Friday, July 31, 2009

Cuba Downturn

More Cuts in Public Spending Announced
By Carlos del Rocío
30 July 2009

In a message to the Cuban nation on the 56th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, the beginning of the military campaign that culminated in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, President Raúl Castro announced a second major cut in public spending.

In his July 26 speech, Castro said the new measure was in response to what he called a “significant reduction” in foreign investment. His remarks signaled that the Cuban economy is undergoing its worst downturn since the so-called “special period,” the protracted economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of subsidized trade with the Soviet bloc.

Speaking in the eastern city of Holguín, Castro warned Cubans that conditions will worsen. “Let us not entertain any illusions,” he said. “As we commemorate this half-century of victories, it is time to reflect on the future...the coming years will not be easier. This is the truth. I am not saying this to scare anyone.”

He deplored the fact that “little” has been done to achieve a “strategic priority” of returning land to the production of foodstuffs by leasing it to private hands, and he proposed the creation of a national comptroller to combat official corruption. He made no reference, however, to his plan for “structural and conceptual change” announced two years ago. Initially, the government lifted bans on Cubans buying cell phones and computers and staying in what were tourist-only hotels. The lack of any broader changes has caused significant discontent in the island nation.

He also did not speak of the sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) that was scheduled for the end of 2009. Statutes requiring a six-month discussion period prior to such a meeting appear to make it impossible to convene a congress by then.

Castro spoke for 35 minutes at this, the principal holiday in the Cuban political calendar. It was possibly the shortest speech ever given on this occasion.

The brevity of the message and its nearly exclusive focus on the economy reflected the subdued style of the Cuban president, in contrast to the long and florid speeches of his brother Fidel, who has been absent from public occasions for three years due to his health.

The concise speech may also reflect the narrow straits in which those who run the government find themselves, limited as they are by a crisis of liquidity that threatens to unleash a further deepening of the economic downturn.

In May, the Cuban government reduced its official estimate of growth for 2009 from 6 percent to between 2 and 2.5 percent. The United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America (Comisión Económica para América Latina) dropped the estimate to 1 percent and said that “the country will doubtless face a situation as adverse as the one it went through in the so-called special period in the 90s.”

In other words, the crisis threatens to erase 15 years of economic growth since Cuba began to emerge from the last major downturn in 1994.

The government reduced its spending 6 percent in the first trimester of this year, and last week announced a second cut. In his speech, the president recognized that the liquidity crisis persisted in the nation’s economy, and cited a “significant reduction” in exports and “new restrictions in access to sources of external financing.”

There has been no information released to the public about the balance of payments in 2008, but it is likely that it is in the red due to the increase in imports, principally of petroleum and food, as well as a fall in income from the sale of nickel and reduced levels of tourism.

Due to the lack of liquidity, a banking crisis resulted that has paralyzed the accounts of foreign lenders, who have begun to put the brakes on new supplies of cash until the payment problems are resolved, thus engendering a recessionary spiral. The government decided to reduce by 12 percent the consumption of electricity, which has caused further falls in the level of production and services.

Meanwhile, hopes that the Obama administration would scrap the half-century-old US economic blockade against the island have failed to materialize. The US administration has temporarily eased onerous restrictions on travel to the island and the sending of remittances by Cuban-Americans. The trade embargo, however, remains firmly in place.

Castro placed emphasis on the agricultural sector in his speech. He estimated that the redistribution of land under production, begun this year, “is advancing at a satisfactory pace,” but added that the 39 percent (690,000 hectares) that has been awarded to 82,000 peasants is “not enough.” He said that it is a “matter of national security to produce products in this country,” as spending on food imports was draining the Cuban economy of billions of dollars.

The president criticized the cult of revolutionary slogans and called for more dedication to food production: “It is not a matter of shouting ‘homeland or death,’ ‘down with imperialism,’ ‘the blockade is hurting us,’ while the land is lying there waiting for our sweat. No matter that it’s hotter than ever; there is no other remedy than for us to make this land produce.”

Aside from his words about the distribution of land and import substitution, Castro did not refer to his much-vaunted proposal to “transform concepts and methods” that he announced two years ago.

Instead, he confirmed that the parliament would discuss the creation of a comptroller’s office in the next week, which was to be an oversight office ensuring that “leadership structures” abide by the law.

Official corruption and the effective functioning of the hierarchy within institutions have been constant concerns in the discourse of President Castro since he assumed interim power in 2006.

In a video produced by the government that was shown to Communist Party of Cuba members about the dismissal of former vice president Carlos Lage and other high level functionaries last March, Castro speaks at length of the need to respect the Constitution and the rule of law, and stressed that discretionary orders and taking advantage of influence would not prevail, according to people who have seen the material.

The sixth congress of the PCC, whose date is uncertain, is the highest decision-making body of the only political party in Cuba and draws up the national strategy for the subsequent five-year period. The last time such a session occurred was in October of 1997, and it should have reconvened in 2002.

In the last three congresses, the debate went well beyond the ranks of the party, triggering a wider national discussion about the situation in the country and its future.

Castro did not give any indication as to whether the event has only been postponed a few months or if it would be suspended indefinitely.

In the wake of Castro’s speech, Cuba’s leading economic commentator suggested that the government is preparing to extend its turn towards privately run agriculture to other sectors of the economy.

“The leasing of state lands, which in the end is the placing of state property in the hands of producers, could be applied in other sectors, for example food services, retail trade, and other areas where really it is impossible, given the diversity and breadth, for the state to administer directly,” said the commentator, Ariel Terrero, in an appearance Tuesday on state-run television. Reuters news agency reported that his remarks echoed proposals in a recent report prepared by Cuba’s Economic and Planning ministry.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

GM Soy Bean

Study Released in Argentina Puts Glyphosate Under Fire

By Marie Trigona

Argentina has seen an explosion in genetically modified (GM) soy bean production with soy exports topping $16.5 billion in 2008. The fertile South American nation is now the world's third largest producer of soy, trailing behind the United States and Brazil. However, this lucrative industrial form of farming has come under fire with environmental groups, local residents, and traditional farmers reporting that GM soy threatens biodiversity, the nation's ability to feed itself, and health in rural communities.A study released by Dr. Andres Carrasco earlier this year reports that glyphosate causes birth defects.

Criticism of the soy farming model intensified recently when research released by Argentina's top medical school showed that a leading chemical used in soy farming may be harmful to human health. The study has alarmed policymakers in the South American nation.

A study released by an Argentine scientist earlier this year reports that glyphosate, patented by Monsanto under the name "Round Up," causes birth defects when applied in doses much lower than what is commonly used in soy fields.

The study was directed by a leading embryologist, Dr. Andres Carrasco, a professor and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires. In his office in the nation's top medical school, Dr. Carrasco shows me the results of the study, pulling out photos of birth defects in the embryos of frog amphibians exposed to glyphosate. The frog embryos grown in petri dishes in the photos looked like something from a futuristic horror film, creatures with visible defects—one eye the size of the head, spinal cord deformations, and kidneys that are not fully developed.

"We injected the amphibian embryo cells with glyphosate diluted to a concentration 1,500 times than what is used commercially and we allowed the amphibians to grow in strictly controlled conditions." Dr. Carrasco reports that the embryos survived from a fertilized egg state until the tadpole stage, but developed obvious defects which would compromise their ability to live in their normal habitats.

Pointing to the color photos spread on his desk, Dr. Carrasco says, "On the side where the contaminated cell was injected you can see defects in the eye and defects in the cartilage."

For the past 15 months, Dr. Carrasco's research team documented embryos' reactions to glyphosate. Embryological study is based on the premise that all vertebrate animals share a common design during the development stages. This accepted scientific premise means that the study indicates human embryonic cells exposed to glyphosate, even in low doses, would also suffer from defects.

"When a field is fumigated by an airplane, it's difficult to measure how much glysophate remains in the body," says Dr. Carrasco. "When you inject the embryonic cell with glysophate, you know exactly how much glysophate you are putting into the cell and you have a strict control."

Glyphosate is the top selling herbicide in the world and is widely used on soy crops in Argentina.

Monoculture soy is grown on more than 42 million acres of fields across Argentina and sprayed with more than 44 million gallons of glyphosate annually. It is part of a technological package sold by Monsanto that includes Round Up Ready seeds GM to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. This allows growers to fumigate directly onto the GM soy seed, killing nearby weeds without killing the crop. In the winter, crops are sprayed to kill off weeds and seeds are then planted without having to plow the soil, a process commonly referred to as "no-till farming." Nearly, 95% of the 47 million tons of soy grown in Argentina in 2007 was genetically modified, adopting the Round Up ready technology marketed by Monsanto.

The study on the top-selling agrochemical has alarmed policymakers, so much so that Dr. Carrasco has received anonymous threats and industry leaders demanded access to his laboratory immediately following the study's release. Industry leader Monsanto wouldn't talk to the Americas Program for this story, but in a press release on its website, the company says that "glyphosate is safe."

Many in the agro-business sector claim that Dr. Carrasco's study has little scientific basis. Guillermo Cal is the executive director of CASAFE—Argentina's association of agrochemical companies that counts Monsanto, Dow Agro-sciences, Dupont, and Bayer CropScience among its members. Cal dismissed the recent study conducted at the University of Buenos Aires. In an exclusive interview with the Americas Program, Cal rebuked Dr. Carrasco's study, stating, "There are hundreds of articles about the impact of glyphosate in amphibians and none of these articles have shown the disastrous effects that Dr. Carrasco is mentioning. I have the suspicion that these are headlines and probably [this study is a] politically motivated article."

On further investigation, it turned out that the studies that Guillermo Cal cited in the interview were all financed and conducted by the companies that market glyphosate. When asked about that Cal replied, "The developing companies are the ones that have to finance these studies because we need to have proof of the innocuous character of the product before the product is launched."
Frog embryos injected with glyphosate developed obvious defects which would
compromise their ability to live in their normal habitats.

Since Argentina's soybean boom in the late 90s, clinical studies have been conducted in communities reporting suspiciously high rates of cancer, birth defects, and neonatal mortality. However, industry leaders also refute these clinical studies, saying they are anecdotal and have little scientific basis. Among a corporate controlled scientific community it is notoriously difficult for clinical studies to "prove" the link between environmental contamination and health results, since life is not a "controlled environment."

In a small town bordering soy farms in the province of Cordoba, the Mothers of Ituzaingo group was formed in response to sudden increases in the local cancer rate. Ituzaingo has 5,000 residents—in 2001 they reported more than 200 cases of cancer and by 2009 that number has jumped to 300. This is 41 times the national average. (I conducted this calculation: the national average or percentage is 0.145 of the population diagnosed with cancer—in this town 6% of the population has cancer.) They have fought for regulations against fumigating soy crops in residential areas and a ban of agrochemicals.

Sofia Gatica is an activist with the Mothers of Ituzaingo. Sofia joined the grassroots group after suffering the death of her newborn baby. Her daughter was still born with a malformed kidney. Her 14-year-old daughter is currently undergoing treatment for toxicity in the blood. The toxin was identified as endosulfan, an insecticide used on soy fields.

Gatica describes the many birth defects that have occurred locally. "We have had children born with only two thumbs and no fingers, malformed kidneys, children with six fingers. We have had babies born without an anus, or with malformations in the intestines."

After years of documenting the tragedies, the Mothers of Itzuaingo decided to take their case to the courts. In 2006, they won their lawsuit in the provincial Supreme Court. Based on their findings the court ruled to prohibit the use of agrochemicals within 1,000 meters of residential areas. The decision applies to the province of Cordoba while in the rest of the country farmers can continue to fumigate with no regulations.

The case of Ituzaingo is not an isolated case. For nearly a decade, communities have reported health problems from aerial and terrestrial fumigation with the arsenal of pesticides and herbicides used in industrial soy farming. And for nearly a decade they have been ignored. "Communities are literally fumigated with planes or with the terrestrial 'mosquito repellant' fumigations (similar to the DEET trucks used to fumigate U.S. neighborhoods in the 50s). Cases of health problems, miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer rates have multiplied at an alarming rate in communities surrounding the soy fields," says Carlos A. Vicente, head of information for Latin America at GRAIN.

The Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE), a grassroots movement made up of traditional farmers and indigenous groups, has taken more than 100 accusations of agrochemical poisoning to court in Santiago del Estero. The only other case of a judge ruling against the use of herbicides occurred in the northern province of Formosa. The judge, Silvia Amanda Sevilla, was subsequently fired. No other judge in the country has ruled in favor of prohibiting fumigation using glyphosate or other herbicides and pesticides. The courts have either thrown out or ruled against every single claim brought by the plaintiffs. Darío Aranda, a journalist with the national daily, Página/12, has reported on numerous communities in soy-producing regions throughout the country that have faced severe health problems, including residents in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Chaco, Santa Fe, and Formosa.

Worse yet, research shows that the mostly rural communities that suffer the negative health effects of fumigations have not benefited from the soy explosion. On the contrary, in most regions families have been pushed off land taken over by soy farming, leading to a loss of livelihood in addition to the severe health risks. According to a 2002 agricultural census, in four years more than 200,000 families were driven from their traditional farms, and most of the families relocated in working class belts outside of major cities.

Authorities and industry representatives maintain that the clinical studies and citizen complaints must be backed up by "serious studies" in order for them to act. Gatica says that GM seed and agrochemical companies have converted Argentina into an experimenting ground to test the toxicity of their herbicides and pesticides, principally glyphosate and endosulfan. "We can prove that agrochemicals have harmed us. We can prove this with studies and with whatever is left of our children," says Gatica. The anger in her voice reflects the grief and rage she has channeled into this David and Goliath battle.

The expansion of soy means the increased use and concentration of glyphosate. Over time, Round Up herbicide loses its technological battle with evolution and new weeds develop that are more resistant to the herbicide, explains Javier Souza Casadinho, professor at the University of Buenos Aires and regional coordinator of the Latin American Action Network for Alternative Pesticides. "Producers must use more applications, and in higher doses with higher toxicity—the application has gone from three liters in 1999 to the current dose of 12 liters, per hectare," says Souza.

GM soy was swiftly approved for cultivation in Argentina in 1996, under former Agricultural Secretary Felipe Sola. A 180-page file report, prepared by GM giant Monsanto in English without a Spanish translation was the only document evaluated before Sola approved GM soy after only 81 days of review. The former secretary and investor in the soy industry won a seat in the legislature in the June 2009 elections, riding in on his opposition to President Cristina Kirchner's decision to increase the export tax on soy. Argentina's current Secretary of Agriculture Carlos Cheppi refused the Americas Program's formal request for an interview. His press secretary said Ricardo Gouna is "unwilling to talk about the use and regulation of agrochemicals in Argentina's soy industry."

The study in Argentina is not the only research concluding that the number one selling herbicide may be harmful to human health. Gilles-Eric Seralini, professor at the University of Caen and specialist in molecular biology, led a study that concluded the herbicides in the Round Up Ready package causes cells to die in human embryos.

"Even in doses diluted a thousand times, the herbicide could cause malformations, miscarriages, hormonal problems, reproductive problems, and different types of cancers," said Dr. Seralini in an interview with Dario Aranda published in Página/12. Round Up Ready is currently marketed in more than 120 nations. Latin American nations Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay are the region's fastest growing markets.

Since Carrasco's study was released in April, the NGO Association of Environmental Lawyers (Aadeaa) petitioned the Supreme Court to ban the use of glyphosate and endosulfan. Policymakers are currently considering the petition. The National Committee on Ethical Science has also recommended that the Agricultural Ministry create an investigative committee to urgently evaluate the effects of the number one selling herbicide in Argentina. Dr. Carrasco says that his study and previous studies should serve as a red-light warning for policymakers charged with evaluating regulations for glyphosate. The herbicide is currently categorized as a level 4 toxin—the lowest level possible for agrochemicals. In science and medicine, when you suspect that something dangerous is occurring, you need to implement the precautionary principle, which dictates: "I need to take precautions; I can't ignore the problem; I can't wait until there are a lot of deaths to intervene." Unfortunately, Argentine courts and federal, state, and local governments appear not to agree. Given the enormous economic stakes, precaution may come too late as soy has invaded the majority of Argentina's highly fertile land leading to irreversible social, health, and environmental consequences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Second Month

Honduran coup enters second month

By Bill Van Auken
29 July 2009

With the coup in Honduras having entered its second month, there is growing evidence that the Obama administration in Washington—while formally condemning the action—is working behind the scenes to consolidate the changes wrought by the June 28 overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya and use them to advance US interests throughout the region.

On Tuesday, the US State Department announced that it had revoked the diplomatic visas of four unnamed members of the coup regime led by Roberto Micheletti, a former Zelaya ally and fellow Liberal Party member who headed the Honduran congress before the coup.

Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the visas of all of the regime’s officials were being reviewed, but rejected suggestions that it was a matter of “ratcheting up the pressure” or “turning the screw” on the Micheletti regime. Instead, he claimed it meant to aid the negotiation process initiated at Washington’s behest by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

The action has limited significance. Wealthy members of the coup regime have bank accounts in the US and condos in Florida and thus will experience some inconvenience.

But in the same press conference, the spokesman indicated that the State Department’s legal section had yet to determine—one month after soldiers grabbed Zelaya from his bed, forced him onto an airplane and flew him into exile—whether or not the events of June 28 constituted a coup. Such a determination would trigger legal requirements to cut off all US relations and aid to the Honduran government. Thus far, Washington has merely “suspended” a relatively small military aid program.

The visa revocations were announced after ousted President Zelaya appealed to President Barack Obama to carry out the action. Zelaya, who is encamped in the Nicaraguan border town of Ocotal together with hundreds of supporters who braved military roadblocks and repression to join him, hailed Washington’s action.

“This is a coup that has been dead from the start, so they will have to abandon their position of intransigence in the coming hours,” he declared.

Perhaps more important than Zelaya’s personal appeal to Obama was a phone call the day before from Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim to Hillary Clinton, urging the visa revocations.

Washington is anxious to maintain Brazilian support for the Arias mediation maneuver in Costa Rica under conditions in which a number of Latin American governments appear to be growing frustrated with negotiations in San Jose, seeing them as a delaying tactic that is facilitating the consolidation of the coup regime.

On Monday, Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez announced that Chile’s ex-president Ricardo Lagos was seeking to form a commission of Latin American “statesmen” to carry out their own mediation. Mentioned in connection with the plan were former Uruguayan president Julio Maria Sanguinetti and Javier Perez de Cuellar, the Peruvian former secretary general of the United Nations.

The Arias negotiations have dragged on for weeks because of the intransigence of the coup regime, which has repeatedly rejected Zelaya’s return to Honduras for any other reason than submitting to arrest and trial for “treason.”

Those who plotted the coup have justified it with the claim that Zelaya had violated the constitution by attempting to amend it so that he could seek another term as president. While dutifully repeated by the bulk of the US media, this accusation is nonsensical.

The coup was launched on the pretext of a nonbinding plebiscite to determine whether there was popular support for amending Honduras’s constitution—a reactionary document dictated by the military and the US embassy following the end of the last dictatorship. If a vote for constituent assembly were held, it would have been concurrent with presidential elections set for November in which Zelaya would be barred from running.

Zelaya himself has repeatedly agreed to the terms of the so-called San Jose Accord drafted by Arias. Under this document, the coup leaders would be granted a general amnesty, including for the killing, jailing, torture and repression carried out against Honduran workers, youth and peasants who opposed their illegal regime.

Zelaya would be compelled to join a government of “national unity and reconciliation” dominated by the same political representatives of the Honduran oligarchy and the military that overthrew him. The accord also would bar him from making any moves toward amending the country’s constitution and force him to operate under a budget recently enacted by the coup regime.

Another part of the accord calls for the presidential elections to be moved up one month to October and indicates a central preoccupation of all sections of the Honduran ruling elite and its allies in Washington. It makes an appeal to the Honduran people to “avoid any type of demonstration which opposes the elections or their results, or promotes insurrection, unlawful conduct, civil disobedience or other actions that could produce violent confrontations or transgressions of the law.”

Zelaya—despite his brief steps across the border and demagogic statements—has proven himself entirely amenable to the terms being dictated by Washington.

Honduran working people who have opposed the coup, however, have struggled intransigently and have suffered intensifying repression as a result.

Thousands have risked their lives trying to get to the Nicaraguan border to support Zelaya’s return. Reports from Honduras indicate that as many as 2,000 people, many of them teachers and other workers who have been at the center of the demonstrations against the coup regime, have been encircled by the military in the mountainous border region without adequate food, water or medical supplies.

The regime has imposed an around-the-clock curfew in the area, meaning that the security forces have the pretext for arresting anyone on sight. Scores have been arrested and thrown into prison cells in the town of Danli, while it is reported that a soccer stadium is being prepared for mass detentions.

It was in this atmosphere of generalized repression that the regime carried out one of its most horrific crimes.

Pedro Magdiel Muñoz Salvador, a 23-year-old bricklayer, was arrested last Friday afternoon as the military sought to repress opponents of the regime headed for the border, attacking them with tear gas, clubs and gunfire.

On Saturday, his body was found by the side of a road near El Paraiso bearing 42 stab wounds, including one that sliced through his neck, killing him. The dumping of the tortured body of this young worker was understood as a deliberate attempt to terrorize other opponents of the coup.

His murder brings to at least five the number of opponents of the regime who have been killed since June 28. Isis Obed Murillo, 19 years old, was shot to death by troops during a demonstration at the Tegucigalpa airport on July 4. A death squad killed Gabriel Fino Noriega, a journalist in the town of San Juan Pueblo, as he left his radio station where he had broadcast reports critical of the Micheletti regime. Two members of the left-wing Democratic Unification party, who were active in the anti-coup demonstration, were also slain. Ramon Garcia was forced off a bus in the western state of Santa Barbara and shot execution-style. And Roger Ivan Bados was dragged out of his own home and shot to death.

There has been not a word of criticism form Washington over these slayings and the generalized repression and state terror carried out in Honduras since the coup.

In what appears to be a continuing of delaying tactics, the Honduran National Congress began an extraordinary session this week to consider the Arias accord’s proposals. It began on Monday to discuss the points on moving up the election and the granting of an amnesty. However, it put off the main issue of contention—allowing Zelaya to return to office, if not real power—by referring it to a congressional committee.

Meanwhile, the military sought to “clarify” a statement it issued over the weekend declaring its full support for the Arias accord, which calls for Zelaya’s return. The chief of the armed forces, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, told the media Monday, “The army in no way expressed its support for the restitution of señor Zelaya.” Instead, he claimed, it only meant to indicate support for the coup regime’s participation in the negotiations. The original statement was reportedly drafted in Washington by two Honduran colonels working together with US officials.

The Obama administration has made muted criticisms of the coup, while taking no concerted action to reverse it, and the Republican Party has enthusiastically embraced the illegal Honduran regime.

Two Republican congressmen, Brian Bilbray of California and Connie Mack of Florida, returned to Washington from a weekend “fact-finding” trip, praising the coup regime and denouncing Zelaya. Bilbray admitted that the army may have erred in the way it overthrew Zelaya: “Instead of taking him and putting him in prison the army took him to the border,” he said. (In reality, they flew to Costa Rica.) Mack said, “the people of Honduras should be congratulated and held up for what they have done,” and accused the Obama administration of “standing with the likes of Hugo Chavez.”

An indication of the support of the Republican right for the coup regime came in the form of an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal written by none other than Micheletti. The column reiterated the regime’s position that Zelaya should be allowed to return only for purposes of prosecution. It appealed for support as “one of America’s loyal allies,” invoking both the sordid past in which Honduras served as a base of operations for Washington’s bloody wars against the peoples of Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the supposed threat posed by Zelaya’s cementing of close relations with Venezuela.

Significantly, however, Micheletti also had words of praise for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He approvingly quoted Clinton’s condemnation of Zelaya’s crossing of the Honduran border as “reckless” and urged that “Rather than impose sanctions, the US should continue the wise policies of Mrs. Clinton”, i.e., the continuation of the Arias mediation.

Micheletti clearly understands the mediation process as an exercise in delay and legitimization of his actions. Moreover, he and the wealthy businessmen who support him have secured as their principal lobbyists in Washington two individuals with the closest political ties to the Clintons: Lanny Davis, the former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, and Bennett Ratcliff, a lobbyist who played a prominent role in Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ratcliff accompanied the delegation representing Micheletti in the Arias mediation sessions, reportedly advising it on its every action. It is inconceivable that such Washington insiders would play these roles without receiving a green light from the Obama administration.

There is ample evidence that the Obama administration and its ambassador in Tegucigalpa—Hugo Llorens, a holdover from the Bush administration—were apprised of and complicit in the plans for the June 28 coup, whatever qualms they may have had over its execution. It is likewise impossible to believe that the Honduran military, trained and armed by the US and working intimately with an American military force of at least 600 troops at the Soto Cano air base, would have acted without Pentagon clearance.

Behind Washington’s turn to such methods is the growing crisis of US imperialism in Latin America, a region it was long accustomed to regarding as its “own backyard.” Increasingly it has been challenged for economic dominance by its European and Asian rivals, as well as by the increasing international reach of Brazilian capital. It was recently announced that China had become Brazil’s number one trading partner, a position that the US had held for the previous 75 years.

US imperialism, however, is not about to cede its historic dominance of the hemisphere without a struggle. As in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere, it turns toward military force and counterrevolutionary violence to offset its economic decline. In this sense, the Honduran coup represents a warning to the working class throughout Latin America.

Rafael Correa

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, an economist who was first elected at the end of 2006 and was re-elected on April 26th under a new constitution. This gives the charismatic 46 year-old four more years, and he can be re-elected once more for another term.

There are a number of reasons that most Ecuadorians might stick with their president, despite what they hear on the TV news. Some 1.3 million of Ecuador's poor households (in a country of 14 million) now get a stipend of $30 a month, which is a significant improvement. Social spending as a share of the economy has increased by more than 50% in Correa's two years in office. Last year the government also invested heavily in public works, with capital spending more than doubling.

Correa has delivered on other promises that were important to his constituents, not least of which was a referendum allowing for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, which voters approved by a nearly two-thirds majority. It is seen as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, with advances in the rights of indigenous people, civil unions for gay couples and a novel provision of rights for nature. The latter would apparently allow for lawsuits on the basis of damage to an ecosystem.

Many thought Correa was joking when he said during his presidential campaign that he would be willing to keep the US military base at Manta if Washington would allow Ecuadorian troops to be stationed in Florida. But he wasn't, and the base is scheduled to close later this year.

He also resisted pressure from the US Congress and others in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit that Ecuadorian courts will decide, in which Chevron is accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste that polluted rivers and streams.

And in an unprecedented move last November, Correa stopped payment on $4bn of foreign debt when an independent Public Debt Audit Commission, long demanded by civil society organisations in Ecuador, determined that this debt was illegally and illegitimately contracted.

In the United States, these policies have mostly been dismissed as "populism" or worse. A New York Times editorial in November 2007 entitled "Authoritarians in the Andes" summed up the foreign policy establishment view that Correa, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela were "increasingly interested in grabbing power for themselves." For Correa and Morales, wrote the Times editorial board, "their confrontational approach is also threatening to rend Bolivia and Ecuador's fragile social and political stability."

The Times (and Washington's foreign policy establishment) have proven to be wrong, as Ecuador and Bolivia are now more politically stable than they have been for decades. (Ecuador has had nine presidents over the last 15 years). They are also more democratic than they have ever been.

In fact, most of Latin America is going through a democratic transition that is likely to prove every bit as important as the one that brought an end to the dictatorships that plagued many countries through the first four decades of the post-second world war era. Ironically, the region's economic performance was vastly better in the era of the dictatorships, because the governments of that era generally had more effective economic policies than the formally democratic but neoliberal governments that replaced them.

A few years ago there were fears, backed by polling data, that people would become nostalgic for the days of real (not imagined) authoritarian governments because of the much greater improvements in living standards during that era. Instead, they chose to vote for left governments who extended democracy from politics to economic and social policy.

The left governments have mostly succeeded where their neoliberal predecessors failed. Partly they have benefited from an acceleration in world economic growth during most of the last five years. But they have also changed their economic policies in ways that increased economic growth.

Argentina's economy grew more than 60% in six years and Venezuela's by 95%. These are enormous growth rates even taking into account these countries' prior recessions, and allowed for large reductions in poverty. Left governments have also taken greater control over their natural resources (Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela) and delivered on their promises to share the income from these resources with the poor.

This is the way democracy is supposed to work: people voted for change and got quite a bit of what they voted for, with reasonable expectations of more to come. We should not be surprised if most Latin American voters stick with the left through hard times. Who else is going to defend their interests?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Restoring Zelaya

Honduran military appears to back plan to restore Zelaya to office—not to power

By Rafael Azul
27 July 2009

For the first time, apparently at the instigation of the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the military of Honduras has weighed in independently in support of the San José accord for restoring the country’s ousted President José Manuel Zelaya to office—though not to power.

The military announcement came Saturday, the day after Zelaya set foot on Honduran soil, only to withdraw to Nicaragua within moments.

The San José accord, a proposal submitted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as part of a US-instigated mediation process, calls for Zelaya to return to the presidential palace, but under conditions in which he would be a virtually powerless figurehead in a government of “unity and reconciliation” dominated by the very forces that overthrew him in June 28 coup. The coup leaders themselves, having accomplished their principal objectives, would be granted amnesty for their crimes.

Until now, the accord—while accepted by Zelaya—has been repeatedly rejected by the right-wing coup regime headed by former congressional leader Roberto Micheletti, which has ruled out any return by the deposed president except to face arrest and trial for alleged violations of the Honduran constitution.

A statement posted on the web site of the Honduran armed forces dated July 24 insisted that the country’s military “as an institution supports a solution to the problems challenging our country through a process of negotiation in the framework of the San José Accord. Thus, we reiterate our unrestricted support for this in conformance with our Constitution and other laws.”

It is unclear whether the statement indicates a crack in the coup regime or merely another stalling tactic. According to a report in the New York Times, however, the statement was drafted not in Tegucigalpa, but in Washington.

“The communiqué was drafted in Washington after days of talks between mid-level Honduran officers and American Congressional aides,” the Times reported Saturday.

It went on to cite unnamed US officials as saying that the Hondurans involved in producing the statement were “two colonels who were concerned about the tensions generated by the political conflict.”

Zelaya, meanwhile, is set to return to Washington for further talks with US government officials.

If this indeed proves to be the way out of the current political impasse, it will be entirely in keeping with the long and tragic history of Honduran politics, in which the most important economic and political decisions are dictated by Washington with the military playing the decisive role in seeing that they are carried out.

From the start, Zelaya has indicated his willingness to collaborate in such a solution, his occasional flamboyant rhetoric and gestures notwithstanding.

On Friday, the ousted Honduran president crossed the Nicaragua-Honduras border for a few minutes. Dressed in his customary wide-brimmed hat, carrying on a constant cell phone conversation and surrounded by supporters and aides, Zelaya’s crossing proved little more than a brief photo opportunity.

As he embarked in his jeep ride to the border, Zelaya declared that he would speak to coup officials, suggesting that he would be able to negotiate face to face with representatives of the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, despite the latter’s denunciation of the deposed president and orders to arrest him upon his entry into the country.

Once inside Honduras, Zelaya shook hands with, and spoke briefly to, a military officer. “I am the Constitutional President of Honduras,” said Zelaya, “therefore I am your commander in chief.” The latter informed him that he would be arrested by security forces as soon as the instructions were received. Moments later, Zelaya retreated back into Nicaragua. Micheletti later accused Zelaya of being a subversive, of inciting violence and attempting to bring foreign troops into Honduras. Micheletti also said that his government had not arrested Zelaya in order to avoid an international incident.

While the border crossing may have been a photo opportunity, the repression unleashed against Zelaya’s supporters has been very real. A day before, thousands of troops were deployed in the border area and a 12-hour curfew—6 a.m. to 6 a.p.—was imposed to prevent Zelaya supporters from moving toward the border. The troops cut off the highway to the border town of Las Manos and immobilized 37 buses, forcing protesters to march on foot.

“We were repressed because we were not allowed to pass. There is no respect for the constitutional right of free movement,” declared Pablo Oyuela, president of the Honduran Middle Education Teachers Union (CPEMH). “They pat us down like criminals. They take our names down and write down our vehicle license plates to intimidate us,” added Oyuela.

Two protesters were injured at the army roadblock 10 kilometers from the border; one of them was critically wounded by gunfire.

And on Saturday, the body of a protester who had been arrested in the town of El Paraiso near the border was found dumped by the road, bearing signs of torture.

Meanwhile a reporter for the ABN (Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias) news agency reported that army troops have taken over a local stadium in El Paraiso, preparing it to serve a mass detention center, in much the same style as the murderous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973.

Scores of Zelaya supporters did make it to the border and greeted Zelaya during his few minutes inside Honduras, but were blocked by the military, which used tear gas against them. As he was leaving, Zelaya called on his supporters to continue resisting and on soldiers not to fire on the people.

There was an element of choreography in the brief border crossing. As his supporters lifted the chain that marks the border, the Honduran troops, as if on cue, retreated 20 feet. This allowed the president to approach a “Welcome to Honduras” road sign, and shake hands with the army officer while the troops stood in riot gear. “I came to speak with the army high command to find a solution for all this,” said Zelaya to the press, “I cannot govern without the support of the oligarchy and they cannot govern without the support of the people, without the president that was chosen by the people.”

Zelaya’s words correctly suggest that the United States and the coup leaders may have underestimated the popular reaction to the coup. In addition to scores of protests in Tegucigalpa and other cities, workers across Honduras have gone on strike in opposition to the coup and demanding Zelaya’s return. Among the strikers are the nation’s public school teachers, the employees of the National Electricity Company and the University of Honduras and public health workers.

Zelaya is offering himself as the figure who will make Honduras governable again, until elections set for this fall bring in a new government. This was made clear on July 18 when he accepted a proposal from Costa Rican President Oscar Arias that would have placed him at the head of a government largely controlled by the coup leaders.

This was not the image of a popular leader coming back at high personal risk to take his place at the head of a popular insurrection, reclaim his presidency and bring his usurpers to justice. On the contrary, this elaborate farce is wholly consistent with the negotiations taking place to arrive at what the US State Department and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias refer to as a government of “national reconciliation,” a formula of compromise that safeguards the interests of the Honduran oligarchy and of US imperialism.

The de facto regime declared that it found it “deplorable” that Zelaya had abandoned negotiations with President Arias. Arias’s compromise proposal includes Zelaya’s return to the presidency. That is also what the Organization of American States demands. Given the coup conspirators’ intransigence on this issue, the negotiations in San José have until now been a charade.

At a press conference in Washington with Iraq’s president, Nouri Al-Maliki, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was far more scathing about Zelaya’s brief border crossing than she ever was about the coup itself. She called his actions “reckless” and echoed Micheletti’s accusation that Zelaya was attempting to incite violence in Honduras. “We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence,” she said. She also urged both parties to accept the Arias compromise.

From June 28, the day the coup took place, the White House has lent legitimacy to the forces that overthrew Zelaya and called for a negotiated solution, ignoring that Zelaya was elected by a majority of voters and that he was fully justified in organizing a popular plebiscite on constitutional reform. His opponents took power without the consent of the electorate—but with the backing of the right-wing Honduran oligarchy, the Church and the military.

Since then, it has violently repressed the thousands that have protested the coup and revived and reactivated institutions of repression that had operated during the 1972-81 US-backed dictatorship. This includes bringing back death squads to murder and terrorize independent reporters, workers and peasants. In this context, Secretary of State Clinton’s statements amount to gross hypocrisy, particularly in light of the White House’s vitriolic denunciations of the Iranian regime’s acts of violence against the protests that have challenged election results in that country.

Behind Clinton’s appeals for nonviolence there is growing evidence of US support for the coup and for Micheletti’s regime. Three elements are at play in this political conjuncture: the rejection by the Organization of American States of the US embargo against Cuba, the growing commercial independence of Latin American nations, and the growing weakness of US industry vis-à-vis Brazil, and its European and Asian rivals. As in the Middle East, US imperialism seeks to offset its economic decline by resort to military force.

After returning to Nicaragua, Zelaya said that he would establish a camp on the Nicaraguan border from which he would press for his return. The deposed leader, citing human rights abuses by the new government, also demanded that US President Barack Obama impose financial sanctions on Honduras and restrict the ability of the coup conspirators to travel to the United States.

From the outset, Zelaya has demonstrated no real independence from imperialism and a willingness to compromise with both the coup leaders and their US supporters.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

War Plans

US Escalates War Plans In Latin America
US Military: After Iraq, Latin America

by Rick Rozoff

On June 29 US President Barack Obama hosted his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe at the White House and weeks later it was announced that the Pentagon plans to deploy troops to five air and naval bases in Colombia, the largest recipient of American military assistance in Latin America and the third largest in the world,
having received over $5 billion from the Pentagon since the launching of Plan Colombia nine years ago.

Six months before the Obama-Uribe meeting outgoing US President George W. Bush bestowed the US's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, on Uribe as well as on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

A press account of the time expressed both shock and indignation at the White House's honoring of Uribe in writing that "Despite extra-judicial killings, paramilitaries and murdered unionists, Colombia's President Uribe has won the US's highest honor for human rights." [1]

The same source substantiated its concern by adding:

"Colombia is the most dangerous country on earth for trade unionists. In 2006, half of all union member killings around the world took place there. Since Uribe came into power in 2002, nearly 500 have been murdered. In reply to concern about the assassinations, Uribe dismissed the victims as 'a bunch of criminals dressed up as unionists.'

"More than 1,000 cases of illegal killings by the military are being investigated. There are dozens of cases of soldiers taking innocent men, murdering them and dressing them up as enemy combatants. Hundreds of
members of the security forces are thought to have taken part in such activities." [2]

Colombia: Forty Year War

For over forty years Colombia, the last of Washington's remaining "death squad democracy" clients in the Western Hemisphere, has waged a relentless counterinsurgency war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC} and an equally ruthless campaign with its US-trained and -equipped military and allied paramilitary formations against trade union, peasant, indigenous and other organizations. An estimated 40,000 have been killed and 2 million displaced as a result of the fighting.

In 1985 the FARC laid down its arms and entered into a peace process with the government of Belisario Betancur.

It helped found the Patriotic Union to participate in electoral and other peaceful activities but within several years as many as 5,000 Patriotic Union elected officials, candidates, trade unionists, community organizers and other activists were murdered by Colombian security forces and government-linked right-wing death squads, especially the notorious United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and its late leader Carlos Castano. Eight congressmen, 70 councilmen, dozens of deputies and mayors and hundreds of trade unionists and peasant leaders were slain and in 1989-1990 two of its presidential candidates were murdered within seven months.

Faced with complete extermination, the FARC rearmed and sought refuge in the southeast of the country.

In 1998 then Colombian President President Andres Pastrana permitted FARC a 16,000 square mile safe haven in the Caqueta Department.

The US then set its sights on an intensive counterinsurgency campaign to destroy the FARC infrastructure in the region and to uproot and destroy the organization altogether.

In January of 2000 STRATFOR, not a source known for opposing war, warned:

"The U.S. State Department recently announced a two-year, $1.3 billion emergency U.S. aid package for counter-narcotics operations in Colombia. The plan also is geared toward helping President Andres Pastrana negotiate peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But the plan will have the opposite effect. It will end the peace negotiations between the rebels and the government and re-ignite the war. Ultimately, the plan does little more than pave the way for greater U.S. involvement. [3]

It went on to say that "The bulk of the money pledged for counter-narcotics efforts will go directly to the military to fight the rebels....This will tip the balance of power away from the government in Bogota and toward the military, which has always opposed the peace negotiations. Ultimately, the door will open wider for greater U.S. involvement." [4]

Plan Colombia: Clinton's Parthian Shot

Colombia was already the largest recipient of US military aid in the Western Hemisphere by 2000, but the Clinton administration increased the Pentagon's role in the nation with what became Plan Colombia.

After entering office in January of 1993 bombing Iraq and later killing hundreds if not thousands of Somalis the same year, Clinton and his foreign policy team never abandoned the use of military aggression.

In 1995 it provided military planners and advisers for Croatia's brutal and ethnocidal Operation Storm and led NATO's bombing of Bosnian Serb targets, including retreating troops and refugee columns following them, leaving what is now the Bosnian Serb Republic strewn with depleted uranium and an epidemic of cancer cases.

Three years later it launched cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan and on December 16, 1998 began Operation Desert Fox, a deadly four-day assault on Iraq with 250 airstrikes and over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles - the evening before scheduled impeachment proceedings against Clinton in the US Congress.

The following year the administration's use of military aggression reached its apex with the 78-day US-led NATO assault against Yugoslavia, the first military attack against a European nation since Hitler's and Mussolini's from 1939 onward.

The administration's Parthian shot was Plan Colombia in 2000.

Colombia's President Pastrana conceived of a project the preceding year, 1999, that the White House redesigned for its own purposes.

As former US ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, sacked by the Reagan administration in 1981 in preparation for unleashing its death squad and Contra wars in Central America, wrote after the US Congress passed Plan Colombia in June of 2000:

"If you read the original Plan Colombia, not the one that was written in Washington but the original Plan Colombia, there's no mention of military drives against the FARC rebels. Quite the contrary. (President Pastrana) says the FARC is part of the history of Colombia and a historical phenomenon, he says, and they must be treated as Colombians." [5]

An alternative American presswire reported that, "In early 1999, the Pastrana administration began peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest rebel group.

"The president also made his first trip to Washington in search of aid against the drug trade. But when he got there, 'they changed the script on him,' according to Marco Romero of the Peace Colombia Initiative, a coalition created in September by 60 local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking an alternative to the Plan Colombia.

"Pastrana's talks with U.S. congressional leaders and the head of the White House office on National Drug Control Policy, Barry McCaffrey, gave rise to the Plan Colombia, said Romero." [6]

McCaffrey is a retired Army General who earned his stripes in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Vietnam from 1966-69 and in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He was also head of the Pentagon's Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) from 1994-96 and Deputy US Representative to NATO.

"In support of their request for aid to Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and drug czar McCaffrey told the U.S. Congress that the funds were to be used for 'restoring order in southeastern Colombia.'" [7]

With the passing of Plan Colombia the US increased military aid to the nation by over twenty times in just two years, 1998-2000, from $50 million in 1998 to over $1 billion in 2000, placing Colombia only behind Israel and Egypt in that category. In the ten years since 1998 US military aid was increased a hundredfold.

Earlier in the year a mainstream American news source said that "The Clinton administration's proposed $1.6 billion in emergency aid to Colombia is at least as much a counterinsurgency package as it is an anti-drug measure" and mentioned that "a member of Congress objected to White House efforts to sidestep the normal appropriations process." [8]

Weeks before the House vote one of the worse recent massacres of Colombian civilians occurred in El Salado, perpetrated by paramilitaries with army complicity.

Plan Colombia was drenched in blood even before it was formalized. In January of 2000US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Colombia to promote the initiative and in honor of her arrival the Colombian military killed 50 of its citizens in an attack outside of the capital of Bogota.

The US Congress and Senate added over a billion dollars, sixty attacks helicopters and more special forces counterinsurgency advisers to the war in June. Approximately 70% of the 2000 Plan Colombia funds were allotted for the financing, training and supplying of army anti-narcotics battalions operating in southeastern Colombia, the former FARC safe haven.

Nominal progressives, the late Paul Wellstone in the Senate and Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky in the House, attached a human rights proviso that no serious person expected to be honored and only two months after the Congress's authorization of Plan Colombia Clinton used his presidential waiver to override the human rights conditions on the grounds of "national security."

Nine Years Later: Drug War Charade Gives Way To Naked Counterinsurgency

The escalation of counterinsurgency operations was packaged under the label of a war against drugs, of course. Nine years later Colombia remains the largest supplier of cocaine and heroin to the United States.

How seriously one should have taken this charade was indicated in April of 2000 when the former commander of the U.S. Army's anti-drug operation in Colombia, Col. James C. Hiett, pleaded guilty to not having turned over evidence on his wife, Laurie, for smuggling cocaine and heroin into the United States. His spouse pleaded guilty in January of planning to smuggle $700,000 worth of heroin into the US through the mail.

Colonel Hiett doubtlessly performed his duties in propagating the tale that the FARC was responsible for the lion's share of coca and opium cultivation and trafficking in the nation and that the US military was the best response to its alleged activities.

If one still had any doubts regarding the sincerity of American claims to be combating narco-trafficking and terrorism, within weeks of the passage of Plan Colombia Secretary of State Albright escorted the head of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, whose colleagues and allied drug cartels control most of the marijuana, hashish and narcotics traffic in Europe, to her old haunts in the United Nations Headquarters and her then current ones in the State Department, preparing him to become a future head of state. (Since last year he is in fact the president of what former Serbian president Vojislav Kostunica has aptly called the world's first NATO state. It is also the world's newest narco-state.)

After the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States the White House elevated the FARC towards the top of its targets list in the so-called Global War on Terror, though what role the group could have had in the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. is beyond any sane person's ability to discern or fathom.

By 2002 the Bush administration had discarded most of the drug war rationale and "Congress approved a law to allow American military aid to Colombia to be used in a 'unified campaign' against drugs and terrorism" and by 2008 "six years and $5-billion later, the Colombian military is Latin America's most skilled fighting force." [9]

American "Special Operations training provided many of the skills that showed 'the way to open the door to these remote jungle locations that were in the past inaccessible to the Colombian government.'

"Military units including Special Forces and an elite Commando Brigade were created. Eight regional intelligence units were set up with reconnaissance airplanes, and state-of-the-art air-to-ground communications. An Intelligence School was created, as well as a Counter Intelligence Center." [10]

Days before leaving office George W. Bush awarded Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who rumors have linked to the former Medellin drug cartel and whose brother Santiago is accused of narco-trafficking and death squad connections, the Medal of Freedom.

Perhaps anticipating the honor and paying back the person most responsible for Plan Colombia and the increased military operations both within Colombia's borders and outside the country, Alvaro Uribe announced that he was conferring the "Colombia is Passion" award on Bill Clinton "at a gala New York City" for "for believing in our country and encouraging others to do the same."

"Prominent Democrats on the guest list include former Clinton strategists Dick Morris and Vernon Jordan, former Clinton Cabinet members Lawrence Summers and Madeleine Albright, and several Democratic congressmen," most of whom presumably had the political survival skills not to attend. [11]

Earlier the same year "On the eve of a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush" and with no further pretense of a drug war "U.S. and Colombian soldiers arrived in the southern town of Cartagena del Chaira, a FARC stronghold, by helicopter...." [12]

As the narcotics issue has been downplayed, so the human rights component of Plan Colombia has been relegated to the realm of short-lived public relations manipulation.

In February of 2007 Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo's brother, Senator Alvaro Araujo, was arrested for connections to the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Uribe was untroubled by the above and said, "When they ask, why do I keep the foreign minister, I answer: She is not involved in the criminal activities that are under investigation." [13]

Plan Colombia has entered its tenth calendar year. In the intervening years covert and overt government and paramilitary massacres, many too grisly to relate, have continued unabated and drug cultivation and exports have been, if marginally dented, not substantially affected by what is still referred to when convenient as a drug eradication program.

Drug war claims notwithstanding, Plan Colombia's activities both within and outside the nation were actuated by other designs.

Colombia: Pentagon's Base In Andean Region

From its very advent it was intended to be more than an intensification of the decades-old counterinsurgency war in Colombia and to be the opening salvo of a US campaign to escalate the militarization of the Andes region. White House and Pentagon plans to employ Colombia as a regional military force and operating base to police South America have gained new urgency for Washington with political transformations in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Paraguay heralding the end of US political, economic and military domination of the continent.

In its first full year of existence, 2001, a Peruvian Air Force jet shot down a civilian plane spotted by a US aircraft flown by CIA contractors with American missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter on board, killing both as well as the pilot.

By 2006 the US had doubled the amount of military trainers and advisers stationed in Colombia and in the same year the nation's planes started violating the air space of neighboring Ecuador. The planes, and it would not have been unusual for US personnel to have been aboard them, were ostensibly conducting fumigation missions.

The Ecuadoran government denounced the actions as "unfriendly and hostile" and "Defense Minister Marcelo Delgado said...that army airplanes will fly over its border to prevent Colombian airplanes from entering Ecuadorian airspace...." [14]

In December of 2006 not only Colombian planes crossed the border into the country. Later in the month "Some 40 Colombians...fled across the border into Ecuador after they were attacked by Colombian soldiers," the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ecuador reported. [15]

Twelve months before fifteen Colombians were killed and 1,500 displaced in the Narilo province in the country's southeast, bordering Ecuador. "Authorities remained silent as to whether this was a military operation against guerrilla fighters or a dispute between paramilitary groups." [16]

In early 2007 Marine Gen. Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Colombia and spent two days meeting with the country's military and political leadership. Shortly afterwards Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, about whom more will be said later, returned the favor and visited the Pentagon where he met with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. A Defense Department report of the visit quoted Pentagon officials as saying that "U.S. military support for Colombia, previously focused on combating drugs, has expanded to helping the Colombian military confront the country’s rebel insurgency" and that "U.S. Special Forces troops in Colombia provide Colombian forces military training...."[17]

Five months later Colombia built a third military base on its 2,219 kilometer border with Venezuela, initially stationing 1,000 troops in it.

Colombia has become a military outpost for Washington in confronting and threatening both Ecuador on its southwestern and Venezuela on its northeastern frontiers.

It is also part of a strategy that is more than regional and even continental in nature and scope.

South America: NATO's Sixth Continent

Since the implementation of Plan Colombia in 2000 the US has enlisted several NATO allies for the counterinsurgency war in the nation and for broader purposes in the region. British SAS (Special Air Service) personnel have been assigned to the Colombian military for training purposes and Spain also sent military personnel.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has members in Europe and North America and partnerships in Asia (Afghanistan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and with Australia.

The only inhabited continent it hasn't penetrated yet is South America,

In January of 2007 Colombian defense chief Santos traveled to Washington, London and Brussels, in the last-named city "for talks with the European Union," and then to Munich, Germany "for a meeting of NATO defense ministers." [18] Santos of course made the tour to garner more military aid from the US and its NATO allies. The European Union was reported to have provided $154 million annually as of that year.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned in September of 2005 that "We discovered through intelligence work a military exercise that NATO has of an invasion against Venezuela, and we are preparing ourselves for that

He detailed the plan as consisting of a "military exercise...known as Plan Balboa [that] includes rehearsing simultaneous assaults by air, sea and land at a military base in Spain, involving troops from the US and NATO countries." [19] US troops deployed to the Dutch possession of Curacao off Venezuela's northwest coast were also part of the planned operation.

In spring of the following year it was reported that "Military maneuvers in the Caribbean are being carried out by the US, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and countries from the hemisphere - excluding Cuba and Venezuela, which are the potential objectives of this demonstration of force" and that immediately afterwards "Future exercises will involve roughly 4,000 soldiers from the US, Holland, Belgium, Canada and France, who are scheduled to participate in a maneuver being dubbed the Joint Caribbean Lion, to take place between May 23 and June 15 in Curacao and Guadeloupe." [20]

Colombian Counterinsurgency War: Model For South Asia And Central America

For the past several years the US has also recruited and deployed Colombian military and security forces for the war in Afghanistan, supposedly to replicate the Plan Colombia drug war component in South Asia.

In April of 2007 Washington transferred its ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, to Afghanistan to oversee the application of the Colombian model of counterinsurgency under the guise of combating drug cultivation. Two years later Afghanistan is estimated to account for over 90% of the illegal opium production in the world.

A Bangladeshi analyst observed that "Based on 2003 figures, drug trafficking constitutes the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.

"Afghanistan and Colombia are the largest drug producing economies in the world, which feed a flourishing criminal economy. These countries are
heavily militarized and the drug trade is protected.

"Amply documented, the CIA has played a central role in the development of both the Latin American and Asian drug triangles.

"NATO, as an entity, has become an accessory to major narcotics proliferation and criminal activity. Opium is not truly being reduced: in fact all the figures show that it is on the rise. This is happening under the eyes of NATO as confirmed by several media reports." [21]

The intermediate way stations between Afghanistan and Colombia are Kosovo, not without reason dubbed the Colombia of the Balkans, and increasingly Iraq.

The pattern is impossible to ignore.

Ironically given the above contention, BBC News reported two years ago that "The US hopes that some of the lessons learned in Colombia can be applied to Afghanistan...." [22]

Last January the current chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullin, visited Colombia and was quoted as saying "Our military-to-military relationship is exceptionally strong. We need to stay with them. They have achieved things that are remarkable." [23]

This March Mullin traveled to Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Upon returning his comments were summarized as affirming that "The U.S. military is ready to help Mexico in its deadly war against drug cartels with some of the same counter-insurgency tactics used against militant networks in Iraq and Afghanistan" [24] and that "the Plan Colombia aid package could be an 'overarching' model for Pakistan and Afghanistan...." [25]

A feature on US Central Command chief David Petraeus' plans for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan reported that "Military officials are also looking at U.S. relations with Colombia as a possible model for Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying something like Washington's Plan Colombia strategy could help the two countries against militants." [26]

The report from which the last quote is excerpted, "US sees lessons for Afghan war in Colombia," also includes this:

"Afghan police have already trained with their Colombian counterparts and Bogota is studying sending troops to Afghanistan to help out in eradication and de-mining." [27]

What is being exported to Afghanistan was made sickeningly evident last autumn when it was announced that Colombia had dismissed three generals and 22 soldiers of different ranks for the slaughter, at random apparently, of young slum dwellers in Bogota.

"The youths were lured from a Bogota slum with the promise of work; later their bodies were found in mass graves near the Venezuelan border.

"Human rights groups say that soldiers sometimes kill homeless people so that they can inflate their claims of success on the battlefield and receive promotion. [28]

Among the three generals asked to resign was General Mario Montoya Uribe, "the author of the policy to use body counts to measure success against guerrillas" [29] who "allegedly encouraged promoting officers whose units kill the most leftist rebels." [30]

A later report provided gruesome details:

"More than 1,000 cases of illegal killings by the military are being investigated. There are dozens of cases of soldiers taking innocent men, murdering them and dressing them up as enemy combatants. Hundreds of
members of the security forces are thought to have taken part in such activities." [31]

Recall in reference to the above that the report immediately preceding it states that the murdered were buried in mass graves near the Venezuelan border.

With this year's onslaught by the Sri Lankan military against LTTE strongholds appearing to have ended the nation's 33-year war, the Colombian government and its American military suppliers are waging the only decades-long counterinsurgency war in the world, one now in its fifth decade.

It has been and remains a war against the poor, the landless, the disenfranchised, anyone would opposes the privileges and abuses of the large landholders, the business elite, the US-trained military establishment and the upper echelons of the narco-mafias.

Nine years ago Plan Colombia was designed to be the terminal phase of that war.

The Colombia model is now the prototype Washington has openly identified for application in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mexico among other locations.

Plan Colombia: Reining In Resurgent South America

Plan Colombia, additionally, is now being increasingly revealed as a military strategy for suppressing a rising tide of discontent with the aftereffects of post-Cold War neoliberalism throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The US and the West as a whole have used the Colombian regime and its formidable military machine to intimidate its neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela and the Andean region as a whole. Bordering on Panama, Colombia is also a potential launching pad for attacks on Central American nations like Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

A brief chronology of the past year and a half will demonstrate the heightened role that is intended for Colombia by its sponsors in Washington.

In January of 2008 Venezuelan President Chavez said that the US and its Colombian client "don't want peace in Colombia because it's the perfect excuse to have thousands of soldiers there, the CIA, military bases, spy planes and who knows what other...operations against Venezuela."

He added, "I accuse the government of Colombia of devising a conspiracy, acting as a pawn of the U.S. empire, of devising a military provocation against Venezuela." [32]

On March 1st of 2008 Colombia launched a raid inside Ecuador and killed 24 suspected FARC members, including the group's second in command Raul Reyes.

An article titled "Colombian official says US intelligence helped raid on
rebels" reported that "the Ecuadoran air force found that Colombia used ten 500-pound bombs, similar to those used by US forces in Iraq, which 'cannot be transported by Colombian airplanes.'

"Ecuadoran authorities also noted that a few hours before the Colombian bombing raid, an HC-130 military aircraft had taken off from the US air base at Manta, in southeastern Ecuador." [33]

Fearing that the armed incursion inside Ecuador was part of a broader plan of aggression, Venezuela deployed some 9,000 troops to its border with Colombia. On the day of the attack Venezuelan President Chavez warned his Colombian counterpart, "Don't think about doing that over here because it would very serious, it would be cause for war." [34]

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia after the attack and when it was later discovered that the bombing had killed an Ecuadoran national, warned of further consequences.

On March 6 Venezuela decreed a state of general alert and sent ten battalions, tanks and planes to the Colombian border.

US President Bush told reporters that "America would continue to stand with Colombia." [35]

Three weeks later Ecuador announced that it would "install electronic surveillance equipment and boost its military presence along its border with Colombia" and President Correa warned that his country would ""never again" allow a foreign attack on its soil. [36]

US Military: After Iraq, Latin America

Also in April of 2008 the US Air Forces Southern director of operations, Col. Jim Russell, advocated that troops being withdrawn from Iraq be redeployed to the Pentagon's Southern Command which takes in South and Central America and the Caribbean. He stated at the time: "We think, as we move ahead, we will see more of a shift of attention towards the region.

“We’re seeing problems right at the mouth of Central America. That’s the gateway to our southern border.” [37]

On July 12, 2008 the US Navy reestablished its 4th Fleet, encompassing South and Central America and the Caribbean as does the Pentagon's Southern Command, after it was disestablished in 1950 following World War II.

Earlier this year the chief of the Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis, became NATO Supreme Allied Commander and head of the Pentagon's European Command. Three of the last five NATO top military commanders - Stavridis, his predecessor Bantz John Craddock and Wesley Clark - moved to that post from being head of Southern Command.

In May of 2008, clearly anticipating what has occurred this week, Venezuela warned Colombia not to allow a new US military base in La Guajira near the border with northwestern Venezuela. The latter's president said, "We will not allow the Colombian government to give La Guajira to the empire. Colombia is launching a threat of war at us." [38]

Less than a week later a US warplane penetrated Venezuelan airspace on a flight from the Netherlands Antilles. The Venezuelan government accused the US of spying on a military base on Orchila Island and "said the U.S. was testing Venezuela's ability to detect intruders and that the Venezuelan air force was prepared to intercept the plane had it not turned back toward the Caribbean island of Curacao." [39]

Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel said that "This is just the latest step in a series of provocations in which they want to involve our country." [40]

In September a bloody separatist ambush killed eight people in the Bolivian province of Pando. The government expelled US ambassador Philip Goldberg, an old hand at supporting violent secessionist uprisings in Bosnia and Kosovo earlier. The head of the nation's armed forces, General Luis Trigo, warned that "The Bolivian Armed Forces warned on Friday that they will not tolerate any more actions of radical groups or foreign interference in the country's internal affairs." [41]

Toward the end of 2008 Bolivia expelled US Drug Enforcement Administration officers and later announced plans to purchase Russian helicopters for anti-narcotics operations.

Today Bolivian President Evo Morales stated, "I have first-hand information that the empire, through the U.S. Southern Command, made the coup d'etat in Honduras." [42]

In October of 2008 Ecuador charged the CIA with infiltrating its military and knowing of the Colombian attack on its territory the preceding March. Defence Minister Javier Ponce told newspapers: "The CIA had full knowledge of what was happening in Angostura." [43]

At the same time Colombian Defense Minister Santos broadened his nation's bellicosity by aiming it toward Russia. Completely the creature of Washington and its military that he is, Santos said:

"Russia, with its 16,000 nuclear bombs, has a great desire to be a key player in the world. But its presence in the region will promote a return to the Cold War." [44]

Santos was alluding in particular to recent Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises in the Caribbean and to the fact that Russia has provided Caracas with advanced arms, warplanes and submarines, reflecting a general trend among Latin American nations - including Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Nicaragua - toward increased military ties with Russia as a counterbalance to traditional American domination of their armed forces and to be able to defend themselves against US and proxy attacks. What Santos and his American sponsors fear is the effective demise of the almost 200-year-old Monroe Doctrine.

This March Venezuelan President Chavez labeled Colombian Defense Minister Santos "a threat to regional stability" and a "a threat to the stability and sovereignty of the countries in the region" who "again shows his contempt for international law" in reference to Santos' defense of the attack inside Ecuador last year. [45]

Santos reiterated his intention to continue striking alleged rebel sites in neighboring countries, evoking this response from Chavez a few days later: "In case of a provocation on the part of Colombia's armed forces or infringements on Venezuela's sovereignty, I will give an order to strike with Sukhoi aircraft and tanks. I will not let anyone disrespect Venezuela and its sovereignty." [46]

During the past few months the Pentagon has been training the armed forces of Guyana, Venezuela's eastern neighbor, both at home and in the United States. The use of French and Dutch island possessions in the Caribbean for military purposes has already been examined. With the election of Ricardo Martinelli as president of Panama this May putting that country back into the US column, the noose is tightening around Venezuela.

Ecuador refused to renew an agreement with the US for the use of its Manta military base and so Washington lost its basing rights there this month. With the corresponding announcement last week by Colombian President Uribe that he was turning five more military bases over to the Pentagon - three airfields and two navy bases - President Chavez was correct in seeing the move as "a threat against us," and warning that "They are surrounding Venezuela with military bases." [47]

Since the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, led by military commanders trained at the School of the Americas, alarms have been sounded in Latin America and throughout the world that the coup, far from being an aberration or anachronism, may mark a precedent for more in the near future.

And just as in the final months of the Bush presidency and the first seven months of the current one military operations in Afghanistan, for five years given secondary importance in relation to Iraq, have escalated into the world's major war front, so plans for direct US military aggression in Latin America, dormant since the invasion of Panama in 1989, may be slated for revival.

Reflections by Fidel

A Nobel Prize For Mrs. Clinton

The never-ending document read yesterday by the Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias is much worse than the 7 points of the surrender paper he had proposed on July 18th.

He wasn’t communicating with international opinion in Morse Code. He was speaking in front of the TV cameras that were transmitting his image and all the details of the human face that tends to have as many variables as a person’s fingerprints. Any intent to lie can be easily discovered. I was observing him carefully.

Among those watching the television, the great majority knew that Honduras had had a coup d’état. That medium gave information about the speeches made at the OAS, the UN, the SICA (Central American Integration System), the NAM Summit and other forums; they had seen the violations, the assaults and the repression inflicted on the people engaged in activities that brought together hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the coup.

The strangest thing was that when Arias was laying out his new peace proposal, he wasn’t delusional; he believed what he was saying.

Even though very few in Honduras were able to see the images, in the rest of the world many did see them and they also saw when he proposed the famous 7 points on July 18th. They knew that the first of them said, verbatim: “The legitimate restitution of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the presidency of the Republic of Honduras until the end of the constitutional term for which he was elected…”

Everyone wanted to know what the mediator would be saying yesterday afternoon. The acknowledgement of the rights of the constitutional president of Honduras, with the powers reduced almost to zero in the first proposal, was relegated to sixth place in the second Arias plan, where the phrase “to legitimate the restitution” is not even being used.

Many honest people are amazed and they perhaps attribute what he said yesterday to some dark manoeuvres of his. Perhaps I am one of the few in the world that understands that there was an auto-suggestive element rather than a deliberate intent in the words of the Nobel Peace Laureate. I noticed that especially when Arias, using special emphasis and laboured phrasing on account of the emotion, spoke about the multitude of messages that presidents and world leaders, moved by his initiative, had sent him. It’s what was going through his mind; he doesn’t even realize that other Nobel Peace Laureates, honest and modest individuals such as Rigoberta Menchú and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, are outraged by what has happened in Honduras.

Without any shadow of a doubt, a large part of the civilian governments of Latin America, the ones who knew that Zelaya had approved the first Arias plan and were confident in the good sense of the perpetrators of the coup and their Yankee allies, breathed in relief; that lasted only 72 hours.

Seen from a different angle, and returning to the things that prevail in the real world, where the dominant empire exists and almost 200 sovereign states have to wrestle with all kinds of conflicts and political, economic, environmental, religious and other interests, the only thing missing is to award the brilliant Yankee way of thinking of Oscar Arias, trying to gain some time, strengthen the coup, and dishearten the international bodies that supported Zelaya.

On the 30th anniversary of the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, Daniel Ortega, bitterly remembering Arias’ role in the first Esquipulas Treaty, declared before a huge crowd of Nicaraguan patriots: “The Yankees know him well, that’s why they chose him to be the mediator in Honduras”. At that same event, Rigoberta Menchú, of indigenous descent, condemned the coup.

If the measures agreed to at the foreign ministers meeting in Washington would be merely fulfilled, the coup d’état would not have been able to survive the non-violent resistance of the Honduran people.

Now the perpetrators of the coup are already moving around in the oligarchic spheres of Latin America, some of which, from high state positions, no longer blush when they speak of their sympathies for the coup and imperialism goes fishing in the choppy waters of the river that is Latin America. Exactly what the United States wanted with the peace initiative, while it accelerated negotiations to surround Bolivar’s homeland with military bases.

We must be fair, and while we await the last word of the people of Honduras, we should demand a Nobel Prize for Mrs. Clinton.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bolivarian Movement

Call for the Constitutive Congress of the Continental Bolivarian Movement

by Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana CCB

As in the internationalist heroic deed of Ayacucho, the people of our America have started again the process towards their second independence and social emancipation, which demands more unity, more coordinated struggles, more integration of their transforming forces and a common revolutionary strategy of all of them.

The formidable liberated resistance against neoliberalism and the false-democracies of brutal processes of impoverishment and corruption of the State, turned progressively into offensive for the change and provoked sensitive but still limited modifications in the political map of the continent.

The turn towards the left, with different tendencies, profundities and rhythms, is an incontrovertible fact of the Latin - Caribbean present. It is an encouraging development although still seeming insufficient.

In more than a few countries of the region our peoples, who decided not to go on living under the social and spiritual whip of the dominant/ruling classes, which are compromised with neo-colonization and are responsible for treachery to the ideals of sovereignty, justice and freedom of our predecessors, heroes, have been raising the struggle.

The struggles for freedom have been difficult and complicated; because the will of change has been greater than the possibilities of realizing it in profundity and its due extension. Clarity of sight, consciousness about the nature of the crisis and its challenges and unified and integrally prepared organized forces to conquer the new challenges have been lacking; and beyond all unity has been missing in national and continental scenes and in consistent alternative proposals.

The Bolivarian Coordination of Continental (CCB), in its six years of existence, has done a persistent effort of providing answers to these requirements; and in this regard, we are proud to be a significant part of the regional coordination in spite of the fierce counter-offensive of the Right and of their tutors in Washington.

The advances achieved, nevertheless, have turned out to be insufficient as opposed to the strong requests of a situation characterized by its unexploited revolutionary potentialities and by the imperious demand of the necessity of continentalization of the revolutionary struggles.

Our America does not have a healthy future tied to the imperialist centers and determined by their spurious interests. Our bolivariano-guevarista project of a liberated Big Homeland would sink in chaos and barbarism if its national components do not definitely separate themselves from the dark future of capitalism/imperialism and do not go about their own way towards the sum of all sovereignties and towards a big certain, united, multinational and multiethnic, deeply fair, self-determined and joint society which favors, in words of the Liberator: "the biggest sum of possible happiness, the biggest sum of social security and the biggest sum of political stability”.

The grand crises of capitalism, beyond the calamities that cause the exploitation and impoverishment of people, are especially great opportunities for great changes.

And in this direction, since we need to give a jump start in quality and quantity, the CCB has decided to turn into an active facilitator and promoter of the Constitutive Congress of the Continental Bolivarian Movement; decided to resort to everything that has been accumulated in these six years of struggle and construction, to all its influences and sympathies and, beyond its own lines, to all the political, social and cultural forces of the revolutionary left(s), to all anti-imperialistic and anti-capitalist contingencies, so that together we give an answer to the challenges of unity and an alternative articulation, to the challenge of developing a big continental organization that unifies the revolutionary diversity; respecting its identities, but always sharing its collective proposals and its driving transformative actions to a continental scale.

The current systemic crisis of the world capitalism, the deepest of its history, tends to create a propitious period to stop being defeated to neoliberalism as the current form of capitalism and makes way for the socialistic transitions again.

The governments of the right and the institutions in which they are sustained will be exposed to strong political and social convulsions, and to sharp crises of governance.

The governments of the left and progressives are located to defend their achievements and to revert the effects of the world crisis by deepening the structural changes, socializing economies, properties, income and power; or otherwise, run the risk of succumbing to the assaults of potential fascists of the rights, the oligarchy and the imperialisms.

The peoples are facing a conjecture of life or death. We are at the edge of the “hour of the stoves”, as was saying José Martí, apostle of the Cuban independence.

In these circumstances it is unavoidable to tackle the alternative to capitalism in crisis from a Manifesto that discovers the causes of the dramatic situations that our peoples suffer under the capitalist rod, which defines the common axes of the liberating proposals of socialistic court and which could be accompanied by a unitary organizational line that contemplates the structures and mechanisms of the new Continental Bolivarian Movement, entrusted of helping to turn significantly the encouraging words agreed in liberating action.

Therefore, we propose to debate in this congress the content of the Bolivarian Manifesto for the Great Homeland and Socialism, and also the suggestion of structures and norms for this new internationalist space of strategic unity, gathering simultaneously the valuable programmatic legacy of the CCB.

We propose to do it with innovative spirit, with an open mind, touching the heart of all the revolutionary expressions sensitive to these requirements of the new times and to the big challenges of the world and Latin/Caribbean present.

There are opportunities that must not be obviated: we enter a singular period in the history of the humanity, in which its own existence is in question in terms more dramatic than the ones at the beginning of last century raised by Rosa Luxemburg: "Socialism or barbarism!”

The liberating campaign of Bolivar and of the big pioneers of our America and the legacy of the scientific property and human sensibility of Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels who spoke to us in the previous century knock insistently on the doors of this oppressed continent, hoping to be received and renewed by its authentic heirs.

An essential step to this end is to meet, full of enthusiasm and of knowledge, on 7-9 December 2009, at the Constitutive Congress of the Continental Bolivarian Movement that will take place in Caracas, Venezuela.

In Bolivar we all meet, for the Great Homeland and Socialism

Bolivar lives, the struggle continues!

For socialism, for independence, for freedom and for the new revolutionary myth of the 21st century we will embrace all.


Headquarters and Collective Presidency CCB towards the MCB

Surreal Honduras

The Threads of the Story
By Clifton Ross

Gabriel Garcia Màrquez could easily have written "A Hundred Years of Solitude" in any country of Central America. It's a region replete with characters and magical landscapes and myths with power to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you merely hear them. There's the one about the gringo who visited the mining region of Cabañas and soon thereafter the water turned bad and the fish in the river died and the people all began to die simply because a mysterious gringo passed through.

That's the story as Miguel Rivera tells it. His brother, Marcelo Rivera was the latest victim of the newly organized death squads, formed from what appears to be a triad of power: Pacific Rim (a Canadian multinational), the ARENA party (the political party organized by the death squad killer of Monsignor Romero, Roberto D'Aubuisson) and the "maras" or gang members.

Of course Miguel, who has a deep and even scientific knowledge of his locale, is aware that the myth is just that: a small story that reveals a larger, hidden truth, in this case that a "Gringo" multinational indeed entered the area, but the reason for the deaths was the heavy metal waste from the mining that was poured into the community's water.

In cultures and states where telling the exact truth can lead to one's death, it's always more convenient to wrap the story in myth. Those who unpackage the myths, like Marcelo Rivera, often disappear into thin air -- that is, until they're found, as he was, naked, castrated and murdered after being horribly tortured: his fingernails had all been pulled out; his face had been disfigured so much that his brother could only identify him by his nose; the beatings had broken his skull. Finally, after he had been strangled to death, his body was thrown in a sixty-foot well, covered with chicken manure, dirt, and pieces of meat.

The right wing press did, of course, repeat the official story that Marcelo had fallen in with "mara" gangsters and drank with them, but editors had the integrity to also print a counterpoint that everyone who knew Marcelo had quite clear: that the victim of the unholy triad of moneyed power in El Salvador never drank nor hung out with the maras. His hero was Monsignor Romero and Miguel says the last time he saw his brother he was wearing a t-shirt with the image of that martyr on it.

There's a significant difference between El Salvador under the FMLN where power in the media is actively being contested, and Honduras where there is a blackout of the opposition perspective. Another difference is that the ARENA party has lost control of the military and has to rely on "maras" to do its dirty work while in Honduras the government hasn't yet had to consider recruiting "civilian contractors" from the 100,000 or so "maras" operating in Central America. Thus far the military has been quite happy to do the job of eliminating or terrorizing opponents under the "golpista" Honduran government (coup government) of Micheletti. On July 5, for example, the military fired with machine guns on a crowd numbering in the thousands. This is the unofficial story, of course. The papers, including El Heraldo, claimed that the military had fired on the crowd with rubber bullets. Officially, also, only one person died. Protestors say that there were eight or nine victims who died on the way to the hospital, and whose bodies were disappeared. Given the machine gun fire, it's only surprising that more didn't die.

The Honduran government of the 1980s found it had no need to replicate the widespread massacres being carried out in El Salvador and Guatemala. It was able to selectively eliminate a couple hundred leaders of the opposition and take care of its problem with the "subversives." But in order to maintain control over the rest of the population and assure its docility and compliance, like anywhere else, it required a press willing and able to cloak a damning reality in a less threatening myth.

Once again Honduran reporters are being called in to do overtime in psyops. Granted, the press in Honduras under the "golpista" government isn't any worse than Fox News. That being said, everything having to do with the news around the recent "golpe" (coup) has a quality that ranges from surreal interpretation to black propaganda. It would seem that the journalists of the major papers of Honduras really were frustrated writers of dystopian science fiction.

One Honduran tells me she saw a murder in her neighborhood that was multiplied in the journalistic alchemy of the Honduran press by six the following day. I keep that in mind as I sit here in my hotel room in Tegucigalpa, leafing through what my wife back home would call "the daily pack of lies."

As I try to discern the Honduran narrative of the "golpe" I recall the copy of the article I left behind in El Salvador, printed in a right wing paper -- and, unfortunately, the newspapers are all right wing in El Salvador, with the exception of the Diario Co-Latino, the latter a blessing not bestowed upon Honduras. The Salvadoran article was based on a piece that appeared in Honduras' El Heraldo. The author claimed to have in possession secret documents that indicated that President Hugo Chavez was working with a large number of "maras" who he was arming and paying, and also infiltrating his own military to do a lightning attack and kill high-ranking officials of the Micheletti government. Supposedly residents have seen armed men in inaccessible regions of the country. Does that sound like the narrative of "Al Qaeda sleeper cells" doped up on the Koran ready to attack Bush's America? Only the names, places and drugs of choice have changed.

I'm looking here at a full page ad in La Tribuna from Tuesday, the 21st, paid for by "Hondurans for Democracy." There is a photo, in the top half, of Chavez aiming a gun. Beside the photo is the caption "Chavez calls for violence and wants bloodshed in Honduras" Beneath that picture is a crowd shot of Hondurans dressed in white (the color of the Conservative Nationalist Party) and holding the blue flags of Honduras. The caption reads, "But Hondurans want peace, unity, democracy and freedom." Ah, behold the foreign devil who has brought death to our peaceful little country. It's a variation on the diabolic gringo myth, but in reverse, since Chavez has been a counterforce to the "deadly gringo."

The following day, (Wednesday, July 22) El Heraldo has an interview with Alejando Peña Esclusa, a right wing Colombian who is president of UnoAmerica, described as "a democracy organization (sic: organización democracia) of Colombia." The headline reads, "The FARC [Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), Narcotrafficking and ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas) are all the same thing." The surrealism doesn't end with the title, which makes laughable connections between a program of solidarity created by Venezuela to share its wealth with loans and grants to Latin America to facilitate growth and development, and narcotics trafficking and a guerrilla that, while it taxes the cocaine trade, seems to have fewer connections to the actual trade than does the Uribe government.

Esclusa develops his surreal story in this large-spread article on page 6: He says that the coup "has kept Honduras from falling into the project of Hugo Chavez and saved democracy from the Constitutional coup which Zelaya hoped to undertake." What was the "Constitutional coup" Zelaya was plotting? To bring people more deeply into the political process of the country by asking them if they'd like to write a new constitution. So according to Esclusa, the military coup was a way of saving "democracy" by taking it away. And the project of Chavez, well, ask 60-70% of Venezuelans who support Chavez and they'll tell you that his project is to move the country from "representative to participatory democracy." But the interview with Esclusa gets even wilder: "the principle element of the disturbances in Honduras is not "Mel" Zelaya nor the discussion of whether or not he returns" (this would come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of people marching daily in Honduras for the single purpose of having their president return) "but it is Hugo Chavez who finances the dirty campaign, buying minds ("conciencias") so as to disinform about Honduran reality."

Again, the utterly implausible charge that Chavez, and not the golpistas, is behind all the country's problems. For Esclusa, the solution is simple: Isolate Chavez from Honduras and all the problems will be solved.

What's fascinating about this analysis is that there's not even a hint of truth in it. First of all, the marches aren't financed by anyone but the marchers. And secondly, the only Venezuelan I've seen has been an old friend who is a documentary filmmaker--and probably the last Venezuelan journalist in the country since Telesur was chased out. Noticeably absent from the marches is even the slightest mention of Chavez or Venezuela, neither of which appear in any of the chants, placards, discussions, programs, or anything else. There's only one message: "Golpistas Leave! Bring Mel Home."

In this surreal world where Chavez is working with narco gangsters and infiltrating along the coast, paying people to demonstrate, the poor golpistas are also unfairly being persecuted by "the OAS, UN and the international community."

This line was repeated to me the other day in the hotel by the woman behind the desk, who identified herself as a National Party supporter. She almost whined as she told me that "everyone is against us." Does that sound a little paranoid? When a sane person is told that everyone is opposed to what he or she is doing, that person begins to reflect again on his or her actions. Not so Micheletti; not so Mr. Esclusa; not so the National Party and Liberal Party members who went out on the 23rd on the march for "peace, unity, democracy and freedom."

Then the bombshell: According to Mr. Esclusa, the FARC, a guerrilla force of 30,000 with shrinking power, is the force behind all the presidents who are part of ALBA which is, in turn, a project of the FARC and financed by cocaine money.

If this were the ravings of a madman in the street, we could afford to ignore him. But this interview is published in one of Honduras' two major newspapers, with big headlines, a photo of Esclusa, on page 6. And obviously the government is taking this same paranoid siege narrative seriously because on page eight is the story and headline, "Honduras Breaks Diplomatic Relations with Venezuela" and the subhead reads, "Venezuelan officials, in a confrontational attitude, warn they won't leave the country. The [Honduras] Chancellor cancels the consular visa of Iranians for fear of terrorism."

Now that's interesting. Honduras breaks relations with Venezuela and it's Venezuela that is being confrontational. Takes you back to the bad old days of Bush and the Saddam Hussein "menace" doesn't it? Then there are the Iranians, whose government has never so much as threatened anyone in Latin America, yet who now "feared as terrorist." Wild rumor, speculation on a fantastic level: Vice Chancellor Marta Lorena Alvarado says that "we've confirmed the existence of terrorist Iranian cells in Latin America and considering that there are direct trips from Teheran... to Venezuela and from Venezuela to Nicaragua... there's concern that there's been a terrorist incursion into [Honduras]."

Here we've definitively returned to the bad old days of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush with the Amber, Yellow and Orange alerts when supposed "sleeper" cells that were never uncovered or identified were sleepwalking the US.

These are but a few of the jewels from the Honduran press. You could do with it as I did when I first confronted it in the hotel with the woman behind the desk: you could try reasoning with it. You could, as I did, say, isn't the very definition of a coup when an elected representative is removed from office and, rather than being held and tried and convicted or returned to office, is sent out of the country into exile at gunpoint. But the response is just as wild: "They were trying to prevent bloodshed. If they kept him here, his followers would cause bloodshed." But we're to believe that the people who sent the military to the airport on July 5th to machine gun protesters are really concerned about bloodshed? By the look on the woman's face, a gringo has come to town and poisoned the water.

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