For over two decades now, US planes have been dumping tons of pesticides over Colombian coca fields.
Originally the Colombian government wholeheartedly supported the ridiculous notion of mass killing all vegetation in attempt to cull the drug trade. However, it is no longer a secret that the health effects of long-term exposure to glyphosate are less than desirable.
Just last month, the World Health Organization was forced to admit that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The recent acceptance by the mainstream that Monsanto’s Roundup causes a slew of negative health effects has sparked fear and infighting among the Colombian government.
According to the AFP,
Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria said last week that Colombia should “immediately suspend” spraying — a move vehemently opposed by Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, who said it would “give criminals the upper hand.”
The row erupted just as US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a visit to Colombia, which the United States sees as one of its closest allies in the region.
The politicians who are fear-mongering about stopping the program are likely scared of losing the hundreds of millions in funds received annually from the US to combat the cultivation of this plant.
Daniel Mejia, the head of Colombia’s Center for Research on Security and Drugs explained why they are worried about the program. “We carried out a study that showed fumigating caused dermatological and respiratory problems and provoked miscarriages,” he said.
Even if dumping massive amount of carcinogenic pesticides from airplanes was a good idea, it’s not effective. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, this program has aided Colombia in reducing its coca fields from more than 140,000 hectares (346,000 acres) in 2001 to 48,000 hectares in 2013. However, they conveniently left out the increase seen last year.
The amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia jumped 39 percent in 2014 to 112,000 hectares (about 27,000 acres), according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Cocaine trafficking in Latin American region has caused a slew violence and turmoil, including the Colombian civil war. However, this turmoil is a direct result of prohibition spearheaded by the United States.
Colombia never had a cocaine trafficking problem until the US-funded war on drugs began its destructive path across South America.
During the 1980s, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia were responsible for 65%, 25% and 10% of the world’s coca production respectively. By 2000, however, the US “war on drugs” in neighboring Andean countries had turned Colombia into the world’s largest cocaine producer by far, representing 90% of the total, according to a report from the from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The coca plant is one of the most beneficial and astonishingly resilient plants in the world. Resistant to drought and disease, coca needs no irrigation and the alkaloids it contains provide a myriad of medicinal uses. From its analgesic effects to digestive aid, coca’s positive influence in medicine is vast.
The plant has played an important role in history dating back to the Pre-Inca period.
According to a study published by Harvard University in 1975, (Nutritional Value of Coca Leaf (Duke, Aulick, Plowman 1975)) chewing 100 grams of coca is enough to satisfy the nutritional needs of an adult for 24 hours. Thanks to the calcium, proteins, vitamins A and E, and other nutrients it contains, the plant offers even better possibilities to the field of human nutrition than it does to that of medicine, where it is commonly used today.
However, the state cares not about the benefit of such a plant, only that it can be turned into a white powdery substance and snorted to stimulate long and often nonsensical conversations. Instead of cultivating the plant for its benefits, the immoral war on drugs drops carcinogens from airplanes to stop its growth.
The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, is avoiding any stance on the aerial spraying program whatsoever. According to the AFP, his staff said the final authority on the matter is the National Narcotics Council, which falls under the Justice Ministry. In the meantime, however, the spraying continues.
In the 1976 docudrama about the Watergate affair and the fall of Richard Nixon, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward’s source at the FBI, Deep Throat, tells him to “follow the money.” To the Washington Post editorial board in 2015, doing just that is problematic—and probably anti-Semitic. Or at least that’s their charge in a piece published last Friday entitled, “Argentina’s President Resorts to Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories,” the Post opens by asking:
What do lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the director of a Washington think tank have to do with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously in January? Well, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, they are all part of a “global modus operandi” that “generates international political operations of any type, shape and color.”[Links added]
The Post’s problem is that Kirchner posted a “rant” on her website highlighting the fact that Paul Singer—whose hedge fund, Elliott Management, is seeking to force Argentina to repay the full amount of its defaulted debt—has contributed a whole lot of cash to the same neoconservative organizations in Washington that have been tarring the South American nation as a deadbeat ally of Iranian-backed terrorism. These same groups have also uncritically promoted the work of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who in 2006 issued a highly controversial 900-page indictment charging seven senior Iranian officials with ordering the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), that killed 85 people. Nisman died in his apartment from a bullet to the head January 18, the night before he was set to testify before the Argentine congress in support of new charges that Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, had conspired with Tehran to quash international arrest warrants against those same Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for a favorable trade agreement.
Making the Links
In 2013, Inter Press Service (IPS) ran a two-part feature by Charles (here and here) on the links between Singer and Nisman’s neoconservative fan club in the United States. The Argentine press and the president herself recently cited this work. The Post, however, plays dumb: “How do Singer, AIPAC and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [FDD] come into this?” it asks.
Mr. Singer—or “the Vulture Lord,” as Ms. Kirchner called him—won a court battle on behalf of holders of Argentine debt last year; Ms. Kirchner chose to default rather than pay. Mr. Dubowitz’s think tank has published papers on Argentine-Iranian relations, while AIPAC has criticized the Obama administration’s preliminary nuclear deal with Iran. Confused?
Conspicuously and no doubt consciously missing from the Post’s retelling is the fourth sentence of Kirchner’s “rant”: “[Singer] contributed to the NGO Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), $3.6 million from 2008 to 2014.” By leaving this out, the Post is better able to pretend the only link between Singer and Dubowitz and Nisman is their Judaism.
Argentina, whose politics are reputedly as byzantine and Machiavellian as any country’s, does indeed have a history of anti-Semitism. Not only did it offer a refuge to fleeing Nazis after World War II, but the military junta that took power in 1976 included elements that extolled the Third Reich, as eloquently retold by perhaps the most famous survivor of the junta’s torture chambers, Jacobo Timerman (the foreign minister’s late father) in his 1981 book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.
Kirchner may indeed have a political interest in claiming that an international conspiracy is defaming her government, but the evidence for such a conspiracy in this case is much stronger than the Post suggests. As noted above, millions of dollars have flowed from Singer’s pockets to the various neoconservative groups whose advocacy of confrontation with Iran has extended to attacking Argentina, in particular over its ties to the Islamic Republic.
Singer, who sits on the board of the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, turns out to be a generous funder of not only FDD, but AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as a number of other right-wing groups and politicians that have stoked hostility toward Iran. In 2010, for example, his personal and family foundations contributed a combined $1 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, the fundraising wing of AIPAC and the sponsor of its congressional junkets to Israel. The $3.6 million he gave to FDD between 2008 and 2011, meanwhile, makes him the group’s second largest donor during those three years. So, it’s pretty clear that what ties AIPAC and FDD together is not only their anti-Iran efforts, but also Paul Singer’s largesse. And that’s the link Kirchner highlights but the Post leaves out.
Make no mistake: Singer and Elliott Management stand to make as much as $2 billion if they can collect full value on the debt they bought for pennies on the dollar after the country’s 2001 default. About 93 percent of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to accept a fraction of what they were originally owed (a fact the Post also conveniently omitted). But Singer—who has done this sort of thing before with other nations that have defaulted on their debt—sued in U.S. court to recover the full amount, a move the Kirchner government has fought every step of the way. The Obama administration and the International Monetary Fund, as well as most of Latin America and Washington’s closest European allies, have also sided with Argentina, viewing Singer’s actions as a threat to the international financial system.
The Iranian “Connection”
What has this got to do with Nisman, though? His allegations of Iranian direction in the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires—and subsequent charges that the Kirchner government was trying to cover up that involvement so as to not undermine its growing economic relations with the Tehran—proved quite useful in another arena: the court of public and congressional opinion. According to IPS’s Gareth Porter, Nisman’s 2006 indictments were based virtually entirely on the testimony of a long-discredited former Iranian intelligence officer and several members of the cult-like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war.
But the claims have undoubtedly been useful to Singer’s cause. “We do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” Robert Raben, executive director of the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) explained to The Huffington Post. ATFA, a group Singer helped create with other hold-out creditors in 2007, spent at least $3.8 million dollars over 5 years doing whatever it could to paint Argentina as a pariah, according to IPS. Connecting the Kirchner government to Iran has clearly furthered that purpose.
“Argentina and Iran: Shameful Allies” was the headline of one ATFA ad that ran in Washington newspapers back in June 2013 as the Obama administration was considering whether to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Argentina’s favour. The ad featured adjoining photos of Kirchner and outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad connected by the question, “A Pact With the Devil?”
“What’s the TRUTH About Argentina’s Deal with Iran?” asked another very flashy full-page ad featuring unflattering photos of Kirchner and Hassan Rouhani published in the Post’s front section shortly thereafter. The ad included excerpts of letters denouncing the joint investigation from members of Congress, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) who received more than $95,000 from employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, in the 2010 election. The signer of one letter urging the administration against siding with Argentina, former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)—who after his re-election in 2014 pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and resigned shortly thereafter—received $38,000 in campaign contributions from Elliott in 2012, nearly twice as much as his next largest donor.
Singer’s generosity also appears to have produced results in the think tank world, with Dubowitz’s FDD leading the way. In May 2013, as ATFA was running the Kirchner-Ahmadinejad ad, FDD release an English-language summary of a new “ground-breaking” report by Nisman detailing “Iran’s extensive terrorist network in Latin America.” (In an extended exchange with ProPublica here and here, Jim pointed out the summary’s many serious holes, leaps of logic, and other weaknesses.) The report triggered a flood of op-eds by FDD fellows and fellow-travellers at other neo-conservative organizations, as well as a series of hearings held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee. According to FDD’s vice president, Toby Dershowitz, the report provided:
a virtual road map for how Iran’s long arm of terrorism can reach unsuspecting communities and that the AMIA attack was merely the canary in the coal mine. …The no-holds-barred, courageous report is a ‘must read’ for policy makers and law enforcement around the world and Nisman himself should be tapped for his guidance and profound understanding of Iran’s terrorism strategy.
Nisman’s death, on the eve of his testimony before the Argentine Congress about his charges against Kirchner and Timerman (since dismissed by two courts), produced another outpouring of articles by FDD fellows recalling the prosecutor’s tireless efforts to document Iran’s alleged involvement in the AMIA bombings and Kirchner’s purported courtship of Iran. Within a month, FDD announced the establishment of an “Alberto Nisman Award for Courage.” “We must pay careful attention to the detailed Iranian playbook he left behind and from it, heed important lessons in counter-terrorism and law enforcement,” Dershowitz said in the announcement. (For an interesting take on Nisman’s work, see “Why Nisman is No Hero in Argentine Bombing Case” by Argentine journalist Graciela Mochkofsky published last month in The Forward.)
Although FDD clearly lent itself with gusto to Singer’s efforts to tar Argentina and Kirchner with the Iranian brush, AIPAC has been more reserved. It has focused on the issue of Iranian terrorism in its own tireless drive to promote sanctions legislation and a policy of confrontation against the Islamic Republic. In 2010, however, the same year in which Singer and his foundation contributed $1 million to the premier pro-Israel lobby, Nisman was featured on a panel entitled, “Dangerous Liaisons: Iran’s Alliances With Rogue Regimes” at the group’s annual policy conference.
AEI Joins In
As for AEI, Singer would find it attractive not only for its pro-Israel hawkishness and long-standing hostility toward Iran and leftist governments everywhere, but also to its domestic agenda: a hands-off policy toward Wall Street. In other words, he may have had several reasons to give the group $1.1 million in 2009—its second-biggest donor that year—and another $1.2 million over the next two. Whatever his reasons, those who received those millions surely (and demonstrably) knew well enough not to upset their benefactor. And AEI fellow Roger Noriega, a former senior Bush administration official, has certainly pushed the Argentina-Iran/Nisman connection.
As Charles reported in 2013, Noriega has himself been paid at least $60,000 by Elliott Management since 2007—the same year AFTA was founded—to lobby on the issue of “Sovereign Debt Owed to a U.S. Company.” In 2011, he published an article on AEI’s website citing Nisman’s AMIA indictment and denouncing Iran’s offer to cooperate with Argentina in investigating the AMIA bombing as “shocking, in light of Tehran’s apparent complicity in that attack.” The article—“Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?”—cited secret documents suggesting that Tehran and Buenos Aires had recently renewed their cooperation on nuclear development as part of a deal “brokered and paid for” by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Two years later, Noriega and Jose Cardenas, a contributor to AEI’s “Venezuela-Iran Project,” co-authored a seven-page policy brief on AEI’s website entitled “Argentina’s Race to the Bottom,” which, among other things, charged that Kirchner’s government was “casting its lot with rogue governments like those in Venezuela and Iran.” Noting that two-way trade with Iran had grown from $339 million in 2002 to $18.1 billion in 2011, the article asserted:
…[T]he Kirchner government has been turning its back on its historical alliances and increasingly tilting its economic relationships toward countries of dubious international standing where rule of law is less of a concern.
And a week after FDD announced its Nisman Award for Courage, Noriega was back at it with an article headlined “Argentina’s Kirchner Reeling from Scandal.” The piece called for a “credible international investigation into Nisman’s case… to ensure that his 10-year search for the truth was not in vain and that justice is attained not only for his family but also for the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing.” In a veiled reference to Singer’s quest, he wrote:
From ongoing battles with bondholders playing out in a New York courtroom to pressuring critical news outlets through threats and intimidation to failed attempts to jumpstart a flagging economy, the Kirchner administration cannot end soon enough for many Argentines. Candidates lining up to replace Kirchner in the October elections will likely position themselves as far away from the kirchnerista record as possible. A new administration will have ample opportunity – and likely significant public support – to chart a new economic course. That means reconciling with international financial institutions and markets, restoring trust among foreign investors, and rooting out corruption.
Perhaps Noriega is simply interested in tarring Argentina with the Iranian brush in keeping with his long-standing crusade against any Latin American government that defies Washington’s writ. But like others engaged in this campaign, he and his organization have been paid generously by a very wealthy individual with a clear financial stake in seeing that Argentina’s current government is excised from the community of respectable nations, at least until it pays what he thinks he is owed.
If the Post had “followed the money,” it perhaps would not have been so “confused” by the connections Kirchner highlighted between Singer and those who have attacked her government over its allegedly nefarious relations with Iran. Ignoring Deep Throat’s advice and acting as if that trail of money doesn’t exist allowed the paper to better roll out the powerful charge of anti-Semitism. In truth, it’s not the president of Argentina’s supposed bigotry that offends, though, but the powerful enemies she’s made (and how much they’re worth).
The idea sounds great—provide Internet access for the millions of people in developing areas that don’t have it. But in the process of putting that knowledge at the fingertips of that under-served community, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org has drawn a bright line between the haves and have-nots.
Zuckerberg’s plan, developed with manufacturers such as Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung, allows free access via mobile phones in developing areas only to certain parts of the Internet. Surprise—Facebook is one of the applications able to be reached by way of the Internet.org app. Wikipedia is also available as are weather and a few other sites. But if you want to go to a site not on the app, you must either pay a fee or you’re out of luck.
Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, have applauded the Internet.org strategy, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But others, including Carolina Botero, executive director of the Karisma Foundation in Bogotá, have reservations. Karisma supports the positive use of technology as it pertains to human rights. Botero said: “We have serious concerns that Internet.org is presented as a public policy strategy for universal access to the Internet. This initiative compromises everyone’s rights and blurs the government’s obligation to reduce the digital divide for its citizens for compromised access to certain applications. No matter how interesting they are, these services are associated with a commercial interest of a multinational which the state is directly supporting.”
Zuckerberg claims that because Internet.org doesn’t specifically block sites or charge sites more to run faster, the app conforms with net neutrality principles. But more businesses are starting to see it the other way and are opting out of the program, among them a group of Indian publishers.
“We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level playing field for all companies—big and small—to produce the best service and offer it to consumers,” The Times Group, one of the publishers that withdrew from Internet.org, said in a statement. Other Indian companies to opt out of Internet.org are travel website Cleartrip and information site Newshunt. “What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” Cleartrip said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The problem runs deeper than simply which sites to which poor users should have subsidized access,” wrote EFF’s David Boagado and Katitza Rodriguez. “It lies in the very concept that Facebook and its corporate partners, or governments, should be able to privilege one service or site above another. Despite the good intentions of Facebook and the handful of allied companies, Internet.org effectively leaves its users without a real Internet in the [Latin American] region.”
The result is “having access to only a sliver of what is supposed to be the worldwide web,” wrote Issie Lapowsky at Wired. “As we’ve said before, this creates ‘an Internet for poor people.’”
Zuckerberg’s response, basically, is that half a loaf is better than none. “Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity,” he wrote April 17 in a Facebook post. “Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”
To Learn More:
Does Internet.org Leave Latin Americans Without A Real Internet? (by David Bogado and Katitza Rodriguez, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Mark Zuckerberg Can’t Have It Both Ways on Net Neutrality (by Issie Lapowsky, Wired )
Indian Companies Pull Out of Internet.org amid Battle over Net Neutrality (by Aditi Malhotra, Wall Street Journal )
Supreme Court Upholds Cyber Freedom in India (by Karan Singh, AllGov India )
Mainstream media accounts of the seventh Summit of the Americas, held last weekend in Panama, provide a deceptively rosy picture of U.S.-Latin American relations, echoing the official viewpoint of the U.S. government. In the mainstream account, the U.S. government’s decision to alter its policy towards Cuba by reestablishing diplomatic relations and working to ease—though not end—the fifty-four-year-old U.S. embargo has dramatically transformed U.S.-Latin American relations. At the summit, President Obama declared, “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”.
Obama is right: the era of uncontested U.S. domination in Latin America is over. This is not, however, because the U.S. has suddenly realized that Latin American nations deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. While the region’s leaders have universally praised Obama for his recent actions with respect to Cuba, Latin America remains profoundly wary of the United States. This is not simply because of “history,” as Obama would have the world believe. Rather, it is because of Washington’s continuing efforts to assert its dominance over Latin America. The most flagrant recent example of this came on March 9, 2015, when the White House made a strategically disastrous decision to label Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security.”
Media accounts of the Summit of the Americas acknowledge that Latin American leaders have expressed displeasure with this action. The New York Times reported that, “Several Latin American nations have criticized recent United States’ sanctions against several Venezuelan officials it has accused of human rights violations.” This statement, however, is so deceptive that it warrants an official retraction by the Times. “Several” Latin American nations did not criticize U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. Latin American nations universally condemned U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. On March 26, 2015, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which represents all 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, issued a statement rejecting U.S. sanctions on Latin America and calling for the reversal of the executive order issued on March 9. As Eva Golinger wrote, “Even staunch U.S. allies such as Colombia and Mexico signed onto the CELAC statement.” In a remarkable display of how out of touch the U.S. government has been when it comes to Venezuela, even the anti-government opposition in Venezuela rejected the view that Venezuela constitutes a threat to the US, issuing a statement that, “Venezuela is not a threat to any country.”
The U.S. government deserves a modicum of measured praise for its recent decision to backtrack on its criticism of Venezuela. In the lead-up to the Summit, a White House official declared that, “The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security”. This about-face is significant, since it demonstrates the truth of Obama’s statement that the U.S. can no longer “meddle with impunity” in Latin America.
It is important to understand why this is the case.
It is not because the U.S. has stopped trying to “meddle with impunity.” In addition to the recent sanctions on Venezuela, there are many other recent examples of U.S. “meddling” in Latin America. For instance, the US has vocally and openly supported the Venezuelan anti-government opposition’s strategy of regime change. The George W. Bush administration supported the 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have provided the opposition millions of dollars on an annual basis. The Obama administration provided tacit support for the 2009 coup in Honduras, first refusing to label president Manuel Zelaya’s unconstitutional removal from office a “coup,” and then legitimizing a post-coup government led by the forces that orchestrated Zelaya’s removal. Even though most Latin American nations refused to recognize the results of an election widely viewed as fraudulent, the White House gave the government its stamp of approval. Obama cannot claim that these actions are “history” or that they occurred “before [he] was born.”
It is now harder for the U.S. to “meddle with impunity” because Latin American nations have made substantial progress over the last fifteen years in increasing their ability to effectively assert national and regional sovereignty. This can be seen in the increasingly important role that intra-Latin American organizations that exclude the U.S. and Canada, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and CELAC, now play in regional affairs. By contrast, the role of the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the US and Canada, has diminished considerably.
Recent mainstream media accounts of Latin America acknowledge the region’s increasing independence from the U.S., and note that this is one of the factors that pushed the U.S. to change its stance towards Cuba. These accounts do not, however, properly acknowledge the fact that Latin America’s increased independence is due to the actions of “anti-U.S.” leftist leaders, like the late Hugo Chávez, and, just as importantly, the popular movements that brought these leaders to power and have kept them in office.
The Obama administration deserves the credit it has received, including from many Latin American leaders, for its decision to alter the U.S.’s anachronistic, ineffective, and imperious policy towards Cuba. The transformation of U.S.-Cuba relations must, however, be seen for what it is: a U.S. attempt to maintain influence in a region that has shown its ability to act independently. Latin American nations remain quite wary of the U.S. government. Unless Washington shows the ability to consistently respect Latin American sovereignty—most of all in countries, like Venezuela, that it disagrees with—skepticism about U.S. actions is likely to remain, with U.S. influence in the region continuing to decline. Given the evidence that the U.S. has not yet kicked its nasty habit of treating Latin America as its backyard, this should be seen as a good thing for the people of Latin America.
Caracas – According to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Venezuela reduced its military budget by 34 percent in 2014, leading the the region in arms spending cuts.
Venezuela is followed by Uruguay, which decreased its military spending by 11 percent over the past year.
In contrast, United States political allies Paraguay and Mexico led the region in upping military spending, raising their military budgets by 13 and 11 percent, respectively.
Brazil, which is the largest arms spender in Latin America and the tenth largest in the world, cut its military budget by 1.7 percent due to economic difficulties.
The Americas remains the region with the highest military spending, a fact undoubtedly attributable to the presence of the United States, which, despite a modest budget cut of 6.5 percent, retains its spot as the world’s top arms spender.
With an annual military budget of $610 billion, the US accounts for one-third of global spending, amounting to more than triple the budget of the second highest spender, China.
Nonetheless, this enormous disparity in spending has not prevented the US from branding Venezuela a menace to its neighbors, on numerous occasions.
In 2009, then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton accused Venezuela of fomenting an “arms race” with its purchase of Russian weapons. That same year, Venezuela led the region in cutting military spending, slashing its arms budget by one-quarter.
Last month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order labeling Venezuela a “national security threat”, a move which has been vociferously condemned by a host of countries and multilateral blocs across the globe.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has slammed the West’s “soft” campaign to destabilize Latin American countries.
During her address at the 35-nation Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Saturday, she said the attempts always originate in some NGOs that “we never know who finance them.”
She warned that the destructive attempts “aim at the destabilization of governments in the region, of the governments that have done the most for equality, for education and social inclusion.”
Pointing to the “major accomplishments” of the Latin American governments in the areas of human rights, social inclusion, health, and education, Kirchner said the West lends support to “governments with neoliberal policies that shattered people.”
She also denounced the Western attempts to combat “governments that can show their credentials of having been the ones that have included their countrymen the most.”
Elsewhere in her remarks, the Argentine president criticized the UK for considering her nation a “threat” and thus justifying an increase in its military presence in the Malvinas Islands, known as the Falklands to the British.
“The United Kingdom declared my country a threat to its won territory, the Malvinas Islands: 2.3 percent of UK’s budget is allocated to defense. It is also absurd,” she added.
Britain declared Malvinas as part of its overseas territories in 1833. Argentina calls it an occupation and has time and again challenged the British military presence in the archipelago, which is about 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Argentina’s coast.
Row over the islands turned into a bloody war in 1982. The conflict then claimed the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 Britons and three islanders.
Tensions between Argentina and the UK mounted again in 2013, after a London-backed referendum asking the islanders to decide whether to remain under the British rule. Some 99.8 percent people voted to remain a British territory. The Argentine government challenged the vote calling it “a British maneuver lacking legal value”.
Caracas – On the eve of the much-anticipated Summit of the Americas, Senior White House Advisor Benjamin J.Rhodes downplayed his government’s designation of Venezuela as a threat to U.S. national security on Tuesday.
On March 9, President Obama issued an Executive Order branding Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” and imposing new sanctions, a move which has been roundly condemned by a multitude of nations and multilateral blocs, including UNASUR, the Non-Aligned Movement, CELAC, and the G77+China.
In response to the global outcry, the White House has appeared to soften its tone, with Rhodes dismissing the aggressive language of the Executive Order as “completely pro forma”.
“The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security,” Rhodes stated in a press conference. The Presidential advisor did not, however, indicate that the U.S. administration had any intention of rescinding the executive decree.
The White House statement comes just days prior to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which may mark a new chapter in U.S.-Latin American relations as the former continues to rebuild diplomatic ties with Cuba.
However, this supposed watershed moment has been vastly overshadowed by the Obama administration’s aggressive measures against Venezuela which have united the region behind Caracas and are likely to be a key point of contention at the summit.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has launched a petition campaign to gather 10 million signatures demanding the repeal of Obama’s Executive Order, of which 9 million have been collected so far. The Venezuelan head of state intends to personally deliver the signatures to the U.S. president during the summit this weekend.
Opposition Leaders Seek to Discredit Venezuela
While the U.S. attempts to downplay its aggressive posture against Venezuela, Venezuelan opposition leaders head to Panama where they plan to denounce the Bolivarian nation before the gathering of regional leaders.
The Panama summit will feature various parallel fora that will give “civil society” leaders the opportunity to present on the political and social situation in their respective countries.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed far right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, will be given four minutes to present on Venezuela, which she claims is “on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe“. Lopez, awaits trial for his role in leading last year’s violent opposition protests known as “the Exit” which sought the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro, taking the lives of at least 43 people.
Also attending is Rocio San Miguel of Citizen Control, who is a journalist specializing in military affairs closely linked to the U.S. embassy and various programs of USAID. She has actively worked to discredit President Nicolas Maduro’s relationship with the Venezuelan military as well as coordinates the provision of U.S. funds to anti-government groups.
Representing the Civil Consortium for Development and Justice, attendee Carlos Ponce Silen is the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RELIAL), which funnels the millions it receives in National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funding to Venezuelan opposition groups.
According to U.S. embassy cables published by Wikileaks, Ponce Silen organized a meeting between the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) acting country representative and right wing student leaders in 2008.
Participating on behalf of the Venezuelan Institute of Social and Political Studies (INVESP) is Carlos Correa, director of the NGO Public Space, which has been revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request to be one of the principal fronts for over $4 million in NED funds channelled to Venezuelan opposition journalists between 2008 and 2010.
The Venezuelan opposition has received hundreds of millions in U.S. funding over the past decade, including $14 million between 2013 and 2014 alone, provided via USAID and the NED.
By Eva Golinger | TeleSur | April 3, 2015
As Latin America prepares for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama City on May 9-10, the big elephant in the room is not going to be the long awaited reunion of Cuba with the organization, from which it was excluded over fifty years ago under U.S. pressure, but rather President Obama’s latest act of aggression against Venezuela.
The entire region has unanimously rejected Obama’s Executive Order issued March 9, 2015, declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy” and has called on the U.S. president to rescind his decree.
In an unprecedented statement on March 26, 2015, all 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which represents the entire region, expressed opposition to U.S. government sanctions against Venezuelan officials, referring to them as “the application of unilateral coercive measures contrary to International Law”.
The statement went on to manifest CELAC’s “rejection of the Executive Order issued by the Government of the United States of America on March 9, 2015”, and its consideration “that this Executive Order should be reversed”.
Even staunch U.S. allies such as Colombia and Mexico signed onto the CELAC statement, along with U.S.-economically dependent Caribbean states Barbados and Trinidad, amongst others. This may be the first time in contemporary history that all Latin American and Caribbean nations have rejected a U.S. policy in the region, since the unilateral U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Ironically, President Obama’s justification to thaw relations with Cuba, announced in a simultaneous broadcast with President Raul Castro on December 17, 2014, was primarily based on what he called Washington’s “failed policy” towards the Caribbean island.
More than fifty years of unilateral sanctions and political hostility had only served to isolate the U.S. internationally, while Cuba strengthened its own relations with most countries around the world and gained international recognition for its humanitarian assistance and solidarity with sister nations.
Almost without pause, Obama opened the door to Cuba, admitting Washington’s failure, and then shut it on Venezuela, implementing an almost identical policy of unilateral sanctions, political hostility and false accusations of threats to U.S. national security. Before the region even had time to celebrate the loosening of the noose around Cuba’s neck, it was tightened on Venezuela’s.
Why, the region wondered, would President Obama impose a proven failed policy against another nation in the hemisphere, especially during a period of renewed relations?
Considering the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism that qualifies any alleged threat to U.S. security, by anyone or anywhere, to be a viable target of its vast military power, Venezuela was not about to sit quiet in the face of imminent attack.The South American nation immediately launched an international campaign to denounce Obama’s Executive Order as an act of aggression against a country that poses it no real threat.
President Nicolas Maduro published an Open Letter to the People of the United States in the March 17, 2015 edition of the New York Times alerting readers to the dangerous steps the Obama administration was taking against a peaceful, non-threatening neighboring state. The letter urged U.S. citizens to join calls for Obama to retract his Executive Order and lift the sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
The region reacted quickly. Just 48 hours before Obama’s Executive Order was issued, a delegation of Foreign Ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), representing all twelve South American countries, had traveled to Venezuela to meet with government officials, opposition representatives and members of civil society. UNASUR had been mediating dialogue between the government and opposition since anti-government protests erupted last year and caused over 40 deaths in the country and widespread instability. The fact that Obama’s decree came right after UNASUR had reignited mediation efforts in Venezuela was perceived as an offensive disregard of Latin America’s capacity to resolve its own problems. Now the U.S. had stepped in to impose its will. UNASUR responded with a scathing rejection of Obama’s Executive Order and demanded its immediate abolition.
Additionally, countries issued individual statements rejecting Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela and its designation of the South American country as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to its national security. Argentina considered it “implausible to any moderately informed person that Venezuela or any country in South America or Latin America could possibly be considered a threat to the national security of the United States”, and President Cristina Fernandez made clear that any attempt to destabilize Venezuela would be viewed as an attack on Argentina as well. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed full support for President Maduro and his government and lashed out at Washington, “These undemocratic actions of President Barack Obama threaten the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted that the Obama Decree must be a “bad joke”, recalling how such an outrageous action, “reminds us of the darkest hours of our Latin America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism…Will they understand that Latin America has changed?”
Nicaragua called the Obama Executive Order “criminal”, while wildly popular ex Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica called anyone who considers Venezuela a threat “crazy”.
Beyond Latin America, 100 British parliamentarians signed a statement rejecting U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and called on President Obama to rescind his Executive Order labeling the country a threat.
More than five million people have signed petitions in Venezuela and online demanding the Executive Order be retracted.
Furthermore, the United Nations G77+China group, which represents 134 countries, also issued a firm statement opposing President Obama’s Executive Order against Venezuela. “The Group of 77+China deplores these measures and reiterates its firm commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela… The G77+China calls on the Government of the United States to evaluate and put into practice alternatives of dialogue with the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, under principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination. As such, we urge that the Executive Order be abolished”.
And then there’s the CELAC statement. The entirety of Latin America has rejected Obama’s latest regional policy, just when he thought he had made groundbreaking inroads south of the border. Unsurprisingly, the White House has miscalculated regional priorities once again, underestimating the importance sovereignty, independence and solidarity hold for the people of Latin America.
While Latin America celebrates the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the region will not stand by and let Venezuela come under attack.
If the Obama administration truly wants to be a regional partner, then it will have to accept and respect what Latin America has become: strong, united and bonded by a collective political vision of independence and integration. Any other means of engagement with the region, beyond respectful, equal relations based on principles of non-interventionism, will only have one outcome: failure.
Boa Vista – A wrecked plane, discovered on 2 April in a Western region of Venezuela, was carrying nearly a ton of cocaine and was registered with the official fleet of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office.
Three bodies and 999 kilos of cocaine were found in the Cessna Conquest 441, which crashed on Thursday.
The remains of Norberto Filemon Miranda Perez and Francisco Javier Engombia Guadarrama were confirmed by the Commanding General of Venezuela’s Armed Forces on Saturday.
Miranda Perez, believed to be the pilot, was a regional director of the General Prosecutor’s Aerial Services, a branch of the justice department responsible for investigating federal and state crimes. He held office during the presidency of Felipe Calderon.
The third individual has not yet been identified, though documents naming a Bernardo Lisey Valdez were also found in the wreck.
Built in 1981 in the United States, the aircraft belonged to the Colombian firm Aerotaxi Calamar in the late 1990s, until it passed into Mexican ownership under unknown circumstances, eventually appearing as part of the Attorney General fleet in 2000 under the code XB-KGS.
No records indicating the Cessna’s transfer to private hands have been located, though a photo on jetphoto.com shows what may be the same aircraft in the Benito Juarez airport of Mexico City in 2007, with a new code – indicating new ownership.
According to Venezuelan authorities, the plane may have been downed by military efforts. Information was recorded of a bullet impacting an aircraft of similar characteristics that day, in the nearby region of Apure.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry released a statement yesterday indicating the government’s intent to collaborate with Venezuelan authorities to uncover the details of the crash.
In NML v Argentina, the world continues to witness a rare and surreal spectacle: the unpredictable consequences unleashed by a U.S. judge going rogue on the law. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court validated a lower court ruling that granted investment group NML Capital the right to obtain payment of 100% of its claims against the Argentine government, setting a legal precedent whose impact is just beginning to become clear.
NML’s actions against Argentina demonstrate why the firm is frequently described as a “vulture fund.” After initially acquiring Argentine sovereign debt bonds following the country’s 2002 default, the investment group refused to accept the terms of the agreement that Argentina reached with over 92% of bondholders, in 2005 and 2010. Then, NML sued in U.S. courts for payment of 100% of its bonds’ value, plus interest, aiming to get what amounts to a 1600% return on its original investment.
NML’s lawsuit was part of a carefully thought-out script during Argentina’s long debt restructuring process, a strategy that vulture funds have exploited in the past. First, buy the debt of a country in trouble, on the cheap. Second, systematically reject any offer of a deal worth less than the whole claim. Third, wait until the country’s circumstances improve, aided by a mix of debt relief granted by other creditors and the normal healthy impacts that such debt cancellation, if timely and sufficient, will have on the debtor country’s economy. Then, sue for the whole amount of the claim plus interest.
It is easy to see that if all creditors followed this playbook—waiting for the debtor to get better without sacrificing any part of their credit—the strategy would not work.
Unfortunately, at the international level and for nations issuing sovereign debt, there is no recourse to anything like bankruptcy, so they are exposed to rulings – even divergent ones – made by judges with jurisdiction over particular bonds.
In this particular case, U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa decided to depart from the traditionally accepted interpretation of the pari passu clause typically inserted in sovereign bonds. Whereas the standard pari passu clause is normally understood to grant equality of rank and treatment, Griesa extended the interpretation to forbid Argentina from making payments on its restructured debt without also paying the holdout bondholders.
Argentina went ahead and deposited the payment for its restructured bondholders with the banks the instruments designate as fiduciaries – in charge of collecting the payment and giving it to the bondholders. Since the banks took the judge’s order to mean they could not disburse those funds, an anomaly has emerged: a country complying with its debt obligations falling into default due to a foreign court preventing payment from being disbursed. Amazingly, the unusual nature of the ruling was only the beginning of a sui generis scenario that continues to unfold.
Holders of bonds that were restructured under European or Argentinean jurisdiction filed claims arguing that by blocking payment on their credits—even when made by U.S. banks—Judge Griesa had overstepped his jurisdiction. In fact, the judge has already granted several “one-and-only-time” exceptions so the fiduciary banks could make payments to certain non-U.S. bondholders. When one of the banks, Citi, requested that the injunction be lifted for those payments, to avoid requesting an exception every time interest payments came due, the judge denied the request, only to later backtrack on his own decision. But while agreeing to give Citi this maneuvering room, the judge expanded the initial order – and the jurisdiction overstep – by ruling that future debt under Argentine law, if it will or can be paid in U.S. dollars, qualifies as external debt. So, financial entities helping Argentina make any such payments would be prevented from doing so by the court order.
An English court, in one of these cases, ruled that payments deposited with the fiduciary institution in New York are the property of the bondholders, and no longer belong to the debtor country. Therefore, they should not fall under the jurisdiction of a US judge. Indeed, therein lies another anomaly created by the judge’s ruling: His decision ignored the arrangement Argentina reached with 92% of creditors, but then issued measures that affect payments to these majority creditors—arguably bringing them coercively under his jurisdiction.
The Argentinean Congress also passed legislation according to which it will give non-restructured bondholders – such as NML – the same deal it granted to the restructured ones, but no more. To fulfill this commitment, the government has been depositing these payments in an Argentinean banking institution , which the “vulture funds” could claim at any moment if they so wished (so far they have not).
Some observers speculated that the Argentinean government would agree to settle with the vulture funds after expiration of the RUFO clause. RUFO stands for “right upon future offer” and is inserted in the restructured bonds to promise their holders they will have a right to be offered any better deal that other bondholders receive in the future. If Argentina had settled before the expiration of the clause, it could have faced immediate demands from majority bondholders for payments proportionally equal to those made to NML. But the expiration of the clause in January did not bring any change to Argentina’s offer to the vulture funds. These observers’ speculation failed to recognize that a settlement where NML gets paid the whole amount it demands—even in the absence of the “RUFO effects”—could invite lawsuits from other non-restructured bondholders. In fact, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last June, some of those bondholders have already filed suit hoping to follow in the footsteps of NML. Since these investors hold claims to some $15 billion, this is hardly an advisable course of action for Argentina.
Regardless of what happens with Argentina, however, repercussions from Griesa’s decision reach much farther. The ruling continues a trend that, legal experts say, has seen holdouts increasingly better treated by courts, at the expense of the soundness of sovereign debt restructurings. What former IMF economist Anne Krueger characterized in 2003 as a gap in the international financial architecture is now wider than ever. By increasing the potential rewards of holdout behavior, this recent judicial precedent will make future debt crises harder to resolve, with unpredictable systemic consequences.
At the same time, creditors might opt for a jurisdiction where the traditional understanding of pari passu still holds – such as England– at the expense of New York’s current dominance as a preferential jurisdiction for issuing sovereign debt. Indeed, a large number of prominent economists warned of this possibility following Griesa’s ruling.
Last September, facing the United States and other countries’ continuing resistance to reach a consensus, developing countries voted to create a sovereign debt workout mechanism, and negotiations have begun on establishing such a legal framework at the United Nations. Even in the worst-case scenario—failure to get all countries on board—these negotiations would create a U.N.-endorsed standard for settling future sovereign debt crises. If history is any guide, there is one thing we know for sure: sooner or later there will be a country that needs to resort to it.
Aldo Caliari has been, since 2000, staff at the Washington DC-based Center of Concern where, since 2002, he has been Director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project, focusing on linkages between trade and finance policy, global economic governance, debt, international financial architecture and human rights in international economic policy.
Latin American countries should discuss removing all US military bases from their soil, a top official of integration organization UNASUR suggested. The issue may be discussed next month at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The Summit of the Americas on April 10 and 11 is to be attended by regional leaders, with 31 nations already confirming attendance. UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper suggested that the summit would be a good place to “reassess relations between the US and South America.”
“A good point on the new agenda of relations [in Latin America] would be the elimination of US military bases,” the former Columbian president told the news agency EFE.
He added that the bases were “a leftover from the days of the Cold War and other clashes.”
Samper also blasted Washington’s habit of taking unilateral steps to pursue its goals in Latin America. The latest example is the US declaration of Venezuela as a threat to its national security, he said.
“In a globalized world like the present one, you can’t ask for global rules for the economy and maintain unilateral rules for politics. No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” he stressed.
The Panama meeting has already been declared historic as it will be the first one attended by Cuba since 1962, when it was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS), the event’s organizing body. In 2014, the US and Canada blocked the proposal to readmit Cuba, which drew criticism from UNASUR and a boycott of last year’s summit of the Americas by Ecuador and Nicaragua.
This year Cuban President Raul Castro will have an opportunity to meet his US counterpart Barack Obama, marking progress in the restoration of US-Cuban relations after decades of alienation.
Samper said that the Cuban-US rapprochement should not overshadow Washington’s conflict with Caracas, which is also sending a delegation to the Panama summit, the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, US militarization of the continent and other issues.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is a regional integration organization that includes 12 members and two observer nations. It was formally founded in 2004 and became fully functional in 2011, when its Constitutive Treaty entered into force following ratification by member states. UNASUR is headed by a president chosen from heads of member states, but the secretary-general performs the bulk of the organizational work.