Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has submitted legal documents to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to gain an access to the Pacific coast for his land-locked country through Chile.
“The Bolivian people hope that the historic wrong that took place will be repaired as soon as possible,” Morales said at the Bolivian Embassy in the Netherlands after personally handing over the documents to the ICJ in The Hague.
Morales was accompanied at The Hague by a strong delegation, including Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca.
Landlocked Bolivia, which still maintains a navy, seeks to force its neighbor to give back a Pacific Ocean passage that it lost in a war with Chile at the end of the 19th Century.
“We have come here to make a historic demand, for Bolivia to regain sovereign access to the sea,” he added.
Bolivia and Chile have had only limited diplomatic relations since 1978. Unfruitful negotiations with Santiago over the issue prompted La Paz to lodge a complaint to the ICJ for the first time in April 2013.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said last month that the court case had closed the door on any hopes of a bilateral deal.
“We are very clear that we respect international treaties… but we are going to first analyze the Bolivian case in order to decide how we proceed,” Bachelet said shortly before Morales submitted the documents to the ICJ on Tuesday.
Chile says its border with Bolivia was fixed by a treaty signed by the two countries in 1904, which cost Bolivia some 120 kilometers (75 miles) of coast and 120,000 square kilometers (46,332 square miles) of arid land where many of the world’s top copper reserves are located.
Translator’ note: Liliany Obando is a sociologist, documentary film maker, and single mother of two children. She was serving as human rights director for Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest agricultural workers’ union, when, on August 8, 2008, Colombian authorities arrested her. A week previously, Obando had issued a report documenting the murders of 1500 Fensuagro union members over 32 years. Prosecutors accused her of terrorism and belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
After 43 months, Obando left prison on March 1st 2012. She remained under court jurisdiction, because she had not been sentenced or convicted. Eventually, in 2013, a judge, accusing Obando of serving on the FARC’s International Commission, convicted her of “rebellion.” She was sentenced to five years, eight months of house arrest and fined 707 million pesos, ($368,347 USD). The charge against Obando of handling “resources relating to terrorist activities” was dropped.
On April 3, 2014, Obando learned that the Supreme Court had rejected her appeal. Her fine stands. She must serve one more year of house arrest. The government’s case against Obando and other prisoners rests on files taken from computers of FARC leaders seized during a military attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador on March 1, 2008. In 2011 the Colombian Supreme Court invalidated the legal standing of such material. Obando and her family continue to experience police surveillance, harassment, and media slander. – Translated by W. T. Whitney Jr.
Although we Colombians, especially those of us who belong to social, human rights, and political organizations and labor unions, are used to carrying out our work in risky situations, sometimes things get worse. This is one of those unlucky times. It coincides with the pre-election contest.
In a cycle that repeatedly sends us back to a repressive past – one they don’t want to close down – we are witness to a perverse return to obscurantism and forced unanimity, to dissident thinking being considered subversive, to social protest having to be silenced at whatever cost, and where opposition guarantees are only a chimera. These are practices far removed from the duty of a state, especially one proclaiming itself as the continent’s oldest, most solid “democracy.”
Many years ago, and in tune with the U. S. obsession for transforming the idea of security into state policy, one outcome being anti-terrorism, the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez during his first term (2002-2006) instituted in Colombia the politics of “Democratic Security.” That gave rise to a series of actions damaging to the right to liberty, to guarantees like equality, legality, and judicial norms, and, generally, to an international framework for human rights.
The strategy of arbitrary detentions imposed under the pretext of maintaining security of the state, and for “good citizens,” has its origins there. The modalities used were illegal interceptions, the network of informants, the Law of Justice and Peace and its accusers, and intelligence reports – or battlefield reports. They fueled judicial set-ups.
During 2002-2004, this strategy of the Uribe government entailed the practice of massive incarcerations carried out nearly always within the context of military operations or joint operations involving the attorney general, the police, and military forces. Primary backing came from Decree 2002 of 2002 relating to internal upheaval and also from an attempt at constitutional reform. In the beginning, these incarcerations were confined to supposed “zones of rehabilitation and consolidation.” Their boundaries were set through Decree 2929 of December 3, 2002. Then they spread the length and breadth of the national territory.
Later, from 2004 on, in a change of strategy, massive detentions were converted into selective detentions against specified sectors of the population: unionists, defenders of human rights, social and populist activists from academia, and/or opposition militants. These people were considered dangerous to the state politics of “Democratic Security” then being advanced as part of a return to the dark era of Turbay Ayala and his “Statute of Security.” (1)
That’s where all this recent wave of stigmatization, persecution, criminalization, judicial processing, and incarceration came from. It’s directed against social, labor, and human rights organizations, and opposition political parties. Their members, leaders, and activists at the base are pointed to as being little else but the activists, “civilian guerrillas,” or at least collaborators of the insurgencies, that is to say, their social base. As regards these last, Uribe disregarded their political character and classified them as “terrorist” groups. Once more the concept of political crime was being manipulated.
Juan Manuel Santos, as defense minister in the Uribe government, first made his mark chiefly by implementing “Democratic Security.” Now as president he continues it. He will be able to change its form, but not its essence. Indeed, Santos has turned to acknowledging that armed conflict does exist in Colombia and also, on that account, that the insurgencies have a political character, although he doesn’t say it openly. If it were otherwise, the current process of peace negotiations in Havana would have been inconceivable. Yet he has not altered the treatment of politically – oriented persons facing prosecution, nor does he accept the very existence of political prisoners.
In 2012, Santos, mocking his given word, blocked international oversight of prisons and verification of the situation of political prisoners as called for by the group PeaceWomen Across the Globe. The government had agreed to accept the FARC’s handing over the last prisoners of war they were holding in return for that group’s good offices. (2) The opportunity ended once more with an official denial that political prisoners exist in Colombia.
Judicial handling of persons criminalized under the strategy of “security” and anti-terrorism changed substantially, much to the disadvantage of people being porosecuted. Indeed, a person being investigated for supposed ties with insurgents used to be processed for the political “crime” of rebellion. Beginning with Uribe and then Santos, however, they are now being handled under the logic of anti-terrorist struggle. As a result, members of the social and political organizations who face prosecution are now being blamed for one or more NON – political crimes having to do with terrorist activities. That’s over and above their being judged as rebels. This signifies, primarily, that for persons being prosecuted under this approach, guarantees like due process, legitimate defense, technical defense, and presumption of innocence – among others – amount to very little.
Consequently, we attend audiences of our comrade detainees in specialized courtrooms, not the ordinary ones. In these special sessions, investigations are carried out directed at very serious crimes, thereby removing the allegations from the area of “political crime.” And more: investigation and trial periods end up being extended over a long time and sentences are more onerous.
And as a matter of fact, Colombian justice applies the presumption of guilt, not of innocence. At the start, those involved in such processes are classified as “dangerous for society.” Therefore, having been charged, they know beforehand they are going to prison for a long time and there have to prove their innocence. But inside prison and incarceration establishments, they are treated just like those who have already been convicted. This is contrary to international law dealing with prison populations, which in Colombia is a dead letter. One must not forget, furthermore, that Colombia is one of the countries in the world that most abuses preventative detention. As a result, many people in this situation choose to accept charges against them and thus reduce their time in dark Colombian prisons and not have to wait long years while they prove their innocence.
And as if that were not enough, the institution that, by definition, should keep watch on the state so it fulfills its mandate to guarantee respect for citizens’ fundamental human rights, that is to say, the attorney general, acts in a perverse way. That office has switched over to being an inquisitorial entity that persecutes even public functionaries already absolved through having served their prison terms. Their political rights and rights as citizens are seriously affected.
By way of putting a face on this political tragedy, here are some of the leaders and activist members of social and political organizations who have recently endured judicial processes and are imprisoned: Unionists – Campo Elías Ortiz, Héctor Sánchez, José Dilio, Darío Cárdenas, Huber Ballesteros; From the Patriotic March social and political movement - Wilmar Madroñero; Professors - Francisco Tolosa, Carlo Alexander Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, Fredy Julián Cortés, William Javier Díaz; Students – Erika Rodríguez, Xiomara Alejandra Torres Jiménez, Jaime Alexis Bueno, Diego Alejandro Ortega, Cristian Leiva Omar Marín, Carlos Lugo, Jorge Gaitán; Human Rights defenders – David Ravelo Crespo, Liliany Obando.
The number of political prisoners in Colombia – prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war – exceeds 9500. The worst of it is that there is no calm after prison. The trailing, the threats, the stigmatization continue until many of those who are released – if they are lucky – have to leave the country. And many others remain marginalized and no longer part of their previous social and political organizations, which is regrettable. So too is that purpose of the overall strategy which is to weaken social organizations and the political opposition, and dismember them.
Such are the perverse effects of politics in Colombia centering on judicial processes and criminalization of critical thinking, social protest, and political opposition. We are called upon actively to confront politics like these if we want to put a check on such abuse of power.
Silence is no alternative, nor is inaction.
Freedom for Colombian political prisoners!
Long life for butterflies! (3)
1. Julio César Turbay Ayala was the Liberal Party President of Colombia in 1978-1982.
2. The international women’s group facilitated the unilateral freeing of ten soldiers and police by the FARC in 2012 through the women’s promise they would visit political prisoners in Colombian jails.
3. The reference, used in connection with recent conferences and mobilizations in Colombia on behalf of political prisoners, commemorates a movement for freedom for political prisoners that developed in the Dominican Republic in 1959. The expression does honor to the Mirabel sisters there who were jailed and murdered.
Liliany Obando, Political prisoner, under judgment (subjudice) Defender of Human Rights, Colombia, April, 2014.
Thirty Venezuelan military officers of different ranks, including several generals, have been arrested for alleged conspiracy to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, a leading national newspaper has reported.
The information, reported by Ultimas Noticias, was attributed to “high level sources” in Miraflores presidential palace. The majority of those arrested are from the Venezuelan Air Force, however a few officers from the National Guard, Navy and Armed Forces were also arrested.
According to the sources, loyal military figures previously informed the national intelligence service that “something strange” was being planned by a group of officers, and due to this the alleged conspirators had been under observation by authorities for some time.
The UN report adds that a “destablisation attempt” was supposedly planned to occur on 20 March with an air operation and strafing of soldiers, among other incidents, to create “confusion” and “clashes”.
Further, the report alleges that “it has been confirmed” that the group of officers has been in contact “with at least one opposition leader”. There exist rumours that this politician is Julio Borges of the Justice First party, of which former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is leader. According to the rumours, Borges met with a group of 60 military officials, to which those arrested would presumably belong.
Both Borges and Capriles participated in the nationally-broadcast dialogue meeting with the government last Thursday.
Authorities have not yet offered public comment on Ultimas Noticias’ allegations on the arrest of the thirty military officers.
On 25 March Maduro announced that three air force generals had been arrested “for conspiracy” but has not offered further details while the investigation continues. The government has also said that it has information of a plot from within a sector of the opposition to kill protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and blame the act on government supporters in order to provoke a coup attempt.
The Venezuelan armed forces are considered to be generally loyal to the government. The head of the Operational Strategic Command of the Armed Forces, Gen. Vladimir Padrino, said yesterday that a while a campaign was underway to “manipulate” the armed forces (FANB), the troops are committed to their role of upholding the Venezuelan constitution.
Venezuela has experienced a wave of opposition protests, riots and street barricades since early February, after hard-line leaders of the opposition called for resistance to the government in a strategy called “The Exit”.
In a blog post for the New York Review of Books, Daniel Wilkenson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote:
“Supporters of Chávez and Maduro often seek to downplay concerns about press freedoms in Venezuela by pointing to reporting critical of the government in the country’s newspapers. It is true that the government has not targeted the print media as aggressively as television, perhaps because the number of Venezuelans who read newspapers is a small fraction of the number who watch TV.”
In other words, it is very easy to expose the lies spread by HRW, RSF and most of the international media about the state of press freedom in Venezuela by simply monitoring the content of the country’s largest newspapers. Wilkenson must therefore find some way around that inconvenient fact. Anyone who reads Spanish will be immediately shocked by the quantity and vehemence of anti-government tirades that appear. As I’ve explained elsewhere, it is child’s play to find op-eds every day that openly call Maduro a “dictator” or “assassin” or words to that effect.
What about Wilkinson’s suggestion that the numbers of people who read newspapers is too small to matter much to the government? It doesn’t stand up at all. Relative to the Venezuela’s population, the combined daily circulation of its four largest newspapers is about the same as the combined daily circulation of the four largest newspapers in the USA.
Think about that. If an anti-government group in the USA is very well represented in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and the LA Times, how credibly could that group claim that it has been unable to effectively get its views out to the public? And how plausible is it that a group with such a strong presence in the print media would be shut out of the TV media? Common sense should lead anyone to say that it probably isn’t true and that is exactly what very recent studies of the Venezuelan TV media have revealed.
There is no question that some of the ways the Venezuelan government has balanced media coverage since the 2002 coup can be reasonably criticized. However what Wilkenson does in this piece, and what HRW has done relentlessly since it disgraced itself by the way it responded to the 2002 coup, is too use allegations of censorship to completely mislead people about the actual content of the Venezuelan media. As Keane Bhatt recently noted, until HRW closes the revolving door between itself and US elites, nobody should expect much better from them.
On 50th anniversary, Archive posts new Kennedy Tape Transcripts on coup plotting against Brazilian President Joao Goulart
Robert Kennedy characterized Goulart as a “wily politician” who “figures he’s got us by the —.”
Declassified White House records chart genesis of regime change effort in Brazil
Washington, DC – Almost two years before the April 1, 1964, military takeover in Brazil, President Kennedy and his top aides began seriously discussing the option of overthrowing Joao Goulart’s government, according to Presidential tape transcripts posted by the National Security Archive on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’tat. “What kind of liaison do we have with the military?” Kennedy asked top aides in July 1962. In March 1963, he instructed them: “We’ve got to do something about Brazil.”
The tape transcripts advance the historical record on the U.S. role in deposing Goulart — a record which remains incomplete half a century after he fled into exile in Uruguay on April 1, 1964. “The CIA’s clandestine political destabilization operations against Goulart between 1961 and 1964 are the black hole of this history,” according to the Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, who called on the Obama administration to declassify the still secret intelligence files on Brazil from both the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.
Revelations on the secret U.S. role in Brazil emerged in the mid 1970s, when the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library began declassifying Joint Chiefs of Staff records on “Operation Brother Sam” — President Johnson’s authorization for the U.S. military to covertly and overtly supply arms, ammunition, gasoline and, if needed, combat troops if the military’s effort to overthrow Goulart met with strong resistance. On the 40th anniversary of the coup, the National Security Archive posted audio files of Johnson giving the green light for military operations to secure the success of the coup once it started.
“I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do,” President Johnson instructed his aides regarding U.S. support for a coup as the Brazilian military moved against Goulart on March 31, 1964.
But Johnson inherited his anti-Goulart, pro-coup policy from his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. Over the last decade, declassified NSC records and recently transcribed White House tapes have revealed the evolution of Kennedy’s decision to create a coup climate and, when conditions permitted, overthrow Goulart if he did not yield to Washington’s demand that he stop “playing” with what Kennedy called “ultra-radical anti-Americans” in Brazil’s government. During White House meetings on July 30, 1962, and on March 8 and 0ctober 7, 1963, Kennedy’s secret Oval Office taping system recorded the attitude and arguments of the highest U.S. officials as they strategized how to force Goulart to either purge leftists in his government and alter his nationalist economic and foreign policies or be forced out by a U.S.-backed putsch.
Indeed, the very first Oval Office meeting that Kennedy secretly taped, on July 30, 1962, addressed the situation in Brazil. “I think one of our important jobs is to strengthen the spine of the military,” U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon told the President and his advisor, Richard Goodwin. “To make clear, discreetly, that we are not necessarily hostile to any kind of military action whatsoever if it’s clear that the reason for the military action is… [Goulart's] giving the country away to the…,” “Communists,” as the president finished his sentence. During this pivotal meeting, the President and his men decided to upgrade contacts with the Brazilian military by bringing in a new US military attaché-Lt. Col. Vernon Walters who eventually became the key covert actor in the preparations for the coup. “We may very well want them [the Brazilian military] to take over at the end of the year,” Goodwin suggested, “if they can.” (Document 1)
By the end of 1962, the Kennedy administration had indeed determined that a coup would advance U.S. interests if the Brazilian military could be mobilized to move. The Kennedy White House was particularly upset about Goulart’s independent foreign policy positions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although Goulart had assisted Washington’s efforts to avoid nuclear Armageddon by acting as a back channel intermediary between Kennedy and Castro — a top secret initiative uncovered by George Washington University historian James G. Hershberg — Goulart was deemed insufficiently supportive of U.S. efforts to ostracize Cuba at the Organization of American States. On December 13, Kennedy told former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek that the situation in Brazil “worried him more than that in Cuba.”
On December 11, 1962, the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) of the National Security Council met to evaluate three policy alternatives on Brazil: A. “do nothing and allow the present drift to continue; B. collaborate with Brazilian elements hostile to Goulart with a view to bringing about his overthrow; C. seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.” [link to document 2] Option C was deemed “the only feasible present approach” because opponents of Goulart lacked the “capacity and will to overthrow” him and Washington did not have “a near future U.S. capability to stimulate [a coup] operation successfully.” Fomenting a coup, however “must be kept under active and continuous consideration,” the NSC options paper recommended.
Acting on these recommendations, President Kennedy dispatched a special envoy — his brother Robert — to issue a face-to-face de facto ultimatum to Goulart. Robert Kennedy met with Goulart at the Palacio do Alvarada in Brazilia on December 17, 1962. During the three-hour meeting, RFK advised Goulart that the U.S. had “the gravest doubts” about positive future relations with Brazil, given the “signs of Communist or extreme left-wing nationalists infiltration into civilian government positions,” and the opposition to “American policies and interests as a regular rule.” As Goulart issued a lengthy defense of his policies, Kennedy passed a note to Ambassador Gordon stating: “We seem to be getting no place.” The attorney general would later say that he came away from the meeting convinced that Goulart was “a Brazilian Jimmy Hoffa.”
Kennedy and his top aides met once again on March 7, 1963, to decide how to handle the pending visit of the Brazilian finance minister, Santiago Dantas. In preparation for the meeting, Ambassador Gordon submitted a long memo to the president recommending that if it proved impossible to convince Goulart to modify his leftist positions, the U.S. work “to prepare the most promising possible environment for his replacement by a more desirable regime.” (Document 5) The tape of this meeting (partially transcribed here for the first time by James Hershberg) focused on Goulart’s continuing leftward drift. Robert Kennedy urged the President to be more forceful toward Goulart: He wanted his brother to make it plain “that this is something that’s very serious with us, we’re not fooling around about it, we’re giving him some time to make these changes but we can’t continue this forever.” The Brazilian leader,” he continued, “struck me as the kind of wily politician who’s not the smartest man in the world … he figures that he’s got us by the—and that he can play it both ways, that he can make the little changes, he can make the arrangements with IT&T and then we give him some money and he doesn’t have to really go too far.” He exhorted the president to “personally” clarify to Goulart that he “can’t have the communists and put them in important positions and make speeches criticizing the United States and at the same time get 225-50 million dollars from the United States. He can’t have it both ways.”
As the CIA continued to report on various plots against Goulart in Brazil, the economic and political situation deteriorated. When Kennedy convened his aides again on October 7, he wondered aloud if the U.S. would need to overtly depose Goulart: “Do you see a situation where we might be—find it desirable to intervene militarily ourselves?” The tape of the October 7 meeting — a small part of which was recently publicized by Brazilian journalist Elio Gaspari, but now transcribed at far greater length here by Hershberg — contains a detailed discussion of various scenarios in which Goulart would be forced to leave. Ambassador Gordon urged the president to prepare contingency plans for providing ammunition or fuel to pro-U.S. factions of the military if fighting broke out. “I would not want us to close our minds to the possibility of some kind of discreet intervention,” Gordon told President Kennedy, “which would help see the right side win.”
Under Gordon’s supervision, over the next few weeks the U.S. embassy in Brazil prepared a set of contingency plans with what a transmission memorandum, dated November 22, 1963, described as “a heavy emphasis on armed intervention.” Assassinated in Dallas on that very day, President Kennedy would never have the opportunity to evaluate, let alone implement, these options.
But in mid-March 1964, when Goulart’s efforts to bolster his political powers in Brazil alienated his top generals, the Johnson administration moved quickly to support and exploit their discontent-and be in the position to assure their success. “The shape of the problem,” National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy told a meeting of high-level officials three days before the coup, “is such that we should not be worrying that the [Brazilian] military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react.”
“We don’t want to watch Brazil dribble down the drain,” the CIA, White House and State Department officials determined, according to the Top Secret meeting summary, “while we stand around waiting for the [next] election.”
Document 1: White House, Transcript of Meeting between President Kennedy, Ambassador Lincoln Gordon and Richard Goodwin, July 30, 1962. (Published in The Presidential Recordings of John F. Kennedy, The Great Crises, Volume One (W.W. Norton), edited by Timothy Naftali, October 2001.)
The very first Oval Office meeting ever secretly taped by President Kennedy took place on July 30, 1962 and addressed the situation in Brazil and what to do about its populist president, Joao Goulart. The recording — it was transcribed and published in book The Presidential Recordings of John F. Kennedy, The Great Crises, Volume One — captures a discussion between the President, top Latin America aide Richard Goodwin and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon about beginning to set the stage for a future military coup in Brazil. The President and his men make a pivotal decision to appoint a new U.S. military attaché to become a liaison with the Brazilian military, and Lt. Col. Vernon Walters is identified. Walters later becomes the key covert player in the U.S. support for the coup. “We may very well want them [the Brazilian military] to take over at the end of the year,” Goodwin suggests, “if they can.”
Document 2: NSC, Memorandum, “U.S. Short-Term policy Toward Brazil,” Secret, December 11, 1962
In preparation for a meeting of the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) of the National Security Council, the NSC drafted an options paper with three policy alternatives on Brazil: A. “do nothing and allow the present drift to continue; B. collaborate with Brazilian elements hostile to Goulart with a view to bringing about his overthrow; C. seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.” Option C was deemed “the only feasible present approach” because opponents of Goulart lacked the “capacity and will to overthrow” him and Washington did not have “a near future U.S. capability to stimulate [a coup] operation successfully.” Fomenting a coup, however “must be kept under active and continuous consideration,” the NSC options paper recommended. If Goulart continued to move leftward, “the United States should be ready to shift rapidly and effectively to…collaboration with friendly democratic elements, including the great majority of military officer corps, to unseat President Goulart.”
Document 3: NSC, “Minutes of the National Security Council Executive Committee Meeting, Meeting No. 35,” Secret, December 11, 1962
The minutes of the EXCOMM meeting record that President Kennedy accepted the recommendation that U.S. policy “seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.”
Document 4: U.S. Embassy, Rio de Janeiro, Airgram A-710, “Minutes of Conversation between Brazilian President Joao Goulart and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Brasilia, 17 December 1962,” December 19, 1962
In line with JFK’s decision at the Excom meeting on December 11 to have “representative sent specially” to talk to Goulart, the president’s brother made a hastily-prepared journey to “confront” the Brazilian leader over the issues that had increasingly concerned and irritated Washington-from his chaotic management of Brazil’s economy and expropriation of U.S. corporations such as IT&T, to his lukewarm support during the Cuban missile crisis and flirtation with the Soviet bloc to, most alarming, his allegedly excessive toleration of far left and even communist elements in the government, military, society, and even his inner circle. Accompanied by US ambassador Lincoln Gordon, RFK met for more than three hours with Goulart in the new inland capital of Brasília at the modernistic lakeside presidential residence, the Palácio do Alvorada. A 17-page memorandum of conversation, drafted by Amb. Gordon, recorded the Attorney General presenting his list of complaints: the “many signs of Communist or extreme left-wing nationalists infiltration” into civilian government, military, trade union, and student group leaderships, and Goulart’s personal failure to take a public stand against the “violently anti-American” statements emanating from “influential Brazilians” both in and out of his government, or to embrace Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Turning to economic issues, he said his brother was “very deeply worried at the deterioration” in recent months, from rampant inflation to the disappearance of reserves, and called on Goulart to get his “economic and financial house in order.” Surmounting these obstacles to progress, RFK stressed, could mark a “turning point in relations between Brazil and the U.S. and in the whole future of Latin America and of the free world.” When Goulart defended his policies, Kennedy scribbled a note to Ambassador Gordon: “We seem to be getting no place.” JFK’s emissary voiced his fear “that President Goulart had not fully understood the nature of President Kennedy’s concern about the present situation and prospects.”
Document 5: Department of State, Memorandum to Mr. McGeorge Bundy, “Political Considerations Affecting U.S. Assistance to Brazil,” Secret, March 7, 1963
In preparation for another key Oval office meeting on Brazil, the Department of State transmitted two briefing papers, including a memo to the president from Amb. Gordon titled “Brazilian Political Developments and U.S. Assistance.” The latter briefing paper (attached to the first document) was intended to assist the President in deciding how to handle the visit of Brazilian Finance Minister San Tiago Dantas to Washington. Gordon cited continuing problems with Goulart’s “equivocal, with neutralist overtones” foreign policy, and the “communist and other extreme nationalist, far left wing, and anti-American infiltration in important civilian and military posts with the government.”
Document 6: Excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s conversation regarding Brazil with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon on Friday March 8, 1963 (Meeting 77.1, President’s Office Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston)
On March 8, 1963, a few days before Dantas’ arrived, JFK reviewed the state of US-Brazilian relations with his top advisors, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, his ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, and his brother Robert. Unofficially transcribed here by James G. Hershberg (with assistance from Marc Selverstone and David Coleman) this is apparently the first time that it has been published since the tape recording was released more than a decade ago by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. As the comments by Rusk, Gordon, and RFK make clear, deep dissatisfaction with Goulart persisted. “Brazil is a country that we can’t possibly turn away from,” Secretary of State Rusk told the president. “Whatever happens there is going to be of decisive importance to the hemisphere.” Rusk frankly acknowledged that the situation wasn’t yet so bad as to justify Goulart’s overthrow to “all the non-communists or non-totalitarian Brazilians,” nor to justify a “clear break” between Washington and Rio that would be understood throughout the hemisphere. Instead, the strategy for the time being was to continue cooperation with Goulart’s government while raising pressure on him to improve his behavior, particularly his tolerance of far-leftist, anti-United States, and even communist associates-to, in JFK’s words, “string out” aid in order to “put the screws” on him. The president’s brother, in particular, clearly did not feel that Goulart had followed through since their meeting a few months earlier on his vows to put a lid on anti-U.S. expressions or make personnel changes to remove some of the most egregiously leftist figures in his administration. Goulart, stated RFK, “struck me as the kind of wily politician who’s not the smartest man in the world but very sensitive to this [domestic political] area, that he figures that he’s got us by the—and that he can play it both ways, that he can make the little changes…and then we give him some money and he doesn’t have to really go too far.”
Document 7: CIA, Current Intelligence Memorandum, “Plotting Against Goulart,” Secret, March 8, 1963
For more than two years before the April 1, 1964 coup, the CIA transmitted intelligence reports on various coup plots. The plot, described in this memo as “the best-developed plan,” is being considered by former minister of war, Marshal Odylio Denys. In a clear articulation of U.S. concerns about the need for a successful coup, the CIA warned that “a premature coup effort by the Brazilian military would be likely to bring a strong reaction from Goulart and the cashiering of those officers who are most friendly to the United States.”
Document 8: State Department, Latin American Policy Committee, “Approved Short-Term Policy in Brazil,” Secret, October 3, 1963
In early October, the State Department’s Latin America Policy Committee approved a “short term” draft policy statement on Brazil for consideration by President Kennedy and the National Security Council. Compared to the review in March, the situation has deteriorated drastically, according to Washington’s point of view, in large measure due to Goulart’s “agitation,” unstable leadership, and increasing reliance on leftist forces. In its reading of the current and prospective situation, defining American aims, and recommending possible lines of action for the United States, the statement explicitly considered, albeit somewhat ambiguously, the U.S. attitude toward a possible coup to topple Goulart. “Barring clear indications of serious likelihood of a political takeover by elements subservient to and supported by a foreign government, it would be against U.S. policy to intervene directly or indirectly in support of any move to overthrow the Goulart regime. In the event of a threatened foreign-government-affiliated political takeover, consideration of courses of action would be directed more broadly but directly to the threatened takeover, rather than against Goulart (though some action against the latter might result).” Kennedy and his top aides met four days later to consider policy options and strategies–among them U.S. military intervention in Brazil.
Document 9: Excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s conversation regarding Brazil with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon on Monday, October 7, 1963 (tape 114/A50, President’s Office Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston)
“Do you see a situation where we might be-find it desirable to intervene militarily ourselves?” John F. Kennedy’s question to his ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, reflected the growing concerns that a coup attempt against Goulart might need U.S. support to succeed, especially if it triggered an outbreak of fighting or even civil war. This tape, parts of which were recently publicized by Brazilian journalist Elio Gaspari, has been significantly transcribed by James G. Hershberg (with assistance from Marc Selverstone) and published here for the first time. It captured JFK, Gordon, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and other top officials concluding that the prospect of an impending move to terminate Goulart’s stay in office (long before his term was supposed to come to an end more than two years later) required an acceleration of serious U.S. military contingency planning as well as intense efforts to ascertain the balance between military forces hostile and friendly to the current government. In his lengthy analysis of the situation, Gordon — who put the odds at 50-50 that Goulart would be gone, one way or another, by early 1964 — outlined alternative scenarios for future developments, ranging from Goulart’s peaceful early departure (“a very good thing for both Brazil and Brazilian-American relations”), perhaps eased out by military pressure, to a possible sharp Goulart move to the left, which could trigger a violent struggle to determine who would rule the country. Should a military coup seize power, Gordon clearly did not want U.S. squeamishness about constitutional or democratic niceties to preclude supporting Goulart’s successors: “Do we suspend diplomatic relations, economic relations, aid, do we withdraw aid missions, and all this kind of thing — or do we somehow find a way of doing what we ought to do, which is to welcome this?” And should the outcome of the attempt to oust Goulart lead to a battle between military factions, Gordon urged study of military measures (such as providing fuel or ammunition, if requested) that Washington could take to assure a favorable outcome: “I would not want us to close our minds to the possibility of some kind of discreet intervention in such a case, which would help see the right side win.” On the tape, McNamara suggests, and JFK approves, accelerated work on contingency planning (“can we get it really pushed ahead?”). Even as U.S. officials in Brazil intensified their encouragement of anti-communist military figures, Kennedy cautioned that they should not burn their bridges with Goulart, which might give him an excuse to rally nationalist support behind an anti-Washington swerve to the left: Washington needed to continue “applying the screws on the [economic] aid” to Brazil, but “with some sensitivity.”
Document 10: State Department, Memorandum, “Embassy Contingency Plan,” Top Secret, November 22, 1963
Dated on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, this cover memo describes a new contingency plan from the U.S. Embassy in Brazil that places “heavy emphasis on U.S. armed intervention.” The actual plan has not been declassified.
Document 11: NSC, Memcon, “Brazil,” Top Secret, March 28, 1964
As the military prepared to move against Goulart, top CIA, NSC and State Department officials met to discuss how to support them. They evaluated a proposal, transmitted by Ambassador Gordon the previous day, calling for covert delivery of armaments and gasoline, as well as the positioning of a naval task force off the coast of Brazil. At this point, U.S. officials were not sure if or when the coup would take place, but made clear their interest in its success. “The shape of the problem,” according to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, “is such that we should not be worrying that the military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react.”
Document 12: U.S. Embassy, Brazil, Memo from Ambassador Gordon, Top Secret, March 29, 1964
Gordon transmitted a message for top national security officials justifying his requests for pre-positioning armaments that could be used by “para-military units” and calling for a “contingency commitment to overt military intervention” in Brazil. If the U.S. failed to act, Gordon warned, there was a “real danger of the defeat of democratic resistance and communization of Brazil.”
Document 13: Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cable, [Military attaché Vernon Walters Report on Coup Preparations], Secret, March 30, 1964
U.S. Army attaché Vernon Walters meets with the leading coup plotters and reports on their plans. “It had been decided to take action this week on a signal to be issued later.” Walters reported that he “expects to be aware beforehand of go signal and will report in consequence.”
Document 14 (mp3): White House Audio Tape, President Lyndon B. Johnson discussing the impending coup in Brazil with Undersecretary of State George Ball, March 31, 1964.
Document 15: White House, Memorandum, “Brazil,” Secret, April 1, 1964
As of 3:30 on April 1st, Ambassador Gordon reports that the coup is “95% over.” U.S. contingency planning for overt and covert supplies to the military were not necessary. General Castello Branco “has told us he doesn’t need our help. There was however no information about where Goulart had fled to after the army moved in on the palace.
Document 16: Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Cable, “Departure of Goulart from Porto Alegre for Montevideo,” Secret, April 2, 1964
CIA intelligence sources report that deposed president Joao Goulart has fled to Montevideo.
These materials are reproduced from http://www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive.
For more information contact:
James G. Hershberg, 202/302-5718
Peter Kornbluh, 202/374-7281
Ecuador has said it will not deal with the coup-appointed government in Kiev and has called for fair elections. President Rafael Correa declared he would only negotiate with a “legitimate government” that represents the will of the Ukrainian people.
In his weekly address to the Ecuadorian people, Correa explained why Ecuador had abstained from the UN General Assembly vote Thursday that passed a resolution condemning Crimea’s union with Russia.
“We will not fall for a farce, we will only deal with a legitimate government,” said Correa, adding that Ecuador does not recognize the current government that is the product of a coup d’état. To win the support of Ecuador, Ukraine should hold democratic elections and establish a legitimate government chosen by the Ukrainian people, Correa said.
Moscow has also decried the coup-appointed government that came to power in Kiev at the end of February following weeks of bloody protests in the Ukrainian capital’s Independence Square.
“The current government is the product of devious machinations, to put to it mildly, clearly supported by hypocritical rhetoric from the West,” Correa said.
On Crimea’s decision to become a part of Russia and break from Ukraine, he said the region was “historically Russian,” but the Crimean referendum “does not change the constitution.”
With this in mind, Correa explained that Ecuador could not accept the stance of the Ukrainian government – which he described as an extension of the United States – or Moscow’s position until Crimea’s status had been clarified.
Ecuador, along with 58 other nations, abstained from a UN General Assembly vote Thursday that condemned Crimea’s referendum to join Russia as “illegal.” The resolution was supported by 100 nations, while 11 opposed it.
Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe all voted against the resolution.
Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, a General Assembly resolution is not legally binding.
Russia condemned the UN assembly vote as “confrontational” and undermining the referendum and the right to self-determination of the Crimean people. The initiative for Crimea to reunite with Russia came from the Crimean people themselves, not from Moscow, said Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin.
Russia also previously vetoed a Security Council resolution that said the Crimean referendum to join Russia would have “no validity” in an emergency session held the day before Crimea headed to the polls.
On March 16, an overwhelming majority of Crimean residents voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation, in the wake of bloody protests in Kiev that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
Merida – The Venezuelan government has condemned the United States for threatening to impose sanctions, and accused Washington of encouraging “extremist sectors”.
In a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Maduro government accused the US of “meddling in … internal affairs” and “ignoring our democratic process”.
Yesterday, US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson warned that sanctions against Venezuela could become an “important tool” to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to negotiate with opposition parties. However, Maduro has repeatedly called on opposition parties to join peace talks since last month.
Yesterday the head of the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) Ramon Guillermo Aveledo stated he would be prepared for “respectful dialogue”, despite previously boycotting talks. The MUD had issued a series of preconditions on talks, including reductions in crime and scarcity, an international arbiter to oversee negotiations, access to a presidential national broadcast and the release of all opposition supporters, including jailed far right leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Earlier today a Venezuelan court rejected an appeal for Lopez’s release. Lopez was arrested last month, and faces charges related to violent protests. The court stated the appeal for his release as “without merit”.
The opposition figure’s wife, Lilian Tintori described the court’s decision an “injustice”.
However, Maduro has accepted the precondition of an international arbiter, with a Vatican City representative being a possible candidate favoured by opposition groups.
“All the initiatives at dialogue that have emerged in recent months are the result of the will of the national government after conversing with all sectors of society to find solutions to the various problems we face today, while fully respecting our constitutional order,” the Foreign Ministry statement read.
“However, the statements of Ms. Jacobson constitute an incentive for the small extremist sectors, who for weeks have been sowing violence and terror throughout the population, to continue their practices in a way that completely violates the constitution and respect for the rights of all Venezuelans,” the statement read.
Amid recent peaceful opposition protests there has been a wave of anti-government vandalism and political violence, despite recent calls for peace from the government and some opposition parties.
37 people have been killed in relation to violent protests since February, Venezuela’s attorney general Luisa Ortega told state broadcaster VTV today. According to Ortega, eight of the casualties have been members of state security forces. 168 people are also being detained, mostly in relation to vandalism.
The attorney general also stated that 81 investigations into possible human rights abuses are currently being undertaken, including 75 cases of possible maltreatment by security forces.
“We’re going to punish … those who appear to be responsible for such incidents,” Ortega told VTV.
The Venezuelan government also accused the US of “hindering” bilateral relations. Diplomatic ties between the two countries have been frosty since the US backed a short lived coup against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez in 2002. Ambassadors haven’t been exchanged since 2010.
The latest round of diplomatic tit-for-tats has included a decision from the US embassy in Caracas to cease issuing tourist visas to first time applicants.
“[W]e have reiterated on several occasions our desire to resume diplomatic dialogue with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect, but the constant threat of sanctions, the manipulation of the facts and disrespect for our laws and democratic processes are merely hindering the understanding between the two governments,” the Venezuelan government stated.
Last year, the US government was adamant that TPP would be finished by the end of 2013. And yet here we are, well into 2014, with no sign that things are anywhere near completion. That slippage is more than just embarrassing: it could have major implications for the treaty. TPP has dragged on for so long there’s a new President in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and she’s more doubtful than her predecessor about the value of TPP to her country and its people.
Those doubts are starting to make themselves felt. In a recent speech (original in Spanish), Bachelet said that she wanted Chile to regain its role as a promoter of Latin American integration. That would represent a turning away from TPP, which is based on the Pacific Rim, and only includes two
three other countries from Latin America — Mexico , Colombia and Peru. In an interview with El Mercurio, Bachelet’s new Minister for External Relations, Heraldo Muñoz, echoed this policy shift by emphasizing the importance of improving his country’s relations with Brazil and Argentina. He also revealed some of Chile’s new thinking on TPP (original in Spanish):
“In my meeting with [USTR] Michael Froman, I expressed Chile’s position, which is to examine the content of the [TPP] negotiations with care, and to act transparently. We are going to consult with businesses, with civil society, so that these aren’t closed negotiations. In addition, I said to Froman that Chile has sensitive areas where we are not prepared to go beyond the FTA [free trade agreement] with the US. There are areas such as intellectual property, the regulation of state-owned companies, or the Central Bank, which are red lines for us.”
The theme of transparency was picked up in another interview, this time with the new director of Chile’s Department of International Economic Relations, Andrés Rebolledo, which appeared in La Segunda (original in Spanish):
“We received some criticism (for how the [TPP] negotiations were conducted previously) and it appeared to us that there’s an important opening for creating greater transparency with the various stakeholders who are involved and who are interested in the negotiations.”
Rebolledo aims to do this by creating a new advisory group, which will include not just business interests, but also NGOs and other civil society groups:
We will establish a dialog with them and we are going to hand over elements of the negotiations — those which are on the table, and of interest.
For us, as the government, it’s beneficial from the perspective that we will obtain inputs that will help us better conduct the negotiations.
For TPP, whose negotiations have been some of the most secretive ever, with almost no real transparency, the plans of Chile’s new President are not just a breath of fresh air, they are little short of revolutionary.
Brazil’s public prosecutor wants to suspend use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s pervasive herbicide Roundup. A recent study suggested glyphosate may be linked to a fatal kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions worldwide.
The Prosecutor General’s office is also pursuing bans on the herbicide 2,4-D and seven other active herbicide ingredients in addition to glyphosate: methyl parathion, lactofem, phorate, carbofuran, abamectin, tiram, and paraquat, GMWatch reported.
The Prosecutor General of Brazil “seeks to compel the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) to reevaluate the toxicity of eight active ingredients suspected of causing damage to human health and the environment,” according to the prosecutor’s website. “On another front, the agency questions the registration of pesticides containing 2,4-D herbicide, applied to combat broadleaf weeds.”
The two actions have already been filed with Brazil’s justice department.
The prosecutor is also seeking a preliminary injunction that would allow the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply to suspend further registration of the eight ingredients until ANVISA can come to a conclusion.
The country’s National Biosafety Technical Commission has been asked to prohibit large-scale sale of genetically modified seeds resistant to the 2,4-D as ANVISA deliberates.
Last week, Brazil’s Federal Appeals Court ruled to cancel use of Bayer’s Liberty Link genetically-modified maize. Earlier this month, France banned the sale, use, and cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically-modified maize MON 810. New research found insects in the United States are developing a resistance to the genetically-engineered maize.
As for glyphosate, new research suggests it becomes highly toxic to the human kidney once mixed with “hard” water or metals like arsenic and cadmium that often exist naturally in the soil or are added via fertilizer. Hard water contains metals like calcium, magnesium, strontium, and iron, among others. On its own, glyphosate is toxic, but not detrimental enough to eradicate kidney tissue.
The glyphosate molecule was patented as a herbicide by Monsanto in the early 1970s. The company soon brought glyphosate to market under the name “Roundup,” which is now the most commonly used herbicide in the world.
Two weeks ago, Sri Lanka banned glyphosate given the links to an inexplicable kidney disease, Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown etiology, known as CKDu, according to the Center for Public Integrity. CKDu has killed thousands of agricultural workers, many in Sri Lanka and El Salvador.
El Salvador’s legislature approved in September a ban on glyphosate and many other agrochemicals, yet the measure is not yet law.
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim | Correo del Orinoco | March 22, 2014
Venezuelan ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez has accused international organizations of misrepresenting human rights conditions in Venezuela.
“A few NGOs have forged reports against our institution with false information,” Ramirez tweeted on Monday.
Since last month Venezuela has come under renewed criticism from international human rights monitors.
On 21 February, the United States based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Venezuelan security forces of using excessive force, while claiming it couldn’t find evidence of “anti-government protesters carrying firearms or using lethal force against security forces or third parties”.
Since February at least 29 people have been killed amid anti-government demonstrations and opposition violence. Among the dead are security forces and civilians who have been killed by firearms during clashes with the opposition.
The day before the HRW report was released, the brother of a socialist party (PSUV) deputy, Arturo Alexis Martinez was shot dead by a sniper. He was trying to clear an opposition barricade in Lara state when he was killed. On 24 February, motorbike taxi worker Antonio Jose Valbuena was shot by a masked individual in Maracaibo while clearing another opposition barricade. The alleged assailant reportedly demanded Valbuena desist from the attempt to clear the barricade. Since then assailants have shot at least two more civilians trying to clear opposition barricades.
Three national guard soldiers have also been shot dead during clashes with the opposition, including Giovanni Pantoja in Carabobo on 28 February, Acner Isaac Lopez Leon on 6 March in Caracas, Ramzor Bracho in Carabobo on 12 March and Jose Guillen Araque on 17 March.
According to Ramirez, misrepresentations of Venezuela by non-government organizations (NGOs) comes amid an anti-government social media campaign of misinformation.
Since February, photographs have circulated on social media websites including Twitter and Facebook of alleged cases of human rights violations by Venezuelan security forces. However, many of the photographs appear to be taken in countries as diverse as Syria, Chile and Egypt, but with inaccurate captions indicating they were taken in Venezuela.
HRW’s own report is accompanied by a photograph of what is claimed to be “a tank in San Cristobal”. The “tank”, was a statue that had been moved into the middle of the road and vandalized by opposition protesters.
Ramirez accused NGOs of being backed by the US State Department, which has also attacked Venezuela. In a report last month, the department leveled accusations against the Maduro government similar to those issued by HRW, while Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened possible “sanctions”.
Kerry’s comments have since been condemned by the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), along with the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
“The Miami lobby is taking measures to sanction Venezuela, but I tell you, you’ll be going down a road without return,” Maduro stated in response to Kerry.
Under the Presidency of José “Pepe” Mujica, Uruguay has made a number of international headlines in recent years for progressive moves such as legalizing same sex marriage, abortion and marijuana cultivation and trade, as well as withdrawing its troops from Haiti. This week, Mujica offered to welcome detainees from the US’s detention center at its base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The Uruguayan president accepted a proposal from the Obama administration to host the detainees. “They are coming as refugees and there will be a place for them in Uruguay if they want to bring their families,” Mujica explained. “If they want to make their nests and work in Uruguay, they can remain in the country.”
“I was imprisoned for many years and I know how it is,” he said. The left-leaning president is a former revolutionary guerilla who was jailed for 14 years before and during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship. After his release, he ended his guerilla activities and entered politics, becoming the Minister of Agriculture in 2005 under the Tabaré Vázquez administration, and was elected to the presidency in 2010.
Mujica, who has been touted as the “world’s poorest president” due to his frugal lifestyle and the fact that he donates about 90% of his presidential salary to charities and social programs, still lives on a flower farm with his wife outside the capital, and drives a beat up Volkswagen Beetle to work. Earlier this year, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his progressive marijuana legalization program and views against excessive consumerism. His newest move against the human rights abuses of the “war on terror” has put him back in the global spotlight.
Standing Against a Symbol of the “War on Terror”
The detention center at the US base in Guantánamo Bay has long been a symbol of the human rights abuses that have come to define the so-called “war on terror.” After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration began using the facility to detain suspected terrorists. It quickly became notorious as a site of inhumane treatment, torture, and lawlessness; a decade later, many of the detainees have been held without charges or a trial.
Roughly 800 men and boys have been kept in Guantánamo as part of the US’s terror suspect roundup. Now only 154 remain, and the Obama administration, with support from Congress, is trying to make good on its promise to shut the detention center down. As part of those moves, Washington is seeking new countries to host the released detainees.
Uruguay is the first Latin American nation to accept Obama’s offer to welcome former prisoners onto its soil. Since Obama’s election, 38 Guantánamo detainees have been released to their home countries, and 43 have been resettled in 17 other countries. According to Human Rights Watch, the US wants to send detainees to countries that can provide the security the US seeks under the terms of the transfer. Uruguayan press reports that the transfer would likely involve five detainees who would have to stay within Uruguay for at least two years.
While Mujica and the US Ambassador are clear that the plans surrounding the transfer are not finalized, Mujica’s reasons for hosting the men are a sign that Uruguay is taking important steps toward justice against Washington’s long-standing “war on terror.”
For years, countless activists, governments and human rights groups have called for the closure of the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay. Last July, activist Andrés Conteris, who has worked for decades on human rights issues in Latin America,went on a hunger strike for over three months in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.
The strike denounced the inhumane and unlawful treatment of the detainees; numerous cases of physical, psychological, religious and medical torture against prisoners have been widely reported over the years. It is this treatment that President Mujica is standing against in his welcoming of the detainees.
“Given Pepe Mujica’s experience with long-term torture,” Conteris explained to me, referencing Mujica’s own imprisonment, “this gesture offering to resettle Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay not only expresses his country’s commitment to human rights, but it shows a personal connection this president has with those suffering inhuman treatment perpetrated by military forces.”
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.
Mexico City, Mexico – Oil in Mexico is much more than a symbol of national pride. For the past 75 years it has been an enormous source of income for developing Mexico’s infrastructure and improving social welfare. When, on this day in 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated U.S.- and U.K.-owned oil companies, he allowed Mexico to achieve relative independence and modest prosperity. The nationalization of oil saved Mexico from becoming a paralyzed, essentially colonized country like Guatemala, which has a major mining industry that is almost entirely foreign-owned.
Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned company with exclusive access to Mexico’s oil, is one of the most lucrative companies in the world. In 2012 it declared profits of over 900 billion pesos (or $70 billion), earnings comparable to those of American oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron. More importantly, PEMEX has historically distributed its profits among the Mexican population more equitably than any other industry in the country. Sixty percent of Mexico’s spending on social welfare comes from oil income. Among the things this income currently pays for are education, health care and programs to fight extreme poverty. Every Mexican citizen owns PEMEX, and the profits the company generates have made palpable differences in all of our lives.
Lucrative as it is, PEMEX could make and distribute much greater revenues if it were not so corrupt, inefficient and archaic. We have long known of grave problems with the oil industry and union, such as losses in refining and production. (Output has fallen 25 percent since 2004.) If PEMEX isn’t brought up to date in the next few years, there is a serious danger that the company will collapse. But instead of reforming the institution, the current government has exploited PEMEX’s deficiencies under the guise of reform to fiercely promote a very different agenda: the privatization of oil in Mexico.
Far from modernizing PEMEX, eliminating corruption or directing more income to Mexico’s citizens, the so-called energy reform passed by Congress and signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto in December will radically shift the distribution of oil profits from the public to a few private investors. The bill modified Mexico’s constitution to allow private oil companies to compete with PEMEX in every aspect of oil production. Underground oil reserves will still belong to Mexico, but since all profits derived from production will go to corporations, these reforms effectively constitute a privatization. Yet the president never admitted to this underlying agenda in the lead-up to the bill’s passage; his administration has altogether avoided using the word “privatization,” in favor of vague references to “modernization” and “the need for private investment.” This lack of honesty has generated tremendous confusion among the Mexican population, greatly debilitating potential opposition to the bill.
As Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) prepare a new set of bills that will implement the changes to oil laws, a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign of disinformation initiated last year by his administration still saturates the mass media, diverting the debate on “energy reform” by reducing it to obvious questions: Is reform necessary? Is PEMEX efficient? Do we need progress and modernization? As a result, we have skipped over the most pressing and fundamental questions: What should the nature of this reform be? How will profits be distributed? What measures are in place to fight the corruption that causes us to lose so much of our oil income? In order to modernize, do we have to abandon the idea that Mexican oil belongs to the people of Mexico?
The recent history of PEMEX is a story of deliberate sabotage. PEMEX managers have enabled politicians to keep a portion of the company’s profits for decades, laying the groundwork for privatization by making corruption seem like the natural result of a nationalized industry. But the underlying problem has always been and still is political corruption, not a lack of private investment. Consider Romero Deschamps, the leader of PEMEX’s union since 1989, who is accused of stealing an estimated 3 billion pesos’ worth of the union’s assets and of having illegally created secret “private” companies that undertake contract work for PEMEX. In spite of the abundant proof of his guilt, Deschamps is currently a senator for the ruling PRI. Peña Nieto claims that stamping out such criminality is one of the primary objectives of the current “reform,” but his policy for overhauling the industry doesn’t contain a single strategy aimed at fighting corruption.
The majority of the proposed structural changes to PEMEX aren’t even necessary for the task of modernizing Mexico’s oil industry. PEMEX already has access to cutting-edge technologies since private oil companies can operate in Mexico and have been doing so (for example, PEMEX is currently contracting the services of Halliburton and OHL). Whether or not PEMEX should contract private companies is irrelevant; what matters are the terms on which it partners with the private sector. The fact that the Peña Nieto administration is permitting profit-sharing contracts—which have historically been imposed on poor countries, with disastrous results—rather than limiting partnerships to licensing permits that would pave the way for increased efficiency without signing away the democratic ownership of resources, is another clear indicator of the underlying agendas behind the “energy reform.” As former PEMEX director general Adrián Lajous has argued, profit-sharing contracts render private companies unaccountable, leaving the state, its resources and its people vulnerable.
Peña Nieto presents his “reform” as the magic solution to PEMEX’s problems, as if the neoliberal dream of privatization without regulation were synonymous with social justice, economic well-being and democracy. But the facts paint a very different picture. Since neoliberal policies surged in the 1980s and former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed NAFTA into law in 1994, a weakened state, incapable of protecting the environment and the rights of its poorest people, has created the perfect conditions for political and corporate corruption. We live every day with the consequences of Carlos Slim’s acquisition of Telmex, the telecommunications company that Salinas privatized in 1990. Because there is little regulation, prices are high and service is poor, and Slim is now one of the richest men in the world. Another dark legacy of Salinas is his privatization of the banking sector and creation of Fobaproa, an agency intended to prevent banks from going bankrupt. After Mexico’s 1994 economic crisis, the institution of Fobaproa meant that the public paid off banks’ massive debts. High-ranking politicians and businessmen have pocketed extraordinary profits, while everyday people have borne greater economic burdens, with each move to privatize. The result is a spectacular growth in inequality. More than 53 million people in Mexico today—nearly half the country—live in poverty, and 11.5 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the eleven richest men in the country have accumulated roughly 11 percent of the GDP.
We cannot undertake true energy reform in Mexico without first undertaking political reforms that would decisively and effectively tackle corruption. Sadly, because it does nothing to change political structures and curb corruption, the current legislative process is taking us further away from democratic values and constitutes a huge step in the wrong direction. Approved by politicians who never consulted voters, the bill passed in December opens the field for companies that are known the world over for their abusive practices and for co-opting politicians (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, OHL) to operate in Mexico without regulation or restriction. In the words of the historian Lorenzo Meyer Cossío, we are opening the door to “mercenaries.” The Mexican government expects its citizens to place ownership of our hydrocarbons in private hands, without our agreement and in exchange for minimal revenue. But modernization does not require that we give up our resources. Improvement shouldn’t entail changing the basic principle that natural resources belong to us all.
The “energy reform” currently under way is a huge step toward greater inequality, environmental devastation and the loss of economic and political independence for Mexico. It is one example of the neoliberal fantasy of unregulated capitalism that has landed us in our present situation, in which the 85 richest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. We are living through the greatest inequality in the history of humanity and unprecedented ecological destruction. To combat this urgent situation, we need to strengthen fragile regulatory structures by creating independent, democratically owned institutions. By instead dismantling the few supportive social structures left, Peña Nieto’s government is pushing Mexico to a dangerous place. Against a backdrop of extreme poverty and social injustice, the PRI’s “reforms” will, sooner or later, lead to revolt.
Translated by Georgia Phillips-Amos.
This piece was made possible, in part, by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.