On March 20, David Rockefeller died at the age of 101. As the obituaries for one of the world’s richest men gush over his philanthropy, it needs to be pointed out that he was a major player in several Latin American coups, supported extremely corrupt military dictatorships, post-dictatorship neoliberal policies that greatly exacerbated income stratification and poverty and that his dark legacy will continue to influence the region long after his death.
The Rockefellers’ arrival in Brazil
The Rockefeller Foundation first arrived in Brazil during World War I and was embedded within the so-called “public health movement” amongst Brazilian elites. At that time, Brazilian eugenics was synonymous with public health and emphasized “hygienization”, expressed in the maxim “to sanitize is to eugenize”. With Rockefeller assistance, the creation of the Eugenic Society of São Paulo in 1918 represented the institutionalization of eugenics in Brazil. Amongst elites, eugenics was associated with evolution, progress and civilization, even treated by some as a ‘new religion’. In “War against the weak” Edwin Black explains that the purpose of the Rockefeller Foundation was to finance programs aimed at “the extermination of those considered degenerate”. In Brazil this meant the poor, the ignorant, those of mixed race and African descent.
In her thesis on David’s older brother Nelson Rockefeller, historian Elisabeth Cobbs argues that U.S. Foreign policy in Brazil was not only realised by official relations between governments and diplomats, but also by the private sector, including philanthropic organisations. Nelson had been a regular visitor to Brazil since the 1930s, and in 1941 was named by President Roosevelt as coordinator of the Office of Interamerican Affairs (CIAA), which ran intelligence and propaganda operations against the Axis Powers in Latin America.
Following the end of the War, Nelson headed the American International Association for Economic and Social Development in Brazil of AIA. The AIA was a “Capitalist Missionary” philanthropic NGO known in Brazil for its programmes for modernisation of agriculture to North American models and standards (including the introduction of pesticides, herbicides and hybrid seeds), sanitation, and literacy. AIA would eventually birth two more agencies, IBEC (International Basic Economy Company) and the IRI Research Institute. As coordinator of the CIAA, Nelson acquired invaluable information about Latin America’s untapped natural resources, especially mineral reserves, information that he would go on to use following the war. IBEC became a key component in the post-World War Two opening of the Amazon rainforest to commercial exploitation, “a process that eventually led to military dictatorships, genocide of native peoples, loss of biological diversity and unprecedented misery for the majority of Brazilians“.
The Cold War increased pressures on Brazil regarding Oil exploration concessions. President Getúlio Vargas was said to have tried to address this by forming a consortium, with the participation of Standard Oil, Shell and the Brazilian State. Shell is reported to have accepted the idea, but Standard Oil and Chase Bank opposed. Standard Oil would instead coerce using threats to Brazil’s Coffee exports – the Rockefeller group controlled the American Coffee Corporation, which bought most of Brazil’s coffee, processed it and distributed to the United States.
In the 1950s David Rockefeller & Chase became more active in Brazil, creating Interamerican Finance & Investments, only to sell their shares in 1956 as the political climate turned against Internationalisation. In 1961 he tried to set up a Chase affiliate bank in Brazil, buying 51% of Banco Lar for $3m dollars, but Chase were discouraged due to the political instability in the country. (In 1980 he was cleared by the Central Bank to buy the remaining shares, and this entity finally became Brazil’s Chase).
During this period, along with his brother Nelson, David developed a very close friendship with partner and boss of Unibanco (later merged with Itau) Walther Moreira Salles, whose family made a second fortune from the ultra-rare mineral Niobium. Together, the Rockefellers and Moreira Salles would purchase a massive Farm, “Bodoquena”, in the state of Mato Grosso.
In the early 1960s on the instruction of President Kennedy, David Rockefeller founded the Business Group for Latin America, which was intended to help counter the spread of leftist governments in the region following the Cuban revolution. Under his leadership, it subsequently transformed into the Council of the Americas and finally AS/COA, which currently publishes Americas Quarterly, a relatively discreet but influential nucleus of anglophone “Free Trade” policy discourse on Latin America.
The Business Group for Latin America included on its board senior executives such as C. Jay Parkinson, CEO of Anaconda Copper – which had a strong presence in Chile, and Harold Geneen, head of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT), also heavily involved in the country, and Donald M. Kendall, CEO of PepsiCo. All of these firms supported the intervention of Nixon and Kissinger against elected President Salvador Allende, in 1973.
In 1970, covert CIA schemes against Allende included a $500,000 contingency plan to influence the congressional vote against his candidacy. His opponent Alessandri was to be given around half a million dollars, to be raised by ITT and other companies within the Business Group. According to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh, Rockefeller’s Business Group for Latin America, which was transformed in 1970 into the Council of the Americas, had a close relationship with the CIA and Enno Hobbing, who had participated in the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala. Hobbing, a CIA official who had initially been assigned as liaison to the Business Group, eventually left the CIA and became the principal operations officer for the Council of the Americas.
Countless academics have written about economic sabotage, often in cooperation with US business elites such as the Rockefeller family, as a component of US-backed coups in Latin America. From the ITT orchestrated Chilean copper boycott of 1972 to the Reagan administration’s economic destabilization of Nicaragua, to US efforts to sabotage the Venezuelan economy, progressive populism is to this day frequently met with US aggression, including media propaganda.
David Rockefeller and the Brazilian Military Dictatorship
Jan K. Black’s “United States Penetration of Brazil” contains numerous passages related to the activities of Rockefeller Group, the Business Group of Latin America and its precursors in the 1962 Election, the Coup of 1964 and period that followed, in connivance with local conservative elites. She documents how, at a Military conference on Latin America at West Point in the fall of 1964, David Rockefeller said that it had been decided quite early that Goulart was not acceptable to the U.S. banking community, and that he would “have to go.” As in 2016, in 1964 the foreign emphasis was not on Marxist ideology, but on combating economic and resource nationalism.
“The assertion of national control over basic natural resources, as well as a more general assertion of control over the productive capacity of the economy, had been seen by the Goulart government as a prerequisite to the redistribution of income. The advocacy of economic nationalism had also been seen as one of the most promising means of mobilizing mass support for the government. U.S. businesses, with the support of the U.S. Government, had generally been able to fend off the constraints of nationalistic but weak governments. If the mobilization of the masses had not appeared to be a threat or a possibility, It seems likely that the combined pressures of the multinational corporations and those elements of the Brazilian business community whose fortunes were linked to them would have been sufficient to intimidate the Brazilian government into backing down on its nationalistic designs. But regardless of the actual potential in 1964 for the mobilization of the masses, Goulart apparently believed that it was possible: and his enemies, foreign and domestic, apparently feared that he was right.”
In 1975, former CIA agent Philip Agee confirmed many of the findings and suspicions of a Brazilian congressional commission into Foreign interference in Brazil’s 1962 Election. The investigation revealed that of the (CIA) Rio Station’s main political-action operations, the Brazilian Institute for Democratic Action (IBAD) and a related organisation called Democratic Action (ADEP):
“… spent during the 1962 electoral campaign at least the equivalent of some 12 million dollars financing anticommunist candidates, and possibly as much as 20 million…. The parliamentary investigating commission was controlled somewhat-five of its nine members were themselves recipients of IBAD and ADEP funds-but only the refusal of the First National City Bank, the Bank of Boston, and the Royal Bank of Canada to reveal the foreign source of funds deposited for IBAD and ADEP kept the lid from blowing off. Beneficiaries of IBAD were prominent among the conspirators in the coup of 1 April and some, particularly military beneficiaries, were among who gained power as a consequence of it…. Robinson Rojas listed Standard Oil of New Jersey, U.S. Steel, Texas Oil, Gulf Oil, Hanna Corporation, Bethlehem Steel, General Motors, and Willys Overland among the depositors in the accounts of IBAD-ADEP-Promotion”. Economist & Environmentalist Jean Marc von der Weid maintained that “more than one hundred foreign enterprises and some national ones were involved in financing the institute, and that the Rockefeller Group-IBEC was one of the major benefactors.”
The CIA’s “point man” in the 1964 Coup was Joseph Caldwell King, also known by his CIA code name of Oliver G. Galbond. He was former vice president of Business Group member Johnson & Johnson, in charge of Brazil & Argentina, and from there he moved to his close friend Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). After officially leaving the CIA in 1967, King became CEO of ‘Amazon Natural Drug Company’, a CIA front which was collecting organic material from the rainforest for Rockefeller Foundation-funded research by US Agencies.
Brazil’s hegemonic media network, Rede Globo, was actually created with the assistance and funding of Rockefeller-associated Time-Life Publishing in the United States. It became a powerful instrument of societal control during the dictatorship following its launch in 1964.
Gerard Colby & Charlotte Dennett’s ‘Thy will be done: The Conquest of the Amazon’ was an investigation into the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators – a Rockefeller & USAID funded Evangelical organisation which had been translating the Bible into hundreds of indigenous languages in Central and South America. Wycliffe was founded by ultraconservative William Cameron Townsend who worked in tandem with Rockefeller and which the authors accuse of destroying indigenous peoples’ cultural values to abet penetration by U.S. businesses, employing a “virulent brand of Christian fundamentalism that used linguistics to undermine the social cohesion of indigenous communities and accelerate their assimilation into Western culture”. It sent scores of missionaries and establishing churches to counter the “threat” of Left-Wing “Liberation Theology” to United States Security, identified by older brother Nelson in his 1969 ‘Rockefeller Report’ for President Nixon. These missionaries also acted as scouts, covertly surveying the Amazon for resources. Financial support for Evangelical faith in Brazil evidently extends to the present, with the massive and politically influential Pentecostal “Universal Church of the Kingdom of God” whose head Bishop, Edir Macedo told his followers in 2011 that the Rockefellers had been generous contributors.
David and Nelson Rockefeller along with Zbigniew Brzezinski were also involved in the drafting of Henry Kissinger’s “National Security Study Memorandum 200” in 1974, which President Ford, to whom Nelson was serving as Vice, made official United States policy. The once secret NSSM-200, which was first seen by researchers in the 1990s, is a chilling document which advocates forced population control in 13 “Less Developed Countries”, one of which was Brazil, countries chosen for the strategic importance of their natural resources. The study states that “the world is increasingly dependent on mineral supplies from developing countries, and if rapid population frustrates their prospects for economic development and social progress, the resulting instability may undermine the conditions for expanded output and sustained flows of such resources.”
It goes on to conclude that “Whether through government action, labor conflicts, sabotage, or civil disturbance, the smooth flow of needed materials will be jeopardized. Although population pressure is obviously not the only factor involved, these types of frustrations are much less likely under conditions of slow or zero population growth”, and “Young people, who are in much higher proportions in many LDCs, are likely to be more volatile, unstable, prone to extremes, alienation and violence than an older population. These young people can more readily be persuaded to attack the legal institutions of the government or real property of the ‘establishment,’ ‘imperialists,’ multinational corporations, or other-often foreign-influences blamed for their troubles”.
Such mandatory population control programmes would be implemented by Non Governmental Organisations such as the Rockefeller’s own Eugenicist Population Council. In 1968, Frederick Osborn, the organisation’s first president, said “Eugenic goals are most likely to be achieved under another name than eugenics.”
The implications of the NSSM-200 document for Brazilians cannot be understated. It can be interpreted that de-facto opposition to population growth, rises to living standards & life expectancy, availability of quality public education and healthcare, and independent development in Brazil, has been effectively codified into United States foreign policy since 1975.
Two decades after a Military Dictatorship took power with his support, in 1987 following transition to Civilian Rule, David Rockefeller remarked “In all my visits to Brazil, I have never before come across such desperate poverty”.
In June 1992 he was back in Brasilia. “The progress is encouraging and the road is open to an accord” he said, after a 45-minute meeting with corruption-hit President Fernando Collor de Mello at the Planalto Palace in the capital. Though by this point Rockefeller was only a consultant at Chase Manhattan, he was still involved in the Council of the Americas. The New York Times wrote that Brazil was seeking to convert its world record $108bn debt into 30-year bonds that would be backed by the United States Treasury. Born into an Oligarchic family, Collor had come to power in 1989 via the first direct election since the 1964 Coup, as Rede Globo’s anointed candidate. One of his leftist rivals Leonel Brizola, had been identified as the potential target for a U.S.-supported Coup d’etat should he have won. By the end of 1992, Collor, who had overseen a programme of rapid privatisation and economic liberalisation, resigned, facing imminent impeachment, with inflation standing at over 1000%. In dealing directly with Collor, Rockefeller ensured that debt-deals were set in stone before any change in Presidency.
During preparations for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Rockefeller Foundation created LEAD (Leadership in the Environment and Development). According to their website they have since then “been recruiting talented individuals from key sectors and professions all over the world to be part of a growing network now standing at over 2400 leaders, who are committed to changing the world. […] Since 1992, more than 500 professionals have been trained in Brazil, Canada, China, Former Soviet Union, Europe, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.” The Brazilian branch of LEAD (ABDL) was one of the first, founded in mid-1991. Al Binger, LEAD’s international director, said with surprising frankness: “We hope that in ten years many of the fellows will be acting as ministers of environment and development, university rectors and CEOs.” One of the Brazilian Politicians most closely associated with LEAD/ABDL would be future Presidential Candidate & environmental campaigner, Marina Silva. Silva was Catholic Liberation Theologist, and social movement leader for almost two decades, converting to Evangelical faith in the mid 1990s. Although widely hailed as an environmentalist leader in the anglophone media, her public support of “green capitalism” is not only rejected by the Brazilian environmentalist movement, it’s rejection was chosen as the theme to the Cupula dos Povos, the international alternative forum to Rio+20, held simultaneously with it in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
“A bridge to the future”
AS/COA (Americas Society / Council of the Americas) magazine Americas Quarterly and its circle of promoted commentariat have been a major player in reshaping the master narrative of Brazil as a failing state, that Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment was legitimate, and in particular the depiction of Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro as objective “anti-corruption crusader”. There is a also a common rhetorical dismissal of U.S. interference in modern Latin America as being a relic of the cold war.
Shortly after the illegitimate impeachment of predecessor Dilma Rousseff, on September 22 2016, documented U.S. informant, new President Michel Temer, who was visiting the United States to meet Vice President Joe Biden and address the UN, also spoke at a specially-organised meeting at the New York headquarters of AS/COA . At the meeting for Investors, Business and Banking elites, Temer candidly revealed an “open secret” – that the true purpose of Rousseff’s removal was that she would not agree to implement a hardline Austerity & Privatisation programme contained within a policy document called “Bridge to the Future.”
The document was odd in that it appeared to have been translated from English, with social media users remarking on its unusual wording. Economist Marcio Pochmann noted similarities between “Bridge to the Future” and the “Government Economic Action Plan” (PAEG) which followed the Coup of 1964. One such similarity, he says, is the strong international influence.
“PAEG was written in English, there was great American intervention in the country, so much so that the US supported the dictatorship and even sent a ship in case of civil war. The coup of 2016 also has undeniable US interests in relation to a series of developmental moves the country had made since 2003, as it sought greater autonomy in Brazilian foreign policy. The South-South relationship and the strengthening of the BRICs (Trade Bloc formed by Brazil, Russia, India and China)is different from what the US considers to be the best for Latin America.”
Former Dictatorship-era Public Security Official Michel Temer was also asked by one attendee what plans he had to deal with social unrest amongst the population in response to such extreme austerity measures. This too echoes 1964, in “Who Rules the World“, Chomsky noted that the Kennedy administration’s policy was to transform Latin America’s Militaries into glorified police forces, designed to deal with their own populations “should they raise their heads”, not external threats.
Despite the shocking nature of Temer’s comments, they were for the most part ignored by close-knit Brazil-based corporate journalists, but to those who have been following the US-led rollback against democratically elected center-left and left leaders in Latin America, it was no coincidence that Temer admitted this at a meeting sponsored & organised by AS/COA.
AS/COA is effectively a Latin America equivalent of the Atlantic Council and its slogan is “Uniting opinion leaders to exchange ideas and create solutions to the challenges of the Americas today” and its online biographies state: “Americas Society (AS) Is the premier forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Its mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship.”, “Council of the Americas (COA) Is the premier international business organisation whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Council’s membership consists of leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation.”
The organisation is said to be based on the “fundamental belief that free markets and private enterprise offer the most effective means to achieve regional economic growth and prosperity.” Membership has grown to over 200 blue chip companies that represent the majority of U.S. private investment in Latin America. The Council hosts presidents, cabinet ministers, central bankers, government officials, and leading experts in economics, politics, business, and finance, which gives it unique access to information from the region. The Council of the Americas argues that “free markets and private enterprise offer the most effective means to achieve regional economic growth”. It has been a supporter of free trade agreements and has been instrumental in the conception of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)…. and the yet to be implemented Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the long-held ambition of David Rockefeller himself. Meanwhile, sister organisation The Americas Society’s focus is in contrast “to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship”
Elite COA corporate members include: Bloomberg, Blackrock, Bank of America, Barings, Barrick Gold Corporation, Boeing, Bombardier, Banco Bradesco, Banco do Brasil, Banco Santander, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca Cola, ExxonMobility, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Google, Itaú Unibanco, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, Moody’s, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, News Corp / Fox, Pearson, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Raytheon, Shell, Television Association Of Programmers Latin America, Time Warner/Turner, Toyota, Viacom, Wal-Mart. One of the successor companies to Standard Oil, Chevron Corporation is listed as “Patron Corporate Member” of Council of the Americas, and has a strong vested interest in who governs Brazil. David Rockefeller remained Honorary Secretary of COA until the day he died, while current Secretary is William R. Rhodes, formerly of Citibank/Citigroup.
Alongside other D.C. Think Tanks such as the older Brookings, and Rockefeller/Ford funded Council on Foreign Relations, AS/COA is not unusual in its stated function but is a particularly interesting case – an interface between State & Corporate power, Intelligence communities, Multinational & Latin American Banks, Washington-aligned Neoliberal Politicians, educational institutions such as FGV, local & international NGOs, Authors, Journalists, and everyday English-language media from the region, such as Reuters and CNN.
David Rockefeller once said, “American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history.” He may have passed away, but his imperialist business interests and his think tank, backed by some of the World’s most nefarious corporations in terms of human and environmental rights, will no doubt continue to meddle and weaken democracy in Latin America for years to come.
Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement, MST, was killed Monday when gunmen stormed a hospital in Parauapebas in northeastern Brazil’s Para state, activists said in a statement.
Five armed men burst into a small town hospital in the Brazilian Amazon, surrounded security guards and shot dead the prominent land rights activist, in the latest deadly attack on land campaigners.
The motive for Pereira’s murder was unclear, the MST said, but the activist had been recovering in the hospital from a previous assassination attempt.
“This is yet another murder of workers in the state of Para,” the MST said in a statement. “Impunity has become commonplace as has the action of criminal militia groups,” the group said, adding that Pereira was a longtime activist in the “struggle for agrarian reform.”
At the time of his killing, Pereira was not active with the MST and was instead devoting his time to advising the local government on agriculture, the activist group said.
Local officials in the city of Parauapebas condemned the murder and police said they were investigating the killing, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.
Conflicts over territory are common in Brazil where 1 percent of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land, according to a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.
Brazil has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land rights activists, with 61 killed in 2016, the highest level since 2003, according to Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission.
Over thirty year ago a savvy Colombian peasant leader told me, “Whenever I read the word ‘peace accords’ I hear the government sharpening its knives”.
In recent times, ‘peace accords’ (PAs) have become a common refrain across the world. In almost every region or country, which are in the midst of war or invasion, the prospects of negotiating ‘peace accords’ have been raised. In many cases, PA’s were signed and yet did not succeed in ending murder and mayhem at the hands of their US-backed interlocutors.
We will briefly review several past and present peace negotiations and ‘peace accords’ to understand the dynamics of the ‘peace process’ and the subsequent results.
The Peace Process
There are several ongoing negotiations today, purportedly designed to secure peace accords. These include discussions between (1) the Kiev-based US-NATO-backed junta in the west and the eastern ‘Donbas’ leadership opposed to the coup and NATO; (2) the Saudi US-NATO-armed terrorists in Syria and the Syrian government and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies; (3) the US-backed Israeli colonial regime and the Palestinian independence forces in the West Bank and Gaza; and (4) the US-backed Colombian regime of President Santos and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
There are also several other peace negotiations taking place, many of which have not received public attention.
Past and Present Outcomes of Peace Accords
Over the past quarter century several PAs were signed – all of which led to the virtual surrender of armed anti-imperialist protagonists and popular mass movements.
The Central-American PA’s, involving Salvador and Guatemala, led to the unilateral disarmament of the resistance movement, the consolidation of oligarchical control over the economy, the growth and proliferation of narco-gangs and unfettered government-sponsored death squads. As a consequence, internal terror escalated. Resistance leaders secured the vote, entered Congress as politicians, and, in the case of El Salvador, were elected to high office. Inequalities remained the same or worsened, and murders matched or exceeded the numbers recorded during the pre-Peace Accord period. Massive numbers of immigrants, often of internal refugees fleeing gang violence, entered the US illegally. The US consolidated its military bases and operations in Central America while the population continued to suffer.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations did not lead to any accord. Instead ‘negotiations’ became a thin cover for increasing annexation of Palestinian land to construct racist ‘Jews-Only’ enclaves, resulting in the illegal settlement of over half a million Jewish settlers. The US-backed the entire farcical peace process, financing the corrupt Palestinian vassal-leaders and providing unconditional diplomatic, military and political support to Israel.
US-Soviet Union: Peace Accord
The Reagan/Bush-Gorbachev ‘peace accords’ were supposed to end the Cold War and secure global peace. Instead the US and the EU established military bases and client regimes/allies throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic and Balkans, pillaged the national assets and took over their denationalized economies. US-based elites dominated the vassal Yeltsin regime and virtually stripped Russia of its resources and wealth. In alliance with gangster-oligarchs, they plundered the economy.
The post-Soviet Yeltsin regime ran elections, promoted multiple parties and presided over a desolate, isolated and increasingly surrounded nation – at least until Vladimir Putin was elected to ‘decolonize’ the State apparatus and partially reconstruct the economy and society.
Ukraine Peace Negotiations
In 2014 a US-sponsored violent coup brought together fascists, oligarchs, generals and pro-EU supporters seizing control of Kiev and the western part of Ukraine. The pro-democracy Eastern regions of the Donbas and Crimean Peninsula organized resistance to the putsch regime. Crimea voted overwhelmingly to re-unite Russia. The industrial centers in Eastern Ukraine (Donbas) formed popular militias to resist the armed forces and neo-Nazi paramilitaries of the US backed-junta. After a few years of mayhem and stalemate, a ‘negotiation process’ unfolded despite which the Kiev regime continued to attack the east. The tentative ‘peace settlement’ became the basis for the ‘Minsk agreement’, brokered by France, Russia and Germany, where the Kiev junta envisioned a disarming of the resistance movement, re-occupation of the Donbas and Crimea and eventual destruction of the cultural, political, economic and military autonomy of the ethnic Russian East Ukraine. As a result, the ‘Minsk Agreement’ has been little more than a failed ploy to secure surrender. Meanwhile, the Kiev junta’s massive pillage of the nation’s economy has turned Ukraine into a failed state with 2.5 million fleeing to Russia and many thousands emigrating to the West to dig potatoes in Poland, or enter the brothels of London and Tel Aviv. The remaining unemployed youth are left to sell their services to Kiev’s paramilitary fascist shock troops.
Colombia: Peace Accord or Graveyard?
Any celebration of the Colombian FARC – President Santos’ ‘Peace Accord’ would be premature if we examine its past incarnations and present experience.
Over the past four decades, Colombian oligarchical regimes, backed by the military, death squads and Washington have invoked innumerable ‘peace commissions’, inaugurated negotiations with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and proceeded to both break off negotiations and relaunch full-scale wars using ‘peace accords’ as a pretext to decimate and demoralize political activists.
In 1984, then-President Belisario Betancur signed a peace accord with the FARC, known as the ‘Uribe Agreement’. Under this agreement, thousands of FARC activists and supporters demobilized, formed the Patriotic Union (UP), a legal electoral party, and participated in elections. In the 1986 Colombian elections, the UP candidates were elected as Senators, Congress people, mayors and city council members, and their Presidential candidate gained over 20% of the national vote. Over the next 4 years, from 1986-1989, over 5,000 UP leaders, elected officials and Presidential candidates were assassinated in a campaign of nationwide terror. Scores of thousands of peasants, oil workers, miners and plantation laborers were murdered, tortured and driven into exile. Paramilitary death squads and landlord-backed private armies, allied with the Colombian Armed Forces, assassinated thousands of union leaders, workers and their families members. The Colombian military’s ‘paramilitary strategy’ against non-combatants and villagers was developed in the 1960’s by US Army General William Yarborough, Commandant, US Army Special Warfare Center and ‘Father of the Green Beret’ Special Forces.
Within five years of its formation, the Patriotic Union no longer existed: Its surviving members had fled or gone into hiding.
In 1990, newly-elected President Cesar Gaviria proclaimed new peace negotiations with the FARC. Within months of his proclamation, the president ordered the bombing of the ‘Green House’, where the FARC leaders and negotiating team were being lodged. Fortunately, they had fled before the treacherous attack.
President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2001) called for new peace negotiations with the FARC to be held ‘in a demilitarized zone’. Peace talks began in the jungle region of El Caguan in November 1998. President Pastrana had made numerous pledges, concessions and reforms with the FARC and social activists, but, at the same time he had signed a ten-year multi-billion dollar military aid agreement with US President Clinton, known as ‘Plan Colombia’. This practice of ‘double-dealing’ culminated with the Colombian Armed Forces launching a ’scorched earth policy’ against the ‘demilitarized zones’ under the newly elected (and death-squad linked) President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Over the next eight years, President Uribe drove nearly four million Colombian peasants into internal exile. With the multi-billion dollar funding from Washington, Uribe was able to double the size of the Colombian Armed Forces to over 350,000 troops, incorporating members of the death squads into the military. He also oversaw the formation of new paramilitary armies. By 2010 the FARC had declined from eighteen thousand to under ten thousand fighters – with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and millions rendered homeless.
In 2010 Uribe’s former Minister of Defense, Juan Manual Santos was elected President. By 2012 Santos initiated another “peace process” with the FARC, which was signed by the end of 2016. Under the new ‘Peace Accord’, signed in Cuba, hundreds of officers implicated in torture, assassinations and forced relocation of peasants were given immunity from prosecution while FARC guerillas were to face trial. The government promised land reform and the right to return for displaced farmers and their families. However, when peasants returned to claim their land they were driven away or even killed.
FARC leaders agreed to demobilize and disarm unilaterally by June 2017. The military and their paramilitary allies would retain their arms and gain total control over previous FARC- liberated zones.
President Santos ensured that the ‘Peace Accord’ would include a series of Presidential Decrees – privatizing the country’s mineral and oil resources and converting small family farms to commercial plantations. Demobilized peasant-rebels were offered plots of infertile marginal lands, without government support or funding for roads, tools, seed and fertilizer or even schools and housing, necessary for the transition. While some FARC leaders secured seats in Congress and the freedom to run in elections unmolested, the young rank and file FARC fighters and peasants were left without many alternatives but to join paramilitary or ‘narco’ gangs.
In summary, the historical record demonstrates that a series of Colombian presidents and regimes have systematically violated all peace agreements and accords, assassinated the rebel signees and retained elite control over the economy and labor force. Before his election, the current President Santos presided over the most deadly decade when he was Uribe’s Defense Minister.
For brokering the peace of the graveyard for scores of thousands of Colombian peasants and activists, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Havana, FARC leaders and negotiators were praised by Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama, Venezuelan President Maduro and the vast majority of ‘progressives’ and rightists in North and South America and Europe.
Colombia’s bloody history, including the widespread murder of Colombian civil rights activists and peasant leaders, has continued even as the documents finalizing the Peace Accords were being signed. During the first month of 2017, five human right activists were murdered by death squads – linked to the oligarchy and military. In 2015, while the FARC was negotiating over several clauses in the agreement, over 122 peasant and human rights activists were murdered by paramilitary groups who continued to operate freely in areas controlled by Santos’ army. The mass media propaganda mills continue to repeat the lie that ‘200,000 people were killed by the guerillas (FARC) and the government’ when the vast majority of the killings were committed by the government and its allied death squads; a calumny, which guerilla leaders fail to challenge. Prominent Jesuit researcher Javier Giraldo has provided a detailed factual account documenting that over three quarters of the killings were committed by the Army and paramilitary.
We are asked to believe presidential regimes that have murdered and continue to murder over 150,000 Colombian workers, peasants, indigenous leaders and professionals are suddenly transformed into justice-loving partners in peace. During the first three months of this year, activists, sympathetic to the peace agreement with the FARC, continue to be targeted and killed by supposedly demobilized paramilitary murderers.
Social movement leaders report rising political violence by military forces and their allies. Even peace monitors and the UN Human Rights Office admit that state and paramilitary violence are destroying any structure that President Santos could hope to implement the reforms. As the FARC withdraws from regions under popular control, peasants seeking land reform are targeted by private armies. The Santos regime is more concerned with protecting the massive land grabs by big mining consortiums.
As the killing of FARC supporters and human rights activists multiply, as President Santos and Washington look to take advantage of a disarmed and demobilized guerilla army, the ‘historic peace accord’ becomes a great deceit designed to expand imperial power.
Conclusion: Epitaph for Peace Accords
Time and again throughout the world, imperial-brokered peace negotiations and accords have served only one goal: to disarm, demobilize, defeat and demoralize resistance fighters and their allies.
‘Peace Accords’, as we know them, have served to rearm and regroup US-backed forces following tactical setbacks of the guerrilla struggle. ‘PA’s are encouraged to divide the opposition (’salami tactics’) and facilitate conquest. The rhetoric of ‘peace’ as in ‘peace negotiations’ are terms which actually mean ‘unilateral disarmament’ of the resistance fighters, the surrender of territory and the abandonment of civilian sympathizers. The so-called ‘war zones’, which contain fertile lands and valuable mineral reserves are ‘pacified’ by being absorbed by the ‘peace loving’ regime. This serves their privatization programs and promote the pillage of the ‘developmental state’. Negotiated peace settlements are overseen by US officials, who praise and laud the rebel leaders while they sign agreements to be implemented by US vassal regimes . . . The latter will ensure the rejection of any realignment of foreign policy and any structural socio-economic changes.
Some peace accords may allow former guerilla leaders to compete and in some cases win elections as marginal representatives, while their mass base is decimated.
In most cases, during the peace process, and especially after signing ‘peace accords’, social organizations and movements and their supporters among the peasantry and working class, as well as human rights activists, end up being targeted by the military and para-military death-squads operating around government military bases.
Often, the international allies of resistance movements have encouraged them to negotiate PAs, in order to demonstrate to the US that ‘they are responsible’— hoping to secure improved diplomatic and trade relations. Needless to say, ‘responsible negotiations’ will merely strengthen imperial resolve to press for further concessions, and encourage military aggression and new conquests.
Just ‘peace accords’ are based on mutual disarmament, recognition of territorial autonomy and the authority of local insurgent administration over agreed upon land reforms, retaining mineral rights and military-public security.
PA’s should be the first step in the political agendas, implemented under the control of independent rebel military and civil monitors.
The disastrous outcome of unilateral disarmament is due to the non-implementation of progressive, independent foreign policy and structural changes.
Past and present peace negotiations, based on the recognition of the sovereignty of an independent state linked to mass movements, have always ended in the US breaking the agreements. True ‘peace accords’ contradict the imperial goal of conquering via the negotiating table what could not be won through war.
An Argentine federal court on Wednesday sentenced former military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life imprisonment for his role in kidnapping, torturing and murdering anti-government protesters during the 1970s and 80s.
Bignone, along with six other former military leaders, was convicted for “crimes against humanity.” He was also charged for human rights violations against conscripts of Argentina’s Military College that occurred between 1976 and 1977.
Dubbed “Argentina’s last dictator,” Bignone ruled as president from 1982 to 1983, representing the country’s right-wing military dictatorship that arose during the Dirty War.
The Dirty War was Argentina’s offshoot of Operation Condor, a Cold War-era campaign of violence across Latin America. Through the campaign, which resulted in tens of thousands of activist deaths, the U.S. teamed up with right-wing military dictatorships to extinguish leftist movements.
With help from death squads, Argentina’s military dictatorship ruthlessly murdered thousands of left-wing students, journalists, labor leaders and armed militants. Bignone, who played a leading role in organizing the Dirty War, oversaw the mass disappearance of socialist activists throughout his tenure.
“This ruling, about the coordination of military dictatorships in the Americas to commit atrocities, sets a powerful precedent to ensure that these grave human rights violations do not ever take place again in the region,” Human Rights Watch Americas director told Reuters last year, when Bignone was first found guilty.
Last month, Argentina’s former army chief Cesar Milani was arrested on charges related to the kidnapping and torture of three people during the Dirty War. Milani, a retired general who headed Argentina’s military from 2012 to 2015, was arrested in the northern province of La Rioja.
His arrest was part of Federal Judge Daniel Herrera’s investigation into the 1977 kidnapping and torture of Pedro Olivera and his son Ramon, as well as the 1976 abduction of then 17-year-old Verónica Matta.
“We are happy because we believe, somehow, that we are on the path to really having justice done,” Ramon Olivera, one of the accusers, told Todo Noticias television. “It is an auspicious thing that Milani was detained.”
Both Bignone and Milani were close allies of the U.S. during their time in office.
Colombian Indigenous activist Alicia Lopez Guisao | Photo: Congreso de los Pueblos
Colombian Indigenous and campesino leader Alicia Lopez Guisao was killed in Medellin on Thursday, adding to the growing list of recently murdered human rights activists in the South American country.
The number of social and human rights defenders killed in the last 14 months now stands at at least 120, according to a Friday press release from the Defense of the People.
“The retreat of the FARC from the zones where they previously exercised control has allowed for the entrance of new armed actors who fight for territorial and economic dominance,” states the report. This marks a concerning trend requiring immediate action since the attacks are “pertaining to groups with similar characteristics, and which occurred in the same period and geographic area,” it adds.
Guisao, who was shopping at a grocery store at 8:45 am local time, was shot repeatedly by two unknown gunmen who entered the store, El Tiempo reports.
The People’s Congress, the left-wing organization that Guisao worked for organizing Indigenous peasants, believes the gunmen may have been connected to right-wing paramilitary groups.
“With great sadness and indignation we received and transmitted the news of the murder of comrade Alicia Lopez Guisao,” The People’s Congress said in a statement.
“Her murder is an example of the fact that the right-wing organizations that operate today in the city of Medellin are the same paramilitaries who have murdered others in recent years.”
Guisao, a leader of Colombia’s Indigenous Asokinchas community, organized the Agrarian Summit Project, which distributed land and food for 12 Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the department of Choco.
Originally from the rural Uraba Antioquia, Guisao and her family were displaced from the region by U.S.-backed paramilitaries in the late 1990s, forcing them to move to Medellin.
In 2002, after opening a family-led community health and education center, she and her relatives were once again forced out by police and right-wing paramilitaries in a “counter-terrorism operation.”
Operation Orion, the campaign which displaced Guisao and her family, was a joint paramilitary and police offensive that targeted left-wing rebels accused of supporting Colombia’s guerilla movement. Prior to her death, Guisao lived in Choco where she performed community service work.
Her death in the same area from where she was displaced “shows that it’s (paramilitary activity) a structure that persists in the city and that it’s not only general delinquency or criminal gangs like state institutions say,” wrote an open letter signed by dozens of Colombian social justice organizations denouncing her murder.
The letter says that Guisao’s sisters were warned that they and their parents would be next if they show up to her burial. The groups call on the government to ensure the protection of her family and the prosecution of those responsible.
Marcha Patriotica, the leftist political party that worked closely with Guisao and The People’s Congress, says that during the first two months of 2017, more than 20 Colombian social leaders, including six women, were killed. Most of those killed, they say, were Indigenous campesino activists fighting for human rights.
Last January, Indigenous human rights activist Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was murdered in Valledupar by suspected paramilitaries. Eyewitnesses said that she was threatened with a gun by several people on a motorcycle, who then shot her in the head. Varela, a member of Colombia’s Wiwa tribe, fought to protect Indigenous and women’s rights in her community.
“Indigenous people are being threatened and intimidated,” said secretary of the Wiwa Golkuche organization Jose Gregorio Rodríguez shortly after her murder on January 26. “Today they murdered our comrade and violated our rights. Our other leaders must be protected.”
The retreat of the FARC and other left-wing guerrilla groups that have historically defended Indigenous campesino groups has created a power vacuum in areas across the country that right-wing paramilitaries are exploiting.
One year after the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Caceres, human rights organizations and Indigenous communities continue to demand justice in the case, while the international branch of the struggle pressures to an end of U.S. funding for police and military forces accused of human rights abuses in the Central American country.
Caceres’ family sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Representative Norma Torres to ask for her support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which was reintroduced the same day to the House of Representatives after stalling without adequate support since last year. The bill seeks the suspension of Washington’s security aid to Honduras until the country fulfills more rigorous human rights conditions — including an end to abuses by the police and military and justice in cases like Berta Caceres’ murder.
“It is increasingly clear that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez is unwilling to act decisively to stop the killings of social activists in Honduras and to conduct honest and thorough investigations of killings and attacks,” Caceres’ family members state in the letter to Torres, urging her to “stand with” them and with Honduras. “In addition, the government has consistently failed to respect basic indigenous land rights, as it is required to do under its international treaty obligations.”
The original U.S. bill inspired by Caceres’ murder paints a grim picture of Honduras’ grave human rights situation, including the lack of justice in cases like Caceres’ murder. “Impunity remains a serious problem, with prosecution in cases of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moving too slowly or remaining inconclusive,” it states, adding that the U.S. State Department itself reported in 2015 problems of “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system” in Honduras.
Caceres’ family addressed the letter to Torres to ramp up individual pressure for support of the bill. Torres, the first and only Central American in Congress and the founder of the bipartisan Central American Caucus, has faced criticism for aligning herself with the Honduran government, backing Washington’s controversial Alliance for Prosperity security aid package for Central America’s Northern Triangle and for refusing to support the Berta Caceres bill.
“We believe that your support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act will further strengthen your standing as an advocate for Central Americans and human rights, both in the U.S. and Honduras,” the family wrote in its letter to Torres, imploring her endorsement of the bill.
Caceres’ family also highlighted in the letter the involvement of active and former members of the military — including suspects trained at the infamous U.S. School of the Americas — in her murder, underlining the urgent need for more rigorous conditions on security aid to Honduran state forces. A former member of the military police in Honduras revealed to the Guardian that her name had been at the top of a “hit list” that a U.S.-trained unit received.
“A government that fails to protect its citizens and whose security forces are implicated in attacks and killings of activists should not be receiving security funding and training from the U.S. government,” the letter stressed, adding that Caceres’ murder is only one example among scores of assassinations, attacks and other forms of intimidation targeting activists in the country.
According to a recent report by the international rights organization Global Witness, 120 land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2010 after an increase in state-sanctioned abuses in the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup.
Meanwhile, in Honduras, members of the organization that Caceres founded — the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras or COPINH — held a march Wednesday in the capital city Tegucigalpa demanding justice one year after her death.
They blasted Honduran authorities over the fact that, to this day, the motive for her assassination has not been identified and perpetrators in the killing not brought to justice. Demonstrators with banners shouted slogans demanding that authorities arrest the masterminds behind Caceres’ murder.
Caceres rose to international prominence for leading the Indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the community of Rio Blanco that was put in motion without consent from local communities. She was also a key leader in the post-coup resistance movement that demanded a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution.
For her environmental and land defense work, she was awarded the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, while at the same time suffering dozens of death threats and other forms of harassment. Berta Caceres was shot dead just before midnight March 2, 2016, when gunmen stormed her house and attacked her.
Caceres’ family claim that the Honduran company behind the hydroelectric project she fought against, Desarrollos Energeticos or DESA, and the Honduran government hired contract killers to murder her and other activists.
Her family and fellow activists insists that her legacy will continue to inspire a movement for rights and justice.
In a statement ahead of the anniversary of her murder, Caceres’ COPINH reiterated calls for justice and an end to unwanted corporate projects on Indigenous land and vowed to forge on in the struggle that Caceres championed in the name of a “just society where life is respected.”
“One year after Berta’s murder, she continues teaching us that ideas cannot be killed and the processes of the people cannot be stopped,” the organization said. “May she continue to be present and our task continue with her legacy of resistance and struggle against injustice.”
US Senators unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday urging President Donald Trump to take further action against Venezuelan officials.
The bill also expressed support for a controversial move by Organisation of American States (OAS) head Luis Almagro to invoke the Democratic Charter. If invoked, Venezuela would be suspended from the OAS. When Almagro first announced the move in 2016, he also demanded President Nicolas Maduro be “immediately” removed from office, prompting many Latin American leaders to accuse the OAS head of overreach.
Despite the controversy, the Senate bill called on Trump to “provide full support for OAS efforts in favour of constitutional and democratic solutions to the political impasse and to instruct federal agencies to hold officials of the Venezuelan government accountable for violations of US law and abuses of internationally recognised human rights.”
The bill will now head to the House of Representatives.
One of the main supporters of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio, thanked both Republicans and Democrats for supporting the move.
“I thank my Senate colleagues for supporting this bipartisan resolution calling for the government of Venezuela to respect the constitutional and democratic processes and release all political prisoners,” Rubio said in a statement.
The bill was co-sponsored by prominent Democrats including Senators Bob Menendez and Bill Nelson, along with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential running mate Tim Kaine.
Venezuela has already been hit by numerous US sanctions. One of former president Barack Obama’s last acts in office was the renewal of an executive order in January, declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security.
The executive order wasn’t set to expire until March, though White House officials said Obama went ahead with renewal early to ensure a “a smooth transition” for the Trump administration.
Since then, the Trump administration has slapped Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami with sanctions, including a travel ban and an asset freeze targeting one of his alleged close confidants, the entrepreneur Samark Lopez. Both Aissami and Lopez have been accused of involvement in international drug trafficking. Aissami has denied the allegations, stating in February that he was the victim of anti-Venezuela hardliners in Washington “ “whose fundamental interest is to prevent Venezuela and the United States from restoring their political and diplomatic relations on the basis of mutual recognition and respect”.
“These interest groups not only lack any evidence to demonstrate the extremely serious accusations against me, but they also have built a false-positive case in order to criminalise –through me– the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a country that is decidedly waging a war on transnational drug trafficking business,” he said.
Caracas – Venezuelan Vice-President Tareck El Aissami published an open letter to the US Treasury Department in the New York Times Tuesday in which he lambasted the body’s recent drug trafficking accusations as an attempt to further derail bilateral relations.
On February 13, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze all of El Aissami’s alleged assets in the US under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Act, making the vice-president the top-ranking official of any country to be sanctioned in this way. In particular, the OFAC accused El Aissami of having “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela” allegedly in collusion with the Las Zetas Cartel in Mexico.
In the letter, El Aissami charged the OFAC of being “deceived” by certain US political factions “whose fundamental interest is to prevent Venezuela and the United States from restoring their political and diplomatic relations on the basis of mutual recognition and respect”.
The vice-president further lambasted the drug trafficking allegations as a “false positive” which he said was intended to “criminalize – by way of my person – the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela”. The US Treasury Department has yet to release concrete evidence buttressing the accusations; meanwhile no US court has indicated that it is opening an investigation into the case.
El Aissami also highlighted the 62 percent increase in Venezuelan drug busts following the expulsion of the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005, which he said evidences Washington’s “egregious failure in the fight against drug trafficking”.
“How many heads of drug trafficking organizations has the US captured in its territory? How many banks and tax havens has the US closed for serving as a financial base for this gigantic business and crime against humanity? … The United States should reflect and rectify,” he wrote in the New York Times.
While El Aissami has received resounding support from President Maduro as well as the nation’s armed forces, the number two official has come under fire from the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN), which has demanded that he resign from his post.
On Wednesday, a special parliamentary commission headed by Popular Will party legislator Freddy Guevara announced that it was opening an inquiry into the US Treasury allegations and called on the vice-president to step down in order to “facilitate the investigation”.
The AN moreover resolved to formally solicit from the US Congress and the US Treasury Department “the precise information that backs up the claims made so the AN can carry out the corresponding inquiry”.
The legislature additionally called on the Public Prosecutor’s office to provide all information relevant to the case.
Neither the executive branch nor the Public Prosecutor’s office have yet responded to the AN’s resolutions.
Venezuela’s parliament has been declared “null and void” by the Supreme Court over the body’s failure to unseat three legislators from Amazonas state under investigation for alleged electoral fraud.
Ecuador has come under fire for scrutinizing non-profits like Accion Ecologica, many of whom get millions from Europe and North America.
Ecuador, the tiny South American nation sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, rarely makes waves in the English-speaking world’s corporate mediascape. Last year, news traveled far on at least two occasions.
First, with an earthquake that killed at least 673 people. Second, when the government moved to investigate and potentially dissolve a nonprofit called Accion Ecologica in connection with deadly violence between members of an Amazonian tribe and police sent to protect a Chinese-operated mining project.
Ecologists and prominent activists friendly to the group, including heavy-weights such as Naomi Klein, called out what they characterized as a callous repression and criminalization of Indigenous people protecting the unparalleled richness of the Amazon and alleged state prejudice against an underdog non-profit organization that was only there to save the rainforest and its inhabitants.
Ecuador’s socialist government, on the other hand, sees the “underdog” label as misplaced.
NGOs may be seen as do-gooders, but that’s not always the case. As a country historically vulnerable to the whims of powers in the North, Ecuador has, under the administration of the outgoing President Rafael Correa, put up a guard against a new kind of public diplomacy from abroad that focuses on gaining the favor of civil society to indirectly execute their political priorities.
NGOs are flagged when they operate outside the bounds of the law and their stated objectives, indicators of potential pressure from outside funders to protect their interests rather than those of nationals.
“We’re an Ecuadorean NGO, born here in Ecuador and working for 30 years in the defense of the rights of the environment and of communities across the country, and for that work we are very well known, even at an international level,” Alexandra Almeida, president of Accion Ecologica, told teleSUR.
“But that doesn’t mean that a foreign organization could manipulate us with anything — with funds, with nothing — that’s how we operate.”
NGOs have rarely had to justify their work to anyone, let alone prove that they act for the good of the people only. But Ecuador is not an ordinary country. Rich in resources but export dependent, authorities are attempting to manage the many foreign hands trying to pull the country’s development in their favor.
Silent Action Meets Loud Reaction
This government is the first to scrutinize NGOs, but their scrutiny has not been limited to Accion Ecologica.
In 2012, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa boldly declared that NGOs have been entering the country like never before during the previous decade. Many, backed by foreign states and foreign money, are out to destabilize the state, Ecuadorean leaders stated.
“Their interest is not the country, impoverished sectors, natural resources or strengthening democracies,” said Paola Pabon, director of the National Ministry of Political Management, which is responsible for tracking NGOs, in an interview with teleSUR last year. “What interests them is having control over governments, having influence over civil society to create elements of destabilization.”
Executive Decree 16, which went into effect in 2013, created a system to catalogue the financing, decision-making and activities of every registered social organization — a total of over 46,000 in the country, including non-profits, unions and community organizations, among others.
The resulting action saw 26 foreign NGOs expelled from the country for a lack of transparency and compliance with national law; in brief, for declaring themselves “non-governmental organizations” while acting on behalf of foreign governments. Among the more high-profile cases was Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical missionary relief organization that received funding and support from USAID. Fifteen others were given two weeks to get their activities in order.
A handful of Indigenous organizations, which had previously mobilized against Correa’s government, attacked the decree via the Constitutional Court. Two years later, Ecuador reformed the regulations with Executive Decree 739, which fine-tuned the reasons for closing an NGO — the main one, “diverting from stated objectives” — and, caving to demand, eliminated the requirement for organizations to register projects financed from abroad.
Donor Nations: Generous or Greedy?
The trend that prompted Ecuador’s law was not without precedent.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, and the linked but publicly independent National Endowment for Democracy, known as NED, the United States pumped over US$100 million into Venezuela to create 300 new organizations credited with contributing to the coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez in 2002. In a similar move, USAID admitted that it tried to provoke a “Cuban Spring” by setting up Zunzuneo, a kind of Cuban Twitter, to circulate calls to protest.
The most common nonprofits close to foreign governments and private interests are those that stand tallest against their states. In Ecuador, that tends to be groups that work closely with Indigenous communities, with those protecting their right to their land and with those defending women and the environment. Funding by private foundations and corporations, while more widespread, is far less transparent and tougher to quantify. Big names like the Ford Foundation and Open Society, however, are well known for injecting funds into NGOs in the global south to advance specific political visions.
But the United States isn’t the only country to have funneled funds to Ecuador through NGOs.
Official numbers from Ecuador’s Chief Administrative Office of International Cooperation, or SETECI, show that since Correa assumed office in 2007 until 2015, foreign NGOs have managed over US$800 million from abroad. Top givers include the U.K. and Spain, followed by several European states.
No one, however, beats the United States. In that same period, the U.S. sent over twice the amount of money of the next-highest donor, with a total of over US$282 million and 780 projects, or 35 percent of all funding.
Of those funds, which only count NGOs based abroad that invested in local or regional projects, 13 went to projects in the Amazon led by non-profits like Care International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas. Projects based in Morona Santiago, the province where the anti-mining protests that led to the death of a police officer broke out, brought in over US$1 million from the U.S. since 2007.
The flow of funds is indicative of a broader attitude between receiver and giver, who “take advantage of the assumption that they have a perfect democracy, which is completely false – there’s a paternalistic attitude that must be regulated,” said Fernando Casado, research fellow at the National Institute for Higher Studies on public administration in Ecuador and Venezuela. Conversely, a flow in the opposite direction would immediately raise suspicion from developed countries, he added.
Yet money itself doesn’t tell the full tale: the funds are tied directly to foreign policy objectives, Casado told teleSUR. “The powers of the North have changed strategy.”
Each state has its own way. Germany, which has had 151 NGO projects in Ecuador since 2007, is known for meddling in affairs of developing countries through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, or BMZ. When SETECI found that three-quarters of its funds went toward stopping another mining project in the Amazon’s Yasuni region last March, it kicked the German agency out of Ecuador.
The United States has several agencies do its work, the most prominent being USAID, NED — funded through money allocated to USAID by Congress — and the Broadcast Board of Governors. The stated missions: to promote development, democracy creation and a free press, respectively, while strictly adhering to U.S. foreign policy priorities.
“We should not have to do this kind of work covertly,” said former head of NED Carl Gershman on CIA missions to the New York Times in 1986. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
What Givers Want
The “work” the United States has set out for Ecuador — according to a 2016 Office of Inspector General report on the U.S. embassy leaked by WikiLeaks — is “to mitigate the effects of the contentious political environment created by the Ecuadorean Government” with the help of other government agencies, which play a “critical role.”
The report, intended for the eyes of the BBG and Congress, said the embassy was “actively engaged with civil society leaders and nongovernmental organizations to increase Ecuadorean awareness of and support for U.S. policies and values, promote Ecuadorean civil society and government accountability, and strengthen environmental initiatives.”
To set up a climate conducive to U.S. meddling, the U.S. Government Accountability Office included Ecuador on a shortlist with Colombia, Egypt and the West Bank/Gaza the year Correa was elected to closely study public opinion in “specific, targeted public awareness campaigns.”
It also either commissioned or was the beneficiary of a study from Stratfor, a secretive intelligence company contracted by the State Department and the U.S.’s multinational titans, which evaluated the extent to which Ecuador is manipulable by NGOs. The 2013 report, leaked by WikiLeaks, focused especially on how NGOs can influence trade policy and corporate regulation. Its conclusion: based on a scale likely defined in relation to other developing nations, Ecuador is fairly resilient to NGO pressure but has submitted in certain instances.
USAID sends hundreds of millions to local projects in Ecuador, some less explicitly political, but some indirectly benefiting opposition groups, according to U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm. BBG affiliate, TeleAmazonas, has been accused of fomenting strong opposition rhetoric against Correa. And the NED spends over US$1 million annually on dozens of local programs with broad objectives like “promoting citizen oversight of elected officials,” “monitoring due process and the independence of the judicial system,” “monitoring the use of public resources in government advertising” and “facilitating dialogue and consensus on democracy.”
Both Germany’s BMZ and USAID are back in Ecuador following a deluge of NGO activity after the April earthquake. The workload of the National Ministry of Political Management has peaked ever since, said Pabon.
The Sneaky Alliance With Mother Earth
One pet project of USAID was the Conservation in Managed Indigenous Areas, or Caiman, which ended before Correa took office but was among several USAID programs to conserve the country’s biodiversity and promote alliances between Indigenous communities and private businesses.
Caiman worked with various groups working in ecological and Indigenous rights, including Accion Ecologica. For several years, Caiman had Accion Ecologica help them battle against the Ministry of the Environment and train park rangers to oppose contamination from oil and mining.
Whether or not USAID or foreign foundations have funded Accion Ecologica directly is unclear. Unlike many others in the industry, the non-profit does not publish its financial information on its website, and refused multiple requests from teleSUR for copies of audits. When asked, the organization’s president said she does not know specifics on foreign funders and could not answer.
Almeida did say that Accion Ecologica receives funds from Europe — from individuals, “small organizations, alliances, groups that form” around fundraising events on ecological issues. She did not say how much or cite specific names but mentioned Italy and Belgium.
A 2012 investigation from Andes, an Ecuadorean state publication, found that both Accion Ecologica and the Regional Foundation of Human Rights Advising, another powerful nonprofit, are financed by the European Commission, Oilwatch, the Netherlands embassy and a few international ecological networks. Almeida said the accusations were false.
While Europe may be the principal interested party in the success of Accion Ecologica, the U.S. is also well known to have played an active role in similar battles.
In 2013, the year after Correa took the lead against foreign NGOs and a year before he expelled USAID, Bolivia accused USAID of spending US$22 million to divide Indigenous groups on the exploitation and nationalization of oil in their lands.
“Since the right can’t find arguments to oppose the process of change, it now turns to campesino, Indigenous and native leaders who are paid by several NGOs and foundations with perks to foment a climate of conflict with the national government to deteriorate the process of unification that the country is experiencing,” said Morales as he gave USAID the boot.
Beyond Accion Ecologica
“Theoretically speaking, NGOs shouldn’t exist,” said Casado. NGOs operate within a logic of narrowing, minimizing and weakening the role of the state so they can keep filling holes in public services and keep their jobs, which are at risk of disappearing if the state works as it should, added Casado.
“They elect themselves representatives of civil society in general,” and yet their role is limited and entirely reliant on and responsive to funding, which at the end of the day remains in their pockets. Other social organizations and popular movements, said Casado, operate only on conviction.
If an NGO is completely free to operate without regulations, a country would open itself to any corporate and foreign interest that found an open hand, he argued. Latin America is intimately familiar with that process — of consolidating power in the monied class — and NGOs back similar corporate interests, only with a more benevolent face.
It’s near-impossible to identify the perfect case of foreign intrusion — and, as in Accion Ecologica’s case, near-impossible to prove. Multiple factors are always at play, from the ideology of individual members to the decision-making process to however events play out on the ground. Casado said that the first step to uncovering hidden interests is financial transparency — a move that faces stiff opposition precisely for the interests that it could reveal.
Ecuador’s answer is to carefully collect records and draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. Foreign NGOs, state the decree, cannot participate “in any form of party politics, any form of interference or proselytism, any threat to national security or public peace or any other activity not permitted under their migratory status.”
When Accion Ecologica testified before the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment, it argued that it had been doing the same work — protecting the rainforest — for decades, always in a peaceful manner. The evidence presented showing they provoked violence through a series of tweets in and around the time of violent clashes was “a bit absurd, very absurd,” said Almeida.
In the end, the government’s case did not hold, and the Environment Ministry concluded there was not enough credible evidence to shut down the group. Accion Ecologica credited “pressure” from its supporters, as its representatives continue to urge for a deregulation of NGOs.
“It’s not only NGOs, but also any organization that will be at risk, especially their right to free expression and the right to free association” if the decree regulating NGOs remains intact, said Almeida.
Her position echoes those taken up by opposition politicians, whose one commonality is their depiction of Correa’s government as one systematically trouncing on citizens’ rights and freedoms.
In an election year, rhetoric makes the difference.
Dianileysis Cruz contributed reporting.
A bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers urged President Donald Trump to apply new sanctions against Venezuela’s Bolivarian government, alleging that it supports corruption, human rights abuses, and “terrorism.”
Cuban-American right-wing congresspeople Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, co-authored a letter sent to Trump endorsed by 32 other republican and democratic lawmakers.
The letter calls on Trump to investigate alleged drug trafficking and support for so-called Middle Eastern terror groups by the country’s new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, AP reported.
“Decisive, principled action in response to unfolding developments in Venezuela as one of the first foreign policy actions of your administration would send a powerful message to the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan people,” lawmakers said in the letter.
In addition to sanctioning Venezuelan officials and launching an investigation into the Bolivarian government’s alleged ties to terrorism, the U.S. lawmakers want to boost funding for right-wing opposition groups operating within the country.
Since 1999, the year former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took office, the U.S. government has provided opposition groups with hundreds of millions of dollars. Since 2014, US$5 million has been allocated in the federal budget to finance opposition activities inside the South American country, the Daily Mail reported.
These are the same groups that are responsible for the guarimbas — the violent practice of blocking roads, lighting tires on fire, and firing rocks and other materials at Venezuelan police. Members of opposition groups have also been caught hoarding and illegally selling foodstuffs for personal profit.
Despite the Venezuelan opposition’s well-recorded criminality, the bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is instead choosing to combat the democratically-elected government’s alleged “crimes.”
The lawmakers claim Venezuelan officials in charge of distributing food rations are “profiting” from shortages, citing a December 2016 report by AP. The investigation, however, quotes unsubstantiated claims made by opposition residents and former officials hostile to the incumbent government.
The lawmakers also claim El Aissami has connections to the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which they say automatically makes him complicit in supporting “terrorism,” but provided no evidence to back that accusation.
Trump’s administration has not commented on proposed plans to sanction and investigate Venezuela. Maduro’s administration continues to speak out against U.S. efforts to destabilize the democratically-elected government.
A lack of activity and upkeep is plaguing facilities including the site of swimming competitions, where craters from disassembled pools collect stagnant water.
Less than six months after Rio de Janeiro hosted the first-ever Olympics in South America, game venues sit idle and already in disrepair, raising questions about a legacy that organizers promised would benefit the Brazilian city and its residents.
A lack of activity and upkeep is plaguing facilities including the site of swimming competitions, where craters from disassembled pools collect stagnant water, and Rio’s famed Maracanã stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies.
The field there, one of the most iconic soccer pitches in the world, is giving way to dirt and scrub. Electricity was cut recently because of a financial spat between local officials and the contractor hired to manage the stadium.
Before the games, organizers touted the venues as facilities that could easily be repurposed in sports-crazed Rio. But little more than one beach volleyball tournament has been played at any of the venues — and even that drew criticism because it involved throwing sand on the Olympic tennis court.
Federal, state and local governments, along with private partners, paid more than US$12.8 billion to host the Olympics, about US$7 billion of which was for game venues and related facilities.
Cover of Ecaudor in the Sights: The Wikileaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa | Photo: El Telegrafo
In his new book, “Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa,” released this week in Quito, Norwegian journalist Eirik Vold details attempts by the U.S. government to topple Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and derail his Citizens’ Revolution.
“Correa was not about to let Washington maintain its dominance through financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” Vold told the Andes press agency in explaining the motivation behind years of U.S. efforts to undermine the Ecuadorean president.
The book is largely based on the “Cablegate” documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010, including thousands of secret documents sent from the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. consulate in Guayaquil.
“There is direct U.S. interference in Ecuador,” Vold told El Telegrafo, adding that “documents show a close relationship between several figures of Ecuadorean political life, the financial sector, and the United States Embassy.”
In the book, Vold outlines how the U.S. looked to thwart Correa from the very beginning, trying to directly prevent his election out of fear of losing the U.S. military base in Manta, the base of CIA operations in the region, as well as control over the U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum Corp.
After his 2006 election, Correa nationalized the oil company and closed the U.S. base in Manta.
Vold says his book documents multiple attempts by the U.S. to sabotage UNASUR — the regional cooperation body founded in 2007 by progressive governments in Latin America — as well as extensive contacts between the U.S. Embassy and members of the national police force before an attempted 2010 coup, known as 30S.
In 2015, 22 police officers were found guilty of insubordination for their role in the failed coup.
Vold also claims the secret cables identify multiple NGO, media, finance, and political contacts which the U.S. embassy used to attempt to destabilize Correa’s government.
One of those Vold names is current vice presidential candidate Andres Paez. Paez, formerly the president of the left-wing Left Democracy Party, is now running on the right-wing CREO ticket along with former banker Guillermo Lasso.
“The U.S. says in a document he is one of our most trusted contacts. In other documents, it is pointed out that he was considered an ally for imposing free trade agreements, and it is evident that he had meetings at the United States Embassy.”
The Norwegian journalist, who has written extensively about U.S. involvement in Latin America, including a book about Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, said that Ecuador is of particular importance due to its efforts to protect WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from U.S. persecution, ensuring its role as a “protector of the right to information for the whole planet.”
“We’re talking about a region with the world’s greatest concentration of natural resources, and obviously a region which has been known as the U.S.’s ‘backyard’,” he told Andes. “So U.S. activities are very intense in the region, but they have been maintained, for the last decade, with a more discrete, more covert strategy.”
“The revelations are many, the purpose is one,” he said at a book launch in Quito on Thursday. “That the Ecuadorean public regardless of their political inclination has access to truthful information about the activities of U.S. officials. And local informants in the country who had previously been concealed from them.”