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.
Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.
A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.
According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.
While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.
So far, the abuse cases documented in last month’s report have been met with impunity, as Colombian prosecutors’ hands are tied by U.S.-Colombian agreements giving the U.S. security forces in Colombia immunity. (Many such instances have been reported previously to be met with similar impunity.) Similarly, in the “sex party” case, some of the 10 DEA agents that admitted to participating received between two and 10 days of suspension but no further discipline. William Brownfield, currently Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was U.S. Ambassador to Colombia at the time, with oversight of the DEA.
Commenting on the IG report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service.’’ However, this isn’t the first time U.S. security forces in Colombia have been linked to such abuses, and the problem is not confined to these “bad apples.” They may take the blame for this particular case, but this is ultimately a systemic problem that must not be covered up.
Sex-crimes and gender-based violence are far from the only abuses perpetrated during the U.S.-led “War on Drugs,” of which Plan Colombia is a part, and represent deeper problems endemic to the U.S.’ heightened military presence in the region. While supporters of Plan Colombia tout its dedication to upholding transparency and security, reports of human rights violations committed by U.S.-trained-and-funded personnel continue to surface. Amnesty International has called the initiative a “failure in every respect,” and several reports show that extrajudicial killings have in fact increased since Plan Colombia went into effect in 2000. In a congressional briefing with CEPR last year, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, Alberto Yepes, noted that between 2000 and 2010 there were 5,763 documented “false positive” extrajudicial civilian killings. This was over the same time period that the U.S. gave $6 billion in military assistance, supplying military advisors and training Colombian troops.
Amid such incriminating evidence of abuses by U.S. personnel and testimony of its flawed training programs, it seems clear that U.S. military and drug war “assistance” should be scaled back– or at the very least reassessed. These revelations should worry policy makers, considering perceptions of such actions condition how U.S. agents are received by other governments. The U.S. has been kicked out of Bolivia for using DEA agents to spy, and DEA agents are under investigation for an incident in which four Afro-indigenous civilians in Honduras were shot and killed from a helicopter, including a 14-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Something is wrong with this picture.
However, not only does the State Department insist that Plan Colombia is a success, but Vice President Joseph Biden’s recently announced foreign assistance plan hopes to export the Plan Colombia model to Central America. As my colleague Alex Main has noted, proposed military assistance to Colombia under the Biden plan would remain at the same levels as in FY 2014, while funding for International Narcotics Control Law Enforcement assistance to Central America would more than double, from $100 million to $205 million. Such an increase seems to ignore the human rights implications foreshadowed by its model.
If the State Department hopes to avoid future sex party scandals and prevent its military from committing any more sex and abuse crimes, it should reevaluate its militarized approach to the drug war and the endemic impunity that this fosters.
An Argentinean appeals court has dismissed charges against the country’s president and foreign minister over an alleged cover-up said to have taken place with regards to a 1994 bombing.
In July 1994, a car bomb exploded at the building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, also known as AMIA, in the capital, Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and some 300 were injured.
The Israeli regime accuses Tehran of masterminding the terrorist attack. The Islamic Republic of Iran has strongly denied any involvement in the incident.
The prosecutor had accused a number of high-ranking Argentinean officials, including President Fernandez de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, and lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroqu of trying to “protect Iranians” in the case.
The government has staunchly denied the allegations and insisted that “there is no evidence whatsoever, not even circumstantial in nature,” that Fernandez de Kirchner or her aides committed any crimes.
On February 26, Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas said likewise that there were no elements to justify the continuation of an investigation into an alleged political effort by Kirchner to cover up the role claimed to have been played by Iran in the bombing.
The documents against Kirchner failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation,” the judge had said.
Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in Buenos Aires on January 18. The initial police report said he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Nisman’s death came hours before he was to testify in a congressional hearing about the AMIA attack.
The Buenos Aires Herald quoted Kirchner as saying on January 22 that the “real move against the government was the prosecutor’s death…. They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead. It is that sad and terrible.”
Prosecutor German Moldes can still file another appeal against the ruling by the Federal Chamber.