Latin American countries should discuss removing all US military bases from their soil, a top official of integration organization UNASUR suggested. The issue may be discussed next month at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The Summit of the Americas on April 10 and 11 is to be attended by regional leaders, with 31 nations already confirming attendance. UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper suggested that the summit would be a good place to “reassess relations between the US and South America.”
“A good point on the new agenda of relations [in Latin America] would be the elimination of US military bases,” the former Columbian president told the news agency EFE.
He added that the bases were “a leftover from the days of the Cold War and other clashes.”
Samper also blasted Washington’s habit of taking unilateral steps to pursue its goals in Latin America. The latest example is the US declaration of Venezuela as a threat to its national security, he said.
“In a globalized world like the present one, you can’t ask for global rules for the economy and maintain unilateral rules for politics. No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” he stressed.
The Panama meeting has already been declared historic as it will be the first one attended by Cuba since 1962, when it was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS), the event’s organizing body. In 2014, the US and Canada blocked the proposal to readmit Cuba, which drew criticism from UNASUR and a boycott of last year’s summit of the Americas by Ecuador and Nicaragua.
This year Cuban President Raul Castro will have an opportunity to meet his US counterpart Barack Obama, marking progress in the restoration of US-Cuban relations after decades of alienation.
Samper said that the Cuban-US rapprochement should not overshadow Washington’s conflict with Caracas, which is also sending a delegation to the Panama summit, the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, US militarization of the continent and other issues.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is a regional integration organization that includes 12 members and two observer nations. It was formally founded in 2004 and became fully functional in 2011, when its Constitutive Treaty entered into force following ratification by member states. UNASUR is headed by a president chosen from heads of member states, but the secretary-general performs the bulk of the organizational work.
Fifty-four Colombian girls were sexually abused by US troops and military contractors between 2003 and 2007, claims a new report by the country’s reconciliation commission. None of the perpetrators were ever prosecuted because US forces had immunity.
The claims are part of an 800-page report by an independent commission established by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group. The commission’s goal is to determine the causes and document the consequences of the civil war that has ravaged the country for 50 years and claimed over seven million lives.
“There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials,” Renan Vega, of the National University of Colombia in Bogota, told Colombia Reports.
Vega authored the portion of the report documenting the allegations of sexual abuse by US military personnel and contractors, deployed in the country under ‘Plan Colombia’ to back the government against FARC and cocaine cartels.
Most of the abuses allegedly took place in Melgar, a town in the province of Tolima, located 61 miles (98 km) southwest of Bogota. In one instance, contractors based at Tolemaida Air Base were abusing more than 50 underage girls and making pornographic videos.
In another instance, in 2007, one US sergeant and a security contractor were accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. An investigation by Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and assaulted inside the military base by Sergeant Michael J. Coen and contractor Cesar Ruiz. Both were flown out of the country, as terms of the US-Colombian Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) gave US personnel immunity from local laws.
The girl and her family left Melgar and moved to Medellin, claiming harassment and threats from the US-allied government forces.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo reported that Melgar was dealing with a ”a growing societal problem” of sexually exploited minors, “augmented by the presence of foreigners, especially those from the United States tied to oil and military endeavors.” The newspaper reported that there had been 23 formal complaints in 2006 and 13 in 2007. Left-leaning news site El Turbion corroborated the numbers.
According to the government, 7,234 Colombian women were registered as victims of sex crimes during the conflict.
Uruguay’s president, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla who lives on a farm and gives most of his salary to charity, is stepping down after five years in office, ending his term as one of the world’s most popular leaders ever.
Mujica, 79, is leaving office with a 65 percent approval rating. He is constitutionally prohibited from serving consecutive terms.
“I became president filled with idealism, but then reality hit,” Mujica said in an interview with a local newspaper earlier this week, according to AFP.
Some call him “the world’s poorest president.” Others the “president every other country would like to have.” But Mujica says “there’s still so much to do” and hopes that the next government, led by Tabare Vazquez (who was elected president for a second time last November) will be “better than mine and will have greater success.”
Mujica said he succeeded in putting Uruguay on the world map. He managed to turn the cattle-ranching country, home to 3,4 million people, into an energy-exporting nation, Brazil being Uruguay’s top export market (followed by China, Argentina, Venezuela and the US.)
Uruguay’s $55 billion economy has grown an average 5.7 percent annually since 2005, according to the World Bank. Uruguay has maintained its decreasing trend in public debt-to-GDP ratio – from 100 percent in 2003 to 60 percent by 2014. It has also managed to decrease the cost of its debt, and reduce dollarization – from 80 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2014.
“We’ve had positive years for equality. Ten years ago, about 39 percent of Uruguayans lived below the poverty line; we’ve brought that down to under 11 percent and we’ve reduced extreme poverty from 5 percent to only 0.5 percent,” Mujica told the Guardian in November.
After Latin America’s anti-drug war proved a failure, the South American country became the first in the world to fully legalize marijuana, with Mujica arguing that drug trafficking is in fact more dangerous than marijuana itself.
One of the most progressive leaders in Latin America. Muijica also legalized abortion and same-sex marriage and agreed to take in detainees once held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. Six former US detainees, who were never charged with a crime, came to Uruguay in December as refugees. The six included four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian. Although they were cleared for release back in 2009, the US was not able to discharge them until Uruguayan President offered to receive them.
Mujica, a former leftist Tupamaro guerrilla leader, spent 13 years in jail during the years of Uruguay’s military dictatorship. He survived torture and endless months of solitary confinement. Majica said he never regretted his time in jail, which he believes helped shape his character.
Mujica’s kindness speaks volumes: He refused to move to Uruguay’s luxurious presidential mansion to live in a farm outside Montevideo with his wife and a three-legged dog named Manuela. Pepe gives away about 90 percent of his salary to charity, saying he simply doesn’t need it. He drives an 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Last year, Mujica turned down a $1 million offer from an Arab sheik who offered to buy his blue car. Pepe refused to sell the vehicle, saying it would offend “all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.”
In January, a young Uruguayan man posted a message on his Facebook page recounting how Mujica and his wife picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
“On Monday, I was looking for a ride from Conchilla and guess who picked me up on the road?” Gerhald Acosta wrote on his Facebook post January 7. “They were the only ones who would stop!”
“When I got out, I thanked them profusely because not everyone helps someone out on the road, and much less a president,” the man told Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper.
US sanctions against Russia can be considered as economic terrorism, said acting Bolivian President Evo Morales in an interview to RT. He also revealed his secret job aspiration.
“This [US sanctions against Russia] is genuine economic terrorism. The country that thinks it can dominate the world is making a mistake,” says Morales.
“I think that US President Barack Obama doesn’t’ know what is going on in other countries and continents.”
According to Morales, a single country “cannot rule in this multipolar world,” as all the issues should be “settled in cooperation among the states; that’s what the UN is for.”
“Thus I condemn and reject these kind of actions [US sanctions against Russia],” said the president, adding that Bolivia shares “the struggle of the Russian people.”
“I express my solidarity with Russian people and their President [Vladimir Putin],” he added.
Morales recently coasted to victory in the country’s presidential elections. He won the third term, securing 60.5 percent of the vote according to a count released by local TV channel ATB.
“This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists,” Morales announced from the balcony of his palace to thousands of supporters. He dedicated his victory to Cuba’s ex-President Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
Morales took office in 2006, and after the latest victory will remain the state leader until January 2020.
Under Morales’ term the number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty reduced and he delivered economic growth of more than 5 percent a year.
In an interview with RT, he noted that one of the main political purposes for Bolivia will be fighting poverty.
“I hope that nobody will have the childhood I had: without electricity, telecommunications, drinking water,” said Morales, adding that he often drank water from a pond when he was a child.
According to the Bolivian president, the country has achieved in just nine years what it hitherto couldn’t achieve in 180.
“I want to speak of my experience. How important it was to start from the bottom: poverty. That’s why I always say that my nation is my family. Homeland is my soul. Bolivia is my life.” … Full article
The Economist’s Bello column this week has a column entitled “Memory is not history“, which argues that “there are dangers [in South America’s] intellectual fashion for “historical memory”.” It goes on to accuse “the left” of “rewriting history” – in fact, of imposing “memory” over an accurate “history”.
I would argue that the piece contains several important distortions, aside from trying to lump together a region from Colombia down to the Southern Cone.
The historical truth silenced by “memory” is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides.
But it was not. To take the example of Argentina, yes, there were Montoneros and there were incidences of left-wing violence before the 1976 coup. But to suggest that the small leftist group, which was largely destroyed before the military took power, was in any way equivalent to the forces of the State is very far off the mark.
The Economist points out that some human rights groups in Argentina tend to use the figure of 30,000 disappeared and it contrasts this with the nearly 9,000 victims recorded by the CONADEP commission. It is inaccurate and unfair to use the CONADEP list to undermine estimates of the disappeared, and I explained why in detail years ago. See also here for more on the numbers.
None of this mitigates the inexcusable barbarity of Pinochet or of the Argentine junta.
The problem is that it does. You can’t equate State terrorists with their victims, suggest that calculations of the disappeared are deliberately inflated, and then claim that you’re not weakening the accounts of the dictatorships’ crimes.
Memorials are a shorthand, yes. You can’t include the whole complexities of a country’s experiences on a plaque. Memory, in its wider sense, tends to include the testimonies of victims and relatives and it encompasses a whole range of commemorative acts, both formal and informal. Pulling out the memory/history dichotomy and reiterating the dos demonios theory (“each side was as bad as the other”) is a means of obscuring human rights abuses and seeking to paper over the crimes of the past.
Argentina’s Senate has passed a law that will let the country continue paying off its default debt by transferring international bond payments from New York to local banks, which would let other investors buy Argentine debt.
The scheme, to get around a US judge’s order to immediately pay back $1.6 billion to “vulture” hedge funds in Manhattan, is the initiative of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The bill passed by a vote 39 to 27.
The initiative proposes to begin challenging payments through third parties, and allowing them to trade their bonds for new debt issued under Argentine law. Argentina’s state Banco de la Nacion could become the trustee for payments, replacing the Bank of New York Mellon. Another proposal is to make Paris a main destination for debt payments.
The US district court that ruled on Argentina’s debt maintains this is illegal.
Next week the law will be discussed in Argentina’s lower house Chamber of Deputies.
It is a brazen move against the ‘vulture’ funds that sent the country into default in July after demanding the immediate payment of $1.6 billion ($1.3 billion plus interest) in restructured debt, instead of the planned $539 million to bondholders. The ruling banned Argentina from making interest payment on restructured debt before settling with the New York hedge funds. The hedge funds had rejected Argentina’s requests to restructure the debt in 2005 and 2010.
“Sometimes there are court decisions that cannot be followed,” Miguel Angel Pichetto, head of the government’s Victory Front coalition in the Senate, said on Thursday.
Argentina has said it will take the US to the International Court of Justice for judicial malpractice.
“To pay the vulture funds would be very dangerous,” Pichetto said.
Washington has refused to allow the UN International Court of Justice (IJC) to hear Argentina’s claims that US court decisions on the country’s debt have violated Argentina’s sovereignty.
“We do not view the ICJ as an appropriate venue for addressing Argentina’s debt issues, and we continue to urge Argentina to engage with its creditors to resolve remaining issues with bondholders,” the US State Department told Reuters in an email.
The State Department sent an email with the same content to one of Argentina’s leading newspapers, the Clarin.
Argentina complained against Washington’s decisions on its debt to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday.
But according to existing norms, Buenos Aires needs Washington to voluntarily accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction for the proceedings to begin.
The US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction back in 1986 after the UN court ruled that America’s covert war against Nicaragua was in violation of international law.
Since then, Washington accepts International Court of Justice jurisdiction only on a case-by-case basis.
On Friday, US District Judge Thomas Griesa, who oversees Argentina’s legal battle with hedge funds, threatened that a contempt of court order may be implemented.
Griesa said it will be put forward if Argentina continues to “falsely” insist that it has made a required debt payment on restructured sovereign bonds.
The warning caused confusion, as the judge didn’t specify who will face the punishment – Argentina or its lawyers.
It will be quite difficult to sanction the Argentinean state, as US federal law largely protects the assets of foreign governments held in the US, said Michael Ramsey, a professor of international law at the University of San Diego.
“You can’t put Argentina in jail, so I’m not sure what he’d have in mind besides monetary sanctions,” Ramsey said.
Later on Friday, Argentina’s economy ministry issued another statement, accusing the US judge of “clear partiality in favor of the vulture funds.”
“Judge Griesa continues contradicting himself and the facts by saying that Argentina did not pay,” the statement said.
Previously, Argentina announced the restructuring of 93 percent of its 2001 debt, but creditors holding the other seven percent of the bonds demanded full payment and initiated a legal battle.
A New York court ruled that Argentina had to pay $1.33 billion to the hedge funds, blocking the transfer of $590 million that Buenos Aires forwarded in order to cover its restructured debt.
The judge said Argentina had to start talks with the lenders that didn’t approve the debt restructuring and negotiate to postpone the payment with those who did agree.
With lenders unable to receive payment, international regulators and rating agencies announced Argentina’s ‘selective’ default.
Ecuador has said it will not deal with the coup-appointed government in Kiev and has called for fair elections. President Rafael Correa declared he would only negotiate with a “legitimate government” that represents the will of the Ukrainian people.
In his weekly address to the Ecuadorian people, Correa explained why Ecuador had abstained from the UN General Assembly vote Thursday that passed a resolution condemning Crimea’s union with Russia.
“We will not fall for a farce, we will only deal with a legitimate government,” said Correa, adding that Ecuador does not recognize the current government that is the product of a coup d’état. To win the support of Ecuador, Ukraine should hold democratic elections and establish a legitimate government chosen by the Ukrainian people, Correa said.
Moscow has also decried the coup-appointed government that came to power in Kiev at the end of February following weeks of bloody protests in the Ukrainian capital’s Independence Square.
“The current government is the product of devious machinations, to put to it mildly, clearly supported by hypocritical rhetoric from the West,” Correa said.
On Crimea’s decision to become a part of Russia and break from Ukraine, he said the region was “historically Russian,” but the Crimean referendum “does not change the constitution.”
With this in mind, Correa explained that Ecuador could not accept the stance of the Ukrainian government – which he described as an extension of the United States – or Moscow’s position until Crimea’s status had been clarified.
Ecuador, along with 58 other nations, abstained from a UN General Assembly vote Thursday that condemned Crimea’s referendum to join Russia as “illegal.” The resolution was supported by 100 nations, while 11 opposed it.
Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe all voted against the resolution.
Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, a General Assembly resolution is not legally binding.
Russia condemned the UN assembly vote as “confrontational” and undermining the referendum and the right to self-determination of the Crimean people. The initiative for Crimea to reunite with Russia came from the Crimean people themselves, not from Moscow, said Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin.
Russia also previously vetoed a Security Council resolution that said the Crimean referendum to join Russia would have “no validity” in an emergency session held the day before Crimea headed to the polls.
On March 16, an overwhelming majority of Crimean residents voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation, in the wake of bloody protests in Kiev that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
Roger Cohen, what a disappointment. He is not Tom Friedman or David Brooks, and shouldn’t be insulting an entire nation based on a clump of tired old clichés and a lack of information. Argentina is “the child among nations that never grew up” he writes, and “not a whole lot has changed” since he was there 25 years ago. OK, let’s see what we can do to clean up this mess with a shovel and broom made of data.
For Cohen, Argentina since the government defaulted on its debt has been an economic failure. Tens of millions of Argentines might beg to differ.
For the vast majority of people in Argentina, as in most countries, being able to find a job is very important. According to the database of SEDLAC (which works in partnership with the World Bank), employment as a percentage of the labor force hit peak levels in 2012, and has remained close to there since. This is shown in Figure 1.
Argentina: Employment Rate, Percent of Total Population
Source: SEDLAC (2014).
We can also look at unemployment data from the IMF (Figure 2). Of course the current level of 7.3 percent is far below the levels reached during the depression of 1998-2002, which was caused by the failed neoliberal experiment that the Kirchners did away with – it peaked at 22.5 percent in 2002. But it is also far below the level of the boom years of that experiment (1991-1997) when it averaged more than 13 percent.
Argentina: Unemployment Rate
Source: IMF WEO (Oct 2013).
How about poverty? Here is data from SEDLAC (Figure 3), which does not use the official Argentine government’s inflation rate but rather a higher estimate for the years after 2007. It shows a 76.3 percent drop in the poverty rate from 2002-2013, and an 85.7 percent drop in extreme poverty.
Argentina: Poverty and Extreme Poverty
Source: SEDLAC (2014).
Most of the drop in poverty was from the very high economic growth (back to that in a minute) and consequent employment. But the government also implemented one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in Latin America, a conditional cash transfer program.
Finally, there is economic growth. In a terribly flawed article today, the Wall Street Journal reported on a soon-to-be published study showing that Argentina’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is 12 percent less than the official figures indicate. (As the article noted, the government, in co-operation with the IMF, implemented a new measure of inflation in January, which should resolve this data problem that has existed since 2007). If we assume that the 12 percent figure is correct, then using IMF data Argentina from 2002-2013 still has real GDP growth rate of 81 percent, or 5.6 percent annually. That is the third highest of 32 countries in the region (after Peru and Panama). And incidentally, very little of this growth was driven by a “commodities boom,” or any exports for that matter.
Despite current economic problems, the country that Cohen ridicules has done extremely well by the most important economic and social indicators, since it defaulted on most of its foreign debt and sent the IMF packing at the end of 2002. This is true by any international comparison or in comparison with its past. Many foreign corporations and the business press, as well as right-wing ideologues, are upset with Argentina’s policies for various reasons. They don’t really like any of the left governments that now govern most of South America, and Washington would like to get rid of all of them and return to the world of 20 years ago when the U.S. was in the drivers’ seat. But there’s really no reason for Roger Cohen to be jumping on this bandwagon.
Merida – Venezuelan researchers are studying ways to use bamboo to provide cheap, environmentally friendly housing.
With funding from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, students and educators at Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar University (USB) are undertaking research into improving the durability and lifespan of bamboo, along with conducting studies into possible uses of the material in housing construction.
Initial tests have already been carried out on experimental, reinforced bamboo developed at the university, according to a press release from the government’s National Foundation for Science and Technology (Fonacit). The foundation is supporting the study.
“The preliminary results were positive,” director of the USB’s Centre for Surface Engineering Professor Joaquín Lira stated.
Lira explained that the experimental bamboo has been strengthened with polymers mixed with ceramic powders. According to the professor, the reinforcing mixture succeeded in “plugging holes made by pests” and improved the uniformity of the material.
In a second phase of the study, researchers hope to construct a prototype apartment block with the reinforced bamboo. According to Lira, the modified bamboo is intended for future use as a “structural element for green, affordable housing”.
A mission to provide affordable housing to the country’s poor was launched by former president Hugo Chavez, has been continued under his successor, President Nicolas Maduro. By the end of last year, over 500,000 homes had been constructed since mid 2011 under the housing mission, according to the government. The Maduro administration has committed to constructing three million new homes by 2019. Although current construction figures are behind schedule, the government has pledged to speed up building.
Lira argued that bamboo is a logical choice for construction material in South America.
“Venezuela , Brazil and Colombia are countries with high production potential for… bamboo…adapted for construction,” Lira stated.
“In these countries, it’s estimated that there are 11 million hectares of bamboo,” the professor said.
The USB is sourcing its bamboo from 200 growers in Aragua state.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It can reportedly grow as much as 250cm in 24 hours, depending on climate and soil conditions. Lira also argued that bamboo is cheaper than other construction materials, strong and environmentally friendly.
However, the professor indicated that more research should be undertaken, particularly to reduce bamboo’s susceptibility to insects.
“Technically, we know little about bamboo [construction],” Lira stated, though the plant has been used in buildings for centuries.
“There are three story homes, bridges and churches built with this plant,” Lira said.
The research is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2015.