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U.S. “Aid” plan for Central America will Worsen Inequality, Exacerbate Flight

U.S. Alliance for Prosperity plan aims to stem Central American migration, but critics say the plan falls far short of addressing underlying causes

teleSUR | January 13, 2016

The United States’ plan to more than double its aid package to Central America in the name of increasing security and boosting development is likely to open up the region to U.S. corporate interests without tackling underlying problems of poverty and inequality, CISPES Executive Director Alexis Stoumbelis told teleSUR on Wednesday.

U.S. Congress approved over US$750 million at the end of December to roll out President Barack Obama’s strategy for Central America. The package supports the controversial Alliance for Prosperity, a plan touted as a strategy to stem the massive wave of undocumented migrants from the Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but slammed by critics for exacerbating key drivers of the crisis.

According to Stoumbelis, the new increased funding plan continues the same development model based on White House priorities of free trade and foreign direct investment that the U.S. has long promoted in the region.

“The U.S. has had an aggressive neoliberal agenda in Central America for the last 20 years, so this doesn’t really come as a surprise,” Stoumbelis told teleSUR by phone, citing the Central America Free Trade Agreement as an example of the U.S.-backed free trade model that has proven to worsen insecurity and inequality in Central American countries.

“The plan continues to push an agenda much more in line with neoliberal economics than programs proven to improve quality of life,” said Stoumbelis.

While the new aid package has been promoted as a bid to address longstanding issues of poverty, insecurity, and violence, the main pillars of the plan pave the way for increased foreign investment, natural resource extraction, privatization, and militarization while raising serious concerns about human rights and inequality, Stoumbelis added.

“The funding provides backing for governments that have proven time and time against putting human rights at the top of the agenda,” said Stoumbelis, adding that the plan ignores calls from many social movements and advocacy groups to cut security aid to the region instead of rewarding human rights-abusing administrations with more funding.

Although the U.S. funding for Central America includes conditions aimed at addressing human rights concerns raised by social movements and advocates, many remain skeptical that the measures will do enough to counteract dismal human rights records and rampant corruption, especially in Honduras and Guatemala.

“It was a victory to condition the aid … and to convince (U.S.) Congress that its support for human rights-abusing governments needs to be addressed,” said Stoumbelis. He went on to say that even if the aid is subject to human rights guarantees, it is ultimately up to the State Department to sign off on whether Central American countries fulfill the conditions.

Many expect that the new plan will uphold the State Department’s historically inadequate standard on human rights, which in the past has seen human rights approval issued despite evidence of systematic and chronic human rights abuses on the ground in Central America.

The US$750-million aid package will spike funding levels from US$120 million to US$300 million for development, from US$160 million to US$405 million for security, and from US$33 million to over US$66 million for the war on drugs. Funds will be administered by the State Department and by USAID, which have proven to support privatization and the interests of U.S. corporations in the region.

The security funding includes doubling the budget for the Central American Security Initiative, a regional plan that has dramatically increased militarization of security forces in the region and in turn raised concerns about increasing human rights abuses, impunity, and corruption without fulfilling its state’s objectives of tackling insecurity.

According to Stoumbelis, militarization in the name of the war on drugs has largely been a “war on the people,” as poor people are the most vulnerable in the face of insecurity and have largely been the victims of rising levels of violence under CARSI and the security initiative for Mexico, Plan Merida.

The plan is expected to pave the way for increased militarization in the name of “stabilization” and border security, which critics fear will result in increased human rights violations and exacerbate the problems underlying social and economic inequality.

Militarization also tends to result in criminalization of protest movements against neoliberal mega-projects that displace communities, rob indigenous peoples of land, destroy the environment, and undermine food security—a development strategy only set to ramp up under the new regional aid plan.

Despite the challenges, Stoumbelis predicts that such resistance movements will redouble their fight against the model the U.S. aid package proposes to push harder.

“There has been a tremendous challenge to the model,” said Stoumbelis, emphasizing the role of cross-border resistance in the region and the importance of international solidarity.

For Stoumbelis, in the face of increased U.S. aid, solidarity with Central American movements is now more than ever key to resisting the “U.S.-backed corporate onslaught in the region.”

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How Neocons Destabilized Europe

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | September 7, 2015

The refugee chaos that is now pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey – started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle East and other parts of the world through “regime change.”

Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing – such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.”

For instance, The Washington Post’s neocon editorial page editor Fred Hiatt on Monday blamed “realists” for the cascading catastrophes. Hiatt castigated them and President Barack Obama for not intervening more aggressively in Syria to depose President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime neocon target for “regime change.” But the truth is that this accelerating spread of human suffering can be traced back directly to the unchecked influence of the neocons and their liberal fellow-travelers who have resisted political compromise and, in the case of Syria, blocked any realistic efforts to work out a power-sharing agreement between Assad and his political opponents, those who are not terrorists.

In early 2014, the neocons and liberal hawks sabotaged Syrian peace talks in Geneva by blocking Iran’s participation and turning the peace conference into a one-sided shouting match where U.S.-funded opposition leaders yelled at Assad’s representatives who then went home. All the while, the Post’s editors and their friends kept egging Obama to start bombing Assad’s forces.

The madness of this neocon approach grew more obvious in the summer of 2014 when the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda spin-off which had been slaughtering suspected pro-government people in Syria, expanded its bloody campaign of beheadings back into Iraq where this hyper-brutal movement first emerged as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” in response to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

It should have been clear by mid-2014 that if the neocons had gotten their way and Obama had conducted a massive U.S. bombing campaign to devastate Assad’s military, the black flag of Sunni terrorism might well be flying above the Syrian capital of Damascus while its streets would run red with blood.

But now a year later, the likes of Hiatt still have not absorbed that lesson — and the spreading chaos from neocon strategies is destabilizing Europe. As shocking and disturbing as that is, none of it should have come as much of a surprise, since the neocons have always brought chaos and dislocations in their wake.

When I first encountered the neocons in the 1980s, they had been given Central America to play with. President Ronald Reagan had credentialed many of them, bringing into the U.S. government neocon luminaries such as Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. But Reagan mostly kept them out of the big-power realms: the Mideast and Europe.

Those strategic areas went to the “adults,” people like James Baker, George Shultz, Philip Habib and Brent Scowcroft. The poor Central Americans, as they tried to shed generations of repression and backwardness imposed by brutal right-wing oligarchies, faced U.S. neocon ideologues who unleashed death squads and even genocide against peasants, students and workers.

The result – not surprisingly – was a flood of refugees, especially from El Salvador and Guatemala, northward to the United States. The neocon “success” in the 1980s, crushing progressive social movements and reinforcing the oligarchic controls, left most countries of Central America in the grip of corrupt regimes and crime syndicates, periodically driving more waves of what Reagan called “feet people” through Mexico to the southern U.S. border.

Messing Up the Mideast

But the neocons weren’t satisfied sitting at the kids’ table. Even during the Reagan administration, they tried to squeeze themselves among the “adults” at the grown-ups’ table. For instance, neocons, such as Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz, pushed Israel-friendly policies toward Iran, which the Israelis then saw as a counterweight to Iraq. That strategy led eventually to the Iran-Contra Affair, the worst scandal of the Reagan administration. [See Consortiumnews.com’sWhen Israel /Neocons Favored Iran.”]

However, the right-wing and mainstream U.S. media never liked the complex Iran-Contra story and thus exposure of the many levels of the scandal’s criminality was avoided. Democrats also preferred compromise to confrontation. So, most of the key neocons survived the Iran-Contra fallout, leaving their ranks still firmly in place for the next phase of their rise to power.

In the 1990s, the neocons built up a well-funded infrastructure of think tanks and media outlets, benefiting from both the largesse of military contractors donating to think tanks and government-funded operations like the National Endowment for Democracy, headed by neocon Carl Gershman.

The neocons gained more political momentum from the U.S. military might displayed during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. Many Americans began to see war as fun, almost like a video game in which “enemy” forces get obliterated from afar. On TV news shows, tough-talking pundits were all the rage. If you wanted to be taken seriously, you couldn’t go wrong taking the most macho position, what I sometimes call the “er-er-er” growling effect.

Combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the notion that U.S. military supremacy was unmatched and unchallengeable gave rise to neocon theories about turning “diplomacy” into nothing more than the delivery of U.S. ultimatums. In the Middle East, that was a view shared by Israeli hardliners, who had grown tired of negotiating with the Palestinians and other Arabs.

Instead of talk, there would be “regime change” for any government that would not fall into line. This strategy was articulated in 1996 when a group of American neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in Israel and compiled a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”

Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.

In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century, founded by neocons Robert Kagan and William Kristol, called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton balked at something that extreme. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and the 9/11 attacks terrified and infuriated the American public.

Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander-in-Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – and Americans were easily persuaded although Iraq and Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. [See Consortiumnews.com’sThe Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

The Death of ‘Realism’

The 2003 Iraq invasion sounded the death knell for foreign policy “realism” in Official Washington. Aging or dead, the old adult voices were silent or ignored. From Congress and the Executive Branch to the think tanks and the mainstream news media, almost all the “opinion leaders” were neocons and many liberals fell into line behind Bush’s case for war.

And, even though the Iraq War “group think” was almost entirely wrong, both on the WMD justifications for war and the “cakewalk” expectations for remaking Iraq, almost no one who promoted the fiasco suffered punishment for either the illegality of the invasion or the absence of sanity in promoting such a harebrained scheme.

Instead of negative repercussions, the Iraq War backers – the neocons and their liberal-hawk accomplices – essentially solidified their control over U.S. foreign policy and the major news media. From The New York Times and The Washington Post to the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, the “regime change” agenda continued to hold sway.

It didn’t even matter when the sectarian warfare unleashed in Iraq left hundreds of thousands dead, displaced millions and gave rise to Al Qaeda’s ruthless Iraq affiliate. Not even the 2008 election of Barack Obama, an Iraq War opponent, changed this overall dynamic.

Rather than standing up to this new foreign policy establishment, Obama bowed to it, retaining key players from President Bush’s national security team, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, and by hiring hawkish Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, who became Secretary of State, and Samantha Power at the National Security Council.

Thus, the cult of “regime change” did not just survive the Iraq disaster; it thrived. Whenever a difficult foreign problem emerged, the go-to solution was still “regime change,” accompanied by the usual demonizing of a targeted leader, support for the “democratic opposition” and calls for military intervention. President Obama, arguably a “closet realist,” found himself as the foot-dragger-in-chief as he reluctantly was pulled along on one “regime change” crusade after another.

In 2011, for instance, Secretary of State Clinton and National Security Council aide Power persuaded Obama to join with some hot-for-war European leaders to achieve “regime change” in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi had gone on the offensive against groups in eastern Libya that he identified as Islamic terrorists.

But Clinton and Power saw the case as a test for their theories of “humanitarian warfare” – or “regime change” to remove a “bad guy” like Gaddafi from power. Obama soon signed on and, with the U.S. military providing crucial technological support, a devastating bombing campaign destroyed Gaddafi’s army, drove him from Tripoli, and ultimately led to his torture-murder.

‘We Came, We Saw, He Died’

Secretary Clinton scurried to secure credit for this “regime change.” According to one email chain in August 2011, her longtime friend and personal adviser Sidney Blumenthal praised the bombing campaign to destroy Gaddafi’s army and hailed the dictator’s impending ouster.

“First, brava! This is a historic moment and you will be credited for realizing it,” Blumenthal wrote on Aug. 22, 2011. “When Qaddafi himself is finally removed, you should of course make a public statement before the cameras wherever you are, even in the driveway of your vacation home. … You must go on camera. You must establish yourself in the historical record at this moment. … The most important phrase is: ‘successful strategy.’”

Clinton forwarded Blumenthal’s advice to Jake Sullivan, a close State Department aide. “Pls read below,” she wrote. “Sid makes a good case for what I should say, but it’s premised on being said after Q[addafi] goes, which will make it more dramatic. That’s my hesitancy, since I’m not sure how many chances I’ll get.”

Sullivan responded, saying “it might make sense for you to do an op-ed to run right after he falls, making this point. … You can reinforce the op-ed in all your appearances, but it makes sense to lay down something definitive, almost like the Clinton Doctrine.”

However, when Gaddafi abandoned Tripoli that day, President Obama seized the moment to make a triumphant announcement. Clinton’s opportunity to highlight her joy at the Libyan “regime change” had to wait until Oct. 20, 2011, when Gaddafi was captured, tortured and murdered.

In a TV interview, Clinton celebrated the news when it appeared on her cell phone and paraphrased Julius Caesar’s famous line after Roman forces achieved a resounding victory in 46 B.C. and he declared, “veni, vidi, vici” – “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Clinton’s reprise of Caesar’s boast went: “We came; we saw; he died.” She then laughed and clapped her hands.

Presumably, the “Clinton Doctrine” would have been a policy of “liberal interventionism” to achieve “regime change” in countries where there is some crisis in which the leader seeks to put down an internal security threat and where the United States objects to the action.

But the problem with Clinton’s boasting about the “Clinton Doctrine” was that the Libyan adventure quickly turned sour with the Islamic terrorists, whom Gaddafi had warned about, seizing wide swaths of territory and turning it into another Iraq-like badlands.

On Sept. 11, 2012, this reality hit home when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was overrun and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomatic personnel were killed. It turned out that Gaddafi wasn’t entirely wrong about the nature of his opposition.

Eventually, the extremist violence in Libya grew so out of control that the United States and European countries abandoned their embassies in Tripoli. Since then, Islamic State terrorists have begun decapitating Coptic Christians on Libyan beaches and slaughtering other “heretics.” Amid the anarchy, Libya has become a route for desperate migrants seeking passage across the Mediterranean to Europe.

A War on Assad

Parallel to the “regime change” in Libya was a similar enterprise in Syria in which the neocons and liberal interventionists pressed for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, whose government in 2011 cracked down on what had quickly become a violent rebellion led by extremist elements, though the Western propaganda portrayed the opposition as “moderate” and “peaceful.”

For the first years of the Syrian civil war, the pretense remained that these “moderate” rebels were facing unjustified repression and the only answer was “regime change” in Damascus. Assad’s claim that the opposition included many Islamic extremists was largely dismissed as were Gaddafi’s alarms in Libya.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a sarin gas attack outside Damascus killed hundreds of civilians and the U.S. State Department and the mainstream news media immediately blamed Assad’s forces amid demands for military retaliation against the Syrian army.

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community about Assad’s responsibility for the sarin attack, which some analysts saw instead as a provocation by anti-Assad terrorists, the clamor from Official Washington’s neocons and liberal interventionists for war was intense and any doubts were brushed aside.

But President Obama, aware of the uncertainty within the U.S. intelligence community, held back from a military strike and eventually worked out a deal, brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical-weapons arsenal while still denying any role in the sarin attack.

Though the case pinning the sarin attack on the Syrian government eventually fell apart – with evidence pointing to a “false flag” operation by Sunni radicals to trick the United States into intervening on their side – Official Washington’s “group think” refused to reconsider the initial rush to judgment. In Monday’s column, Hiatt still references Assad’s “savagery of chemical weapons.”

Any suggestion that the only realistic option in Syria is a power-sharing compromise that would include Assad – who is viewed as the protector of Syria’s Christian, Shiite and Alawite minorities – is rejected out of hand with the slogan, “Assad must go!”

The neocons have created a conventional wisdom which holds that the Syrian crisis would have been prevented if only Obama had followed the neocons’ 2011 prescription of another U.S. intervention to force another “regime change.” Yet, the far more likely outcome would have been either another indefinite and bloody U.S. military occupation of Syria or the black flag of Islamic terrorism flying over Damascus.

Get Putin

Another villain who emerged from the 2013 failure to bomb Syria was Russian President Putin, who infuriated the neocons by his work with Obama on Syria’s surrender of its chemical weapons and who further annoyed the neocons by helping to get the Iranians to negotiate seriously on constraining their nuclear program. Despite the “regime change” disasters in Iraq and Libya, the neocons wanted to wave the “regime change” wand again over Syria and Iran.

Putin got his comeuppance when U.S. neocons, including NED President Carl Gershman and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (Robert Kagan’s wife), helped orchestrate a “regime change” in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and putting in a fiercely anti-Russian regime on Russia’s border.

As thrilled as the neocons were with their “victory” in Kiev and their success in demonizing Putin in the mainstream U.S. news media, Ukraine followed the now-predictable post-regime-change descent into a vicious civil war. Western Ukrainians waged a brutal “anti-terrorist operation” against ethnic Russians in the east who resisted the U.S.-backed coup.

Thousands of Ukrainians died and millions were displaced as Ukraine’s national economy teetered toward collapse. Yet, the neocons and their liberal-hawk friends again showed their propaganda skills by pinning the blame for everything on “Russian aggression” and Putin.

Though Obama was apparently caught off-guard by the Ukrainian “regime change,” he soon joined in denouncing Putin and Russia. The European Union also got behind U.S.-demanded sanctions against Russia despite the harm those sanctions also inflicted on Europe’s already shaky economy. Europe’s stability is now under additional strain because of the flows of refugees from the war zones of the Middle East.

A Dozen Years of Chaos

So, we can now look at the consequences and costs of the past dozen years under the spell of neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” strategies. According to many estimates, the death toll in Iraq, Syria and Libya has exceeded one million with several million more refugees flooding into – and stretching the resources – of fragile Mideast countries.

Hundreds of thousands of other refugees and migrants have fled to Europe, putting major strains on the Continent’s social structures already stressed by the severe recession that followed the 2008 Wall Street crash. Even without the refugee crisis, Greece and other southern European countries would be struggling to meet their citizens’ needs.

Stepping back for a moment and assessing the full impact of neoconservative policies, you might be amazed at how widely they have spread chaos across a large swath of the globe. Who would have thought that the neocons would have succeeded in destabilizing not only the Mideast but Europe as well.

And, as Europe struggles, the export markets of China are squeezed, spreading economic instability to that crucial economy and, with its market shocks, the reverberations rumbling back to the United States, too.

We now see the human tragedies of neocon/liberal-hawk ideologies captured in the suffering of the Syrians and other refugees flooding Europe and the death of children drowning as their desperate families flee the chaos created by “regime change.” But will the neocon/liberal-hawk grip on Official Washington finally be broken? Will a debate even be allowed about the dangers of “regime change” prescriptions in the future?

Not if the likes of The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt have anything to say about it. The truth is that Hiatt and other neocons retain their dominance of the mainstream U.S. news media, so all that one can expect from the various MSM outlets is more neocon propaganda, blaming the chaos not on their policy of “regime change” but on the failure to undertake even more “regime change.”

The one hope is that many Americans will not be fooled this time and that a belated “realism” will finally return to U.S. geopolitical strategies that will look for obtainable compromises to restore some political order to places such as Syria, Libya and Ukraine. Rather than more and more tough-guy/gal confrontations, maybe there will finally be some serious efforts at reconciliation.

But the other reality is that the interventionist forces have rooted themselves deeply in Official Washington, inside NATO, within the mainstream news media and even in European institutions. It will not be easy to rid the world of the grave dangers created by neocon policies.

~

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm Oil Industry Tied to Ecocide in Guatemalan River

By Jeff Abbott | Upside Down World | July 6, 2015

The Pasión River in northern Guatemala is a disaster area. Beginning on June 6, residents along the river in the municipality of Sayaxché, Peten, began to find millions of fish, their primary source of food and income, floating dead in the river. Community members quickly accused the Palm firm, Reforestadora de Palma del Peten, S.A (REPSA) of contaminating the river. Communities have called the pollution of their river an “ecocide.”

“Unfortunately, there has been a massive pollution of our river,” said Rigoberto Lima, a community representative from Sayaxché. “We need to put an end to the problem of palm in northern Guatemala.”

The Public Ministry of Guatemala initially declared a red alert on June 11; days after the fish first began to appear floating in the river. The Public Ministry initially confirmed that the disaster was caused by run off of the pesticide Malathion into the river, but in the weeks after, they would take back the accusations against the palm company.

However, these accusations were supported by a toxicological study preformed by University of San Carlos, which found elevated levels of the pesticide, and other agro-chemicals in the river. The report determined that the local palm industry was responsible for the contamination.

The contamination affects 106 kilometers of river, and 65 communities. These poor communities have all been forced to rely more and more on the river for their sustenance because of the expansion of palm in the region.

Communities have called on the government to perform an investigation into the pollution of the river.

Late in the evening of June 23, nearly 45 members of communities along the Pasión River arrived to Guatemala City to denounce the pollution of their river. Following a late afternoon press conference, the community members began a sit-in outside the offices of the Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism in Guatemala City to condemn and repudiate the contamination of their river by the palm company. They also demanded that the company be temporarily shut down for threatening life, and that they be allowed to be involved in the investigation of what occurred in Pasión River in order to ensure transparency.

The following day, members of the Public Ministry visited the encampment. Community members expressed frustration at being treated with disrespect and contempt by the state and the firm.

Denial of Responsibility

On June 17, the company, the mayor of Sayaxché, and community members gathered in Guatemala City to sign a document stating that the company “was not responsible for the death of the fish,” and that there “was no ecocide.” In exchange for the signing of the document, the company agreed to provide the communities with water, the improvement of town streets, and the construction of wells.

The document also states that the company is committed to taking better care of the river, but they stress, “They are not the cause of the killing of fish.”

REPSA is a subsidiary of the powerful Grupo Olmeca, Guatemala’s largest palm oil producer, which is owned by the powerful Molina family. The conglomerate was the first to begin the production of African palm in the late 1980s, and today cultivates nearly 46,000 hectares of land in Escuintla, Ocós in San Marcos, and Coatepeque in Quetzaltenango, and Sayaxché.

Those affected by the pollution do not agree with this declaration.

Continuous Pollution

This isn’t the first time that communities in Guatemala have accused the palm industry of polluting their rivers.

Communities in the Municipality Chisec, Alta Verapaz filled a complaint in the Guatemalan Public Ministry against the Ixcan Palm Company in 2013, for the contamination of their river. The following year, communities in Peten also filed a complaint in the Public Ministry against the pollution of their river. In both cases, the Pubic Ministry failed to investigate the contamination.

“This is not the first time that the fish have died in our rivers,” said Margarita, a representative from the Organization of Women of Alta Verpaz. “In 2013, there was massive death of fish in the rivers of northern Chisec. We have made denouncements against the palm firms in the region.”

The Public Ministry and Environmental ministry have called previous contaminations “accidents,” which have not resulted in new regulations.

The failure of the government ministries to respond to the concerns of the communities has increased frustrations with the expansion of palm across the FRANJA of Guatemala, which stretches from Huehuetenango in the west to Izabal in the east. These frustrations have led communities to demand that the government begin to regulate the industry, and end the expansion.

“The palm companies cannot keep expanding,” said Margarita. “They cannot continue to keep sowing, buying, and accumulating more land. We have demanded that the government put in place a law that caps the amount of land used for palm, and allows for us poor farmers to have access to land.”

Expansion of Palm Across Guatemala

The first palm plants were brought to Guatemala in the late 1980s and have since spread like a virus across Guatemala and Central America. The expansion was strengthened especially in the years after the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which guaranteed multinational companies with security in their investments into sectors such as palm oil.

The fruit of the palm is a high-yielding oil plant, which has gained a significant importance in the processed food industry. Palm oil production has spread because of the increased demand in the United States and Europe as vegetable oil used in a wide range of products including soaps and waxes, as well as popular food products such as Nutella, and Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby Ice Cream. Increasingly the production has been promoted as a renewable biofuel, which has further brought people into the industry.

The bunches of palm oil berries, commonly called Racimos, contain roughly 2,300 berries, and are harvested by hand. From there they are loaded onto a truck, and taken to the processing plant.

The expansion has exasperated the crisis over land that has historically plagued the region; in Guatemala, 3 percent of the population owns nearly 85 percent of arable land.

According to statistics from the Guatemalan National Bank, production of palm oil has spread by nearly 270 percent since 2006. This expansion has been partially influenced by a campaign by the Guatemalan Ministry of the Economy to attract foreign direct investment. In 2011, the ‘Invest in Guatemala” campaign was launched, in which the ministry claims that “88 percent of fertile land is vacant.”

But as production of palm has expanded, small farmers have been pushed further and further to the margins.

“We need the fish,” said Juan Choy. “We are living without land. People are migrating to Mexico and the United States, and families are disintegrating. Where are we supposed to produce? There is no land. The cost of meat has skyrocketed, and our maize is coming from Mexico.”

Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist currently based out of Guatemala. He has covered human rights, social moments, and issues related to education, immigration, and land in the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala. Follow him on twitter @palabrasdeabajo

July 7, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Visits Jamaica, Urges Caribbean Nations to Break from PetroCaribe

By Z.C. Dutka | Venezuelanalysis | April 8th, 2015

Boa Vista – US President Barack Obama arrived today in Jamaica as part of an ongoing effort to persuade the island and its neighbors to reduce dependency on Venezuela’s bilateral PetroCaribe program.

As the first active US president to visit Jamaica in 33 years, the primary goal of Mr. Obama’s trip will be to develop, in coordination with the World Bank, an investment plan in the Caribbean’s energy sector.

Vice-president Joe Biden has alleged that PetroCaribe, founded by Hugo Chavez in 2005, is being used as a “tool of coercion” against the region by the South American nation.

For almost a decade, Venezuela has shipped fuel to 18 nations in the Caribbean and Central America with favorable terms for payment, such as low-interest loans, while investing in community projects including hospitals, schools, highways, and homeless shelters.

Last week, the Bolivarian government, through the Petrocaribe initiative, donated US$16 million to help the government of St. Kitts and Nevis provide for former sugar industry workers.

In January, Biden gathered Caribbean heads of state in Washington as part of his Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which he claims is seeking clean energy solutions for small island governments. However, the focus of the event was less about environmentalism and more about breaking away from Venezuelan trade.

“Whether it’s the Ukraine or the Caribbean, no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country,” he told the leaders in attendance.

Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of “strategic damage” on Venezuela’s part which could cause “a serious humanitarian crisis in our region.”

According to a Miami Herald report published on March 26th, Venezuela has halved subsidized shipments of crude oil to Cuba and other PetroCaribe member nations from 400,000 barrels per day in 2012, to 200,000 barrels per day.

The article, which claimed to cite a Barclay’s Bank report, has since been refuted by the Venezuelan government.

Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez insisted last week that the information was “not true,” and was being published in a concerted effort to discredit PetroCaribe.

Maintaining that the organization remains “pretty strong” despite sliding oil prices and a contracting economy, Rodriguez said a “war” is being waged against the socialist program, because it “brings solutions to poor people.”

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | Leave a comment

New frontiers for oil palm

Communities lose out to oil palm plantations

GRAIN |  September 22, 2014

Palm oil is not something you would associate with a Mexican kitchen. But go to any supermarket in the country, and you will find countless products containing it. The country’s food system has changed immensely since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994 and multinational companies moved in to take control of the country’s food supply. The alarming rate of obesity, now higher than that of the US, is one manifestation of Mexico’s changing food landscape, and tied to this is the escalating consumption of palm oil.

Palm oil consumption has increased by over four times since NAFTA was signed, and it now accounts for one quarter of the vegetable oil consumed by the average Mexican, up from 10% in 1996. Other countries in Latin America undergoing similar changes to their food systems have also increased their consumption of palm oil. Venezuelans have doubled their intake, and Brazilians are consuming 5 times what they did in 1996.

This growing consumption is matched by growing production, not in Mexico, but in those countries where oil palm can be most cheaply produced. A third of Latin America’s palm oil exports now go to Mexico.

Colombia, with about 450,000 ha under production, is the biggest palm oil producer in the Americas. Since the late 1990s, Colombia’s palm oil production has taken off for several overlapping reasons, including government incentives and a national biodiesel mandate. Oil palm has also been promoted as a substitute crop for coca as part of the US-backed “Plan Colombia” – a programme aimed at ending the country’s long-standing armed conflict and curbing cocaine production. Paradoxically, palm oil is also proving a useful way for drug cartels, paramilitaries and landlords to launder money and maintain control of the countryside.

The most notorious land grabs for palm oil in Colombia have occurred in the north west Chocó province, where businessmen and paramilitaries have colluded to force Afro-Colombian communities to cede their territories for palm oil plantations and contract farming. After dozens of Afro-Colombian leaders were killed resisting such land grabs, Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office brought forward charges against 19 palm oil businessmen for crimes of conspiracy, forced displacement, and the invasion of ecologically important land. Three of these businessmen have so far been convicted.

Disease outbreaks have limited palm oil’s expansion in Chocó Province and most of the expansion has instead happened on the pasture lands of the central and eastern parts of the country, where the oil palm industry claims there is little deforestation and displacement of peasants. But studies show that these pasture lands are in fact typically common areas vital to peasants for the production of their food crops and the grazing of their livestock. The “pasture lands” are often the only lands that peasants have access to, and palm oil companies routinely use force and coercion, including paramilitaries, to take control of these lands from them or to force them into oppressive contract production arrangements. Across Colombia, the expansion of palm oil and the presence of paramilitaries are tightly correlated.

Ecuador, Latin America’s second largest palm oil producer, has also seen a recent expansion in oil palm production. While much of its palm oil is produced on farms of less than 50 ha, new expansion is driven by private companies who have been moving into the territories of Afro-Ecuadorians and other indigenous peoples in the Northern part of the country, leading to severe deforestation and displacement and meeting with stiff local resistance.

Land conflicts over palm oil are also erupting in Central America. In Honduras, peasants in the Aguan Valley have been killed, jailed and terrorized for trying to defend their lands and small palm oil farms from powerful national businessmen who have been grabbing their lands to expand their palm oil plantations with the backing of foreign capital. Ironically, these peasant families first moved into the forests of the Aguan in the 1970s as part of a government land reform programme, and were encouraged to grow palm oil and establish their own cooperatives. The neoliberal policies of the 1990s and a coup d’état in 2009, opened the door for powerful local businessmen like Miguel Facussé, to destroy the peasant cooperatives, violently grab lands for plantations, and reorient the supply chain towards exports for biofuels and multinational food companies. Likewise in Guatemala, where production of palm oil has quadrupled over the past decade, the palm oil sector is now entirely controlled by just eight wealthy families who have been aggressively seizing lands from indigenous communities, such as the Q’eqchi,

Some industry insiders predict that an expansion of oil palm production in Brazil will soon dwarf all other production in the region. Brazil is a net importer, and production has so far been confined to a small area of Pará, in the North. But, unlike in other regional palm oil producing countries where production is dominated by national companies and wealthy landowning families, transnational corporations have recently made significant investments in Brazilian palm oil production, such as the mining company Vale, energy companies Petrobras and Galp, and ADM, one of the world’s largest grain traders and a major shareholder in the world’s largest palm oil processor Wilmar.

Going further

Tanya M. Kerssen, “Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras,” FoodFirst, 1 February 2013

Human Rights Everywhere, “The flow of palm oil Colombia- Belgium/Europe: A study from a human rights perspective,” 2006

More frontiers

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guatemala defies ‘Monsanto Law’ pushed by US as part of trade agreement

RT | September 3, 2014

The highest court in Guatemala has suspended the controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.

The Constitutional Court suspended on Friday the law – passed in June and due to go into effect on Sept. 26 – after a writ of amparo was filed by the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Peasant Movement, which argued the law would harm the nation, LaVoz reported.

The Court’s decision came after several Guatemalan parliamentarians from both the governing Patriotic Party and the opposition party Renewed Democratic Freedom said they would consider repealing the law after outcry from a diverse cross-section of Guatemalans.

The decision also offers interested parties 15 days to present their arguments pertaining to the law in front of the Constitutional Court. Members of both political parties said they would present motions to resist the law.

The ‘Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties,’ dubbed the ‘Monsanto Law’ by critics for its formidable seed-privatization provisions, is an obligation for all nations that signed the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. The agreement requires signatories to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties.

The law offers producers of transgenic seeds, often corporate behemoths like Monsanto, strict property rights in the event of possession or exchange of original or harvested seeds of protected varieties without the breeder’s authorization. A breeder’s right extends to “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety,” thus, a hybrid of a protected and unprotected seed belongs to the protected seed’s producer.

The Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) warned that the law would monopolize agriculture processes, severely threaten food sovereignty – especially those of indigenous peoples – and would sacrifice national biodiversity “under the control of domestic and foreign companies.”

The National Alliance for Biodiversity Protection said in July that the law is unconstitutional “because it violates the rights of peoples. It will benefit transnational seed companies such as Monsanto, Duwest, Dupont, Syngenta, etc.”

“According to this law, the rights of plant breeders are superior to the rights of peoples to freely use seeds,” the Alliance said in a statement.

“It’s a direct attack on the traditional knowledge, biodiversity, life, culture, rural economy and worldview of Peoples, and food sovereignty,” the Alliance added.

Anyone who violates the law, wittingly or not, could face a prison term of one to four years, and fines of US$130 to $1,300.

It is unclear what options the Guatemalan government has given the obligations under CAFTA-DR. The US would likely put pressure on the nation to pass the law, part of a global effort using trade agreements to push further corporate control over trade sectors like agriculture in the name of modernization. Upon further refusal, the US could drop Guatemala from the trade agreement.

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Increase in homicides linked to “extermination groups” and ARENA campaign

CISPES | January 21, 2014

Since the beginning of the New Year and with the February 2nd presidential elections less than two weeks away, El Salvador has seen a dramatic increase in homicides.  In the month of January, El Salvador has seen an average of 9.4 violent deaths per day, a shocking increase from months past, many of them carried out en masse and reminiscent of death squad-style murders.

The Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD), a Salvadoran legal aid clinic and research group, reports that the murders are being carried out by “extermination groups.” Nelson Flores of FESPAD notes that these types of murders often occur prior to electoral periods, and that the “extermination groups” are trying to generate terror in the population and make the government look like it cannot stop this phenomenon.

The type of group that FESPAD describes have been operating in El Salvador since during the armed conflict; many of the groups take their names from “historic figures tied to the worst state violence, including General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, Domingo Monterrosa, Roberto D´Aubuisson.” This is not the first time that FESPAD has publicized the continued operation of social cleansing groups in El Salvador (For more background, download a report in Spanish here).

Even before FESPAD’s recent announcement, many prominent voices in El Salvador had been questioning whether the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party was behind the recent rise in homicides.

President Mauricio Funes expressed concern about a possible link between the increased violence and ARENA’s electoral campaign, while FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana described ARENA, wracked by internal crises and an unpopular candidate, as being driven to desperate measures, including the use of confrontation and violence as part of a last ditch effort at a “black campaign.”

ARENA’s new campaign manager, the infamous right-wing Venezuelan campaign manager J.J. Rendón, is renowned for his use of “rumorology” and smear tactics. At the very least, ARENA is taking advantage of the increase in murders in their campaign, which has in recent weeks turned more vitriolic, with a focus on violence and insecurity. Some ads use slogans like “My money will no longer go to gangs” and “Children will play safely in the streets again” while others directly attack the Funes administration’s public security policies.  In a recent presidential debate, ARENA candidate Norman Quijano, who was the only candidate to directly attack the administration, proposed militarizing public security as a solution to the insecurity problems, a measure that would directly violate El Salvador’s Constitution.

January 24, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Comments Off on Increase in homicides linked to “extermination groups” and ARENA campaign

Canada Signs Free Trade Deal with Honduras amid Pre-electoral Repression

By Sandra Cuffe | Upside Down World | November 14, 2013

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.

canada_honduras_ftaEd 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.

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | Comments Off on Canada Signs Free Trade Deal with Honduras amid Pre-electoral Repression

Misunderstanding, militarized

By Matt Erickson | LJWorld | August 21, 2013

[Jerry] Dobson, a professor of geography at Kansas University [KU], is the lead researcher on one of 14 projects to win grants this year from the Minerva Research Initiative, a U.S. Department of Defense effort to learn more about other parts of the world through social-science research.  He and other researchers will receive about $1.8 million over three years to study indigenous communities throughout Central America, with a possibility to apply for renewal and receive a total of $3 million over five years. […] “There are too many instances where misunderstanding of other areas has cost us,” Dobson said. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, the United States may have fared better in many of its conflicts over the past half-century with more knowledge about the culture and politics of other parts of the world.

Yes, the Bowman expeditions are back, rebooted by a Department of Defense Minerva grant, and soon to arrive in all seven Central American countries.  To study which indigenous peoples, exactly?  Usually in academia such things are not secret, but this project involves the US military.  After reading Erickson’s story I wrote Professor Dobson to ask for a copy of his research proposal.  In reply to my request, he sent me a link to one of his peevish essays.  I thanked him for the piece and asked for the proposal again; he replied by asking if I had read his essay—which, I gather, he sees as a scathing rebuke of critical scholars like me, hence an answer in itself.  That’s the thing about collaborating with the military: it makes you more cloistered and secretive.  The fraternal romance of power creeps in.  Pretty soon you don’t share basic information about your research with other scholars, even when the work is funded from the public and motivated, ostensibly, by a need to create an “informed public.”

In fairness to Professor Dobson, he has reason to be defensive.  His work has come under sharp criticism (see Joe Bryan’s essay, e.g., and its links).  I recently published a book, Geopiracy: Oaxaca, militant empiricism, and geographic thought, that examines how Dr. Dobson and other geographers from the University of Kansas went to Mexico to map indigenous lands with funds from the US military and, according to the communities they studied, failed to mention the source of their funds and their ties to the US military.  I won’t recapitulate the whole story (you can read Jeremy Crampton’s review here), but it’s worth remembering that the controversy started when indigenous communities in Oaxaca discovered the ties between the Bowman expeditions and the US military.  They rebelled, publishing a trio of public denunciations of the project, such as this 2009 letter from the community of San Miguel Tiltepec, Oaxaca:

[The geographers] never informed us that the data they collected in our community would be given to the Foreign Military Study Office (FMSO) of the Army of the United States, nor did they inform us that this institution was one of the sources of financing for the project.  Because of this, we consider that our General Assembly was tricked by the researchers, in order to draw out the information the[y] wanted.  The community did not request the research[;] it was the researchers who convinced the community to carry it out.  Thus, the research was not carried out due to the community’s need, it was the researchers […] who designed the research method in order to collect the type of information that truly interested them. […] [W]e wish to express to the public […] our complete disagreement with the research carried out in our community, since we were not properly informed of the true goals of the research, the use of the information obtained, and the sources of financing [for the entire statement, see Zoltan Grossman’s website].

The ‘Oaxaca controversy’ shocked many by revealing US military collaboration with academic geographers.  With his NSF/Minerva grant, Professor Dobson is again spearheading the military front within the discipline.  Although to read the coverage of his work in LJWorld, it seems the sole motivation is cultural understanding.

Thanks to the Public Records Office at the University of Kansas, I was able to obtain a copy of the proposal that won Dr. Dobson the $3 million.  As a scholarly proposal it is not worth serious discussion.  The text is comprised mainly of recycled bits of Bowman Expedition doggerel; superficially it resembles an NSF proposal, but the analytical architecture is just shoddy.  For instance, their research hypothesis is: “certain land tenure and land use practices will mean significant level of cultural resilience, with associated benefits, such as environmental conservation and tourism development…” (p 4).  Yet these “certain” practices are never defined and the brief theoretical discussion on land tenure relies mainly on a handful of US military sources.  Their methodology is to vacuum up as much material about indigenous communities as they can obtain and repackage everything into one giant “ArcGIS database of digital maps, data, and statistics” (p 5).

Nevertheless, the proposal contains these useful hints about the project.  Their fieldwork is based out of the Department of Anthropology at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (or UNAH) where they are collaborating with anthropologist Dr. Silva Gonzalez (p 5).  They aim to study all the municipalities in Central America where at least 30% of the population is indigenous as classified by language (p 7).  Presumably this means that they will conduct considerable fieldwork in Guatemala – home to the largest percentage of indigenous people in Central American – although, curiously, Honduras is the only country singled out for fieldwork in the proposal.

Less ambiguous are their promises about the project’s usefulness to the US military.  The proposal’s one-page ‘abstract’ includes this statement:

Impact on DoD Capabilities and Broader Implications for National Defense: The proposed research addresses recognized deficiencies in U. S. foreign policy, military strategy, and foreign intelligence.  DoD will gain new capabilities to conduct human geographic research, similar to but more advanced than those employed extensively in World Wars I and II.  DoD will benefit directly and abundantly from the openly-reported research and the geographic information disseminated and from a greatly improved pool of regional experts, an improved labor pool, and a better informed public in times of future political debates and conflict [my italics].

Never mind a weak analytical argument; this is the stuff that wins Minerva grants.

The Minerva program emerged out of the DoD circa 2007, i.e. the same era as the Bowman expeditions.  Through Minerva the DoD seeks to derive ideas and data about potential targets from US-based social scientists.  To do so, the Pentagon has teamed up with NSF (which engages the scholars and handles the money).  The funding isn’t enormous – a few million dollars per grant – but these are times when money is scarce and even research proposals rated as ‘excellent’ are not necessarily funded by NSF.  Ironically, the competitiveness of normal NSF (scientific) funding increases the prestige value of the Minerva (military) grants.  And the NSF helps some Minerva applicants assuage their fears that they are not actually conducting military research.  But make no mistake; it is the DoD’s money and they shape the agenda.  They will also certainly get the ArcGIS database being built by the Kansas geographers.

Geographers have not been at the forefront of the Minerva program; Dr. Dobson’s was, I believe, the only geography proposal funded in this year’s batch.  Among geographers there is practically nothing written on Minerva, but perhaps Dobson’s grant will change that (the Social Science Research Council has posted a useful overview on Minerva with some good essays, such as this one by Priya Satia at Stanford).  To grasp something of the psychology of those geographers working with the US military today, we are best served by studying the recent pair of extraordinary papers published by Trevor Barnes on Walter Christaller’s work for the Nazi regime (including this one, coauthored with Claudio Minca, in Annals of the AAG 103(3)).  And in times of Bowman redux, we should reread the late Neil Smith’s outstanding biography of Isaiah Bowman, American Empire:

[C]iting the ‘growing influence of geography among military men,’ [Bowman] even urged the War Department [today’s Department of Defense] to send some officers to the AGS [sponsor of today’s Bowman expeditions] to advance their studies in ‘the field of geography as applied to military operations’.  He hedged about whether Latin American governments should be informed.  What became of these plans tendering geography for the purpose of government spying is not clear.  There have always been social scientists who have collaborated with government intelligence organizations, and from the time of the Roman geographer Strabo to the current CIA [headed by Petraeus], geography as a scholarly pursuit has traditionally operated as a handmaiden to the state.  But the great majority of scholars have traditionally frowned on collusion with military intelligence operations, and scholarly associations often carry explicit prohibitions against spying. […] What is remarkable about Bowman’s injudicious peddling of geography and the services of the AGS is the lack of any sense that his eager cooperation with Military Intelligence, the government’s premier spy agency of this period, in any way compromises his scientific integrity or endangers scientists (pp. 89-90).

The Bowman Expeditions represent only one side-project for the US state/military and a small one at that.  Thanks to Edward Snowden, the NSA’s spying has been exposed and we’ve learned how hundreds of thousands of people in the US have been subject to government surveillance.  The situation is much worse when we consider US state surveillance of the rest of the world.  The task of systematically collecting geospatial data and conducting routine surveillance around the world for the US state/military falls to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), an organization that has not received the scrutiny given to the NSA.  (On the NSA revelations and the NGA, see Jeremy Crampton’s excellent essay at the Society and Space website.)  No less worrying are the myriad military programs to improve how the US armed forces – particularly the Army – ‘uses’ human geography as a weapon.  As I have discussed elsewhere, these are geographical projects of much greater significance than the Bowman expeditions and led by people who are more dangerous than Professor Dobson.

We are witnessing an unprecedented attempt by one state to collect data – much of it geocoded – from multiple sources (data mining, satellites, outright spying, and much more), reaching into the most intimate spaces of our lives and saturating our very means of communication.  The US government has constructed an unparalleled platform for geospatial data collection and analyses, capable of mapping people’s movements and communications across the entire planet.  All of this has potential military ‘applications’, meaning the potential to harm people, including US citizens (since we can have little faith that these tools cannot be used on civilians through police, FBI, or other agencies).  The capacity of the US state/military to locate, follow, track, and kill people is without precedent and without equal, and that is the point.  Given the extraordinary record of violence carried out by the US government over the past century – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – one would have to have an almost religious faith in the infallibility of US leadership and the rightness of their ideology not to look at the government’s military/intelligence capacities and feel enraged at the injustices already committed—and the many more to come.

What are we to do?  One way to answer this question, as Professor Dobson reminds us, is to ask how we can “reduce international misunderstandings.”  His approach is to militarize those misunderstandings by providing maps and data to the Pentagon.  There is another way, one elaborated beautifully by Edward Said in a 1991 interview.  Allow me to quote at length:

There’s only one way to anchor oneself [as an intellectual], and that is by affiliation with a cause, a political movement.  There has to be identification not with the secretary of state or the leading philosopher of the time but with matters involving justice, principle, truth, conviction.  Those don’t occur in a laboratory or a library.  For the American intellectual, that means, at bottom, that the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world, now based upon profit and power, has to be altered to one of coexistence among human communities that can make and remake their own histories and environments together. … [Unfortunately, even] inside the university, the prevalence of norms based upon domination and coercion is so strong because the idea of authority is so strong, whether it’s derived from the nation-state, from religion, from the ethnos, from tradition. … Part of intellectual work is understanding how authority is formed.  Authority is not God-given.  It’s secular.  And if you can understand that, then your work is conducted in such a way as to be able to provide alternatives to the authoritative and coercive norms that dominate so much of our intellectual life, our national and political life, and our international life above all.

If we are going to criticize the formation of authority and provide alternatives to the norms that dominate intellectual life, we have no choice: we must confront the US military.

~

Joel Wainwright is an Associate Professor in Geography at The Ohio State University. His most recent book Geopiracy: Oaxaca, Militant Empiricism, and Geographical Thought delivers an expanded critique of the first round of Bowman expeditions.

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Misunderstanding, militarized

Bowman Expedition 2.0 Targets Indigenous Communities in Central America

By Joe Bryan | Public Political Ecology Lab | July 23, 2013

The Lawrence World-Journal recently reported the Defense Department’s decision to fund the latest Bowman Expedition led by the American Geographical Society and the University of Kansas Geography Department. Like the first – and controversial – Bowman expedition to Mexico, this latest venture will be led by KU Geographers Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy and will target indigenous communities.

Like previous Bowman Expeditions, the expedition’s goal is to compile basic, “open-source,” information about countries that can be used to inform U.S. policy makers and the military. This time, however, they won’t be focused on a single country. Instead they’ll be working throughout Central America, a region that Herlihy and Dobson have elsewhere called “The U.S. Borderlands.” What is this Expedition about? And why is the Defense Department funding academic research on indigenous peoples?

As with the expedition to Mexico, Herlihy and Dobson are focused on land ownership. Echoing a growing list of military strategists, Herlihy and Dobson contend that areas where property rights are not clearly established and enforced by states provide ideal conditions for criminal activity and violence that threaten regional security.

Herlihy and Dobson propose to use maps made with indigenous communities of their lands to clarify this problem, ostensibly with an eye towards securing legal recognition of their property rights. In their expedition to Mexico, Herlihy and Dobson turned over their findings to Radiance Technologies, an Alabama-based military contractor specializing in “creative solutions for the modern warfighter.”  It’s not clear whether this new expedition will do the same, though the program funding it, the Minerva Research Initiative, evaluates proposals according to their ability to address national security concerns.

The rationale for these Expeditions has been parsed in film, print, and by academics (myself included), revealing them to be little more than intelligence gathering efforts carried out by civilian professors and their graduate students. Zapotec communities visited by the previous expedition to Mexico have further denounced Herlihy’s and Dobson’s efforts as “geopiracy,” (and again here) that replay some of colonialism’s oldest tactics of extracting information from communities for people (the U.S. Army) who live elsewhere. Zapotec communities in Oaxaca have also accused Herlihy of failing to inform them of the U.S. Army’s role in funding the Expedition and process data collected by it.

Military funding for the latest Bowman Expedition raises the question of what the U.S. military wants to know about Central America. Moreover, why is it funding research on indigenous peoples? It’s hard to imagine that the U.S. military has much interest in the nuances that distinguish, say, Tawahka communities from Emberá ones. Nor does the military appear concerned with the chronic insecurity of land rights, which continues to be one of the primary threats faced by indigenous communities. A far more likely answer lies with the military’s growing interest in collecting information about the “cultural” or “human” terrain that they can use as needed for a variety of purposes, from managing risks posed by natural disasters to planning military interventions.

Maps of the sort produced by the Bowman Expeditions are certainly useful for this task compiling information about who lives where and place names, to give two examples. But maps can only describe the territory. What they cannot describe are the intricacies of the “terrain” such as the social networks through which access to land and resources are negotiated or the history of struggles over land.

The U.S. military is more familiar with this terrain than one might think. Beginning with the “Banana Wars” of the early 20th Century, the U.S. military has intervened more times in Central America that just about any other region in the world. Indeed the Marines’ first resource on counter-insurgency, the “Small Wars Manual,” drew extensively from their experiences navigating the indigenous Mayanagna and Miskito communities in pursuit of Augusto Sandino’s anti-imperialist forces in Nicaragua.

In the 1980s, U.S. military advisors once again traversed the indigenous areas of Central America for tactical gain. In eastern Nicaragua and Honduras, they helped train and organize Miskito-led armed groups as part of the proxy battle strategy of the Contra War. In Guatamala they targeted Maya communities as bastions of guerilla support with genocidal consequence. Dense forests and other isolated areas throughout the region further provided cover for airstrips also used for illicit shipments of cocaine and weapons orchestrated by the Reagan Administration in support of the Contras.

Herlihy knows this history well.  He’s been mapping the forested areas in eastern Honduras used by the Contras and Miskito armed groups since the late 1980s.  Herlihy’s (and Dobson’s) main military contact, Geoffrey Demarest, knows this history too. A graduate of the School of the Americas, he served as a military attaché to Guatemala.  He’s since become an expert on counter-insurgency, publishing extensively from his experience in Colombia and its relevance for current wars. More recently, he enrolled in the Geography Ph.D. program at KU under Dobson’s supervision.

Still, what is the national security interest in Central America that a Bowman Expedition there can help address? Indigenous land ownership has already been extensively mapped in much of the region as part of property reforms supported by the likes of the World Bank. Several countries in the region now also have promising laws on the books recognizing indigenous and black land rights.

Yet neither maps nor legal reforms have been enough to stop the region from becoming a major transshipment route for cocaine en route to the United States. The State Department estimates that more than 80 percent of cocaine bound for the U.S. passes through Honduras. Some of this trafficking makes use of infrastructure created by counter-insurgency campaigns in the 1980s.

In 2011, Herlihy once again mapped the Honduran Mosquitia as part of another U.S. Army-funded Bowman Expedition.  Shortly thereafter, in 2012, the region was targeted by the DEA who made use of counter-insurgency tactics developed in Iraq to fight traffickers. Among those lessons of Iraq applied in the Mosquitia was the use of forward operating bases immersed in the region’s physical and cultural terrain of the Mosquitia. Two of those bases, El Aguacate and Mocorón, were repurposed bases constructed during the Contra War. The campaign fits a broader pattern of escalating militarization of Central America further illustrated by this map compiled by the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The application of counter-insurgency tactics gives mapping indigenous areas a more sinister edge. Historically the U.S. military has relied on the designation of “Indian Country” and “tribal areas” to designate areas at the edge of state control, often turning them into free-fire zones where the conventions of war, legal and otherwise, do not apply. Better knowledge of these areas has scarcely reduced incidents of violent conflict as Dobson suggests.  Instead, that knowledge has served as a “force multiplier” – to use General Petraeus’s term – that allows the U.S. military to intervene with greater efficiency. Herlihy and Dobson claim to champion the rights of indigenous peoples, but the money and data trail suggests that is only a secondary concern to U.S. military interests.

So why is the U.S. military funding academic geographers to do research in indigenous areas in Central America instead of relying on its own people to do the work? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has relied on social scientists embedded with combat units as part of the Human Terrain System program to gather similar information. Funding academic researchers to do similar work poses a number of advantages.  For starters, it sidesteps the ethical controversy raised by the Human Terrain System. It also brings the added benefit of relying on “civilian” researchers to access communities who might otherwise be wary of soldiers in military uniform. At the same time, it gives the military precisely the kind of detailed, georeferenced information – the spatial “metadata” – sought by the Human Terrain System for areas that lie far from current combat zones. It’s an approach consistent with what geographer Derek Gregory describes as the “everywhere war” currently waged across society on the whole by covert military teams, surveillance, and drones.  By taking the measure of indigenous communities according to security interests, the Bowman Expeditions stand to perpetuate a role that is far too common in Geography’s history. The Bowman Expeditions have generated some productive debate (see also here, here, and here) in this regard, though in a context of shrinking budgets for university research and education the allure of military money remains powerful enough to trump ethical concerns.

Meanwhile as geographers debate the merits of military funding, indigenous peoples continue facing a long list of violent threats from drug trafficking, illegal logging, loss of lands, and institutional racism. The military-funded Bowman Expeditions merely add to that list. Still, as the Zapotec communities in Oaxaca forcefully remind us, it’s their information and the decision to participate in projects like the Bowman Expeditions – or any other research — ultimately resides with them. Herlihy’s and Dobson’s failure to address those concerns will only diminish their access to this field, undermining the kinds of rights and free exchange of knowledge they profess to support.

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See Also: U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca: University Geographers Used to Gather Intelligence?

Military-backed Mapping Project in Oaxaca Under Fire

Joe Bryan is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. For additional resources on the Bowman Expedition, see Zoltán Grossman’s fantastic website.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bowman Expedition 2.0 Targets Indigenous Communities in Central America

Ex-CIA station chief in Milan detained in Panama

RT | July 18, 2013

A former station chief with the CIA has been detained in Panama after being on the run from Italian police for more than a decade.

Robert Seldon Lady, 59, was reportedly brought into custody early Thursday after surfacing in the Central American country. An Italian court convicted him in 2009 in absentia of abducting an Egyptian terror suspect from the streets of Milan, and he was sentenced in early 2013 to nine years in prison. Only now, however, has he been caught, according to a statement made Thursday by the Italian justice ministry.

The case against Lady marked the first time ever that a CIA agent was accused of kidnapping and brought to trial. Twenty-two other Americans, mostly intelligence officers, were also convicted for their role in the “extraordinary rendition” of a Muslim cleric.

Lady was the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency post in Milan during the time of the abduction. He is accused of abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and assisting in his years’ long detention which was reportedly accompanied with bouts of torture.

“I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors,” Lady told Italy’s Il Giornale newspaper in 2009.

Previously, Lady told GQ magazine in a candid interview that, “When you work in intelligence, you do things in the country in which you work that are not legal.”

“It’s a life of illegality,” said Lady, “But state institutions in the whole world have professionals in my sector, and it’s up to us to do our duty.”

“I console myself by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism, that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me,” Lady said to Italian journalists.

Lady had served just shy of a quarter-century with the CIA at the time of the crime. He described his former employer to GQ years later as “the vanguard of democracy” and his role as “the greatest job I ever had.”

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment