The Economist’s Bello column this week has a column entitled “Memory is not history“, which argues that “there are dangers [in South America’s] intellectual fashion for “historical memory”.” It goes on to accuse “the left” of “rewriting history” – in fact, of imposing “memory” over an accurate “history”.
I would argue that the piece contains several important distortions, aside from trying to lump together a region from Colombia down to the Southern Cone.
The historical truth silenced by “memory” is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides.
But it was not. To take the example of Argentina, yes, there were Montoneros and there were incidences of left-wing violence before the 1976 coup. But to suggest that the small leftist group, which was largely destroyed before the military took power, was in any way equivalent to the forces of the State is very far off the mark.
The Economist points out that some human rights groups in Argentina tend to use the figure of 30,000 disappeared and it contrasts this with the nearly 9,000 victims recorded by the CONADEP commission. It is inaccurate and unfair to use the CONADEP list to undermine estimates of the disappeared, and I explained why in detail years ago. See also here for more on the numbers.
None of this mitigates the inexcusable barbarity of Pinochet or of the Argentine junta.
The problem is that it does. You can’t equate State terrorists with their victims, suggest that calculations of the disappeared are deliberately inflated, and then claim that you’re not weakening the accounts of the dictatorships’ crimes.
Memorials are a shorthand, yes. You can’t include the whole complexities of a country’s experiences on a plaque. Memory, in its wider sense, tends to include the testimonies of victims and relatives and it encompasses a whole range of commemorative acts, both formal and informal. Pulling out the memory/history dichotomy and reiterating the dos demonios theory (“each side was as bad as the other”) is a means of obscuring human rights abuses and seeking to paper over the crimes of the past.
When placed in the proper context, recent events in Ukraine emerge as part of a pattern of “silent coups” typical of the era of President Barack Obama in which “regime change” is disguised as “democracy promotion” but actually overturns democratically elected leaders.
The Ukrainian coup unfolded in three stages: the establishment of the justification for the coup, the coup itself, and the exploitation of the coup to move Ukraine into the American sphere. All three stages bear the Obama administration’s fingerprint of looking like democracy even as the democratic will of a population is negated and reversed.
These modern coups are unlike the classic military coups executed by earlier U.S. presidents, such as those that removed Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Allende in Chile in 1973. Nor are they like President George W. Bush’s “regime change” involving overt U.S. invasions. The Ukrainian coup was so disguised as to be unrecognizable as a coup. The Obama-era coups require no tanks and few guns. They usually don the trappings of “pro-democracy” domestic protests.
The first stage establishes the justification for the coup. It pretends to be the expression of the public will through mass democratic expression in the streets. But it actually amplifies the voice of a disaffected and defeated minority. This pattern under President Obama took shape in the streets of Tehran in 2009 after the people of Iran made the mistake of once again choosing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their president – not the choice America wanted, so the choice had to be changed.
Next, the complaints of the U.S.-desired but defeated Hossein Mousavi and his Green Movement were picked up and amplified by the West, claiming that the election had been fraudulent, justifying a popular uprising for “regime change.” Except that the result hadn’t been forced on the people.
Despite frequent promises to furnish evidence and despite frequent opportunities to do so, Mousavi never delivered the case for electoral theft. And, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself pointed out, this was no narrow victory where the rigging of a few votes or even a few hundred thousand votes could steal a victory. “How can they rig eleven million votes?” the Ayatollah asked of an election that got about an 85 percent turnout and saw 40 million people cast ballots.
But it is not just the titanic challenge of moving millions of votes from one side of the electoral ledger to the other. The polls, both before and after the election, continually showed that the votes were always there for Ahmadinejad. Former U.S. national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett have documented that 14 methodologically sound polls — run externally by experienced Canadian and American polling organizations and internally by the University of Tehran — demonstrated the predictability, reasonableness and legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s 62.5 percent vote total.
On election night, the University of Tehran’s polls showed Ahmadinejad vacuuming up 57 percent of the vote. In post-election polls, between 55 percent and 66 percent of voters said they had voted for Ahmadinejad (who had a strong base of support among poorer Iranians and especially among rural voters whose opinions were less noticeable to the Western press).
The Western refusal to recognize the democratically elected Ahmadinejad coupled with the credence and amplification that America gave to the exaggeratedly popular Green Movement created the umbrella under which Mousavi’s movement could take to the streets and attempt the removal of a regime unwanted by Washington.
Such a coup-in-disguise exploits one of the potential troubles with democracy. It is the nature of democracy that the majority of people, not the unanimity of people, get to select the government. Even if a government wins a convincing 62.5 percent of the vote, that leaves a sometimes dissatisfied 37.5 percent of the people to take to the streets.
In a large country like Iran, where 40 million people voted, that translates into 15 million people who can take to the streets. When picked up by a sympathetic Western media, protests by even a fraction of those numbers can create the appearance of a mass social movement that justifies supporting what appears to be a popular demand for a change in regime. A “pro-democracy” social movement is born.
In Iran, a group that could not change the government through the democratic electoral process appeared to make a strong “democratic” case to change the government through social pressure. A mass minority protesting in the streets produced a cry heard more loudly around the world than a silent majority in a secret polling booth. It was still the minority, but – in such cases – “democracy” can be wielded as a weapon against democracy. If you can’t bring about the government you want in the polls, bring it about in the streets.
This Iran experiment of legitimizing a coup by transforming the minority, which failed to democratically change the government at the polls, into a mass movement expressing the “public will” to change the government in the streets fell short of its goal although creating a widespread impression in the West that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was illegitimate.
Other ‘Silent Coup’ Attempts
Four years later, a similar silent coup attempt appeared in the streets of Venezuela. With the death of Hugo Chavez, America saw the opportunity for the first time since 1988 to have a leader elected in Venezuela who did not insist on his country’s autonomy from the U.S. But, to America’s dismay, the people voted to continue the Bolivarian Revolution by electing Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro.
The Western media lens immediately focused not on the election of Maduro and Chavez’s party but on the claims of fraud issued by Maduro’s opponent (and Washington’s choice) Henrique Capriles. Despite Maduro agreeing to an audit of the voting machines, despite Capriles never filing his legal charges, despite 150 electoral monitors from around the world – including the Carter Center – certifying the election as fair and despite recognition by every other country in the world, the U.S. State Department continued not to recognize the Maduro government and continued to call for a recount and review.
When Capriles called his democratically defeated supporters to the streets, the Western media lens, as in Iran four years earlier, focused on and amplified the protests. As with Iran, Washington’s refusal to recognize the elected government and the U.S. legitimization of the protests provided cover to the opposition while it attempted to overturn the election results and overthrow the elected government.
Once again, “democracy promotion” was wielded as a weapon against democracy. Yet, in Venezuela, the experiment failed again, as it may have in Turkey and Brazil where Washington also looked with disfavor on the election outcomes.
In Brazil, Lula da Silva won 61.3 percent of the vote in 2002 and 60.83 percent in 2006. In the most recent election, in 2010, Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, won a majority 56.05 percent of the vote. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, far from declining in popularity, had seen his government’s actions rewarded with increasing voter support: 34 percent in 2002, 46.66 percent in 2007 and 49.83 percent in 2011. Nevertheless, in both countries, the defeated minorities took to the streets to attempt what they could not achieve in the polls.
This silent coup technique would prove more successful in Egypt where the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi would be removed from office not by democracy and the ballot box but, at least in part, by the defeated minority walking out of the polls and into the streets. “Democracy promotion” protests in Cairo and elsewhere set the stage for Morsi’s ouster by the Egyptian military.
The Ukrainian ‘Success’
The first stage of the Ukrainian coup — the establishment of a justification for the coup — fits this same pattern. As Seamus Milne said in the Guardian, the protest in the streets of Ukraine was “played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government.” But, he adds: “it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality.”
Though President Viktor Yanukovych is often portrayed in the Western media as a dictator who was flown in by Russia, the man the protestors were trying to remove on the streets was elected in 2010 by a plurality of 48.9 percent of the people in elections declared fair by international observers.
So this was not a mass “pro-democracy” movement ousting an unelected dictator. As in Iran, Venezuela and Egypt, this was the case of the losers of the last election trying to reverse those results by going into the streets. But, to make the script work, Western governments and media alter the roles and turn the democratically elected president into the undemocratic one and the opposition into the democracy.
Thus, the West cooperated in the de-legitimization of the elected government of Ukraine and the legitimization of a coup. Such a silent coup is made to appear “democratic” by making it look like a heroic “peoples” movement arising spontaneously from the street.
Having legitimized the cause of the coup-makers, the second stage is the silent coup itself. In this stage, the silent coup is disguised as the shuffling of the legal and constitutional workings of a nation’s parliament. Once again, the coup is executed by wielding “democracy” as the chief weapon.
This aspect of the silent coup – making it appear as simply a discontented population leading to a dispute among constitutional institutions – was developed and perfected in Latin America. During Obama’s presidency, it first appeared in Honduras where democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was whisked out of the country in a kidnapping at gunpoint that was dressed up as a constitutional obligation because Zelaya had announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution (since the old one favored the privileged oligarchy).
The political establishment – hostile to Zelaya’s proposal – falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek reelection. The ability to stand for a second term would have been considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya.
The Honduran Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional; the military kidnapped Zelaya; and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president. In other words, it was a coup in constitutional disguise. As American diplomatic cables made clear, the U.S. State Department knew the change in regime was a coup cloaked in the costume of a constitutional act. (Nevertheless, the result of the coup was supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
The second appearance of this coup pattern occurred in Paraguay when the right-wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left-leaning Fernando Lugo in a replay of the parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, a coup was made to look like a constitutional transition.
The right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it. Embassy cables again show that the U.S. was prepared to permit this kind of coup.
The Ukrainian coup is the third incarnation of this pattern of silent coup during the Obama administration. The coup that removed Viktor Yanukovych was disguised to appear as the workings of parliamentary democracy (after street protests in Kiev – supported by U.S. officials – and violent clashes between police and demonstrators created a crisis atmosphere).
With the clashes growing more intense, the parliamentary process that removed the democratically elected leader of Ukraine had three phases. In Act I, after Yanukovych had reached an agreement guaranteed by three European nations to accept reduced powers and to call early elections so he could be voted out of office, government security forces withdrew from the streets leaving public buildings unguarded. That allowed protesters to take control.
In Act II, the opposition made sure that it had the numbers and the strength to take over the parliament by pouncing when, according to the UK Guardian, “many of the MPs for southern and eastern Ukraine were absent from the session. Instead they were at a pre-scheduled congress of regional politicians in Kharkiv” and by intimidating those who remained who were loyal to Yanukovych.
Journalist Robert Parry wrote that neo-Nazi right-wing protesters occupied the government buildings “and forced Yanukovych and many of his allies to flee for their lives.”
In Act III, political parties that held just a minority of the Ukrainian parliament — mostly from the west — dismissed Yanukovych, favorably altered the constitution and formed a new government and began passing new laws often unanimously under intimidation. Parry wrote that “With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws . . . as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene” – a coup in constitutional disguise.
So, what was really a coup was made to look, as in Honduras and Paraguay, like the legitimate democratic actions of the parliament.
Creating a Pretext
The original issue used as a pretext for the coup was Yanukovych’s abandonment of an economic alliance with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia. But polls clearly demonstrate that the numbers on each side of the choice paralleled the numbers in the 2010 election: a nearly even split. So, the side that took over in the streets and in the parliament was the same side that lost in the 2010 election and did not represent a democratic change of the people.
As in Honduras and Paraguay, the silent coup in parliamentary disguise was assisted by the West. The trigger for the coup was consistently presented in the West as Yanukovych simply abandoning the E.U. in favor of Russia. But the West pushed him into a situation that made the crisis inevitable.
According to Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, “it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected President of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, ‘You must choose between Europe and Russia’.” Cohen added that Washington and the E.U. rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of collaboration for the E.U., America and Russia all to help Ukraine without forcing it to choose.
Having said that Yanukovych must choose one or the other, the West then made it impossible for him to choose the West. Robert Parry reported that the E.U. was “demanding substantial economic ‘reforms,’ including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund.” Russia, however, offered $15 billion in loans without such demands.
And in addition to the austerity measures, Cohen added that the E.U. proposal also “included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies.”
In effect, the West forced Yanukovych to choose Russia, thus setting the stage for the violent protests in the street. The U.S. government then protected and nurtured those protests. Both Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland publicly endorsed and supported the protesters’ undemocratic demand for regime change.
Washington then provided cover and legitimacy to the violent movement in the street by condemning not the protesters’ fire bombs and other acts of violence but the police response. And America did more than rhetorically support the protest: it helped finance the disruptions.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to, according to Robert Parry, “promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states.” Allen Weinstein, its original project director, said in 1991 that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the C.I.A.”
Parry reported that the U.S.-government-funded NED listed a staggering 65 projects that it funded inside Ukraine, creating “a shadow political structure of media and activist groups that could be deployed to stir up unrest when the Ukrainian government didn’t act as desired.” (In a September 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post, NED President Carl Gershman had referred to Ukraine as “the biggest prize.”)
In other words, NED money financed projects that helped drive the coup, but there was apparently much more U.S. money than what NED supplied. In December 2013, Victoria Nuland told an audience at the Ukraine Foundation Conference that the U.S. had invested over $5 billion in a “democratic Ukraine.”
But Nuland said more than that. She accidentally revealed the American handwriting on the Ukrainian coup script. In an intercepted phone call that was made public, she was caught plotting who the Americans wanted to be the winner of the regime change. She told the American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, that Arseniy Yatsenyuk was America’s choice to replace Yanukovych (and he did).
Pyatt also refers to the West needing to “midwife this thing,” a metaphorical admission of America’s role in the coup. At one point, Nuland even seems to say that Vice President Joe Biden, himself, would be willing to do the midwifery.
The Third Stage
Having made what was clearly a coup appear to be the legitimate shuffling of parliamentary democracy, the new government was ripe to advance to the third stage: moving Ukraine into the American sphere. Like the silent justification of the coup and the silent coup in constitutional disguise, the moving of Ukraine into the American sphere was a silent takeover: no invasion necessary.
The new government formally asked to ally itself with the patrons who helped place it in power in the first place. On Aug. 29, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk—the very man Victoria Nuland was caught naming as America’s choice to replace Yanukovych – announced that his cabinet had approved a bill putting an end to Ukraine’s non-aligned status that would pave the way for “resumption of Ukraine’s course for NATO membership.” The bill will now be sent on to parliament.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded immediately to Yatsenyuk’s announcement by reminding the world of NATOs 2008 decision that Ukraine would become a member of NATO if it so wanted and added that NATO would “fully respect” Ukraine’s intention to join.
So the silent coup had set the stage for the silent takeover of Ukraine by the West, as Ukraine slides out of Russia’s orbit and into NATO’s, a hostile takeover of a country in democratic disguise.
On its own, the Ukrainian intervention clearly has the markings of a U.S.-backed coup. But, removed from isolation and placed into the context of other coups and attempted coups that have taken place during Obama’s presidency, the Ukrainian coup can be seen to be the culmination of a pattern of coups made to look not like coups but like the admirable exercise of “democracy.”
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.
From Central America to Syria
President Obama plans to increase funding and training of “moderate rebels” in Syria while escalating air strike operations against ISIS in Iraq and into Syria. From Central America in the 80s to Syria today, the US has supported proxy armies in violation of international law.
Syria: Civil War or War of Aggression?
The conflict in Syria has caused staggering destruction and bloodshed.The death toll is approaching 200,000 out of total population of 22 million. Somewhere between 70 and 100 thousand of the dead are Syrian soldiers and militia. The conflict has pitted the Syrian government supported by a majority of the population (documented here and here) against domestic and international fighters, many on salary and actively supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, USA, France and Britain.
While Syria’s President is of Alawi religious background, the Defense Minister is Sunni Muslim and the Foreign Minister is Christian. The majority of soldiers are Sunni. In fact it is a secular country where it’s considered impolite to ask one’s religion. With changes in the Constitution the country is no longer a one party state although the socialist Baath Party is still dominant. Higher education and healthcare are free. While any Syrian can start his or her own business with modest restrictions and taxes, foreign corporations investing in Syria are limited to 49% ownership. Thus the country is not under the thumb of Wall Street or the International Monetary Fund, and you do not see Burger King/Pizza Hut/Bank of America or Bank of London in downtown Damascus. The country has lots of economic and social challenges but compared to other countries in the Arab world is a bastion of secularism and independence from Western domination.
The international opponents are not hidden. They are the active members of the “Friends of Syria” openly dedicated to overthrowing the Damascus government. Some of their plans and actions are public information. After one conference it was publicly recorded that US would provide communications and non-lethal equipment while Saudi Arabia and Qatar would supply and fund the weapons and arms. Meanwhile Turkey has provided logistical support and the base of operations of the external arm and rebel command. At the conferences these foreign powers have also taken it on themselves to decide who is the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. The assertion that the US has not supported the rebels is false. As just one piece of evidence: during the winter 2012/2013 three thousand TONS of weapons were delivered to the rebels.
An Earlier War of Aggression: USA vs Nicaragua
During the 1980’s the US funded, trained and supplied weapons to the Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Nicaragua took the situation to the World Court, claiming the US was in violation of international law which prohibits countries from financing military forces to attack another country. On June 27, 1986 the International Court at the Hague issued its legal ruling:
Decision of the International Court at the Hague
Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the “contra” forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.
By “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying” the military rebel groups waging war against the Damascus government, the US and “friends” are committing the same crime that the USA did in the 1980’s.
The Negroponte Connection
There is an additional connection between Central America and Syria: the creation and management of the “Contra” rebels was overseen by the US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte. In addition. he managed US policy supportive of the military dictatorships which used death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Ambassador Negroponte later went to Baghdad where he was US Ambassador and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004-2005, when death squads and sectarian bloodshed in Iraq began. His deputy in Baghdad was Robert S. Ford. Mr Ford went on to be US Ambassador to Syria in the period leading up to the outbreak of violence in March 2011. Later in 2011, US Ambassador Ford was expelled from Syria because he was considered an instigator of violence and protest. Ambassador Ford had publicly encouraged the protests and was suspected of much more. Since his expulsion from Syria and up until earlier this year, Robert S. Ford has been the lead American in charge of managing US policy of ‘regime change’ in Syria.
Ignoring the Most Serious Crimes
The violation of Syrian sovereignty should have been exposed and publicly criticized by international justice organizations and United Nations’ officials. Unfortunately the major rights organizations are guided by liberal interventionists and the United Nations has become dominated by US and Western interests. For example Human Rights Watch is significantly funded by liberal billionaire George Soros while Executive Director Roth is a member of the 1% club with annual compensation of nearly half a million dollars ($477K in 2011). That might not matter except that Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been good at documenting specific violations and transgressions but does not distinguish between major and minor violations of international law and ignores or minimizes the most extreme violations of international law by powerful countries. For example, 9 months after the US invasion of Iraq HRW reported that it was “not a humanitarian invasion” and explained why it did not support or oppose the invasion. More recently HRW does not distinguish between Israeli violations in maintaining the prison of Gaza and periodically massacring thousands of Palestinians versus the Palestinian response of random rockets which are largely harmless. They have prominently focused on war crimes of the Syrian “regime”, but ignored the fact that many of the rebels are mercenaries supplied with weapons and paid by foreign governments. HRW soft pedals the violations of the major abusers and comes down hard on the victims. They ignore the “supreme crime” of initiating war by the US and “friends” while vigorously denouncing the transgressions of the Assad government. By not differentiating between crimes, and favoring the powerful, they effectively use international law as another tool of the powerful.
Meanwhile the United Nations has come under the dominance of the United States. For example the head political authority (Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs) is the former US Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman. When you see UN reports and statements on situations, consider the source. Another real world example of what this means: In Syrian refugee camps run by the United Nations Syrian youth are recruited to join the rebels while UN officials pretend not to see.
Violating Air Space of Sovereign Syria
Under international agreement “Every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace above its territory.” President Obama is proposing to ignore the international agreement and to send military jets into Syrian airspace without authorization. The pretext is to attack ISIS but it’s likely this would simply be the foot in the door with attacks on Syrian soldiers to eventually follow. The rationale for NATO entering Libyan air space was to create a “no fly zone” to prevent a humanitarian crisis. But the emergency justifications turned out to be a fraud and the “no fly zone” quickly turned into devastating bombing attacks on the Libyan government.
ISIS does not recognize the Iraqi Syrian border but obviously there is an internationally recognized border, regardless whether it is recognized by a terrorist organization such as ISIS. Another legal fig leaf for the violation of Syrian sovereignty is that since ISIS has murdered American citizens in Syria, the US can intervene to attack the perpetrators. Again, this is without legal basis. Will Obama cook up a legal “justification” as the Bush Administration did to justify torture, rendition, etc etc?
Selective Use of American Deaths
In the past weeks the media have given extensive sensational coverage about the deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Their beheading murders are being used to justify US military escalation and violations of international law. Ironically, both writers documented how unpopular the “moderate rebels” are and Steven Sotloff was reportedly sold to ISIS by one of the “moderate rebels” favored by President Obama. Unknown to most Americans many journalists have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
In sharp contrast, there was relatively little media attention when Americans were murdered in Central America by “our” rebel Contras and “our” Salvadoran dictatorship. Benjamin Linder was a young American engineer who went to Sandinista Nicaragua to help with development in rural areas. He was murdered by the US funded Contras. What was the reaction? Very little. In El Salvador four American nuns who were critical of the military dictatorship were murdered. The US reaction? Jeanne Kirkpatrick , US Ambassador to the UN, did not even express remorse let alone anger or outrage. Instead she remarked that “they were not just nuns”.
From Central America in the 1980’s to Syria and the Middle East today there is a consistency in US policy. Governments which challenge US domination are demonized. Surrogate armies to overthrow them are sometimes created. Bloodshed and mayhem follows. Individual American deaths are ignored or sensationalized depending on whether it benefits US policy. International law is ignored or used as another weapon against the victim.
It’s time for a realistic look at the Syrian government and rebels, including ISIS. It’s time to demand that the US start respecting instead of trampling on international law.
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
BUENOS AIRES – A lawsuit was filed on Saturday against Israel by actors, activists, politicians and pro-Palestinian solidarity groups in Argentina, a statement released by the Palestinian embassy in Buenos Aires said.
The case was brought before the federal court of justice in the city of Cordoba.
The case was named “Lawsuit against the Authorities of Israel for Committing Crimes against Humanity and Genocide against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”
Journalist Serkhio Ortiz, head of the Argentinean committee of honoring the missing and victims, actor Juan Jose-Tutu, and singer and actress Mara Santosho, were among the people who signed the case.
The signatories called in their lawsuit for issuing an international arrest warrant against Israeli figures through the Interpol and forcing Israel to compensate for the human and material losses that it had caused during its war on Gaza.
FARC negotiator Marcos Calarca
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has accused the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel of prolonging Colombia’s guerilla war.
FARC negotiator Marcos Calarca leveled the accusation on Saturday at a news conference ahead of another round of peace talks with a delegation of the Colombian government in the Cuban capital Havana.
He pointed to “the responsibility of the government of the United States, of companies involved in the business of war, various intelligence agencies, especially the British and Israeli, whose involvement throughout the conflict encouraged its continuation, escalation and intensification.”
The latest accusation against Israeli and British agencies is a new twist in the 28th round of peace talks in Havana.
He, however, said, “The FARC will acknowledge its responsibility where it concerns us, on the understanding that our military actions have had essentially political goals, derived from our political project to take power.”
The FARC is Latin America’s oldest insurgent group and has been fighting the government since 1964.
Bogota estimates that 600,000 people have been killed and more than 4.5 million others have been displaced due to the fighting.
The rebel organization is thought to have around 8,000 fighters operating across a large swathe of the eastern jungles of the Andean nation.
Argentina’s Senate has passed a law that will let the country continue paying off its default debt by transferring international bond payments from New York to local banks, which would let other investors buy Argentine debt.
The scheme, to get around a US judge’s order to immediately pay back $1.6 billion to “vulture” hedge funds in Manhattan, is the initiative of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The bill passed by a vote 39 to 27.
The initiative proposes to begin challenging payments through third parties, and allowing them to trade their bonds for new debt issued under Argentine law. Argentina’s state Banco de la Nacion could become the trustee for payments, replacing the Bank of New York Mellon. Another proposal is to make Paris a main destination for debt payments.
The US district court that ruled on Argentina’s debt maintains this is illegal.
Next week the law will be discussed in Argentina’s lower house Chamber of Deputies.
It is a brazen move against the ‘vulture’ funds that sent the country into default in July after demanding the immediate payment of $1.6 billion ($1.3 billion plus interest) in restructured debt, instead of the planned $539 million to bondholders. The ruling banned Argentina from making interest payment on restructured debt before settling with the New York hedge funds. The hedge funds had rejected Argentina’s requests to restructure the debt in 2005 and 2010.
“Sometimes there are court decisions that cannot be followed,” Miguel Angel Pichetto, head of the government’s Victory Front coalition in the Senate, said on Thursday.
Argentina has said it will take the US to the International Court of Justice for judicial malpractice.
“To pay the vulture funds would be very dangerous,” Pichetto said.
Ecuador will continue supporting Palestine despite U.S. pressure to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.
The successful campaign “Ecuador with Palestine” organized by civil society and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs resulted in 20 tons of medical supplies and other crucial donations that will be delivered to Gaza next week.
The end of the campaign on August 25 coincided with a letter sent by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, Mark Kirk and James Risch, urging the governments of Ecuador, Brazil, El Salvador, Peru and Chile to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.
The letter read, “Your actions send a troubling message to the United States about your government’s commitment to long-lasting peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
In early August President Rafael Correa canceled a trip to Israel scheduled for the second half of this year. This decision was made in the midst of the “Operation Protective Edge,” which saw a ceasefire begin Tuesday after leaving more than 2,200 Palestinians dead.
The government of Ecuador recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv and has opened an embassy in Ramallah.
Reacting to the letter sent by the senators, Foreign Minister Ricard Patiño said, “These men should give advice in their own house, they are not going to give the Ecuadorian government advice, worse is this type of advice of a political nature.”
“We are going to keep developing other agreements to enter in strong bilateral relations,” said Palestinian Ambassador in Ecuador Hani Remawi, “We have a lot to give Ecuador, and Ecuador also has more, much, much more to offer Palestine.” … Full article
Ghosts of Olavarría: Human Rights Trial in Argentina Seeks Justice for Victims of Military Dictatorship
The central quarter of the Argentine city of Olavarría, with its leafy main square, whitewashed church, and historical architecture, merits its National Heritage status. Thanks to mineral extraction of the rock on which it stands, Olavarría is a prosperous and tranquil place, and home to the social science and engineering schools of the University of Buenos Aires Province. Now, however, this seemingly pleasant city has become the latest battleground in Argentina’s ongoing struggle to bring justice to those guilty of crimes during the military dictatorship of 1976–1983.
Olavarría, a city of around 100,000 inhabitants, is the setting for the upcoming trial of several ex-army officials accused of human rights abuses during the dictatorship. A high level of public interest surrounds the proceedings, due to one of the defendants’ alleged involvement in a case which has dominated national media in recent weeks.
In early August, the human rights organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo announced that the long-lost grandson of its president Estela de Carlotto had been identified and was living in Olavarría under a different name. Guido Montoya Carlotto had been taken from his detained mother in 1978 when just a few hours old, one of hundreds of babies born in captivity and then raised by families linked to the military authorities. In most cases, their biological parents were murdered by the military. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have campaigned since the 1970s to reunite the stolen babies with their natural families and to expose the guilty parties.
Estela de Carlotto The recent news, a welcome dose of positivity on front pages of the country’s newspapers, has received intense media interest. Estela de Carlotto is highly-respected within Argentine society for her tireless campaigning as president of the famous headscarf-wearing Grandmothers. But, as the story has moved on from its initial feel-good element, there are now many questions over who was responsible for taking Guido from his mother, Estela’s 22-year-old daughter Laura Carlotto, who was killed soon after giving birth. The father, Walmir Montoya, abducted alongside his pregnant partner, had been murdered several months earlier.
The spotlight has shifted to Olavarría, location of the impending trial and the city in which Guido Montoya had lived until recently as Ignacio Hurbán. Although the trial date was set several months ago, it is now alleged that one of the accused participated in the transfer of Laura Carlotto’s baby to an adoptive family. Laura, who was handcuffed to a stretcher throughout the entire labor and birthing process, spent only a few hours with her newborn before being returned to her cell at the La Cacha detention center in La Plata.
On September 22, a court will begin listening to evidence against a number of ex-military officials charged with crimes against humanity, including kidnapping, torture and murder, committed at the Monte Peloni detention center in Olavarría. The officials on trial are: the local commander, Ignacio Verdura; Chief of Intelligence, Walter Grosse; Officer Horacio Leites; and Sub-Officer Omar Ferreyra. All of them are currently serving sentences for earlier convictions. While the trial is not directly connected to the removal of the Montoya Carlotto baby, it is suspected that Verdura was involved in the appropriation of babies.
For the last few years, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have claimed that an Olavarría businessman, Carlos Francisco Aguilar, acted as an intermediary between the military and adoptive families. Aguilar, who died earlier this year, owned the land on which Guido Montoya’s adoptive parents worked and was known to have strong links to the armed forces and the church. As a wealthy landowner, he moved in the same social circles as high-ranking military figures, such as Ignacio Verdura, the then-chief of the regional 2nd Tank Regiment.
Throughout the 1970s, Olavarría was a site of left-wing militant activity, which brought the city to the military’s attention. State repression began with worker organizations before targeting the lawyers representing them, and later moving on to the student movement. Those who felt the heavy hand of the state included striking workers at the Loma Negra (Black Hill) cement company. The company’s response to the strike was to call in the military to end the dispute with detentions and other suppressive tactics.
Carlos Moreno was a lawyer who represented the Loma Negra workers. He was detained in Olavarría and tortured before being killed in May 1977. A trial in 2012 exposed links between the military and civilians who had allowed their property to be used for detaining prisoners. The trial also ordered an investigation into the role of Loma Negra, whose president was Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, one of the world’s wealthiest women until her death two years ago at the age of 90.
Speaking to the Página 12 newspaper, Moreno’s son Matías said companies such as Loma Negra reaped the benefits of military rule.
“Before the dictatorship, Loma Negra was suffering losses, but its profits tripled under the dictatorship. The abduction of my father was intended as a disciplinary measure, after which there was a fall in labor costs,” said Matías. This was the aim of all the abductions.”
He also revealed that Commander Verdura lived next-door to the Moreno family. Any neighborly recognition, however, was irrelevant when it came to the military eliminating its opponents.
The Monte Peloni detention centerThe Monte Peloni detention center, where the majority of those detained in the zone were held, was a farmhouse in the countryside near Olavarría. Several prisoners, many of whom remain disappeared, passed through the center, which was administrated by the 2nd Tank Regiment of Ignacio Verdura.
Among the crimes that Verdura and his cohorts stand accused of are the disappearance of a young couple, Isabel Gutiérrez and Juan Carlos Ledesma, the detention of Isabel’s father Francisco Gutiérrez, and the murders of Jorge Oscar Fernández and Alfredo Serafín Maccarini. The latter was a prison guard whose rumored empathy for political prisoners made him a target for the military. Another ex-prisoner, Lidia Araceli Gutiérrez, who was raped and tortured in Monte Peloni, is to give evidence at the trial.
The Olavarría trial is the latest step in the legal battle to hold those involved in the abuses of the dictatorship accountable. As many as 2,000 people connected to the dictatorship have been accused of complicity in abuses, as, according to Human Rights Watch, Argentina has made “significant progress in prosecuting military and police personnel for enforced disappearances, killings and torture during the country’s ‘Dirty War.’” Yet the fact remains that a great many of those who willingly participated in dictatorship abuses have yet to answer for their crimes.
The stealing of babies from people who were subsequently killed continues to be a matter of great sensitivity, as the majority of stolen babies are now unidentified adults living normal lives in Argentine society. The Guido Montoya case was the 114th positive identification of a baby forcibly removed from its biological parents. However, it is estimated that there are hundreds of other citizens now approaching middle-age with little idea of their true identities. For families of the disappeared, the discovery of lost relatives can serve as an act of closure for their longstanding grief. Having spent decades dwelling on the past, they are finally able to look ahead.
In 2012, the dictator Rafael Videla, already serving a life sentence for human rights abuses, was given a further 50 years for his part in the systematic transfer of babies from prisoners to families linked to the military regime. Several other officials, including the country’s last military leader Reynaldo Bignone, have been convicted and imprisoned for their involvement in abuses. Bignone, who like Videla had already been found guilty of torture and murder in earlier trials, was said by the court to be complicit in “the crimes of theft, retention and hiding of minors, as well as replacing their identities.”
But the campaign of forced removal was perpetrated at all levels of the military hierarchy. As Guido Montoya Carlotto said in a recent interview with the newspaper El Popular de Olavarría, in his hometown “there are people who have to thoroughly explain themselves … I hope that people learn to question that which has been covered up, so that this not only represents my restitution but also the restitution for other people experiencing doubts.”
As Argentina continues to come to terms with the traumas of military rule, stories like the Carlottos’ provide inspiration for the justice movement to keep fighting. Yet, this is a journey that is unlikely to ever be fully resolved. The entrenched political system of brutality and repression was too widespread to hold all the guilty to account. But each small step signifies progress. Many will be closely watching the Olavarría trial in the hope that Argentina continues on its path toward redemption.
Nick MacWilliam is a British freelance writer and editor based in Buenos Aires.
Still from the music video for the song, Somos Sur. The song is a collaboration between Chilean MC, Ana Tijoux (pictured in the back), and Palestinian MC, Shadia Mansour (pictured in front of Tijoux). Somos Sur is a powerful track establishing solidarity between Latin America and Palestine for their independence from imperialist and colonizing forces.
Picture courtesy of Absenta Musical.
Ana Tijoux – Somos Sur (Featuring Shadia Mansour)
The European Union is reported to be planning to dissuade Latin American countries from providing Russia with agricultural produce, saying it would be unfair and ‘difficult to justify.’
“We will be talking to the countries that would potentially [be] replacing our exports to indicate that we would expect them not to profit unfairly from the current situation,” the Financial Times quotes one senior EU official talking at a briefing on the situation in Ukraine on Monday.
The food producers could sign new contracts with Russia, but it would be “difficult to justify” the desire of the countries to pursue the diplomatic initiatives to fill the gap left by the EU, the official added.
Another EU official explained that negotiations could be part of political discussions aimed at addressing the importance of a united international front on Ukraine, rather than hindering food exports to Russia.
Despite being the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU has little influence, as its 15-year negotiations with Latin America’s Mercosur have been mired in difficulties over market access.
Since Russia imposed an import ban on agricultural products from the EU, US, Australia, Norway and Canada, several Latin America countries and trade groups have said Moscow’s measures could offer them a lucrative windfall.
Chile is already tipped as a major beneficiary of Russia’s embargo on European fish, while Brazil immediately gave a green light to about 90 meat plants to start exporting chicken, beef and pork.
“Russia has the potential to be a large consumer of agricultural commodities, not just meat,” Seneri Paludo, Brazil’s Secretary for Agricultural Policy said, citing that Russia may also increase procurement of corn and soya beans.
Besides Latin America benefitting from the embargo, Belarus and Turkey are also believed to win from the supply gap.
The EU member states are meeting in Brussels on Thursday where they are expected to work out a comprehensive response to Russia’s food embargo.
Washington has refused to allow the UN International Court of Justice (IJC) to hear Argentina’s claims that US court decisions on the country’s debt have violated Argentina’s sovereignty.
“We do not view the ICJ as an appropriate venue for addressing Argentina’s debt issues, and we continue to urge Argentina to engage with its creditors to resolve remaining issues with bondholders,” the US State Department told Reuters in an email.
The State Department sent an email with the same content to one of Argentina’s leading newspapers, the Clarin.
Argentina complained against Washington’s decisions on its debt to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday.
But according to existing norms, Buenos Aires needs Washington to voluntarily accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction for the proceedings to begin.
The US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction back in 1986 after the UN court ruled that America’s covert war against Nicaragua was in violation of international law.
Since then, Washington accepts International Court of Justice jurisdiction only on a case-by-case basis.
On Friday, US District Judge Thomas Griesa, who oversees Argentina’s legal battle with hedge funds, threatened that a contempt of court order may be implemented.
Griesa said it will be put forward if Argentina continues to “falsely” insist that it has made a required debt payment on restructured sovereign bonds.
The warning caused confusion, as the judge didn’t specify who will face the punishment – Argentina or its lawyers.
It will be quite difficult to sanction the Argentinean state, as US federal law largely protects the assets of foreign governments held in the US, said Michael Ramsey, a professor of international law at the University of San Diego.
“You can’t put Argentina in jail, so I’m not sure what he’d have in mind besides monetary sanctions,” Ramsey said.
Later on Friday, Argentina’s economy ministry issued another statement, accusing the US judge of “clear partiality in favor of the vulture funds.”
“Judge Griesa continues contradicting himself and the facts by saying that Argentina did not pay,” the statement said.
Previously, Argentina announced the restructuring of 93 percent of its 2001 debt, but creditors holding the other seven percent of the bonds demanded full payment and initiated a legal battle.
A New York court ruled that Argentina had to pay $1.33 billion to the hedge funds, blocking the transfer of $590 million that Buenos Aires forwarded in order to cover its restructured debt.
The judge said Argentina had to start talks with the lenders that didn’t approve the debt restructuring and negotiate to postpone the payment with those who did agree.
With lenders unable to receive payment, international regulators and rating agencies announced Argentina’s ‘selective’ default.
Argentina has attempted to sue the United States at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the UN’s highest court, over a debt dispute.
The lawsuit was filed on Thursday after a US judge blocked Argentina from servicing its restructured debt, with Buenos Aires accusing Washington of violating Argentinean sovereignty.
New York District Judge Thomas Griesa has ruled to freeze Argentina’s June debt payment of $539 million in a US bank because two American hedge funds are demanding a full repayment of their money.
The two hedge funds, NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management, have been described by Argentina as “vulture funds” that are seeking profit out of the country’s financial misery.
“Given that a state is responsible for the conduct of all the branches of its government, these violations have generated a controversy between the Republic of Argentina and the United States, which our country submits to the ICJ for resolution,” President Cristina Kirchner’s office said in a statement.
However, the ICJ declined to take any action, claiming that it is powerless to act “unless and until the United States of America consents to the court’s jurisdiction.”
Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse caused the country to default on more than $100 billion in debt. Argentina is still fighting to deal with the crisis.
Last week, Argentinean Economy Minister Axel Kicillof went to New York to try to resolve the impasse on the eve of his country’s default. There, he slammed the US judge for his ruling.
“A judge in one jurisdiction can’t be allowed to block the debt payments of an entire country,” he said. “There’s something called sovereignty.”