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Panama Papers: Should the Corporate Media Have Been Trusted?

By Joe Emersberger – teleSUR – May 14, 2016

“John Doe” made a bad call when he leaked the Panama papers to the corporate media.

“Can a corporate media system be expected to tell the truth about a world dominated by corporations?” the Media Lens editors once asked rhetorically.

Assuming the best of intentions on the part of whoever leaked the Panama Papers, trusting hundreds of corporate journalists to wage war on income inequality was a bad mistake. However, the corporate media can be trusted to wage war on the enemies of income inequality, in particular progressive governments in Latin America, and use the Panama Papers to do so even if the ammunition they have is pitiful.

Consider an article in the Miami Herald that ran with the mocking headline, “Ecuador’s leader demands release of Panama Papers, and learns he’s in them.” A very similar article with an almost identical headline ran in the UK Independent, and in many other outlets. The article in the Herald began:

“… Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa called out his country’s journalists and boasted that, unlike other countries, he and his government weren’t found in the leak.

However, the secret documents show that he and his estranged brother, Fabricio, caught the attention of anti-corruption authorities in Panama in 2012.”

Anyone who follows Ecuadorian politics will find this very underwhelming. Fabricio Correa is a long-time bitter foe of his brother’s government. Fabricio is also a businessman who has long been accused of being less than ethical by his brother and many other people. That’s old news and it is hardly surprising that it would have “caught the attention” of investigators years ago. How could it not have? A book was written in 2010 – “El Gran Hermano” – alleging that Rafael Correa was complicit with his brother’s corruption and in 2012 Correa won a defamation suit against the authors.

The article in the Herald is convoluted and often unclear, but that actually serves its purpose. It is padded with details that ultimately fail to land a blow against Fabricio Correa, never mind President Correa, but readers unfamiliar with Ecuador, even if left confused by the article, will probably still come away thinking that something damning has been uncovered.

The use of meaningless statistics is another way the article is padded. It says “searching the word ‘Ecuador’ yields more than 160,000 secret documents. Guayaquil, the wealthy coastal city, shows up in 109,000 documents,” as if that refutes Correa’s observation that hostile Ecuadorean journalists who have had access to the documents for a year have not found anything to discredit his government. Correa would be the last person to deny that corruption, in particular tax avoidance by his elite opponents, is still a big problem in Ecuador. That’s one reason why Correa demanded that all the information be released rather than cherry-picked by corporate journalists. Ecuador’s private media led a very dishonest propaganda campaign last year against tax reforms that would have almost entirely impacted Ecuador’s wealthiest 2 percent. Moreover, Guayaquil’s mayor for the past 16 years has been Jaime Nebot, a right-winger who is arguably Correa’s most prominent opponent. Applying the shoddy logic suggested by the article, Nebot and his right wing allies – including his many allies in Ecuador’s private media – are discredited by how often the word “Guayaquil” appears in the Panama Papers.

Reporters are not always so sloppy. When a journalist I recently corresponded with found a Venezuelan opposition member mentioned in the Panama Papers he explained to me that “he was simply mentioned in newspaper articles passed around by IMF staff.”

The article in the Herald also cited an NGO as follows:

“Last year, Transparency International ranked 168 countries and territories on its government corruption index. It found that 106 nations were less corrupt than Ecuador.”

It neglected to mention that the head of the groups’ Chile branch just resigned after being linked to offshore firms. Much more importantly, it has been obvious for many years that a little transparency does not flatter Transparency International (TI).  In 2008, Calvin Tucker wrote a hard hitting piece about a shockingly dishonest report that TI published about Venezuela’s state oil company. He reported “TI says that they ‘stand by their report’ and stand by the person who compiled the data, an anti-Chávez activist who backed the 2002 military coup against democracy.”

The Miami Herald also used the Panama Papers as an excuse to rehash the farcical “suitcase scandal” of 2008.  It was a comical example of the US government using its prosecutors and a more than cooperative media to smear governments it didn’t like – in this case the left governments of Venezuela and (at the time) Argentina. How could the United States possibly claim jurisdiction over a case based on far-fetched allegations that the Venezuelan government had tried to smuggle a suitcase full of cash into Argentina to influence an election? The U.S. government weaseled in by alleging that an “unregistered agent” of Venezuela’s government had come to the United States to convince one of the people involved to keep quiet. There had never been an indictment under this law unless there was an espionage or national security accusation to go along with it. Mind you, several years later the Obama Administration would officially declare Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States – and then defend the insane declaration by saying it didn’t mean it. The U.S. media responded with some timid criticism. That should be unsurprising. Media outlets owned by the rich and powerful, whose most influential customers, advertisers, are rich and powerful are not going to lead movements for serious reform, never mind revolution.

None of this is to say that the Panama Papers will not be of any help in the fight against income inequality. Time will tell. There must be a very small number of journalists working in the private media who are genuinely interested in fighting inequality, but one can easily imagine how much more positive impact these leaks may have had. Recall how wisely Edward Snowden singled out Glenn Greenwald as a journalist he could trust. Remember where Julian Assange, a real thorn in the side of the most powerful and violent people in the world, ended up seeking refuge; and never forget how viciously the corporate media turned on him.

The battle against inequality, which is a crucial part of the battle for meaningful democracy, requires a struggle against the corporate media, a real movement to democratize the means of communication, not (a few exceptional corporate journalists aside) collaboration with it.

RELATED:

Panama Papers: The Caribbean Connection

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador’s Earthquake and the NYT’s Spin Doctors

By Joe Emersberger | teleSUR | April 25, 2016

On April 23, a New York Times article by Nicholas Casey quoted a businessman in the earthquake-ravaged city of Portoviejo complaining about temporary tax increases that Rafael Correa’s government announced to pay for reconstruction which is presently estimated to cost US$2 to US$3 billion. Casey didn’t tell his readers that the areas impacted by the earthquake would be exempt from the new taxes and also given tax cuts.

The article inaccurately reported there would be “a one-time garnishing of government wages for those earning more than US$1,000 a month.” The measure would apply to all wages outside the disaster areas, not just “government wages.” Casey neglected to mention that most Ecuadorians earn less than US$1,000 per month. The average monthly salary is US$574 per month, not exactly a fact that would be common knowledge to the vast majority of NYT readers.

The biggest howler in the article is the assertion that the IMF has been “long shunned” in Ecuador “for its demands to cut government spending”. That’s like saying people avoid dealing with the Mafia because “they‘ve been known to be unpleasant”: true but wildly misleading. By the beginning of the 21st century, the IMF lost a tremendous amount of influence in Latin America because from 1980 to 2000 it had bullied governments into adopting disastrous policies which are known as “neoliberalism.”

Ecuador’s real GDP per capita grew by a pitiful 5 percent from 1980 to 1998 compared to over 100 percent in the previous two decades. Then, in 1999, Ecuador’s banking sector collapsed under the weight of corruption and a neoliberal obsession with “central bank independence” and financial deregulation. By 2000, real GDP per capita fell below what it had been in 1980.

Casey quotes Jose Hidalgo, an economist who has praised Ecuadorian governments of the neoliberal era for having “saved” money. Those governments certainly “saved” for various huge bailouts of Ecuador’s super rich like the infamous “secretization” of 1983 and the bank bailouts in 1999. Those governments also “saved” in order to make interest payments to foreign investors for debt that had often been illegally contracted.

By the time Correa took office in 2007, decades of neoliberalism had left Ecuador’s roads, public hospitals, schools and other basic infrastructure in shambles. The World Economic Forum ranked Ecuador’s roads tenth among 18 countries in the region in 2006. By 2015 they were ranked as the best. The efficiency of Ecuador’s public services, as ranked by the Inter-American Development Bank, rose from next to last among the 16 countries it evaluated to sixth best in the region. Comparative studies by the U.N. found that the quality of Ecuador’s educational system is one of the most improved in the region since 2006.

Economists like Hidalgo don’t generally try to deny the vast improvements in Ecuador’s infrastructure under Correa’s government. Instead they vaguely decry “excessive public spending.” Presumably, Ecuador’s infrastructure and public services should have been left in a deplorable state. Imagine Ecuador’s government refusing to rebuild the damage from the recent earthquake and then bragging about how much money it “saved.”

That sums up the warped logic behind Hidalgo’s view, one that was tragically put into practice during the neoliberal era. Is a country better equipped to confront natural disasters when traveling through the country is badly hampered by dilapidated roads; when hospitals are in short supply and are under equipped and understaffed; when rescue workers and other public servants are poorly paid, inadequately trained and do not have proper equipment?

Casey wrote that oil prices “once fueled a government spending bonanza.” The “bonanza” actually had more to do with clamping down on tax avoidance by the rich and sensibly regulating its financial sector. Real per capita tax revenues doubled between 2006 (the year Correa was first elected) and 2012. At their highest point during Correa’s time in office, inflation-adjusted oil revenues per capita, accounting for costs of extraction, were lower than they were during much of the 1970s and 1980s.

Moreover, early on in Correa’s presidency, Ecuador’s economy suffered a massive external shock due to the global recession of 2009 which drove oil prices down. So even before oil prices collapsed in 2014, Correa’s government did not have exceptionally high oil revenues compared to previous governments.

Another blow from the 2009 global recession was a drop in remittances from Ecuadorians living abroad. One legacy of the neoliberal era is that remittances from Ecuadorians who fled their country during those years became very important to Ecuador’s economy. The fact that Ecuador has reduced poverty by about half during Correa’s time in office cannot be rationally attributed to luck.

Based on resilience to external shocks, there is also no credible argument for returning to economic policies endorsed by Casey’s article. In 2015, Ecuador avoided recession despite losing 7 percent of its GDP to the oil price collapse. In 1987, under the neoliberal government of Febres Cordero, Ecuador went into recession when export revenues dropped by only 1.84 percent of GDP.

Casey never seemed to consider that there were facts and counterarguments to the views expressed by his sources. In the United States, newspapers like the New York Times present Paul Ryan, who wants to eliminate the entire federal government (with the exception of the military) from the U.S. economy, as a serious policy expert. So it isn’t surprising that successful public investment in Ecuador is eagerly presented as wasteful. If you can’t identify extremists and charlatans at home, you probably won’t do so abroad either.

April 26, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador Using Oil Revenue to Build 400 New Schools by 2017

correa_uem_azuay_20-10-2015_crop1445563552306.jpg_1718483346

President Rafael Correa high-fives a boy during his tour of a new school built in the province of Azuay, Ecuador, Oct. 20, 2015. | Photo: Ecuadorean Presidency
teleSUR – October 22, 2015

Ecuador announced Wednesday that the government intends to build 400 new schools by 2017.

Half of the schools will be the state of the art “Millennium Educational Units” that include scientific laboratories, a library, a multi-purpose auditorium, an administrative wing and ample classrooms. The rest will be prefabricated units that can be constructed much faster and will be built in areas with the most urgent need for new schools.

“There is no better way to achieve true freedom than quality education,” President Rafael Correa said Tuesday during a ceremony to inaugurate a new school in the province of Azuay.

The new Millennium Educational Unit opened in Azuay replaces 13 much smaller schools that were sorely lacking in supplies and space needed to provide a quality education.

According to the Andes news agency, the funding for this particular school came from royalties from a nearby mining project. The stated objective of the Correa government is to take the income generated from extraction projects and invest it into strategic sectors such as education in order to move the country away from its dependence on non-renewable resources.

Ecuadorean law also stipulates that a portion of the income generated by extraction projects be reinvested into the region where the project is located.

Correa says his government had invested at least US$20 billion in education over the past eight years of his administration. The Ministry of Education provides free school supplies, books, uniforms, and meals in order to reduce barriers for low-income students, with a goal of achieving a 100 percent attendance rate.

The political opposition and right-wing press have criticized the Correa government over its spending. During the inauguration ceremony Correa replied saying, “Ecuador does not spend a lot, it invests a lot, which is different.”

The country has already built 57 of the Millennium Educational Units, with a further 48 under construction. The schools are intended to have a lifespan of 100 years. The prefabricated schools have a shorter lifespan at 25 years but take only 11 weeks to build.

October 23, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

1.5 Million Lifted Out of Poverty in Ecuador under Correa

teleSUR | January 25, 2015

The Ecuadorean National Secretariat for Planning and Development announced on Friday that between the years 2007 and 2014, more than 1.5 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the South American country. These years coincide with the administration of Rafael Correa and the policies of what is known as the Citizen’s Revolution, which recently celebrated 8 years of government.

“The model of government has radically changed,” said Pabel Muñoz, the national secretary for planning and development. The government of Rafael Correa has also dramatically reduced inequality in the country, with the gap between the richest and poorest in the country shrinking. In 2007 the richest earned 42 times that of the poorest, while in 2014 that was reduced to only 22 times.

The 1.5 million lifted out of poverty represents a drop of 14 percent in the poverty rate in the country, with extreme poverty dropping 8 points from 16.5 percent to 8.6 percent.

“Ecuador is a successful country because while reducing poverty, it reduces the gap between the rich and the poor. It has allowed for an increase in consumption and has not registered drops in social indicators. Instead people have climbed the social ladder,” said Muñoz.

These figures were published by the National Secretariat for Planning and Development.

Ecuador has also seen the biggest decrease in the region in the Gini coefficient — a figure that measures inequality in a country — dropping from 0.55 in 2007 to 0.48 in 2012, whereas the rest of Latin America saw a drop from 0.52 to 0.50.

The country has also seen important progress in the field of education, with primary school attendance increasing from 92 percent in 2007 to 96 percent in 2014. There has also been an increase of approximately 1 million more Ecuadoreans enrolled in public education.

Ecuador is now a leader in public investment in the region. Whereas in 2006 social investment constituted the equivalent of 3.6 percent of GDP, social investment is now the equivalent of 11 percent of GDP.

“This is just an example of the achievements of our government, which have been made possible because we have put capital at the service of the people and not the other way around,” said Muñoz.

January 26, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Poll Confirms Massive Support for Ecuador’s Correa

teleSUR | December 30, 2014

A poll released Monday revealed that over 60 percent of Ecuadoreans approved of President Rafael Correa’s management of the country.

Correa’s support is “unprecedented” in Ecuador, said the president of the survey institute, Polibio Cordova in a press conference, as the Ecuadorean leader has maintained high levels of support since he was elected in 2007.

“This is an unprecedented case because the presidents used to start [their term] with a quite high level [of popularity] of around 68 percent, and within two or three years, they used to decrease by at least 30 percent, sometimes reaching a 30 or 32 percent of approval,” Cordova explained.

Only 32 percent disapprove of his administration, with eight percent not responding to the survey.

The poll was conducted between December 18-24 with a total of 2,168 participants in 15 cities of the country and an error margin of five percent.

December 31, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador leaves inter-American defense treaty

Press TV – February 5, 2014

349427_Ecuador-presidentEcuador has announced its withdrawal from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a hemispheric agreement of mutual defense signed in 1947.

On Wednesday, Ecuador Foreign Ministry said President Rafael Correa pulled the country out of the US-led security arrangement on the grounds it is outdated, AFP reported.

The Foreign Ministry said Correa signed a decree on Tuesday, ratifying a decision earlier this month by the National Assembly to withdraw from the treaty.

“Ecuador renounces in all its articles the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance,” the ministry said.

The treaty, commonly known as the Rio Treaty, stipulates that an armed attack against any of the member states is to be considered an attack against all of them.

Ecuador ratified the treaty in 1950.

The move is the latest in a shift away from US-led security arrangements in the region by Ecuador and other leftist Latin American allies.

At the end of an annual meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Bolivia in 2012, the foreign ministers of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua announced their decision to pull out of the treaty, saying the regional defense treaty is a US initiative and membership is not beneficial to them.

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | Comments Off on Ecuador leaves inter-American defense treaty

Ecuador to urge US military withdrawal

Press TV – January 23, 2014

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has announced plans to call for the withdrawal of some US military officers from the South American country.

347245_Rafael-CorreaSpeaking at the Carondelet presidential Palace in the Ecuadorian capital Quito on Wednesday, Correa said his government will ask Washington to withdraw “nearly 50 military personnel” assigned to the US embassy in the Latin American country.

He described the number of American military personnel in Ecuador as “inconceivable,” saying, “Unfortunately, these people have been so infiltrated in all the sectors that what is scandalous appeared normal.”

Correa also noted that Quito was “already taking measures” to address the outsized presence of the US forces.

The remarks came after revelations concerning the presence of four US military personnel in an Ecuadoran military helicopter that came under fire in October last year near the border with Colombia.

“They (the US troops) flew in the helicopters of the air force, of the army. It was normal for foreign soldiers to be flying with our soldiers in frontier areas,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US embassy said it has not received any request from the Ecuadorian government yet.

In 2009, Quito refused to renew an agreement with Washington on counter-narcotics operations after accusing it of financing opposition groups.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | Comments Off on Ecuador to urge US military withdrawal

Ecuador: Government Announces End of Cooperation with USAID

By Lucy Adler | The Argentina Independent | December 17, 2013

Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa (photo by Miguel Ángel Romero/Ecuadorean presidency)

Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa (photo by Miguel Ángel Romero/Ecuadorean presidency)

The Ecuadorian government released a statement on Monday announcing that the country would no longer be collaborating with USAID, a US agency for International development.

The Ministry for International Development (SETECI) released a statement explaining the decision to cut ties with USAID. “The last bilateral cooperation programme between Ecuador and the US was signed in 2007 and the projects resulting from this collaboration are now finishing. Given that we have not negotiated a new a agreement, SETECI has informed USAID that they cannot carry out any new projects, nor extend the deadlines of projects currently underway.” The statement added that cooperation would remain suspended “until our governments negotiate and sign a new bilateral cooperation agreement”.

According to the SETECI, since 2007, USAID had invested a yearly average of US$32mn in initiatives in Ecuador, the majority of which were implemented by local and international NGOs.

The United States ambassador in Quito also released a statement on the matter, indicating that over the last two years the two countries had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate “an agreement which would allow USAID’s work in Ecuador to continue”. The statement went on to say that due to the “indefinite freeze on USAID activities” implemented by the Ecuadorian government, the organisation would have to cancel four projects which looked to protect the environment and strengthen civil society, and which were currently underway.

In June 2012, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had threatened to expel USAID from Ecuador after accusing the organisation of giving financial support to opposition groups and getting involved in the country’s internal politics. At the time he said that other countries in the region were also considering ending relations with USAID.

In May 2013, Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled USAID from Bolivia, stating that the agency was conspiring against his government.

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Corruption | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ecuador: Government Announces End of Cooperation with USAID

Ecuador: National Assembly Approves Drilling in Yasuní National Park

By Brendan O’Boyle | The Argentina Independent | October 4, 2013

The Ecuadorian National Assembly voted Thursday to permit the drilling for petroleum in two sections of the Yasuní National Park in the country’s eastern Amazon basin. The decision comes just seven weeks after President Rafael Correa announced the failure of the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a project that sought to indefinitely prohibit oil exploration in the Yasuní in exchange for international donations equal to half of the reserve’s projected income.

The approved measure, which will allow oil exploration in the park’s 31 and 49 blocks, was passed with the votes of 108 of the assembly’s 133 members. The assembly cited “national interest” as justification for its decision. Ecuador’s constitution forbids “activities for the extraction of nonrenewable natural resources” except in the case of national interest as determined by the National Assembly.

President Correa says the exploration will only affect .01% of the park. Additionally, the legislation promises the protection of indigenous communities that live in the affected areas and excludes extractive activity from the Yasuní’s “untouchable zone”, the largest section of the park, which is to be preserved in its natural state as a wildlife sanctuary. The project will be run by state-run oil company Petroamazonas.

Fifty days ago, Correa requested authorisation to begin oil exploration within the park, declared a global biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1989. The move has intensified national debate over drilling in the Yasuní and saw the president embark on a countrywide tour to convince oppositional groups of the economic and social need to drill in the wake of the Yasuní-ITT initiative’s failure.

In support of the president’s new initiative were 30 mayors from towns in Ecuador’s Amazon basin who travelled to Quito last month to express their support for the measure. Additionally, just last Friday 180 mayors signed a statement in support of the move to drill in the Yasuní.

However, opposition from ecological and indigenous rights groups remains high. On 28th August, police were accused of firing rubber bullets against protestors who had gathered in response to Correa’s initial remarks on opening the Yasuní up to exploration.

In the past month, the opposition has called for a national referendum, a request denied by the Constitutional Court.

Humberto Cholango, head of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, told Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo that he was confused by the court’s decision. “There was a referendum over bullfighting in 2011, so why would you not consult the people on this issue of such importance, which threatens the lives of indigenous peoples as well as the reserve’s enormous biodiversity.”

Despite the rejection, the opposition pushed until the last moments before the vote.

Three community leaders from Ecuador’s Amazon region were invited to speak before the assembly on the final day of the debate. The first two spoke in favour of the government’s proposal, citing a need for economic development and a belief that the government would do its best to protect the local environment and communities.

The third speaker, a Guaraní woman named Alicia Cawiya, steered away from her prepared speech and delivered an emotional plea in an effort to change the minds of those about to vote.

“All we want is that you respect our territory, which we have preserved and cared for,” pleaded Alicia. “Leave us to live how we want. This is our only proposal.”

October 4, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , , | Comments Off on Ecuador: National Assembly Approves Drilling in Yasuní National Park

Laughing at Snowden’s Asylum Requests

Consortium News | July 18, 2013

The mainstream U.S. news media has been chuckling over the “irony” of NSA leaker Edward Snowden asking asylum from Latin American countries purported to suppress press freedom. But the smugness misses both the complex realities abroad and the U.S. government’s own assaults on information, says a group of scholars.

An Open Letter to the Media:

The supposed “irony” of whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeking asylum in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela has become a media meme. Numerous articles, op-eds, reports and editorials in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and MSNBC have hammered on this idea since the news first broke that Snowden was seeking asylum in Ecuador.

It was a predictable retread of the same meme last year when Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the Ecuadorian government deliberated his asylum request for months.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Of course, any such “ironies” would be irrelevant even if they were based on factual considerations. The media has never noted the “irony” of the many thousands of people who have taken refuge in the United States, which is currently torturing people in a secret prison at Guantanamo, and regularly kills civilians in drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Nor has the press noted the “irony” of refugees who have fled here from terror that was actively funded and sponsored by the U.S. government, e.g. from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries.

But in fact the “irony” that U.S. journalists mention is fantastically exaggerated. It is based on the notion that the governments of Venezuela under Chávez (and now Maduro) and Ecuador under Correa have clamped down on freedom of the press. Most consumers of the U.S. media unfortunately don’t know better, since they have not been to these countries and have not been able to see that the majority of media are overwhelmingly anti-government, and that it gets away with more than the U.S. media does here in criticizing the government.

Imagine if Rupert Murdoch controlled most U.S media outlets, rather than the minority share that his News Corp actually owns – then you’d start to have some idea what the media landscape in Ecuador, Venezuela and most of Latin America looks like.

The fact is that most media outlets in Ecuador and Venezuela are privately-owned, and oppositional in their orientation. Yes, the Venezuelan government’s communications authorities let the RCTV channel’s broadcast license expire in 2007. This was not a “shut down”; the channel was found to have violated numerous media regulations regarding explicit content and others – the same kind of regulations to which media outlets are subject in the U.S. and many other countries.

Even José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch – a fierce critic of Venezuela – has said that “lack of renewal of the contract [broadcast license], per se, is not a free speech issue.” Also rarely mentioned in U.S. reporting on the RCTV case is that the channel and its owner actively and openly supported the short-lived coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government in 2002.

A July 10th piece from the Washington Post’s editorial board – which has never hid its deep hatred of Venezuela, Ecuador and other left governments in Latin America – describes another supposed grave instance of the Venezuelan government clamping down on press freedoms. The editorial, which was given greater publicity through Boing Boing and others, describes the case of journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who is credited with breaking the news of Chávez’s cancer in June 2011. The Post champions Bocaranda as a “courage[ous]” “teller of truth” and dismisses the Venezuelan government’s “charges” against him as “patently absurd.”

In fact, Bocaranda has not been charged with anything; the Venezuelan government wants to know whether Bocaranda helped incite violence following the April 14 presidential elections, after which extreme sectors of the opposition attacked Cuban-run health clinics and homes and residences of governing party leaders, and in which some nine people were killed mostly chavistas.

The government cites a Tweet by Bocaranda in which he stated false information that ballot boxes were being hidden in a specific Cuban clinic in Gallo Verde, in Maracaibo state, and that the Cubans were refusing to let them be removed. Bocaranda later deleted the Tweet, but not before it was seen by hundreds of thousands.

So while the Post dismisses the case against Bocaranda as “absurd,” the question remains: why did Bocaranda state such specific information, if he had no evidence to support it? Indeed, any such evidence would be second hand unless Bocaranda had seen the supposed “hidden” ballot boxes and the actions by the Cubans himself.

The Venezuelan government’s summons for Bocaranda to explain himself is being characterized as a grave assault on press freedom, and perhaps it is an over-reaction – after all, many journalists report false information all the time. But wasn’t Bocaranda’s Tweet irresponsible, especially given the context of a volatile political situation?

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has been widely condemned in the U.S. media – in much reporting as well as commentary – for suing a prominent journalist, Emilio Palacio, for defamation. The defamatory content was, in fact, serious. It relates to a 2010 incident in which Correa was first assaulted and then later held captive by rebelling police in what many observers deemed an attempt at a coup d’etat.

Military forces ultimately rescued Correa. But in a February 2011 column referring to the episode, Palacio alleged that Correa had committed “crimes against humanity,” and that he had ordered the military forces to fire on the hospital where he was being held at the time. So Correa sued Palacio for defamation and won. What some U.S. media outlets have failed to mention is that he subsequently pardoned Palacio, and had made clear from the beginning that he would have dropped the lawsuit if Palacio ran a correction.

In other words, all that Correa did was exercise his right as a citizen under the law to sue someone who had printed an outrageous lie about him. This is a right that most elected officials have in most countries, including the United States. Former AP reporter Bart Jones has written:

“Would a network that aided and abetted a coup against the government be allowed to operate in the United States? The U.S. government probably would have shut down RCTV within five minutes after a failed coup attempt — and thrown its owners in jail. Chavez’s government allowed it to continue operating for five years, and then declined to renew its 20-year license to use the public airwaves.”

Considering the massive extent of “national security” overreach following the 9/11 attacks, it is almost incomprehensible to imagine what a U.S. administration’s reaction to a coup attempt would be, but it certainly would not be as restrained as in Ecuador or Venezuela, where a fiercely critical press not only exists, but thrives.

Many commentators have cited Reporters Without Borders [known as RSF, from its French initials] and other media watchdog groups’ criticisms of Ecuador’s proposed new “Organic Law of Communication.” In an example of true irony, such supposedly objective journalists have been more critical of Ecuador’s proposed media reforms than RSF itself has been, which noted that:

“…we think that other provisions conform to international legal standards. They include restrictions on broadcasting hours for the protection of minors, the prohibition of racist and discriminatory content and the prohibition of deliberate calls for violence. Finally, the provisions governing nationally-produced broadcasting content are broadly similar to those in force in most other countries.”

Organizations such as RSF and Freedom House are supposed to be impartial arbiters of press freedom around the world and are rarely subject to scrutiny. Yet both have taken funding from the U.S. government and/or U.S.-government supported organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (which was set up to conduct activities “much of [which]” the “CIA used to fund covertly,” as the Washington Post reported at the time, and which also provided funding and training to organizations involved in the afore-mentioned 2002 Venezuelan coup) and other “democracy promotion” groups.

The NED has spent millions of dollars in Venezuela and Ecuador in recent years to support groups opposed to the governments there. This conflict of interest is never noted in the press, and RSF and Freedom House, when they are cited, are invariably presented as noble defenders of press freedom, for whom ulterior motives are apparently unimaginable.

The true irony in the cases of Snowden, Assange, Manning and others is that the U.S. government, while claiming to defend freedom of the press, speech and information, has launched an assault on the media that is unprecedented in U.S. history.

The extreme lengths to which it has gone to apprehend (witness the forced downing of President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria) and punish (Bradley Manning being the most obvious example) whistle-blowers is clear. Apparently less understood by some U.S. journalists is that it is part of an assault on these very freedoms that the U.S. government pretends to uphold.

The U.S. government’s pursuit of Wikileaks – through grand jury and FBI investigations, and open condemnation of Julian Assange as a “terrorist” – is a blatant attack on the press. It seems too many journalists forget – or willingly overlook – that Wikileaks is a media organization, and that the leaks that have so infuriated the U.S. government, from the “Collateral Murder” video to “Cablegate”, Wikileaks published in partnership with major media outlets including the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and others.

Now, as Edward Snowden’s leaks are published in The Guardian and other outlets, efforts have been launched to delegitimize journalist Glenn Greenwald, and some in the media have been all too willing to take part in attacking one of their own, simply for exposing government abuse – i.e. doing journalism.

There is a long history of partnership between traditional, corporate media outlets in the U.S. and those in Latin America. Due to a variety of reasons, including educational, class and often racial backgrounds, journalists throughout the hemisphere often tend to share certain biases. It is the journalist’s duty to be as objective as possible, however, and to let the media consumer decide where the truth lies.

Likewise, eagerly going along with double standards that reinforce paradigms of “American exceptionalism” and that overlook the U.S.’ long, checkered human rights history and minimize the importance of over a century of U.S. intervention and interference in Latin America does a great injustice to journalism and the public.

Likewise, media distortions of the state of democracy and press freedoms in countries that are routinely condemned by the U.S. government – such as Venezuela and Ecuador – contribute to a climate of demonization that enables U.S. aggression against those countries and damages relations between the people of the U.S. and our foreign neighbors.

Signed by:

Thomas Adams, Visiting Professor, Tulane University
Marc Becker, Professor, Department of History, Truman State University
Julia Buxton, Venezuela specialist
Barry Carr, Honorary Research Associate, La Trobe University, Australia
George Ciccariello-Maher, Assistant Professor, Drexel University
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies, Salem State University

Luis Duno-Gottberg, Associate Professor, Caribbean and Film Studies, Rice University
Steve Ellner, Professor, Universidad de Oriente, Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela
Arturo Escobar, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Nicole Fabricant, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Towson University
Sujatha Fernandes, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate
Center, City University of New York
John French, Professor, Department of History, Duke University
Lesley Gill, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
Greg Grandin, Professor, Department of History, New York University
Daniel Hellinger, Professor, Department of Political Science, Webster University
Forrest Hylton, Lecturer, History and Literature, Harvard University
Chad Montrie, Professor, Department of History, UMASS-Lowell,
Deborah Poole, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University,
Margaret Power, Professor, Department of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New
York
Suzana Sawyer, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California
T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus, School of Music, University of Iowa
Steve Striffler, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of New Orleans
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor, Department of History, Pomona College
Sinclair Thomson, Associate Professor, Department of History, New York University
Jeffery R. Webber, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of
London
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Laughing at Snowden’s Asylum Requests

The Detention of Evo Morales: A Defining Moment For Latin America?

By Emily Achtenberg | Rebel Currents | July 12, 2013

As the international uproar continues over last week’s grounding of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane in Europe, after U.S. officials apparently suspected whistle-blower Edward Snowden of being on board, many questions remain unanswered about the United States’ role and motives.

But one thing is certain: if the U.S. government was seeking to intimidate Morales and other Latin American leaders who might consider harboring Snowden, its strategy has completely backfired. Instead, the incident has bolstered Morales’s domestic and international standing, consolidated regional unity, and emboldened the bloc of leftist governments that seeks to counter U.S. dominance in the region. It has also dealt a damaging, and potentially fatal, blow to the future of U.S.–Latin American relations under the Obama administration.

The crisis was set off by Morales’s statement on July 2 in Russia, where he was attending an energy conference, that he would be willing to consider a petition by Snowden for asylum. Later that evening, on his return flight to Bolivia, Morales’s plane was denied entry into the airspace of France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, forcing it to make an unscheduled landing in Vienna where it was diverted for 13 hours before receiving clearance to proceed.

In response to Bolivia’s persistent questioning, the four European countries have offered equivocal and somewhat contradictory—if not preposterous—explanations for their actions. France, which has apologized to Morales, says it didn’t realize that the Bolivian president was on the presidential jet. Portugal, originally scheduled as a refueling stop, says its airport wasn’t capable of servicing the plane. Italy now completely denies having closed its airspace.

Spain, after initially attributing the problem to the expiration of its flyover permit during Morales’s unexpected layover in Austria, later admitted that the United States had asked it to block the flight (although the United States has not acknowledged any role in the incident). At first, Spanish officials also claimed that the plane was searched for Snowden in Vienna at the behest of the United States—an action which, if taken without Bolivia’s permission, would constitute a violation of international law even more egregious than the denial of airspace to the presidential jet.

More recently, Spain has insisted (and Bolivia concurs) that it ultimately granted airspace permission upon Bolivia’s written assurance that Snowden was not on board the plane. Spain, which has sought to improve economic relations with Bolivia after being hit hard by Morales’s nationalization of its airport management and electric companies, has also offered to apologize.

The apparent willingness of four European governments to put U.S. interests ahead of international law and Bolivia’s rights as a sovereign nation—despite themselves being victimized by illegal U.S. spying activities—stands in sharp contrast to Latin America, where the detention of an indigenous president is seen as the latest grievance in a long history of colonial and imperial transgressions. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García Linera has denounced the incident as an imperial “kidnapping.”

For many Bolivians, the episode is viewed as a deliberate effort by the U.S. government to punish Morales for his persistent anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions, including the expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2008, and, most recently, USAID. It also strikes a special nerve since the United States hosts, and has refused to extradite, some of Bolivia’s most wanted criminals, including neoliberal ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni), facing charges of genocide in connection with the killing of 67 indigenous protesters during the 2003 “Gas Wars.”

Within hours of Morales’s detention, other leftist Latin American governments rallied in outraged solidarity with Bolivia. Argentine President Cristina Fernández labeled the incident “a remnant of the colonialism we thought had been overcome.” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa tweeted, “We are all Bolivia!”

Along with expressions of support from ALBA, CELAC, Mercosur, and other regional blocs, UNASUR issued a statement condemning the action on July 4, signed by six heads of state (Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Suriname) who attended an emergency meeting. Governments from across the region’s political spectrum (including Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile) closed ranks behind Morales.

On July 9, the OAS issued a consensus resolution expressing solidarity with Morales and demanding apologies and explanations from the four European nations (but not the United States.) Internationally, more than 100 UN member nations have collectively denounced the incident, bolstering Bolivia’s complaint before the UN High Commission on Human Rights.

The provocative detention of Morales undoubtedly precipitated the decision of three leftist Latin American governments—Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (conditionally)—to offer asylum to Snowden, in open defiance of the United States. As journalist Stephen Kinzer has noted, with the U.S./ European rogue actions converting Snowden into a Latin American hero, the offer of asylum is politically popular in the region. This sentiment also stems from the regional legacy of dictatorship and political persecution, including the personal experiences of many leftist leaders. As Uruguayan President José Mujica (a former Tupamaro guerrilla) declared, “To all of us who have been persecuted, the right to asylum is sacred and must be defended.”

Broad regional support also makes it easier for any country offering shelter to Snowden to resist U.S. demands for extradition. As well, the mounting evidence of U.S. pressure on European and Latin American countries to deny sanctuary or transit assistance to Snowden, interfering with their sovereign decision-making processes, strengthens the case for asylum, legally and politically. U.S. officials have made it clear that any country aiding Snowden will be made to suffer, putting relations with the United States “in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

Still, in a region that remains heavily dependent on U.S. trade, the threat of U.S. retaliation through economic sanctions will be a major factor in the asylum calculus for any government, as illustrated by the recent case of Ecuador. After initially championing Snowden’s cause and apparently aiding his transit from Hong Kong to Moscow, Correa suddenly backed off after a phone call from Joe Biden, saying that Biden’s concerns were “worth considering.” While Correa has defiantly renounced Ecuador’s long-standing U.S. trade preferences as an instrument of “political blackmail,” he apparently hopes to replace them with an alternative set of duty-free waivers under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, an option that could be jeopardized by an asylum offer.

Similar considerations will no doubt be of concern to Venezuela and Bolivia, should either of their asylum offers materialize into reality (a complex proposition, given the many obstacles to achieving Snowden’s safe transit). While political relations between these countries and the United States have been polarized for some time—with the U.S. government still failing to recognize Nicolás Maduro’s April election—Venezuela still exports 40% of its oil to U.S. markets, and the United States remains as Bolivia’s third largest trading partner (after Brazil and Argentina). Bolivia also enjoys some of the same GSP trade preferences that Ecuador is seeking, which cover around 50% of its U.S. exports.

Still, the incident has greatly strengthened both Morales and Maduro domestically and internationally, corroborating their anti-imperialist worldviews. For Morales—newly characterized by García Linera as the “leader of the anti-imperialist presidents and peoples of the world”—the wave of solidarity responding to his personal victimization has consolidated his political popularity in a pre-election year. Recalling the 2002 presidential election when the U.S. Ambassador’s negative comments about candidate Morales catapulted him unexpectedly into second place, García Linera jokes that Obama has become Morales’s new campaign manager.

For Maduro, whose asylum offer is being promoted by Russia, the opportunity to champion Snowden’s cause and challenge the United States on a world stage, with substantial regional support, has allowed him to genuinely reclaim Hugo Chávez’s anti-imperialist mantle. “It provides the perfect opportunity for Maduro…to figure internationally, to show that he is a player among the big powers…and that he’s capable of challenging the United States,” says political analyst Eduardo Semetei.

In terms of overall U.S.-Latin American relations, the episode could be a defining moment for the Obama administration. As Kinzer notes, the downing of Morales’s jet may have reflected a genuine U.S. effort to capture Snowden—as opposed to a shot across the bow to intimidate Snowden’s potential supporters—but even so, the depth of misunderstanding as to how the incident would resonate in Latin America is telling. New daily revelations from Snowden’s data trove about massive U.S. spying programs in the region are adding fuel to the fire, further strengthening the leftist popular bloc—and confirming Glenn Greenwald’s assessment that the U.S. government has been its own worst enemy throughout this entire episode. It is difficult to imagine how the Obama administration can recover the region’s trust any time soon.

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Detention of Evo Morales: A Defining Moment For Latin America?

Ecuador snubs US trade ‘blackmail’ over Snowden, offers human rights training

RT | June 28, 2013

Ecuador renounced trade benefits which the US threatened to revoke over the Latin American country’s consideration of harboring NSA leaker Edward Snowden. It offered $23 million a year to fund human rights education for Americans instead.

The government of leftist President Rafael Correa came up with an angry response on Thursday after an influential US senator said he would use his leverage over trade issues to cut preferential treatment of Ecuadoran goods at the US market, should Ecuador grant political asylum to Snowden.

“Ecuador will not accept pressures or threats from anyone, and it does not traffic in its values or allow them to be subjugated to mercantile interests,” government spokesman Fernando Alvarado said at a news conference.

He added that Ecuador is willing to allocate $23 million annually, an equivalent of the sum that it gained from the benefits, to fund human rights training in the US. It will “avoid violations of privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity,” Alvarado said.

US Senator Robert Menendez, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, said this week that Ecuador risks losing the benefits it enjoys under two trade programs because of its stance on the NSA whistleblower.

“Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” he said.

The US is Ecuador’s prime trade partner, with over 40 percent of exports going to the US market.

Both programs were due to expire by the end of next month and were subject to congressional review. Before the Snowden debacle arose, the US legislature was expected to scrap one of them while renewing another one.

Snowden has applied for political asylum, hoping to find protection from American prosecutors, who charged him with espionage over his leaking of classified documents on US surveillance programs.

He is currently thought to be staying in the transit zone of a Moscow airport. He became stranded in the Russian capital after arriving from Hong Kong, because the US annulled his travel passport as part of its effort to get him to American soil for trial.

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ecuador snubs US trade ‘blackmail’ over Snowden, offers human rights training