker, and more comprehensive access to our data. They are obtaining detailed logs of our entire lives online, and they are doing so under weaker legal standards than ever before. Several laws and proposals now afford many states warrantless snooping powers and nearly limitless data collection capabilities. These practices remain shrouded in secrecy, despite some private companies’ attempts to shine a light on the alarming measures states are taking around the world to obtain information about users.
To challenge the sweeping invasions into individuals’ personal lives, we’re calling on governments to ensure their surveillance policies and practices are consistent with international human rights standards. We’re also demanding that governments and companies become more transparent about their use of the Internet in state surveillance.
Signs of Growing International Surveillance in 2012
A new law in Brazil allows police and public prosecutors to demand user registration data from ISPs directly, via a simple request, with no court order, in criminal investigations involving money laundering. And, a new bill seeks to allow the Federal Police to demand registration data of Internet users in cases of crimes without the need of a court order nor judicial oversight.
Colombia adopted a new decree that compels ISPs to create backdoors that would make it easier for law enforcement to spy on Colombians. The law also forces ISPs and telecom providers to continuously collect and store for five years the location and subscriber information of millions of ordinary Colombian users.
Leaked documents revealed that the Mexican government shelled out $355 million to expand Mexican domestic surveillance equipment over the past year.
The Canadian government put proposed online surveillance legislation temporarily “on pause” following sustained public outrage generated by the bill. The bill introduces new police powers that would allow authorities easy access to Canadians’ online activities, including the power to force ISPs to hand over private customer data without a warrant.
The EU’s overarching data retention directive has become a dangerous model for other countries, despite the fact that several European Courts have declared several national data retention laws unconstitutional.
Romania went ahead with adopting a new data retention mandate law without any real evidence or debate over the right to privacy, despite the 2009 Constitutional Court ruling declaring the previous data retention law unconstitutional.
The German government is proposing a new law that would allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to extensively identify Internet users, without any court order or reasonable suspicion of a crime. This year, more details were found on German State Trojan Program to spy on and monitor Skype, Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook and other online communications.
The UK government is considering a bill that would extend the police’s access to individuals’ email and social media traffic data. The UK ISPs will be compelled to gather the data and allow the UK police and security services to scrutinize it.
A Dutch proposal seeks to allow the police to break into foreign computers and search and delete data. If the location of a particular computer cannot be determined, the Dutch police would be able to break into it without ever contacting foreign authorities. Another Dutch proposal seeks to allow the police to force a suspect to decrypt information that is under investigation in a case of terrorism or sexual abuse of children.
In Russia, several new legal frameworks or proposed bills enable increased state surveillance of the Internet.
Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies have continued to advance the false idea of the need for data retention mandates, mandatory backdoors for cloud computing services and the creation of a new crime for refusing to aid law enforcement in the decryption of communications.
A controversy arose in Lebanon over revelations that the country’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) demanded the content of all SMS text messages sent between September 13 and November 10 of this year, as well as usernames and passwords for services like Blackberry Messenger and Facebook.
The Rwandan Parliament is discussing a bill that will grant sanctions the police, army and intelligence services the power to listen to and read private communications in order to protect “public security”, the keyword often invoked to justify unnecessary human rights violations.
Pakistan adopted a Fair Trial Bill authorizing the state to intercept private communications to thwart acts of terrorism. No legal safeguards have been built in to prevent abuse of power and the word “terrorism” has been poorly defined (a word that’s often invoked to justify unnecessary human rights violations).
RIM announced that they had provided the Indian Government with a solution to intercept messages and emails exchanged via BlackBerry handsets. The encrypted communications will now be available to Indian intelligence agencies.
The Indian government approved the purchase of technological equipment to kickstart the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID)—a project that seeks to link databases for ready access by intelligence agencies. The project is expected to facilitate “robust information sharing” by security and law enforcement agencies to combat terror threats.
EFF’s international team and a coalition of civil society organizations around the world have drafted a set of principles that can be used by civil society, governments and industry to evaluate whether state surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights. In 2013, we will continue demanding that states adopt stronger legal protections if they want to track our cell phones, or see what web sites we’ve visited, or rummage through our Hotmail, or read our private messages on Facebook, or otherwise invade our electronic privacy. EFF will keep working collaboratively with advocates, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and security experts on the ground to fight overbroad surveillance laws. Our work will involve existing legislative initiatives, international fora, and other regional venues where we can have a meaningful impact on establishing stronger legal protections against government access to people’s electronic communications and data.
- Colombia Adopts Mandatory Backdoor and Data Retention Mandates (informationliberation.com)
- Do we need the Snooper’s Charter to save lives? (pcpro.co.uk)
- ISP Walks Out of Piracy Talks: “We’re Not The Internet Police” (torrentfreak.com)
Colombian rebel militants FARC seek dialogue and peace with the country’s government, FARC negotiator Tanja Nijmeijer told RT in an exclusive interview. But despite renewed peace talks, government forces killed at least 20 rebels in a recent attack.
Dutch militant Tanja Nijmeijer – who left the Netherlands 10 years ago to join the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and fight for what she calls social justice – spoke with RT, saying that the rebel organization wants to end the country’s 50-year conflict.
“We as an armed organization have always wanted a dialogue, we’ve always wanted peace, we have always asked for peace,” she said.
“We have not taken the arms because we wanted so. We have taken the arms because the Colombian State and the United States imperialism have obliged us to do so,” Nijmeijer said.
Talks between the Colombian government and FARC over fragile peace negotiations are set to resume in Havana, Cuba, on December 7.
At least 20 left-wing rebels were killed in Colombia on Sunday after airstrikes against their camp near the Ecuadorian border, the army said. The attack came after FARC announced a ceasefire until January 1, 2013, for the negotiations.
“People who are in Colombia want to fight for ideas different from neoliberal are killed,” Nijmeijer told RT. “So how is it possible to participate in politics if people who have other ideas are killed. And that’s the reason of arm struggle in Colombia. That’s the reason why we are still fighting.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has set a deadline of November 2013 for an agreement to be reached in the peace talks with FARC. “This has to be a process of months, rather than years. In other words, this should not last any longer than November next year at the latest,” Santos said.
The president’s statement followed an acknowledgement by FARC that it was holding “prisoners of war” – reportedly soldiers or police captured during combat. FARC stated that the prisoners would be freed in exchange for the release of rebels held by the government.
The Colombian government currently detains around 700 rebel prisoners, according to Sandra Ramirez, one of FARC’s representatives.
The US has been criticized for its role in helping the Colombian government kill members of FARC; Washington’s military assistance to Columbia has been directed primarily towards killing FARC militants.
In nearly a half-century of conflict in Columbia, an estimated 600,000 people have died and another 15,000 gone missing. Some 4 million people have also been internally displaced.
Find out more about FARC and the peace process from RT’s full exclusive interview with Tanja Nijmeijer, airing Wednesday at 18:45 GMT.
Mérida – Yesterday in an official statement, President Hugo Chavez expressed his “happiness” at the announcement of a general accord between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which outlines dialogue steps towards ending the “long night of violence” Colombia has been subject to since the 1960s.
Colombian president Juan Santos confirmed yesterday that his government and the FARC signed the framework agreement, which is the result of six months of exploratory meetings in Havana, Cuba.
The schedule of meetings outlined in it will be accompanied by mediators from the Cuban and Norwegian governments, and Venezuela and Chile will also attend the process. Talks will begin in Oslo in early October, then move on to Havana. They will be centered on five key themes; rural development in order to guarantee land access, political participation, end to the armed conflict, drug trafficking, and rights of the victims.
“We have worked seriously and I should recognise that the FARC have also, they have respected everything agreed on till now,” said Santos. He also informed press today that Colombian ex-vice president Humberto de La Calle will be heading up the first negotiations between the government and the FARC, together with four others, including the Colombian head of police, and the president of Colombia’s business association. The five person negotiating teams will rotate with others for each meeting.
Chavez congratulated the governments of Cuba and Norway for their “successful management” and the Venezuelan government, in its statement, ratified its “total disposition to contribute, to the extent that the people of Colombia and their government deem it necessary, towards this brother country being able to put an end to the armed conflict and construct stable and lasting peace”.
Venezuela’s foreign minister Nicolas Maduro also said last night that Venezuela will assign one representative to accompany the dialogue process, and will announce that person in the coming days.
“It’s up to us to accompany and support Colombia in the construction of a new history of peace,” Maduro said, explaining that the accord would benefit Venezuela as much as Colombia, allowing them to develop economic zones together, strengthen their trade, education plans, cultural exchange, and the “construction of a border of shared life”.
The end of conflict would have even further consequences for Venezuela, according to analyst Sergio Rodriguez, speaking on Venezuelan public television last night. He said the large numbers of Colombians currently living in the country could return there, and the resources that Venezuela is currently forced to direct towards defence could instead go towards social projects and development. Further, the US “wants to involve us in the drug trafficking which originates in Colombia”, one of the key issues under discussion.
Yesterday both parties to the accord expressed appreciation for Venezuela’s role in peace efforts for Colombia. Santos said, “I want to thank the government of Venezuela for its permanent disposition to help at any time” and FARC spokesperson Rodrigo Londono also thanked Chavez for his offer of mediation.
Londono expressed his confidence in the dialogue process. “The FARC hold the most sincere desire that the [Colombian] regime won’t try to repeat the past,” he said. “We call on all of Colombia to … demand its participation or to assume it in the streets … another Colombia is possible”.
- Colombia and FARC ready for peace talks with support from Cuba and Norway (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Diatribes and Curious Silences
The Democrats just put out their platform on Latin America, and it demonstrates only the loosest connection to reality. Thus, while praising the “vibrant democracies in countries from Mexico to Brazil and Costa Rica to Chile,” as well as “historic peaceful transfers of power in places like El Salvador and Uruguay,” the Democrats continue to point to Cuba and Venezuela as outliers in the region in which the Democrats plan “to press for more transparent and accountable governance” and for “greater freedom.” Of course, it is their Platform’s deafening silence on critical developments in the region which says the most about their position vis a vis the Region.
Not surprising, the Democrats say nothing about the recent coups in Honduras and Paraguay (both taking place during Obama’s first term) which unseated popular and progressive governments. They also say nothing about the fact that President Obama, against the tide of the other democratic countries in Latin America, quickly recognized the coup governments in both of these countries. Also omitted from the platform is any discussion of the horrendous human rights situation in post-coup Honduras where journalists, human rights advocates and labor leaders have been threatened, harassed and even killed at alarming rates.
As Reporters Without Borders (RWR) explained on August 16, 25 journalists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, making Honduras the journalist murder capital of the world. In this same story, RWR mentions Honduras in the same breath as Mexico (a country the Democrats hold out as one of the “vibrant democracies” in the region) when speaking of the oppression of journalists and social activists, as well as the general climate of violence which plagues both countries. As RWR stated, “Like their Mexican colleagues, Honduran journalists – along with human rights workers, civil society representatives, lawyers and academics who provide information – will not break free of the spiral of violent crime and censorship until the way the police and judicial apparatus functions is completely overhauled.” And indeed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, and it has been confirmed in 27 of these cases that the journalists were killed precisely because they were journalists. Meanwhile, in Mexico, over 40,000 individuals have been killed due to the U.S.-sponsored drug war – hardly a laudable figure.
Of course, in the case of Honduras, and Paraguay as well, things are going fine for U.S. interests post-coup, with Honduras maintaining the U.S. military base which President Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in the coup, had threatened to close. Similarly, in Paraguay, one of the first acts of the new coup government was agreeing to open a new U.S. military base – a base opposed by Porfirio Lobos, the President (and former liberation Bishop) overthrown in the coup. The other act of the new coup government in Paraguay was its agreement to allow Rio Tinto to open a new mine in that country, again in contravention of the deposed President’s position. The Democrats simply do not speak of either Honduras or Paraguay in their Platform.
Instead, the Democrats mostly focus on their alleged desire to bring freedom to Cuba, saying nothing about the strides already made by Cuba itself where, according to a January 27, 2012 story in the Financial Times, entitled, “Freedom comes slowly to Cuba,” “there are currently no prisoners of conscience.” This is to be contrasted with Colombia, the chief U.S. ally in the region, which houses around 10,000 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The Democrats, shy about such unpleasant facts, simply say nothing about Colombia – this despite the fact that Colombia just announced historic peace talks with the guerillas which have been engaged in a 50-year insurgency in that country. Apparently, this does not deserve a mention amongst the Democrats’ anti-Cuba diatribe.
Meanwhile, the Democrats also single out Venezuela as a country which it is hoping to free from its alleged chains. What the Democrats fail to note is that Venezuela already has a popular, democratically President in Hugo Chavez who is making life better for the vast majority of Venezuelans, and who appears poised to receive the majority of the votes of the Venezuelan people in the upcoming October elections as a consequence. Thus, according to Oxfam, “Venezuela certainly seems to be getting something right on inequality. According to the highly reputable UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, it now has the most equal distribution of income in the region, and has improved rapidly since 1990.” Again, contrast this with the U.S.’s chief ally Colombia and with Mexico, the two countries with the worst problems of inequality in the region. As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted earlier this year, “both Colombia and Mexico suffer from some of the world’s most unequal distributions of wealth. In 1995, Colombia was ranked the fifth most unequal country (of those with available statistics), with a Gini coefficient of 0.57, while Mexico was ranked the eighth worst with a Gini coefficient of 0.52. Between 2006 and 2010, Colombia’s inequality ranked 0.58, while Mexico’s coefficient was 0.52, qualifying them as two of the lowest ranked countries in the world.” The Democrats, uninterested in such trivialities as social equality, simply ignore such inconvenient data.
For its part, U.S. labor, as represented (albeit very poorly) by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, continue to march in step with the U.S. government and the Democrats in their imperial delusions about the Region. Thus, while for some time simply hiding the fact that it has been working in Venezuela at all, the Solidarity Center, in response to pressure about this issue, has recently admitted on its website that it has been continuously working in Venezuela these past 13 years – i.e., to and through the coup in 2002 which the Solidarity Center aided and abetted by funneling monies from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to the anti-Chavez CTV union which was a major player in the coup.
Stinging from the just criticism over this, the Solidarity Center now claims — reminiscent of George W. Bush who fancied himself a “uniter” as opposed to a “divider” – claims that it is in Venezuela to unite the divided labor movement. Thus, the Solidarity Center states: “[g]iven the political fragmentation and divisions between unions in Venezuela, Solidarity Center activities work to help unions from all political tendencies overcome their divisions in order to jointly advocate for and defend policies for increased protection of fundamental rights at the workplace and industry levels. The Solidarity Center currently supports efforts to unite unions from diverse political orientations (including chavista and non-chavista, left and center) to promote fundamental labor rights in the face of anti-labor actions that threaten both pro-government unions and traditionally independent unions.” In its statement, the Solidarity Center says nothing about the progressive labor law which President Chavez just recently signed into law without any help from U.S. labor. This law, among other things, outlaws outsourcing and subcontracting, shortens the work week, increases minimum vacation time, increases maternity leave and requires employers to provide retirement benefits.
The Solidarity Center statement about Venezuela is laden with irony as well as hubris. The U.S. labor movement is itself greatly fragmented, with two competing houses of labor (the AFL-CIO and Change to Win) as well as divisions even within these two confederations. That the Solidarity Center would presume to be able to unite any union movement outside its borders is laughable. Indeed, only imagine the reception from the labor movement in this country if China’s labor confederation purported to intervene in the U.S. to help unite the labor movement here. Aside from wondering how exactly the Chinese unionists planned to do this, many would wonder about the ends to which such unity, once miraculously created, would be applied. And, one must wonder the very same about this in regard to the Solidarity Center’s role in Venezuela. First of all, the so-called “chavista” unions want nothing to do with the Solidarity Center, funded as it is by the NED and U.S.-AID, especially after the 2002 coup. Again, they would have to question what the Solidarity Center, which just received a massive grant of $3 million for its work in Venezuela and Colombia, would want to “unify” the Venezuelan union movement to do. The question appears to answer itself, and it is not a pretty one.
A modest proposal for the AFL-CIO and its Solidarity Center is to focus on uniting the labor movement at home in the U.S. to challenge the power that capital has on our political system; pressing for better U.S. labor law (on this score it could learn a lot from Venezuela and its labor movement); abandoning its labor paternalism (if not imperialism) and leaving it to the Venezuelans to unite their own labor movement. Similarly, the Democrats, instead of worrying about ostensibly bringing U.S.-style democracy (more like social inequality and militarism) to other countries in the Region, should spend more time trying to make this country less beholden to corporate and monied interests, and thereby more democratic in the process. But again, this is not what the Democrats are about. What the AFL-CIO is about, aside from blindly supporting the Democrats, is anyone’s guess.
Alberto C. Ruiz is a long-time labor and peace activist.
BOGOTA – Colombia’s government will soon begin talks that could lead to formal negotiations for peace with the country’s biggest guerrilla group, known as the FARC, according to a Colombian intelligence source.
As part of the deal to hold talks, the government has agreed that leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would not be extradited to another country to stand trial, he said.
One aide at President Juan Manuel Santos’ office has flatly denied that any talks are taking place, but a second aide said only that any official word on peace dealings would come from Santos himself.
Details of the accord are still being worked out, but the negotiations could take place in Cuba and in Norway, the source said.
However from Caracas the editor in chief of Telesur, the Venezuelan television news channel, Jorge Botero said that secret talks date back to May in Havana with the attendance of unofficial delegates from Colombia, plus representatives from Venezuela, Cuba and Norway.
“Formal dialogue is anticipated for next October in Oslo”, said Botero. He added that from Norway representatives from the Colombian government and FARC will then travel to Havana where “they will sit to negotiate and won’t leave the table until a peace deal is reached”.
A year ago the head of FARC Alfonso Cano announced that the guerrilla was ready for talks to end the half a century Colombian internal war.
News of the peace talks is likely to anger Santos’ predecessor Alvaro Uribe who has criticised any idea of talks with the rebels and has slammed Santos for wanting “peace at any cost.”
The originally Marxist oriented FARC but now financed by drugs and which calls itself “the people’s army” defending peasant rights, has battled about a dozen administrations since surfacing in 1964, when its founder Manuel Marulanda and 48 rebels took to jungle hide-outs triggering an internal conflict involving Colombian forces and thousands of recruited guerrillas.
The group has faced its toughest defeats in recent years as US-trained special forces use sophisticated technology and spy networks to track the leaders.
The FARC string of defeats began in 2008 with a cross-border military raid into Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes its second in command. Marulanda died of a heart attack weeks later and was replaced by Alfonso Cano, who was later killed too.
- Colombia to meet with rebels in Oslo: ex-VP (thelocal.no)
- Colombian president confirms peace talks with FARC; first round Oslo in October (en.mercopress.com)