As of Dec. 8 the Mexican Senate was set to begin debates on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan for opening up the state-owned oil and electric companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE), to greater participation by foreign and Mexican private companies. Supporters say the “energy reform” will bring needed capital investment and technical expertise to the energy sector, while opponents consider it a disguised plan for privatization, especially of oil production, which President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940) nationalized in 1938.
The legislative proposal–worked out by the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which together hold a majority in the Congress—includes changes to Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution. Article 27 asserts state control over oil, gas and coal and bans the granting of concessions; the proposal would add a qualification that private companies could share in profits, could be paid in cash or barrels of oil and could count their share of oil reserves as assets. Article 28 would no longer define the refining of oil and the generation of electricity as strategic activities. According to opponents, the changes to Article 27 would create de facto concessions and the changes to Article 28 would allow private companies to compete with Pemex and the CFE. Opposition in the Senate is being led by Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Sen. Manuel Bartlett of the small leftist Labor Party (PT). (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/8/13)
Since the beginning of December protesters have organized daily picket lines outside the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to express their opposition to the “reform.” The National Regeneration Movement (Morena), a new center-left party which broke away from the PRD in 2012, is sponsoring the street protests, with support from PRD and PT activists and grassroots groups. The movement suffered a setback in the early morning of Dec. 3 when Morena founder Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) was hospitalized with a heart attack and underwent surgery. A two-time presidential candidate and the head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador was released from the hospital on Dec. 7; his doctors said the patient’s progress was satisfactory but told him to rest at home for four weeks. His son, Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, and Morena president Martí Batres are now leading the protests. (LJ 12/8/13, 12/8/13)
The Congress has nearly completed approval of another set of sweeping constitutional changes. On Dec. 3 the Senate passed a measure that would allow reelection of federal legislators for up to 12 years; currently they cannot stand for reelection after one term–six years for senators and three years for legislative deputies. Presidents would still be limited to one six-year term. The changes would also allow independent candidates to run; now candidates need to be nominated by registered political parties. The measure passed the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 5 with support from the PRI, the PAN and part of the PRD, but the legislation was returned to the Senate to iron out differences between the versions from the two chambers. The PAN has insisted on the electoral changes as a condition for its support of Peña Nieto’s energy program. (Miami Herald 12/4/13 from AP; LJ 12/6/13)
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has highlighted a slowing of progress in poverty reduction in Latin America, citing “rising food costs and weaker economic growth” as contributing factors:
Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean is now easing at a slower pace, the UN’s regional economic body said on Thursday, calling on governments to make policy changes that encourage growth while reducing the huge gap between the rich and poor.
UN economists based in Santiago said about 164 million people, or 28 percent of the region’s population, are still considered poor. That is nearly unchanged from last year. Out of those, 68 million of them are in extreme poverty.
But there are bright spots. ECLAC’s new “Social Panorama of Latin America” report [PDF] notes that Venezuela and Ecuador led the region in decreasing poverty in 2012:
Six of the 11 countries with information available in 2012 recorded falling poverty levels (see table 1). The largest drop was in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where poverty fell by 5.6 percentage points (from 29.5% to 23.9%) and extreme poverty by 2.0 percentage points (from 11.7% to 9.7%). In Ecuador, poverty was down by 3.1 percentage points (from 35.3% to 32.2%) and indigence by 0.9 percentage points (from 13.8% to 12.9%).
This 5.6 percentage point decrease in Venezuela translates into a 19 percent decline in poverty overall last year, which CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted last month “is almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world.”
This dramatic decrease in poverty is likely due to the impact of two new misiones (social programmes), the Gran Misión En Amor Mayor Venezuela and the Gran Misión Hijos de Venezuela, which were, by January 2013, benefitting more than 1,400,000 people.
Both misiones are aimed at assisting people living in extreme poverty: GM En Amor Mayor provides pensions to elderly people, and the GM Hijos de Venezuela provides cash transfers to households with children and pregnant women. The two missions are reaching a significant number of people: as of January 2013, 516,000 elderly people were receiving a monthly pension through GM Amor Mayor. Meanwhile, the program GM Hijos de Venezuela was making monthly payments to 324,000 families, which represents 794,000 individuals.
As well as simply reducing poverty, the GM Hijos de Venezuela reduces gender inequality. 98 percent of the recipients of the program were women, who are in many countries in Latin America overrepresented among the poor. It can be reasonably hypothesized that this high level of targeting is likely to increase the economic independence of women, reducing the frequent economic imperative for women to stay in disadvantageous relationships.
Negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end fifty years of war have been ongoing in Cuba for a year. Agreements on agrarian rights and recently political participation have boosted peace hopes. But whatever the outcome of negotiations, chances for peace rest largely on what happens in cities and regions like Barrancabermeja.
The road there is uphill, as evidenced by the fate of political prisoner David Ravelo and violence directed against Credhos, the Barrancabermeja human rights group Ravelo founded and led. A mainly U.S. solidarity delegation visited with Ravelo in Bogota’s Picota prison in late 2012, and also called at CREDHOS headquarters in Barrancabermeja. The present writer joined that delegation. This communication serves as follow-up to the visit.
Barrancebermeja, population 230,000, is situated on the long, commercialized Magdalena River. Colombia’s largest oil refinery is there, and the region’s history is replete with oil-industry strikes. By 1987 when Credhos (Regional Corporation for Defense of Human Rights) was founded, paramilitaries were on the way to subjecting Barrancabermeja to a reign of terror. David Ravelo and Credhos resisted.
Credhos serves the Magdalena Medio region through “promotion, defense, and protection of human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian law.” It pursues “actions and scenarios for understanding, tolerance, living together, and civilized peace.” Over time killers eliminated nine Credhos activists.
Credhos secretary-general David Ravelo told an interviewer in 2010 that, “There are many murders and forced disappearances in Barrancabermeja and in the Magdalena region. Credhos accompanies victims’ families who are seeking the truth and damages for harm that was done. We demand reparations on their behalf and justice that is their due.”
Credhos’ formation coincided with repression carried out against the newly formed Patriotic Union (UP). That electoral coalition emerged from an agreement between the government and FARC whereby insurgents would give up arms in return for being able to join others in building a left political movement. U. P. activist David Ravelo gained a seat on the Barrancabermeja city council. Then amidst murders, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances, he went to jail for two years on fabricated charges.
Some 20 years later, violence was continuing. Credhos reported that in Barrancabermeja during the first two months of 2013, there were “five murders, three forced disappearances, two people wounded, and 20 death threats.” Blame fell on paramilitaries intent upon “maintaining social and political control of the city’s poor districts and thus sustain drug trafficking, a lucrative business through which they finance their criminal action.” Human rights defenders and members of a women’s political group endured “fear, anguish, intimidation, and instability.” Credhos activists were being tracked and spied upon.
David Ravelo was in prison again. Detained on September 14, 2010, he learned in December, 2012 that he would remain there for 18 years.
During April, assailants killed nine individuals in the city, among them Gilberto Arguello, president of the Board of Community Action. In early May citizen Giovani Polo Gómez was being killed in one barrio at the time Rafael Rodríguez, secretary general of the USO oil workers union, evaded an assault in another.
In November Credhos secretary general Abelardo Sánchez, the target of repeated death threats, came under attack as did Credhos president Ivan Madero Vergel. By hiding upstairs, the latter avoided discovery by a man who forcibly entered his building. As the month ended, guards stymied an attack on Credhos headquarters by three men suspected of being paramilitaries.
Additionally, the Santander Superior Court in October, 2013 rejected David Ravelo’s appeal. Responding, Credhos blamed a “lack of guarantees and weakened due process” Facts lawyer Alirio Uribe presented in Ravelo’s defense confirm that point.
Prosecutors charged Ravelo with complicity in the 1991 murder of a Barrancabermeja city official. At Ravelo’s trial, the prosecution relied upon accusations from two jailed paramilitary chieftains, once active in Barrancabermeja, who gained reduced sentences in return for their testimony. One of them, Mario Jaimes Mejía, testified he had ordered Ravelo’s assassination. The accusers allegedly bribed a corroborating witness. The judge at Ravelo’s trial in early 2012 refused to hear testimony from 30 defense witnesses.
Ravelo’s appeal centered on the criminal behavior of his prosecutor who as a police lieutenant took part in 1991 in the forced disappearance of a man named Guillermo Hurtado. William Pacheco, not yet a prosecutor, spent a year in a military prison for the crime. Colombian law bans criminals from serving as prosecutor. Pacheco entered his resignation early in 2013, but remains on the job.
Reacting to the judicial persecution of one of its leaders and having known chaos and murder in its own city, Credhos has lessons for Colombians as to difficulties in store for them as they try to build peace with social justice. In its analysis of the David Ravelo case, Credhos holds that “at the highest levels of the Colombian state they want to weaken social protest.” And, “there are hundreds of cases in which they have opened criminal investigations for daring to defend and promote human rights as a fundamental principle of a society dedicated to human development and defense of vulnerable communities.” As to the Colombian state: “experience has shown us that [its] strategies are structural and systematic.”
That insight speaks to North Americans who would confront the war-making U.S. state. Colombia of course is not only Latin America’s prime U.S. military ally - host of a network of U. S. military bases – but also is the recipient of military aid funds well known to trickle down to the benefit of paramilitaries and other lawless characters.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
On Monday, the Obama administration called for the immediate release of Jewish-American Alan Phillip Gross from Cuban imprisonment, saying his continued captivity for anti-state activities was “gravely disappointing”.
“Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. It’s gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with internet access,” a US State Department said in a statement.
Allan Gross, earlier, asked President Barack Obama to get involved personally to get him released from Cuban jail. “Havana even agreed to meet US government officials, without any pre-conditions, to discuss possible terms leading to Gross’ release and his return home. But the State Department has rejected any negotiated settlement of Gross case out of hand,” claims Scott Gilbert, Alan Gross’ lawyer.
R.M. Schneiderman, editor and writer for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, wrote in the Foreign Affairs Magazine (December 21, 2012) that the single biggest reason Barack Obama cannot make peace with Cuba – is Alan Gross, a Jewish US citizen serving out a 15-year prison sentence in Havana. Cuban officials claim that Alan Gross was working for the US government and trying to subvert the state while working as a contractor in Cuba.
Tracey Eaton, a Cuban blogger, has claimed that Alan Gross was no contractor but a soldier serving the US government to bring regime change in Havana.
“Gross was a soldier, albeit of a different sort. Instead of the usual M9 pistol, he carried a Samsonite briefcase, plenty of cash and 15 credit cards. In place of a combat uniform and boots, he wore beige Land’s End pants and brown Rockport shoes. He spoke no Spanish, but was an experienced international development worker and had worked in such hotspots as Afghanistan and the Middle East. His weapon was technology. He traveled to Havana in 2009 with satellite communication gear, wireless transmitters, routers, cables and switches – enough to set up Internet connections and Wi-Fi hotspots that the socialist government would not be able to detect or control. He worked for Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland contractor that USAID had hired to carry out a democracy-promotion program,” wrote Eaton.
The so-called Cuba-America Jewish Mission (CAJM) is the main source of information at the US State Department.
The Office of Foreign Assests Control (OFAC) within the US Treasury Department put Cuba on its list of countries allegedly sponsoring terrorism against the United States or Israel (incidently, America’s terrorist allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, etc. are not on the list) in 1982. Adam J. Szubin, a Zionist Jew, is the current director of OFAC. He is son of Rabbi Zvi Henry Szubin.
In September 2013, the UN General Assembly condemned the embargo against Cuba with 188 in favor and the US and Israel against it. Israel is the main culprit in using OFAC to starve countries which it doesn’t like, such as, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Pakistan, etc. Israel fears that lifting of sanctions would trigger an international rush back into some these countries especially Iran and Sudan.
Cuba is home to 15,000 Jews. Before Fidel Castro established communist rule in Cuba in 1959, Cuba was considered very friendly to Jews and Israel under former dictator Fulgencio Batista (died 1973). Batista helped the World Zionist Movement in the airlift of 150,000 Jews from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and India to help European Jewish terrorist groups set-up Jewish settlements on Arab land during 1951-52. Cuban businessman Narciso V. Roselló Otero with Israeli connections sponsored those flights. Later he became President of the new Cuban airline Aerea de Cuba.
Unauthorized demonstrations near the Spanish Parliament could see participants being fined €600,000 ($810,000) under a new Citizen Security bill being introduced by Spain’s ruling rightist Popular Party, local media reported.
Under the legislation, which will likely soon be approved in parliament, “social uproar” leading to harassment or insults of officials is to be made a criminal offense. Masked disorderly conduct could also incur charges. The legislation will likely be drafted by the Cabinet next Friday.
Unsanctioned protests outside political offices will be outlawed, alongside disorderly conduct by people hindering any means of identification, while people offering sexual services in the vicinity of children’s play areas will also be made illegal, according to Spanish newspaper 20minutos.es.
Other offenses deemed serious are to include publishing images or personal data of policemen, interrupting public events, possession of illegal drugs, vandalism of public property and drinking alcohol in the street.
The fines will vary between €1,000 and €30,000 ($1350 – $40,000) for more minor offences. However, just insulting a policeman could see a citizen landed with a €30,000 fine.
“We’re not looking to punish [people] more, just to reduce the discretionary margin for illicit conduct and not stumble into judicial limbo for ‘new’ acts like the escraches,” Spain’s Huffington Post quoted the Interior Ministry as saying.
“Escraches,” a kind of demonstration popular in Spain and Latin America, where protesters lobby outside the homes or offices of officials, have escalated this year, most notably those staged by the Movement of Mortgage Victims. The group lobbied outside politicians’ homes to protest the repossession of homes.
The law will first have to pass through the commission of undersecretaries, then analyzed in the Council of Ministers, followed by a State Council opinion and the General Council of the Judiciary, before being sent back to be discussed as organic law in the courts.
Canada and Honduras inked a bilateral free trade agreement on November 5, amid political repression, increasing militarization, and controversial Canadian investment in the Central American nation.
Ed Fast, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and Honduran Minister of Industry and Commerce Adonis Lavaire signed the deal in Ottawa, less than three weeks before general elections are expected to change the political landscape in Honduras.
“It’s really uncertain what’s going to happen with the elections,” said Karen Spring, a Canadian human rights activist living in Honduras. “It’s a lot less likely for [Canada] to have a government – and the political conditions and the economic conditions – in [Honduras] that would approve the free trade agreement or would allow it to be approved.”
Recent polls show two leading presidential candidates: LIBRE candidate Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted as President in a coup d’état in June 2009 and the ruling National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández, former President of the National Congress who resigned in order to run for office.
The November 24 general elections are expected to mark the end of a longstanding two-party system. Nine political parties are participating, and it is unlikely that any one party will hold a majority of seats in Congress.
“Because of the strong political force of the LIBRE party and its bases, the National Front of Popular Resistance, there’s a really good chance they can either gain a lot of seats in Congress or they can win the presidency,” Spring told Upside Down World. Whether or not LIBRE congressional representatives would pass the free trade agreement or not is uncertain, but the political landscape will undoubtedly change. “I think the Canadian government knows very well that after the elections on November 24, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to pass any free trade agreements,” she added.
Negotiations leading to the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement (FTA) began back in 2001, though they were initially for a deal between Canada and the C4 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. After nearly a decade of multilateral talks and a number of impasses, Canada and Honduras decided to pursue a bilateral agreement in 2010, the year following the coup d’état.
Before it comes into effect, the Canada-Honduras FTA must be approved by both Canadian Parliament and Honduran Congress. Current representatives of the latter will sit until a few days before the new administration assumes power on January 27, 2014.
Canada exported $38 million in goods to Honduras in 2012, and imported $218 million. Top Honduran exports to Canada are agricultural products and apparel, and the leading product Canadian exports to Honduras is fertilizers. Recent government figures on Canadian direct foreign investment are unavailable.
In its official press release announcing the signing of the FTA, the Canadian government focused on the elimination of tariffs and improved access for the export of Canadian pork and beef. However, controversial Canadian mining, sweatshop, and tourism sectors also stand to benefit from investment protection measures contained in Chapter 10 of the bilateral free trade agreement.
“In a country like Honduras, using free trade agreements to open the domestic economy to competition with countries with asymmetrical economies has only attracted transnational companies which operate and implement work systems that exploit Honduran women workers,” wrote the Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH), in a statement in response to the signing of the Canada-Honduras FTA.
The organization is currently dealing with more than 100 textile factory workers who are suffering from work-related injuries and health conditions related to their employment by Gildan Activewear, a Montreal-based clothing manufacturer. The company operates several sewing and manufacturing facilities in northwestern Honduras, as well as others in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Bangladesh. Gildan’s gross profits in 2012 were just shy of $400 million, while net earnings reached $148.5 million.
“Exploitative and enslaving working conditions – such as those which exist in Gildan Activewear headquartered in Canada and promoted by nation states and trade agreements – involve normal work days of an illegal 11 and a half hours, with obligatory overtime, bringing the work week to up to 69 hours,” according to the statement by CODEMUH.
Canadian companies and investors in Honduras have not only come under fire for their treatment of workers, but also for their impacts on communities.
“We have come to see that Canadian tourism has been the most aggressive in Garifuna communities in recent years,” said Miriam Miranda, General Coordinator of OFRANEH, an indigenous Garifuna federation. The lands and traditional territories of the 46 Garifuna communities spread up and down the Caribbean coast of Honduras are prime targets for tourism and real estate development projects. “There’s no respect whatsoever for the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said Miranda.
Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen’s Banana Coast project near the coastal city of Trujillo took off after the 2009 coup. Dubbed the “Porn King” for amassing a fortune from his Canadian porn chain, Jorgenson pressured Rio Negro residents to sell parcels of land they inhabited in order to secure coastal property in Trujillo for the construction of a Panamax cruise ship pier and massive commercial center.
“They used the Law of Forced Expropriation in the case of Trujillo, but it was used to impact Garifuna communities. They never use it to return land to Garifuna communities,” Miranda told Upside Down World. “The last people who refused to sell [their land] were told ‘if you don’t sell, we’ll take your land away.’”
The first phase of the Banana Coast pier was inaugurated in June 2013. Jorgensen has also invested in a mountainside gated community of villas in the traditional territories of the Garifuna communities of Santa Fe, Barrio Cristales and Rio Negro. They’re not the only Canadian projects in the area, said Miranda. There have been incursions by Canadian investors into Garifuna territory in and between the Garifuna communities of Rio Esteban, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Rio Negro and Barrio Cristales, linking a stretch of coast from Rio Esteban to Trujillo. And it’s a phenomenon that’s not limited to the coast.
“All of the territories are kind of on the table right now to see how they can be exploited – not just mining, not just tourism, but anything where public goods, resources can be exploited,” said Miranda. There’s currently an unparalleled exploitation of resources by transnational foreign capital in Honduras, she said, and the post-coup government has gone out of its way to protect foreign investment.
“These days, Canadians – together with the Taiwanese and Chinese – are the ones with the most aggression towards the territories,” said Miranda.
As with many FTAs, the Canada-Honduras agreement is accompanied by parallel agreements on labor and the environment, but Common Frontiers Program Director Raul Burbano and Americas Policy Group Coordinator Stacey Gomez maintain they’re just for show. “The labor and environmental side agreements are mere window dressing given that they are not accompanied by any real enforcement mechanism to ensure they are adhered to,” they wrote in a November 5 Open Letter.
Chapter 10 of FTA itself includes a brief mention of labour, environmental and human rights, but – unlike the investment protection measures – there are no enforcement measures. “Each Party should encourage enterprises operating within its territory, or entreprises [sic] subject to its jurisdiction, to voluntarily incorporate internationally recognized standards of corporate social responsibility in their internal policies,” according to Article 10:16. The full text of the agreement was only made public after it was signed.
While the FTA was signed in Ottawa, the reality on the ground in Honduras remained one of increasing militarization and ongoing repression.
Murders of journalists, lawyers, and Indigenous and campesino people involved in land and resource struggles continue in the country, which has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. People involved with the LIBRE party have also become targets. Rights Action’s Spring has been researching pre-electoral political violence and compiled a list of murders and armed attacks on political party-affiliated candidates, campaigners, and activists between May 2012 and October 19, 2013.
“The list shows that the LIBRE party has suffered more armed attacks and killings in the last year and a half than all other eight political parties combined,” said Spring. “Those are just armed attacks and killings. That doesn’t include political persecution, death threats, disappearances, and then killings and armed attacks of people that aren’t part of the political campaigning process but that are really important in the social movement.”
Militarization has increased hand-in-hand with repression since the 2009 coup. Not only are soldiers patrolling the streets alongside the national police force, but a new military police force hit the streets in October 2013. Legal challenges to the constitutionality of the new security force, operating directly under military command, are currently underway. In response, on November 6 the National Party’s presidential candidate Hernández introduced a proposal to Congress to reform Article 274 of the Constitution in order to grant constitutional standing to the military police force. This has become a cornerstone of his electoral campaign.
The controversy surrounding the military police has been subject to recent media coverage in Honduras, but the involvement of mining companies and other private sector corporations in financing public security forces no longer makes headlines. The General Mining and Hydrocarbons Law ratified in January 2013, after a review by advisors paid by the Canadian government, includes as part of its royalty regime a two percent payment to the Security Tax (Tasa de Seguridad) fund. The fund is helping to finance the increasing militarization of Honduran streets.
Who will win the November 24 elections is uncertain at this point. But no matter which political party comes out on top, if the Honduran Congress passes the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement into law, it will be a win for Canadian companies.
Sandra Cuffe is a vagabond freelance journalist currently based in Honduras.
On Saturday, October 16, US Congressmen Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) from the House’s Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry using vague, fear-mongering rhetoric to delegitimize a potential left-wing victory in the upcoming presidential elections in Honduras and El Salvador, where the left candidates are leading in the polls. Explicitly denigrating two of the three leading Salvadoran candidates, Salmon and Sires exposed themselves as mouthpieces for the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, which has mounted an escalating smear campaign against its opposition in both El Salvador and the US.
In the letter—which was then republished in El Salvador—the congressional duo question the “democratic credentials” of both Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya ousted in the 2009 US-backed coup d’état, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the leftist candidate for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, accusing them of being allies of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. The congressmen also call out Salvadoran right-wing UNITY coalition candidate Tony Saca as corrupt, clearly demonstrating their preference for ARENA—the only other leading party in the race. In a particularly troubling gesture, they call for “heightened security to ensure that all candidates abide by the democratic rules of the game,” and tacitly request greater participation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI)— US institutions notorious for undermining democratic elections in the region.
This is not the duo’s first effort to intervene in the democratic process in El Salvador. In April, Salmon and Sires published a letter implying—falsely—that $300 million in US development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation was at risk because the US-backed Public-Private Partnership Law had not yet been approved by the Salvadoran legislature. Now, in questioning the democratic legitimacy of both Xiomara Castro and Sánchez Cerén, Sires and Salmon are setting the stage to delegitimize any leftist electoral victory from the US, and throwing their weight behind the ARENA party in El Salvador.
This is the same tactic recently employed by ultra-conservative lobbyist Otto Reich in his public comments against the FMLN, and was promptly followed by the November 4 publication of an article in the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald interviewing several ARENA party leaders claiming that Saca had made an agreement with the FMLN to divide the right-wing and bring socialism to El Salvador. The stakes are high in the upcoming presidential elections in Honduras and El Salvador, and ARENA and its allies are hard at work prevent any electoral outcome that conflicts with their vast economic interests in the region.
… The electoral contest takes place in the context of a Salvadoran social movement to end the impunity of war criminals who have thus far escaped justice due to a 1993 amnesty law whose constitutionality is now under examination by the Supreme Court of El Salvador. The issue has become especially intense since October 1, 2013, when the Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador shut down the most important human rights archives in the country, Tutela Legal, and dismissed the employees, placing the very documents that would be used in war crimes tribunals at risk of being compromised.  These actions have provoked international solidarity with the thousands of Salvadorans, including those in the Salvadoran diaspora, who are at work recuperating the historical memory of the country and seeking justice for the more than 70,000 citizens killed during the war as well as the survivors of torture and other war crimes. …
The revelations leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA committed acts of espionage against top Mexican officials and the president himself have so far provoked only mild indignation from the Mexican political class. Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade appeared to be reassured by President Obama’s ‘word’ that he would launch an investigation into the workings of the U.S. government. Notwithstanding the incongruity that any government investigating its own internal wrongdoing would have any interest in publicizing conclusive evidence of its own criminal activity, President Peña Nieto has been reluctant to push the Obama administration further on the issue, presumably for fear of undermining Mexico’s position as a staunch U.S. economic and political ally.
Ex-president Vicente Fox, meanwhile, enthusiastically endorsed U.S. spying on Mexican politicians, claiming he knew the U.S. spied on him while he was president. Indeed, Fox took comfort in the fact that the world’s superpower monitored his every move and his phone calls, evoking the ominous adage reminiscent of all authoritarian political institutions: one has nothing to be concerned about so long as one has nothing to hide and done nothing wrong. “Everyone will do better if they think they’re being spied on,” he noted, at once reinforcing the dubious entitlement of the U.S. government to act as the world’s police force while simultaneously apologizing for the illegal activities of the NSA. Mr. Fox seems unable to comprehend the basic moral and legal truism that merely because many are involved in committing criminal activities, the moral and legal implications do not simply vanish into thin air. A reasonable observer might instead conclude that the greater the number of international government institutions that are involved in criminal activity, the more serious the problem, not the reverse. “It’s nothing new that there’s espionage in every government in the world, including Mexico’s,” Fox observed. Flummoxed as to why Snowden’s revelations have provoked outrage among the Mexican populace and investigative journalists (if not in government itself), he declared, “I don’t understand the scandal.”
One document obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University details Janet Napolitano’s (then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) official meeting with President Peña Nieto in July 2013. According to Napolitano’s briefing, avoiding discussion of NSA spying on the upper echelons appears to be a Mexican, not solely U.S., initiative. The Mexicans, the document claims, wanted to ‘put to bed’ the issue of NSA intrusions. Indeed, nowhere in the summary of their meeting does the issue arise. Instead, discussions focus on maintaining and increasing border security in order to protect commercial interests and on reducing the number of undocumented migrants entering the United States.
The listless and at times surreal reaction to NSA surveillance by Mexico’s political class demonstrates their level of craven subordination to their U.S. counterparts. One can only begin to imagine the response of the U.S. political class and media pundits were they to discover that Mexican intelligence had repeatedly intercepted the electronic communications and tapped the phones of the Commander in Chief himself.
The Mexican reaction to NSA snooping on the inner circle of government stands in stark contrast to that of Brazil’s. Snowden’s leaks provoked fury within the government of President Dilma Rousseff. She blasted the NSA tapping of her phone and interception of government communications in a fiery speech clearly aimed at President Obama at the UN General Assembly. She lambasted the NSA for spying on millions of Brazilian citizens, tapping the phones of Brazilian embassies, and spying on the country’s partly state-owned petroleum giant, Petrobras. Interestingly, she remarked that the bulk of NSA spying in Brazil was not designed to thwart potential terrorists or to undermine the activities of transnational criminal organizations, but instead, to further U.S. business interests through both international economic and commercial spying. As a result, Rousseff cancelled her planned diplomatic visit to Washington, called for an international conference on data security, began setting up a protected governmental electronic communications system, and proposed changing underwater cables so that international Brazilian internet traffic would no longer pass through U.S. territory.
Brazil’s position, of course, is a reflection of the changing nature of U.S.-Latin American relations more generally. Brazil, the emerging regional power and now less of a fixture of Uncle Sam’s backyard, can afford to take an increasingly independent stance from Washington. Several countries in the region are integrating with each other politically and economically and establishing firm trade links with China, India, and South Africa—an unprecedented dynamic which has had the effect of undermining U.S. hegemony in the region.
Mexico, however, dependent on the U.S. market for 80% of its exports, is much less able to stand up to the superpower. Indeed, Mexico’s traditional position as a subordinate and reliable ally of its northern neighbor is becoming all the more crucial in maintaining the waning U.S. empire, increasingly defensive and militaristic as it reasserts its influence over the region. With a myriad of uncertainties lying ahead for U.S. power in a region that has witnessed the birth of new left-wing social movements that have had considerable success at the ballot box, it is becoming imperative for the United States to uphold and preserve its political, economic, and military alliances as per Mexico and Colombia. In Mexico, U.S. funding for the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has provided a convenient pretext for heavy militarization throughout the country and a clamping down on political dissent and organized popular movements. Spying and surveillance programs are key to achieving the U.S. objective of continuing and reinforcing a status quo that now sees well over half the population in Mexico living in poverty and unparalleled levels of economic inequality.
As in Brazil, U.S. spying in Mexico seems less to do with the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’—two key rhetorical tenets of U.S. interventionism—and more to do with the realpolitik of ensuring that a pliant and subservient political class, personified by Fox, Calderón, and Peña Nieto, guard the current transnational dynamics—a socio-economic system that rewards the powerful moneyed neoliberal elites on both sides of the border and keeps the poor and marginalized in their place.
There is a further aspect to the Mexican response to NSA spying which warrants scrutiny. Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and its Mexican counterpart, the DFS, shared all manner of material and intelligence on dissidents (Marxists, communists, students, guerrillas, trade unionists, peasant activists, feminists, etc.) who were often incarcerated or liquidated because, as the authoritarian and paternalistic President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz claimed, they were a threat to ‘national security.’
The current partnership between the U.S. and Mexican governments allows for a level of surveillance of which Mexico’s Cold Warriors could only dream. In collaboration with telecommunications giants, the U.S. and Mexican governments provide the wherewithal and funding for large-scale spying on the Mexican citizenry. Indeed, Mexico’s Federal Ministerial Police (PFM) has recently designed a system of total surveillance and increased storage of electronic communications. In a climate in which there exist widening socio-economic disparities, a grave security crisis, and a growing disillusionment with the status quo, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have a shared interest in forestalling the development of a widespread popular political revolt and a potential ‘Mexican Spring.’ Were there any mystery as to why the Mexican response to Snowden’s revelations was so moderate, one would only need to recall Vicente Fox’s unintentionally shrewd observation that all governments have an interest in spying on one another and on their own citizens. The lackluster reaction from Los Pinos to the NSA revelations is reflective of the extent to which Mexican elite politicians acquiesce in the intrusions, largely because they themselves use domestic spying to further their own sectional interests in a country in which, little more than a decade after the ‘transition to democracy,’ the majority of the population are excluded from meaningful political participation.
Peter Watt teaches Latin American Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is co-author of the book, Drug War Mexico. Politics, Violence and Neoliberalism in the New Narcoeconomy (Zed Books 2012).
The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique (“Kiki”) Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed “contra” rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero’s ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero’s marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 60 years in prison for Camarena’s murder.
The new allegations appeared on an Oct. 10 broadcast by the rightwing US-based Fox television network and in an Oct. 12 article published by the left-leaning Mexican weekly Proceso. Both reports were based on interviews with Phil Jordan, an ex-director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC); former DEA agent Héctor Berrellez, who said he directed the investigation of Camarena’s death; and Tosh Plumlee, who worked as a pilot for SETCO, a CIA-linked airline that flew military supplies to the contras. It isn’t clear why Fox chose to air the allegations now, but attention on the Camarena murder increased after a Mexican judge released Caro Quintero from prison on a technicality on Aug. 9 of this year.
According to the Fox and Proceso reports, CIA operatives had infiltrated Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS), many of whose agents provided protection for Caro Quintero’s criminal activities in the 1980s, including the Camarena kidnapping and murder. CIA infiltrators were present when the DEA agent was killed, the reports allege. “I was told by Mexican authorities… that CIA operatives were in there,” Jordan said to Fox News. “Actually conducting the interrogation. Actually taping Kiki.” Ex-DEA agent Berrellez gave Proceso the name of at least one CIA operative he claimed was involved. “Two witnesses identified Félix Ismael Rodríguez,” he said.
The Cuban-born Rodríguez was a long-time US agent who was active in the Bay of Pigs invasion, in the Vietnam war and in the October 1967 execution of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara in Bolivia. In the middle 1980s Rodríguez was in El Salvador working with another Cuban-born agent, Luis Posada Carriles, supplying contra operations [see Update #1185]. According to the Proceso report, Rodríguez introduced the Honduran drug trafficker Juan Matta Ballesteros to the Guadalajara cartel. Matta allegedly used his Colombian connections to supply cocaine to the cartel, with the complicity of the CIA, which received part of the money and used it to supply arms and other military equipment to the contras. The reason for Camarena’s murder, according to Proceso, was that Camarena had “discovered that his own government was collaborating with Mexican narco trafficking in its illicit business.”
The CIA denies the accusations. “[I]t’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his killer,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News on Oct. 10.
A number of sources reported in the 1980s and early 1990s that the contras were funded in part through drug sales with the help or complicity of the CIA. In 1998 CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz told Congress that the CIA “worked with a variety of … assets [and] pilots who ferried supplies to the contras, who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity.” The “CIA had an operational interest” in the contras and “did nothing to stop” the drug trafficking, Hitz said. Mainstream US media generally avoided the subject. In 1996 the Mercury News of San Jose, California, ran a series linking the contras to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, but the paper later repudiated the articles. The reporter, Gary Webb, lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again. He died in December 2004, an apparent suicide [see Update #777]. (Fox News 10/10/13; Proceso 10/12/13; El País (Madrid) 10/15/13)
- NarcoNews: Assassinated DEA Agent Kiki Camarena Fell in a CIA Operation Gone Awry (blacklistednews.com)
The latest analysis of Snowden leaks from the German magazine Der Spiegel is a bombshell for Mexico.
“The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years,” reads the opening line in the Oct. 20 issue.
The article goes on to detail three major programs that together constitute a massive espionage operation against Mexico. No one seems to have been immune from its intrusions, including two presidents.
The presidential computer network was infiltrated since 2010 when Felipe Calderon was still president. The ever-zealous National Security Agency (NSA) was apparently very proud of itself for hacking the private communications of the leader and cabinet members of an allied nation.
In a “top secret” report, its “Tailored Access Operations” division (TAO) crows:
“TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account”, calling it a “lucrative source” to gauge Mexican “political system and internal stability”. The leaked operation was code named “Flatliquid”.
Mexicans first found out that their nation, along with Brazil and other Latin American countries, was a major target back in September, when Brazil’s O Globo published an article by Glenn Greenwald, Roberto Kaz and Jose Casado on tapping Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s phone and other communications. The article noted that the NSA had Mexico in its sights too.
A specially designed NSA program spied on then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto to find out who he was planning to appoint to his cabinet and how he’d handle the volatile drug war—the cornerstone of US policy in Mexico.
That caused a stir and the Peña Nieto administration sent a diplomatic note and demanded a U.S. investigation.
Sunday’s revelations add details to the previous information and show a far vaster and more insidious operation than was first imagined. Text messages from Peña Nieto’s cell phone—85,489 to be exact, according to the Der Speigel-Snowden report– were harvested and organized into data bases, identifying nine close associates for surveillance and analysis.
A third program called “White Tamale” dates back to 2009, when the NSA managed to hack into the emails of high-level officials in the now-defunct Public Security Ministry.
“In the space of a single year, according to the internal documents, this operation produced 260 classified reports that allowed US politicians to conduct successful talks on political issues and to plan international investments.”
The documents note that the spy operation allowed the NSA to gain access to “diplomatic talking points”.
What does this mean? Wouldn’t using ill-begotten private communications in negotiations be something akin to blackmail?
In any case, it seems to have fulfilled its purpose because during the subsequent period U.S. intelligence, military, police and drug enforcement agencies achieved an unprecedented margin to operate in-country, effectively breaking down any remaining resistance to their activities on Mexican soil.
The Der Speigel article states that in spy operations in Mexico, “the drug trade” was given top priority level, while the country’s “political leadership”, “economic stability” and “international investment relations” received number-three priority rankings on a scale of five.
This latter category gives credence to charges from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that the NSA used its apparatus for industrial spying, seeking advantages. Her charges are borne out by documents that show that Brazilian oil company, PETROBRAS, was a target of U.S. espionage. The Mexico revelations were more general but also indicate economic espionage.
The NSA, as reflected in its own documents, seems to have no sense of boundaries—it qualifies its invasions as unqualified “successes”. Der Spiegel quotes another document that reads,
“These TAO accesses into several Mexican government agencies are just the beginning — we intend to go much further against this important target.”
It goes on to state that the divisions responsible for this surveillance are “poised for future successes.”
Mexico’s Muted Response
The response from NSA to questions was predictable,
“We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
So far, no enterprising journalists have asked the Mexican government if it has 85 thousand text messages off of Obama’s phone.
Since September the Mexican government has known it was massively spied on by the United States. After the revelations regarding Peña Nieto’s communications and contacts with US diplomats, Mexico says President Obama agreed to carry out an investigation.
But what exactly does the Mexican government expect of this investigation? No one has questioned the authenticity of the documents. Everyone knows Snowden has them, otherwise why would the U.S. be trying to force his extradition and threatening countries offering asylum. And it seems that asking the U.S. government to investigate NSA be an exercise in futility, especially since the Der Speigel article states explicitly that the programs had presidential authorization.
Not surprisingly, Mexico’s response was widely considered weak.
So far, the response to this latest round of revelations hasn’t shown much more backbone. The foreign relations ministry called the practice “unacceptable, illegitimate and against the law”—and said it would be sending another diplomatic note.
“In a relationship between neighbors and partners, there is no room for the practices alleged to have taken place,” the ministry said.
When Der Speigel asked for a comment from Felipe Calderon, Harvard University, apparently the spokesperson for the beleaguered ex-president since it took him under its ivied wings as a Global Leaders Fellow at the Kennedy School, said it would give him the message.
A senior U.S. State Department official told CNN that the Mexican government reached out about the report, and that the two governments will be discussing it via diplomatic channels.
Peña Nieto has to react now. Brazil is taking specific steps to protect privacy from the long ear of the NSA. Rousseff has been outspoken in its indignation, taking it to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly and cancelling a state visit to Washington.
Mexico’s economic dependence on the United States under NAFTA puts the Peña administration in a tougher bind. Big business will put pressure on Peña to let it slide. The PRI is likely to be seriously annoyed, but it also knows an important part of its power base rests on its relationship with the U.S. government and economic elite, almost a tautology, as shown again in the fact that taxpayer-supported NSA spying was directed at industrial spying to give U.S. companies an edge in bidding, investing and competing.
Whatever the response, the revelations are a blow to a somewhat shaky relationship. Peña Nieto has made it clear it will not allow the same carte-blanche treatment U.S. agencies were given under former president Calderon, but he has also continued security integration and U.S. expansion under the guise of the war on drugs.
Calling into question the terms of the bi-national security relationship should not necessarily be viewed negatively. Demands for a more transparent and less military-oriented relationship between the U.S. and Mexico have been growing. The NSA documents reveal a global security doctrine that has spun dangerously out of control, with what Greenwald calls “the construction of a worldwide, ubiquitous electronic surveillance apparatus” that apparently has no qualms regarding the right to privacy or national sovereignty. Neither the Mexican nor the U.S. Congress has sufficient knowledge of what’s going on to provide reasonable oversight, and the Mexican government apparently has little knowledge of the realm of shadowy U.S. intelligence activity in its own country.
When you add in the private contractors hired under the $2 billion-dollar Merida aid package, it makes for a vast and murky world of post-Cold War conniving.
That can’t be good for diplomacy, or democracy.
Laura Carlsen is director of the Mexico City-based CIP Americas Program.
On August 15, Horacio Cartes, a millionaire, businessman, and alleged drug-trafficker assumed the presidency in Paraguay, leading the Colorado Party back into power after a four-year interruption from its 61-year rule by Fernando Lugo, who was deposed last year in a “parliamentary coup.” Cartes has been investigated by the U.S. government for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to this 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.
Since Cartes started his term eight weeks ago, several announcements have been made regarding Paraguay’s social and economic policy that are worth noting.
Only a week after having taken office, Paraguay’s Congress –in which the Colorado Party has a majority in both houses– granted the president the power to deploy the military within the country to carry out policing activities. Despite opposition from human rights organizations who fear a return to dictatorship-era military operations, three days later Cartes ordered 400 military personnel to areas in which disputes over land tenure are ongoing. On August 28th the military entered an elementary school with demands to interview children on the whereabouts of suspected rebels and arrested several land rights activists and peasant leaders in the area.
The military powers granted to Cartes are especially alarming in a country that spent most of the 20th century either in political turmoil or under brutal dictatorship. The increased militarization of the Cartes regime is occurring in a context of growing discontent over public sector layoffs and privatization plans.
Paraguay lacks an adequate system for collecting taxes and has a hard time financing social spending. With few mechanisms for distributing wealth and increasing what little there is of social services to the population, any gains from high economic growth rates that Paraguay has been experiencing this year and last are likely to benefit mostly the wealthy.
Seventy-seven percent of Paraguay’s land is still owned by 1 percent of the population and poverty reduction has been slower in Paraguay than in other countries in the region. The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and Paraguayan government’s estimates for poverty in 2011 and 2012 have differed, with figures ranging between 32-50 percent, but showing a significant reduction during Fernando Lugo’s unfinished presidency. Cartes claims that his government’s “obsession” will also be to fight poverty and increase social spending.
But a little over 10 days ago Cartes announced a massive layoff of 4,000 government workers. This week he announced that another 15,000 layoffs are expected by December. Cartes says that the government lacks the funds necessary to pay the salaries of all 258,000 government employees. Despite accusations from at least one opposition senator who insists that layoffs are being used to strengthen the power of the Colorado Party, the Cartes government maintains that there is no persecution involved in the layoffs, and that it is implementing a system based on meritocracy. Additionally, according to this Associated Press interview with Treasury Minister Germán Rojas, public workers’ salaries will cease to be adjusted to keep up with inflation.
Cartes’ government has used the argument of budget shortfalls to defend a move toward privatization. A bill introduced in mid-September and currently waiting for approval from congress would open Paraguay up to the privatization of infrastructure services in the transport, electric and sanitation sectors, including the dredging of the Paraguay River; construction of, and tolls for, roads, railroad and electric services. Cartes has framed his bill as a “public-private alliance,” but five of the largest unions in the country and the center-left opposition Frente Guasú insist on the “privatizing” nature of the bill, also criticizing it for granting the executive complete decision-making power over concessions, and the guarantee that losses will be covered by the state, not the company. The first three days of October have been met with protests and roadblocks throughout the country in response to mounting anxieties over privatization and one-time cuts to teacher’s salaries following their month-long strike.
The last eight weeks in Paraguay have stirred up controversies, anxieties and memories of an unpleasant past. While it is impossible to know what the outcomes of Cartes’ policies will be, militarization, massive layoffs, and privatization have often been followed by increased inequality, greater poverty, and major discontent among the populace in other countries where governments have pursued a similar path. It is these types of neoliberal policies that coincided with a collapse in economic growth throughout Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and it is the rejection of these policies that has led to the repeated election of center-left governments in much of Latin America since the end of the ‘90s, (including Paraguay’s own recently-ousted president Fernando Lugo) that gives us some notion about what could be in store for Paraguay’s future.
In Latin America, opposition to military intervention in Syria reflects the wariness of a region long beset with U.S. interventions of its own
As political attention has shifted from a potential U.S. military strike against Syria to a potential agreement on the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arbitrated by Russia, all eyes are on the United States, the Middle East, and key actors in Europe.
But what has been the reaction in other parts of the world?
In Latin America at least, which holds two rotating seats on the UN Security Council, the reaction reflects the wariness of a region long beset with U.S. interventions of its own.
By and large, Latin American nations have opposed a military operation against Damascus. Regional blocs like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have passed resolutions calling for negotiations and a cessation of hostilities.
A leading opponent of the “military option” is Argentina, which along with Guatemala currently represents the region at the Security Council.
Throughout the years of conflict in Syria, Argentina has maintained an anti-intervention and anti-military approach regarding the international community’s involvement. Specifically, the Argentine government has pushed for dialogue between the warring parties within Syria. Hector Timerman, the Argentine minister of foreign affairs, notes that his country has proposed initiatives such as “a weapons embargo, humanitarian assistance, and an emergency meeting of the General Assembly” to address the ongoing violence.
Allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians did not sway Buenos Aires’ stance. In August, Timerman declared that “Argentina will never propose or support a foreign military intervention. The Argentine people will not be complicit in new deaths.” An August communiqué released by his ministry emphasized that “for the Republic of Argentina, the conditions are not present for a foreign military intervention since in spite of the time that has passed and the hundreds of thousands of victims, all the mechanisms established by international law have not been utilized.”
In early September, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon during the G-20 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She reportedly proposed to the UN leader that the chancellors of the 15 member states on the Security Council travel to Syria to see if a ceasefire could be achieved. At the time of this writing, no further development has been reported on this proposal.
Argentina’s opposition to military intervention in Syria fits with its previous history of keeping out of foreign conflicts. Ariel Gonzalez Levaggi, executive director of the Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales (CAEI), a foreign policy think tank in Buenos Aires, explained that “Argentina has a tradition of neutrality that was modified in the 1990s but has continued during the era of Kirchner rule. The Argentine government was against the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Libya, and now Syria.”
It is worth noting that some Syrian expatriates in Argentina occupy positions in governmental offices. The extent to which this Syrian community is influential enough to affect Argentine foreign policy is under debate. In early September around 50 members of the Syrian community in Buenos Aires protested against U.S. military intervention outside the Syrian embassy.
Some Argentine analysts have declared that escalating the war in Syria could have detrimental effects for Argentina, particularly in terms of energy. In a September 7 article published in the Argentine daily La Nación, experts explained that an expanded war could increase the price of oil, which would hurt the South American state’s already dire economy. One analyst explained how, since 2009, Argentine exports to the Arab world have grown by 20 percent, and prolonged warfare could hurt Arab countries’ demand for Argentine exports.
Argentina’s anti-intervention stance is in line with the positions of most other South American governments. At a UNASUR summit in Suriname on August 30, they signed a declaration condemning “external interventions” in Syria and calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. CARICOM’s Secretariat passed a similar resolution in early September, condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria but also urging the international community not to engage in military actions against the Assad regime.
Not all Latin American nations share this view, however. Guatemala, which holds the region’s other Security Council seat, has openly expressed its support for U.S. intervention in Syria. “We clearly and definitely support the decision that the U.S. president has taken so that chemical weapons, which cause mass deaths, will not be utilized again,” said President Otto Perez Molina on September 1. “That is Guatemala’s position.”
It is unsurprising that Guatemala is siding with Washington, as the country’s government has long had close relations with the United States. Guatemala receives significant amounts of aid from Washington ($110 million in 2011 and an estimated $95 million in 2012) and wants to see this kind of assistance continue. Agreeing with Washington’s foreign policy decisions is an easy way for the country’s right-wing government to maintain ties based on security initiatives (like Operación Martillo) and trade (CAFTA).
As a representative on the UNSC, therefore, Argentina has been accurately reflecting the stance against military intervention held by other South American and Caribbean governments. This fits with the country’s drive to forge a regional politics more independent of Washington. Guatemala’s stance, by contrast, harkens back to an earlier era when Washington’s dictates largely set the tone for the hemisphere.
Nevertheless, the final point that needs to be addressed is whether Argentina, or even a united South America and Caribbean, have had any relevance in the decision making process in Washington, Beijing, London, Paris, or Moscow regarding intervention in Syria. The short answer is no.
In Syria, Buenos Aires, Lima, Montevideo, and Kingston have had little influence (or none at all) in what the powers-that-be have decided. While the aversion of Western military strikes on Syria may be considered a relief, the way it was achieved exemplifies how little weight agencies like the United Nations—and particularly the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the Global South in general—continue to have in global security affairs.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Follow Alejandro via Twitter.