The Coup and Its Aftermath
June 28 marked the six year anniversary of the military coup in Honduras – the day that a democratically elected left wing government was ousted by a US-backed, US-trained cabal of generals and right wing politicians and landowners. It could correctly be called a “Quiet Coup” primarily because it took place with very little fanfare from the corporate media which, to the extent that it covered it at all, did so mostly from a distorted perspective which spread more misinformation than truth. Today, six years (and many innocent lives, and billions of dollars) later, this shameful moment in recent history still remains largely forgotten.
Perhaps it was the lingering euphoria felt by liberals and so-called progressives in the months after Obama’s election and inauguration. Perhaps it was the still new economic crisis and subsequent bailout and financial turmoil. Perhaps it was plain old imperialistic, neocolonial disregard for Latin America and the rights of the people unfortunate enough to be living in “America’s backyard.” Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Obama administration and those who supported it, then and now, are complicit in an ongoing political, economic, and social tragedy in Honduras.
But why bring it up now, other than to mark the anniversary of the coup? For starters, because one of the primary participants and benefactors happens to be the likely Democratic Party presidential candidate: Hillary Clinton. Also, far from being a discrete episode of US imperialism’s sordid past, the coup and its legacy remain a driving force in Honduran politics and society today. The beneficiaries and participants are all still either in government or have shifted to the private sector, and continue to enrich themselves at the cost of the poor and working people of the country [though alleged coup orchestrator Miguel Fucase just died]. The coup government of Honduras continues to wage a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against minority communities to benefit itself and its patrons from the US and elsewhere.
Perhaps most importantly, the coup of 2009 reveals the extent to which the United States remains a neocolonial, imperial power in Latin America, and reminds us of just what countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have been struggling against. It illustrates in the starkest terms the human cost of Washington’s policies, not in books about a historical period, but in images and videos of a country under its thumb today. It reminds us just how real the struggle still is.
The Coup and the US Role
The 2006 election of José Manuel Zelaya, known as “Mel” to his friends and supporters, was a watershed moment in the history of Honduras. A country that, like its neighbors, suffered under a succession of US-backed right wing governments, had finally elected a man whose politics were of the people, rather than of the military and business interests. Despite coming from a wealthy family, and having been elected under the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) banner, Zelaya’s politics shifted significantly to the left once he assumed office.
Not only did Zelaya commit the great sin of forging ties with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and PetroCaribe blocs, but Zelaya challenged the political status quo in the country, promising to represent the poor and working class in a country traditionally dominated by wealthy landowners and the military. As journalist, author, and former adviser to the Permanent Mission of Honduras at the United Nations, Roberto Quesada, told Counterpunch in an exclusive interview:
When Zelaya came into power, even though he was in a traditional party, he changed the traditional politics of the Liberal Party and made it into a people’s party. He turned the presidential palace into a house for the people…For the first time those without voices were given a voice…He wanted to introduce the Cuarta Urna [Fourth Ballot Box Referendum]. For the first time the Honduran people could decide what they wanted and change the constitution [because]…the constitution of 1982 was in favor of the right wing and was not in the interests of Hondurans.
And so it seemed in 2009 that Honduras, like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua before it, would legally and democratically break free of the political and corporate hegemony of the US. Clearly this was something that Washington, even with the newly elected president of “Hope” and “Change” in the White House, could not abide. Enter: then newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has since admitted openly, and quite brazenly, her central role in legitimizing, supporting, and providing political cover for the illegal, and internationally condemned, coup against Zelaya. As Counterpunch contributor Mark Weisbrot has noted, Clinton stated clearly in her book Hard Choices that, “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico… We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
What exactly was the plan? Aside from providing diplomatic cover by not openly calling it a military coup, Clinton employed her longtime associates Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff who whispered sweet nothings in the ears of the right people in Washington and on Wall Street, including in a laughable op-ed in the Wall Street journal, thereby paving the way for new “elections” in Honduras, in order to, as Clinton put it, “render the question of Zelaya moot.” Lanny Davis, as has been noted by a number of journalists, is a direct representative of powerful business elites in Honduras.
Davis himself explained this fact in an interview just weeks after the coup when he stated, “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America… I do not represent the government and do not talk to [interim] President [Roberto] Micheletti. My main contacts are [billionaires] Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.” Indeed, Davis quite candidly exposed himself as an agent of powerful oligarch financiers and landowners who, until the election of Zelaya, had always maintained firm control of the reins of government in Honduras.
Essentially then, Clinton and her henchmen played the key role in facilitating an illegal coup against a democratically elected government in the interests of their billionaire friends inside Honduras, and the geopolitical agenda of the United States in the region. Though she is busy employing populist rhetoric in her presidential bid these days, Clinton has done yeoman’s work for the right wing, anti-democratic forces of Latin America, and the Empire broadly speaking. Of course, none of this should come as any surprise to people who have followed Clinton, and US imperialism in Latin America for that matter.
Equally unsurprising is the US role in the training and backing of the Honduran generals who carried out the coup on that early morning in late June 2009. As School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) noted at the time:
The June 28 coup in Honduras was carried out by the School of the Americas (SOA) graduates Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military and by Gen. Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force… SOA-trained Honduran Army Attorney Col. Herberth Inestroza justified the military coup and stated in an interview with The Miami Herald ‘It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.’ Inestroza also confirmed that the decision for the coup was made by the military… According to information that SOA Watch obtained from the US government through a Freedom of Information Act request, Vasquez studied in the SOA at least twice: once in 1976 and again in 1984…The head of the Air Force, General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996.
The School of the Americas (since renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, aka WHINSEC) is a US military institute located at Fort Benning, Georgia infamous for graduating a literal who’s who of Central and South American military dictators, death squad leaders, and other assorted fascists who left their bloody marks on their respective countries. It’s been called the “School of Dictators” and a “coup factory,” and it seems that Honduras in 2009 was merely the latest victim of its illustrious alumni. Indeed, this was not the first time for Honduras, as both General Juan Melgar Castro (military dictator, 1975-1978) and Policarpo Paz Garcia (death squad leader and then military dictator, 1978-1982) were graduates of the School of the Americas. Needless to say, the legacy of the United States in Honduras is a bloody and shameful one.
Honduras: A US Military Foothold in Central America
One should not be fooled into believing that since 2009 and the US-backed coup and subsequent regime change, somehow the US has not been involved militarily inside Honduras. Indeed, just weeks ago the US military announced that it would be sending a contingent of US Marines to Honduras, ostensibly to “provide assistance during hurricane season.” However, the reality is that the US is merely continuing, and indeed expanding, its ongoing military partnership and de facto occupation of Honduras and a number of other key Central American countries.
In an exclusive interview with Counterpunch, the US Coordinator of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), Lucy Pagoada succinctly explained, “The coup forced us to wake up to the reality of Honduras. I lived in Honduras until I was 15 years old. I’ve never seen my country so militarized as the way it has become after 2009. It has turned into a large military base trained and funded by the US. They even have School of the Americas forces there… There have been high levels of violence and torture since the coup against the resistance and the opposition.” According to Pagoada and other activists both in Honduras and in the US, the country has essentially become an annex of the US military, acting as a staging area for a variety of Washington’s military operations in the region.
This conclusion is confirmed by a report from the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) which noted:
The steady increase of U.S. assistance to [Honduran] armed forces [is] an indicator of tacit U.S. support. But the U.S. role in militarization of national police forces has been direct as well. In 2011 and 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST)… set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit and help plan and execute drug interdiction operations… Supported by U.S. helicopters mounted with high caliber machine guns, these operations were nearly indistinguishable from military missions, and locals routinely referred to the DEA and Honduran police agents as “soldados” (soldiers). According to the New York Times, five “commando style squads” of FAST teams have been deployed across Central America to train and support local counternarcotics units…In July 2013, the Honduran government created a new “elite” police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group, or TIGRES (Spanish for “tigers”). The unit, which human rights groups contend is military in nature, has been deployed in tandem with the new military police force and has received training in military combat tactics from both U.S. and Colombian Special Forces units.
For those with even a cursory understanding of how US support for the contra death squads of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s actually worked, the description above should bear a chilling resemblance. Essentially, US military and covert assets provide the arms, training, and coordination for a patchwork of well-organized units whose function is to terrorize communities whose real crime, far from involvement in drug trafficking, is either opposition to the government or having the misfortune of living on valuable real estate prized by the same business interests that Mrs. Clinton and her cronies represent.
Of course, the US military presence has a regional dimension as Washington attempts to use its assets to reassert and/or maintain control over the entire region which it has seen steadily slipping from its grasp since the election of Hugo Chavez more than 15 years ago, and the subsequent rise of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. But, from the strictly Honduran perspective, this military cooperation is intended to provide the Honduran military, now doubling as internal police and security forces, with the necessary support to carry out ethnic cleansing operations and killing of political opponents in order to make the country safe for business.
Cleansing Honduras for the Sake of Profit
The military operations in Honduras are aimed primarily at enriching the oligarchs running the country since the ouster of Zelaya in 2009. The goal is to ethnically cleanse prime real estate, either through eviction or brute force, in order to free it up for privatization. One of the means by which this is taking place is through the so called “Ciudades Modelos” (Model Cities) program which promotes tax-free business havens for newly privatized land seized from indigenous communities.
One of the communities most deeply affected is the Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous nation whose land stretches hundreds of miles of prime real estate on the Honduran Carribbean coast which the corrupt government of President Hernandez, and his financial backers in Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital) and the US, envisions as a money-making tourist zone. TeleSur noted in 2014 that the Barra Vieja Garifuna community was under eviction threat by the Honduran government which prized their land for the “further development of the Bahia de Tela tourist project and the building of the five star Indura Beach and Golf Resort. In a business alliance, the Honduran government holds 49 percent of the shareholds for the project while 51 percent is in the hands of private business.” New York City alone is home to roughly 250,000 Garifuna people from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize; they have to watch as their families and friends back in Honduras continue to face persecution at the hands of a right wing government serving business interests from the US and elsewhere.
But of course, the Garifuna are not alone, as many other indigenous communities in Honduras face unspeakable repression at the hands of the militarized Honduran government and its 21st Century version of death squads. As Lucy Pagoada recounted in her interview with Counterpunch, “Margarita Murillo, an indigenous woman, dedicated her life to the defense of the land and the workers. She was killed with seven bullets by her home in the department of Yoro… She was a leader of the resistance.”
Indeed, the brutal assassination of Murillo in August 2014 was yet another chilling reminder of the war waged by the Honduran government on peasants and indigenous people in the country who refuse to be displaced in the interests of the business elites. Murillo, who had just recently been named President of the Asociativa Campesinos de Producción Las Ventanas (Window Production Peasants Association), had been an advocate for her fellow indigenous peoples and the poor, and had been involved in mediating a land dispute between a number of local families and a group of wealthy landowners in the area. She was shot execution-style by a group of three men in ski masks.
Murillo’s assassination was far more than simply a murder motivated by a local land-grab. Rather, it was a clear warning to the resistance movement in Honduras that any organized effort to fight back against the government and the wealthy landowners backing it would be met with brute force. This is the sort of message that the people of Honduras, especially those who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, understand all too well. In fact, such violence, and the despair that it produces, has driven many Hondurans, especially from the Garifuna community, to flee to the US in search of a better life.
Maria Vives is an administrative assistant with the Give Them to Eat ministries of the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church. Speaking with Counterpunch she recalled:
We have a soup kitchen and food pantry. We help people on an emergency basis… Three Garifuna women showed up last summer and expressed needs—they were frustrated. They have [sic] been caught crossing the border and ankle bracelets have [sic] been put on them. They were shackled… Word spread that we were helping people in need and soon we had a total of almost 50 or 60 women who show up with their children… They have several reasons for leaving Honduras. For the violence, they were killing off a lot of people in the neighborhood because they wanted to take over their lands. Some were scared their children would join gangs. As soon as the children reach a certain age they were recruited to join the gang. I know one mother in particular who brought over her three children because one of them was being recruited into the gang.
Although the corporate media constantly referred to the “child immigration crisis” during its brief coverage in 2014, the reality was that it was a refugee crisis, and that those children, at times accompanied and at times unaccompanied, were fleeing precisely the sort of repression described above. Whether Garifuna or members of other indigenous or peasant communities, those children and families sought refuge in the US, refuge from the horrors perpetrated against them in Honduras; of course, all with the tacit approval and covert participation of the US Government.
As we mark the sixth anniversary of the 2009 coup against the legal government of Honduras, we must be sure to not simply recognize the event as yet another despicable example of US imperialism and its support for repressive governments in Latin America. We must instead recognize that that singular event set into motion a series of events which have led to the political and social crisis ongoing in Honduras today. As Roberto Quesada told us, “We can’t talk about the coup as if it is in the past. It continues to leave the country in a state of chaos.”
Ramiro S. Fúnez is a Honduran-American political activist and independent journalist based in new York City. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Argentina has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to foreign drilling companies operating in the vicinity of Falklands / Malvinas Islands, saying they have failed to obtain the necessary permissions from Buenos Aires to conduct exploration.
A federal judge in Tierra del Fuego, Lilian Herraez, has ordered authorities to seize the assets of five companies drilling for oil in the Falklands worth $156 mn. The measure was ordered following a request of a prosecutor from the Office of Economic Crime and Money Laundering (PROCELAC).
According to the prosecution, the order to seize assets was issued for “illegal activities of exploration, search and eventual extraction of hydrocarbons in proximity to the Falkland Islands” because the companies in question failed to obtain permits issued by “the competent authority in Argentina.”
According to a legal brief, the order involves halting the activities of the semi-submersible “Eirik Raude” rig and the floating dock“Noble Frontier”. Herraez also ordered the seizure of all vessels.
The five companies mentioned are: Premier Oil Plc, Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc and Edison International Spa. Three of them are UK based, one is American and the fifth is French-owned, based in Italy.
It remains unclear how these companies’ assets are supposed to be appropriated from territory officially under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The companies in question do not generally hold any assets in Argentina or use Argentine waters, a source told Reuters.
However, the Argentine prosecutor’s office said it “had identified the assets of the foreign companies and discovered that one of them, the US firm Noble Energy, has a local office registered in Argentina.” Authorities will move to freeze those assets, it said.
“The foreign ministry will be notified of the court order so that by diplomatic means and in compliance with international treaties it can be carried out,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
In April, a group of British exploration companies found oil and gas in an area north of the Falkland Islands. The oil was discovered by the Eirik Raude floating drilling rig as part of an eight month exploration campaign. Argentina has predictably not been happy about the exploration activity, which is bound to further inflame tensions over the island’s disputed ownership.
In Argentina, the Falkland Islands are known as the ‘Islas Malvinas.’ The dispute between the UK and Argentina over the sovereignty of the islands has reemerged in recent years under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Iran’s Minister of Industry Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez talk to reporters in Caracas
Iran has agreed to a $500 million credit line for Venezuela to finance joint investments there, President Nicolas Maduro has announced.
He made the announcement after meeting Iranian Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh in Caracas where the two sides signed six agreements to expand financial, economic, industrial and technological cooperation.
Among the agreements, there are plans for joint production of commodity goods, including detergents and other hygiene materials in Venezuela and Iran’s sales of medical drugs and surgical equipment to the country.
Maduro said the two countries had also agreed to a “comprehensive plan” to develop a joint program in nanotechnology in which Iran is among the top seven countries.
He said the deals would ensure a higher level of cooperation and deepen the bonds between the two nations.
Moreover, Iran agreed to transfer its expertise to Venezuela in combating an “economic war” on the Latin American country, Maduro said, apparently referring to Iran’s experience in facing years of US-led sanctions.
“We are facing an economic war of monumental proportions; a brutal war (but) we are here attending to our people,” Maduro said as he invoked the vision of the late President Hugo Chavez for “the government’s union with the people and struggle against imperialism”.
The Venezuelan head of state also hailed relations with Iran as “an example of alliance between two brother nations”.
“Today we have mutual trust in our relations and we work together with results. Working with Iran has gone well and our cooperation has been a great success since Hugo Chavez began a strategic alliance and brotherhood with Iran,” Maduro said.
Relations between Iran and Venezuela — both critics of US policies — have expanded in recent years. Iran is involved in a series of joint ventures worth several billion dollars in energy, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure sectors in Venezuela.
Iran’s main industrial projects in Venezuela include a car assembly plant, a tractor manufacturing complex and a cement factory.
The Islamic Republic has also built more than 3,000 residential housing units for less privileged citizens in Venezuela, with 7,000 more to be completed.
Both countries are hugely rich in resources. Venezuela possesses the world’s biggest oil deposit while Iran owns the fourth largest oil and first largest gas reserves of the world.
Maduro has announced his intention to visit Tehran to attend a summit of Gas Exporting Countries Forum planned for Nov. 23.
Do not take the Latin American revolutions for granted.
They inspired the entire Planet. They brought hope to every corner of our scarred Earth. But now they are themselves in need of our support.
If left alone, they would thrive for decades and centuries. But the Empire is once again on the offensive. It is shaking with fury. It is ready to invade, to smash, burn to ashes all the hopes, all that which had been achieved.
Don’t believe in the “common wisdom” which proclaims that the rulers of the world simply “closed their eyes” more than a decade ago; that George W. Bush was “too busy” ravishing the Middle East, therefore “allowing” most of the Latin American countries to “sneak away” from the iron grip of the Empire.
Such “analyses” are as patronizing as they are false. The Empire never sleeps! What Latin America now has was built on its daring, its sweat, its genius and its blood – it fought against the Empire, courageously, for decades, losing its best sons and daughters. It fought for freedom, for justice and socialism.
The Empire was not “looking the other way”. It was looking straight south, in fury, but for some time it was too confused, too astounded, too shocked at what it was witnessing. Its “slaves” had risen and taken power back into their own hands. They showed to the entire world what freedom really is.
For some time, the Empire was paralyzed by rage and unable to act.
The Empire’s undeniable property, Latin America, inhabited by “un-people” born only in order to supply cheap labor and raw materials to the rich part of the world, was suddenly, proudly and publicly, breaking its shackles, declaring itself free, demanding respect. Its natural resources were now used to feed its own people, to build social housing, create public transportation systems, construct hospitals, schools and public parks.
But after the first wave of panic, the Empire began to do what it does the best – it began the killings.
It attempted to overthrow Venezuelan government in 2002, but it failed. The Venezuelan people rose, and so did the Venezuelan military, defending then President Hugo Chavez. The Empire tried again and again, and it is trying until now. Trying and failing!
“We are at war”, I was told by one of the editors of Caracas-based television network, TeleSUR, for which I made several documentary films. “We are literally working under the barrel of cannon”.
Ms. Tamara Pearson, an Australian revolutionary journalist and activist, who recently moved from Venezuela to Ecuador, explained the difficult situation in Venezuela, a country that is under constant attack from both the US, and the local comprador elites:
“People are suffering a lot. Basic food prices are high, much medicine is unavailable, and various services aren’t working. On one level, people are used to this – the business owners would cause shortages and blame the government before each of the many elections. But usually it’s less intense and lasts just a few months. But this has been going on and getting worse, since Chavez died – over two years now. There is no doubt that the US, and more so, Venezuelan and Colombian elites and business owners are a huge or even the main factor…”
All of revolutionary Latin America is “screaming”.
As I described in two of my recent books, “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”, the Empire is using similar destabilization strategy against all countries that are resisting its deadly embrace.
Its propaganda is mighty and omnipresent. CNN and FOX TV are beamed into almost all major hotels and airports of Latin America, even in some revolutionary countries like Ecuador. Almost all major newspapers of the continent, including those in Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, are controlled by the right wing business elites. Almost all of the foreign news coverage comes from European and North American sources, making the Latin American public totally confused about Islam, China, Russia, South Africa, Iran, even about their own neighbors.
The local elites continue to serve foreign interests, their loyalties firmly with North America and Europe.
Every left wing Latin American government has been facing bizarre protests and subversion actions conducted by the elites. Destabilization tactics have been clearly designed in far away capitals. They were mass-produced and therefore almost identical to those the West has been using against China, Russia, South Africa, and other “rebellious” nations.
Propaganda, disinformation and spreading of confusion have been some of the mightiest tools of the fascist right wing.
“Economic uncertainty” is an extremely powerful weapon. It was used first in Chile, in the 1973 coup against socialist President Salvador Allende. Pro-Western Chilean elites and businessmen created food shortages, and then blamed it on the socialist government, using El Mercurio and other daily newspapers as their propaganda tools.
Peter Koenig, former World Bank economist and now prominent dissident and critic of the world neoliberal regime, wrote for this essay:
Today Madame Bachelet, the socialist President of Chile has a hard time fighting against the Mercurio inspired Chilean oligarchs. They will not let go. Recently they invited the World Bank to assess the school reform package proposed by Bachelet, basically to return universities to the public sector. Of course, the ‘upper class’ of Chileans knew that the World Bank would come up with nothing less than predicting an economic disaster if the reform is approved. As a result, Bachelet made concessions – which on the other hand are not accepted by professors and teachers. It’s the first step towards chaos – and chaos is what the empire attempts to implant in every country where they strive for ‘regime change’.
But one of the “dirtiest” of their weapons is the accusation of corruption. Corrupt pro-Western politicians and individuals who misused tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars of the peoples money and destroyed the economies of their countries by taking unserviceable loans that kept disappearing into their deep pockets, are now pointing their soiled fingers at relatively clean governments, in countries like Chile and Argentina. Everything in “Southern Cone” and in Brazil is now under scrutiny.
Peter Koenig (who co-authored a book “The World Order and Revolution!: Essays from the Resistance” with leading Canadian international lawyer Christopher Black and me) shows how important it is, for the Empire, destabilization of Brazil, one of the key members of BRICS:
Brazil being a member of the BRICS is particularly in the crosshairs of the empire – as the BRICS have to be destabilized, divided – they are becoming an economic threat to Washington. Brazil is key for the non-Asian part of the BRICS. A fall of Brazil would be a major blow to the cohesion of the BRICS.
There are totally different standards for pro-Western fascist politicians and for those from the Left. The Left can get away with nothing, while the Right has been getting away literally with mass murder and with the disappearance of tens of billions of dollars.
It is, of course, the common strategy in all the client states of the West. For instance, one of the most corrupt countries on earth, Indonesia, tolerates absolute sleaze and graft from former generals, but when progressive socialist Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, became the President, he was smeared and removed in a short time, on “corruption” charges.
After centuries of the Monroe Doctrine, after mass murder committed in “Latin” America first by Europeans and then by North Americans and their rich local butlers, it will take long decades to fully eradicate the corruption, because corruption comes with the moral collapse of the colonial powers and the local elites. Financial greed is only its byproduct.
The great pre-colonial cultures of what are now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia did not have corruption. Corruption was injected by Western colonialism.
And now, corruption under left wing, revolutionary governments still exists, since it is difficult to root out all the rats at once, but it is incomparably smaller than under the previous fascist right wing cliques!
The rich in Latin America are heartless, servile (to the Empire) and greedy in the extreme. Latin America has still the most unequal distribution of wealth on earth. True, it is much richer (and even its poor are richer, with some exceptions of Central America, Peru or Paraguay) than Africa or even in Southeast Asia, but this cannot be used as an excuse.
Even the most progressive socialist governments now in power would ever dare to touch, to slap the private enterprises too hard. From this angle, China with its central planning and controlled economy is much more socialist than Ecuador or Bolivia.
A few days ago, as I was flying from Ecuador to Peru, I read that the number of multimillionaires in Latin America was actually increasing, and so is the social gap between the rich and the rest of the societies. The article was using some anecdotal evidence, saying that, for instance, in Chile alone, now, more Porsche sports cars are sold than in the entirety of Latin America few years ago. As if confirming it, I noticed a Porsche auto dealership next to my hotel in Asuncion, the capital of the second poorest country in South America. I asked for numbers, but the Porsche manager refused to supply them, still proudly claiming that his company was “doing very well”.
So what do they – the “elites” – really want? They have money, plenty of money. They have luxury cars, estates in their own countries, and condominiums abroad. What more?
As in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia or Kenya, and all over the West, they want power. They want to feel unique. They want to be admired.
The Socialist governments allow them to stay rich. But they force them to share their wealth and above all, they shame them. They are also trying to minimize the gap – through education, free medical care and countless social projects.
That is, of course, unacceptable to the elites. They want it all, as they always had it. And to have it all, they are ready to murder, to side with the darkest foreign interests, even to commit treason.
Increasingly, the interests of the local elites are very closely linked to foreign interests – those of the Empire and those of the private sector.
As I was told in Ecuador, by Ms. Paola Pabón, Assembly Member representing Pichincha area:
Behind the involvement of the US, are some ex-bankers such as Isaiah brothers, who lost power here, escaped courts and went to live in the United States, but there are also huge economic powers such as Chevron. It means that there are not only political interests of the US, but also private, economic ones.
Predominantly, the local elites are using their countries as milking cows, with very little or zero interest in the well being of their people.
That is why their protests against Latin American revolutions are thoroughly hypocritical. They are not fighting for improvements in their countries, but for their own, selfish personal interests. Those shouts and the pathetic hunger strikes of the “opposition” in Venezuela may appear patriotic, but only thanks to propaganda abilities to the Western mass media.
The elites would do anything to make all revolutions, all over Latin America, fail and collapse. They are even spending their own money to make it happen.
They know that if they manage to remove progressive forces from power, they could rule once again, totally unopposed, as their counterparts do in all other client states of the West – in the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania.
The temptation is tremendous. Most of the elites in Latin America still remember well, how it feels, how it tastes – to control their countries unopposed, and with full support from the West.
Eduardo Galeano, the great Uruguayan writer and revolutionary thinker, once told me: “I keep repeating to all those new leaders of Latin America: “Comrades, do not play with poor people’s hopes! Hope is all they have.”
It appears that hope has finally been takes seriously, in Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
It was also taken seriously in Honduras, but hope was crushed by the US-orchestrated coup. In Paraguay, under a semi-progressive priest who preached liberation theology, hope was taken semi-seriously, but even that was too much in the country that had been ruled, for decades, by fascist cliques. In 2012, a constitutional coup followed by an appalling massacre of predominantly indigenous people, and fascism returned.
After these two setbacks, Latin America shook, but kept moving forward. Hugo Chavez died, or was murdered by the North, depending which theory you subscribe to. His demise was a tremendous blow to the entire continent, but still, the continent kept moving. “Here, nobody surrenders!” Chavez shouted, dying, but proud.
“President Correa of Ecuador is one of very few leaders of the “original project””, said Paola Pabón. “Lula in Brazil will not be able to stand for reelection, anymore, mainly due to corruption scandals. Mujica is not in power, anymore, and Cristina Fernandez will be retiring. Evo Morales does not have regional influence, and even Maduro does not have… For this reason, Ecuador is so important, strategically. If ‘they’ hit us, if there is a successful coup, it would be tremendous victory for them, to destroy a President with regional importance; who speaks for the region… and also, because Ecuador is one country where the government actually functions well.”
Walter Bustos, who used to work for this government, is alarmed by developments in Ecuador and the entirety of Latin America. Both he and Paula Pabón realize how fragile the Latin American revolutions are. While driving with me to an indigenous area of Riobamba, Walter lamented:
In case there is a military coup in Ecuador, the difference between here and Venezuela would be enormous: while in Venezuela, Chavez incorporated the military into his revolution, in case of citizens revolution in Ecuador, we have no security; we cannot count on support of the military in case there is some armed, political or economic attack against us.
Hugo Chavez was not only a great revolutionary, but also a tremendous strategist. He knew that any great revolution has to be fought, won, and then defended. Winning the battle is never enough. One has to consolidate forces, and uphold the victory. Chavez was first thinker, and then soldier.
Correa, Morales, Fernandez go forward, brave, proud but unprotected. Under their governments, the lives of ordinary people improve tremendously. That is what matters to them. They are decent and honest beings, unwilling to dirty themselves with intrigues, speculations and conspiracy theories.
But their great success will not gain them any recognition from the Empire, or from their own elites. The success of socialism is the worst nightmare for rulers of the world and their local butlers.
This is how President Salvador Allende died in 1973. He dismissed all rumors, and then all warnings that the coup was coming. “I am not going to arrest people just because of some suspicion that they may do something”, he used to say. After the coup took place, he died proudly, a true hero, committing suicide by marching towards the helicopter gunships and fighter jets that were bombarding the Presidential Palace of La Moneda. But he was not the only victim. As a result of the coup, thousands of Chilean people died, and tens of thousands were savagely tortured and raped. Chile did not die, but went into a horrific coma, from which it only recently manages to recover.
Henry Kissinger summarized the moral corruption/collapse of his country’s regime when he uttered his memorable phrase:
I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
Despite his great intentions, President Salvador Allende failed his people. He underestimated the bestiality of the Empire, and the result were millions of broken lives.
Since then, the Empire’s selfishness and brutality only evolved. The more successful leaders like Correa become, the more real is the danger of a coup – of a devastating, deadly attack from the North, and subversion from within.
The fragility of Latin American revolutions is obvious. The elites cannot be trusted. They showed on many occasions how far they are willing to go, committing treason, collaborating with the West against their own nations: in Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia, to name just a few cases.
Appeasing both the elites and the Empire, while fighting for social justice and true independence, is impossible. The elites want to have full control of their countries, while the Empire demands full submission. No compromise could be reached. The history speaks clearly about that. And the Empire demonstrated on countless occasions that Latin American democracy would be respected only if the people vote the way that suits Washington.
Latin America has to learn how to defend itself, for the sake of its people.
Its closer and closer cooperation with China and Russia is essential. A coherent regional defense agreement should follow.
The next few years will be crucial. The revolutions have to be institutionalized; they cannot depend only on charisma of its leaders.
Constant sabotages and coup attempts, like those in Venezuela, should not be tolerated. They lead to chaos and to uncertainty. They break countries economically and socially.
It is clear what the Empire and its servants are doing: they are trying to push Latin American revolutionary countries against the wall, as they pushed, in the past, North Korea. They are trying to make them “react”, so they could say: “You see, this is true socialism, this defensive, hermitic and paranoid system.”
The path will not be easy. It will be dangerous and long.
Latin America can only survive through international cooperation and solidarity. It would also have to fight legally, at home and abroad. Those who are committing treason and those who are interrupting development of the country should face justice.
The left wing governments that are ruling South American countries won democratic elections: much more democratic than those in Europe and the United States. If the individuals and groups act against the expressed will of their own people, they should be taken to courts.
If a powerful country tortures other countries and shows total spite for their people, it should face an international legal system. The United States demonstrated, countless times, that it considers itself well above the law. It even forced several government in Latin America and elsewhere, to give its military personnel immunity. One of these countries is Paraguay, historically flooded with CIA, DEA and FBI agents.
In order to legally restrain the Empire, huge international pressure would have to be built. Like in the case of Managua, which legally sued the US for many acts of terror committed against Nicaragua. The Empire will most likely refuse to accept any guilty verdict. But the pressure has to be on!
All this would be meaningless without dedicated, constant coverage of the events by independent or opposition media, be they huge new state-funded networks like RT, TeleSur, CCTV or Press TV, of progressive independent media like Counterpunch, VNN, or ICH. It is essential that Latin Americans demand information from these sources, instead of consuming the toxic lies spread through CNN en Español, FOX, EFE and other right wing Western sources.
The battle for the Latin American people and for their freedom is on. Do not get fooled, it has been on for quite some time, and it is very tough fight.
Latin America is one of the fronts of the integrated fight for the survival of our Planet.
People who admire this part of the world, all those who have been inspired by Latin American revolutions, should participate in the struggle.
The best sons and daughters of this continent are now fighting in their own, quixotic way, as they always did: frontally, with exposed heart, totally unprotected. But their fight is just, and they are in this battle in order to defend the people.
Their opponents are rich, deceitful and brutal. But they are also selfish and they fight only for their own interests. They are not loved by their nations. If they lose, Latin America will win!
Those countries defending themselves against the Empire should unite, before it’s too late. Now as Latin America is rising from its knees, it becomes clear who are its foes and who are real friends, real brothers and sisters!
This scarred but stunning continent of courageous poets, of dreamers and revolutionaries should not be allowed to fall. In Caracas, Quito and La Paz, they are fighting for entire humanity.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.
The former commander of Colombia’s National Army, General Mario Montoya, was called in for interrogation on Tuesday over his alleged role in thousands of extrajudicial killings that were carried by the country’s security forces to be presented as guerrilla fighters killed during clashes.
His interrogation is set for July 16. The scandal, dubbed False Positives, began in 2008 and is still being investigated by the Colombian authorities. But already more than 400 army commanders, 800 unit commanders and almost 3,000 soldiers have been formally indicted.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Montoya would be questioned given that the killings occurred under his authority, and could be charged for failing to effectively overview the actions that led to the killings. Another three retired commanders were also called for questioning by the Prosecutor’s Office.
Montoya has still pending charges, regarding his links to the now defunct paramilitary group Colombian Self-Defense Force (AUC), a group that killed tens of thousands of civilians throughout its existence. The false positives became such a common practice during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe that by 2007, more than 40 percent of registered combat kills were in fact murdered civilians dressed in fatigue.
In exchange for the killings, generals were awarded vacations and cash prices. Uribe vowed to destroy the FARC guerrilla using military strength, instead of trying to negotiate with the group through peace talks as other presidents had done in the past.
It is estimated that around 3,000 civilians were extra-judicially murdered by the Colombian army.
Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela | June 19, 2015
Caracas – The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela publicly rejects the attempts made by the national and international rightwing to pull a political media manoeuvre based on lies propagated about the visit of a group of Brazilian senators who arrived in the country with the singular aim of destabilising Venezuelan democracy and of generating confusion and conflict between brother countries.
The first substantial lie reported in the media was to falsely claim that the Venezuelan government had denied airplane landing permission to this committee, when it had not, in fact, received any such request.
The second substantial lie was to blame the national government for blocking the main road which connects the (national) airport to the country’s capital city. In reality, a truck containing flammable material had overturned which prevented free transit on this freeway. This even delayed the transfer of an high security prisoner extradited by the Colombian government for his responsibility in the murder of a journalist during the terrorist acts which took place in the barricades last year.
The third substantial lie was to state that the security and physical wellbeing of these rightwing Brazilian senators was compromised. There is audiovisual and photographic material which shows the senators interacting with political activists in relation to the upcoming elections that will take place this year in Venezuela. In the same way, the national government assigned a special security dispatch made up of more than 30 officials on motorbikes, patrols and security bodies who accompanied this group the whole time. Likewise, it also coordinated with the embassy of the Federal Republic of Brazil.
It is notable that figures of the extreme rightwing, who took part in state coups in Venezuela, participated in the entire agenda of these representatives of the international opposition, who are the authors and promoters of these fairytales in the media and which attempt to bring the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s long recognised democratic tradition into disrepute.
The Venezuelan Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reiterates its friendly and co-operative ties based on mutual respect, non-interference in internal State matters and the self-determination of the people with its sister federal Republic of Brazil. As well as its unshakable commitment to maintaining these ties in spite of any divisive scheme against our countries.
Translated by Venezuelanalysis
Bolivia has tripled its oil reserves, President Evo Morales announced Thursday, after state-owned energy company YPFB made a significant oil discovery in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.
“This oil reserve marks the first new discovery in 23 years. This is an example of the positive outcomes from nationalization. With this reserve we now have 44 million barrels of oil reserves,” announced Morales.
During his speech, the Bolivian leader went on to criticize foreign nongovernmental organizations that aim to obstruct natural resource exploration projects. “It is unacceptable to me that there are NGOs and foundations operating under the pretext of defending the indigenous movement. I want to make it clear that NGOs and foundations that obstruct natural resource exploration must leave Bolivia,” Morales stated.
According to company officials, YPFB is planning to invest a total of US$3 billion in Bolivia from 2015-2019 towards oil exploration projects.
Due to increased revenues from gas and oil exports, the Bolivian government has since 2006 dramatically increased social spending in the area of health, education, pensions, and poverty alleviation programs by 45 percent.
An intense struggle for dignity and the right to land is being waged right now in the green mountains of south western Colombia, and chances are, you haven´t heard of it. While the scant mainstream media coverage of the country focuses on soccer or peace talks between government and armed guerrilla groups, it ignores that same government’s attacks against communities defending their territory.
On May 28th, one thousand riot police officers entered a sugar cane plantation called La Emperatriz in the municipality of Caloto, in the state of Cauca, to evict nearly 300 members of the Nasa indigenous people. The indigenous community members had peacefully replaced the sugar monocrop for beans and corn, as part of the process they call the Liberation of Mother Earth. This follows other recent evictions in the nearby town of Corinto, which left many civilians wounded, and clashes since February that resulted in the killing of Nasa youth Guillermo Pavi.
These confrontations occur in the midst of the community’s historic effort to defend their right to a dignified life by recovering land stolen from them – land which has been falsely promised to be returned.
Why Liberation? Why These Lands?
The Nasa people inhabited a large portion of southwestern Colombia long before the Spanish invasion. However, over decades of deceit and violence, the most fertile areas were taken over by wealthy landowners and the Nasa were displaced to higher elevations. Seferino Zapata, an elder from Caloto, explains, “We were taken to the mountain, but we fought. I took part in the struggles in the 80s, when we had to pay to work the land for food. We recovered this very land where I now sit.”
But these land takeovers have cost lives. According to Arcadio Mestizo, a leader of the indigenous reserve Huellas Caloto, on a night in 1991 the police and paramilitaries carried out the massacre known as El Nilo, killing 20 adults and children. While the slaughter occurred about 4 kilometers from the plantation, it was planned the night before at La Emperatriz.
The largehacienda of La Emperatriz, once used to raise livestock and grow rice, now hosts the exclusive cultivation of sugarcane by the transnational company Incauca, owned by the millionaire emporium Ardila Lule and currently under investigation for price fixing. Cane production has significant environmental impacts, such as biodiversity loss and toxic residues. La Emperatriz is just a sample of the economic reality of a region which has been transformed into a ‘green desert’ where sugarcane grown to produce biofuels replaced subsistence crops that fed thousands.
Following a ruling in 2000 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Colombian state accepted its responsibility in the 1991 El Nilo massacre and agreed to transfer 15,600 hectares of land, including La Emperatriz, to the Huellas Caloto indigenous community. Trusting the agreement, the Nasa people suspended land takeovers. But time went by and the land promised by the government did not come through.
The Huellas Caloto indigenous leader Arcadio Mestizo explained, “In 2005, we re-started this struggle, now calling it Liberation of Mother Earth, and we began with La Emperatriz.”
Although in 2010 the government completed the transfer of the number of hectares of land promised, they are not the lands agreed upon, and much of it is not suitable for agriculture. So the Nasa vowed to “liberate” La Emperatriz hacienda.
The latest wave of liberation began in March, with the Nasa occupation of land, cultivation of maize, beans and cassava, and the construction of basic structures.
However, community leader Emer Pinzón said that in the morning this past May 28, the owner of La Emperatriz ordered their removal: “Riot police came in with their full war machinery ” and encountered 300 Nasa members armed with courage, shovels and stones to defend their efforts and dreams.
“The police brought, tanks, tractors and tear gas, and in four hours destroyed over two months of work,” Pinzón added. In addition to the constant threats by paramilitary groups, Pinzón reported that, during the eviction, riot police warned through megaphones, “this one will be worse than El Nilo.”
Mestizo added, “There is the 1991 precedent, and now we see us going in circles, but today the oppression happens in broad daylight, and fully institutionalized. [A massacre] can certainly happen again.”
This violence against civilians comes amid peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas.
Constanza Cuetia, a member of the Nasa community´s communications team, reflected, “The war is very much present in our communities. Targeted assassinations and recruitment of civilians continued during the ceasefire. In addition, the peace talks do not get to the heart of the conflict. The government’s delegate to the talks said that the [neoliberal] economic model will not be challenged in the negotiations.” Indeed, the government has justified the violent evictions defending the right to private property of a few, while ignoring the right of many for a dignified life.
However, resistance is strong. “These lands, as taught by our grandparents, belonged to our ancestors,” Pinzón said. “We will take it back for our youth, at any cost.”
Liberation as a Cure
The spokespeople of this community make it clear that the main reason for the liberations is not unfulfilled land agreements; this is only one ingredient in the recipe of reasons for why the Nasa struggle. “We do this to reclaim our land, but also to defend our social rights,” Mestizo explained.
Abel Coicué, a community leader, added, “we liberate these lands, both of the mountains and the lowlands, because they are ancestral and we have a right to them.”
‘’Everything done on the land sickens the earth further, and this disease is treated [by] liberating Mother Earth,” Paulina, a Nasa leader from nearby Corinto, noted. “It is about sowing spaces of freedom and life that allow us to live in balance and harmony.”
This strategy of liberation becomes even more urgent in light of the many “diseases” these territories face. “We have a major threat coming: mining, for which we must prepare,” Mestizo said. “Mining creeps in more quietly than sugarcane, and sometimes the community does not see it, but we have learned that mining companies, such as [South African] Anglogold Ashanti, have requested mining permits over our land, regardless if it is on a protected area or an indigenous reserve.’’
The Nasa people invite us to understand that their struggle is everyone’s struggle, and to take our part in it. ‘’This is not an issue for indigenous people in Cauca, Colombia, but it is a fundamental issue for all of humanity, whose main battlefield is here,” Mestizo explained. “We must understand and own this struggle, putting pressure on the capitalist who dispossess and abuses, and on the government that supports it.”
Click here to view a slideshow of this community and its struggle
Making lots of money was very important to Jeb Bush. In 1983, he was famously quoted by a Miami News reporter saying, ”I’d like to be very wealthy, and I’ll be glad to let you know when I think I’ve reached my goal.” But the manner in which he has acquired his wealth, currently estimated between $8 million and $10 million, has raised many red flags and even allegations of wrongdoing.
Trading on his family name, Jeb Bush wove a spider’s web of business partners and deals based on family connections and (sometimes shadowy) business transactions. His associates ranged from Miami organized crime figures to Washington and Wall Street insiders. He experimented in various areas from real estate to international sales to investing in an NFL team.
By all accounts, Jeb Bush is a hard worker putting in long hours. But he is also a privileged individual whose success has its foundations in his family name. And his tangle of business affairs since 1974 is nothing if not entitled and convoluted.
Following graduation from the University of Texas at Austin in Latin American Studies in 1973, Jeb Bush went to work with the international division of the Texas Commerce Bank. As the St. Petersburg Times reported, an executive at the bank, James A. Baker III, was a close friend of Jeb’s father and would later run George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign before becoming the Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State under Bush Sr.
Three years later the 24-year old Jeb was sent to oil-rich Caracas, Venezuela, to open a new operation of the bank, managing hundreds of millions of dollars. While there, he rubbed elbows with executives such as Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon Johnson, a director of the bank.
In 1979, Jeb Bush quit his banking job and moved his family back to the United States to help on his father’s presidential campaign. Though he worked as an unpaid volunteer on the campaign, he received some compensation for his time: he forged a robust network of political and business connections which would serve him well over the next decades in his self-proclaimed quest to make money.
After the 1980 election – which made his father Vice President – Jeb Bush moved to Miami, Florida, where he became involved in the business and political world of the city, dominated at the time by wealthy Cuban émigrés. Bush became associated with Armando Codina, a Cuban real-estate investor and Republican supporter of George H. W. Bush. Because of Codina’s personal affinity towards the Bushes, Codina offered Jeb a business partnership in his real-estate company.
With no prior real-estate experience and for no initial investment, Bush received 40 percent of the profits and had his name on the company, Codina Bush Group. In return, Codina got the prestige carried by the Bush family name. Their alliance would set Bush on track to build his wealth and business reputation.
By 1983, Bush had earned enough to start making small investments in the acquisition of properties with Codina. One of their first ventures was Museum Tower, located at 1390 Brickell Ave., on Miami’s “Banker’s Row.” Bush invested $1,000. By 1990 he sold out for about $346,000.
But the building proved to be a headache for Bush and Codina, as a third-party investor, who had borrowed over $4 million from a local savings and loan company, defaulted on the loan. A 1990 New York Times article describes how the savings institution became insolvent and eventually had to be bailed out by the federal government. Bush and Codina are quoted as being unaware that the funds for the $4 million repayment of the loan came from taxpayer money.
The Cuban Connection
Jeb Bush’s connections with other prominent Cuban-American businessmen and politicians in Miami before and during his Florida governorship are extensive. Some of these alliances have raised eyebrows and occasionally got him into trouble.
As the Guardian recounted from the 2002 book, Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach, Jeb Bush, in 1984, “began a close association with Camilo Padreda, a former intelligence agent under the Batista dictatorship, overthrown by Fidel Castro. Jeb Bush was then the chairman of the Dade county Republican party and Padreda its finance chairman.” Later, Padreda would be convicted of “defrauding the housing and urban development department of millions of dollars during the 1980’s.”
In 1984, Bush was approached by Miguel Recarey Jr., the owner of International Medical Centers (IMC), a large health maintenance organization. The Tampa Bay Times described Recarey as a charming yet volatile personality who openly bragged about his connection to the crime boss Santo Trafficante Jr. Recarey allegedly approached Bush to help him acquire an office building, but received an additional bonus — numerous calls by Bush to Washington to request a waiver of Medicare rules that were threatening IMC’s profits.
Bush was paid $75,000 compensation for helping obtain a property. But sources told the St. Petersburg Times that it was repayment for Bush’s political help, as IMC never purchased a building shown by Codina-Bush – and Recarey received his sought-after federal waiver. In addition, two months before Bush placed calls to Washington, “in September of 1984, the Dade County GOP received a $2000 contribution from IMC,” reported the Miami News.
Two years later, IMC was shut down because it was insolvent and Recarey was accused of stealing millions of government dollars, along with multiple charges of bribery and fraud against the government. The Miami News reported in 1991, “By the time the organization collapsed in mid-1987, IMC and Miguel Recarey were receiving a $30 million check from the federal government each month. In fact, IMC was the biggest Medicare fraud scheme in American history.”
Recarey fled the country and remains an international fugitive. According to a Tampa Bay Times article last March, Recarey has been working as a technology executive in Madrid, Spain.
There was another facet to the Bush-Recarey relationship, described by the Guardian via Bardach’s 2002 book on the Cuba-Miami link. “In 1985, Jeb Bush acted as a conduit on behalf of supporters of the Nicaraguan contras with his father, then the vice-president, and helped arrange for IMC to provide free medical treatment for the contras.”
The Miami News continued, “When the Iran-contra scandal began to break in October 1986, the CBS Evening News and the Herald quoted unnamed officials as saying that Jeb had served as his father’s chief point of contact with the contra rebels. Jeb’s denials were narrow. He did not deny being his father’s liaison to the contras, only that he had not participated ‘directly’ in the illegal contra resupply effort directed from the White House.”
Robert Parry, who in the mid-1980s was an Associated Press reporter investigating the Reagan-Bush administration’s secret support for the Contras, confirms Jeb Bush’s association with Contra supporters operating out of Miami. Parry recalls that one Nicaraguan businessman with close ties to both Jeb Bush and the Contras told Parry that Jeb Bush was getting involved with a pro-Contra mercenary named Tom Posey, who was organizing groups of military advisers and weapons shipments.
In 1988, Posey was indicted along with several other individuals on charges of violating the Neutrality Act and firearms laws, charges that were dismissed in 1989 when a federal judge ruled that the United States was not at peace with Nicaragua.
Jeb Bush was also instrumental in helping Cuban-American politician Ileana Ros-Lehtinen get elected to Congress in 1989 when he became her campaign manager. Besides managing and handling strategy, Jeb helped raise funds, including imploring then-President George H.W. Bush to appear at a Miami fundraiser for the congressional hopeful.
President Bush was quoted as saying, “I am certain in my heart I will be the first American president to step foot on the soil of a free and independent Cuba.” Returning the favor now, Ros-Lehtinen has publicly endorsed Jeb Bush for the 2016 presidential election.
There is also the troubling history of the Bush family connection to the Cuban drug kingpin, Leonel Martinez, as reported by the Miami News. Martinez left Cuba following the communist overthrow to continue his capitalist ventures and eventually became one of the most successful cocaine and marijuana importers in Miami during the 1980s. He was also a generous benefactor of the Republican Party.
“Between 1984 and 1987, Martinez and his wife Margarita donated at least $14,200 to political organizations controlled by the Bush family,” including the Dade County GOP, of which Jeb became chairman in 1984, and the vice presidential campaign fund of George H.W. Bush. A photograph of Martinez and Bush Sr. shaking hands shows the value placed on Martinez’s contributions.
When Martinez was finally arrested in 1989 for possession of 300 kilos of cocaine he entered a plea deal. The Washington Post reported another layer of connection to the Bushes:
“Formal approval of the plea bargain had to be provided by Dexter Lehtinen, the top federal prosecutor in Miami — who owed his job to Jeb and George Bush. Lehtinen, a former Republican state legislator with little prosecutorial experience, is married to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the congresswoman from Miami. In July 1990, while Leonel Martinez’s case was still under consideration by Lehtinen’s office, his wife’s campaign received a $500 campaign contribution from Margarita Martinez, Leonel’s wife.”
The Post continued that, while it is not assumed the Bushes were aware of the source of Martinez’s money during the 1980s, the connection was troubling at a time when Vice President George H.W. Bush was head of the federal anti-drug task force. The Bushes also did not attempt to return any of the money contributed by Martinez after they learned of its source.
Jeb Bush was integral, too, in securing a number of “pardons” of Cubans involved in terrorist acts. One example was his intervention to help release Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch from prison and grant him U.S. residency. A notorious right-wing Cuban terrorist, Bosch was convicted of firing a rocket at a Polish ship en route to Cuba and was implicated in many other acts of terrorism, including the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, killing 73 civilians.
The Cubana Airlines bombing and several other major acts of right-wing Cuban terrorism occurred while George H.W. Bush was CIA director and was working closely with anti-communist Cuban exiles employed by the CIA, including Felix Rodriguez, a close associate of Bosch’s alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana bombing Luis Posada Carriles.
In its 2002 review of Bardach’s book, The Guardian wrote, “Bosch’s release, often referred to in the US media as a pardon, was the result of pressure brought by hardline Cubans in Miami, with Jeb Bush serving as their point man.” And, in July 2002, while Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor, he “nominated Raoul Cantero, the grandson of Batista, as a Florida supreme court judge despite his lack of experience. Mr Cantero had previously represented Bosch and acted as his spokesman, once describing Bosch on Miami radio as a ‘great Cuban patriot’.”
During George W. Bush’s presidency, “[o]ther Cuban exiles involved in terrorist acts, Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero, who carried out the 1976 assassination of the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, [were also] released.”
In addition to the release of convicted Cuban terrorists, according to the Guardian, Bardach’s book suggests, “[t]he Bush family has also accommodated the demands of Cuban exile hardliners in exchange for electoral and financial support.” George W. Bush’s presidential adviser Karl Rove “‘has urged him to fully accommodate hardliners in return for electoral victories for both his brother and himself’, Bardach’s book says. For their help, many hardline Cuban-Americans have received plum jobs in the current administration.”
The Saint Petersburg Times reported that from 1986 to 1987 Bush sat on the board of the Private Bank and Trust, a secretive, Swiss-owned institution that managed wealthy foreigner customers’ investments for a fee. In 1991, the bank was shut down by federal regulators for “making investments contrary to client instructions and putting funds in companies affiliated with or managed by the bank.”
Bush denied any knowledge of nefarious financial activity while he was there. Yet rumors of the bank’s clientele included Latin American drug cartel leaders, presidents, generals and manufacturing oligarchs, which deepen suspicions of Bush’s connection to illicit dealings in Latin America, highlighted by his support of the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s.
In 1987, Bush became Florida’s secretary of commerce through an appointment by Gov. Bob Martinez (no relation to Leonel). Martinez was helped in his election bid by the Dade County Republican Party of which Bush was chairman from 1984 to 1994. Bush left the state position after a year to help with his father’s presidential campaign, but during his short-lived tenure as commerce secretary, he furthered his network of business and political connections.
One such connection was businessman David Eller, a Republican fundraiser and owner of MWI Corp., a water pump company. In 1988, Bush and Eller formed Bush-El. Corp. to market and sell water pumps internationally through MWI, most notably in Nigeria. According to the St. Petersburg Times, over the next few years Bush invested no money in the company yet made nearly $650,000. Eller later donated large sums to the Florida GOP and Bush’s gubernatorial campaign.
Again, a legal controversy marred Jeb Bush’s mix of politics and business. The federal government brought a lawsuit against MWI alleging fraud and bribery. The lawsuit involved the sale of water pumps to Nigeria, with a $74 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
Originally, Bush had been enlisted to secure loans from Nigerian banks but, when the loans fell through, MWI turned to the federal government’s Ex-Im Bank. Bush asserts he stopped working on the transaction at this point, because it conflicted with his own rule not to work with U.S. government agencies. But the New York Times revealed Bush continued to be involved in the deal.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The government contends that in applying for Ex-Im loans, MWI fraudulently concealed that the deal would include a ‘highly irregular’ $28 million in commissions for the company’s Nigerian sales agent. The Justice Department argues Ex-Im never would have approved the deal had Ex-Im known of that payment.”
The government alleged that Mohammed Indimi, the recipient of the sales commission, had used the money to pay bribes. According to Forbes, by 2014 Indimi was the 37th richest man in Africa as the founder of a privately held oil exploration and production company.
Bush, Eller and MWI denied any wrongdoing by Bush or special benefits bestowed by his connections. Bush called it “patently absurd” to suggest he played a part in securing Ex-Im loans. But the deal prompted lingering questions about Bush’s use of familial influence and was referenced disparagingly by opponents in his gubernatorial bids. It may cause further allegations of cronyism and unlawful dealing in his 2016 presidential campaign.
The Lawless Link
In 1989, Bush began a series of real-estate ventures with another acquaintance, Richard Lawless, a former CIA officer who supposedly helped secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon in 1988 under Vice President George Bush. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, during Jeb Bush’s term as state commerce secretary, “Lawless’s consulting firm — U.S. Asia Commercial Development Corp. — won a state contract worth $160,000 to promote Florida exports in Asia.”
Later, Bush and Lawless sought to sell property to wealthy foreign investors. Bush was paid by Lawless to find properties. Bush formed, among a number of other private companies, Uno and Uno Dos as “investment vehicles for different deals.” Lawless formed U.S. Asia Florida and a number of similarly named companies.
The Bush-Lawless connection raised more troubling questions about Jeb Bush’s merger of his business dealings with his father’s connections from the intelligence world. In 1988, the New York Times reported that in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved secret sales of weapons to Iran with some profits diverted to support the Contra war in Nicaragua, more secret contacts with Iran may have continued involving an intermediary representing Vice President Bush in efforts to gain the release of American hostages in Lebanon. According to former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, that intermediary was Richard Lawless.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said: ”There is a fellow named Lawless. He is over there. What he’s up to, nobody knows. But he doesn’t represent the United States. . . . He does not represent the Vice President or the President or anybody else.”
But the Times reported that Lawless “had worked in the operations directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency until several years ago [and] that Mr. Lawless had served in the United States Embassy in South Korea in the years when Donald P. Gregg had been the C.I.A. station chief there. Mr. Gregg is now the national security adviser to Mr. Bush.” Lawless denied contacting Iran as part of a hostage deal on behalf of Vice President George Bush.
The Petway Tie
From 1989 to 1994, Bush was involved in other business dealings that were called into question. One deal, described by the St. Petersburg Times, was a 1993 investment in the soon-to-be NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, through an acquaintance from his secretary of commerce days, Thomas Petway III. Petway, a Republican fundraiser, had worked on Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial campaign finance committee and would later become the co-chairman of President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign in Florida.
The Jaguar transaction produced another lawsuit, asserting Petway had pushed aside investors in favor of Bush, whom he offered special monetary rewards. The St. Petersburg Times reported, Bush “sold his Jaguars stake back to the ownership group in June 1997. ‘I just told them to pay me back for what I put in,’ Bush said. The transaction netted Bush a taxable gain of about $58,000.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars deal wasn’t Bush’s only profit from the association with Petway. In 1995, Petway facilitated a meeting between Bush and Paul Kahn, owner of Ideon Corp., a company that sold credit card protection services. Bush was offered $50,000 a year to become a board member, plus stock options. It was not their first meeting, as Kahn had held a fundraiser for Bush’s unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
But it became apparent that Ideon was in trouble; Kahn proved to be an inept owner and the company suffered huge losses. He left the company in 1996. According to the St. Petersburg Times, “Bush and the seven other directors agreed to sell Ideon to CUC International. Lawsuits filed against the Ideon board for stock manipulation and weak oversight were settled early [in 1998] for $15-million, all paid by CUC.”
In 1990, Bush and partner Armando Codina tried their hand in a new area of business when they purchased a shoe-importing business called Oriental Trading Corp. The intention was to sell the shoes to small stores using credit, but the venture broke down when lenders would no longer issue credit to the company. The investor group cashed out in 1993 and Bush, after investing $100,000, walked away with a net profit of $244,000.
One of Bush’s biggest real estate deals was the sale of IBM’s Boca Raton office park in 1996. The St. Petersburg Times reported the massive complex consisted of 2-million square feet of space sprawling on 565 acres of land with an assessed value of $100 million. In 1997, it was sold at $46.1 million, less than half the assessed value, to Blue Lake Ltd., a Florida company that included Republican fundraiser Mark Guzzetta. Jeb Bush had been best man at Guzzetta’s wedding and Guzzetta became finance co-chairman of Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign.
The Lehman Link
Bush was elected Governor of Florida in 1998 and served two consecutive terms. When he left the Governor’s office in 2007, his wealth had diminished from $2 million to $1.3 million. He began working to restore his finances and started by creating two consulting firms, Jeb Bush and Associates, with his son Jeb Bush Jr., and Britton Hill Partners LLC.
Jeb Bush became a paid consultant for banking giant Lehman Brothers (later Barclay’s) and joined the board of a number of companies, receiving sizable salaries with each appointment. Bush’s post-governorship business relations included a larger network of partners yet were no less convoluted and problematic than his earlier dealings.
The New York Times noted last year that in board fees and stock grants from publicly traded companies, Jeb Bush earned $3.2 million. At one time, he sat on the board of six different companies. His work as a consultant with Lehman Brothers and Barclay’s generated millions of dollars. And additionally Bush received handsome compensation from his numerous speeches and public appearances. According to the Times, he received an average of $50,000 per speech, delivering more than 100 speeches since 2007.
In 2007, Bush joined Lehman Brothers, the global financial services company, as a paid consultant to its private equity business. A year later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, touching off the 2008 financial crash that led to massive bank bailouts from the federal government and cost the jobs of millions of Americans. But Bush was not among them.
Barclay’s, the British multinational bank and financial services company, purchased Lehman Brothers’ North America Division and Bush shifted to Barclay’s payroll for an excess of $1 million a year until he left the company at the end of 2014.
Jeb Bush also joined the board of directors of Tenet Healthcare Corp. in April 2007. Though himself a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act, Bush’s relationship with Tenet, which enthusiastically supported the legislation and is estimated to receive up to $100 million in new revenue from the Act, has proved rewarding.
A Securities and Exchange Commission filing from 2014, published by ThinkProgress, notes Jeb Bush’s total income from Tenet for the year as $298,500, with $128,500 in fees and $170,000 in stock awards. The New York Times notes that Bush has earned more than $2 million from his tenure as a board member at Tenet.
But Tenet has had its share of problems, too. A ThinkProgress link to the Journal Enquirer of Connecticut estimated in 2013 that Tenet “has paid more than $1 billion over the last decade to settle a series of fraud, overbilling, kickback, and other allegations by its biggest customer: the federal government. Tenet Healthcare Corp. also agreed to pay more than half as much — $641 million — to settle hundreds of civil lawsuits as well as an additional $80 million to pay back taxes after an IRS audit.”
The article also notes that in September 2003, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley observed, “Tenet appears to be a corporation that is ethically and morally bankrupt.” Grassley wrote in a letter that “in the annals of corporate fraud, Tenet (formerly National Medical Enterprises) … more than holds its own among the worst corporate wrongdoers.” Bush resigned from Tenet on Dec. 31, 2014, to focus on the 2016 presidential elections.
An Investor Scheme
In November 2007, Bush began work with InnoVida Holdings, a manufacturer of building materials, which was owned by Claudio Osorio, a Miami businessman whose previous company, CHS Electronics, ended in bankruptcy in 2001, according to the South Florida Business Journal. The 2007 contract between Jeb Bush and Associates and InnoVida agreed to pay Bush $15,000 a month plus reasonable expenses as a member of the board of directors. From 2007 to 2010 Jeb Bush and Associates were paid a total of $468,901.
Bush left the company in 2010 and the following year InnoVida filed for bankruptcy protection. In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged InnoVida and Osorio with “defrauding investors in an offering fraud scheme” and Osorio ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money-laundering. Court records published by Thinkprogress show that in 2013, Jeb repaid $270,000 to InnoVida creditors “in order to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation … and to enhance the funds payable to creditors.”
Bush joined the board of Swisher Hygiene in 2010, at a time when company executives acknowledged their “financial statements were unreliable and their accounting practices were inadequate” reported the New York Times. This caused stock prices to drop dramatically and shareholders to file lawsuits against Bush and his colleagues.
The documents of one lawsuit, which named Bush, accused the defendants of “sustained and systematic failure to exercise their oversight responsibilities,” and was combined with other lawsuits, prompting Swisher Hygiene to agree “to a class-action settlement …, with no admission of fault,” according to ThinkProgress.
Britton Hill Partners was formed in 2008, but information didn’t emerge regarding the company until 2013, when a filing was made to the Securities and Exchange Commission under a law requiring a company to file a notice after managing more than $100 million.
As reported by Bloomberg News, the company was known as Britton Hill Holdings by 2013 and its board consisted of Bush and three other associates: two former employees of Swiss-based international bank Credit Suisse, David Savett and Ross Rodrigues, who worked in natural gas trading and leveraged finance, respectively, and one former banker from Lehman Brothers, Amar Bajpai.
A jumble of private equity funds and investors emerged after Britton Hill Holdings made their 2013 SEC filing. Bloomberg News reported that in addition to the original Florida based company were at least three other private equity funds: BH Logistics, BH Global Aviation Holdings based in Delaware, and BH Global Aviation in the United Kingdom, whose location essentially served as a tax-haven since the U.K. eliminated taxes on income earned outside the country. There are also at least eight limited partners involved in the Britton Hill funds, including former cronies from Bush’s days as governor and private equity funds based in China.
The funds generally invest in energy production and exploration and aviation technology. Two instances of corporate nepotism emerged by which Britton Hill partners were subsequently named to the board of the companies they had invested in. As outlined by Bloomberg News, these companies are Inflection Energy and Dorian LPG. After BH Global Aviation Holdings invested in Inflection Energy, a company exploring for natural gas in the Appalachian mountain range, Inflection named Bajpai to its board of directors. Later, David Savett was named to the board of Dorian LPG, a liquid petroleum gas shipping company, after BH Logistics bought 1.4 million shares of the company.
Over the past two years Jeb Bush’s business activity through the Britton Hill companies ramped up significantly, with the companies securing large investments from numerous financers. This whirlwind of activity has provoked questions regarding Bush’s presidential campaign strategy, as one would normally be pulling out of such business ventures before running for office, rather than getting more deeply involved. Holding a leadership role in such a variety of investments could raise issues of conflicts of interest.
White House Beckons
Jeb Bush’s litany of troubling business ventures and roster of dubious partners have prompted a number of unanswered questions. One puzzle is how he manages to repeatedly get involved with corrupt and/or soon-to-be defunct companies and then pulls out just before a lawsuit is brought against the company. Or how he has largely avoided legal liability over allegations of corporate malfeasance.
Also, how involved was he in the Iran-Contra affair through his various associations in Miami, including right-wing Cuban exiles such as Bosch associate Luis Posada, who worked closely on the Contra war with former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who, in turn, was in frequent contact with Donald Gregg, Vice President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser?
Other Bush business crossovers to that scandal include Miguel Recarey Jr. and Richard Lawless. And if Bush was willing to bend the rules and call in political favors for his (sometimes less-than-esteemed) business associates in the past, what’s to stop him from doing the same if he reaches the White House?
The Washington Post reported, “Bush has spoken openly about his business experience while visiting early primary states, telling potential supporters that despite his years in politics, he’s also ‘signed the front side of a paycheck.’ He uses the line to suggest that his business experience makes him a rarity among the field of potential presidential candidates.”
But his business dealings might also have a downside for his 2016 presidential bid as he tries to maintain the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded them so far. Bush may face problems as Mitt Romney did during the 2012 campaign regarding his private equity funds, as Bloomberg News suggested last year. Bush’s business connections and investors, including his recent multi-million dollar deals with Chinese companies, may be dissected.
But one thing is certain: old alliances and family connections will continue to serve Bush in the future as he taps into the network of donors and political operatives who served his father and brother in their presidential elections. He also is turning to his own network of supporters.
The Wall Street Journal reported Bush is enlisting the help of past associates to lead his finance and fundraising teams for a presidential bid, including Thomas Petway, Mark Guzzetta and Armando Codina. And the Washington Post showed that, despite repeated assertions of being his “own man,” 19 of the 21 campaign foreign policy advisers to Jeb Bush worked in his father’s and/or brother’s administration.
Among NATO’s psychological warfare outlets the UK Guardian occupies a special place as the fake-progressive mouthpiece of neocolonial English language news media. In recent years, Guardian writers and editors have been persistent propaganda shills for Nazi militias and death squads in Ukraine and for Al Qaeda and related terror groups in both Libya and Syria. No surprise then that it should also have an almost endless record of propaganda attacks against the main member countries of ALBA – Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The latest disinformation offering has been an article by Nina Lakhani in the Guardian’s development pages targeting Nicaragua’s education system. The article’s title “Poverty in Nicaragua drives children out of school and into the workplace” could be applied to almost any country in the majority world as well as to countries in North America and Europe. It’s also worth noting that the Guardian’s development pages are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A recent survey of projects funded by the Microsoft tycoons’ NGO between 2003 and 2013 in Africa found out that only 12% of the USD 3 billion granted went directly to the target populations. The rest was invested in research centers for the expansion of European and US-American agribusiness corporations. Self-evidently, the Guardian has a vested interest in promoting a neocolonial perspective skewed in favour of corporate funded non-governmental views and against sovereign governments, especially anti-imperialist governments like those of the ALBA countries.
This particular Guardian article offers a helpful concrete example of how certain kinds of anti-ALBA country propaganda can work while still staying within the bounds of apparently progressive ideas and argument. Nicaragua’s Sandinista government education has transformed education in Nicaragua in many positive ways despite very significant difficulties. But the Guardian article tries to make the absolutely false case that Nicaragua has practically abandoned a large number of it’s school age population and lacks a serious commitment to improving the country’s education system. The article uses various propaganda tricks that depend entirely on readers’ likely ignorance of Nicaragua and the region.
Nina Lakhani starts her false argument with quotes from childen in Bluefields, a city on Nicaragua’s impoverished Caribbean Coast. One quote goes “My family can’t afford the books”. But nowhere in her article does Nina Lakhani report that in January 2007, the very first decision of the incoming Sandinista government under Daniel Ortega was to make health and education services free. No child in Nicaragua’s public school system needs to pay for their schoolbooks. School directors breaching the principle of free education face dismissal. Does Lakhani offer a quote from a local school director? Of course not.
Similarly, Nina Lakhani’s disinformation exercise completely omits reporting mass national programmes by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to guarantee at least one meal a day for children in school, to ensure the poorest children have shoes and a backpack for their books, to rehabilitate classrooms and classroom furniture, to consolidate literacy skills and to improve dental health. Apart from those important omissions, perhaps the most reprehensible feature of the Guardian article is that it cites figures that are mostly five years or more out of date.
This use of obsolete statistics effectively ignores the Nicaraguan government’s massive efforts to improve school attendance, diminish desertion, improve academic performance and promote better academic standards. Readily available World Bank data for some indicators is slightly more up to date and allows a fair comparison with Nicaragua’s neighbours. While it is certainly true that available recent statistics are patchy and make it hard to compare like with like, that does not mean a more current view is out of reach. In any case, data isolated from any comparative context are grossly misleading and are a long-standing disinformation specialty of corporate media writers on foreign affairs.
So Nina Lakhani’s false use of out-of-date data looks even more dishonest when Nicaragua’s indicators according to the World Bank for the period 2006 to 2013 are compared with its regional neighbours’. For example, in the area of primary education, Nicaragua’s indicators are generally better than those in Guatemala, somewhat behind Honduras and El Salvador and all four countries lag behind Costa Rica. However, in terms of indicators relating to secondary education, Nicaragua has generally similar or better indicators than Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and again all four lag behind Costa Rica.
Nina Lakhani’s insistence on the importance of reducing child labour so as to ensure good education for all children is certainly correct. But that is true throughout Central America, whose countries share many social characteristics derived from their history of colonial and neocolonial domination and economic under-development. In particular in Nicaragua, the school year has historically been scheduled around the coffee harvest from mid-December to late February when thousands of rural families migrate en bloc as families to pick coffee. As in most of Central America, Nicaraguan law allows children to start work at 14.
Since 2011, the Nicaragua government has implemented a series of measures aimed at preventing under-age children from working. In 2012 the government began an annual campaign coordinated by local municipal authorities, the Education Ministry, the Health Ministry and relevant labour unions to ensure children under 14 years old, accompanying their families picking coffee in Nicaragua’s main coffee growing areas, attend classes and educational activities. The national confederation of workers in the informal sector also works with the government in urban centres to keep school age children from working selling with their parents on the streets.
Child labour is a serious problem throughout Central America. But Lakhani’s article suggests the Nicaraguan government’s policy on child labour represents a unique failure. To make her false case, she cites old figures from the 2005 census that she compares with unreliable current estimates from Nicaragua’s business sector. Lakhani writes “Nicaragua has ratified multiple international treaties and has strong national policies, but government claims that it is reducing child labour are not supported by any published evidence.” But Lakhani applies a different standard to a business sector estimate “that there are between 250,000 and 320,000 child workers, with one in three under 14.”
The link her report offers is to a video with off the cuff remarks at a press conference by business organization President José Adán Aguerri. His claim too is unsupported by any recent published evidence, but still Lakhani gives it more weight than government claims. By contrast, the Chair of the National Assembly’s Commision for Women Youth, Children and the Family, Carlos Emilio López, announced in 2013 a 10% drop in child labour in Nicaragua since 2005. Nina Lakhani mentions no reliable evidence to falsify that assertion.
She mentions an anecdotal case study by La Isla Foundation of 26 children in the sugar cane plantations aged between 12 and 17 which is virtually meaningless in the national context, but may perhaps reflect to some degree the reality in the sugar industry throughout the region, not just in Nicaragua. In that regional context, Nicaragua has a better record at protecting vulnerable children than its neighbours. In fact, the International Labour Organization representative in Nicaragua said in June 2014, “In the 2005 census, 53% of children working did not go to school, now that percentage is less than 15%.”
That statement by the ILO should be taken together with recent government data for education indicating substantial increases in matriculation numbers, lower figures for academic desertion, and better academic results generally. Likewise, Nicaragua’s Ministry of the Family’s mass campaign to help families ensure their children go to preschool is helping hundreds of thousands of children to get better early schooling. Bearing all that in mind, it is fair to say that the recent statements from the relevant responsible officials about the government’s committed implementation of education and family policies categorically contradict the Guardian’s misleading report. Nina Lakhani seems deliberately to omit highly relevant context supporting the government’s education policies in relation to child labour.
When she cites the most recent US government report saying, “The [Nicaraguan] government’s enforcement of labour laws is inadequate, and plans to combat child labour and protect children have not been fully implemented”, one has to assume she is making an extremely bad joke. The United States government, has overseen the fall of much of its child population into deep poverty for many years now and has zero authority to lecture another country about its record on child welfare. All the Central American governments are working to reduce child labour, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government especially.
Nina Lakhani’s baseless claim that the Nicaraguan government is failing to reduce child labour is not just grossly unfair given available evidence that she has chosen to ignore. A look at the budgetary history of Nicaragua’s spending on education since January 2007 also serves to confirm the falsity of the Guardian’s report. This calculation of education spending in Nicaragua includes both spending assigned to universities and the budget of Ministry of Education. It does not include :
spending by the Ministry of the Family to support pre-school education;
spending by the Ministry of Health to support children with special needs or dental health
spending in schools by the government’s sports and culture institutions;
in some years it may not include all spending on vocational and technical education;
spending to guarantee school meals or shoes and backpacks for school
Last year of the Presidency of Ing. Enrique Bolaños Geyer
|Year||Education spending in C$ (millions)||% national budget||% GDP|
Comandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra became President in January 2007
|Year||Education spending in C$ millions||% national budget||Inflation adjusted increase||% GDP|
(Budget data from Ministerio de Hacienda y Crédito Público. Inflation data calculated from various IMF reports. GDP data calculated from World Bank data.)
This represents an increase of education spending of 36% in real terms since 2006, well outstripping the development of the school age population which, like Costa Rica’s, has in fact been declining slightly year by year in contrast to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where the school age population is slightly increasing year by year. Here are World Bank data on Nicaragua’s population of children and adolescents under 18 years of age :
(Data from World Bank: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/EdStats_excel.zip)
As regards the above table of budget allocations, note the period 2008 to 2011. Major events in this period were the massive inflationary pressures leading to dramatically higher oil and food prices. Also in 2009 the US government and the European Union cut a total of over US$100m in development cooperation funding to the Nicaraguan government in response to the opposition campaign led by right-wing leader Eduardo Montealegre and his social democrat allies falsely alleging fraud in the November 2008 municipal elections. That mendacious campaign was supported by political opinion across the political spectrum in North America and Europe, including neo-colonial progressives and leftists.
It was only through 2011 that the government was able to make good the budgetary difficulties of the three years 2008-2010. Government spending figures tend to conceal the huge deficiencies of Nicaragua’s education system as of January 2007. The new Sandinista government had to overcome the enormous deficit in capital spending accumulated over 16 years of systematic denial of resources and corruption, preceded by a decade of war. In January 2007, that 26 year period had left Nicaragua’s schools unable even to deliver the complete primary school curriculum to large areas of the country, never mind comprehensive provision for secondary or technical and vocational education.
In January 2007, preschool care was almost entirely private. Secondary education was in the early stages of effective privatization. Public vocational and technical training was grossly under-resourced. Nationally, school infrastructure needed a programme of complete overhaul and renewal. Teacher salaries were desperately inadequate, as were resources for teacher training. That same year, 2007, saw the start of the global economic crisis with oil reaching US$147 a barrel in early 2008 and the worst economic collapse in North America and Europe since the 1930s.
None of that essential context figures anywhere in the Guardian’s report by Nina Lakhani on Nicaragua’s education system and its link to child labour. Her report glibly evades all that essential history. Instead, she shifts from disinforming her readers about Nicaragua’s education system to remarks reflecting an ideological disagreement between international education bureaucrats. But her earlier faithless, heavily prejudiced depiction of Nicaragua’s education dilemmas offers no legitimate insight into that debate. Her Guardian report quotes Manos Antoninis, “a senior analyst at Education for All global monitoring report“.
Manos Antoninis argues, “While raising the compulsory age of schooling is unlikely to immediately impact on completion rates in Nicaragua, it would send a powerful message that the state believes in the importance of education, which in turn would impact the way families perceive their own responsibility in keeping children in school.” His remarks are quoted in such a way as to reinforce Nina Lakhani’s false argument that the Nicaraguan government neither really believes in the importance of education nor devotes the resources necessary to improving Nicaragua’s education system.
The Guardian cites an opposing theoretical view, without explaining that this view, offered by Philippe Barragne-Bigot, Unicef representative in Nicaragua, in fact reflects the current policy of the Nicaraguan government. Philippe Barragne-Bigot argues “Quality, flexible education and jobs will keep children in school, not a change in the law.” But Nina Lakhani categorically fails to report the significance of these remarks by UNICEF’s representative in Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is very deliberately prioritizing improving the quality of education in Nicaragua, broadening the range of study and training opportunities available to adolescents and young adults and prioritizing employment creation.
All these policy measures are integral components of Nicaragua’s national development strategy whose overwhelming priority is to reduce poverty. But the Guardian never even mentions the wide-ranging, complex national development policy the government is trying to implement. Instead, the Guardian report gives Manos Antoninis the last word:
“Countries that don’t educate their children to second school level don’t stand a chance. But the sudden expansion of secondary education could serve the elite, so policies must target the neediest,” said Antoninis. He added: “The inter-generational effect is chilling. A lack of education not only scuppers a child’s chances, but also the chances of their children. Failing to make an effort in this generation, also fails the next.”
And that’s it. Nina Lakhani’s article ends there, leaving the reader with the impression that Nicaragua’s Sandinista government is a clear example of a government “failing to make an effort” for the education of the country’s children and youth. The falsity of Nina Lakhani’s report in the Guardian is beyond travesty. More than any other country in the region, with the possible exception of El Salvador, Nicaragua is very much targeting the neediest among its population as it works to strengthen the whole of its historically devastated public education system.
On May 19th this year, the government’s policy coordinator, Rosario Murillo, announced that enrollment in the public education system came to “a grand total 2,143,721 students between Pre-school, Primary level, Secondary level, Special Education, Teacher training, Workshop-Classrooms for Young people and Adults, Literacy tutoring, Technical education and training”, apart from university level education. Earlier in the year, Rosario Murillo also confirmed the distribution of almost 90,000 text books in indigenous peoples languages, free, for school students on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.
The reality of educational policy in Nicaragua overwhelmingly contradicts Nina Lakhani’s disingenuous fake-progressive argument that the Sandinista government has failed Nicaragua’s children. Perhaps the most egregious outright falsehood in the Guardian’s account is its report as a current fact that “The UN children’s agency, Unicef, estimates that 500,000 Nicaraguan children aged three to 17 are not in the educational system.” That is grotesquely unfair both to UNICEF and the Nicaraguan government because the link leads to a 2012 report using figures from 2010 that were probably out of date even then, despite the crisis between 2008 and 2010, and much more so now, five years after that crisis, in 2015.
For us at Tortilla con Sal we feel particularly bitter at the Guardian’s mendacious report on education and child labor in Nicaragua because much of the community work of our collective’s members is with families on extremely low incomes. Since 1998, we have worked with a programme serving 40 young women from very impoverished rural families each year training to be primary school teachers. Since 1999, we have worked on a programme that each year has helped over a hundred low income women, mostly single mothers, return to school to finish their secondary education. Over the last four years we have worked on a program to address domestic violence among families in low income rural and urban areas.
This close grass roots engagement has permitted us to witness the great sacrifices people in Nicaragua on very low incomes will make to ensure their children get an education that will improve their economic opportunities. We have also witnessed how year by year the government’s education and child protection policies improve systematically and incrementally, often making a dramatic difference to different sectors of the country’s impoverished majority. That process throws up many complex dilemmas over trade-offs, the most obvious being that of young family members opting to start work so as to increase their family’s income and go back to education later.
By quoting UNICEF’s country representative in Nicaragua, the Guardian’s Nina Lakhani opened the door a fraction towards a view of the flexible, quality education system Nicaragua’s Sandinista government led by Comandante Daniel Ortega is trying, despite innumerable difficulties, to promote. But she and her editors then immediately slammed it shut. They had to.
Nina Lakhani had to close down that view because it contradicts her own self-evident prejudices against Nicaragua’s government. Her Guardian editors’ had to deny it because their sinister psy-warfare imperative is to erase any reality contradicting their neocolonial propaganda line. In sum, Nina Lakhani’s article in the Guardian is grossly unfair and disingenuous. Contrary to her phony conclusion, Nicaragua’s education system is a very successful example of how a government committed to ALBA’s emancipatory socialist vision can overcome, in favour of the impoverished majority, the intractable problems inherited from decades of neocolonial subjugation and war.
In the 1980s, CIA propaganda experts and military psy-war specialists oversaw the creation of special programs aimed at managing public perceptions in both targeted foreign countries and the United States, according to declassified documents at Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library.
These documents – discovered in 2010 – buttress previously disclosed evidence that President Reagan’s CIA Director William J. Casey played a key behind-the-scenes role in pushing this political action initiative, which recruited well-heeled private-sector conservatives to subsidize the secretive government operations.
The documents show that Casey used a senior CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist named Walter Raymond Jr., who was placed inside the National Security Council in 1982, to oversee the project and to circumvent legal prohibitions against the CIA engaging in propaganda that might influence U.S. public opinion or politics.
Though Raymond formally quit the CIA after going to the NSC, documents from Raymond’s personal NSC files reveal that he often passed on recommendations regarding the propaganda initiative after meetings at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or after conversations with Casey himself.
In one Nov. 4, 1982, “secret” memo, Raymond described Casey reaching out to right-wing mogul Richard Mellon Scaife, who was already working with other conservative foundation executives to fund right-wing publications, think tanks and activist groups seeking to shift U.S. politics to the Right.
Raymond told then NSC advisor William P. Clark that “Bill Casey asked me to pass on the following thought concerning your [scheduled] meeting with Dick Scaife, Dave Abshire [then a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board], and Co.
“Casey had lunch with them today and discussed the need to get moving in the general area of supporting our friends around the world.”
Besides a desire to “invigorate international media programs,” Casey wanted to help U.S.-based organizations, such as Freedom House, that could influence American attitudes about foreign challenges, Raymond said.
“The DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] is also concerned about strengthening public information organizations in the United States such as Freedom House,” Raymond told Clark. “To do this we have identified three overt tracks:
“–enhanced federal funding;
“–the Democracy Project study (although publicly funded this will be independently managed);
“A critical piece of the puzzle is a serious effort to raise private funds to generate momentum. Casey’s talk with Scaife and Co. suggests they would be very willing to cooperate.”
(In the following years, Freedom House emerged as a major recipient of funding from the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy, which was founded in 1983. Freedom House became a fierce critic of Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government, which Reagan and Casey were seeking to overthrow by covertly supporting Contra rebels.)
Returning from Langley
A Dec. 2 note addressed to “Bud,” apparently senior NSC official Robert “Bud” McFarlane, described a request from Raymond for a brief meeting. “When he [Raymond] returned from Langley, he had a proposed draft letter … re $100 M democ[racy] proj[ect],” the note said.
While Raymond passed on Casey’s instructions, the CIA director told White House officials to play down or conceal the CIA’s role.
“Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III, urging creation of a “National Endowment” that would support “free institutions throughout the world.”
On Jan. 21, 1983, Raymond updated Clark about the project, which also was reaching out to representatives from other conservative foundations, including Les Lenkowsky of Smith-Richardson, Michael Joyce of Olin and Dan McMichael of Mellon-Scaife.
“This is designed to develop a broader group of people who will support parallel initiatives consistent with Administration needs and desires,” Raymond wrote.
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, those and other conservative foundations poured millions of dollars into right-wing think tanks, media outlets and anti-journalism attack groups that targeted American reporters who challenged the Reagan administration’s propaganda.
The early planning papers also indicated a desire to use this relatively overt system to funnel money to pro-U.S. trade unions in Asia, Africa and Latin America in support of a variety of political operations, including setting up television stations and funding print publications.
Some examples were $150,000 to a Bolivian trade union; $50,000 to Peru as a “direct counter to Soviet funding”; $50,000 to Grenada “to the only organized opposition to the Marxist government of Maurice Bishop (The Seaman and Waterfront Workers Union). A supplemental to support free TV activity outside Grenada”; $750,000 to Nicaragua “to support an array of independent trade union activity, agricultural cooperatives”; and $500,000 for “Central America labor publishing house and distribution center for printed materials – TV materials, cooperatives, land reform, etc. – to counter Marxist literature.”
The document’s reference to money being spent to counter Bishop’s government in Grenada adds weight to long-held suspicions that the Reagan administration engaged in propaganda and destabilization campaigns against Bishop, who was ousted by internal rivals and killed in October 1983, setting the stage for the U.S. invasion of the tiny Caribbean island.
The invasion of Grenada, though condemned by much of the world as an act of U.S. aggression, proved popular in the United States, an important step in readying the American people for larger military adventures ahead.
Eventually, Casey’s concept of a global initiative led to the founding of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 ostensibly for the purpose of promoting foreign democratic institutions. But the NED also created a cover for the United States to funnel money to pro-U.S. groups in hostile countries. And it subsidized Washington’s growing community of neoconservatives who wrote op-ed articles in leading newspapers and went on TV news shows advocating an aggressive U.S. foreign policy.
Since 1983, NED has been involved in numerous controversies, including allegations that it helped buy the Nicaraguan election in 1990 by spending some $9 million, including $4 million poured into the campaign of U.S.-backed candidate Violeta Chamorro.
NED’s hand also has been detected in “velvet revolutions” staged in Ukraine, Georgia and other eastern European nations. NED has been active, too, in Iran, fueling government suspicions there that its opposition, which took to the streets after the June 2009 presidential election, represented another U.S.-backed scheme to achieve regime change.
Though many of Raymond’s documents at Reagan’s Library in Simi Valley, California, remain secret, the material discovered in 2010 – and some of the previously released documents – offer a panorama of how the administration’s perception management campaigns evolved, from the early days of Casey prodding the process forward to later years when Raymond’s apparatus grew increasingly powerful and even paranoid.
According to a secret action proposal that Raymond submitted on Dec. 20, 1984, to then national security adviser McFarlane, Raymond wanted an even greater commitment of manpower.
“I have attempted to proceed forward with a whole range of political and information activities,” Raymond wrote. “There are a raft of ties to private organizations which are working in tandem with the government in a number of areas ranging from the American Security Council to the Atlantic Council, to the nascent idea of a ‘Peace Institute.’”
Among the examples of his “specific activities,” Raymond listed “significant expansion of our ability to utilize book publication and distribution as a public diplomacy tool. (This is based on an integrated public-private strategy). … The development of an active PSYOP strategy. … Meetings (ad hoc) with selected CIA operational people to coordinate and clarify lines between overt/covert political operations on key areas. Examples: Afghanistan, Central America, USSR-EE [Eastern Europe] and Grenada.”
Another part of Raymond’s domain was “the Soviet Political Action Working Group.” This group discussed what it regarded as “Soviet active measures” and worked on “themes” that soon resonated through Washington, such as the argument regarding “moral equivalents.”
Raymond reported that the “moral equivalents” theme was discussed at the working group’s Dec. 15, 1983, meeting. The idea of “moral equivalents” involved U.S. government officials upbraiding journalists and opinion leaders who tried to apply common moral standards to pro- and anti-U.S. groups.
Reagan administration officials would insist that human rights crimes by the pro-U.S. side of a conflict should not be criticized as severely as similar crimes by the anti-U.S. side because that would apply a “false moral equivalence,” suggesting that the United States was no better than its enemies. To take such a position was regarded as unpatriotic or disloyal.
Along those lines, one of Raymond’s sub-groups, “the Active Measures Working Group,” met “to develop an action plan to turn Soviet active measures back onto the Soviets, i.e. take the offensive.”
Attendees included Raymond and another CIA operations veteran, Ray Warren, a Casey favorite who was placed inside the Pentagon; Herb Romerstein, a former investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities; and Robert Kagan, a prominent neoconservative who was an aide to Elliott Abrams at the State Department and later led the Office of Public Diplomacy on Latin America.
The Active Measures Working Group brought in from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and U.S. Special Forces, personnel who specialized in psychological operations, such as a “Col. Paddock (OSD/PSYOP),” a “Mr. Hunter (1st PSYOP Bn)”; a “Colonel Dunbar (1st PYSOP Bn),” and “Lieutenant Colonel Jacobowitz (DOD/PSYOP).”
In previously disclosed documents, Lt. Col. Daniel “Jake” Jacobowitz was listed as the executive officer inside the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy on Latin America, where the White House also placed five psychological warfare specialists from the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The main job of these psy-ops specialists was to pick out incidents in Central America that would rile the U.S. public. In a memo dated May 30, 1985, Jacobowitz explained that the military men were scouring embassy cables “looking for exploitable themes and trends, and [would] inform us of possible areas for our exploitation.”
The June 19, 1986, minutes of the working group stated that “Colonel Paddock reported that OSD/PSYOP has been working on some unclassified publications, mainly on Central American issues, in cooperation with State’s Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy.”
At the working group meeting on July 31, 1986, Col. Paddock passed out copies of a joint Pentagon/State Department publication, “The Challenge to Democracy in Central America,” which was then being disseminated to members of Congress, the Washington press corps and the American public.
The publication sought to portray Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government as a state sponsor of terrorism, a major propaganda theme that the Reagan administration was using to justify its covert support of the contra rebels, who themselves were infamous for acts of terrorism, including extra-judicial executions and attacks on civilian targets.
Chastising the Enemy
Despite the evidence that it was the Reagan administration that was knee-deep in propaganda, the psyop official, “Mr. Hunter” – whose fuller identity remained classified in the meeting’s minutes – briefed the group on what he described as anti-U.S. “disinformation campaigns,” including “charges of immoral conduct by US troops in Honduras.”
In the world of Raymond’s psyop meetings, nearly every negative piece of news about U.S. activities in the world was dismissed as “Soviet active measures,” presumably even the fact that some U.S. troops operating in Honduras engaged in what surely could be called “immoral conduct.”
Bureaucratic deception was also part of the secret operations inside the NSC. In the mid-1980s, I was told by one senior NSC official that a key early document laying the groundwork for raising money for the contra war in defiance of a congressional prohibition was marked as a “non-paper,” so it would not be regarded as an official document (even though it clearly was).
Similarly, Raymond sent one Nov. 28, 1986, memo to an unnamed CIA officer reminding him to attend what Raymond called “the next non-group meeting.” So it appears that Reagan’s NSC sought to get around requirements for safeguarding historical records by circulating “non-papers” and meeting in “non-groups.”
Raymond’s domestic propaganda activities were explored by congressional Iran-Contra investigators in 1987. However, their findings faced fierce internal opposition from House and Senate Republicans.
In a bid for bipartisanship, House Democratic committee chairman Lee Hamilton agreed to a compromise in which a chapter on Raymond’s operation was dropped while a few segments were inserted elsewhere in the final report.
That meant, however, that the American people never got to read the chapter’s stunning conclusion: that the Reagan administration had built a domestic covert propaganda apparatus managed by a CIA disinformation specialist working out of the National Security Council.
“One of the CIA’s most senior covert action operators was sent to the NSC in 1983 by CIA Director [William] Casey where he participated in the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists,” the chapter’s conclusion stated.
“This public/private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt – to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.”
Tracing the Origins
The 84-page “lost” chapter, entitled “Launching the Private Network,” traced the origins of the propaganda network to President Reagan’s “National Security Decision Directive 77” in January 1983 as his administration sought to promote its foreign policy, especially its desire to oust Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. [There appear to have been several versions of this “lost chapter.” This one I found in congressional files.]
The chapter also cited a Jan. 13, 1983, memo by then-NSC Advisor Clark regarding the need for non-governmental money to advance the cause. “We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” Clark wrote.
However, what the newly discovered documents from Raymond’s files make clear is that the initiative dated back to 1982 and was pushed more by Casey and his CIA associates than by the NSC advisor.
The “lost chapter” does explain how Reagan administration officials soon began crossing lines that separated an overseas propaganda program from a domestic propaganda operation aimed at U.S. public opinion, the American press and congressional Democrats who opposed contra funding.
“An elaborate system of inter-agency committees was eventually formed and charged with the task of working closely with private groups and individuals involved in fundraising, lobbying campaigns and propagandistic activities aimed at influencing public opinion and governmental action,” the draft chapter said.
The draft chapter doesn’t initially use Raymond’s name – presumably because his work at the CIA remained classified – but its description of the CIA officer in charge of the NSC-run propaganda operation clearly refers to Raymond.
According to the draft report, the CIA officer [Raymond] had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a “specialist in propaganda and disinformation.”
“The CIA official discussed the transfer with [CIA Director] Casey and NSC Advisor William Clark that he be assigned to the NSC [in June 1982] and received approval for his involvement in setting up the public diplomacy program along with his intelligence responsibilities,” the chapter said.
“In the early part of 1983, documents obtained by the Select [Iran-Contra] Committees indicate that the Director of the Intelligence Staff of the NSC [Raymond] successfully recommended the establishment of an inter-governmental network to promote and manage a public diplomacy plan designed to create support for Reagan Administration policies at home and abroad.”
Raymond “helped to set up an elaborate system of inter-agency committees,” the draft chapter said, adding:
“In the Spring of 1983, the network began to turn its attention toward beefing up the Administration’s capacity to promote American support for the Democratic Resistance in Nicaragua [the contras] and the fledgling democracy in El Salvador.
“This effort resulted in the creation of the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Department of State (S/LPD), headed by Otto Reich,” a right-wing Cuban exile from Miami.
Though Secretary of State George Shultz wanted the office under his control, President Reagan insisted that Reich “report directly to the NSC,” where Raymond oversaw the operations as a special assistant to the President and the NSC’s director of international communications, the chapter said.
“At least for several months after he assumed this position, Raymond also worked on intelligence matters at the NSC, including drafting a Presidential Finding for Covert Action in Nicaragua in mid-September” 1983, the chapter said.
In other words, although Raymond was shifted to the NSC staff in part to evade prohibitions on the CIA influencing U.S. public opinion, his intelligence and propaganda duties overlapped for a time as he was in the process of retiring from the spy agency.
And despite Raymond’s formal separation from the CIA, he acted toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country. He was the go-to guy to keep this political action operation on track.
“Reich relied heavily on Raymond to secure personnel transfers from other government agencies to beef up the limited resources made available to S/LPD by the Department of State,” the chapter said.
“Personnel made available to the new office included intelligence specialists from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. On one occasion, five intelligence experts from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were assigned to work with Reich’s fast-growing operation. …
“White House documents also indicate that CIA Director Casey had more than a passing interest in the Central American public diplomacy campaign.”
The chapter cited an Aug. 9, 1983, memo written by Raymond describing Casey’s participation in a meeting with public relations specialists to brainstorm how “to sell a ‘new product’ – Central America – by generating interest across-the-spectrum.”
In an Aug. 29, 1983, memo, Raymond recounted a call from Casey pushing his P.R. ideas. Alarmed at a CIA director participating so brazenly in domestic propaganda, Raymond wrote that “I philosophized a bit with Bill Casey (in an effort to get him out of the loop)” but with little success.
The chapter added: “Casey’s involvement in the public diplomacy effort apparently continued throughout the period under investigation by the Committees,” including a 1985 role in pressuring Congress to renew contra aid and a 1986 hand in further shielding S/LPD from the oversight of Shultz.
Casey even monitored personnel changes. A Raymond-authored memo to Casey in August 1986 described the shift of S/LPD – then run by neoconservative theorist Kagan who had replaced Reich – to the control of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, which was headed by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, another prominent neoconservative.
Oliver North and Friends
Another important figure in the pro-contra propaganda was NSC staffer Oliver North, who spent a great deal of his time on the Nicaraguan public diplomacy operation even though he is better known for arranging secret arms shipments to the contras and to Iran’s radical Islamic government, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal.
The draft chapter cited a March 10, 1985, memo from North describing his assistance to CIA Director Casey in timing the disclosures of pro-contra news “aimed at securing Congressional approval for renewed support to the Nicaraguan Resistance Forces.”
However, the discarding of the draft chapter and the ultimate failure of the Iran-Contra report to fully explain the danger of CIA-style propaganda intruding into the U.S. political process had profound future consequences. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the Casey-Raymond media operations of the 1980s helped bring the Washington press corps to its knees, where it has remained most of the time through today.
To soften up the Washington press corps, Reich’s S/LPD targeted U.S. journalists who reported information that undermined the administration’s propaganda themes. Reich sent his teams out to lobby news executives to remove or punish out-of-step reporters – with a disturbing degree of success.
In March 1986, Reich reported that his office was taking “a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis a sometimes hostile press” and “did not give the critics of the policy any quarter in the debate.” [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]
Though Casey died in 1987 and Raymond in 2003, some U.S. officials implicated in the propaganda operations remain important Washington figures, bringing the lessons of the 1980s into the new century.
For instance, Elliott Abrams – though convicted of misleading Congress in the Iran-Contra Affair and later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush – returned as deputy advisor to George W. Bush’s NSC, where Abrams oversaw U.S.-Middle East policy. Oliver North landed a show on Fox News. Otto Reich was an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 (and was a foreign policy spokesman for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012).
Kagan writes influential op-eds for the Washington Post and was a senior associate at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace (before moving to the Brookings Institution. Kagan also co-founded the Project for the New American Century, which advocated for the invasion of Iraq, and he is the husband of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who oversaw the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in February 2014). [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]
Oliver North landed a show on Fox News. Otto Reich was an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 (and was a foreign policy spokesman for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012).
Beyond the individuals, the manipulative techniques that were refined in the 1980s – especially the skill of exaggerating foreign threats – have proved durable. Such scare tactics brought large segments of the American population into line behind the Iraq War in 2002-03.
It took years and many thousands of deaths before Americans realized they had been manipulated by deceptive propaganda, that their perceptions had been managed.
In his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, Bush’s former White House press secretary Scott McClellan described Iraq War propaganda tactics that would have been familiar to Casey and Raymond.
From his insider vantage point, McClellan cited the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” – and he called the Washington press corps “complicit enablers.”
The documents in Raymond’s files at the Reagan Library offer a glimpse at how these manipulative techniques took root.
[For more recent document discoveries at the Reagan Library, including the recruitment of publisher Rupert Murdoch, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda” and “How Roy Cohn Helped Rupert Murdoch.”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Monsanto, the U.S. agribusiness giant that controls a quarter of the entire global seed market, could soon be even bigger and more powerful than it already is, following renewed speculation over its interest in Swiss agrichemicals firm Syngenta. The logic behind the deal is clear: Monsanto ranks as the world’s largest purveyor of seeds while Swiss-based Syngenta is the world’s largest pesticide and fertilizer company.
A Monsanto-Syngenta tie-up would “deliver substantial synergies that create value for shareholders of both companies”, said Monsanto president and COO, Brett Begemann, adding that cash from these side deals would make an acquisition easier to finance. It would also be the largest-ever acquisition of a European company by a U.S. rival.
The target, Syngenta, seems somewhat less enthusiastic. It is the second time in as many weeks that Monsanto has tabled an unsolicited offer for its Swiss competitor. The first time, on May 8, Syngenta politely but firmly rebuffed Monsanto, saying that the offered price of $45 billion undervalued the company. In response to the latest offer Syngenta said a sell-off of its seeds business would not be enough to allay regulators’ concerns about the tie-up.
The 2 C’s: Consolidation and Concentration
If the deal is consummated, the two companies combined would form a singular agribusiness behemoth that controls a third of both the globe’s seed and pesticides markets, as Mother Jones reports:
To make the deal fly with US antitrust regulators, Syngenta would likely have to sell off its substantial corn and soybean seed business, as well its relatively small glyphosate holdings, in order to avoid direct overlap with Monsanto’s existing market share, the financial website Seeking Alpha reports.
By all measures you would think the global seeds market is already concentrated enough. According to Silvia Ribeiro, a researcher for the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (Grupo ETC), never before in the long history of human agriculture and food have we faced such heightened concentration of power and ownership of the global seed industry, the primary link of the global food chain:
In 2014, just six American and European companies – Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer and Basf – control 100% of the GM seeds planted in the world. All of them were originally chemical manufacturers.
It wasn’t always that way. Indeed, such concentration of the seed industry is a wholly new phenomenon. Thirty-five years ago, there were thousands of seed manufacturers and not a single one of them controlled more than 1% of the global market. Fifteen years later, the top ten companies had captured 30% of the market, yet Monsanto was not among them.
Now Monsanto alone, after having acquired a huge portfolio of seed companies such as Agroceres, Asgrow, Cristiani Burkard, Dekalb, Delta & Pine and the seeds division of Cargill North America, controls 26% of the entire global market of all seeds, not just GMOs. Monsanto, second-placed Dupont, and third-placed Syngenta combined control 53% of the market.
Such concentration of ownership has granted a handful of Western corporations and the governments with which they are inseparably intertwined vast control over one of the world’s primary resources, food. And now Monsanto wants to strengthen that control.
On the Back Foot
The irony is that just weeks ago Monsanto was on the back foot. Facing an unprecedented global consumer backlash, the company decided to roll out a social media and marketing campaign in a bid to win over consumers in key international markets, including China, France, India, Argentina and Brazil.
Here’s more from Reuters:
The “discover Monsanto” campaign encourages consumers to “be part of the conversation,” ask questions and learn about the company’s genetically engineered seeds and its key herbicide products. A corresponding television advertising campaign, underway since November, declares that to Monsanto “food is more than just a meal, it’s love.”
The outreach effort comes as the company’s key products face heightened regulatory scrutiny and a consumer backlash in Monsanto’s top market, the United States. Some U.S. states are mulling mandatory genetically modified labeling laws and advocacy organizations are pressuring regulators to restrict glyphosate use.
Monsanto’s glyphosate-induced headaches began when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the UN’s World Health Organization United Nations, declared that the chemical, one of the active ingredients in Monsanto’s flagship product Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic”. Roundup is the world’s biggest selling weedkiller. According to some estimates, Roundup and Roundup Ready seeds account for as much as half of the corporation’s revenues.
Matters were not helped when Patrick Moore, a high-profile GMO advocate, botched an interview with French media outlet Canal+ in spectacular foot-in-mouth fashion (here’s the link). Moore insisted that Roundup isn’t remotely toxic, arguing that you can “drink a whole quart of it” without it hurting you. However, when invited to put his words to the test by downing a glass of the liquid weed killer, Moore replied that he was not stupid – not once but twice!
The Global Pushback
The fallout has been relentless. The company has been implicated in litigation cases as far away as China, the world’s second largest market for seeds. Even before the scandal, the Chinese government had already begun blocking GMO imports, while Russia has effectively banned all GMO products. In Germany, a number of states have called for a blanket EU-ban on Monsanto’s Roundup.
As for Latin America, one of Monsanto’s fastest growing markets, the rural resistance continues to intensify. As I reported last year in Seed Wars: Latin America Strikes Back Against Monsanto, rural communities are rising up against government legislation that would apply brutally rigid intellectual copyright laws to the crop seeds they are able to grow.
And thanks to the glyphosate scandal governments finally have reason to act. Just yesterday Colombia’s National Drug Council voted to suspend glyphosate spraying on illicit coca cultivations. According to Food & Water Watch, since 2003 Colombia and the US together have spent an estimated $100 million purchasing the chemical from Monsanto for the destruction of coca crops.
In Argentina, one of the world’s largest producers of genetically modified soy bean and corn, 30,000 Argentinean doctors and healthcare professionals signed a letter demanding the prohibition of glyphosate. As the BBC reported last year, in the northern province of Chaco, the minister of Public Health wants an independent commission to investigate cases of cancer and the incidence of children born with disabilities.
However, even as myriad nations line up to ban Monsanto’s GM products, you can be sure that Monsanto will not take it lying down. As its recent history shows, the company is doggedly persistent. It is also ruthlessly resourceful.
For the moment everything hinges on the success of its hostile takeover of Syngenta. If the deal goes through, the company will expand its influence across myriad new markets. It will also get much closer access to Europe, a market that it had publicly (though certainly not privately) given up on in 2013. By resettling in Switzerland, Monsanto will also be able to significantly reduce its U.S. tax bill as well as hold greater sway over Brussels, which recently authorized 17 new GMOs for food and feed purposes.
According to research by Corporate Europe Observatory, no industry has lobbied the European Commission more fiercely for the passage of the EU-US trade deal (TTIP) than the agribusiness sector, which many rightly fear will open the floodgates to GMOs. In other words, growing public opposition to GMOs may not be enough on its own to stop GMO markets from growing.
As Ulson Gunnar reported in the NEO article Monsanto’s Covert War on European Food Security, Monsanto and friends continue to use covert means to expand their less popular markets, most recently launching GMO operations in war-ravaged Ukraine, which in 2013 was ranked third in global corn production and sixth in wheat production:
With the EU itself relaxing some of its regulations regarding GMOs, likely without the consent of a population increasingly conscious of the risks and actively seeking organic alternatives, biotech conglomerates hope to make GMO products spread from what will be the completely unregulated fields of Ukraine, into Europe and to become as ubiquitous and unavoidable as they are in America.
On Sunday masses of people in hundreds of towns and cities across the world turned out to vent their frustration against a company that has come to symbolize so much that is wrong with today’s world. Meanwhile Monsanto will continue to go about its business, pulling the strings of government and striving to impose its will in the world’s markets and on the world’s people.