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Missing the Real Noriega Story

Vice President George H.W. Bush meeting with Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega in the mid-1980s when Noriega was considered a key ally in helping the Nicaraguan Contras wage a brutal guerrilla war to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government.

By Jonathan Marshall | Consortium News | June 1, 2017

The death of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega on May 29 elicited few if any tears. But it should have sparked more reflection in the United States on his ugly history of service to the CIA, the hypocrisy of Washington’s sudden discovery of his abuses once Noriega became an unreliable ally against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and the George H.W. Bush administration’s bloody and illegal invasion of Panama in December 1989.

In fairness, many progressives and mainstream journalists have called attention to this troublesome history over the years. But few have dared to question the nearly universal condemnation of Noriega as a protector of international drug traffickers. That incendiary claim — first broadcast loudly by the unlikely trio of right-wing Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina; liberal Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts; and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh — galvanized the American public to support his ouster.

After the U.S. invasion, which killed hundreds of Panamanians and 23 U.S. soldiers, Noriega was arrested on Jan. 3, 1990 by armed U.S. drug agents.

President George H. W. Bush declared that Noriega’s “apprehension and return to the United States should send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.” U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton called the invasion “the biggest drug bust in history.”

Convicted in 1992 on eight felony counts following what officials called the “trial of the century,” Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Although released early from U.S. incarceration, he spent the rest of his life in French and Panamanian prisons.

The resulting publicity created lasting myths about Noriega and drugs. Journalists who should know better have described Noriega as “one of the world’s biggest drug kingpins,” to quote Time magazine. In fact, Louis Kellner, the U.S. attorney who oversaw his Miami indictment and trial admitted, “Noriega was never a major player in the drug war.”

Indeed, at worst, he was a small fry compared to the military rulers of Honduras, whose epic protection of the cocaine trade was tolerated by Washington in return for using that country as a staging base for Contra operations against the Sandinista-led government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Deeply Flawed Trial

A few close observers of the long, expensive, and controversial trial believe it failed to prove Noriega’s guilt at all.

David Adams, who covered it extensively for the London Independent, said the government’s case was “marred by incompetent witnesses, false testimony, and poor presentation.”

Newsday’s Peter Eisner quoted Judge William Hoeveler, who presided over the trial, as saying “the outcome could have been different” if Noriega had been better represented.

Although the government put more than two dozen people on the stand, their testimony was not always relevant or credible.

Paul Rothstein, Georgetown University law professor and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s criminal evidence committee, said of the government’s witnesses, “What promised to be the trumpeting of elephants turned out to be the whimperings of mice.”

Big-time drug bosses enjoyed great rewards for telling the jury what the government wanted. Observed reporter Glenn Garvin, “To convict Noriega, the strike force had to make a flurry of deals with other accused narcotraffickers, bargaining a collective 1,435 years in prison down to 81.”

The fierce Noriega critic R. M. Kostner declared, “The prosecution was shameless in its bribery of witnesses. What co-defendants got for flipping made me sometimes wish that I had been indicted. The proceedings were almost totally politicized. It was clear long before they opened that, regardless of evidence, Noriega could not possibly be acquitted – a very sad thing for the United States.”

Other witnesses who never took the stand contradicted the government’s case years later. Retired Medellin cocaine lord Juan David Ochoa claimed in an interview with Frontline that “at no moment did [Noriega] protect us. . . . As far as I know he had nothing to do with the drug trade.”

Greg Passic, former head of financial operations for the DEA, said, “The Colombians I talked to in the drug transportation business said they didn’t deal with Noriega at all. To deal with him you would just have to pay him more money. They didn’t need it. It would be expensive.”

In fact, DEA officials repeatedly lauded Noriega’s cooperation with their anti-drug investigations, both in public letters of support and in private. Recalled Duane Clarridge, former head of Latin America operations for the CIA, “The DEA had told us that they were getting great support in Panama, and from Noriega in particular, in interdicting drugs.”

More than a year after the U.S. invasion, when it was absolutely impolitic to voice such sentiments, one “federal drug enforcement source” told a reporter, “Noriega was helping us, not ten percent, not twenty percent of the time, but in every instance we asked him to do so, one-hundred percent of the time. . . . These were key operations . . . that struck at both the Cali and Medellin cartels.”

Even the U.S. ambassador to Panama in the final years of Noriega’s rule, Arthur H. Davis Jr., said in an oral history interview, “all I know is that, all the time I was there, Noriega . . . cooperated one hundred percent with our people. Anytime we had a ship that we wanted to be interdicted on the high seas and we asked permission, they gave permission. . . . Anytime there was some prominent drug man coming up and we knew about it, Noriega would help us with it. And when we found out about things, the [Panamanian Defense Forces] would go over there and round them up and turn them over to us.”

Turning Against Noriega

One of the high points of Noriega’s cooperation was Operation Pisces, a three-year undercover probe that culminated in 1987. Attorney General Edwin Meese called it “nothing less than the largest and most successful undercover investigation in federal drug law enforcement history.”

Among those indicted were Medellin Cartel kingpins Pablo Escobar and Fabio Ochoa. Panama made 40 arrests and seized $12 million from accounts in 18 local banks. Said one U.S. prosecutor who helped direct the case, “The Panamanian officials we were dealing with were sincerely cooperative. . . . They could have breached security, and they didn’t.”

The operation may have pleased the DEA, but it angered the country’s financial elite, who directly profited from money laundering. One local banker warned, “this could end the Panamanian banking system, because people will no longer believe they can count on bank secrecy.”

Within two months, spooked investors withdrew up to $4 billion of the country’s $39 billion in bank deposits, triggering the most serious banking crisis in Panama’s history.

A Western diplomat said of Noriega, “The bankers can bring him down. They are complaining in Washington and they’ve got a lot of clout.” The demonstrations organized that summer by Panama’s business elite — and Noriega’s heavy-handed response to them — triggered his eventual slide from power

The bankers were joined by angry cartel leaders, who viewed Noriega as an “obstacle to the functioning” of their money laundering operations in Panama, in the words of drug policy expert Rensellaer Lee.

A lawyer for the bosses of the Cali Cartel complained that his clients were “frustrated by the problems” Noriega created for them in Panama.

Cali leaders later got their revenge when they paid $1.25 million to bribe a drug trafficker to become a key witness against Noriega in his Miami trial. In exchange for the testimony, eager U.S. prosecutors agreed to cut nine years off the sentence of an unrelated Cali trafficker — brother of one of that cartel’s senior leaders.

When Noriega’s defense team cried foul, a federal appeals court declined to order a new trial, but criticized the government for appearing “to have treaded close to the line of willful blindness” in its eagerness to win a conviction.

Medellin leaders were just as unhappy with Noriega as those in Cali. A pilot for one of the biggest Medellin smugglers described Pablo Escobar’s reaction after Noriega approved a raid on one of his cocaine labs in May 1984: “He was just really out of whack with Noriega. He was like, ‘This guy is dead. No matter what, he is dead.”’

It would be foolish to assert that Noriega, alone among all leaders in Central America, kept his hands clean of drugs. But much of his personal fortune is easily accounted for from other sources, such as the sale of Panamanian passports on the black market.

Whatever Noriega’s involvement with drug traffickers, as I have shown elsewhere, the Bush administration displayed unbelievable cynicism when, even before his capture, it swore in a new president of Panama who had sat on the board of one of the most notorious drug-money-laundering banks in the country. His attorney general, who unfroze the bank accounts of Cali traffickers, later became legal counsel for the Cali Cartel’s top smuggler in Panama.

Following Noriega’s ouster, not surprisingly, cocaine trafficking began surging in the country. A year and a half after his arrest, unnamed “U.S. experts” told Time magazine that “the unexpected result . . . is that the rival Cali cartel established a base in Panama and has since inundated the country, along with Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, with vast quantities of cocaine destined for the U.S. and Europe.”

Today, though, all that is forgotten, along with the questionable course of justice during Noriega’s trial. Noriega, even in death, deserves no eulogies, but he does deserve a more balanced judgment of history.

June 1, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

States of hope and states of concern

By Bjorn Hilt | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | January 11, 2016

At the UN General assembly last fall there was an essential vote on the future of mankind. Resolution number A/RES/70/33 calling for the international society to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations had been submitted by Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Ireland, Kenya, Lichtenstein, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. For that, these countries deserve our deep respect and gratitude. The resolution reminds us that all the peoples of  the world have a vital interest in the success of nuclear disarmament negotiations, that all states have the right to participate in disarmament negotiations, and, at the same time, declares support for the UN Secretary – General’s five-point proposal on nuclear disarmament.

The resolution reiterates the universal objective that remains the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons, and emphasizes the importance of addressing issues related to nuclear weapons in a comprehensive, inclusive, interactive and constructive manner, for the advancement of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. The resolution calls on the UN to establish an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) of willing and responsible states to bring the negotiations on nuclear disarmament forward in this spirit.

When voted upon at the UNGA a month ago, on December 7, 2015, there was a huge majority of states (75 %) that supported the resolution, namely 138 of the 184 member states that were present. Most of them are from the global south, with majorities in Latin-America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific. After having shown such courage and wisdom, they all deserve to be named among the states of hope, states that want to sustain mankind on earth.

Only 12 states voted against the resolution. Guess who they are: China, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and the United States. What is wrong with them? Well, they are either nuclear-armed states or among the new NATO member states. They are the states of concern in today’s world. It is hypocritical that states that claim to be the protectors of freedom, democracy, and humanity constitute a small minority that refuse to enter into multilateral, inclusive, interactive and constructive negotiations to free the world from nuclear weapons. Among the three other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan had the civility to abstain, while the DPRK was the only one to vote “yes.”

Despite the reactionary, dangerous, and irresponsible position of the 12 states of concern and the tepid attitude of the abstainers, the OEWG was established by an overwhelming majority of the UNGA. The OEWG will convene in Geneva for 15 working days during the first half of 2016. The OEWG has no mandate to negotiate treaties to free the world of the inhuman nuclear weapons, but has clearly been asked to discuss and show how it can be achieved. Surely, the nations of hope that voted in favor of the OEWG will take part in the work. We can hope that at least some of the states of concern and some of the abstainers come to their senses and take part in this essential work for the future of mankind.

Participation in the OEWG is open for everyone and blockable by none. No matter what the states of concern do or don’t do, there is good reason to trust that the vast majority of nations of hope together with civil society from all over in the fall will present an outcome to the UNGA that will turn our common dream of a world free of nuclear weapons into a reality—perhaps sooner that we dare to believe.

January 11, 2016 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Invasion Of Panama And The Proclamation of a Lone Superpower Above The Law

By Matt Peppe |Just the Facts Blog | December 14, 2014

Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.

The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: “People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere,” writes William Blum. [1]

Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose “hands still tremble” when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.

“I take pills to calm down,” Marín told the paper. “It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things.”

In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.

U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush’s needed to shed his image as a “wimp.” So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.

Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.

Washington began disseminating propaganda about “human rights abuses” and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.

“It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows,” Noam Chomsky writes. “A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to ‘villain’ and ‘scum’ when he commits the crime of independence.”

Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama – from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.’s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.

The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors’ harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.

The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response.

“Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama,” said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended “to create an international incident… have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. [2]

After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the “Hard Chargers,” was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began. [3]

Targeting Civilians and Journalists

Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: “It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed.” [4]

Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire,” recounted an anonymous witness in the film. “They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.” [5]

People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.

Spanish photographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.

“’Get back!’ the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot,” she wrote. “’We just want to pick up our things.’ He didn’t pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn’t return.”

While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.

American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began – before the killing in El Chorillo – by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was “100% certain” of Noriega’s location “but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities.”

No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.

The report stated that “most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare.”

The CODEHUCA report documented massively “disproportionate use of military force,” “indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians” and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.

When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: “Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.”

‘Flagrant Violation of International Law’

Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.

“The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter,” wrote the New York Times.

After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a “flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States.”

The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.’s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over ‘nonintervention.’”

In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that “the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights” in Panama. The violations occurred on a “massive scale” and included “illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and … tight control of the Panamanian media.”

Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen “since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d’ etre after the fall of Communism.

No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations. Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of “humanitarian intervention.”

“Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies,” writes James Peck. “A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time.” [6]

The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.

The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military’s obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.

Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme international crime,” different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains “the accumulated evil of the whole.” People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.

Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate.

Works Cited

[1] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II – Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.

[2] The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-p4cPoVcIo&list=PLBMiR6FLgz2-BEFx0w_V-jE6hKb9uP3Wh&index=3, (30:54)

[3] Ibid (31:40)

[4] Ibid (34:08)

[5] Ibid (37:06)

[6] Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does the OAS Support Democracy in Venezuela?

By Dan Beeton | CEPR | March 7, 2014

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro made news this week by breaking off relations with Panama following Panama’s proposal for the Organization of American States (OAS) to take up the situation in Venezuela. Panama’s move followed weeks of calls from members of the U.S. Congress, pundits and others to use the OAS against the Maduro government for supposed government repression of “peaceful” protesters.

In remarks yesterday, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza criticized what he described as hypocrisy from both those who support and oppose such a move. Insulza stated:

here we see a swapping of roles: Those who just a few years ago brandished the Inter-American Democratic Charter to demand severe sanctions against the de facto government in Honduras are now saying that even mentioning a crisis that has already led to the deaths of a large number of people constitutes interference; while those who denounced (and still denounce) the steps we took when faced with an obvious coup d’état as an attack on a nation’s sovereignty –I’m referring again to Honduras-, now demand that we help them overthrow a government recently chosen in a democratic election.

It appears that Insulza is playing a role that he has played on numerous prior occasions – most recently in April when he refused to recognize the Venezuelan presidential elections, until South American pressure forced him (as well as the U.S. and the right-wing government of Spain) to accept democratic election results.  This is unfortunate, but the manipulation of the OAS by Washington and a diminishing number of right-wing allies is the main reason that Latin American countries created the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011, to have a region-wide organization without the U.S. and Canada.

While it is important for officials such as Insulza to reaffirm the importance of Venezuela’s democratic processes and remind the OAS membership that Venezuela’s government was recently elected (and had its strong public support reaffirmed less than three months ago in local elections), other remarks equate extreme sectors of the Venezuelan opposition and the Venezuelan government, even though the government has won elections and the opposition has not:

Today, it is undeniable that there is a profound political crisis, characterized above all by a split and confrontation between most political and social actors into irreconcilable bands. When the opposition mobilizes, it does so on a massive scale, and poses strong demands; when the Government’s supporters take to the streets, their numbers and the fervor of their demands are also huge.

But for the last few weeks, it isn’t “massive” opposition protests that are occurring, but rather small protests designed to wreak havoc in a few neighborhoods throughout the country.  In essence, Insulza and the U.S. administration are suggesting that when extremist groups demand the immediate departure of an elected president, and try to achieve their aim by barricading streets and engaging in violent acts, the government has an obligation to dialogue with them.

This is reminiscent of Insulza’s approach to the coup in Honduras in 2009, when he effectively raised up a repressive regime that destroyed democracy with a military coup to the same legitimacy as the elected government. Insulza’s characterization of the OAS role in responding to the Honduran coup is also misleading. In fact, the OAS did little to try to restore democracy to Honduras, and Insulza apparently did not speak out when the U.S. ultimately blocked a measure that would have required the ousted president Manuel Zelaya to be returned to office before new elections were to be held, even though this was a solution supported by most OAS members.

Insulza’s comments on Chile are also troubling:

Both sides are an indispensable part of a country that needs all its people as it forges its future. Seeking to “win” this battle is a sure path to a decades-long national split between the vanquished and the conquerors. History is replete with examples of when division and confrontation destroyed democracy and ushered in long bouts of dictatorship. That is what happened in my country and thousands died.

Those familiar with the history of Chile know that political polarization was not the main problem, but rather that the right wing was by led by fascists who did not respect democratic government and were willing to institute a violent dictatorship that killed, disappeared, tortured and imprisoned tens of thousands of people.  (It is also relevant that the U.S. government fueled much of the unrest as well as economic sabotage after then-U.S. president Richard Nixon vowed to “make the economy scream.”)  It is of course good to avoid unnecessary political polarization and pursue dialogue as a general principle.  But Chile’s infamous military coup and dictatorship were not a result of a conflict between two opposing forces representing equally just claims; it was rich against poor, people who did not respect democratic elections versus those who did, people allied with an aggressive foreign power versus those who believed in national sovereignty.

Insulza also refers to OAS support for “democracy and political stability in Haiti”: “during the Haitian crisis, over a decade ago, we gladly accepted U.N. leadership in that country and still maintain our association with it, in support of democracy and political stability in Haiti.”

This also raises very serious questions about Insulza’s idea of democracy. The U.N. mission was deployed to Haiti following the 2004 U.S.-backed coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who also had faced a violent opposition (for years) with whom the international community repeatedly urged him to “negotiate;” while at the same time we now know that U.S. funders of the opposition were telling them not to reach any agreement, that Aristide would be overthrown.  The U.N. has occupied Haiti almost ever since, while the most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas has been arbitrarily excluded from elections and many of its leaders and members hunted down and killed, and others imprisoned on bogus charges.

As we have described in detail, the OAS has played a key role in overturning elections in Haiti twice: in 2000, when the OAS’ rejection – without justification – of the election of seven senators provided the pretext for a political “crisis” and U.S.-led efforts to undermine the Aristide government; and the OAS’ overturning of the first round of the 2010 presidential elections. (Former OAS insider Ricardo Seitenfus has recently provided more details on this sorry episode.)

Considering this background, and the disproportionate influence wielded by the U.S. at the OAS, it should be of little surprise that Venezuela would seek to have UNASUR take up the Venezuelan political situation, rather than the OAS, which it appears UNASUR might, next week.

In a statement before the OAS, U.S. Ambassador Carmen Lomellin described

what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.

We are also concerned with increasingly stringent tactics being employed by the government in an effort to restrict the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful protest.

However, violence in recent days has almost exclusively impacted those opposed to the protests or the barricades, which make getting around certain neighborhoods difficult.

If there is a “pattern” of “excessive force” and “increasingly stringent tactics” by the government, it is unclear what these are, considering that the road blockades continue, even after nine people have been killed either trying to get through, or remove, the barricades, and considering that National Guard officers are getting killed. It is hard to imagine such a situation taking place in the United States, with small groups of protesters blockading streets, not for hours, and not even for days, but for weeks, and those attempting to remove the barricades being attacked and sometimes even shot and killed. The Occupy protests just a few years ago were usually violently repressed, and these were mostly in parks and other green spaces – not blocking off streets in major cities. These were actually peaceful demonstrations.  Nor was the police repression of the Occupy protests met with calls for intervention by the OAS, even after Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was almost killed after being shot in the head with a canister by police in Oakland, CA.

The U.S. statement follows a pattern of official statements since Venezuela’s latest wave of protests began that heaps all blame for violence on the government while characterizing the protests only as peaceful (the nine people who have been killed while trying to pass through or remove barricades, or the pro-government demonstrators killed, are testament to a different reality).

While both Lomellin and Insulza (among many others) have stressed the importance of dialogue between the government and the opposition, little attention is paid to the Venezuelan government’s efforts to engage in such dialogue. Maduro invited opposition leaders to a meeting on February 24; opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the offer.  Jorge Roig, the head of FEDECAMARAS (the main business federation) and Lorenzo Mendoza, head of major food and beverage company Empresas Polar did attend, however, with Roig saying “We have profound differences with your economic system and your political systems but democracy, thank God, lets us evaluate these differences.”

Insulza’s comments that “it is also essential that the principal party leaders and opposition leaders with the most backing are also parties to the dialogue” could be seen as criticism of Capriles’ refusal so far to speak with Maduro. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot recently noted in Venezuela’s Últimas Noticias, by taking a radical posture and refusing to meet with Maduro despite having shook hands with Maduro just weeks before, Capriles has clearly sided with the more extreme elements of Venezuela’s opposition.

March 8, 2014 Posted by | Deception | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Panama refuses to extradite CIA’s Lady to Italy

Press TV – July 20, 2013

Panama has refused to extradite the former CIA chief of Milan station to Italy where he has been sentenced to nine years in prison for the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian Muslim cleric on suspicion of terrorist activities.

Italian justice ministry’s press office on Thursday announced that Robert Seldon Lady, also known as “Mister Bob,” has been arrested in Panama. However, it is not clear when and where he has been arrested.

On Friday, the US State Department confirmed Lady was on his way back to the United States. Italy had asked Panama to hold Lady while an extradition request was being made.

Panama foreign ministry sources have said the documents submitted by Italy for the extradition were “insufficient,” according to Italian media.

Italy’s Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said Friday that she was “deeply disappointed” by Panama’s decision not to return Lady to Italy.

The former Milan CIA station chief was sentenced to nine years in jail for the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. Twenty-two other Americans involved in the kidnapping were each sentenced to five years in prison.

The court ordered each of the 23 convicts, none of whom appeared for the trial, to pay one million euros (about $1.3 million) to Abu Omar, plus 500,000 euros to his wife.

The Muslim cleric was transferred to US military bases in Italy and later in Germany before being flown to Egypt. He was later set free in Egypt.

July 20, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Comments Off on Panama refuses to extradite CIA’s Lady to Italy

Ex-CIA station chief in Milan detained in Panama

RT | July 18, 2013

A former station chief with the CIA has been detained in Panama after being on the run from Italian police for more than a decade.

Robert Seldon Lady, 59, was reportedly brought into custody early Thursday after surfacing in the Central American country. An Italian court convicted him in 2009 in absentia of abducting an Egyptian terror suspect from the streets of Milan, and he was sentenced in early 2013 to nine years in prison. Only now, however, has he been caught, according to a statement made Thursday by the Italian justice ministry.

The case against Lady marked the first time ever that a CIA agent was accused of kidnapping and brought to trial. Twenty-two other Americans, mostly intelligence officers, were also convicted for their role in the “extraordinary rendition” of a Muslim cleric.

Lady was the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency post in Milan during the time of the abduction. He is accused of abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and assisting in his years’ long detention which was reportedly accompanied with bouts of torture.

“I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors,” Lady told Italy’s Il Giornale newspaper in 2009.

Previously, Lady told GQ magazine in a candid interview that, “When you work in intelligence, you do things in the country in which you work that are not legal.”

“It’s a life of illegality,” said Lady, “But state institutions in the whole world have professionals in my sector, and it’s up to us to do our duty.”

“I console myself by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism, that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me,” Lady said to Italian journalists.

Lady had served just shy of a quarter-century with the CIA at the time of the crime. He described his former employer to GQ years later as “the vanguard of democracy” and his role as “the greatest job I ever had.”

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Panama: Indigenous Leader Murdered After Anti-Dam Protest

Weekly News Update on the Americas | April 1, 2013

Onésimo Rodríguez, a leader in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, was killed by a group of masked men in Cerro Punta, in western Chiriquí department, the evening of Mar. 22 following a protest against construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. Carlos Miranda, another protester who was attacked along with Rodríguez, said the assailants beat both men with metal bars. Miranda lost consciousness but survived; Rodríguez’s body was found in a stream the next day. Miranda said he was unable to identify the attackers because it was dark and their faces were covered. Manolo Miranda and other leaders of the April 10 Movement, which organizes protests against the dam, charged that “the ones that mistreated the Ngöbes were disguised police agents.”

The Ngöbe-Buglé stepped up their demonstrations against the Barro Blanco project in January, when construction continued at the site despite a United Nations (UN) report that largely substantiated indigenous claims that the dam would flood three villages, cut the residents off from food sources and destroy important cultural monuments [see Update #1168]. As of Mar. 26 an independent study mandated by the UN report and agreed to by the government had still not started.

In addition to protesting the Honduran-owned company building the dam, Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), indigenous activists blame two European banks for funding the project: Germany’s private Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) and the Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V. (FMO), in which the Dutch government holds a controlling interest. Dam opponents say GENISA also sought funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) but withdrew the application after learning that bank officials planned to visit the affected communities themselves. (Mongabay.com 3/25/13; La Estrella (Panama) 3/26/13)

In other news, as of Mar. 19 the National Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP) had decided to withdraw from the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD+) program, which focuses on environmental problems in developing nations. The indigenous group charged in a statement that the UN and the Panamanian government “have appeared to marginalize the collective participation of the seven indigenous peoples and 12 traditional structures that make up COONAPIP” and have put “legal and administrative obstacles in the way” of indigenous participation. The Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests (AMPB), a coalition of Central American and Mexican indigenous and environmental groups, is backing COONAPIP’s decision. (Mongabay.com 3/19/13; Adital (Brazil) 3/21/13)

April 2, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Panama: Indigenous Leader Murdered After Anti-Dam Protest

Venezuela Among the Most Positive Countries, Gallup Says

Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. / December 20, 2012

A new survey by the Washington, DC-based public opinion pollster Gallup finds that Latin Americans are the most positive people in the world, and Venezuela is tied for second place among all countries measured.

The survey asked citizens of various countries to answer questions including: “Did you feel well-rested yesterday?” “Were you treated with respect?” and “Did you smile or laugh a lot?”

In Venezuela, 84 percent of respondents answered “yes” to those questions, the same amount as in El Salvador, which tied with Venezuela for second place after Panama and Paraguay, which tied for first  with 85 percent.

According to Gallup, eight of the top ten most positive countries in the world are in Latin America, with Trinidad and Tobago coming in at number five (with 83 percent), followed by Thailand (83 percent), Guatemala (82 percent), Philippines (82 percent), Ecuador (81 percent), and Costa Rica (81 percent). At the low end, just 46 percent of respondents in Singapore answered “yes” to the questions.

The implications, according to the analysis, are that a country’s overall economic prosperity does not correspond with the amount of positivity felt by its citizens.

The report explains: “These data may surprise analysts and leaders who solely focus on traditional economic indicators. Residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita, are among the most likely to report positive emotions. Residents of Singapore, which ranks fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita, are the least likely to report positive emotions.”

On average, 73 percent of adults around the world felt enjoyment a lot of the day, and 72 percent felt well-rested. A smaller proportion – 43 percent on average – said they were able to learn or do something interesting.

The report states that, on the whole, the data “reflects a relatively upbeat world.” It concludes that “Despite many global challenges, people worldwide are experiencing many positive emotions.”

Click here to see the full results.

December 22, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Venezuela Among the Most Positive Countries, Gallup Says