The Financial Times editorial page carries a logo that proclaims: “Without fear and without favour”. Indeed the editors have shown no fear when it comes to… fabricating lies, promoting imperial wars decimating countries and impoverishing millions, whether in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and now Venezuela. The fearless “Lies of Our Times” have been at the forefront forging pretexts for inciting imperial armies to crush independent governments.
Despite its pretentious scribblers and prestigious claims, the FT is seen by the Anglo-American financial class as a belligerent purveyor of militarist policies designed for the most retrograde sectors of the ruling elite.
What is most striking about the FT fearless fabrications on behalf of imperial militarism is how often their political and economic prognostications have been incompetent and flat out wrong.
For the past ten years, the FT editorial pages have described China in economic crisis and heading for a fall, while in reality, the Chinese economy has grown at between eight and six percent a year.
For over a decade and a half, the FT editors claimed Russia under President Vladimir Putin presented an international existential threat to ‘the West’. In fact, it was the ‘Western’ armies of NATO, which expanded military operations to the borders of Russia, the US, which financed a neo-fascist coup in Kiev and the US-EU which promoted an Islamist uprising in Syria designed to totally undermine Russia’s influence and relations in the Middle East.
The FT’s economic gurus and its leading columnists prescribed the very catastrophic deregulatory formulas which precipitated the financial crash of 2008-09, after which they played the clownish role of “Mickey the Dunce” – blaming others for the failed policies.
The fearless FT scribes are currently leading a virulent propaganda campaign to promote the violent overthrow of the democratically elected Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro.
This essay will identify the FT’s latest pack of fearless lies and fabrications and then conclude by analyzing the political consequences for Venezuela and other independent regimes.
The Financial Times and Venezuela: From War in the Suites to Terror in the Streets
In covering the crisis in Venezuela, the FT has systematically ignored the ongoing campaign of assaults and assassinations against elected officials, security officers, military and police who have been murdered by the FT’s favored ‘opposition’.
The FT did not cover the horrific murders of an elected Chavista congresswoman and her two young children, who were executed (shot in the head) in broad daylight by opposition-paid hitmen.
These ongoing opposition terror campaigns against the elected government and the general public are systematically ignored in the FTs ‘reports’ and on its editorial pages, which focus more on the shortages of consumer items.
The FT cover-up of right-wing terror extended to inventing a ‘possible’ army or National Guard plan to open fire on opposition demonstrators. In this case, the FT anticipated right-wing violence by laying the blame on the government in advance.
The FT covers-up the opposition business elite’s campaign of hoarding essential goods to create artificial shortages and panic buying. They deny the ongoing price gouging and pin the blame for shortages and long consumer lines exclusively on ‘regime mismanagement’.
The FT conveniently omits to mention that the decline in world oil prices has affected not only the economy of Venezuela but all countries dependent on commodity exports, including the Financial Times favorite neo-liberal regimes in Brazil and Argentina.
The Financial Times cites bogus ‘opinion’ polls, which wildly exaggerate the government’s declining popularity: In the recent elections Maduro’s supporters secured 40% of the popular vote while the FT claims his support to be 7%!
US client regimes (Mexico, Peru, and Colombia) are the largest producers of illegal drugs and US banks are the largest launderers for narco-money. Yet the FT reports on “Venezuela’s role as a conduit for illegal drugs smuggled north to the US and east into Brazil, Africa and thence to Europe”. Drug enforcement experts all agree that Colombia, home to seven US military bases and with a regime closely linked to paramilitary-narco gangs, is the source of drugs smuggled through Venezuela. That Venezuela has become a victim of the violent Colombian narco-trade is never acknowledged by the elegant City of London pen-prostitutes.
The FT blames the re-emergence of ‘malaria and other possible diseases’ on the leftist Maduro government. In fact the recent ‘malaria outbreak’ (also cited by the New York Times propagandists) is based on a single illegal gold miner.
The FT ignores how the US- backed neo-liberal regimes in Argentina and Brazil, which rule by presidential decree, have slashed public health programs setting the stage for much greater public health crises.
The Financial Times: Big Lies for Mass Murder
The Financial Times is waging an all-out propaganda war with one goal: To incite the violent seizure of power in Venezuela by US political clients.
In line with the Obama-Clinton ‘regime-change by any means’ policies, the FT paints a deceptive picture of Venezuela facing ‘multiple crises’, representing a ‘destabilizing’ threat to the hemisphere, and on the brink of a global ‘humanitarian crisis’.
Armed with these deadly clichés, the FT editorial pages demand “a new government soon and certainly before the 2018 elections”.
Recently, the FT proposed a phony legal gimmick — a recall referendum. However, since the opposition cannot initiate the vote in time to oust the elected President Maduro, the FT calls for “events which precipitate changes sooner” – a violent coup!
FT’s scenarios aim to precipitate a violent right-wing “march”, eventually provoking civil bloodshed in early September of this year.
The FT expects that “blood in Caracas will require an active Latin America response”(sic). In other words, the FT hopes that a US-backed military invasion from neighboring Colombia would help eliminate the Chavistas and install a rightist regime.
The Financial Times, which actively promoted the NATO-led destruction of the government in Libya, now calls for a US-led invasion of Venezuela. Never ones to re-assess their promotion of ‘regime change’, the FT now calls for a violent coup in Venezuela, which will exceed that of Libya in terms of the loss of thousands of Venezuelan lives and the brutal reversal of a decade of significant socio-economic progress.
“Without fear and without favor”, the FT speaks for imperial wars everywhere.
The US presidential elections take place just as the Obama-Clinton regime prepares to intervene in Venezuela. Using bogus ‘humanitarian’ reports of widespread hunger, disease, violence and instability, the Obama regime will still need Venezuelan thugs to provoke enough violent street violence to trigger an’ invitation’ for Washington’s Latin American military partners to ‘intervene’ under the auspices of the UN or OAS.
If ‘successful’, a rapid overthrow of the elected government in Caracas could be presented as a victory for Hilary Clinton’s campaign, and an example of her policy of ‘humanitarian-military interventions’ around the world.
However, if Obama’s allied invasion does not produce a quick and easy victory, if the Venezuelan people and armed forces mount a prolonged and courageous defense of their government and if US lives are lost in what could turn into a popular war of resistance, then Washington’s intervention could ultimately discredit the Clinton campaign and her ‘muscular’ foreign policy. The American electorate might finally decide against four more years of losing wars and losing lives. No thanks to the ‘fearless’ Financial Times.
Among the right-wingers that have jumped the Republican ship and thrown their support behind Hillary Clinton in the last few months, you’ll find neoconservatives and warmongers who have vocally supported just about every heinous US foreign policy venture under the sun, from the Iraq War to Libya to torture. But though their cheerleading may have been valuable in the push for these actions, few can claim direct responsibility in the making of these disasters.
Not so for John Negroponte, the former career diplomat who served under four Republican presidents and one Democrat and whose support for Clinton was announced last week.
The endorsements of Clinton by right-wing hall-of-famers like Negroponte have not come about entirely out of nowhere. It’s true that many elements of Clinton’s foreign policy appeal to the interventionist and neocon wing of the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, as Politico reported last week, the Clinton campaign has been actively courting leading lights of the GOP, culminating in last week’s launch of “Together for America,” a site touting the growing list of high-profile Republicans and independents backing Clinton.
This is a curious development, given that in the very first Democratic debate of 2015, Clinton proclaimed that the enemies she was most proud of making throughout her career were “the Republicans,” a line that drew both raucous cheers from the crowd and a broad smile from the candidate herself.
Given her stated animosity toward Republicans, seeking out the support of someone like Negroponte presumably must be very valuable for Clinton. But who exactly is Negroponte, and why has Clinton prized the endorsement of someone like him?
Reagan’s Man in Tegucigalpa
The son of a Greek shipping magnate, Negroponte cut his diplomatic teeth in Vietnam, where he served under future Clinton mentor and war criminal Henry Kissinger (another luminary whom Clinton’s campaign is now reportedly wooing for an endorsement) during the Paris peace talks.
While Kissinger helped Nixon to win in 1968 by secretly scuttling peace negotiations with North Vietnam, once in power, both wanted eventually to get the United States out of the war, mostly out of concern for how a continuing quagmire would hurt Nixon politically. Negroponte challenged him about a concession in the peace agreement that allowed the North Vietnamese to station troops in the South after US withdrawal.
“Do you want us to stay there forever?” Kissinger asked the young Negroponte. The United States’ years of bloodletting in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos apparently wasn’t enough for Negroponte.
Negroponte worked for several years in a number of less prominent diplomatic positions, owing, at least in one observer’s view, to being “exiled” by Kissinger because of his break with the secretary of state over Vietnam.
Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 gave Negroponte his big break.
Under Reagan, Latin American politics took a hard right turn, which his administration enabled by sending aid, arms, and, in the case of Grenada, troops to assist right-wing governments and forces — nearly all of which aided in scores of human rights atrocities.
In 1981, Reagan made Negroponte the US ambassador to Honduras. Negroponte had held earlier posts in Greece and Ecuador; Honduras was the big leagues.
In 1980, neighboring El Salvador had plunged into civil war between leftist guerillas and a quasi-fascist, US-backed military government and its right-wing paramilitary forces that included death squads. A year earlier, its other neighbor, Nicaragua, had seen its US-backed dictator deposed and replaced by the socialist Sandinista government.
The Sandinistas were opposed by a coalition of brutally violent counterrevolutionaries that included former members of the National Guard, ex-soldiers, Conservative Party members, and disgruntled peasants and farmers. They were known as the Contras, later of Iran-Contra fame.
In both countries, the Reagan administration threw in with the right-wing torturers and murderers.
The action was principally in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but Negroponte had not been relegated to some insignificant backwater. Honduras was central to the Reagan administration’s efforts to halt the spread of leftist rule in Central America, serving as the home base for its covert war against the Left in the region. Honduras had one of the largest US embassies in Latin America, hosted thousands of American troops, and eventually housed the biggest CIA station in the entire world.
Although Honduras had a civilian government — its first in more than a century — the military remained powerful, and General Gustavo Alvarez, the chief of the armed forces, held considerable sway. Under Alvarez, Honduras became the training ground and headquarters for the Contras and other right-wing forces, who were then sent to wreak havoc in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
It was also where budding members of Honduran death squads received their schooling, including the notorious Battalion 3-16, responsible for the disappearance of at least 184 people, mostly leftists, and the torture of many more.
All of this was done with the support of the United States and its man on the ground, Negroponte.
US military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $200 million between 1980 and 1985, and the Reagan administration paid top Honduran military brass for their assistance. Repressive forces, including Battalion 3-16, were trained by the CIA and FBI, and the United States provided the money to hire Argentinian counterinsurgency officers — involved in their own US-backed, horrific, decade-long “Dirty War” against leftists — to provide further instruction.
The “coercive techniques” they learned were partly taken from CIA interrogation manuals that advocated using threats of violence and disruption of “patterns of time, space and sensory perception” against prisoners.
With this training in their back pocket, these US-backed Honduran forces proceeded to cut a swath of brutality across the country and its neighbors. Within Honduras, hundreds of people suspected of being subversives were kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, or all three. All of it was known, and quietly approved, by Negroponte.
The torture endured by prisoners covered just about the entire spectrum of depravity, including suffocation, beatings, sleep deprivation, electrocution of the genitals, rape, and the threat of rape toward family members. In one case, military forces used rope to tear off a man’s testicles before killing him.
People were picked up off the street and thrown into unmarked vans. Some victims were completely innocent, such as a union organizer who was befriended and betrayed by a battalion member who knowingly turned him over to security forces under false charges.
Military forces barged into homes, ransacked them, and arrested the occupants if they found Marxist literature. And the Contras, who Ronald Reagan called the “moral equals of our Founding Fathers,” were possibly even worse.
Negroponte played a key role in covering up all of this. As the ambassador, Negroponte’s job was to ensure that the abuses committed by Honduran forces remained unknown to US lawmakers and the general public so they could continue unabated.
Had Congress caught wind of the atrocities, the government would have had to shut off the flow of tens of millions of dollars of military aid to the country, which, under the Foreign Assistance Act, is prohibited to governments engaging in human rights violations. This was the last thing Negroponte and the Reagan administration wanted. They were bent on defeating the leftists, and if that required turning a blind eye to widespread torture, rape, and murder, so be it.
The Reagan administration’s grand strategy was enabled by a steady stream of obfuscation from the Honduran embassy and Negroponte himself.
In one 1983 cable to Thomas Enders, an assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Negroponte chided the State Department for talking openly about the Contra presence in Honduras. “Since when, in open channel messages, do we refer to United States support for Honduran based exiles as Department does in para four reftel?” he wrote.
At the time, the Reagan administration’s support for the Contras was still secret; Negroponte likely did not want references to them to appear in state documents that were subject to open records requests.
In another, this one from 1984, he advised the secretary of state on how Washington agencies could help suppress wider knowledge of the actions of the Contras in Honduras, who had “obviously overdone things” and needed “to lower [their] profile to the absolute minimum.”
Publicly, Negroponte consistently whitewashed this “overdoing.” He wrote to the Economist in 1982 that “it is simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.”
A year later, he wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times acknowledging that while there had been “arbitrary arrests” and “some disappearances,” there was “no indication that the infrequent human rights violations that do occur are part of deliberate government policy.”
As late as 2001, he continued to insist on this point, telling the Senate at his confirmation hearing to be Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations: “I have never seen any convincing substantiation that [Battalion 3-16] were involved in death squad-type activities.”
Consequently, the annual human rights reports produced for Congress by the Honduran embassy under Negroponte’s watch were sanitized to the point of parody, as these excerpts from the 1983 edition illustrate: “There are no political prisoners in Honduras”; habeas corpus “appears to be standard practice”; “access to prisoners is generally not a problem for relatives, attorneys, consular officers or international humanitarian organizations”; “sanctity of the home is guaranteed by the Constitution and generally observed.”
Noting the obvious absurdity and transparent lies of the report, one embassy officer joked at the time, “What is this, the human rights report for Norway?”
Suppressing the Evidence
Of course, Negroponte knew very well that conditions in the country were the very opposite of how he portrayed them. It was virtually impossible for him not to.
The Honduran press put out hundreds of stories about military abuses, victims’ families protested in the streets, and both they and Honduran officials pleaded with US officials for intervention — including with Negroponte himself. As soon as Negroponte took over, Jack Binns, his predecessor, personally briefed him on the atrocities he’d learned of — and unlike Negroponte, had made noise about with higher-ups.
The ambassador stayed up to date on the latest barbarities. In 1982, when the embassy press spokesman informed Negroponte that the Honduras military had kidnapped and was busy torturing a prominent journalist and his wife, Negroponte intervened on their behalf — not out of a concern for human rights, but because of the potential damage the US program would suffer if word of the incident got out. The prisoners were released and allowed to leave to the United States on the condition they never spoke about their experience.
The episode was left out of that year’s originally damning embassy report, which high-ranking officials at the embassy cleansed of all references to Honduran abuses.
As a 1997 report by the CIA inspector general made clear, the embassy under Negroponte regularly suppressed inconvenient information about the Honduran military. In 1984–85, several reports “were identified as ‘politically sensitive’ by the Embassy, which requested either their non-publication or restricted dissemination.”
In 1983, read the report, “unspecified individuals at the Embassy did not want information concerning human rights abuses during [a Honduran military operation] to be disseminated because it was viewed as an internal Honduran matter.”
The report outlined how Negroponte personally “was sensitive to political ramifications that might have resulted” from reports on the Olancho Operation, which resulted in the death — possibly an execution — of an American priest. It also documented his concern that “over-emphasis would create an unwarranted human rights problem for Honduras.” It was all part of Negroponte’s aim “to manage the perception of Honduras,” as one officer quoted in the report put it.
In fact, embassy cables that were declassified many years later as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Washington Post show that Negroponte did much more than just suppress damaging information. Despite the Sandinistas’ repeatedly stated willingness to enter negotiations with the Contras to reach a settlement, the Honduran ambassador consistently argued against them, calling negotiations a “Trojan horse” that would help consolidate the Sandinista revolution.
The Contadora Process, the peace negotiations initiated by several Latin American states in 1983, would lead to “effectively shutting down our special project,” he warned. Rather than take the Sandinistas up on their offer to end the torture and bloodshed that US-backed forces were responsible for, Negroponte pushed hard to keep them going.
Straying far from the typical duties of an ambassador, Negroponte appeared at times to direct US support of the Contras. In one cable he suggested publicizing US contact with anti-Sandinista forces and stepping up action in Nicaragua’s southern front in order to counter the idea that “all of this is emanating from Honduras.”
In another, he furnished the State Department with detailed information about Sandinista military movements on the Honduran and Nicaraguan border. Speaking with Honduran president Roberto Suazo Córdova in April 1982, Negroponte “urged that strongest possible pre-emptive measure be taken” to prevent revolutionary violence from “taking on unmanageable proportions later on” — a tacit encouragement of the abuses already being committed by the Honduran military.
Negroponte’s enabling of rights violations in the country was exposed thanks to the declassification of secret documents many years after the fact, as well as a fourteen-month-long investigation by the Baltimore Sun in 1995. But what should have been a scandal only boosted Negroponte’s status in Washington.
A Diplomat’s Diplomat
Among his later career highlights, Negroponte was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1989 by George H. W. Bush, in which position he helped facilitate the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (Unsurprisingly, he’s also a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.)
He went on to serve in a number of different posts in the second Bush administration, including as the first ever director of national intelligence and as the first post-Saddam ambassador to Iraq. Despite faint stirrings of criticism about his past, he was easily confirmed to each position.
In establishment circles, he’s simply a “diplomat’s diplomat,” a venerated elder statesman whose hand in terrible human rights abuses is as relevant as his shoe size. As his wife put it in 2004 to the critics still taking him to task for the carnage he licensed in Central America: “Haven’t you moved on?”
Perhaps people have moved on, which is why Clinton now feels it safe to seek out and publicize Negroponte’s praise for her “leadership qualities.”
It’s hard not to see in the publicizing of the endorsement a less-than-subtle hint of what a Clinton administration foreign policy would look like, however — one that ruthlessly prioritizes US strategic and political interests at the expense of peace, human rights, and the lives of poor people in foreign countries.
Say what you will about Clinton’s shifting political beliefs over the course of this election and her entire career, but she’s been fairly consistent on foreign policy, pushing the kind of unapologetically interventionist approach that made her the darling of hawks long before Trump came along.
And like Negroponte, she has both her own dubious history in Honduras and has backed both NAFTA and the TPP (at least until she — maybe — changed her mind about the latter). On these issues, they’re kindred political spirits.
Clinton’s embrace of Negroponte’s support could be viewed as simply part of the tried-and-true process of padding one’s resume with endorsements from respected establishment figures. Some would say Negroponte’s support doesn’t really matter — that it’s just pageantry, not remotely a sign of her future foreign policy intentions.
Even if we grant this, however, seeking and embracing the support of a man who actively facilitated years of stomach-churning atrocities is particularly unseemly — as Democrats and Clinton herself have argued in the recent past. The party has smugly — and justifiably — pilloried Trump for his praise of authoritarian rulers like Putin and Saddam Hussein.
“Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds,” read a Clinton campaign statement last month, which also criticized Trump for approvingly citing Saddam’s dismissal of legal formalities like reading people their rights. “Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as Commander-in-Chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.”
Compliment brutal dictators and Clinton will slam you. But actually help them carry out their abuses, as John Negroponte did, and her campaign will seek and proudly tout your support.
An Argentine court sentenced former General Luciano Benjamin Menendez to life in prison Thursday for crimes against humanity committed at secret Dirty War-era detention centers in the late 1970s, making a landmark step in the struggle for justice for human rights abuses during one of the darkest chapters in the South American country’s history.
Menendez stood trial with 42 other defendants who will also be sentenced today after a nearly four year so-called “mega-trial” involving events related to over 700 victims.
The general was in charge of two clandestine jails, known as La Perla and La Ribera, in the province of Cordoba where torture, assassinations, and other human rights abuses were carried out during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. He was charged with over 600 cases of torture, over 300 murders and forced disappearances, unlawful detentions, and other crimes against humanity committed at the two detention centers between 1976 and 1978.
Thousands of people, including the families of victims and social movements such as the iconic Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, filled the streets outside of the federal court in the province of Cordoba to await the announcement under the banner of remembering the 30,000 disappeared during the dictatorship.
Former military intelligence agent Arnoldo Jose Lopez, former military man Ernesto Guillermo Barreiro, and former military captain Hector Pedro Vergez were also found to be among the principle masterminds responsible for the abuses and sentenced to life in jail for charges of hundreds of aggravated homicides, among other crimes.
Ricardo Alberto Lardone and Oreste Valentin Padovan, both considered among the special command at La Perla responsible for carrying out torture and kidnappings, were also sentenced to life in jail.
A total of 28 of the 43 accused were handed life sentences, nine were sentenced to up to 21 years, and six were acquitted.
The case was also historic for marking the first time a court in Cordoba tried charges of illegal apprension of babies during the dictatorship, a military practice of stealing babies from political dissidents, detainees, and victims of forced disappearance and handing them over the families linked to the military regime. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo has struggled for nearly 40 years to identify their missing grandchildren and reunite them with their families.
The La Perla case dealt with forced disappearance of Silvina Monica Parodi de Orozco, who was over six months pregnant when she and her husband Daniel Francisco Orozco were kidnapped. Silvina’s mother Sonia Torres is still searching for her missing grandchild, whose whereabouts has never been known.
The landmark trial brought together 21 separate cases of crimes against humanity at the hands of the Argentine military, police, and paramilitary forces immediately leading up to and in the years after the 1976 military coup against left-wing President Isabel Peron. The case heard some 600 witnesses provide testimony over the course of 350 hearings related to the 716 victims. Less than half, 340, of the victims survived. Most of the others, 311, were disappeared with no documentation of what happened to them, and the rest were killed.
La Perla was the second most important detention center in the country in the early years of the military dictatorship. Between 2,500 and 3,000 victims of state terrorism were detained at the secret military prison between 1976 and 1977, and it is though to have stopped operating by 1978, according to local media.
A 1979 U.S. Department of State memo included in a batch of over 1,000 pages of recently-declassifed documents related to Argentina’s Dirty War reveals that the U.S. Embassy was aware that “physical torture” was practiced at La Perla in 1976 and 1977. A 1978 State Department recommendation memo to then-President Jimmy Carter characterized General Menendez as as a “hardline general,” and another document indicated that Menendez was pushing for “continued strong efforts to battle ‘ideological subversion.'”
Argentina’s U.S.-backed Dirty War disappeared an estimated 30,000 victims in its brutal state terrorism campaign against suspected political dissidents, which involved systematic forced disappearances, torture, rape, and assassinations. Argentine human rights groups have dubbed the bloody era a “genocide” against political dissidents.
As the Colombian government and left-wing FARC rebels near the signing of a comprehensive peace accord, and though they have already signed a bi-lateral ceasefire which is largely holding, Colombia is still suffering from the worst human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere. These abuses are being carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups (aka, death squads), which the U.S. and Colombian governments conveniently deny even exist.
These paramilitary groups, in accord with their long-time friend and ally, former President Alvaro Uribe, are openly and aggressively opposed to the peace accords, and will most certainly escalate their violence as a national referendum which will be held to ratify, or reject, these accords draws near. Thus, as Insight Crime recently reported, the Colombian Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) estimates that nearly 250 municipalities (or more than 25% of the 1,105 municipalities in all of Colombia) “are at risk of violence or fraud affecting the referendum on an anticipated peace deal” with the FARC. The departments of Choco, Arauca, Cauca and Putumayo – that is, departments with heavy concentrations of Afro-Colombians and indigenous – are among the departments with the greatest risk. Antioquia, the department of Alvaro Uribe who was governor there, has the greatest number of municipalities at risk.
Meanwhile, the paramilitaries are already exploiting the opportunity presented by the FARC’s ceasefire to gain territory and exact more advantage for the economic elites – both domestic and foreign – which they serve.
For starters, Colombia again, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), suffered more assassinations of trade unionists than any country on earth in 2015, and therefore earned its spot as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers’ rights. As the ITUC explains in its annual report: “Trade unionists have been murdered with impunity for decades in Colombia. In 2015, 20 murders of trade unionists were recorded in Colombia – the highest number in any country.” And, not surprisingly, it is the paramilitaries who are carrying out such assassinations in the interest of capital.
In addition, 35 human rights defenders have already been killed in the first half of 2016. This is an incredible figure. Indeed, according to Colombia’s El Espectador, this year has been “one of the most violent in regards to the murder of human rights defenders and land claimants,” with the paramilitaries being the perpetrators of these crimes. Indeed, one of the chief perpetrators of the violence, particularly against those advocating for the return of land stolen during the armed conflict, is the paramilitary group known as the “Anti-Restitution of Land Army.” This group has been reinvigorated by the release from jail of infamous paramilitary leader Jose Gregorio Mongonez Lugo, also known as “Carlos Scissors.” He was responsible in the first place for the violent theft of land in the banana region of Magdelena, Colombia, and has now returned to make sure that it is not given back to its rightful owners.
All of this bodes very badly for the prospects of peace in Colombia. And indeed, one of Colombia’s great human rights defenders, Father Javier Giraldo, S.J., recently penned a sobering piece on this very subject, entitled, “Peace in Colombia?” This article was translated by the Colombia Support Network, and is well-worth a read, especially as you will never hear a voice such as his in the mainstream press.
As Father Giraldo opines, despite the progress of the peace talks in Havana which are quickly nearing a conclusion, “the country is profoundly polarized by the growth and the growing power of extreme right-wing forces. It appears as if the forces of the Cold War are coming back to life, powered by the monstrous economic strength of multinational businesses that are rapidly defending their exclusionary interests, using their extremely powerful resources.”
Father Giraldo rightly notes that the Colombian government, while paying lip-service to peace, in fact seeks the surrender and ultimate destruction of both the guerillas as well as Colombia’s peaceful forces for social change. As he explains:
… the methods of persuasion that have been used to promote the peace agreements rely mostly on the practical impossibility of achieving social change by means of armed conflict, given the gigantic and overwhelming military power of the government, supported by the imperial power with the greatest destructive reach in the recent history of humanity: the United States. . . . President Santos has instead, above all, on a peace that will benefit business leaders and transnational investors, who will be able to intensify their extraction of natural resources. But meanwhile his government represses with cruel violence the social protests of communities affected by the ecological and social destruction that has been caused and continues to be caused by these multinational companies.
Father Giraldo then expresses a seldom-uttered truth which I have certainly learned upon my numerous trips to Colombia in the past 17 years – that while the paramilitaries oppose the peace process because it will grant some immunity for rebels, the “popular movements feel more fear of the impunity of the powerful and of the paramilitaries and the agents of the government, whose war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide greatly exceed, both in quality and in cruelty, the crimes of the insurgency.”
And, it is the impunity for the right-wing paramilitaries, who now control large swaths of the Colombian government, which is nearly total. And again, this impunity is made possible by the Colombian and U.S. governments’ denial of the very existence of the paramilitaries, as well as the mainstream media’s near total silence about Colombia and its horrible human rights situation – certainly the worst in the Western Hemisphere. If peace in Colombia has any chance of succeeding, it will need to be supported and cultivated by people of good will throughout the world who are willing to tell the truth about Colombia and who are willing to provide accompaniment to the peace process.
Until as recently as last year, Peru’s national police force harbored a “death squad” that is responsible for the extrajudicial killings of at least 20 people over a four-year period – even at times offering sworn officers bounties to kill criminal suspects, according to an official government investigation of systemic police misconduct.
In an executive summary that reads like the script of a Dirty Harry movie, the Interior Ministry’s report found “serious indications” that both high-ranking and low-level officers of the national police force “falsified intelligence information” to misrepresent at least six cases involving some 20 slayings as the justified result of confrontations with armed suspects, when in fact they were summary executions carried out by police, according to a summary of the report Monday by Vice Minister of Internal Order Ruben Vargas.
The report did not disclose the identities of the officers suspected of participating in the death squad, but Vargas did reveal that the operation was headed by a police colonel who was subsequently promoted to general.
Local media revealed the scandal over three weeks ago after department whistleblowers brought the allegations to light, prompting an investigation. The new report will now be handed over to prosecutors specialized in organized crime to open a case.
Minister of Interior Carlos Basombrio, newly-appointed under President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and inaugurated at the end of July, claimed that the evidence suggests that a group of high-ranking police officials who moved between divisions are responsible for running the death squad, and that no single police force unit itself is compromised.
Authorities also revealed that several of the officers involved in the scandal were decorated for their so-called “distinguished” achievements within the force last year. A months-long internal police investigation already found that at least two officers were promoted during the period in which they are suspected of participating in the death squad. The Investigator General intervened in the internal probe and took over the investigation over three weeks ago.
Local media report that the death squad, allegedly made up of nearly 100 officers across four units of the national police force, is suspected of carrying out the murders of 27 Peruvian civilians between 2011 and 2015 in the cities of LIma, Ica, and Chiclayo.
Media previously suggested that the 27 victims were common criminals, but the new report found that 11 victims “didn’t even have a criminal record or a warrant to justify them being identified as targets of police interventions,” according to the Interior Ministry.
The confirmation of the extrajudicial killings by the police recalls a dark history of death squads run by state security forces in the South American country that were aimed at wiping out armed left-wing guerrilla movements particularly under the reign of jailed former dictator Alberto Fujimori.
After three Americans from the US embassy were accused of espionage and tossed out of Nicaragua, a protest was lodged in Managua against this «unwarranted» decision, and the Nicaraguan government was warned that the relationship between the two countries would suffer inevitable damage in tourism, trade, and investment from the US. The State Department issued notice that Americans might face threats in Nicaragua. The war of propaganda waged against Daniel Ortega’s regime has become so ferocious that political commentators are drawing conclusions about Washington’s plans to «end the dictatorship» in Nicaragua once and for all.
The Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA), an international forum, was created in April of 2015 in order to launch attacks on Ortega and other Latin American «populist» leaders, and Washington was responsible for choosing its members: the chosen favorites include – Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, Alejandro Toledo of Peru, Lucio Gutiérrez of Ecuador, Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, José María Aznar of Spain, and others. These politicians work closely with the United States and continue to defer to Washington, even after leaving office.
IDEA released a statement in August that was highly critical of Nicaragua and which reads like something out of the Cold War: «The international community finds the violation of the democratic system in Nicaragua so worrisome that the former Ibero-American heads of state and of government have decided to ask the OAS and the EU to maintain critical oversight of these serious violations of democratic and constitutional order». And it goes on to say that statements by the members of IDEA «may be preceded by certain political and diplomatic actions, as provided by international law … in order to defend democracy and reestablish it where it has been compromised, as in the current example of Nicaragua».
In its attacks on the Nicaraguan government, the US National Security Agency uses materials obtained over the course of years of electronic surveillance of President Ortega, as well as his family and inner circle. Its deft use of such materials makes it possible to circulate all sorts of drivel that is designed to defame politicians who have been marked for public retaliation. Almost every «populist bloc» leader in Latin America is currently up against such cheap shots – Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa, Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales, and others.
Daniel Ortega has led his country for 13 years. He has been elected three times: in 1985, 2006, and 2012, and no one is predicting that he will have any opponents in the upcoming Nov. 6 election. Ortega’s political rivals are feuding amongst themselves. Despite the behind-the-scenes efforts of the US embassy, is has not been possible to consolidate the opposition in the run-up to the election. For this reason, the US has launched a blitzkrieg of propaganda against Daniel Ortega, his wife Rosario Murillo, and their grown children. The leitmotif of these «revelations» is a familiar one – some hogwash about the abuse of power, corruption, multi-million-dollar accounts in overseas banks, and the ownership of foreign real estate. The US continues to harp on the supposed parallels with the family of the dictator Anastasio Somoza; «Somoza García amassed a huge fortune, making him and his family some of the richest people in all of Latin America. By the time of his death in 1956 he left his children $200 million, which they managed to triple within a few years. His son, Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, owned 130 real estate holdings, as well as estates, residences, and tracts of land. He was owner of an airline (Líneas Aéreas de Nicaragua), a television station (Televisora de Nicaragua), the San Uribe and San Albino gold mines, and more».
One might well ask, what does Somoza’s wealth have to do with Ortega and his family? Nevertheless, the author of the article writes: «As is usual for totalitarian regimes of the past, there is no reliable information about the finances of the Nicaraguan president and his wife. That knotty question is top secret». Although there is no «reliable information», he goes on to claim that the family owns the Distribuidora Nicaragüense de Petróleos chain of gas stations, plus media outlets including four TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, websites, etc. In addition, Ortega has control over the project to build a transoceanic canal that would link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the cost of which is estimated at $50 billion. That mega-project has the backing of the Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing.
Naturally of course the Chinese-Nicaraguan canal mega-project was met with hostility by Washington. They don’t want anything competing with the updated Panama Canal. And as for the company Distribuidora Nicaragüense de Petróleos, that is a model for energy-sector cooperation between Venezuela and Nicaragua – not some private racket that is allegedly being used by Ortega’s friends for their personal enrichment.
During the years when the Sandinistas were in the opposition, Ortega was constantly faced with the problem of getting access to the media. His attempts to communicate his views to the public invariably ran up against an information boycott. But now the situation has changed drastically. Ortega has turned the tide to his own advantage. The government controls hundreds of Internet websites, as well as the news services Nicaragua Triunfa and Nicaragua Comovamos. Dozens of provincial radio stations work on the side of the government, as do influential national stations like Radio Sandino, La Nueva Radio Ya, Radio Nicaragua, and Radio Primerísima. The work of the government and the president gets favorable coverage by TV channels that are managed by members of the Ortega family – Canal 13, Multinoticias Canal 4, Canal 8, and Telenica Canal 10. The pro-government channels also include Canal 23, Canal Extra Plus, 100 % Noticias, and others. None of the «leftist» Latin American presidents enjoy such an effective mouthpiece for information and propaganda as Ortega.
Yet despite the accusations that it is a dictatorship, the country has no censorship restrictions. The opposition and, consequently, the US embassy have every opportunity to proselytize there. Popular newspapers like La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario and the weekly Confidencial are employed with particular vigor toward this goal. Ortega responds immediately, using fiercely anti-imperialist and anti-American terminology. Nor does he keep silent when Washington directs attacks against Nicaragua’s allies. Ortega’s speeches in support of Russia, Cuba, and friendly governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and other countries resonate far and wide.
The ideological underpinnings of Ortega’s international policy have remained unchanged throughout recent years: they consist of a fundamental rejection of American hegemony, coupled with patriotism, nationalism, and «socialism with a Nicaraguan face», plus support for the Latin American path to a true people’s democracy. This 70-year-old politician has never altered his revolutionary convictions. That said however, he is a flexible strategist who understands that a superpower can strike at any time and that the US is still unpredictable and dangerous. As the leader of a small country he has no choice but to maneuver, and he manages to do so without compromising his principles.
In December 2015 the CIA launched into yet another act of provocation against Nicaragua. Under the influence of inflammatory media reports about the Obama administration’s possible suspension of the preferential treatment Cuban migrants receive upon entering the US, hundreds rushed to emigrate from that island nation. The route suggested by the «well-wishers» from Miami: first by air from Havana to Ecuador (no visa needed), then by bus across several borders into Mexico, and from there into the US. Nothing to worry about, or so it would seem. However, Nicaraguan counter-intelligence got its hands on some information about CIA plans to use those migrants to stir things up. After arriving in Nicaragua from Costa Rica, their onward path – through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico – was to be closed, and the Cuban migrants would find themselves stranded in Nicaragua for a long time. As envisioned by the CIA, they were supposed to be the fuse to the ticking bomb of the country’s destabilization. Therefore, Daniel Ortega’s decision was emphatic: there should be no back doors, and the ones who came up with the whole migrant scheme should be the ones to deal with the mess! Demands that the migrants be admitted were hurled at that «inhumane regime» from all manner of human rights organizations patronized by American foundations. The members of the Central American Integration System (SICA) went public with their criticism of Ortega’s decision. The migrants themselves, as if on cue, tried to crash through the Nicaraguan border, with children and pregnant women planted in their forward ranks. The Nicaraguan government needed time to force the fugitives into Costa Rica. Tensions eased by February-March 2016. Ortega’s government refused to be blackmailed, and Washington had to quietly furnish its ally Costa Rica with financial assistance in order to provide for the migrants and evacuate them by air…
As the date of the Nicaraguan presidential election nears, new acts of provocation should be expected from US intelligence agencies and the American embassy. Ambassador Laura Dogu works assiduously with the Nicaraguan business community, persuading them that the ongoing Sandinista administration and its policy of «socialism with a Nicaraguan face» can only hurt their business interests.
The US embassy has conspicuously stepped up its work with the media and activists from NGOs and indigenous organizations, as well as the country’s youth. US intelligence agencies, diplomats, staffers with USAID (which is in reality a branch of the CIA), and Peace Corps volunteers are pinning their main hopes on Nicaragua’s youth, viewing that demographic as the most promising in the struggle against the Nicaraguan regime.
The Constitution offers no barriers to President Ortega’s reelection. He has been accused of taking control of executive, legislative, and judicial power, but the main factor ensuring his re-election is his broad popular support, which Ortega enjoys thanks to the social programs established during his years in office. Despite his socialist, anti-imperialist views, the president has many supporters in the country’s business community.
The November election forecasts don’t look too auspicious for the conspirators in the US embassy: Daniel Ortega is once again going to be elected president.
A human rights body has found that Mexican police killed nearly two dozen civilians in “arbitrary executions” during a raid against a drug cartel in the country’s troubled west last year.
The independent National Human Rights Commission said in a report on Thursday that the massacre happened in the federal police raid against the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel in the western state of Michoacan on May 22, 2015.
Police officers committed “violations of the right to life by excessive use of force that entailed the arbitrary execution of 22 civilians,” the commission said.
Meanwhile, commission chief Ismael Eslava said the government forces also perpetrated “aggravated acts of torture on two people who were detained.”
According to the commission report, forensic investigations indicated police had moved the bodies of those killed in the raid and placed guns next to them in an attempt to cover up the crime.
It also noted that a police helicopter fired 4,000 rounds into the farm where the suspects were hiding.
Responding to the document, Renato Sales, the chairman of Mexico’s National Security Committee, rejected the characterization of arbitrary executions and defended the actions of police.
He said the shooting erupted when the suspects refused to drop their weapons. “We do not think the theory of arbitrary executions stands up.”
The government said previously that the helicopter had fired to contain the suspects. It also said that the 42 people killed by police had attacked officers.
The commission report concluded that a total of 43 people were killed in the security operation, including one policeman and numerous suspected criminals, but only 22 of them were deemed arbitrary executions by police.
The commission also found fault with the actions of investigators from the Michoacan Attorney General’s Office, who mishandled ballistics evidence. Medical examiners likewise came under criticism for irregularities in the autopsies and delays in the return of bodies to their families.
The incident is considered as one of the bloodiest battles in the Mexican government’s decade-long campaign against powerful drug gangs across the Latin American state.
Official figures show that more than 35,000 people are currently missing in the country due to drug-related violence, which has also claimed thousands of lives over the past few years.
Police corruption, drug cartels and organized crime are the greatest challenges facing Mexico.
“How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the headline over the lead article in the New York Times‘ “Week in Review” (8/11/16), with the teaser reading, “Programs funded by the United States are helping transform Honduras. Who says American power is dead?”
The piece never really got around to explaining, though, how Honduras became the most dangerous place on Earth. That’s American power, too.
Reporter Sonia Nazario returned to Honduras after a three-year absence to find
a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime…. The United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.
Nazario described US-funded anti-violence programs in a high-crime neighborhood in the Honduran city San Pedro Sula:
The United States has provided local leaders with audio speakers for events, tools to clear 10 abandoned soccer fields that had become dumping grounds for bodies, notebooks and school uniforms, and funding to install streetlights and trash cans.
She offered the results of this and similar programs as evidence that “smart investments in Honduras are succeeding” and “a striking rebuke to the rising isolationists in American politics,” who “seem to have lost their faith in American power.”
But Nazario failed to explain how American power paved the way for the shocking rise in violence in Honduras. In the early 2000s, the murder rate in Honduras fluctuated between 44.3 and 61.4 per 100,000—very high by global standards, but similar to rates in neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala. (It’s not coincidental that all three countries were dominated by violent, US-backed right-wing governments in the 1980s—historical context that the op-ed entirely omitted.) Then, in June 2009, Honduras’ left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup, kidnapped and flown out of the country via the joint US/Honduran military base at Palmerola.
The US is supposed to cut off aid to a country that has a military coup—and “there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s ouster “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” according to a secret report sent by the US ambassador to Honduras on July 24, 2009, and later exposed by WikiLeaks. But the US continued most aid to Honduras, carefully avoiding the magic words “military coup” that would have necessitated withdrawing support from the coup regime.
Internal emails reveal that the State Department pressured the OAS not to support the country’s constitutional government. In her memoir Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton recalled how as secretary of State she worked behind the scenes to legitimate the new regime:
In the subsequent days [following the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary 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.
With a corrupt, drug-linked regime in place, thanks in large part to US intervention, murder in Honduras soared, rising to 70.7 per 100,000 in 2009, 81.8 in 2010 and 91.4 in 2011—fully 50 percent above the pre-coup level. While many of the murders involved criminal gangs, much of the post-coup violence was political, with resuscitated death squads targeting journalists, opposition figures, labor activists and environmentalists—of whom indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was only the most famous.
At one point, it seemed like Nazario was going to acknowledge the US role in creating the problems she gives “American power” credit for ameliorating. “We are also repairing harms the United States inflicted,” she wrote—but the explanation she gives for that was strangely circumscribed:
first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras.
No mention of the US supporting Honduras’ coup, or the political murders of the US-backed regime.
At one point, three-quarters of the way through the lengthy piece, Nazario did acknowledge in passing the sinister role the US plays in Latin America:
It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.
Surely it’s relevant that some of the despots the US helped keep in power were in the country she’s reporting from, and that this led directly to the problem she’s writing about? But she dropped the idea there, moving on immediately to talk about the US’s interest in reducing the flow of child refugees.
The most troubling part of the op-ed is that it didn’t feel the need to acknowledge or even dispute the relationship between US support for the coup and Honduras’ shocking murder rate. The New York Times covered much of this ground, after all, in an op-ed by Dana Frank four years ago (1/26/12). Now, however, that information is down the memory hole—leaving the Times free to tout donations of trashcans and school uniforms as an advertisement for American power.
Brazil’s suspended President Dilma Rousseff has pledged to hold early elections if she survives a vote on her removal from office in an impeachment trial that is expected to conclude this month.
Rousseff, accused of illegally manipulating finances to hide a growing public deficit ahead of her reelection in 2014, is due to stand trial in the Senate on August 25, four days after the Rio Olympics end.
The Globo news organization reported that the actual judgment vote could take place between August 30 and 31.
In a letter to the federal Senate and Brazilian people that she read out on Tuesday, Rousseff said Brazil’s political and economic problems could only be resolved “through popular vote in direct elections.”
“The full restoration of democracy requires that the population be the one to decide what is the best way to expand governability and perfect the Brazilian political and electoral system,” Rousseff said.
“It’s the only way out of the crisis,” she wrote.
Rousseff admitted she had made mistakes, but said she had done nothing worthy of impeachment.
“I have listened to the tough criticisms of my government, for the errors committed,” she said. “I accept these criticisms with humility and determination so that we can build a new way forward.”
Rousseff further said that forcing her out through impeachment amounts to “an unequivocal coup.”
Rousseff impeachment: A timeline
October 9, 2015: Brazil’s federal audit court rules that Rousseff broke the law while managing the 2014 budget, paving the way for opposition groups to argue that the leader should be impeached.
December 2, 2015: Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, agrees to start anti-Rousseff impeachment proceedings.
December 11, 2015: Rousseff presents a petition before the Supreme Court to stop the process.
March 17, 2016: The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian National Congress, elects a special impeachment commission, which has a majority derived from the ruling coalition, including the Workers’ Party and the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
March 29, 2016: The PMDB leaves the ruling coalition, in a split that hurts Rousseff’s chances of derailing impeachment proceedings.
April 6, 2016: The special impeachment commission publishes a report recommending Rousseff’s impeachment.
April 11, 2016: The impeachment commission decides, in a 38 to 27 vote, to let the Chamber of Deputies vote on the president’s impeachment.
April 15, 2016: The Brazilian Supreme Court rejects Rousseff’s motion to stop the process.
April 17, 2016: A total of 367 out of 513 legislators in the parliament’s lower house vote in favor of Rousseff’s impeachment.
May 12, 2016: Senators vote 55 to 22 to suspend the president for 180 days and hold an impeachment trial in the Senate, the upper house of National Congress, with Rousseff slamming the vote and saying she was “being judged unfairly.”
Michel Temer becomes interim president and announces his new cabinet.
May 24, 2016: The interim government is rattled by a leaked audio tape suggesting a plot against Rousseff, a scandal that forces a number of key ministers in the new cabinet to resign.
June 28, 2016: An investigation by a team of independent auditors, comprised of career Senate budget technicians, concludes there is no evidence that Rousseff participated in budget manipulation.
July 18, 2016: Cunha resigns less than three months after he orchestrated the impeachment.
August 16, 2016: The Senate votes to hold an impeachment trial for Rousseff, pushing her one step closer to dismissal from office. Her trial is due to take place in the week after the Olympics closing ceremony.
A week ago, the Brazilian Senate voted to hold an impeachment trial for the country’s first female president.
A two-thirds majority of the Senate, or 54 votes, would be needed to see her permanently removed from office.
If the trial acquits Rousseff, she will be allowed to serve out her term until 2018. But if it removes her permanently, then acting President Temer will become the full-fledged president until the next election in 2018.
Rousseff is also under fire over a graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras, where she was the manager before taking office as president in 2010.
The embattled leader has denied the allegations and repeatedly asserted that she has fallen victim to a plot by the extreme right.
In recent months, Brazilians have held numerous counter rallies in support of and against the impeachment process.
Before 1959, three-fourths of Cuba’s arable land was owned by U.S. corporations and citizens. The two nations were so tightly bound that Cuba’s economic policies were practically guided by U.S. interests alone. However, after Dictator Fulgencio Batista was deposed in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cuba’s economic relationship with the United States was shattered. As part of a process of nationalization, the new Cuban government seized land and factories owned by foreign companies and Cubans who fled to the United States, and in retaliation, the United States issued a strict embargo that continues to constrain Cuba’s economic potential today. Although diplomatic relations have gradually been re-established over the past several years through environmental agreements and the reopening of both embassies, a number of contentious economic grievances remind both countries of their Cold War past.
The first round of talks were held in Havana, Cuba, on December 8, 2015, and while the initial meeting can be considered a positive diplomatic move, it was less of a negotiation than a preliminary discussion to establish the facts and specific demands. The second round, held on July 28-29 of this year, allowed for more substantive debate. The process of negotiations remains ongoing, and both countries seek to “resolve the claims as quickly as possible,” according to a U.S. State Department Official.
Although concessions are not the most pressing issue on the table, the settlement of claims is necessary before full normalization of relations, due to the Helms-Burton Act. This 1996 law stipulates that “the satisfactory resolution of property claims…remains an essential condition for the full resumption of economic and diplomatic relations” between Cuba and the United States. According to a Brookings report on the concessions, Helms-Burton “formally wrote into law the linkage between compensation and normalization of relations,” meaning that the United States sought to create a permanent strong-armed policy toward Cuba and legislatively cement the claims. The law is thus indicative of a larger issue at hand; the United States has consistently undermined its own relationship with Cuba through counter-productive policies, which have had vast and long-lasting consequences.
The historical and political disputes that surround the issue of claims are so numerous that it is unlikely that substantial progress will be achieved anytime soon. Through an exploration of the nature of the demands and their historical roots in anti-communist ideology, it becomes evident that the United States is primarily responsible for the hostility that remains today.
Over 50 years have passed since the Cuban government under Fidel Castro nationalized all foreign-owned assets; nonetheless, hundreds of U.S. companies and individuals have not forgotten about their appropriated possessions and demand that they be compensated for their losses. These assets include personal bank accounts, oil refineries, cattle ranches, and sugar factories.
In total, the assets being claimed by the United States amount to approximately $1.9 billion USD at their original value. With a U.S. government-determined six percent simple interest added onto the concessions, this amount has accrued to over $8 billion USD. In addition, outstanding judicial claims against the Cuban government levied by the United States add an additional $2.2 billion USD. Cuba’s 2013 GDP was only $77.15 billion USD, which means that the country’s payment would amount to over thirteen percent of its GDP.
Cuba’s counterclaim toward the United States is much broader and focuses on long-term problems rather than a specific event. The Cuban government is asking for $121 billion USD for economic damages, and $181 billion USD for human damages. The total amount, over $300 billion USD, drastically eclipses the United States’ claims of $10.2 billion USD. Though massive, the claims are a telling reflection of the historical damages caused by devastating U.S. policies. Economically, they address the long-term stagnation, isolation, and developmental damages that the country suffered at the hands of the embargo. Additionally, Cuba seeks to hold the United States accountable for “acts of terrorism” committed in Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs incident and various covert CIA missions that killed thousands of Cuban nationals over the past fifty years. In essence, Cuba is making a bold statement to the United States through their claim: if you seek to hold us accountable, we will do the same to you.
There are several critical issues impeding progress in U.S.-Cuba negotiations. First, the total claims presented by both sides are too high for a mutual settlement. The relative size of the U.S. demands, at 13 percent of Cuba’s annual GDP, means that Cuba is unlikely to be able to pay the full price. Similarly, from a pragmatic standpoint, it is hard to imagine that the United States has any incentive to pay Cuba even a single cent of a $300 billion USD request. Moreover, if either country refuses to negotiate on its demand, then the other will do the same; and an unsettled dispute will remain for both.
In theory, the purpose of the negotiations is to revise each side’s demands so that both countries reach a settlement. However, one key hindrance is that the judicial branches of the United States and Cuba have declared their own respective decisions to be legally valid. With both countries’ demands legitimized by the domestic legality of their claims, the demands are unlikely to be modified in the immediate future. On both sides, to lessen the amount demanded would mean depriving someone of compensation that they are legally owed.
An additional critical question arises when considering these claims: at what point does the past become the past? Is there a statute of limitations on these events that would render them as part of history, with less specific relevance to the present day? Given the continued level of contention regarding the specific effects of events from fifty years ago, it is likely that the issue of claims will not be forgotten until they are settled. Even as more and more of the claimants pass away, and the companies who lost property cease to exist, the bargaining chip of expropriated land remains vital for justifying the U.S. treatment of Cuba. Yet, just as actors within the United States are unlikely to forget their claims, the Cuban government will undoubtedly continue to press for justice.
Finally, straightforward negotiations are made improbable by the implications of reparation. If the United States ultimately compensates Cuba for human and economic damages, then it must also answer to legitimate claims from others across the globe who have been harmed at the hand of U.S. policies. For example, if the United States were to compensate Cuba for human damages, why not also provide reparation toward those who lost their homes during the Iraq War, who have suffered directly from U.S. actions as well? Therefore, the country is extremely unlikely to pay Cuba directly, as to avoid dealing with consequences of other historical wrongs. Through this notion of accountability, a double standard is exposed–while the United States is eager to continue pressing claims when its citizens are the ones who are damaged, Washington is quick to dismiss or deny reparations for anything it may have done wrong.
A Problem Entrenched by Ideology
While each roadblock in the negotiation is salient on its own, they can all be traced back to a broader source: the historical and ideological conflict which has defined the present relationship between the United States and Cuba.
The overall position of the United States can be largely characterized by ideological stubbornness, and is explained through concurrent historical narratives. During the process of nationalization in Cuba, the United States was not the only country whose citizens and corporations lost property. In fact, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Spain faced similar losses. Yet, these countries established claims agreements with Cuba between 1967 and 1973, and were able to put the issue behind them. Reconciliation was incentivized by the prospects of increased trade in the future, and through their quick settlements, these governments were able to restore relatively positive diplomatic relations and beneficial trade relationships with Cuba. Cuba’s trade with Spain and France drastically increased throughout the 1960s and 70s, and these countries have continually supported Cuba over the United States in regards to the embargo.
Although the losses in assets for these nations were less sizeable than for the United States, the lesson of these narratives is clear. Cuba was more than willing to negotiate with other countries for lost property, and the final product reflects an overall beneficial outcome for all parties involved. In fact, the government’s intention for land reform was to create a more equitable Cuba and retain international relationships. In Cuba’s 1959 Agrarian Reform, enacted before the government began nationalizing land, Castro promised that Cuba would compensate the expropriated assets through Cuban bonds, a clear sign that his government sought revolutionary changes but still wished to remain part of the international community. Though the government’s priorities shifted over the next few years, it remains true that Cuba did in fact make an effort to pay back the United States. However, the Eisenhower administration was too uncomfortable to accept the bonds as a secure method of payment.
On October 19, 1960, as land reform in Cuba quickly proceeded, the United States government imposed the embargo and in essence declared that it would not support the Castro regime in any manner. The United States was so quick to reject Cuba’s proposal and fully embargo the country that it essentially extinguished the chance for an immediate resolution of the claims. With economic and diplomatic relations pushed aside because of ideological differences, the United States removed any capacity for a timely settlement to occur, even when Cuba would clearly have been a ready partner in negotiation.
Through its embargo, the United States entrenched the claims in a Cold War stalemate, ensuring that if the issue would ever be resolvable, it would be completely intertwined with grievances of Cuban economic and human suffering. If the United States had not placed the embargo and subsequently engaged in numerous retaliatory actions, Cuba would have far less to counterclaim–it is solely U.S. retribution that brought about such difficult negotiations today.
If it was Cuba who took the first step, it was the United States who began sprinting. If it was Cuba who first broke ground, it was the United States who dug the hole too deep to get out. The escalation of the claims conflict by the United States in 1960 has defined the tense relations more than Cuba’s initial land reform ever could have, and thus the various roadblocks obstructing a speedy negotiation can be attributed to past and present U.S. government policy.
However, the current talks nonetheless present an opportunity to redefine this relationship. It is a sign that both sides are finally willing to reflect on their interwoven histories. And at the very least, they’re talking, which is more than can be said for the past fifty years.
Original research on Latin America by COHA.
 Office of Global Analysis, FAS, USDA. “Cuba’s Food and Agriculture Situation Report, March 2008.” United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 1, 2016. https://www.ilfb.org/media/546435/fas_report_on_cuba.pdf
 US and Cuba to sign agreement on marine conservation and research.” The Guardian. Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/18/us-cuba-thaw-environmental-accord-marine-conservation
 “Senior State Department Official on Cuba Claims Discussion.” U.S. Department of State. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/07/260666.htm
 U.S. Treasury Resource Center. “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.” Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/libertad.pdf
 Richard E. Feinberg. “Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity.” Brookings. Accessed August 8, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Reconciling-US-Property-Claims-in-Cuba-Feinberg.pdf
 Leon Neyfakh. “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.” The Boston Globe. Accessed July 29, 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/04/18/cuba-you-owe-billion/jHAufRfQJ9Bx24TuzQyBNO/story.html
 Senior State Department Official. “Senior State Department Official on Cuba Claims Discussion.” United States Department of State. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/07/260666.htm
 “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.”
 Arshad Mohammed. “U.S., Cuba hold ‘substantive’ second round talks on claims.” Reuters. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cuba-idUSKCN1091ZV
 World Bank. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=CU
 The US Embargo Against Cuba: Its Impact on Economic and Social Rights.” Amnesty International. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/amr250072009eng.pdf.
 Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Ismael Francisco, “Aberlardo Moreno sobre compensaciones Cuba-EEUU: Solo estamos conversando,” Cuba Debate, Accessed August 6, 2016. http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2016/08/01/abelardo-moreno-solo-estamos-conversando-sobre-las-compensaciones-mutuas-cuba-eeuu/#.V64sDJMrJp
 Michael W. Gordon. “The Settlement of Claims for Expropriated Foreign Private Property between Cuba and Foreign Nations Other than the United States.” Lawyer of the Americas 5, no. 3 (1973): 457-70. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40175493?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
 Ibid, pg 460.
Ibid., Chritine L. Quickenden, “Helms-Burton and Canadian-American Relations at the Crossroads: The Need for an Effective, Bilateral Cuban Policy,” American University International Law Review, Vol. 12 no. 4, 1997, http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1398&context=auilr.
 “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.”
To download a PDF version of this article, click here.