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How Have Latin America’s Political Leaders Responded to Israel’s Siege on Gaza?

By Stephan Lefebvre | Center for Economic and Policy research | July 21, 2014

On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel — defying calls by the Security County, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:[1]

The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.

The foreign ministry of Chile released a statement that “strongly condemns the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip,” also saying that “The reprehensible kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis and one young Palestinian cannot serve as an excuse to initiate terrorist actions nor to attack areas densely populated by civilians.” Chile has reportedly suspended trade talks with Israel and is considering withdrawal of its ambassador in Tel Aviv over Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Government of Ecuador released a statement saying that it:

strongly condemns the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which have left more than a hundred deaths [sic] and considerable damage to property and civil infrastructure, demands an immediate cessation of these aggressions against the Palestinian civilian population and called [sic] the State of Israel to exercise maximum restraint and act in accordance to international law and humanitarian law.

Uruguay issued a similar statement condemning the military attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which “caused dozens of civilian deaths and injuries, including women and children, in a disproportionate response to the launch of rockets against the Israeli territory on the part of armed Palestinian groups.” The statement also condemns the “repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk.” On the whole, this was not positively received by the Israeli ambassador to Uruguay. Finally, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement lamenting the murders of three young Israelis, saying it is a case that “demands a full investigation.” He also rejected the attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, saying:

the Bolivarian Government of Venezuelan energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation and urges its government to immediately end this aggression which goes against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity.

Clearly the language used by each country varies, but it is interesting to note that Venezuela’s response falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of condemning the Israeli siege. The Venezuelan foreign ministry issued a separate statement on behalf of the ALBA counties which echoes the Venezuelan government’s statement and reaffirms the ALBA group’s “unconditional solidarity, support and influence for the people of Palestine before this new wave of violence.”

Outside South America, several other countries issued strong responses, including Cuba and El Salvador. Cuba’s foreign ministry condemned Israel for “us[ing] its military and technological superiority to execute a policy of collective punishment with a disproportionate use of force which causes civilian casualties and enormous material damage.” El Salvador issued a statement in which the government “strongly condemns and rejects Israel’s increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip” which caused the “loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage.” Also, the statement explains that the U.N.’s legitimate self-defense clause “does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another State, much less against its civilian population.”

As an historical aside, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and several of the countries that introduced the resolution to the General Assembly were from Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guayana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Colombia stands out, not only in South America but in Latin America as a whole, for condemning the “acts of violence and terrorism” against Israel and its civilian population. They called on both Israel and Palestine to end the confrontations and return to the dialogue and negotiation. Colombia has not supported U.N. membership for Palestine, abstaining during the 2012 vote.

More measured statements were issued by the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras [PDF], Mexico, and Peru. These statements typically called for a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and condemned both sides equally for the violence. Several countries have not issued official responses, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Panama’s foreign minister did not release a dedicated statement on the recent events, but received the Israeli Ambassador for a meeting to strengthen the bilateral relationship during which time the Panamanian official expressed concern over the rise in violence in the Middle East and expressed support for a peaceful resolution.

These statements clearly show not only that the vast majority of Latin American countries are at odds with U.S. foreign policy, but also that these countries are more and more able to articulate opposing views that challenge U.S. State Department narratives. Back in 2010, CEPR examined the region’s response to Israel’s deadly raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and then as now we found that there was a “hemispheric isolation of the U.S. on critical foreign policy issues.” While the era of U.S. supported coups and interference in the region is not over, significant progress has been made to increase national sovereignty and independence in Latin America, and these are changes that reverberate not just throughout the hemisphere, but across the world.

[1] In this blog post, estimates for casualties and other statistics included in official statements are quoted as written in the original versions, not corrected for the latest information available. The latest numbers for the death toll indicate over 550 killed since July 8, 2014.

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Venezuela Participates in BRICS Gathering, New Agreements Reached

By Ewan Robertson | Venezuelanalysis | July 20, 2014

Mérida – Venezuela participated in the gathering of the BRICS emerging powers and Latin American regional blocs in Brazil this week, where new agreements were hailed as beginning the creation of a new global financial architecture.

Several multilateral meetings were held in the city of Fortaleza, including the 6th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit, and meetings between China and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

During the BRICS summit, the five emerging economies created a new development bank and a multilateral reserve fund, each of which will potentially hold US $100 billion of pooled capital. The reserve fund will be used to support members of the bloc against adverse economic conditions or external impacts.

The creation of the new institutions is partly motivated by dissatisfaction with the terms of the financial hegemony exercised by the U.S. and its European allies through the IMF and World Bank.

“The strength of our project has positive potential: we want the global [financial] system to be fairer and more equal,” said Brazilian president Dilma Roussef to media.

On Wednesday and Thursday China met with the UNASUR and CELAC blocs in order to explore strategies through which the Asian power could deepen its involvement in Latin America.

In the meeting with UNASUR countries it was discussed how BRICS and UNASUR could create more ties. After the meeting, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro reported that it had been proposed that the new BRICS Development Bank and UNASUR’s Bank of the South adopt a common strategy in the regional and global economies.

“The [new] financial institutions have the same objectives: the construction of a new financial architecture that benefits economic development in conditions of equity for our countries; where speculative financial capital is ended, where the looting of our economies is ended, and productive investment which creates employment and wealth is promoted,” he said to Telesur on Wednesday.

The Venezuelan president also argued that closer relations between BRICS and Latin America represented a “win win alliance” and “the birth of the multi-polar world”.

“In the past we were dominated powers, and now we are emerging countries and blocs,” he said.

The BRICS bloc has become a key trading partner for Venezuela. Commerce with the bloc increased by 72% from 2006 – 2013.

Meanwhile, agreements reached on Thursday between China and the CELAC bloc, which brings together all countries in the Americas apart from the U.S. and Canada, included the establishment of a $1 billion investment fund for infrastructure projects in Latin America, and a Chinese offer of scholarships for 6,000 Latin American students.

Other funds potentially worth $15 billion to support Latin American development were also discussed.

Latin America has become an important source of Chinese investment and exports, while South American powers have increasingly turned to China as a source of financing, technology transfer, and destination to export primary materials.

A top level delegation led by Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently touring the continent to further deepen China’s economic involvement in Latin America, with visits including Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela, where Xi Jinping arrives today.

Bilateral agreements

Venezuela also held several bilateral meetings in Fortaleza, including with China and Colombia.

The South American OPEC nation agreed to import a further 1,500 Chinese-made Yutong buses for the expansion of its public transport system. A Yutong factory is being built in Venezuela to begin domestic production of the vehicles, which will open next year.

The Venezuelan and Chinese central banks also reached an agreement to share information on statistical methodologies, monetary policy, and funding mechanisms. Both parties called the accord a “breakthrough” for enhancing economic ties.

Since 2001 the two countries have constructed what has been labeled as a “strategic alliance”. A high level bilateral session initiates in Caracas today with the arrival of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

Hamas commends withdrawal of Ecuadorian ambassador from Tel-Aviv

MEMO | July 19, 2014

The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas hailed on Friday the Ecuadorian decision to withdraw his country’s ambassador to Tel-Aviv in protest against Israeli aggression on Gaza.

Speaking to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Resalah, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “This is a very advanced position, to which the countries in the region have not arrived at.”

Barhoum described the withdrawal of the ambassador as a “courageous” decision.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the Ecuadorian government condemned the Israeli invasion on the Gaza Strip.

“We condemn the Israeli military incursion into Palestinian territory, we require cessation of operations and indiscriminate attacks against civilians,” Patino said.

Barhoum also called for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to lift the eight-year siege on Gaza and stop Israeli aggression on Gaza, which has continued for 13 days.

Ecuador announced Thursday that it was calling in its ambassador to Israel, according to La Informacion and El Universo.

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem with the Venezuela Sanctions Debate

By Peter Hayakawa | Center for Economic and Policy research | July 18, 2014

As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.

McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?

Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera. It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.

While officials and Congress members throw unfounded accusations at the Venezuelan government and continue to discuss punitive measures, there are no comparable discussions about removing tax-payer funded military aid to U.S. allies with abysmal human rights records –  let alone imposing sanctions — including states like Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many others. The U.S. ended its partial freeze of military aid to Egypt this January and has quietly defended Israel during its latest assault on Gaza, even as Palestinian casualties rise at an alarming rate. In this hemisphere, in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries ruled by rightwing allies of the Obama administration, the laws that condition U.S. military and security aid on human rights standards are nearly systematically ignored, just as they are in the Middle East.

Over the past dozen years, the U.S. government has made no secret of its hostility toward the government of Venezuela – even supporting and getting involved in a 2002 military coup against Chávez – despite the fact that, over and over again, it has been elected democratically. In her recent book, “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even refers to Chávez as a “self-aggrandizing dictator.” She is much more sympathetic toward Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, whom she doesn’t label a dictator, though she does qualify her praise of his commitment to Middle East peace by mentioning that he is an “autocrat at home.” Clinton is not shy in explaining how she urged President Obama not to call for Mubarak to step down during the height of the 2011 Egyptian protests, citing her concerns about U.S. interests, just as she is not shy about detailing how she intervened to ensure that democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was not reinstalled after an illegal military coup in Honduras. Most importantly, while Mubarak was in office and while she was Secretary of State (i.e. when it mattered), Clinton, like virtually every other U.S. official, consistently defended the U.S. relationship with Egypt. Instead of referring to him as an autocrat while she headed the State Department, she famously referred to Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.”

Last November, the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Latin America and announced the “end of the Monroe Doctrine,” stating that the U.S. would no longer work to undermine the sovereignty of its hemispheric neighbors in order to promote its own interests. The open secret is that U.S. officials still actively reserve the right to define human rights and democracy in ways that serve U.S. objectives. Over the decades and right up to the present, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to arm some of the world’s least democratic actors, often with some of the worst human rights records, from Suharto to Sisi. Even if one disagrees that the U.S.’s historic disdain for left governments in Latin America is not a factor in the push for sanctions against Venezuela, considering the role that the U.S. continues to play in supporting human right abuses around the world, why accept the U.S. government’s own terms in the debate?

July 18, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Leave a comment

Russia backs Argentina’s call to curb Western dominance

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Press TV – July 13, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has endorsed a call by his Argentinean counterpart Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to curb Western dominance in international politics.

Putin gave his support during a meeting with Kirchner in the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, on Saturday.

The Russian leader also said Moscow and Buenos Aires share a close view on international relations.

During the meeting, Kirchner emphasized that global institutions must be overhauled and made more multilateral, adding, “We firmly believe in multipolarity, in multilateralism, in a world where countries don’t have a double standard.”

In addition, the two leaders discussed military cooperation and oversaw their delegations signing a series of bilateral deals, including one on nuclear energy.

Putin’s visit to Argentina is part of his six-day tour of Latin America aimed at boosting trade and ties in the region, according to Russian state media.

The Russian leader’s trip will next take him to Brazil, where he is scheduled to attend the gathering of the economic alliance, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), in Brazil on July 15 and 16.

Putin’s Latin American tour began on July 11 in Cuba, where he met with President Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel Castro. During his stay in the capital, Havana, Putin signed a law writing off 90 percent of Cuba’s USD 35-billion Soviet-era debt.

Following his visit to Cuba, Putin made a surprise visit to Nicaragua, where he held talks with President Daniel Ortega.

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. on Its Own, Once Again, at OAS Meeting on Argentinean Sovereign Debt

By Alexander Main | CEPR Americas Blog | July 9, 2014

Once upon a time, the U.S. government ran a very tight ship at the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral institution created by Washington at the start of the Cold War.  Though the OAS’  1948 Charter calls on its members to uphold democracy and respect the principle of non-intervention, for decades the U.S. supported military coups against democratic governments and intervened militarily around the hemisphere without serious opposition from within the regional body.  In 1962, the U.S. rallied a majority of member states behind a resolution to suspend Cuba’s membership in the organization and, in the years that followed, was successful in preventing the OAS from taking action against U.S.-backed Latin American dictatorships.

Until recently, the U.S. could systematically rely on the support of a solid group of rightwing allies at the OAS to defend its agenda.  But, as a result of the region’s far-reaching political shift to the left, the tide has clearly changed.  At the OAS General Assembly in 2009, the U.S. reluctantly joined the rest of the organization’s member countries in lifting the suspension on Cuba’s OAS membership.  After Honduras was expelled from the OAS following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras, the majority of members resisted U.S. efforts to restore the country’s membership until June of 2011 when deposed president Manuel Zelaya was finally allowed to return.  And in March of 2014, after working with the rightwing government of Panama to force an OAS discussion on opposition protests in Venezuela, the U.S. came up worse than empty handed.  Though the U.S. sought a resolution condemning the government of Venezuela and calling for OAS mediation, the member states – minus the U.S., Panama and Canada – backed a resolution that declared “solidarity and support” for Venezuela’s “democratic institutions” and for a process of dialogue already underway.

Last week the U.S. once again stood alone, backed only by the rightwing government of Canada in its opposition to an OAS resolution supporting Argentina in its fight against vulture funds and the ruling of a judge in New York.   As Argentina news hounds and CEPR readers are well aware, the U.S. District Judge in New York, Thomas P. Griesa, ruled that Argentina would have to pay two hedge funds, aka vulture funds, the full value of Argentinean debt that the funds had bought for around twenty cents on the dollar. Griesa didn’t seem to care that 93 percent of the holders of the country’s defaulted debt had signed on to restructured debt agreements in 2005 and 2010.  In order to enforce his decision, Griesa’s ruling blocked Argentina from paying interest to the holders of the restructured bonds without first paying off the vulture funds.

As this decision would create a dangerous, far-reaching precedent – effectively calling into question any country’s sovereign right to restructure its debt – the U.S. Supreme Court was widely expected to oppose Griesa’s ruling when the case came before it in June.  Instead, the Court refused to hear the case, leading to international consternation and outrage.  At the OAS, senior foreign ministry officials from Latin America convened on July 3rd for a special meeting on the issue, and all those present – except for the U.S. and Canada – expressed support for the Argentinean government.  Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Luiz Alberto Figuereido, said that Brazil was “worried about the future impact of this precedent” created by the U.S. court decision. Luis Almagro, the foreign minister of Uruguay, said that the decision wasn’t good for sovereign states or for “any international financial entity or for any multilateral credit organization, because if at some moment they are negotiating the restructuring of any country, they can’t put up with this sort of competition [from vulture funds]. ”The OAS resolution [DOC] approved by every country but the U.S. and Canada was unreservedly supportive of Argentina, expressing:

  1. Its support to the Argentine Republic so that it can continue to meet its obligations, pay its debt, honor its financial commitments and through dialogue arrive at a fair, equitable and legal arrangement with 100% of its creditors.
  2. That it is essential for the stability and predictability of the international financial architecture to ensure that agreements reached between debtors and creditors in the context of sovereign debt-restructuring processes are respected by allowing that payment flows are distributed to cooperative creditors in accordance with the agreement reached with them in the process of consensual readjusting of the debt.
  3. Its full support to achieving a solution that seeks to facilitate the broad Argentine sovereign debt-process.

The U.S., out in the cold yet again, said in a footnote that: “the United States cannot support this declaration, and notes that the issue remains in the judicial process in the United States.”

“I do not quite understand the U.S.’ position”, Argentinean foreign minister Hector Timerman declared after the OAS meeting.  He noted, with a touch of humor, that for the first time ever both the IMF and the Socialist International supported Argentina in its legal battle with the vulture funds. In a June 24 op-ed, CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot discussed the evidence that the U.S. administration may have contributed to the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Argentina case and what the reasons might be:

So why didn’t the Supreme Court hear the case? It could be that the court was influenced by a change of position on the part of the U.S. government, which may have convinced it that the case was not that important. Unlike France, Brazil, Mexico and Nobel Prize winning-economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. government did not file an amicus brief [PDF] with the Supreme Court, despite its filing in the appellate case. And – here is the big mystery – neither did the IMF, even though it has publically expressed concerns about the impact of that ruling.

On July 17, 2013, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde submitted notice that the fund would file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court. But then the IMF board met and, somewhat embarrassingly, because of objections from the U.S., decided against it. This could be why the Supreme Court did not invite a brief from the U.S. solicitor general, and ultimately did not hear the case. But who is responsible for Washington’s reversal?

As in an Agatha Christie novel, there are numerous suspects who could have done the deed. The vulture fund lobby – a well-connected group led by former Clinton administration officials– known as the American Task Force Argentina, spent over $1 million in 2013 on the case. Then there are the usual suspects in Congress, mostly neo-conservatives and the Florida delegation, who want a different political party in power in Argentina after this fall’s elections.

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Whitewashing Venezuela’s Right Wing

In the heated media war over Venezuela, studies produced by well-funded NGOs (usually with ties to powerful states) have been regularly cited by the western corporate media to paint a grim picture of the country.

A Venezuela report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) in May might give some people the impression that it is an even handed account done by authors committed to decreasing political violence in Venezuela.  The report makes a few good recommendations, but it actually reveals that the ICG’s commitment to whitewashing right wing extremists is much stronger than any commitment to sensible analysis or to reducing political violence.

In the crucial section of the report where it discusses protest related violence, the ICG claims that there is only “weak evidence” that any opposition supporters ever used firearms:

In contrast to the abundant evidence linking security forces and pro-government civilians to deaths and injuries, it is unclear whether some in the opposition used firearms. In any case, the evidence on this is weak. The only deaths that appear clearly linked to the protesters are those involving accidents caused by barricades, including the use of barbed wire or other obstacles.

As far as the ICG is concerned, the bodies of several police and other pro government people shot to death while attempting to clear barricades in opposition strongholds are “weak evidence” of firearm use by anyone in the opposition.  It might be argued that “concrete proof” of the exact individuals who shot every one of those victims is lacking. However saying that anti-government protesters are not very strongly implicated in the shootings of any government supporters or police is beyond preposterous.

In an attempt to make the evidence appear weak, the ICG mentions one incident in which a journalist working for a right wing business newspaper, El Universal, claims that a government supporter shot and killed a policeman at an opposition barricade. This kind of counter claim had also been made by government officials about some opposition protesters who have been shot (some government officials claiming the shots were fired by other opposition people), but the ICG wouldn’t dare use these claims to conclude that there is only “weak evidence” that government supporters had ever used firearms. In fact, the ICG discusses the death of opposition protester Génesis Carmona without ever mentioning government claims that she had been shot by another protester.  Such inconsistent and biased standards for assessing evidence cannot possibly lead to a reliable version of events.

In addition to various opposition aligned sources, the ICG defers to the New York City based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to assess responsibility for violence. HRW was very recently sent a letter signed by two Nobel Peace Prize laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and over 100 scholars all requesting that it take steps to close the revolving door between it and the US government. The letter noted:

In a 2012 letter to President Chávez, HRW criticized the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen “far short of acceptable standards” and questioning its “ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights.” At no point has U.S. membership in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington’s secret, global assassination program, its preservation of renditions, and its illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay.

Ken Roth, head of HRW, once referred to Venezuela and a few other ALBA countries as the “most abusive” in Latin America – an insane remark as he should know by merely sampling his own organization’s reports about Colombia. Daniel Wilkinson, another HRW official, went so far as to lie about the Venezuelan TV media in an op-ed published in the New York Review of Books. HRW’s responses to the 2002 coup in Venezuela and as well as the 2004 coup in Haiti were disgraceful.  By now, anyone who uncritically cites HRW about any country at odds with the US is, at best, uninformed about HRW’s track record.

The ICG’s report makes no mention of numerous falsified images the opposition has spread through social media to bolster its allegations of repression. Even a corporate outlet like Reuters made mention of this tactic but the ICG ignored it. The ICG also cites the anti-government newspaper El National various times – a newspaper whose dishonesty is so flagrant it has sometimes dismayed opposition people. An atrocious record doesn’t “weaken” El Nacional articles as evidence in the view of the ICG or provoke any statement of caution.

Attempts to put the 2004 recall referendum results under a cloud

The ICG report made the astounding remark that the opposition merely lacked “concrete proof” of fraud in the 2004 recall referendum that was won by Hugo Chavez.  The report stated:

Concrete proof [of fraud] was not presented, though a peer-reviewed statistical analysis of the results later found significant anomalies. Maria M. Febres and Bernardo Márquez, “A Statistical Approach to Assess Referendum Results: The Venezuelan Recall Referendum 2004”, International Statistical Review, vol. 74, no. 3 (2006), p. 379. Jennifer McCoy, Carter Center election observation head in Venezuela, found the anomalies had not affected the referendum outcome.

In fact, elaborate statistical arguments – one of them based on “anomalies” in the distribution of votes – were made immediately after the referendum took place, not years later as the ICG implies. The Carter Center hired a team of very specialized statisticians – not simply Jennifer McCoy as the ICG very sloppily suggests – whose only job was to assess those arguments.  The statisticians explained why the arguments did not substantiate allegations of fraud. The oppositions’ various “statistical analyses” received expert scrutiny that decided something far more important than acceptability for publication (which is what peer-review committees decide for journals) and that required extensive review of the arguments made by both sides. One of the key points made by the Carter Center’s statisticians was that there was no credible explanation how the government could have perpetrated fraud such that the random audit of the results would have failed to expose it.

The government’s victory in the 2004 referendum was subjected to a remarkably severe test. One of the key monitors, the Carter Center, is deeply tied to the US establishment which has been very hostile to Chavista administrations.  In spite of all that, the ICG still pretends that there is reasonable doubt about the results. That will encourage the members of the opposition who allege that Chavista victories are stolen no matter how overwhelming the evidence is against them.

It’s unsurprising, given the ICG’s willingness to smear the 2004 referendum which was very far from close, that it also published a hopelessly one-sided account of the dispute surrounding the vastly closer presidential election of April 2013. The ICG absolved the opposition in advance for any act of violence by stating that the government must “clarify” the validity of the results or face “violent consequences”.  In reality, the Election Day audit of the results, as CEPR has reported, already proved that the odds of a Capriles victory were less than one in 25 thousand trillion. The audit was, nevertheless, expanded.

It is quite clear to anyone who has been paying attention that opposition claims of electoral fraud are not driven by the facts but by the level of support they expect from the US government, foreign media and groups like the ICG.

Speaking the opposition’s language

In section IX of the report the ICG contrasts the “left leaning regimes” of the Bolivarian Alliance for our America (ALBA) with “those representing more market-friendly, centre and right-leaning governments”. On the left the ICG describes “regimes” while elsewhere on the political spectrum it describes “governments”.

Some political scientists use the word “regime” in a neutral way, but it is most commonly used to describe an oppressive and undemocratic government.  I can find no example of the ICG ever referring to US government as a “regime” despite its abysmal human rights record and money-dominated political process. However it is very easy to find ICG reports replete with the word “regime” to describe states that the US government opposes.

The ICG also adopts the use of the word “coletivo” to mean an armed government supporter. It acknowledges that this is highly partisan usage by noting that it “is a term that covers pro-government community organisations of various kinds, most of them non-violent. But it has come to be used in particular for armed groups of the revolutionary left that have proliferated under chavista governments.”

In short, the opposition media (whom the ICG attempts to hide through the use of passive voice “has come to be used”) has demonized the word “colectivo” and the ICG reflexively follows suit.

Tamara Pearson, a proud colectivo member who has been living and working in Venezuela for several years, remarked about the media vilification campaign:

Where previously everything, even the drought or the actions of big business, were Chavez’s fault, now it must be “the collectives”. Now that Chavez is gone and the opposition still hasn’t got its electoral victory, they have realised it’s not enough to call the current president a “dictator” and belittle him because of his lack of formal university education, they need to demonise the active and organising people too. Because they aren’t going away.

A few good suggestions completely undermined

The ICG said that “the opposition can, and should, drop calls for the Maduro administration to step down “. This is a  sound suggestion, no doubt, but one that is hypocritical and ineffective coming from the ICG. Whitewashing opposition violence and impugning clean elections, as the ICG does, is a propaganda gift to the “regime change” crowd.

The ICG recommends that Venezuela’s “international partners” should “help de-escalate the violence by sending clear messages that only peaceful methods will be tolerated.” UNASUR, and even the OAS which has traditionally towed Washington’s line, have already sent that message. The ICG is sending the opposite message.

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

July 8, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

Colombia Peace Talks Survive Elections, May Have Lasting Implications for Regional Integration and US-Led “War on Drugs”

By Peter Hayakawa | CEPR Americas Blog | June 19, 2014

Ending a very close race, incumbent Juan Manuel Santos won a decisive five-point victory Sunday in Colombia’s second round of presidential elections, beating challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who had won the first round in an upset. The campaign had centered on two related issues: first, the future of the Santos-led peace process under way in Havana between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC that may have the potential to end a half century of civil war, and second, a referendum on Santos’ shift away from the militaristic policies of his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.

Zuluaga, who had been hand-chosen by Uribe and ran in opposition to the peace talks (though he had softened his position slightly after the first round), quickly conceded defeat this Sunday. Uribe, however, wasted no time in claiming that the elections had been marred by “massive fraud.” Santos ran on not only defending the peace talks which he had played a primary role in instigating, but also on repairing ties with regional neighbors (ties that he himself, as a defense minister under Uribe, had played a key role in breaking).

Santos’ victory has certainly dealt a major blow to ‘Uribismo.’ Colombians largely seem to support the peace process as well as recent moves toward regional integration, and it looks as though few were convinced by Uribe’s wild charges during the campaign that the peace process would open the path to “Castrochavismo,” allowing the “FARC to run this country from Havana.” Uribe has long loomed over Colombian politics, but Zuluaga’s defeat signals that his influence may be waning, even on the political right. Meanwhile, Santos’ support of the peace talks won him the backing of some of Colombia’s most prominent business people, in addition to endorsements from indigenous groups and left-wing coalitions.

Uribe might have thought twice about investing so much political capital in opposing the negotiations. While it is true that the peace talks had the support of Venezuela and Cuba, they also had the support of virtually every other country in the region, as well as the United Nations, in addition to broad domestic support. More to the point, the peace talks have throughout had the quiet endorsement of the United States. Just a month ago, on May 18th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed U.S. support for the peace process, which, given that they were the central subject of the elections, arguably amounted to an endorsement of Santos.

One might be able to forgive Uribe for being confused. While he was president, Uribe was the U.S.’s closest regional ally. At the time, his antagonistic posture toward neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador, including his repeated accusations of their support for the FARC, were highly appreciated by the U.S. (and not just by the Bush administration). More recently, his accusations tying Santos to Cuba, with their anti-Castro fervor, seem to come right out of the U.S.’s Cold War-era playbook. There is no evidence that Cuba is influential enough to be able to “run” Colombia, and the language betrays a loyalty to the U.S. perspective. Thus, it might have shocked him to learn that Secretary Kerry had basically endorsed Santos.

Indeed, U.S. support for Santos is a little puzzling, given the extent to which Santos has started to move away from U.S. policy on several important fronts; for example, emerging as a champion of regional cooperation and as a key participant in a regional effort to change course in the U.S.-led “War on Drugs.” But despite what might be a natural preference for a more pro-U.S. candidate (as any Uribe-endorsed candidate surely would have been), the U.S. simply might be unable to publicly oppose the almost universally-supported peace talks without risking serious and coordinated push-back. This development can be seen as another sign of Latin America’s growing independence from the U.S., though it’s important to remember that Santos also continues to cooperate with the U.S. militarily, and is one of the last remaining champions of U.S.-promoted “free trade’” agreements in the region.

The Peace Talks, Paramilitaries, and the “War on Drugs”

The negotiations have taken on momentum over the past year. Before the election, a framework emerged that will include the vital input of the civil war’s victims as well as mutual acknowledgement of responsibility for crimes committed during the course of the war. Perhaps most importantly, the talks have now widened to include negotiations between the government and Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, increasing the reach of any potential deal. Since the talks began, the Colombian government claims that violence committed against civilians has significantly decreased.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about these peace talks, particularly about the chances they will lead to real justice for the victims. While the FARC have committed many human rights abuses, the Colombian military and paramilitary groups with which the military has closely worked have been responsible for most of the violence. During the course of the war, paramilitaries alone have been responsible for up to 80 percent of all of the killings in the country, according to the United Nations. The fact that there is strong collusion between these paramilitary groups and the Colombian government is not a point of serious debate. In a move that bodes ill for the prospects for justice, in March, the government announced that it would release hundreds of paramilitary soldiers who had served lenient sentences for extremely serious crimes.

It is also almost guaranteed that U.S. policy makers and multinational companies, like DynCorp and Chiquita Banana, which have played a large role in fueling this conflict over the decades (primarily through the “War on Drugs” and the U.S.’s obsession with counterinsurgency), will also not be held to account. The U.S. has used the pretext of anti-narcotics campaigns to justify funding the Colombian military and Colombian political allies  despite longstanding evidence of their ties to paramilitary groups. Paramilitaries, who are major players in the drug trade themselves, have among a litany of other abuses, declared war on unions, aiding the Colombian military in efforts that have nothing to do with counter-narcotics. In 2006, the “parapolitics” scandal story broke in Colombia, and 45 Colombian congressmen and seven governors were eventually convicted of ties to some of the country’s most notorious paramilitary groups. But even after these ties were brought out in the open, the U.S. government still defended the military aid it gave to Colombia.  At the height of the scandals, a partial, temporary freeze was enacted by a handful of Senate Democrats against the wishes of the Bush administration. After the even more shocking “false positives” scandal emerged in 2008, when it was discovered that the Colombian army had hired paramilitaries to kill civilians and dress the bodies up as rebel fighters, declassified documents released by the National Security Archive show that the U.S. knew as early as 1994 that U.S.-backed Colombian security forces had ties to groups engaging in “death squad tactics” similar to those brought to light in the false positives scandal. There is evidence that the U.S. was still providing resources directly to some of these military units as recently as 2010. If the U.S. role is left out of the discussion and paramilitary groups are not held to account, this will greatly diminish the credibility of the peace process.

But despite these obvious shortcomings, the peace talks may eventually lead to a huge change in the “War on Drugs.” An under-discussed aspect of the negotiations is the fact that both the government and the FARC have already agreed on key issues, including commitments to seriously limit the U.S.-led aerial eradication program (where tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent annually to spray powerful herbicides on coca plants in rural Colombia), and also on a commitment to implement badly-needed land reforms for rural Colombians as well as programs to create economic incentives for Colombian farmers to grow crops other than coca. If these reforms are implemented, many Colombian subsistence farmers may one day be able to lead normal lives, instead of being terrorized by aerial eradication that makes no distinction between coca plants and the food that farmers grow to feed themselves. Aerial eradication has entailed huge human and environmental costs, while being shockingly ineffective [PDF] in limiting cocaine production, despite U.S. claims to the contrary.

At the same time, other countries are taking a stand against harmful anti-drug policies. In Peru, which in 2012 overtook Colombia as the world’s largest producer of cocaine, the government recently began a program to provide assistance to farmers to grow alternative crops. Since then, the reduction in the production of coca has been so significant that the government recently decided to postpone forced eradication efforts (Peru and Bolivia had both already banned aerial eradication in the past). The government of Peru also recognized that popular opposition to forced eradication has been a primary reason why the remnants of Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas have any popular support.  If the Colombian peace talks succeed, there is a chance that the decades-long struggles of Colombian farmers against aerial eradication might eventually take a decisive positive turn in the place where the policy has caused the most harm—where for a time, an astounding 8 percent of the arable land in Colombia was subject to the program.

In the coming months, it will be important to see how the U.S. reacts to developments in the peace talks, which may have big implications for U.S. policy in Latin America. Despite U.S. support for the talks, the U.S. government has been clear that it wants aerial eradication and other “Drug War” policies to continue. But if the talks are successful, there is a chance that the U.S. may be forced to accept real change—not just a curtailment of destructive counter-drug policies, but perhaps also a process of demilitarization that might loosen the U.S.’s grip on a key regional foothold of military power.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

Venezuelan President and High Ranking Officials to Declare Wealth, Ex-Minister Investigated for Corruption

By Z.C. DUTKA | Venezuelanalysis | June 18, 2014

San Francisco – Venezuelan comptroller Adelina Gonzalez announced yesterday that all senior officials in public office must update their sworn declaration of wealth (DJP) between the 1st and 31st of July.

The DJP has been required for select offices since the ratification of the Law Against Corruption in 2003. A government website for the task was set in place in 2009. The last DJP summons was for all police bodies, though the current injunction – detailed in the Official Gazette published just days after president Nicolas Maduro’s election to office – is much broader in scale.

The mandate extends to all state, federal, and municipal employs of superior rank, as well as any functionary working within the realm of public accounting. This includes President Nicolas Maduro, as well as magistrates of the Supreme Court, military generals and high ranking army personnel, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s Office, governors, ministers and vice ministers, ambassadors, consuls, notaries, the Central Bank directors’ office and university rectors.

Those who do not comply with this requirement will be fined or, as articles 38 and 39 of the corruption law indicate, may be removed from their post and banished from all public office for up to 12 months.

Maduro’s firm stance against corruption has defined his presidency from the beginning, though critics believe his policies have been largely unsuccessful. Since he took office in April of 2013, there have been arrests and investigations within the tax and customs office, Seniat, the goods and services monitor, Indepabis, and state owned iron ore company, Ferrominera.

While addressing the National Assembly last October, the head of state implored deputies to reject the notion of corruption as “normal in political life.”

“I call on the people to not tolerate corruption,” he said, “neither of those with a yellow collar [opposition supporters] nor the corruption of those with a red collar [supporters of the Bolivarian revolution]. It’s the same thuggery, no matter how you dress; it’s the same anti-people and anti-country behavior.”

In an interview last September, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres went into detail, “This problem of corruption neither started with the revolution, nor did it increase during the revolution. Rather, it began when the republic began. I believe that we should see corruption as part of an effort to dominate sectors of the public administration… In all public institutions there used to be parallel institutions. There always was someone who you would pay [on the side], to take care of the procedures. This created a culture.”

He explained how increasing government efficiency and eliminating bureaucracy are two key methods of destroying the normalized institution of corruption. He reminded reporters that in the pre-Chavez era, there was only one moment when politicians were publicly accused of corruption. That moment involved a scheme which left the country with “literally zero dollars in foreign currency reserves.

“Some experts who have studied this say that this was the greatest fraud in the history of the world,” Rodriguez stated.

Though the conspiracy was of vast proportions and markedly reliant on government insiders, only one man was accused and convicted for the renowned “RICADI fraud,” Rodriguez said.

Ex-minister accused

The Attorney General’s Office, presided over by Luisa Ortega Diaz, is currently conducting an investigation on Eugenia Sader, Health Minister from 2010 to 2013. Sader, a known supporter of Hugo Chavez, was replaced in her position shortly after Maduro took office.

An alleged Justice Department informant leaked information to local newspapers that Sader’s trial will begin on Thursday, at which time she will be questioned regarding numerous “irregularities in management” during her time as Health Minister. The informant took this to mean corruption and embezzlement, but others interpreted the term differently.

On Tuesday a house deputy for the opposition Justice First party and physician, Dinorah Figuera, asked attorney general Diaz to clarify what the charges against Sader are to be. Figuera told reporters she believes the case corresponds with a number of grave complaints her office made in regards to public hospital management under Sader’s administration, including emergency rooms closed for improvements that were never reopened.

An auditing commission of the national assembly last year questioned Merida city mayor and member of the opposition Lestor Rodriguez, in response to a dozen accusations of embezzlement gathered by a city councilor. At the time, the mayoralty had not collected trash in Merida since the previous year, though Rodriguez had claimed it was for lack of funds.

Rodriguez was later indicted for corruption.

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Corruption | , | Leave a comment

Terrorism As A Weapon Of Hegemony

By Chandra Muzaffar | CounterPunch | June 17, 2014

Once again, the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) joins hands with the people of Cuba and justice-loving people in every nook and cranny of the planet, in demanding the immediate release of the three remaining prisoners from the Cuban Five who are still languishing in US jails, after 13 years.

Two were released after completing their prison terms — Rene Gonzales on the 7th of October 2011, and Fernando Gonzales on the 27th of February 2014. It is important to emphasize that they walked to freedom with their dignity intact. The three who are still in jail — Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino — deserve our fullest support and solidarity. We should continue to campaign for them with all our heart and soul.

To reiterate, the imprisonment of all five is a travesty of justice. The Cuban Five were monitoring Cuban exile groups in the US in the nineties who had a proven record of committing terrorist acts against the Cuban people. They were gathering information about the terrorist missions that these groups were planning and had informed the US authorities about what they (the Cuban Five) were doing. And yet they were arrested and jailed after an unfair and unjust trial.

If the Cuban Five working under the direction of the Cuban government was determined to expose terrorist activities being carried out against their motherland from US soil, it was mainly because Cuba and its leadership had been victims of US sponsored terror and violence for decades. In 1976, a Cuban commercial plane with 73 passengers on board, a number of them school children, was bombed, killing everyone. The alleged mastermind of this terrorist act, Luis Posada Carriles, is still alive, protected by the US government. There was also an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba by groups in the US in 1961, the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco. A series of terrorist attacks targeting hotels and tourists in the nineties sought to cripple the Cuban economy. And there have been innumerable attempts to assassinate the Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, right through the 47 years that he was in power. Add to all this the crippling economic sanctions imposed upon Cuba by every US Administration since 1961 and we will get a complete picture of how a small nation of 11 million people has had to endure the terror unleashed against it by its superpower neighbor.

Why has Cuba been the target of terrorism in all its manifestations for so long? The reason is simple. The US elite will not accept in its neighborhood, a nation which is determined to choose its own path to the future without being dictated to, or dominated by, the US. It will not tolerate a people who are committed to defending their independence and sovereignty. To put it in another way, the US drive for hegemony does not permit another nation— especially a nation with a different worldview — to preserve and enhance its dignity.

This hegemonic attitude is borne out by the US’s treatment of other countries in Latin America. Whenever a nation steps out of line, the US line, it is clobbered. Sometimes through terror and violence. Look at Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, at different times and in different circumstances. Even in West Asia, terror has been employed to both undermine governments which want to maintain a degree of independence from the US and the West and to create instability and chaos in society. This is the story of Somalia and Sudan, of Libya and Lebanon, of Iraq and Syria. In Southeast Asia too, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians and Laotians have all experienced US terror, just as the people of the Philippines had in the past. Weren’t the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also exposed to a US “rain of terror” in 1945?

Let’s be clear about this. Terrorism is a tool for dominance and control. Terrorism is a weapon of hegemony. The US — like some other states too—uses this weapon in both ways. It employs terror when it suits its interests. It also fights against terrorism when it serves its agenda. This is why for the US there are “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists.” It is quite happy to collude with the former and crush the latter.

This was obvious in Iraq following the Anglo-American occupation of the land in 2003. In the initial phase the occupier encouraged the Shia militias to fight the Sunni remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. Once the Shias got into power through the democratic process and moved closer to Iran, the US became worried and backed Sunni militias fighting the Shia dominated government. Now of course, Sunni-Shia clashes, compounded by various other forces, have assumed a life of their own.

In Syria, it is an open secret that the US and other Western and regional actors have been actively involved in supporting the armed rebels against the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus. Some of the rebels are favored more than others by the US just as other rebels are linked to some of the other external players. The good terrorists from the US perspective receive a lot of assistance including weapons and funds through channels connected to US allies in the region. Are there bad terrorists in the Syrian conflict? While the US may not approve of the tactics used by some of the rebels, it has refrained from strong denunciation of them since it shares their overriding objective of eliminating Assad. So it is Assad who is the bad terrorist in the eyes of the US. Assad is bad because he has been consistent in his opposition to US-Israeli hegemony over West Asia.

There is parallel of sorts to the Cuban situation. All those individuals and groups opposed to the Cuban government, however violent they may be, are good terrorists and have been bestowed with all kinds of aid by US agencies through various conduits. Fidel Castro, and his successor, Raul Castro, are the bad ones. Fidel in particular was demonized in the mainstream Western media as few other leaders had been. Needless to say, it was because of his principled position against US helmed hegemony, articulated with such depth and clarity, that a grossly negative image of the man was disseminated through the media.

But Fidel Castro and the Cuban Five have demonstrated that in the ultimate analysis truth will triumph. Today, Fidel commands a lot of respect and affection among ordinary men and women everywhere for what he has accomplished for his people and indeed for the people of Latin America and the Global South. Similarly, the cause of the Cuban Five has become one of the major rallying-points in the worldwide struggle for human freedom and human dignity because it symbolizes the struggle of the powerless against the powerful.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mexico: Jailed Activist’s Family Threatened

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Weekly News Update on the Americas | June 15, 2014

A group of Mexican legislative deputies announced on June 2 that they would call on the federal Governance Secretariat to guarantee the security of family members of Nestora Salgado, an imprisoned community activist from the largely indigenous town of Olinalá in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The announcement came one day after an attack on a bus that Salgado’s daughter Saira Salgado was riding from Olinalá to Mexico City for a scheduled meeting with legislators. Armed men stopped the bus shortly after it left Olinalá and without explanation executed a woman passenger. Saira Salgado said the victim was dressed the way she herself is usually dressed. After the murder, the men left without harming or robbing the other passengers. Deputy Roberto López, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), charged that the attack was not an isolated incident.

Nestora Salgado is a naturalized US citizen from Olinalá who migrated to the US and settled in Washington state. In recent years she began visiting her hometown and became involved in community affairs there; eventually she was elected head of the community police force. Community police forces are legally recognized in Guerrero, and Salgado originally had good relations with the state government. But in August 2013 she ordered the arrest of a local official, Armando Patrón Jiménez, in connection with cattle rustling and the deaths of two ranchers. Five days later Salgado herself was arrested on charges of kidnapping and was removed to a federal women’s prison at Tepic in the western state of Nayarit. She has been held there ever since without access to a lawyer; her daughter’s meeting with legislators was intended to discuss their plan to have her transferred to a more accessible prison in Mexico City.

Mexican and US activists have organized a campaign for Salgado’s release, along with a petition drive. The US government had done nothing to help with Salgado’s case despite her status as a US citizen, Deputy Loretta Ortiz Ahlf, of the small leftist Labor Party (PT), said on June 2. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/3/14; Desinformémonos (Mexico) 6/8/14)

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , | Leave a comment

Maduro Unveils Policy to Eradicate Extreme Poverty in Venezuela

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By Ewan Robertson | Venezuelanalysis | June 9, 2014

Mérida – Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro unveiled a new policy to focus on the needs of the least well off as part of his pledge to eradicate extreme poverty in the country by 2018.

The policy involves creating almost 1,500 special attention points that group together various social programs in areas where extreme poverty still prevails, in order to meet the basic needs of these communities.

The attention points, called Social Mission Bases, will house government social programs such as free community food kitchens, subsidised food stores, and free medical clinics. They will be spread out over the 255 of the country’s 1163 local districts where households experiencing extreme poverty still exist.

Venezuela’s National Institute of Statistics estimates that 5.5% of Venezuelan households still experience extreme poverty. This is calculated using the regionally based Unsatisfied Basic Needs (UBN) structural poverty indicator, which considers as extremely poor those homes where two or more basic needs, such as access to basic services, adequate living conditions, or schooling, are not met.

The percentage of households in extreme poverty has decreased steadily over the previous decade from 12.7% in 2003 to 5.5% currently. In the same period, overall structural poverty has decreased from 30.5% to 19.6%.

President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to eliminate extreme poverty altogether by 2018, the end of his current term of office, as well as to continue to reduce overall structural poverty.

“In the year 2018 I’ll be…able to say that we’ve achieved the goal of zero misery in Venezuela… the Bolivarian revolution must end poverty to establish a system of equality [and] justice,” he said as the first Social Mission Base was founded in the coastal state of Miranda.

Maduro also informed the country that the Social Mission Bases will be complemented with multidisciplinary teams of social program workers, such as community doctors, sports therapy trainers and cultural promoters, who will visit deprived communities house by house to assess living conditions and attend to differing needs.

“The great battalion [multi-disciplinary team] … won’t have another objective but to fight a strong battle along with our people to eradicate extreme poverty,” the president said, while also encouraging supporters to participate in the work of the Social Mission Bases.

The policy announcements come amid a debate over poverty in Venezuela, with government critics pointing to an increase in income-based poverty between the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, in the context of a sharp increase in annual inflation.

“The days when poverty was a winning issue for chavismo are over. Official statistics now show that poverty is rising rapidly,” wrote anti-government blogger Juan Nagel for Foreign Policy magazine recently.

Nevertheless income-based poverty actually decreased in the second half of 2013 to lower than it was in early 2012, and in keeping with the level of income-based poverty recorded in recent years, at 32.1%, down from 62.1% a decade earlier.

The Social Mission Bases policy also comes not long after Maduro announced reforms to the country’s national system of welfare programs, in order to improve their performance and reduce bureaucracy and overlapping functions.

The programs, known as “missions”, include free health clinics, free educational programs, subsidised food outlets, and the construction of heavily subsidised housing. They are held as one factor behind the large reduction in poverty since the Bolivarian government was elected to power in 1999.

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

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