United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries patrol a small village. The AUC have been responsible for torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Photo: Justice for Colombia
Plan Colombia’s 15th anniversary will be celebrated in Washington Thursday. But the legacy of the plan is marked by massacres, mass graves, and death squads.
According to Colombia’s Victims Unit, the number of victims of Colombia’s civil war has surpassed 7 million. This number includes those who have been killed, disappeared or displaced since 1956. For a country of under 50 million citizens, these numbers are staggering, and certainly newsworthy, but apparently not for the mainstream media.
Of course, the violence and human rights abuses in Colombia have constituted inconvenient truths for the Western media as the U.S. has been a major sponsor of the violence and abuses in that country.
Indeed, a notable fact in the Colombia Victims Unit report is that “that the majority of victimization occurred after 2000, peaking in 2002 at 744,799 victims.” It is not coincidental that “Plan Colombia,” or “Plan Washington” as many Colombians have called it, was inaugurated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, thus escalating the conflict to new heights and new levels of barbarity. Plan Colombia is a plan pursuant to which the U.S. has given Colombia billions in mostly military and police assistance.
As Amnesty International has explained, these monies have only fueled the human rights crisis in Colombia:
Amnesty International USA has been calling for a complete cut off of US military aid to Colombia for over a decade due to the continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions.
Colombia has been one of the largest recipients of US military aid for well over a decade and the largest in the western hemisphere. . . . Yet torture, massacres, “disappearances” and killings of non-combatants are widespread and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day. . . .
“Plan Colombia” — the name for the US aid package since 2000, was created as a strategy to combat drugs and contribute to peace, mainly through military means….
Despite overwhelming evidence of continued failure to protect human rights the State Department has continued to certify Colombia as fit to receive aid. The US has continued a policy of throwing “fuel on the fire” of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity.
Furthermore, after 10 years and over $8 billion dollars of U.S. assistance to Colombia, U.S. policy has failed to reduce availability or use of cocaine in the US, and Colombia’s human rights record remains deeply troubling. Despite this, the State Department continues to certify military aid to Colombia, even after reviewing the country’s human rights record.
However, what Amnesty International did not explain are two salient facts.
First, the human rights group does not mention that Plan Colombia was initiated in the midst of peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas, and actually played a key role in derailing these talks, and with them the prospects for peace – prospects which have only been revived recently.
Second, Amnesty International does not mention that the paramilitaries which continue to collaborate with the U.S.-backed military in Colombia were actually a creation of the U.S. Thus, these paramilitaries were the brainchild of the Kennedy Administration back in 1962 – that is, two years before the FARC guerillas were even constituted.
As Noam Chomsky has mentioned a number of times, Kennedy commenced the U.S.’s counterinsurgency program, of which paramilitaries were a key component, in order to combat the scourge of Liberation Theology unleashed by Vatican II. And indeed, as Chomsky has also noted, the U.S. School of the Americas has bragged about how it helped “destroy liberation theology,” which emphasizes the “preferential treatment of the poor.”
Colombia has been ground zero for this plan which has targeted, among others, Catholic clergy for assassination. Accordingly, as documented by the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, over 80 Catholic clergy have been murdered in Colombia since 1984 — including 79 priests and 2 bishops — for the crime of advocating on behalf of the poor.
One brave Colombian Liberation Priest, Father Javier Giraldo sent a letter in September of 2011 to the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, P. Michael McKinley, imploring him to prevail upon President Barack Obama to reconsider his decision to release millions of dollars in military aid to Colombia in light its abysmal human rights record.
In this letter, Father Giraldo informed the Ambassador that Colombian military’s directive known as EJC 3-10 – a directive based upon General Yarborough’s 1962 recommendation to organize paramilitary groups – is still very much in effect today in the form of paramilitary groups which both the U.S. and Colombian governments attempt to dismiss as mere criminal bands known as “BACRIM.”
According to Father Giraldo, these neo-paramilitary groups, as before, continue to work “in close harmony with the Army and Police” to carry out crimes against humanity, including forced displacement, with the number of internally displaced people in Colombia now at over 6 million; extra-judicial killings which have resulted in the proliferation of mass graves throughout Colombia; and “the systematic crime of forced disappearances, which according to national and international agencies now affects more than 50,000 families.”
And, he also places the responsibility for these continued abuses firmly at the feet of the U.S. Thus, Father Giraldo informs the U.S. ambassador that “[t]he current commanders take part in the same immunity, and impunity and the assistance from your government only reinforces their criminal activity.”
As Father Giraldo explains, the U.S.’s military/paramilitary policy is part and parcel of an unjust economic policy which allows for the unconstrained penetration of Colombia by multinational corporations at the expense of the Colombian people. He states:
The permits issued for mining exploitation to numerous transnational businesses have activated paramilitaries and armed conflict tremendously. They are leaving huge populations of poor people without any land or resources. The destruction of the environment and the destruction of indigenous, campesino and Afro-Colombian communities by these projects are leading to every kind of resistance. This means that the security of these companies and of their destructive projects is only effective with the protection of enormous contingents of paramilitaries secretly co-opted by the armed forces and by the government security agencies, which do not hesitate to murder the leaders of the resistance.
Father Giraldo further describes:
The permanent genocide that is being carried out in Buenaventura, where the neighborhoods and the Community Councils around the port are being invaded by paramilitaries supported or tolerated by the armed forces. They cut people in pieces with horrifying cruelty throwing the body parts in to the sea, if any of them dare to resist the megaproject for the new port. This included the expulsion of people living in the poorest areas and it includes the expropriation of the plots of garbage dumps where these people, in the midst of their misery, have over decades tried to survive.
Not surprisingly, Father Giraldo’s prophetic voice fell on deaf ears, and Obama proceeded with the release of the military aid to Colombia. And, it is the deathly silence over the horrifying human rights situation in Colombia which allows the U.S. to continue its destructive military/economic policy in that country.
Activist Sergio Chorolque was hit with charges just days after his mother was ordered to remain behind bars
Human rights advocates that support Chorolque have alleged the charges are motivated by him and his mother’s activism. | Photo: Diario Veloz
The son of a prominent Argentine indigenous activist was charged Saturday on allegations his advocates say are politically motivated.
Sergio Chorolque is accused of issuing death threats to a municipal worker, and could face up to two years imprisonment.
Human rights advocates that support Chorolque have alleged the charges are motivated by his and his mother’s activism.
Chorolque’s mother Milagro Sala has already been described by some human rights activists as the first political prisoner of the new government of President Mauricio Macri.
The well-known indigenous leader, founder of the 70,000 member Tupac Amaru organization, was arrested on January 16 in the Jujuy on charges of inciting violence after protesting in a month-long sit in against Governor Gerardo Morales, who ordered her arrest.
A judge cleared Sala of those charges on Friday, but before she walked out of jail she was handed down a new set of accusations and ordered to stay behind bars while investigations into charges of “illicit association, fraud, and extortion” are launched at the request of the Jujuy government, local media reported.
As authorities peg various charges on the popular social leader, now one of Sala’s children has been charged with leveling death threats against a labor activist.
According to the conservative Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Morales has had a tense and “estranged” relationship with Sala for years. Morales has also had an antagonistic relationship with the social organizations and collectives with which Sala is aligned. Before her arrest, Sala was protesting in support of various organizations at risk of losing their legal status and social benefits after Morales threatened to suspend them via decree.
Fifteen Mayan women who were raped and forced to be sex slaves after their husbands were disappeared are demanding justice 30 years after the abuses.
Guatemala is about to launch a landmark trial against former military officers accused of committing sexual enslavement and forced disappearance during the most brutal years of the country’s 36-year civil war.
Here’s what you need to know about the historic trial that is scheduled to kick off Monday, Feb. 1.
1. Fifteen women were sexual and domestic slaves.
Guatemalan soldiers forcibly disappeared 15 men from an eastern Maya Q’eqchi’ village in 1982. It was one of the bloodiest years of Guatemala’s civil war, when dictator Efrain Rios Montt’s military regime was unleashing a scorched earth campaign targeting rural Mayans. After the army disappeared the men, they came back for their wives.
The women were raped and their belongings destroyed. They were taken captive and forced to live at the Sepur Zarco military base, where they were enslaved as domestic servants for the soldiers and systematically raped. The women were forced to labor in 12 hour “shifts,” an abhorrent system that lasted several months.
Though the enslaved shifts ended at the end of 1983, 11 of the 15 women were forced under military threat to stay at Sepur Zarco doing domestic chores for the soldiers for six years until the base closed in 1988. The other four women managed to flee to the mountains with their children where they endured painful hardship for years, including suffering the deaths of most of their children.
All of the women, now in their 70s and 80s, bear enormous physical and emotional trauma from the experience. They also faced stigma in their communities for the violence they endured, and did not share what had happened to them for 30 years, finally coming forward in 2011 to seek justice.
The trial accuses two defendants, former Sepur Zarco chief Esteelmer Reyes Giron and former regional military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij, of committing crimes against humanity, including sexual violence and sexual slavery, domestic violence, murder, and forced disappearance. They have been held in remand since 2014 awaiting the trial.
2. The Sepur Zarco case is an internationally historic trial.
The trial of two former military officers for crimes against humanity marks the first time in history that sexual slavery charges are prosecuted at the national level, in the country where the crimes were committed.
The more internationally high-profile case of sexual slavery during armed conflict, the case of Japan’s “comfort women,” was rejected by a Japanese court. Former comfort women subjected to sexual slavery during World War II put Japan on trial in a mock war crimes tribunal in Tokyo in 2000, but the case never officially went to court in the country.
Guatemala’s Sepur Zarco trial could set a new precedent for prosecuting sexual violence in the context of armed conflict, which rights defenders say is one of the most widespread yet under-recognized violations of human rights.
3. It is also a historic trial for Guatemala.
The Sepur Zarco trial marks the first that that Guatemala will consider a sexual violence case as an international crime, which could set a precedent for future trials.
The crime of sexual slavery has been recognized internationally since the early 1900s, when the 1907 Hague Convention prohibited rape and the use of prisoners of war as slaves. The 1926 Slavery Convention elaborated anti-slavery laws with a definition that applies to sexual slavery. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force in 2002, specifically criminalized sexual slavery.
A standing definition of sexual slavery was detailed in the 1998 U.N. Special Rapporteur’s final report on contemporary forms of slavery, “Systematic Rape, Sexual Slavery, and Slavery-Like Practices During Armed Conflict,” also known as the McDougall Report.
The report defined sexual slavery as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including sexual access through rape or other forms of sexual violence.” More simply put, the McDougall report explained: “Slavery, when combined with sexual violence, constitutes sexual slavery.”
The trial will consider the crimes committed as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Rape was widespread during the civil war. The Sepur Zarco case has the potential to be a precedent-setting trial to break the cycle of impunity for sexual violence in Guatemala.
4. Rape was a concerted strategy in the civil war.
In 1999, three years after the peace accords were signed in Guatemala, the U.N.-backed Truth Commission investigating civil war atrocities found that rape was systematic and widespread during the conflict. According to the commission, “the rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice aimed at destroying one of the most intimate and vulnerable aspects of the individual’s dignity.”
The Truth Commission also found that violence against women, include rape, torture, and murder, was often motivated by their political affiliations, social participation, and ideals, and often combined with other human rights abuses. The report attributed 93 percent of all recorded human rights violations to the state, 85 percent for which the army was responsible.
Despite the countless cases of sexual violence during the civil war, the Sepur Zarco case is the only one that has gone to trial in the country where impunity for war crimes has long remained the norm.
According to the Guatemalan organization Women Transforming the World, sexual violence continues to be inflicted on women by state security forces in conjunction with other human rights violations, such as forced displacement.
5. The victims in Sepur Zarco were targeted for defending their land.
Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala have long suffered deep inequality, poverty, and precarious access to land. Before they were disappeared in 1982, the 15 husbands of the victims in the Sepur Zarco case were fighting for legal titles to defend the land they had lived and worked on for years. Because they were standing up for their land rights, they were despised by local large landowners, labeled as leftist insurgents, and made into targets to be silenced.
Land conflicts and unequal ownership are central to the history of Guatemala’s civil war. In 1954, a CIA-backed coup ousted the democratically elected president and reversed the fledgling agrarian reform program that aimed to expropriate idle lands from elite landowners and redistribute land to campesinos. The coup not only triggered more than three decades of civil war, but also helped to lock in one of the most unequal land distribution patterns in Latin America.
Rios Montt’s U.S.-backed bloodshed was nominally a campaign to crush leftist guerrilla uprisings in Guatemala, but in practice many poor Mayan campesinos were targeted as “insurgents” as the military protected the interests of elite landowners.
Photo credit – Reuters
Milagro Sala was jailed 11 days ago for speaking out against President Mauricio Macri, sparking a wave of protests against criminalization of dissent.
Thousands of Argentines gathered in Buenos Aires’ central Plaza de Mayo Wednesday to protest the criminalization of social protest and demand freedom for Milagro Sala, a dissident lawmaker and Indigenous leader jailed for speaking out against President Mauricio Macri.
The protests come as Sala has been in prison for 11 days after being arrested in Argentina’s Jujuy province at the orders of Governor Gerardo Morales for criticizing the policies of Macri’s government. Outraged social movements have slammed the arrest as illegitimate and have vowed to continue protesting until the prolific social leader is free.
“For me personally she is an example of struggle, of life, of continuity of the defence of territories, defense of the people, defense of those who have less, building social inclusion—that’s what Milagro Sala is to me,” a demonstrator told teleSUR at the rally. “I demand freedom for Milagro Sala now!”
According to teleSUR correspondent Leo Poblete Codutti in Buenos Aires, the protest was a show of rage over the increase in criminalization of social protest in Argentina in recent weeks since Macri came to power.
During the demonstration, a documentary telling the story of Sala’s life and social struggles was shown in a tent set up in the middle of the protest.
Sala founded the Tupac Amaru organization based on the ideology of three important historical figures in Argentina: South American Indigenous liberator Tupac Amaru, revolutionary Che Guevara, and former First Lady Eva Peron. The 70,000 member-strong organization works on a number of political issues and with Indigenous communities.
Prior to her arrest, Sala had been participating in a sit-in, camping outside local government offices for over a month in support of various social organizations at risk of losing their legal status and social benefits after Governor Morales threatened to suspend them via decree.
According to Carolina Gairard, Argentine lawmaker with the Front for Victory, Sala’s arrest was illegitimate and illegal.
“She is the first political prisoner of Mauricio Macri,” Gairard told teleSUR during the CELAC Summit in Quito, Ecuador, on Tuesday. “And we hope she will be the last.”
The New York Times has exposed a long-standing CIA partnership with Saudi Arabia, whose latest endeavor is a program to arm Syrian rebels authorized by President Obama in early 2013. Under the “Timber Sycamore” program the Saudis provide funding and purchase weapons for Syrian rebels, while the CIA trains them in secret camps in Jordan.
The Saudi-CIA partnership dates back many years, and involves the British secret service. During the years when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the Saudis poured money into the Afghan mujahedeen as it fought Soviet forces, matching U.S. funding dollar for dollar. The mujahedeen funding was run through CIA-managed bank accounts in Switzerland. Those accounts were said to be part of the “Al Yamamah” program, dating to 1985, in which the British and the Saudis used an oil-for-arms barter deal to create massive offshore “black” accounts, including in the Cayman Islands, to bankroll and arm a wide array of global insurgencies. These accounts provided a major source of funds in the Afghan war against the Soviets.
This revelation by NYT adds additional weight to the allegations made in a book by Mike Springmann, former head of the US visa section in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from1987-1989. In Visas for al-Qaeda: CIA Handouts that Rocked the World, Springmann details how, “during the 1980s, the CIA recruited and trained Muslim operatives to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Later, the CIA would move those operatives from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and then to Iraq, Libya, and Syria, traveling on illegal US visas. These US-backed and trained fighters would morph into an organization that is synonymous with jihadist terrorism: al-Qaeda.”
In an exclusive interview with Sputnik News, Springmann shared his first-hand experience of issuing US visas to would-be terrorists, a flagrant violation of US law.
“I know. I was there. I issued the visas,” Springmann told Sputnik News.
Upon his arrival at Jeddah, Springmann found that, as a visa officer, he was expected to winnow over a hundred applications a day, separating them into “issuances,” “refusals,” and what he later termed, “free passes for CIA agents.”
“One day,” Springmann recalls, “Eric Qualkenbush, the [then] CIA Base Chief, stopped me while I was walking on the consulate’s huge compound. He had a request. Could I issue a visa to one of his agents, an Iranian whose family owned an Oriental rug store? Eric said, ‘Mike, make it look good (wink, wink). We want him in Washington for consultations.’”
Springmann told Sputnik News he had almost daily battles with Jay Freres, the Consul General, along with several other CIA officials, who would consistently demand visas for people that law and regulation would ordinarily require him to refuse. He also had running fights with applicants who told him to approve their visas or they would complain to Freres, and have him overruled.
Most of these that Springmann now considers ‘unsavory types’ did, in fact, receive visas to go to the USA for training, debriefing, and other purposes. In enabling their passage, American government officials violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as many regulations codified in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, says Springmann. As a purported guardian of US immigration principles, he objected to the blatant violations of law and regulation. His objections fell on deaf ears.
Springmann details that eventually he came to realize that his Consular Section job duty in Jeddah was primarily to secure visas for CIA agents, i.e., foreigners recruited by American case officers.
“As I later learned to my dismay, the visa applicants were recruits for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s armed forces. Further, as time went by, the fighters, trained in the United States, went on to other battlefields: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.”
But why would the CIA rely on a “genuine” state department visa employee when they could have easily planted one of their own into the Consular Section? According to Springmann, “at Jeddah, to the best of my knowledge, out of some twenty US citizens assigned to the consulate, only three people, including myself, worked for the Department of State. The rest were CIA or NSA officials or their spouses.”
The explanation to the above question was simple if cynical, Springmann told Sputnik News : it had to be an arms-length operation, to avoid exposure of the CIA program and to blame visa violations, if they became known, on “incompetent” office clerks, including himself.
The Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency collaborated in sending innocent workers like Springmann to Jeddah, a location that handled some forty-five-thousand visa applications annually. If a visa officer processed the paperwork and didn’t ask awkward questions about the applicants, that officer would keep his job. If the visa officer strictly followed the law, resisting illegal pressure to overlook those who did not have a legitimate reason for traveling to the United States, that employee “wasn’t with the program” and could be exposed to dismissal as an incompetent, an occurrence that eventually happened to the author.
“My name was on the visa plate that stamped applications to enter the United States, making me personally responsible for my actions,” he said. “In our spook-ridden Jeddah consulate, I sometimes found it was a daily battle to do my job,” he remarked, offering examples of two such battles.
“Two Pakistanis came to me for a visa. According to their story, they were traveling on a Commerce Department– organized trade mission to an automotive parts exhibition in the United States. However, they couldn’t name the trade show or identify the city in which it would be held. I denied their visa request. Within sixty minutes, Paul Arvid Tveit called and demanded visas for these same Pakistanis. I explained the reasons for my refusal, citing § 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Foreign Affairs Manual. Ignoring the law and regulation, Tveit went to Justice Stevens and the visas were issued.”
“Then, a political officer demanded a visa for a Sudanese who was a refugee from his own country and unemployed in Saudi Arabia. Following the letter and the spirit of the law, I refused. She immediately went to Justice, and a visa was issued. When I later asked Justice why he authorized a visa to someone with no ties to the Sudan or the kingdom, he replied simply ‘national security,’ a phrase without legal definition.”
The dubious games played by the CIA in the name of “national security” are common in many Foreign Service posts, Springmann contends. “In a subsequent conversation with Celerino Castillo, a former Drug Enforcement Agency official, I learned that the CIA’s involvement in the visa process was a successful program of long-standing in Latin America, he stated, adding that, it was also “I presume, a model for Saudi Arabia. South of the border the Agency would slip passports and applications from its contacts into packages sent to the local US consulate or embassy by travel agents. Sandwiched between legitimate applications, ‘Agency assets’ would not be carefully examined by consular officers and would thus get a free ride to the United States.”
A Visa for the Blind Sheikh
Likewise, Springmann says, it was a CIA “consular officer” at Khartoum in Sudan who issued a tourist visa to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, later linked to the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The “blind” Sheikh had been on a State Department terrorist watch list when he was issued the visa, entering the United States by way of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Sudan in 1990.
Springmann believes the sheikh attempted to obtain a US visa from him via a proxy. The author states that he turned the application down.
The former state department employee pointed out to his superiors that, according to US law, passport and visa crimes are federal offenses, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum prison sentence is increased to 15 years if the offense is connected to drug trafficking, and to 20 years if connected to terrorism.
In a chance meeting, Joe Trento, a journalist at the Public Education Center in Washington, DC, put into perspective for Sprigmann what had been really going on with the CIA in Jeddah.
“It wasn’t a garden variety visa fraud as I had once thought, but something much more serious: it was a ‘visas for terrorists program,’ set up to recruit and train (in the United States) murderers, war criminals, and human rights violators for combat in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. These men became the founding members of al-Qaeda, the Arab-Afghan Legion.”
“Former President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, began the campaign to assemble these goons to engage in blowing things up and shooting things down, preferably with Soviet soldiers inside.”
But the Saudis and other regional players in the “jihad” did not want those “saddle-tramps” on their soil, fearing that they would eventually use their newly acquired skills to promote “regime change” at home. That explains the reason many of these recruits were sent to the US, Springmann says, where there were up to 52 induction and training centers, the primary one in Brooklyn, New York City.
During his two years in Jeddah, Springmann says, he wrangled daily with intelligence officers who staffed and ran the US consulate.
“These were the people who arranged for recruiting and training what were then the mujahedeen, who later became al-Qaeda, who then transformed themselves into ISIS. I saw, but didn’t recognize, their start at Jeddah. We’ve all seen their later development and what happens when the intelligence services control foreign policy and diplomacy: the people they assembled aided the breakup of Yugoslavia, the destruction of Iraq, the collapse of Libya, and the savaging of Syria.”
Springmann attempted to protest the illegal visa practices at the highest levels of government for over 20 years, but was repeatedly stonewalled. During that time, he says, the Arab-Afghan Legion, created by the CIA to undermine the Soviet Union, has been marching from strength to strength.
Upon leaving his vehicle in the residential neighborhood of Caricuao, Duran was shot with a single bullet by an assailant evidently trained to kill, authorities say.
“They didn’t take anything from him; not his wallet nor cash, not his cell phone or regulatory weapon, he had a gun permit, and much less his car,” said Caracas Chief of Government Daniel Aponte, indicating that the crime is being treated by investigators as an assassination.
“We are simply dismayed,” said Aponte, calling Duran an “example of revolutionary journalism.”
The slain journalist was well-known as a former anchorman of VTV state television, and has been described as one of the key figures in authentically reporting the 2002 coup d’état against Hugo Chavez, which many private media outlets presented as a resignation.
Duran received a National Prize for Journalism in 2009 in recognition of his work in radio, and previously held the post of Director of Communications for the National Assembly.
It has taken just three days for 200 Brazilian academics to sign a letter in support for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, in protest against Israel’s ongoing policies of occupation and discrimination. Professor and former UN rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and physician and pharmacologist B. Boris Vargaftig are among the signatories.
In a statement released today the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PACBI) “salute” their solidarity: “Through these campaigns Brazilians continue to demonstrate that solidarity with the oppressed is the most politically and morally sound contribution to the struggle to end oppression.”
According to PACBI Brazilian movements, individuals and unions have long been committed to isolating Israeli academic institutions as part of the struggle against the Israeli settler colonial and apartheid regime.
Goldman Sachs is set to invest in Mexico’s newly opened energy sector, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The company’s private equity arm has teamed up with Ainda, a Mexican consulting firm, to invest in energy and infrastructure, signing a deal to “identify, pursue, evaluate and make investments jointly,” according to a filing seen by Reuters.
Ainda would invest up to US$1.15 billion in projects with Goldman’s Merchant Banking Division, with the latter putting up at least 50 percent of the total equity amount in joint projects, a source told Reuters.
The Mexican government approved a comprehensive, neoliberal reform of its energy policies in August, 2014.
The energy reform allows private companies to participate in the oil and gas industries for the first time since 1938, when President Alvaro Obregon nationalized the oil industry.
The decline in the price of oil has also negatively affected the income of the state-oil company, Pemex, reducing its capability of investing in production, leading government to pursue private investment even more vigorously.
As such, in September Mexico’s finance ministry unveiled a new vehicle in September similar to a real estate investment trust called a Fibra E.
Reuters reported in November that Ainda plans to raise US$1.15 billion through a public offering of certificates for an infrastructure energy investment vehicle, and that vehicle can subsequently be converted into a Fibra E.
The filing specifying the joint investment between Goldman and Ainda is expected to be submitted to the Mexican stock exchange shortly.
Former members of a U.S.-trained death squad in El Salvador may finally face justice after massacring 6 priests and two women 26 years ago.
In El Salvador, the beginning of a new year brings with it the opportunity to heal old wounds.
In the first weeks of January, nearly 20 retired military officers accused of human rights violations during the country’s civil war have been called to answer for their crimes. While the great bulk of the charges being leveled against the former soldiers relate to a single massacre carried out in San Salvador, at least one of the former commanders is known to have directed multiple atrocities during the 12-year conflict. In all, some 75,000 were killed during the war, while thousands more were disappeared in a rampage of human rights atrocities largely perpetrated by the U.S.-backed, right-wing government’s forces.
The importance of these developments cannot be underscored enough.
In addition to the closure that may be offered to victims of civil war-era human rights abuses and their families, the apprehension and trial of accused war criminals in El Salvador signals the end of impunity enjoyed by members of the old guard—some of whom were responsible for brutal campaigns of violence, like the massacre of six priests and two others at a university in San Salvador.
On Nov. 16, 1989, a small band of soldiers stormed the campus grounds of the Central American University (UCA). Members of El Salvador’s elite Atlacatl Brigade—a death squad armed and trained by the United States—murdered a group of Jesuit priests, a campus housekeeper, and the woman’s teenage daughter. Among the dead was Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the university, prominent proponent of liberation theology, and a critic of the conservative ruling regime governing El Salvador during the war. The other five priests were Spanish nationals.
The military initially tried pinning the blame on FMLN rebels. The Actlacatl Brigade used weapons that had been captured from guerilla fighters and, after murdering those inside the compound, staged a phony assault on the campus to make it appear as if rebels had carried out the slaughter. In order to ensure that no one would question who was responsible for the UCA massacre, the troops placed a cardboard sign near their victims which read: “The FMLN has executed the spies who informed on them. Victory or death. FMLN.”
Despite the fact that few believed the military’s deception, justice in this case—as it was for countless other victims of human rights violations during the civil war—has proved elusive. In 1991, a group of the officers involved were put on trial. Two soldiers were found guilty, and sentenced to prison. Shortly after, however, all of the accused were relieved of responsibility for the killings. An amnesty law approved by the legislative assembly following the 1992 peace accords offered the shelter of impunity to everyone implicated in war crimes over the previous decade.
On Jan. 5, a Spanish court asked that arrest warrants be issued for the 17 retired military men connected to the slaughter at the university. The following day the Salvadoran government signaled its willingness to cooperate. Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, speaking at a press conference, told reporters that “there is an obligation to prosecute these acts and, in the absence of domestic justice, there is an obligation to collaborate with the legal process that the Spanish National Court is leading in this case.”
Spanish authorities have tried to have the officers arrested in the past, but to no avail. In 2011, Spain pushed for their apprehension but was rebuffed by the Salvadoran high court. The court found that the warrants issued by Interpol for the 17 soldiers mandated that Salvadoran authorities locate the men in question, not apprehend them, and that the officers were protected under the old amnesty law governing civil war crimes. This changed last year in a welcome reversal by the court, which has opened the door to their arrest and extradition.
The impending arrests aren’t the only sign that the limits of impunity for past crimes may have been reached in El Salvador. A week after the 17 military officers were identified for arrest, a former minister of defense, Jose Guillermo Garcia Merino, was deported from the United States—where he had been residing since the late 1980s—to El Salvador for war crimes committed on his watch. Among other incidents, Garcia has been tied to the murder of four American nuns, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, as well as the Rio Sumpul and El Mozote massacres.
In expert testimony included in the case of Garcia-Merino, Terry Lynn Karl, professor of political science at Stanford University, argued that El Salvador’s armed forces “engaged in a widespread pattern and practice of massacres, torture, and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and other gross violations of human rights” under Garcia’s command. “General Garcia presided over the worst period of repression in modern Salvadoran history,” Karl wrote. “At least 75 percent of reported violence in El Salvador occurred during General Garcia’s tenure as Defense Minister.”
These developments mirror a similar push for justice underway in the region more broadly. Most prominently, a series of actions have been taken against military officers in Guatemala accused of human rights violations in that country’s civil war. While the trial of former strongman Efrain Rios Montt has been subject to a lengthening series of delays, prosecutions of other alleged war criminals appear to be advancing successfully. And on the same day that El Salvador agreed to take action against those involved in the UCA massacre, Guatemala arrested 18 of its own retired soldiers for war crimes.
Even as Guatemala appears poised to make steady advances to ensure transitional justice, El Salvador faces many obstacles in following suit. Foreign courts were responsible for kickstarting these latest proceedings against Salvadoran war criminals while, to date, domestic courts themselves have not taken up the mantle of pursuing cases related to crimes committed during the war. Indeed, while government officials have promised to extradite the seventeen officers to Spain, none have yet been brought into custody. Nor is it clear what legal fate awaits Garcia following his deportation from the United States.
And there are still serious concerns about the selective nature of accountability in the country. The constitutional court’s recent ruling on “terror,” for example, came back into focus recently when Chief Inspector Joaquin Hernandez demanded that El Diario de Hoy be investigated for instigating “fear and terror” in its coverage of the gangs. Repugnant as El Diario’s politics may be, claims that the paper is abetting terror raise alarming questions about press freedom in El Salvador, and could set an ugly precedent in the government’s war against the gangs, and political opposition.
Nevertheless, the fact that government officials appear ready to play their part in the apprehension and prosecution of those charged with war crimes suggests an important shift has taken place in El Salvador. The ruling establishment has historically been wary of broaching issues of transitional justice leftover from the war. To his credit, former president Mauricio Funes took courageous steps by acknowledging the state’s role in wartime atrocities, but nothing came of it. Over the past several weeks, however, official reluctance to redress past wrongs seems to be dissipating.
Whatever the cause—domestic or international pressure, successful internal maneuvering by brave judges and lawyers within the country’s judicial system, or something else—an opportunity to begin striking down the impunity haunting El Salvador for decades has presented itself. Will the government shy away due to the very real political risks involved in dredging up the past? Hopefully not. Will it honestly reckon with the country’s recent history, and those responsible for its bloodiest episodes, to ensure that justice for those victimized by a ruthless war is no longer denied, even after all these years?
Better late than never.
The probe involves 12 former state officials in total, including opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina, over alleged economic crimes.
The Bolivian National Assembly approved Saturday the decision to probe former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada over “prejudicial contracts to the State, anti-economic behavior and unfulfillment of duty,” the Congress presidency said in a report sent to AFP.
Sanchez de Lozada, who is a fugitive from Bolivia’s justice system is currently living in the United States since he was accused in 2006 for violation of human rights. He was governing Bolivia during the privatization of various state-run companies, particularly the railway firm ENFE in 1995.
Sanchez Lozada is accused of having under-sold the state shares for an amount of US$13 million, while its value was estimated to reach US$29 million.
Lawmakers approved a report issued by the legislative commission of justice, which was issued after a year investigation into the capitalization and privatizations of public companies carried out between 1990-2001.
The General Attorney’s Office will now be in charge of the judicial proceedings before the country’s Supreme Court.
Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States in 2003, after riots and clashes with security forces resulted in the death of 60 people, known as the “Black October massacre” ending de facto his presidential term.
The United States granted him asylum, while the Bolivian government is still demanding the U.S. extradite him.
U.S. Alliance for Prosperity plan aims to stem Central American migration, but critics say the plan falls far short of addressing underlying causes
The United States’ plan to more than double its aid package to Central America in the name of increasing security and boosting development is likely to open up the region to U.S. corporate interests without tackling underlying problems of poverty and inequality, CISPES Executive Director Alexis Stoumbelis told teleSUR on Wednesday.
U.S. Congress approved over US$750 million at the end of December to roll out President Barack Obama’s strategy for Central America. The package supports the controversial Alliance for Prosperity, a plan touted as a strategy to stem the massive wave of undocumented migrants from the Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but slammed by critics for exacerbating key drivers of the crisis.
According to Stoumbelis, the new increased funding plan continues the same development model based on White House priorities of free trade and foreign direct investment that the U.S. has long promoted in the region.
“The U.S. has had an aggressive neoliberal agenda in Central America for the last 20 years, so this doesn’t really come as a surprise,” Stoumbelis told teleSUR by phone, citing the Central America Free Trade Agreement as an example of the U.S.-backed free trade model that has proven to worsen insecurity and inequality in Central American countries.
“The plan continues to push an agenda much more in line with neoliberal economics than programs proven to improve quality of life,” said Stoumbelis.
While the new aid package has been promoted as a bid to address longstanding issues of poverty, insecurity, and violence, the main pillars of the plan pave the way for increased foreign investment, natural resource extraction, privatization, and militarization while raising serious concerns about human rights and inequality, Stoumbelis added.
“The funding provides backing for governments that have proven time and time against putting human rights at the top of the agenda,” said Stoumbelis, adding that the plan ignores calls from many social movements and advocacy groups to cut security aid to the region instead of rewarding human rights-abusing administrations with more funding.
Although the U.S. funding for Central America includes conditions aimed at addressing human rights concerns raised by social movements and advocates, many remain skeptical that the measures will do enough to counteract dismal human rights records and rampant corruption, especially in Honduras and Guatemala.
“It was a victory to condition the aid … and to convince (U.S.) Congress that its support for human rights-abusing governments needs to be addressed,” said Stoumbelis. He went on to say that even if the aid is subject to human rights guarantees, it is ultimately up to the State Department to sign off on whether Central American countries fulfill the conditions.
Many expect that the new plan will uphold the State Department’s historically inadequate standard on human rights, which in the past has seen human rights approval issued despite evidence of systematic and chronic human rights abuses on the ground in Central America.
The US$750-million aid package will spike funding levels from US$120 million to US$300 million for development, from US$160 million to US$405 million for security, and from US$33 million to over US$66 million for the war on drugs. Funds will be administered by the State Department and by USAID, which have proven to support privatization and the interests of U.S. corporations in the region.
The security funding includes doubling the budget for the Central American Security Initiative, a regional plan that has dramatically increased militarization of security forces in the region and in turn raised concerns about increasing human rights abuses, impunity, and corruption without fulfilling its state’s objectives of tackling insecurity.
According to Stoumbelis, militarization in the name of the war on drugs has largely been a “war on the people,” as poor people are the most vulnerable in the face of insecurity and have largely been the victims of rising levels of violence under CARSI and the security initiative for Mexico, Plan Merida.
The plan is expected to pave the way for increased militarization in the name of “stabilization” and border security, which critics fear will result in increased human rights violations and exacerbate the problems underlying social and economic inequality.
Militarization also tends to result in criminalization of protest movements against neoliberal mega-projects that displace communities, rob indigenous peoples of land, destroy the environment, and undermine food security—a development strategy only set to ramp up under the new regional aid plan.
Despite the challenges, Stoumbelis predicts that such resistance movements will redouble their fight against the model the U.S. aid package proposes to push harder.
“There has been a tremendous challenge to the model,” said Stoumbelis, emphasizing the role of cross-border resistance in the region and the importance of international solidarity.
For Stoumbelis, in the face of increased U.S. aid, solidarity with Central American movements is now more than ever key to resisting the “U.S.-backed corporate onslaught in the region.”
Venezuela is heading for two confrontations, each reinforcing the other – a political and an economic one. The future is very uncertain.
Following the Venezuelan opposition’s recent electoral victory in the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections, the opposition seems to be more determined than ever to steer towards an outright confrontation with the president. The goal is to destabilize the government as much as possible, with the aim of achieving his ouster before the end of the year.
The new National Assembly president said that his aim is to have a plan in place for president Maduro’s ouster within the first six months of 2016. Ramos Allup furthered this confrontation Jan. 6, when he swore in three opposition members as representatives, whose election the Supreme Court had previously put on hold due to electoral irregularities. On Monday, January 11, the Supreme Court thus declared that the National Assembly president had acted in defiance of the Court and that from now on all laws that the National Assembly passes are null and void, since the assembly had incorporated members into its body that should not be there.
The political confrontation between the legislature and the executive is thus programmed. The next conflict will be about the amnesty law, by which the opposition intends to free all so-called political prisoners, that is, all opposition figures who have been involved in violent protest of one kind or another, many of whom have been held responsible for deaths of innocent bystanders. Ramos Allup already warned Maduro that if he and the Supreme Court do not implement the amnesty law, he will begin removing ministers from Maduro’s cabinet: “Whether or not he accepts [the amnesty law] will not matter, to which we will say, ‘We do not accept his naming of ministers.’”
The options for the new opposition-dominated National Assembly to get rid of Maduro are several. As mentioned above, it can remove not only the ministers and the vice-president (though this could lead to new National Assembly elections if the vice president is removed three times in a row), remove the heads of other branches of government, such as the Supreme Court, the attorney general, or the National Electoral Council (with prior approval from either the Supreme Court or the attorney general), amend or reform the constitution (which then has to be submitted to a referendum), or call for a constitutional assembly (followed by a referendum).
Also, there is a lot of speculation that the opposition might try to organize a recall referendum against Maduro, but doing so would require the collection of 20 percent of registered voters’ signatures, which amounts over 3.8 million signatures. This latter course is a difficult undertaking. In comparison, when the opposition organized the recall referendum against president Chávez in 2004, it had to collect only 2.5 million signatures because the electorate was substantially smaller.
Aside from the project to remove Maduro and to give amnesty to its law-breaking supporters, the oppositional National Assembly also plans to introduce a number of laws that could undermine the Maduro presidency. A populist measure that the opposition has wanted to pass for a long time is to give ownership titles to the beneficiaries of the housing mission. Over the past five years the government has constructed one million public homes, which it has essentially leased to families in perpetuity, but without giving them a title that can be bought and sold. The reasoning behind this is to avoid the development of a speculative housing market of homes built with public funds. The opposition is betting that most public housing beneficiaries would prefer a saleable ownership title, so that they can sell the home and thereby possibly make a profit from it.
Another law that would probably get the president into trouble is a rumored project to dollarize the economy. It is obvious to everyone in Venezuela that the current economic situation of high inflation, frequent shortages of basic goods, long lines at supermarkets, and a massive black market for price-controlled products, is not sustainable. One “solution” to these problems that some opposition leaders have favored it to simply get rid of the local currency, the bolivar, and base the entire economy on dollars, just as Ecuador did in 2001. Aside from undermining the country’s economic sovereignty, such a move would also almost definitely mean major painful displacements for economy, leading to increased inequality and unemployment. No doubt the opposition would then try to blame Maduro for this, but it is possible of course that they themselves would end up carrying a large part of the blame, which is why the opposition will enter into this project neither unambiguously nor unanimously.
Other major projects on the opposition docket include the repeal of a wide variety of progressive laws that were passed during the Chavez and Maduro presidencies, beginning with the land reform, re-privatization of key industries, and the dismantling of price controls, among other things.
Finally, the opposition has also announced that it will convoke special investigation commissions. Among these are commissions to investigate corruption within the executive and another to investigate the credentials of newly appointed Supreme Court judges. The investigation of the judges could lead to the removal of several of these because the Supreme Court law allows for the removal of judges who do not meet the fairly tough requirements for appointment.
On the Chavista side of the confrontation the options for maneuvering are even tougher. Here the foremost issue for the government is how to deal with the on-going economic crisis, which is bound to get worse especially since the price of oil is tumbling. While the price of an average Venezuelan barrel of oil reached a high of US$55 per barrel in early 2015, the most recent figures point to half that amount, at US$27 per barrel. Unless this price recovers, this could be devastating for Venezuela, especially since 95 percent of the country’s export earnings and 50 percent of its fiscal budget come from the sale of oil.
The 50 percent collapse in the price of oil over the past eight months, however, means a far larger collapse in revenues because a large proportion of Venezuela’s oil is extra-heavy oil that is expensive to extract, reaching a high of around US$20-$25 per barrel, leaving relatively little to no profit at such low prices. In other words, a 50 percent drop in the price of oil represents a far larger than 50 percent drop in revenues for the state.
Maduro recently named a new cabinet, reshuffling many positions, but in the key position of vice president for the economic area, Luis Salas, Maduro appointed someone considered to be a proponent of the same policies as before, who says that price controls and the currency control must be maintained and that the government’s main weakness has been in the area of enforcement of existing policies. In other words, even though the country is now waiting for the announcement of a promised “economic emergency plan,” it seems doubtful that this plan will signal a significant departure from the economic policies so far.
The drop in revenues, combined with an inflationary spiral that the economic war of smuggling, hoarding, and speculation and that the black market for dollars have inflicted on Venezuela, signal a very difficult near-term future for Venezuela’s economy and everyone in it. Some economists warn of possible hyperinflation and of an inability to pay its foreign bills (balance of payments crisis).
In short, Venezuela is heading towards two confrontations simultaneously, where each threatens to exacerbate the other: one economic and the other political. What the prospects are for overcoming these confrontations is impossible to predict at this moment. Within the chavistasocial movements and the governing party, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), more and more voices are calling on the government to organize a massive consultation process with the grassroots, which is something that Maduro has endorsed, but it remains an open question whether these will happen in time and if it does, whether it will be able to provide solutions that will allow the Bolivarian Revolution to move forwards, despite the reinvigorated opposition in parliament.