Uruguay’s president, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla who lives on a farm and gives most of his salary to charity, is stepping down after five years in office, ending his term as one of the world’s most popular leaders ever.
Mujica, 79, is leaving office with a 65 percent approval rating. He is constitutionally prohibited from serving consecutive terms.
“I became president filled with idealism, but then reality hit,” Mujica said in an interview with a local newspaper earlier this week, according to AFP.
Some call him “the world’s poorest president.” Others the “president every other country would like to have.” But Mujica says “there’s still so much to do” and hopes that the next government, led by Tabare Vazquez (who was elected president for a second time last November) will be “better than mine and will have greater success.”
Mujica said he succeeded in putting Uruguay on the world map. He managed to turn the cattle-ranching country, home to 3,4 million people, into an energy-exporting nation, Brazil being Uruguay’s top export market (followed by China, Argentina, Venezuela and the US.)
Uruguay’s $55 billion economy has grown an average 5.7 percent annually since 2005, according to the World Bank. Uruguay has maintained its decreasing trend in public debt-to-GDP ratio – from 100 percent in 2003 to 60 percent by 2014. It has also managed to decrease the cost of its debt, and reduce dollarization – from 80 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2014.
“We’ve had positive years for equality. Ten years ago, about 39 percent of Uruguayans lived below the poverty line; we’ve brought that down to under 11 percent and we’ve reduced extreme poverty from 5 percent to only 0.5 percent,” Mujica told the Guardian in November.
After Latin America’s anti-drug war proved a failure, the South American country became the first in the world to fully legalize marijuana, with Mujica arguing that drug trafficking is in fact more dangerous than marijuana itself.
One of the most progressive leaders in Latin America. Muijica also legalized abortion and same-sex marriage and agreed to take in detainees once held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. Six former US detainees, who were never charged with a crime, came to Uruguay in December as refugees. The six included four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian. Although they were cleared for release back in 2009, the US was not able to discharge them until Uruguayan President offered to receive them.
Mujica, a former leftist Tupamaro guerrilla leader, spent 13 years in jail during the years of Uruguay’s military dictatorship. He survived torture and endless months of solitary confinement. Majica said he never regretted his time in jail, which he believes helped shape his character.
Mujica’s kindness speaks volumes: He refused to move to Uruguay’s luxurious presidential mansion to live in a farm outside Montevideo with his wife and a three-legged dog named Manuela. Pepe gives away about 90 percent of his salary to charity, saying he simply doesn’t need it. He drives an 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Last year, Mujica turned down a $1 million offer from an Arab sheik who offered to buy his blue car. Pepe refused to sell the vehicle, saying it would offend “all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.”
In January, a young Uruguayan man posted a message on his Facebook page recounting how Mujica and his wife picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
“On Monday, I was looking for a ride from Conchilla and guess who picked me up on the road?” Gerhald Acosta wrote on his Facebook post January 7. “They were the only ones who would stop!”
“When I got out, I thanked them profusely because not everyone helps someone out on the road, and much less a president,” the man told Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper.
The United States and Cuba have held another round of talks to reestablish diplomatic relations and explore the possibility of opening embassies in Washington and Havana.
However, the Friday talks left a serious issue unresolved as Washington has failed to remove Cuba from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism” so far.
The US said it was still reviewing Cuba’s place on the list maintaining that the issue is separate from the talks and won’t affect the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.
However, the head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, said that the removal from the terror list was a “very important issue” and a priority for Havana.
“It would be difficult to explain that Cuba and the US have re-established normal diplomatic relations while Cuba is kept on that list that we believe we have never belonged to,” Vidal said.
The US State Department says the process is more complicated than it seems. If President Barack Obama wants to remove Cuba from the list, he must forward that to Congress and it cannot take effect for 45 days according to the law.
Following the talks, the head of the US delegation expressed optimism that the two countries could re-open embassies before a regional summit in April.
On December 17, Obama announced that Washington will start talks with Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in US foreign policy towards the communist country in over 50 years.
Several Republican lawmakers have criticized Obama for trying to restore relations with Cuba because they say it could provide the Caribbean nation with legitimacy and money while it continues with its alleged human rights violations.
200 Years of US Interventionism
The U.S. and Cuba are meeting again this week for their second round of normalization talks. When asked by the media what she expected from the first round, Roberta Jacobson, the senior diplomat leading the U.S. team, said that she was “not oblivious to the weight of history.” She was right on target: There is a very long history that begins well before the Revolution, deserves careful analysis, and will impact the talks.
As far back as 1809, Jefferson tried to purchase Cuba. In 1820 he went further; he told Secretary of War J.C. Calhoun that the U.S. “ought, at the first possible opportunity, to take Cuba.” As President, John Quincy Adams predicted that Cuba would fall “like a ripening plum into the lap of the union.” These are but two of many prominent examples of a widespread ambition to annex Cuba, or at least to control its destiny, from very early in U.S. history. After “the West,” Cuba figured as a prominent second place in U.S. expansionist aims from the beginning of the Republic.
In subsequent decades, support for annexing Cuba shifted tactically to Southerners who saw Cuba as a potential new slave state, though “manifest destiny” continued to be the fundamental driving force. Presidents Polk, in 1848, and Pierce, in 1854, offered unsuccessfully to buy Cuba. John Louis O’Sullivan, the newspaper editor who coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” in 1845, supported Cuba’s best known “annexationist,” taking him to Polk’s White House in search of support for his armed expeditions. And even Walt Whitman—no advocate of slavery—wrote in 1871 that, “‘manifest destiny’ certainly points to the speedy annexation of Cuba by the United States.”
President McKinley again unsuccessfully offered to buy Cuba in 1898, shortly before declaring war on Spain. Only a year before, his Undersecretary of War, I.C. Breckenridge, had reflected the annexationist thinking in a memo arguing that: “We must impose a harsh blockade so that hunger and its constant companion, disease, undermine the peaceful population and decimate the Cuban Army….in order to annex the Pearl of the Antilles [Cuba].” He meant the Cuban independence army, who had all but defeated the Spanish well before Roosevelt with his Rough Riders arrived to clean up. It was advocacy of a policy to starve the Cuban population and its army, just to make sure that the U.S. alone could determine the future of the island. The push for annexation eventually failed, in no small part because its supporters realized that Cubans would likely continue their war if the U.S. tried to impose it. Yet those who favored annexation were able to impose the Platt Amendment on the new Cuban Constitution in 1904, in effect granting the US the right to intervene in Cuba for practically any reason the US saw fit. Cuba’s independence was brutally truncated, and the U.S. intervened on the island again in 1906, 1912, 1917 and 1920.
During the 1930’s and 40’s, the ambition to control Cuba’s destiny continued—if somewhat more subtly and without troops. The U.S. sent Sumner Welles as a special envoy to Cuba in the 1930’s to ensure that the outcome of a populist insurrection against Gerardo Machado, then Cuba’s dictator, did not steer the island away from U.S. tutelage. This intervention gave rise to the U.S. support for Fulgencio Batista, which lasted until his overthrow in 1959 by the Revolution. As our ambassador to Cuba at the time, Earl T. Smith, asserted during a Senate hearing in 1960: “Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president.”
The ambition to control Cuba, in other words, already had a long and complex history by the time of the victory of the Revolution in 1959. The list of U.S. interventions seeking regime change that followed is too long to detail here. The Bay of Pigs, assassination efforts, hundreds of acts of sabotage and terrorism, and, of course, the embargo since 1960. And what did the embargo seek? Well, President Eisenhower said that “if the [Cuban people] are hungry they will throw Castro out,” a view that President Kennedy reiterated when he asserted that the end of the Revolution would come from “rising discomfort among hungry Cubans.” Arguably, a policy with the same goal of maintaining Cuba as a client state as the Breckenridge memo of half a century before. The embargo was then codified in the so-called Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws of 1992 and 1996, both supposedly granting the U.S. the right to decide what kind of government the island could have, and laws that were passed well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War ended, and Cuba had stopped its revolutionary activities in both Africa and Latin America. In effect, these laws are modern versions of the Platt Amendment, no longer “justified” even by the Cold War fig leaf.
So the history of U.S. policy towards Cuba shows a continuity that is hard to deny. Even those who might disagree with this interpretation should not find it hard to imagine how the Cuban government, and Cubans as a whole, would react with profound skepticism and distrust of the intentions of the most powerful country in the world, as reflected by these kinds of pressures and policies for more than two centuries. Beyond the immediate issues, such as the irrational listing of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Ms. Jacobson will certainly have a very heavy weight of history to consider in her discussions with her Cuban counterparts. If the President directs her, however, she, on behalf of our country, will have a unique opportunity to break clear from the interventionist thrust of our past interventionist policies, and seek agreements that nurture common interests and respect the obvious differences between the U.S. and the island.
Manuel R. Gomez is a Cuban-American public health professional who resides in Washington, DC.
An Argentine judge has dismissed cover-up charges against the country’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the 1994 AMIA case.
Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas said there were no elements to justify continuation of an investigation on an alleged political effort by President Kirchner to cover up the role claimed to have been played by Iran in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.
The documents against Kirchner failed to meet “the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation,” the judge added.
Argentina’s Federal Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita is expected to appeal the ruling.
Pollicita replaced Alberto Nisman who was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in the capital, Buenos Aires, on January 18.
The initial police report said Nisman 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 prosecutor had accused a number of high-ranking Argentine officials including President Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroqu of trying to ‘protect Iranians’ in the case.
The Argentinean president has frequently dismissed the claim against Iran, saying the late prosecutor’s allegations were baseless and absurd.
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,” the Buenos Aires Herald quoted Kirchner as saying on January 22.
In July 1994, a car bomb exploded at the building of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, also known as AMIA, in 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 U.S. has a substantial history of aggression toward Venezuela
Recently, several different spokespersons for the Obama administration have firmly claimed the United States government is not intervening in Venezuelan affairs. Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki went so far as to declare, “The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false.” Psaki then reiterated a bizarrely erroneous statement she had made during a daily press briefing just a day before: “The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”
Anyone with minimal knowlege of Latin America and world history knows Psaki’s claim is false, and calls into question the veracity of any of her prior statements. The U.S. government has backed, encouraged and supported coup d’etats in Latin America and around the world for over a century. Some of the more notorious ones that have been openly acknowledged by former U.S. presidents and high level officials include coup d’etats against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960, Joao Goulart of Brazil in 1964 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. More recently, in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government openly supported the coups against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in 2004 and Jose Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. Ample evidence of CIA and other U.S. agency involvement in all of these unconstitutional overthrows of democratically-elected governments abounds. What all of the overthrown leaders had in common was their unwillingness to bow to U.S. interests.
Despite bogus U.S. government claims, after Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela by an overwhelming majority in 1998, and subsequently refused to take orders from Washington, he became a fast target of U.S. aggression. Though a U.S.-supported coup d’etat briefly overthrew Chavez in 2002, his subsequent rescue by millions of Venezuelans and loyal armed forces, and his return to power, only increased U.S. hostility towards the oil-rich nation. After Chavez’s death in 2013 from cancer, his democratically-elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, became the brunt of these attacks.
What follows is a brief summary of U.S. aggression towards Venezuela that clearly shows a one-sided war. Venezuela has never threatened or taken any kind of action to harm the United States or its interests. Nonetheless, Venezuela, under both Chavez and Maduro – two presidents who have exerted Venezuela’s sovereignty and right to self-determination – has been the ongoing victim of continuous, hostile and increasingly aggressive actions from Washington.
A coup d’etat against Chávez was carried out on April 11, 2002. Documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) evidence a clear role of the U.S. government in the coup, as well as financial and political support for those Venezuelans involved.
A “lockout” and economic sabotage of Venezuela’s oil industry was imposed from December 2002 to February 2003. After the defeat of the coup against Chavez, the U.S. State Department issued a special fund via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to help the opposition continue efforts to overthrow Chavez. USAID set up an Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Caracas, subcontracting U.S. defense contractor Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) to oversee Venezuela operations and distribute millions of dollars to anti-government groups. The result was the “national strike” launched in December 2002 that brought the oil industry to the ground and devastated the economy. It lasted 64 days and caused more than $20 billion in damages. Nonetheless, the efforts failed to destabilize the Chavez government.
The “guarimbas” of 2004: On February 27, 2004, extremist anti-government groups initiated violent protests in Caracas aimed at overthrowing Chavez. They lasted 4 days and caused multiple deaths. The leaders of these protests had received training from the U.S. Albert Einstein Institute (AEI), which specializes in regime change tactics and strategies.
The Recall Referendum of 2004: Both NED and USAID channeled millions of dollars into a campaign to recall President Chavez through a national recall referendum. With the funds, the group Sumate, led by multi-millionaire Maria Corina Machado, was formed to oversee the efforts. Chavez won the referendum in a landslide 60-40 victory.
After the victory of President Chavez in the recall referendum of 2004, the US toughened its position towards Venezuela and increased its public hostility and aggression against the Venezuelan government. Here are a selection of statements made about Venezuela by U.S. officials:
January 2005: “Hugo Chavez is a negative force in the region.” – Condoleezza Rice.
March 2005: “Venezuela is one of the most unstable and dangerous ‘hot spots’ in Latin America.” – Porter Goss, ex-Director of the CIA.
“Venezuela is starting a dangerous arms race that threatens regional security.” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
“I am concerned about Venezuela’s influence in the area of responsibility… SOUTHCOM supports the position of the Joint Chiefs to maintain ‘military to military’ contact with the Venezuelan military…we need an inter-agency focus to deal with Venezuela.” – General Bantz Craddock, ex-Commander of SOUTHCOM.
July 2005: “Cuba and Venezuela are promoting instability in Latin America… There is no doubt that President Chavez is funding radical forces in Bolivia.” -Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, Assistant Sub-Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere.
“Venezuela and Cuba are promoting radicalism in the region…Venezuela is trying to undermine the democratic governments in the region to impede CAFTA.” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
August 2005: “Venezuelan territory is a safe haven for Colombian terrorists.” – Tom Casey, State Department spokesman.
September 2005: “The problem of working with President Chavez is serious and continuous, as it is in other parts of the relationship.” – John Walters, Director of the National Policy Office for Drug Control.
November 2005: “The assault on democratic institutions in Venezuela continues and the system is in serious danger.” – Thomas Shannon, Sub-secretary of State.
February 2006: “President Chavez continues to use his control to repress the opposition, reduce freedom of the press and restrict democracy…. it’s a threat.” – John Negroponte, ex-Director of National Intelligence.
“We have Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of money from oil. He is a person who was elected legally, just like Adolf Hitler…” – Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of Defense.
March 2006: “In Venezuela, a demagogue full of oil money is undermining democracy and trying to destabilize the region.” – George W. Bush.
U.S. officials try to link Venezuela to Terrorism:
June 2006: “Venezuela’s cooperation in the international campaign against terrorism continues to be insignificant… It’s not clear to what point the Venezuelan government offered material support to Colombian terrorists.” – Annual Report on Terrorism, Department of State.
June 2006: The U.S. government through the Commerce Department and U.S. Treasury imposes sanctions against Venezuela for its alleged role in terrorism and prohibits the sale of military equipment to the country.
July 2006: “Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has tolerated terrorists in its territory…” – Subcommittee on International Terrorism, House of Representatives.
U.S. increases its Military Presence in Latin America:
March-July 2006: The US military engages in four major exercises off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea, with support from NATO, and based at the US air force base in Curaçao. A permanent military presence is established in the Dominican Republic and the bases in Curaçao and Aruba are reinforced.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas establishes the “American Corners” in 5 Venezuelan States (Lara, Monagas, Bolívar, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta), to act as centers of propaganda, subversion, espionage and infiltration.
U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield intensifies his public hostility towards the Venezuelan government, making frequent sarcastic and unfriendly comments in opposition-controlled media.
NED and USAID increase funding to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
At the beginning of 2007, Venezuela is severely attacked in the international media & by U.S. government spokespersons for its decision to nationalize Cantv (the only national telephone company), the Electricity of Caracas and the Faja Orinoco oil fields.
In May 2007 the attack intensifies when the government decides not to renew the public broadcasting concession to popular opposition television station, RCTV.
A powerful international media campaign is initiated against Venezuela and President Chavez, referring to him as a dictator.
Private distributors and companies begin hoarding food and other essential consumer products in order to create shortages and panic amongst the population.
USAID, NED and the State Department via the Embassy in Caracas foment, fund and encourage the emergence of a right-wing youth movement and help to project its favorable image to the international community in order to distort the perception of President Chavez’s popularity amongst youth.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch, Inter-American Press Association and Reporters without Borders accuse Venezuela of violating human rights and freedom of expression.
September 2007: President George W. Bush classifies Venezuela as a nation “not cooperating” with the war against drug trafficking, for the third year in a row, imposing additional economic sanctions.
September 2007: Condoleezza Rice declares the U.S. is “concerned about the destructive populism” of Chavez.
January 2008: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, then Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield and the Commander General of the Colombian Armed Forces Freddy Padilla de Leon and declares during a press conference that he is “concerned about the arms purchases made by Chavez” and expresses that this could “destabilize the region.”
John Walters, the U.S. Anti-Drug Czar meets with Uribe in Colombia, together with 5 U.S. congresspersons and Ambassador Brownfield, and declares Venezuela a nation “complicit with drug trafficking” that presents “a threat to the US and the region”. He also expresses his wish that the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia be ratified by Congress soon.
Condoleezza Rice visits Colombia, together with Sub-Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and 10 congress members from the democratic party to push the FTA and back Colombia in its conflict with Venezuela.
President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address emphasizes the importance of the FTA with Colombia alerts to the threat of “populist” and “undemocratic” governments in the region.
February 2008: SOUTHCOM sends the Navy’s “4th fleet” to the Caribbean Sea (a group of war ships, submarines and aircraft carriers that haven’t been in those waters since the Cold War).
The Director of National Intelligence, General Mike McConnell, publishes the Annual Threat Report, which classifies Venezuela as the “principal threat against the US in the hemisphere.”
Exxon-Mobil tries to “freeze” $12 billion of Venezuelan assets in London, Holland and the Dutch Antilles.
A Report on Present Threats to National Security of the Defense Intelligence Agency classifies Venezuela as a “national security threat” to the U.S.
A Department of State report accuses Venezuela of being a country that permits “the transit of illegal drugs”, “money laundering” and being “complicit with drug trafficking.”
The U.S. Department of Treasury classifies three high level Venezuelan officials as “drug kingpins”, presenting no formal evidence. The head of Venezuela’s military intelligence, General Hugo Carvajal, the head of Venezuela’s civil intelligence force, General Henry Rangel Silva, and former Minister of Interior and Justice, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin are sanctioned by the U.S. government and placed on a terrorist list.
Rear Admiral Joseph Nimmich, Director of the US Joint Interagency Task Force, meets in Bogota with the Commander General of the Colombian Armed Forces.
March 2008: The Colombian army invades Ecuadorian territory and assassinates Raul Reyes and a dozen others, including 4 Mexicans, at a FARC camp in the jungle near the border.
General Jorge Naranjo, Commander of Colombia’s National Police, declares that laptop computers rescued from the scene of the bombing that killed Reyes and others evidence that President Chavez gave more than $300 million to the FARC along with a quantity of uranium and weapons. No other evidence is produced or shown to the public. Ecuador is also accused of supporting the FARC.
Venezuela mobilizes troops to the border with Colombia.
The US Navy sends the Aircraft Carrier “Harry Truman” to the Caribbean Sea to engage in military exercises to prevent potential terrorist attacks and eventual conflicts in the region.
President Bush states the U.S. will defend Colombia against the “provocations” from Venezuela.
Uribe announces he will bring a claim before the International Criminal Court against President Chavez for “sponsoring genocide and terrorism”.
March: President Bush requests his team of lawyers and advisors review the possibility of placing Venezuela on the list of “STATE SPONSORS OF TERRORISM” together with Cuba, Iran, Syria and North Korea.
May: A document from the U.S. Air Force shows the construction of a U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia, to combat the “anti-American” governments in the region. The Palanquero base is part of the 7 military bases that the U.S. planned to build in Colombia under an agreement with the Colombian government for a ten-year period.
February: The U.S. Director of National Intelligence declares Venezuela the “anti-American leader” in the region in its annual report on worldwide threats.
February: The State Department authorizes more than $15 million via NED and USAID to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
June: A report from the FRIDE Institute in Spain, funded by NED, evidences that international agencies channel between $40-50 million a year to anti-government groups in Venezuela.
September: Washington ratifies sanctions against Venezuela for allegedly not cooperating with counter-narcotics efforts or the war on terror.
President Obama authorizes a special fund of $5 million in his annual budget to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. In 2015, Obama increases this amount to $5.5 million.
NED continues to fund anti-government groups in Venezuela with about $2 million annually.
Each year, the US government includes Venezuela on a list of countries that do not cooperate with counter-narcotics efforts or the war on terror. Also in its annual human rights report, the State Department classifies Venezuela as a “violator” of human rights.
Subsequent to President Chavez’s death from cancer on March 5, 2013, new elections are held and Nicolas Maduro wins the presidency. Opposition leaders hold violent demonstrations that result in the deaths of more than a dozen people.
In February 2014, the violent protests resume, led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, who openly call for the overthrow of President Maduro, and over 40 people are killed. Lopez turns himself in to authorities and faces charges for his role in the violence. The U.S. government calls for his immediate release.
In December 2014, President Obama imposed sanctions on more than 50 Venezuelan officials and their relatives, accusing them of violating human rights and engaging in corruption. No evidence has been presented to date to support these serious allegations. The Commerce Department also expanded sanctions against Venezuela, prohibiting the sale of “any products” that could be destined for “military use” due to alleged human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
January 2015: Vice President Joe Biden warns Caribbean countries that the government of President Nicolas Maduro will soon be “defeated” and therefore they should abandon their discounted oil program with Venezuela, PetroCaribe.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemns the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela.
February 2015: President Obama unveils his new National Security Strategy and names Venezuela as a threat and stresses support for Venezuelan “citizens” living in a country where “democracy is at risk.”
Anti-government leaders circulate a document for a “transitional government agreement” which warns President Maduro’s government is in its “final stage” and pledges to overhaul the entire government and socialist system in place, replacing it with a neoliberal, pro-business model. The document is signed by Maria Corina Machado, jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of Metropolitan Caracas.
Days later, a coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro is thwarted and 10 active Venezuelan military officers are detained. Antonio Ledezma is arrested and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government and the U.S. State Department issues a harsh condemnation of his detention, calling on regional governments to take action against the Maduro administration.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest denies any U.S. government role in the coup attempt against Maduro, calling such allegations “ludicrous”, but further reveals, “The Treasury Department and the State Department are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that we believe they should be headed.”
Argentine legislators have voted to disband the South American country’s intelligence agency and replace it with a new federal body that will be accountable to the Congress.
The lower house of Congress voted 131 to 71 in favor of the bill, which had already been approved by the Senate.
The measure came after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner drafted a proposal last month to dissolve the Secretariat of Intelligence (SI) and set up a new service to be called the Federal Intelligence Agency, after the government said a renegade spy was linked to the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
Fernandez has said Antonio Stiuso, who for years was the powerful director of operations at the SI, pushed Nisman into filing a formal criminal complaint against her, and was involved in the prosecutor’s death.
On Tuesday, Oscar Parilli, who was appointed as the SI director in December last year, said Stiuso and others had illegally imported electronic goods and other equipment between 2013 and 2014.
Parrilli said the ring made use of a special law that allows the SI to import secret equipment, and illegally imported electronic goods as well as other equipment, without paying taxes or informing customs officials.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have voiced their discontent with the decision to dissolve Argentina’s intelligence body, arguing that the General Attorney’s Office would now be in charge of overseeing all wiretaps.
“The most important issue is the lack of oversight,” opposition lawmaker Manuel Garrido said.
He added, “What worries us is that there has not been, nor will there be proper control.”
Garrido said he offered an alternative bill that incorporated stricter controls, but it was obstructed by the ruling coalition.
A coup plot against President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution was thwarted this week as a retired Venezuelan Air Force general and 10 military and civilian opposition figures were arrested.
The bombing of the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly, Telesur TV network, the Defense Ministry and other Caracas sites was to take place February 12, the one-year anniversary of violent anti-government attacks known as “guarimbas,” which caused 43 deaths. A Tucano EMB 312 bomber would have been flown by renegade Air Force First Lieutenant José Antich Zapata to destroy the targeted sites.
U.S. spokesperson Jen Psaki and the Venezuelan far-right are dismissing the plot claim, but video evidence, a map of the bombing targets, and other key evidence have been unveiled on national television, with more details promised. Washington’s role in previous plots has been proven before.
According to President Maduro, detained coup leaders have confessed their role. He spoke on national television Sunday morning, to reveal more facts and accuse the United States government of conspiring with coup plotters.
Antich Zapata received U.S. visas for himself and other conspirators from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, for escape from Venezuela in case the plot failed.
Maduro also said that the script of an eight-minute video by the coup group – to air once the government was overthrown – was written with the help of a U.S. embassy advisor.
Rightwing opposition involved
In obvious preparation for the failed coup, three of the most belligerent opposition figures – Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – issued a “Call for a National Transition Agreement,” on February 11, the day before the overthrow was to take place. Lopez is currently awaiting trial for his role in the violent attacks last February.
The “transition agreement” is a plan for overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution socialist project, including a demand for felony trials of current government leaders after the “transition,” the privatization of nationalized industries, and the takeover of PDVSA, the state-owned oil industry that has been the source of great social developments in Venezuela since 1999.
As if aware of a pending coup, German embassy representative Jorg Polster issued a letter of warning on February 5 to German citizens residing in Venezuela, to take unusual precautions such as in the event of “political unrest like that which began in the spring of 2014.” The letter suggests the German nationals obtain a two-week supply of food, water and emergency provisions of battery, radio and important documents. The letter also indicates a loss of electricity and Internet access could be a possibility.
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Libertador municipality of Caracas – both leaders of Maduro’s political high command – also appeared on television, denouncing Julio Borges, leader of the right-wing group, Primero Justicia (“Justice First” in English), as drafting the list of the 20-plus targets to be bombed.
An unfolding plot since January
A series of actions was planned by the counterrevolutionaries to lead up to February 12.
First step was economic destabilization through major corporate hoarding of goods to create empty stores and mass discontent. That has been taking place for weeks, with the right-wing then accusing the socialist government of economic failure.
The government countered with “Operation Dignity,” confiscating the hoarded goods for redistribution at fair prices to the population, and arresting the corporate conspirators.
The second step was internationally-generated false accusations of a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela by the U.S. and international allies of Washington.
It is thus no coincidence that on January 24, three right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries, Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Sebastian Pinera of Chile came to Venezuela and tried to visit jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Afterwards, they demanded his freedom and held a press conference accusing Venezuela of human rights violations.
On February 3, President Maduro warned Washington to stop its interventionist meddling, and accused U.S. officials of trying to bribe current and former government leaders to betray the government.
Via Telesur, he denounced U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent meetings with various Latin American leaders, in which he told them Maduro’s government would soon fall, and that the Petrocaribe program would be ended. Biden advised them to “keep Venezuela isolated.” Petrocaribe is the Venezuelan program that provides oil to Caribbean nations at a low price.
Telesur as target
Why was Telesur one of the targets to be bombed?
In 2002, when a fascist coup by a sector of the military and corporate opposition overthrew President Hugo Chavez from April 11 to 13, Venezuela’s revolution was new and a people’s media had not yet developed.
In the critical hours of the massive and spontaneous popular mobilization to demand Chavez’s release and return as president, the monopoly corporate media completely blocked out the news. It was clear that the Bolivarian process needed a revolutionary media to transmit vital information to the population.
Since then, dozens of community and television stations have been established; corporate violators of the new Communications Law have had their licenses revoked.
The Telesur network – promoting the integration of Latin America – was proposed 10 years ago by Chavez. It has become a vital conveyor of national and international information with a solid anti-imperialist prospective.
It provided uncensored live coverage and exposed the terror bombing by NATO/U.S. bombing of Libya.
Like the brutal bombing of Serbia’s national TV station, killing scores of journalists who courageously covered the criminal NATO/U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the planned bombing of Telesur was part of the plan to destroy the Revolution and install a fascist coup.
The smashing of this latest plot against Venezuela is a major blow to U.S. imperialism’s attempts to reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela, the Cuban Revolution and all progress in Latin America.
Revolutionary mass organizations and the military high command are declaring their unity and defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Minister of Defense and Strategic Operational Commander of the FANB, stood with a large group of high-ranking military officers to denounce the military plot. “The Bolivarian Armed Forces reiterates its support and loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro Moros and reaffirms its commitment to the will of the people, with the Plan of the Homeland, in the building of Socialism.”
More than ever, it is vital that international solidarity be mobilized to demand an end to U.S. machinations in Venezuela and all Latin America. Progressive groups and leaders in Latin America are expressing their support for Maduro’s government. From March 5-7, organizations in several cities in the United States plan actions in solidarity with the Venezuelan Bolivarian government and its people in struggle.
The danger is not over. The lessons of Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s and the U.S. war against revolutionary movements everywhere shows that the struggle must continue to defend Venezuela’s gains and oppose U.S. imperialism’s counter-revolutionary schemes.
France’s highest court prevented the extradition of an Argentine alleged torturer, Mario Sandoval, Wednesday.
According to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), a lower court ruled that Sandoval should be extradited to Argentina to face charges of crimes against humanity, deprivation of liberty and acts of torture causing death. France’s supreme court, the Cour de Cassation, overturned that ruling but also ruled that the case should be re-examined.
Sandoval was a federal police officer during Argentina’s so-called “dirty war” where the military dictatorship targeted leftist activists, disappearing and killing as many as 30,000 people. He moved to France after the fall of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship and obtained French citizenship in 1997. He is accused of having committed over 600 human rights violations.
According to Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, Sandoval also gave classes to his colleagues on the “anti-subversive fight” that included methods of torture during interrogations.
The extradition request was based on the case of Hernan Abriata, an architecture student and political activist who was kidnapped from his home in 1976. Sandoval is alleged to have taken him to a clandestine prison in 1976, where an estimated 5,000 people were taken and disappeared.
The Argentine government’s lawyer expressed disappointment at the court’s ruling, which according to Sandoval’s lawyer was based on a technicality.
“This is a bad decision, but we can still salvage it somehow,” said Sophie Thonon-Wesfreid, representing Argentina’s government.
In France, once courts rule for an extradition, it must be further approved by governmental decree.
Nearly a decade ago, a keen observer of Honduras produced a damning analysis of the country. “In a very real sense, Honduras is a captured state,” he began. “Elite manipulation of the public sector, particularly the weak legal system, has turned it into a tool to protect the powerful,” and “voters choose mainly between the two major entrenched political parties, both beholden to the interests of individuals from the same economic elite.” The situation required a “strategy that will give people the means to influence public policy,” the report concluded.
Its author was James Williard, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Honduras in 2005. In the following years, Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president from 2006-2009, formulated a strategy like the one Williard mentioned. The country’s rulers reacted by toppling Zelaya in June 2009, manipulating the feeble legal system to justify his overthrow. Washington feigned outrage, but then recognized the marred November 2009 national election, its 2013 follow-up—and heaped supplies on the military. About “half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere” went to Honduras in 2011, Martha Mendoza disclosed, referring to the $1.3 billion in military electronics that “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon” would explain.
Zelaya had planned to conduct a poll the day of the coup, to see whether the public desired a referendum on constitutional reform that November. “Critics said it was part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the Constitution’s limit of a single four-year term for the president,” New York Times reporter Elisabeth Malkin wrote immediately after the ouster.
That was the official line. But U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens had a different take. “The fact is we have no hard intelligence suggesting any consideration”—let alone effort—“by Zelaya or any members of his government to usurp democracy and suspend constitutional rule,” he wrote five days before the coup. Zelaya’s “public support” then was somewhere “in the 55 percent range,” with the poll’s as high as 75%. These figures signaled the nightmare. “Zelaya and his allies advocate radical reform of the political system and replacement of ‘representative democracy’ with a ‘participatory’ version modeled on President Correa’s model in Ecuador,” Llorens panicked.
He need not have. Repression crushed the hope of reform, and today’s Honduras recalls its 1980s death-squad heyday. The Constitution Zelaya allegedly violated dates from that era, and “contained perverse elements such as military autonomy from civilian control,” Michelle M. Taylor-Robinson explains, adding that “during the 1980s the military chief negotiated defense policy directly with the U.S. government and then informed the Honduran president of what was decided.”
General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez helmed the army until 1984. “Trained in Argentina, as he rose to power he openly declared to U.S. Ambassador Binns that he admired the Argentine methods used during the murderous Dirty Wars there and planned to use the same techniques in Honduras,” Jennifer Harbury notes. Álvarez wasn’t kidding. He proceeded to form Battalion 316, whose members the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies trained. One of its targets was union leader German Pérez Alemán. Battalion hit men forced him into a car on a busy street near Tegucigalpa’s airport, then killed him with torture. Journalist Oscar Reyes was another victim. “He was strung up naked and beaten ‘like a piñata,’” Harbury writes, while his wife, Gloria, “was given electrical shocks to the genitals that damaged her internal organs.”
Reagan dealt with Álvarez by awarding him the Legion of Merit in 1983. Now a new generation continues the Battalion’s work. “In the ’80s we had armed forces that were excessively empowered. Today Honduras is extremely similar,” activist Bertha Oliva stated, emphasizing that “the presence of the U.S. in the country was extremely significant” then, and is now. “Military personnel now control state institutions that in the 1990s were taken from them,” added Héctor Becerra, Director of the Honduran Committee for Free Expression.
One example is the Public Order Military Police (PMOP, in Spanish), first deployed weeks before the 2013 election. That October 10, it “raided the home of Marco Antonio Rodriguez, Vice President of SITRAPANI (National Child Welfare Agency Workers’ Union),” then “broke down the doors” of seasoned activist Edwin Robelo Espinal’s home a few weeks later, human rights group PROAH reported. Several legislators opposed the law creating the PMOP. A top Honduran human rights official declared it unconstitutional. But not only was its champion, ex-Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández, allowed to retain his position—he’s now president.
And “since taking office in January 2014 [he] has presided over several deployments of soldiers and expanded the PMOP,” the Security Assistance Monitor points out. PROAH reviews some case studies in citizen security, like one “where the police have been complicit in the kidnapping and torture of two fishermen, and another where soldiers were directly responsible for the torture of two miners.” A former police agent, in a sworn statement, described other experiments in sadism “that implicate top level commanders of the national security forces,” according to TeleSUR. A “woman was taken to a security house in the exclusive Trejo neighborhood, interrogated for 48 hours, hanged and disappeared,” for example. The agent also recounted how his team had abducted three gang members, who “were tortured and killed. They were then decapitated and their bodies appeared in different parts of the city. A different head was placed on each body to make it more difficult to identify the person killed.”
International policy expert Alexander Main writes that U.S. support for Honduran militarization has been not only “tacit”—seen in “the steady increase of U.S. assistance to national armed forces” since the coup—but also “direct.” A DEA Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), for example, “set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit” from 2011-2012. U.S. and Colombian Special Forces later instructed “a new ‘elite’ police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group” (TIGRES, in Spanish). When $1.3 million vanished in a drug raid last year, evidence emerged implicating dozens of TIGRES members. It seems the training paid off.
We can say the same of U.S. efforts to shape Honduran society. The “military simply did not exist in any institutionalized form” there for much of the 20th century, Kirk Bowman observes. This situation changed after the U.S. and Honduran governments signed a Bilateral Treaty of Military Assistance in May 1954. We see the outcomes today. The journalists gunned down by passing assassins, the poor farmers stalked and murdered for defending their land—this is as much a part of Obama’s Latin America legacy as his celebrated Cuba thaw.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Non-Aligned Movement issued a statement Saturday rejecting the latest set of sanctions imposed by the United States against Venezuelan officials.
The 120-nation body described the sanctions as “intended to undermine Venezuela’s sovereignty, its political independence and its right to self-determination.”
The U.S. government announced a new set of sanctions last week which target former and current Venezuelan officials. The U.S. has justified various rounds of sanctions by claiming corruption and that human rights abuses occurred in the oil-rich county during a wave of opposition violence last year that left 43 dead.
However, the Venezuelan government has pointed out the sanctions are politically motivated and that they form part of U.S. plans to oust the country’s elected government, given that the overwhelming majority of the 43 fatalities were caused by right-wing extremists.
The Non-Aligned Movement considers the unilateral sanctions a “violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter and the basic principles of international law of relations between states.”
Furthermore, the group of nations considered the measure “coercive” and manifested its solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their government.
The UNASUR group of South American nations also rejected the sanctions and will launch a probe to evaluate Venezuela’s evidence of U.S. meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
After decades of impunity, those responsible for the wave of political violence that swept Latin America under the dictatorships of 1970s and 1980s will be tried in court this week in Rome, Italy.
Thirty-three people have been formally charged for their links to the operation, which left 50,000 people dead, 30,000 disappeared, and 400,000 jailed.
Among those killed were 23 Italian citizens, which is why Italy’s justice system is now ruling on the case, opened in 1999.
Operation Condor was a coordinated political assassination and persecution plan drafted in the 1970s by South American military dictatorships, with the help of foreign governments. It sought to eliminate any resistance or political rivals, mostly targeting left-wing groups.
The military chiefs of participating countries were provided with a command center by the United States, located in Panama, through which they could communicate and share intelligence on their victims. Declassified U.S. documents show the government knew about the operation but still continued to back the military dictatorships.
Evidence suggests that the beginning of the operation coincided with a visit made by Manuel Contreras – then Chile’s intelligence chief – to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Several researchers believe that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was involved in the assassination scheme.
French intelligence agents were also part of the operation and helped the South American military chiefs to implement many of the counterinsurgency tactics that France had used against the Algerian resistance.
The Italian court is not expecting the former military chiefs and politicians to attend the hearing, although it has given them the possibility to do so through a video conference.
Among the people charged are 11 former military junta members from Chile, 16 from Uruguay, four from Peru, and one from Bolivia.
Former Bolivian President Luis Garcia Meza has also been accused by the Attorney Giancarlo Capaldo, however he has not been charged given that he has not yet responded to the formal notification against him.
The trial will take place inside Rebbibia prison and will be presided over by Judge Evelina Canale and Judge Paolo Colella.
Over 150 people have been reported disappeared in the small city of Piedras Negras in the northern border Mexican state of Coahuila in the last 18 months, of which at least 60 have been attributed to elite police forces, according to a lawyer overseeing the cases.
Families of victims and their lawyers accused state government of creating special forces that have carried out arbitrary detentions, tortures and enforced disappearances across Coahuila during the last six years.
The creation of elite police forces, which in the past have been sent to the U.S. for special training by the FBI, is not new in Mexico. These types of forces have been accused of acting as death squads for the government and have sometimes carried out assassinations ordered by organized crime gangs.
“Special units of the army and navy, assassins trained by armed forces deserters and civilians trained by foreign security forces operate in Mexico as death squad,” Proceso published in June of 2013. The Mexican magazine based this assertion on a book published by 0federal lawmaker Ricardo Monreal Avila, which was edited by the congress’ lower house.
Influential newspaper Excelsior in November of last year wrote that, “The special forces created in the states (of Mexico) are under scrutiny due to human rights issues.”
The daily based in Mexico City added that, “these elite police groups have been accused of carrying out enforced disappearances, kidnappings, extortion and torture.”
Excelsior said that “it should be noted that in spite of the negative reputation of these forces in various states, which sometimes receive special training by U.S., Colombian or Israeli elite groups, more states and Mexico City are in the process of integrating elite groups to (allegedly) fight organized crime.”
The newspaper went on to say that the United Nations has questioned the work of special intelligence units in Baja California and Tamaulipas, due to the high number of crimes they have committed against innocent people.
On Friday, the La Jornada newspaper reported that attorney Denise Garcia told reporters that the non-governmental organization United Families has documented 150 cases of disappearances in the last 18 months in Piedras Negras alone.
“In at least 60 of those cases there is evidence that the Special Arms and Tactics Group (GATE) participated in them, as well as other similar types police units that were created by the former Governor Humberto Moreira and which still exist today under the governorship of his brother Ruben,” she said.
Garcia said the 51 people that were disappeared by GATE were later found alive, but all of them, she added, were tortured to confess crimes they did not commit, including drug trafficking, and today they remain jailed under false charges.
These groups have no accountability, Garcia explained, and they don’t report their operations nor their arrests, which is a clear violation of human rights.
“GATE and other special police units work under the recognition and support of the government, despite that many of them are [not] even legally constituted,” she said.
García said they act as illegal death squads, they travel in unmarked vehicles with no license plates, they are masked and commit many other irregularities.
The worst thing, she added, is that “we have denounced these issues to the federal government and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which respond with indifference.”