Monthly Archives: June 2010

Honduras coup: The U.S. Connection

Honduras coup: The U.S. Connection

Conn Hallinan

Aug. 13, 2009

While the Obama Administration was careful to distance itself from the recent coup in Honduras—condeming the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, revoking Honduran officals’ visas, and shutting off aid—that doesn’t mean influential Americans aren’t involved, and that both sides of the aisle don’t have some explaining to do.

The story most U.S. readers are getting about the coup is that Zelaya—an ally of Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez—was deposed because he tried to change the constitution to keep himself in power.

That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move that trade unions, indigenous groups and social activist organizations had long been lobbying for. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982 and the one term limit allows the brass hats to dominate the politics of the country. Since the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way that Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now. (1)

And while Zelaya is indeed friendly with Chavez, he is at best a liberal reformer whose major accomplishment was raising the minimum wage. “What Zelaya has done has been little reforms,” Rafael Alegria, a leader of Via Campesina told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “He isn’t a socialist or a revolutionary, but these reforms, which didn’t harm the oligarchy at all, have been enough for them to attack him furiously.” (2)

One of those “little reforms” was aimed at ensuring public control of the Honduran telecommunications industry and that may well have been the trip wire that triggered the coup.

The first hint that something was afoot was a suit brought by Venezuelan lawyer Robert Carmona-Borjas claiming that Zelaya was part of a bribary scheme involving the state-run telecommunication company, Hondutel. (3)

Carmona-Borjas has a rap sheet that dates back to the April 2002 coup against Chavez It was he who drew up the notorious “Carmona decrees,” a series of draconian laws aimed at suspending the Venezuelan constitution and suppressing any resistance to the coup. As Chavez supporters poured into the streets and the plot unraveled, he fled to Washington DC. (4)

There he took a post at George Washington University and brought Iran-Contra plotters Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams to teach his class on “Political Management in Latin America.” He also became vice-president of the right-wing Arcadia Foundation, which lobbies for free market policies. (5)

Weeks before the June 28 Honduran coup, Carmona-Borjas barnstormed the country accusing Zelaya of collaborating with narco-traffickers. (6)

Reich, a Cuban-American with ties to right-wing factions all over Latin America, and a former assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs under George W. Bush, has been accused by the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization of “undeniable involvement” in the coup. (7))

This is hardly surprising. Reich’s priors makes Carmona-Borjas look like a boy scout.

He was nailed by a 1987 Congressional investigation for using public funds to engage in propaganda during the Reagan Administration’s war on Nicaragua. He is also a fierce advocate for Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, both implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1973 that killed all 73 on board. (8)

Reich is a ferocious critic of Zelaya and, in a recent piece in the Weekly Standard, urged the Obama Administration not to support “strongman” Zelaya because it “would put the United States clearly in the same camp as Cuba’s Castro brothers, Venezuela’s Chavez, and other regional delinquents.” (9)

Zelaya’s return was unanimous supported by the UN General Assembly, the European Union, and the Organization of American States. (10)

One of the charges that Reich levels at Zelaya is that the Honduran president is supposedly involved with bribes paid out by the state-run telecommunication company, Hondutel. Zelaya is threatening to file a defamation suit over the accusation. (11)

Reich’s charges against Hondutel are hardly happenstance.

The Cuban-American, a former lobbyist for AT&T, is close to Arizona Senator John McCain and served as McCain’s Latin American advisor during the Senator’s run for the presidency. John McCain is Mr. telecommunications.

The Senator has deep ties with telecom giants AT&T, MCI and Qualcomm and, according to Nikolas Kozloff , author of “Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge of the U.S.,” “has acted to protect and look out for the political interests of the telecoms on Capitol Hill.”(12)

AT&T is McCain’s second largest donor, and the company also generously funds McCain’s International Republican Institute (IRI), which has warred with Latin American regimes that have resisted telecommunications privatization. According to Kozloff, “President Zelaya was a known to be a fierce critic of telecommunications privatization.” (13)

When Venezuelan coup leaders went to Washington a month before their failed effort to oust Chavez, IRI footed the bill. Reich, as then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s special envoy to the Western Hemisphere, met with some of those leaders. (14)

In 2004, Reich founded his own lobbying agency and immersed himself in guns, rum, tobacco, and sweat. His clients include Lockheed Martin (the world’s largest arms dealer), British American Tobacco and Bacardi. He is also vice-chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production, a clothing industry front aimed at derailing the anti-sweat-shop movement. (15)

Republicans in Congress have accused the Obama Administration of being “soft” on Zelaya, and protested the White House’s support of the Honduran president by voting against administration nominees for the ambassador to Brazil and an assistant secretary of state. (16)

But meddling in Honduras is a bi-partisan undertaking.

If you want to understand who is the real power behind the [Honduran] coup, you need to find out who is paying Lanny Davis,” says Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and current president of the Center for International Policy. (17)

Davis, best known as the lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, has been lobbying members of Congress and testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the coup.

According to Roberto Lovato, an associate editor at New American Media, Davis represents the Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, which strongly backed the coup. Davis told Lovato, “I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.” (18)

But White says the coup had more to do with profits than law.

Coups happen because very wealthy people want them and help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the poor as a threat to their interests,” says White. “The average wage of a worker in free trade zones is 77 cents per hour.” (19)

According to the World Bank, 66 percent of Hondurans lives below the poverty line. (20)

The U.S. is also involved in the coup through a network of agencies that funnel money and training to anti-government groups. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) contribute to right-wing organizations that supported the coup, including the Peace and Democracy Movement and the Civil Democratic Union. Many of the officers that bundled Zelaya off to San Jose were trained at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former “School for the Americas’ that has seen torturers and coup leaders from all over Latin America pass through its doors. Reich served on the Institute’s board. (21)

The Obama Administration condemned the coup, but when Zelaya journeyed to the Honduran-Nicaragua border, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced him for being “provocative.” (22) It was a strange statement, since the State Department said nothing about a report by the Committee of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras charging 1,100 human rights violations by the coup regime, including detentions, assaults and murder. (23)

Human rights violations by the coup government have been condemned by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights, the International Observer Mission, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protest Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders. (24)

Davis claims that the coup was a “legal” maneuver to preserve democracy. But that is a hard argument to make, given who some of the people behind it were. One of those is Fernando Joya, a former member of Battalion 316, a paramilitary death squad. Joya fled the country after being charged with kidnapping and torturing several students in the 1980s, but he has now resurfaced as a “special security advisor” to the coup makers. He recently gave a TV interview that favorably compared the 1973 Chilean coup to the June 28 Honduran coup. (25)

According to Greg Grandin, a history professor at New York University, the coup makers also included the extremely right-wing Catholic organization, Opus Dei, whose roots go back to the fascist regime of Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco. (26)

In the old days, when the U.S. routinely overthrew governments that displeased it, the Marines would have gone in, as they did in Guatemala and Nicaragua, or the CIA would have engineered a coup by the local elites. No one has accused U.S. intelligence of being involved in the Honduran coup, and American troops in the country are keeping a low profile. But the fingerprints of U.S. institutions like the NED, USAID and School for the Americas—plus bipartisan lobbyists, powerful corporations, and dedicated Cold War warriors—are all over the June takeover.


1)”The US Right, Including Bush Appointe Otto Reich, mobilizes to support the Putsch,” Bill Weinberg, In These Times, 8/29/09

2) “Honduras: It’s Not About Zelaya,” David L. Wislon, MR Zine, Upside Down World, 7/6/09

3) “Otto Reich behind Honduras Coup?” World War 4 Report, 7/5/09

4) “Who’s Behind Honduras Destabilization? All Roads Lead to McCain,” Nikolas Kozloff, Buzzflash, 7/14/09

5) Ibid Kozloff

6) Ibid WW 4 Report

7) “US Cancels Visas of Four Honduran Officials,” Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, 7/29/09

8) Otto Reich, FPIF, 6/17/09

9) “Foreign polich and Good Intentions,” Otto Reich, The Weekly Standard, 7/29/09

10) “After Losing Honduras, Ousted Leader Wins International Support,” Marc Lacy, New York Times, 7/1/09

11) Ibid FPIF

12) Ibid, Kozloff

13) Ibid, Kozloff

14) Ibid, Kozliff

15) Ibid, FPIF

16) Ibid, Washington Post

17) “Our Man in Honduras,” Roberto Lovato, The American Prospect, 7/22/09

18) Ibid, Lovato

19) Ibid, Lovato

20) World Bank Data-Key Development and Statistics, page 6

21) Ibid WW 4 Report

22) “Obama Administration Must Support Human Rights in Honduras,” Just Foreign Policy, 7/28/09

23) Ibid, Lovato

24) Ibid, Just Foreign Policy

25) “Waiting for Zelaya,” Greg Grandin, The Nation, 7/28/09

26) Ibid, Grandin

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Haiti: Dangerous Muddle


Mar. 1. 2004

In 1994, when President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 American troops into Haiti to restore Jean-Bernard Aristide to the presidency, there was widespread support for a mission aimed at restoring democracy and relieving the misery of the Haitian people. It also seemed to herald a new day in the post-Cold War world, when American invasions were not automatically synonymous with supporting some Latin American caudillo or South East Asian despot.

With the exception of the isolationist Right, virtually every voice in the political spectrum cheered the policy of “liberal intervention.” The use of American power to make good things happen was a heady drug.

Unfortunately, an addictive one.

Although there is no question that the 1994 intervention was good for Haiti, military intervention has turned out to be fraught with problems, particularly when it is wielded by one country.

Liberal Interventionism Ran Off the Rails

It is tempting to pin the problematical aspects of the policy on the Bush administration and its coterie of aggressive, neocon policymakers. But the fissures in “liberal intervention” began showing up long before the Republicans took control of the White House.

The Yugoslav war is a case in point.

On the surface the rationale for an intervention seemed straightforward. Serbia’s President, Slobodan Milosevic was a thug who was oppressing Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Or at least that was how the war was sold. On the ground things were a little more complex, as they often are in the Balkans.

Milosevic was certainly a thug, but so was Croatia’s President, Franjo Tudjman, and we were fine with him . Milosevic did, indeed, oppress Albanians in Kosovo, but the Kosovo Liberation Army was hardly representative of goodness and democracy. Many KLA members–including most the leaders–were no less thuggish than Milosevic, and according to Interpol, deeply engaged in Europe’s largest drug ring.

Was there cause for military intervention? Could there have been a resolution short of war? We will never know, because the Serbs were presented with an ultimatum at Rambouillet designed to start a war.

The Americans demanded that Serbia surrender its sovereignty, exactly what the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded of Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. Back then the Serbs said no and the Austrians launched World War I.

“Rambouillet,” argues Dan Goure of the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies, “was not a negotiation, it was a setup, a lynch party.”

Was Yugoslavia “liberal intervention” like Haiti? Questionable. There was a human rights crisis in Kosovo, but it was the war that kicked off the worst aspect of it, the forced expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo. And unlike Haiti, in Yugoslavia the U.S. and NATO went for the jugular. Power plants and water pumping stations were bombed. The electrical grid and energy systems flattened, and transportation networks were systemically destroyed. The bombing campaign was a direct violation of articles 48, 51 and 54 of Protocol I, Part IV, of the Geneva Conventions. In short, a war crime.

The allies also saturated the country with depleted uranium and cluster bombs. Needless to say, the victims of the war were primarily Serbian civilians.

The Yugoslav war was where “liberal intervention” ran off the rails. The first sign of that was when the Clinton administration sidelined the United Nations and used the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) instead. The U.S. dominates NATO in a way that it could never hope to dominate the UN, and that fact allowed the U.S. military to carry out the kind of war it wanted, a war the UN might well have put the brakes on.

Not a NATO or UN War, But Another U.S. Affair

In the end it was hardly even a NATO war. The U.S. picked all the targets, carried out upwards of 90 percent of the air attacks, and excluded its allies from the operational aspects of the war. It was, pure and simple, a U.S. affair. It was also a dry run for a new kind of war, one that maximized destruction and minimized casualties.

Was it successful? Well, the Albanians have largely cleansed Kosovo of Serbs and Roma. NATO still occupies Kosovo. The humiliation of the war, and its painful aftermath, continues to stoke the fires of Serbian nationalism. Serbia refuses to give up its war criminals. Success? War has never produced “success” in the Balkans before, why anyone thought it would this time is a mystery.

The most troubling aspect of the Yugoslav war was the exclusion of the UN. It has been downhill ever since. Afghanistan is a case in point. Yes, it was very nice to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban (although we nursed the pinion that impelled that steel), and it certainly struck a blow at al-Qaeda, the organization which carried out the 9/11 attacks.

But again, it was a U.S. operation. The UN was sidelined, and even NATO was brought in after the fact. Our ally in Afghanistan was the homicidal Northern Alliance, steeped in violence and drug dealing. And as in Yugoslavia, the war was a high tech, slice-and-dice air operation that killed lots of civilians. There was an uncomfortable feeling that the war might be about Central Asian oil and gas, but it was hard to protest freeing Afghan women and ending the rule of the Mad Mullahs.

Yet Afghanistan reflects the dangers of “liberal intervention” by one country. The U.S. certainly “won” the war, although the outcome was hardly in doubt. But the war is not over. Indeed, it appears to be getting worse, in part because the Bush administration spent tens of billions busting up the place, but not a whole lot putting it back together. Modern wars are not won or lost on the battlefield, they are won or lost in the streets and byways of everyday life. Fix what you break or the bill gets dear.

This is hardly a new observation. For 800-plus years the English won every major “battle” in Ireland. In the end they lost the war. It is a lesson the Israelis should pay some attention to.

Haiti Illustrates Failures of Single-Power Intervention

The 1994 Haiti intervention illustrates the problem of single power intervention even when authorized by the United Nations as was in Haiti.

Seven weeks after the invasion, the Republicans took control of Congress and systematically dismantled aid to the impoverished, war-torn country.

The cuts meant there was no effort to rebuild roads, ports, airports, or infrastructure. When Aristide’s opposition cried foul over eight contested seats in the 2000 election, the U.S. froze the final $500 million in aid.

The aid was never very substantial. Per capita, the U.S. was giving Haiti one fifth what it was spending in Bosnia, and one tenth what it was distributing in Kosovo. After 1996, U.S. aid to Haiti was the same as what it had given the dictatorship which deposed Aristide. Aid did flow, but not to Aristide. Instead, U.S. organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the opposition.

Shortly after the demonstrations and attacks on Aristide began, the U.S. State Department made it clear it would do nothing to impede his overthrow. In early February, an anonymous State Department official told the New York Times that the U.S. was not adverse to replacing Aristide, “When we talk about undergoing change in the way Haiti is governed, I think that could indeed involve changes in Aristide’s position,” the official said. This past week, shortly before Aristide was driven out, U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and President George W. Bush, essentially called for him to step down.

There is no question that the Aristide government was a troubled one, and some of the opposition was composed of former supporters alienated by corruption, violent pro-Aristide gangs, and the contested 2000 election. Most of this group was non-violent, and based mainly among Haiti’s elites and the business community. But the forces that converged on Port au Prince are the very thugs and murderers the U.S. invaded to get rid of in 1994.

Louis-Jodel Chamblain, one of the principal leaders of the armed opposition, is a former death squad leader and one of the founders of the brutal Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti (FRAPH) that killed thousands of people between 1991 and 1994.

The shady nature of people like Chamblain and Andre Apaid of Group 184, has deeply worried human rights groups, and generated some anger in Washington. U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Ca) and Maxine Waters (D-Ca) have both challenged the “neutrality” of the U.S. State Department. In a recent letter to Powell, Lee wrote, “with all due respect, this looks like regime change.” It would appear that Lee was right on target.

There is certainly reason to suspect the two men in charge of diplomacy in the region. Otto Reich, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), played an important role in the coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Noriega, has been a long time critic of Aristide.

Whether through enmity or indifference, U.S. fingerprints are all over the overthrow of Aristide.

Single-Power Intervention Responds to Single-Power Interests

If one could turn back the clock, and transform the 20,000 American troops into a UN peacekeeping force, working from the beginning in close conjunction with the OAS and the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the outcome might have been different. The Republicans would still have sabotaged the U.S. part of the aid package, but international aid would have kept flowing since there would have been a real regional and international commitment to the liberal intervention. As it was, the U.S. insisted from the beginning on total control of the peacekeeping venture. When U.S. political will for the peacekeeping and nation-building missions waned, there was no multilateral commitment to ensure that the democratic transition was consolidated.

Which brings us back to the initial problem with “liberal intervention.” It may be a good idea at times, but there are caveats.

First, intervention by one country, or even a group of countries dominated by one country—NATO in Yugoslavia—is a bad idea. Individual nations have their own interests. Take the recent Iraq War. Maybe some people invaded Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Others might have deluded themselves into thinking there were weapons of mass destruction, but anyone who thinks it had nothing to do with Middle East oil simply needs to do the math.

In 2001, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group recommended that the U.S. “make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.” It is hardly a surprising conclusion. U.S. oil demands will increase by one third over the next 20 years, and two thirds of that will be imported. Since 65 percent of the world’s oil reserves lie in the Middle East, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict American policy in the region.

So was Iraq just about oil? No. Was it about oil? Of course.

Second, an intervention that isn’t willing to invest in raising living standards will fail. No single country has the resources. Only international organizations can spread out the costs necessary for the long-term work needed to rebuild a country and to deflect the very natural suspicion that “liberal intervention” is really “occupation” by another name.

The Republicans call this “nation-building,” and everywhere but in Iraq the Republicans hate it.

But it isn’t nation-building, it’s payback.

Afghanistan is indeed poor and backward, but it would have been less so if the colonial powers (and then the Cold War) had not played the “great game” at the expense of its people.

Haiti is unquestionably a basket case. And don’t the French who colonized it and the Americans who occupied it and exploited it bear some responsibility for that condition?

Colonialism smashed up the world, deliberately squelched economic progress by the colonized, drew arbitrary lines on maps, and sowed the dragon’s teeth of ethnic division and uneven development. Do we now get to shake our heads over “failed states,” wash out hands, and walk away?

From the Caribbean to Africa, the great imperial powers loaded the dice for nations, and the world can ill afford to let the consequences of this rigged game go on. Does this mean military intervention on occasion? Yes. But not under one flag, only under the auspices of international organizations like the UN.

This strategy will have to confront the heart of the Bush administration and its Praetorian Guard of think tanks: the Heritage Foundation, the National Institute for Policy Study; the American Enterprise Institute, the Project for New American Century and the Center for Security Policy.

For these ideologues, international organizations–and particularly the UN–are the anti-Christ. Last March, neoconservative guru Richard Perle hailed the Iraq war as an opportunity “to take the UN down.”

It is interesting to note, however, that obituaries about the UN’s imminent demise fall off in direct relationship to the number of American casualties and roadside bombs in Iraq. Back in February of last year, President Bush warned the UN General Assembly that its “last chance” to prove “its relevance” was to adopt a war resolution against Iraq. For the past two months the administration has literally begged the UN to bail it out from the morass in which it is now entrapped.

A cynic might point out that the mills of God grind slowly, but they do grind most exceedingly fine.

Not only is unilateral “liberal intervention” a bad idea politically, it doesn’t work. International intervention isn’t successful all the time either, but its chances are better. Neocon historian Max Boot describes the UN as a bunch of “Lilliputians,” which, suggests Jorge Castenada, Mexico’s former foreign minister, is exactly what is needed: power restrained by laws, rules, and treaties. Successful intervention doesn’t demand centralized command control, it requires legions of doubting Thomases. In the case of Haiti, the U.S. should immediately take the matter to the UN Security Council, with a parallel effort in the OAS and Caricom. The Haitian opposition—both nonviolent and violent—should understand that they have no automatic claim to political legitimacy. The hasty departure of the country’s duly elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was the sad result of the threat of massive political violence by feared former members of Haiti’s security forces and intense U.S. pressure. Haiti’s interim government should call quickly for new elections under multilateral supervision. What’s more, all U.S. aid should be released immediately, and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank should back off from their austerity prescriptions, which would only serve to further impoverish the poorest country in the hemisphere.

There are some who dismiss the OAS, and even the UN, as little more than cat’s paws for U.S. policy, and certainly both organizations have served as its hand maidens in the past. Supporting the criminal sanctions against Iraq was a shameful blot on the UN’s history, and the OAS should have suspended the U.S. for supporting the military coup in Venezuela.

But both organizations have independent streaks that appear to be strengthening. In any case, they are the only game in town, and the UN has scored some notable successes. It helped end the Iran-Iraq war, facilitated the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and has overseen elections in El Salvador, East Timor, and Eritrea. It also had disastrous failures in Rwanda and Bosnia. In the long run, however, it is the only serious solution to international crises.

Sir Brian Urquhart, author of A Life in Peace and War, and a longtime UN diplomat who has served from the Congo to the Middle East, recently put his finger on why the UN still represents the best hope for the world: “The world is a dangerous place,” he says, “and when governments find themselves into another dangerous muddle, they will come back.”

Conn M. Hallinan is a provost at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at . He can be reached at

Key Points

  • There is no question that the 1994 intervention was good for Haiti, but military intervention has turned out to be fraught with problems, particularly when it is wielded by one country.
  • Liberal intervention ran off the rails in Yugoslavia when the Clinton administration sidelined the United Nations and used the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) instead.
  • Modern wars are not won or lost on battlefields, they are won or lost in the streets and byways of everyday life.

Key Problems

  • Seven weeks after the 1994 invasion of Haiti, the Republicans took control of Congress and systematically dismantled aid to the impoverished, war-torn country.
  • The opposition forces that converged on Port au Prince are the very thugs and murderers the U.S. invaded to get rid of in 1994.
  • Whether through enmity or indifference, U.S. fingerprints are all over the overthrow of Aristide.

Key Solutions

  • Unilateral “liberal intervention” is not only a bad idea politically, it doesn’t work. International intervention isn’t successful all the time either, but its chances are better.
  • Neocon historian Max Boot describes the UN as a bunch of “Lilliputians,” which is exactly what is needed: power restrained by laws, rules, and treaties.
  • The U.S. should immediately take the crisis in Haiti to the UN Security Council, with a parallel effort in the OAS and Caricom. The Haitian opposition—both nonviolent and violent—should understand that they have no automatic claim to political legitimacy. The hasty departure of the country’s duly elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was the sad result of the threat of massive political violence by feared former members of Haiti’s security forces and intense U.S. pressure. Haiti’s interim government should call quickly for new elections under multilateral supervision.

Writer: Conn Hallinan

Editor: Tom Barry

Production: Tonya Cannariato

In 1994 the U.S. military intervention in Haiti seemed to herald a new day in the post-Cold War world, when American invasions were not automatically synonymous with supporting some Latin American caudillo or South East Asian despot. With the exception of the isolationist Right, virtually every voice in the political spectrum cheered the policy of “liberal intervention.” The use of American power to make good things happen was a heady drug. Unfortunately, this new enthusiasm for military intervention proved addictive. Ten years later, the U.S. is facing the consequences of its recent run of single-power military interventions. “Whether through enmity or indifference, U.S. fingerprints are all over the overthrow of Aristide.”

FPIF analyst Conn Hallinan in his timely reflection on the U.S. Haiti policy and its penchant for unilateral military and political interventions.

Conn M. Hallinan is a provost at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at . He can be reached at

For homepage:

“Whether through enmity or indifference, U.S. fingerprints are all over the overthrow of Aristide.” FPIF analyst Conn Hallinan in his timely reflection on the U.S. Haiti policy and its penchant for unilateral military and political interventions.

Key words




United Nations

Military intervention



Peace and Justice

Middle East


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I think we should convert this into an Americas Policy Report too, and let that program promote in Latin America. It may be worth translating this.

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Latin America, the Crisis, & Mr. Monroe

Berkeley Daily Planet

Conn Hallinan

Nov. 20, 2008

When the Mexican dictator Porfiero Diaz said the great tragedy of Mexico was that it was so far from God and so near to the United States, the comment summed up the long and tortured relationship between the Colossus of the North and Latin America.

Starting with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the U.S. has routinely dictated the hemisphere’s political and commercial life and, on a score of occasions, overthrown governments it found inimical to its interests.

But the world has suddenly turned upside down.

From a collection of countries servicing U.S. interests, South America now boosts the third largest trade organization in the world, Mercursor, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador have associate status, and Mexico is an “observer.” This so-called “southern common market” accounts for 50% of Latin America’s gross domestic product, 59% of its landmass, and 43% of its population.

The continent also recently formed the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which includes 12 nations, along with observers from Mexico and Central America.

This new found independence that will be sorely tested in the coming months as most of the world goes through an economic meltdown. In the past if Washington sneezed, South America came down with pneumonia. Will the continent’s increasing integration help it avoid the worst of the global financial crisis? Or will the current economic conflagration derail South America’s growing autonomy, allowing the U.S. to again dominate the life of region?

The worldwide economic crisis will certainly have an impact on South America. Currency values from Brasilia to Mexico City have fallen, and at one point Brazil shut down its stock market to staunch the hemorrhaging. At the same time, most the countries in Latin America are in a better position to weather the storm than the U.S., Europe, and Japan, where banks play a larger role in the economic structure.

No one can avoid the events of the past few weeks,” says Riordan Roett, director of Johns Hopkins Western Hemisphere Studies Program, “but we are seeing some countries better insulated than other countries.”

Brazil’s foreign exchange reserves, for instance, amount to more than $216 billion, which should cover the country’s need for export credit until “the most acute stage” of the crisis is over, says Brazilian Finance Minister, Guido Mantega.

And because the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has reduced poverty, thus expanding its internal market, the country is in a better position to weather the storm. “Brazil is not immune to the crisis,” says Mantega, “but this affects the countries with problems in their banks more, and countries like Brazil less.”

Argentina also has a substantial reserve in its central bank—$47 billion—and is hinting that it will delay replaying its $6.7 billion debt to western creditors until it can negotiate better terms.

Venezuela has reserves of $30 billion, the largest per capita total on the continent, says Martin Saatdjian of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the government is being careful. It is considering a “minor devaluation” of the Bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, and “austerity spending for the next fiscal year” if the crisis “deepens and the price of oil drops,” says Saatdjian.

Caracas is spreading its oil wealth throughout the continent, which has cushioned the impact of the economic downturn. The fact that Venezuela purchased almost one-third of Argentina’s debt in 2005 has helped Buenos Aires build a rainy day fund.

Venezuela and Brazil are leading an initiative to form The Bank of the South (BancoSur), which would pool a portion of participating countries reserves. The idea is to replace the International Monetary Fund, and its onerous insistence of cutting social services and infrastructure programs as a condition for its loans. BancoSur would have a more development-friendly approach. Besides Brazil and Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay have signaled their interest in joining.

Starting in the late 1990s, South America began diversifying its contacts with the rest of the world, in particular resource hungry China. Beijing buys Chilean copper, Cuban nickel and cobalt, Brazilian and Uruguayan soy, and Venezuelan, Ecuadorian and Bolivian oil and gas.

Trade between Latin America and China was $102.6 billion in 2007, and the Chinese currently plan to invest up to $100 billion over the next five years. Brazil, Chile and Argentina have $28 billion in two-way trade with China, and China is investing heavily in Chilean copper and Venezuelan, Bolivian and Ecuadorian oil and gas. Beijing is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Peru. Almost one-half of China’s foreign investment goes to Latin America.

While China’s economy is slumping, that term is relative. It is still growing at 9%, and the Chinese government is pumping $586 billion into their economy to keep growth from falling any lower.

Russia and Iran have also becoming major players in Latin America. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, accompanied by business leaders, just finished a tour of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and the Russians are helping to develop oil fields in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Iran’s President Mamoudd Ahmadinejad has been welcomed in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, and Iran’s Chamber of Commerce announced Oct. 20 that joint commercial councils with South and Central America would soon be established..

The U.S., on the other hand, is saddled with the legacy of its “Washington Consensus” policy of wide-open markets. The neo-liberal strategy led to ruinous debt in Latin America, a yawning gulf between rich and poor, and financial catastrophes like the 2001 Argentine collapse that impoverished half that country’s population.

The wreckage wrought by the “Washington Consensus” and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) enforced austerity sparked an economic and political revolt in Latin America that is still gaining steam.

Brazil and Argentina paid off their IMF debts and concentrated on building infrastructure and alleviating poverty. The result has been a steady growth rate of more than 4%, which, according to Citi Bank forecasts, will fall next year, but probably not more than a percentage point. In contrast, U.S. and European growth rates are projected to drop to 1.5%, or even to zero.

Latin America is “a better built boat,” says the World Bank’s chief economist for the region, Augusto de la Torre.

Political independence is on the agenda as well.

In 2003, no major country on the continent backed the U.S. war in Iraq. In 2005 South America rejected a U.S.-led Free Trade for the Americas plan. And while Washington is hostile to left-led governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the rest of the continent has rallied behind them.

When U.S. sponsored right-wingers overthrew the government of Hugo Chavez in 2001, a massive outpouring of resistance and widespread condemnation by other countries in the region reversed the coup, the first time that has happened in Latin America.

And again, when right-wingers staged a “civil coup” in Bolivia last month, virtually every nation in Latin America backed the left-wing government of Evo Morales government. “We won’t tolerate a rupture in the constitutional order in Bolivia,” warned Marco Aurelio Garcia, Brazilian President Luiz Igacio Lula de Silva’s foreign policy advisor.

UNASUR declared its “full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales.”

Rather than looking north, countries like Brazil are increasingly developing south-south relations. In 2003, Brazil, India, and South Africa formed the IBSA alliance, which met recently in New Delhi to discuss a joint approach to the current economic crisis, as well as the issues of food security and energy prices. Between them, the countries represent 1.3 billion people and three of the most dynamic economies in the developing outside of China. Trade between the three is projected to top $15 billion by 2010.

Developing countries need to learn from the crisis,” says Lula da Silva, and “to construct a new world economic order.”

The economic crisis has accelerated these moves toward breaking the strangle hold the U.S. has had on the world of finance. “There is a new reality,” says United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, “new centers of power and leadership in Asia, Latin America and across the newly developing world.”

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck was blunter: “The U.S. will lose its status as the superpower of the world’s financial system. This world will become multi-polar…the world will never be the same.”

However, it is unlikely that the U.S. will stand idly aside as Latin America frees itself from the shadow of the Monroe Doctrine. For instance, Washington has recently made a number of moves that have heightened its military profile on the continent. The Bush Administration has reactivated its Latin American Fourth Fleet and, according to the magazine Cambio, the U.S. is developing a major military base at Palanquero, Colombia.

But beset by economic crisis and bogged down in two unwinnable wars, the colossus of the north no longer wields the clout it once had. “In the past, the door for talks with the United States on any issue had to remain open. We had no choice,” a Brazilian diplomat told Southern Pulse. “Now we can close it if we want.”

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Dark Armies, Secret Bases & Rummy, oh my!

Conn Hallinan


Nov. 25, 2005

It would be easy to make fun of President Bush’s recent fiasco at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. His grand plan for a free trade zone reaching from the Artic Circle to Terra del Fuego was soundly rejected by nations fed up with the economic and social chaos wrought by neo-liberalism. At a press conference, South American journalists asked him rude questions about Karl Rove. And the President ended the whole debacle by uttering what may be the most trenchant observation the man has ever made on Latin America: “Wow! Brazil is big!”

But there is nothing amusing about an enormous U.S. base less than 120 miles from the Bolivian border, or the explosive growth of U.S. financed mercenary armies that are doing everything from training the military in Paraguay and Ecuador to calling in air attacks against guerillas in Colombia. Indeed, it is feeling a little like the run up to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Washington-sponsored military dictatorships dominated most of the continent, and dark armies ruled the night.

U.S. Special Forces began arriving this past summer at Paraguay’s Mariscasl Estigarriba air base, a sprawling complex built in 1982 during the reign of dictator Alfredo Strosserr. Argentinean journalists who got a peek at the place say the airfield can handle B-52 bombers and Galaxy C-5 cargo planes. It also has a huge radar system, vast hangers, and can house up to 16,000 troops. The air base is larger than the international airport at the capital city, Asuncion.

Some 500 special forces arrived July 1 for a three-month counterterrorism training exercise code named Operation Commando Force 6.

Paraguayan denials that Mariscasl Estigarriba is now a U.S. base have met with considerable skepticism by Brazil and Argentina. There is a disturbing similarity between U.S. denials about Mariscasl Estigarriba, and similar disclaimers made by the Pentagon about Eloy Alfaro airbase in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. claimed the Manta base was a “dirt strip” used for weather surveillance. When local journalists revealed its size, however, the U.S. admitted the base harbored thousands of mercenaries and hundreds of U.S. troops, and Washington had signed a 10-year basing agreement with Ecuador.

The Eloy Alfaro base is used to rotate U.S. troops in and out of Columbia, and to house an immense network of private corporations who do most of the military’s dirty work in Columbia. According to the Miami Herald, U.S. mercenaries armed with M-16s have gotten into fire fights with guerrillas in southern Columbia, and American civilians working for Air Scan International of Florida called in air strikes that killed 19 civilians and wounded 25 others in the town of Santo Domingo.

The base is crawling with U.S. civilians—many of them retired military—working for Military Professional Resources Inc., Virginia Electronics, DynCorp, Lockheed Martin (the world’s largest arms maker), Northrop Grumman, TRW, and dozens of others.

It was U.S. intelligence agents working out of Manta who fingered Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leader Ricardo Palmera last year, and several leaders of the U.S. supported coup against Haitian President Bertram Aristide spent several months there before launching the 2004 coup that exiled Aristide to South Africa.

Privatizing” war is not only the logical extension of the Bush Administration’s mania for contracting everything out to the private sector; it also shields the White House’s activities from the U.S. Congress. “My complaint about the use of private contractors,” says U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsy (D-Il), “is their ability to fly under the radar to avoid accountability.”

The role that Manta is playing in the northern part of the continent is what so worries countries in the southern cone about Mariscasl Estigarriba. “Once the United States arrives,” Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez commented about the Paraguay base, “it takes a long time to leave.”

The Bush Administration has made the “Triple Frontier Region” where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet into the South American equivalent of Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.

According to William Pope, U.S. State Department Counterterrorist Coordinator, the U.S. has evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed spent several months in the area in 1995. The U.S. military also says it seized documents in Afghanistan with pictures of Paraguay and letters from Arabs living in Cuidad del Este, a city of some 150,000 people in the tri-border region.

The Defense Department has not revealed what the letters contained, and claims that the area is a hotbed of Middle East terrorism have been widely debunked. The U.S. State Department’s analysis of the region—“Patterns of Terrorism”—found no evidence for the charge, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study found the area awash with money smuggling, but not terrorism.

It is the base’s proximity to Bolivia that causes the most concern, particularly given the Bush Administration’s charges that Cuba and Venezuela are stirring up trouble in that Andean nation.

Bolivia has seen a series of political upheavals, starting with a revolt against the privatization of water supplies by the U.S. Bechtel Corporation and the French utility giant, Suez de Lyonnaise des Eaux. The water uprising was sparked off when Suez announced it would charge between $335 and $445 to connect a private home to the water supply. Bolivia’s yearly per capita gross domestic product is $915.

The water revolt, which spread to IMF enforced taxes and the privatization of gas and oil reserves, forced three presidents to resign. The country is increasingly polarized between its majority Indian population and an elite minority that has dominated the nation for hundreds of years. Six out of 10 people live below the poverty line, a statistic that rises to nine in 10 in rural areas.

For the Bush Administration, however, Bolivia is all about subversion, not poverty and powerlessness.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Paraguay this past August, he told reporters that, “There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways.”

A Rumsfeld aide told the press that Cuba was involved in the unrest, a charge that even one of Bolivia’s ousted presidents, Carlos Mesa, denies

A major focus of the unrest in Bolivia is who controls its vast natural gas deposits, the second largest in the Western Hemisphere. Under pressure from the U.S. and the IMF, Bolivia sold off its oil and gas to Enron and Shell in 1995 for $263.5 million, less than 1 percent of what the deposits are worth.

The Movement Toward Socialism’s presidential candidate Evo Morales, a Quechuan Indian and trade union leader who is running first in the polls, wants to re-nationalize the deposits. Polls indicate that 75 percent of Bolivians agree with him.

But the present political crisis over upcoming elections Dec. 18, and disagreements on how to redistribute seats in the legislature, has the U.S muttering dark threats about “failed states.”

U.S. General Bantz J. Craddock, commander of Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee: “In Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, distrust and loss of faith in failed institutions fuel the emergence of anti-U.S., anti-globalization, and anti-free trade demagogues.”

Bolivia has been placed on the National Intelligence Council’s list of 25 countries where the U.S. will consider intervening in case of “instability.”

This is scary talk for Latin American countries.

Would the U.S, invade Bolivia? Given the present state of its military, unlikely.

Would the U.S. try to destabilize Bolivia’s economy while training people how to use military force to insure Enron, Shell, British Gas, Total, Repsol, and the U.S. continues to get Bolivian gas for pennies on the dollar? Very likely.

And would the White House like to use such a coup as a way to send a message to other countries? You bet. President Bush may be clueless on geography, but he is not bad at overthrowing governments and killing people.

Will it be as easy as it was in the old days when the CIA could bribe truckers to paralyze Chile and set the stage for a coup?

Nothing is easy in Latin America anymore.

The U.S. can bluster about a trade war, but the playing field is a little more level these days. The Marcosur Group of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay embraces 250 million people, generates $1 trillion in goods, and is the third largest trade organization on the planet. If the American market tightens, the Chinese are more than willing to pick up the slack.

A meeting last month of the Ibero-American heads of state turned downright feisty. The assembled nations demanded an end to the “blockade” of Cuba. The word “blockade” is very different than the word “embargo,” the term that was always used in the past. A “blockade” is a violation of international law.

The meeting also demanded that the U.S. extradite Luis Posada to Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 76 people.

If the U.S. tries something in Bolivia (or Venezuela), it will find that the old days when proxy armies and economic destabilization could bring down governments are gone, replaced by countries and people who no longer curtsy to the colossus from the north.


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A Coup At Foggy Bottom?

Dispatches From The Edge

Berkeley Daily Planet

Conn Hallinan

Dec. 3, 2009

Watching the Obama Administration’s about-face in the Middle East and Latin America raises an uncomfortable question: have neo-conservative Democrats—a section closely associated with the Clinton wing of the Party— undermined U.S. foreign policy? Whatever the source of the shifts, their effect has been to heighten tensions in both areas of the world and marginalize the U.S. just as it was beginning to break out of the isolation of the Bush years.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abandoned the White House’s demand to halt the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it not only drew outrage from U.S. allies like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, it brought into question the entire peace process. For the first time in decades, Palestinians are threatening to unilaterally declare a state, and some are openly raising the possibility of abandoning a two-state solution in favor of a single bi-national entity.

A bi-national solution would “spell the end of Israel as a democratic state,” editorialized the Financial Times. “It would come to resemble in many ways the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. If [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu believes that he has achieved a victory by refusing to halt the settlements, he is wrong. It is more like a project of national suicide.”

The Economist put the blame squarely on Obama: “From the Palestinian and Arab points of view, his administration…has meekly capitulated to Israel.”

The recent announcement that Israel would build 900 units in East Jerusalem suggests that the Netanyahu government feels it can now act without fear of a break with Washington.

If outrage is the reaction to the Administration’s U-turn in the Middle East, shock is the common response in Latin America to the State Department’s about face on the Honduran coup.

When President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the military June 28, the White House joined the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations in demanding his reinstatement. “We believe the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there,” said Obama.

Now, according to State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, the U.S. intends to break that pledge and recognize the winner of the Nov. 29 elections, which are being

organized by the coup government. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, demonstrations opposed to the election have been savagely repressed.

So far, only Panama has supported the U.S. position.

Almost overnight, the good will Obama created by his Cairo address to the Muslim world, and his Administration’s quick denunciation of the Honduran coup has vanished.

What happened?

On Honduras, the Republicans are taking credit for the Administration’s change of heart. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) claims it was his hold over two State Department nominees that caused the White House to drop its support of Zelaya. DeMint said he was “very thankful” that Obama and Clinton “have finally taken the side of the Honduran people.”

According to COIMER & OP poll, only 22.2 percent of Hondurans support the coup government led by Roberto Micheletto.

But it seems unlikely that the White House would cave over two appointments. In fact, the State Department had begun backing away from Obama’s statement long before DeMint came into the picture. Zelaya’s name was suddenly dropped in favor of a formula that called for a “return to constitutional order.”

A muscular foreign policy—and strong support for Israel—are policies that have long been touchstones for the right wing of the Democratic Party. It was the Clinton Administration that first intervened in the Colombian civil war, bombed the Sudan, and launched the war against Serbia. Secretary Clinton, along with other hawks, is pushing for a major expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

It seems more likely that the State Department’s support for the Nov. 29 election was a not-so-subtle shot across the bow aimed at countries that the U.S. considers unfriendly.

The recent release of a U.S. Air Force document on current U.S.-Colombian military agreement suggests that the U.S. is indeed preparing to exert greater military power in Latin America. According to Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger, the document, submitted to the U.S. Congress last May as part of the 2010 budget considerations, contradicts claims by the U.S. and the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe that the deployment of U.S. forces in Colombia is solely aimed at local narcotics traffic and terrorism, and will not affect Colombia’s neighbors.

The agreement says U.S. deployment in seven bases scattered around Colombia will allow Washington to engage in “full spectrum military operations in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorists insurgencies…and anti-US governments…” And further, that the Palanquero Base in particular “…will also increase our capability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), improve global reach, support logistics requirements, improve partnerships, improve theater security cooperation and expand expeditionary warfare capability.” *

In a statement that had a strong whiff of the Monroe Doctrine about it, U.S. Southern Command head General Douglas Fraser warned that Iran’s “growing influence” in the region poses a “potential risk.” Speaking in Miami last June, the General charged that Iran is building connections to “extremist organizations” on the continent, and has forged close ties with Venezuela and Cuba.

The U.S. recently reactivated the Fifth Fleet, giving it the ability to project considerable naval power throughout Latin America.

The scope of the Colombia base agreement should make a number of countries nervous, especially those that the State Department considers “anti-US”: Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. The term “unfriendly” could also include Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and even Brazil, which has helped lead a continent-wide independence movement against U.S. domination of the region.

The Bolivian government of Evo Morales charges that U.S. organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) support a separatist movement in the oil and gas rich eastern provinces of the country. This past April, Bolivian special forces stormed a hotel in Santa Cruz—the center of the anti-Morales movement—and killed several heavily armed mercenaries who apparently planned to sow chaos in the province.

Weapons and explosives used to attack Morales supporters were traced to wealthy business owners who are active in the rightwing separatist Santa Cruz Civic Committee. The Committee has received support from USAID and NED.

Venezuela says that the Colombian bases threaten the government of Hugo Chavez, against whom the U.S. supported a short-lived coup in 2002. Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa both charge that the U.S. aided a recent invasion of Ecuador by Colombian troops seeking out members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Ecuador’s Defense Minister, Javier Ponce, has requested a meeting with the President Obama over the U.S.-Colombia agreement.

The atmosphere in Paraguay is tense following the removal of the country’s top military leaders by leftist President Fernando Lugo. There have been several coup attempts since the end of the 35-year military dictatorship in 1989, and Chavez recently charged that a plan to overthrow Lugo was recently hatched in Bolivia by “ultra-rightwing elements.”

Neighboring Uruguay is gearing up for a second round of voting after left-wing former guerrilla Jose “Pepe” Mujica took 47.4 percent of the vote in the first election round. Some of the right-wing in that country vows that Mujica will never be allowed to take power.

An outbreak of coups in all these countries seems unlikely, but is certainly not out of the question, particularly if right-wingers—who dominated the continent throughout the 1980s and ‘90s—think overthrowing an “unfriendly” government will be met with a wink and a nod from Washington.

U.S. support for the Honduran elections effectively torpedoed a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Micheletti formed a “unity” government excluding Zelaya, prompting the ousted president, holed up in the Brazilian embassy, to announce that the U.S. brokered agreement was “dead.” The Honduran congress says it will not consider reinstating Zelaya until after the election.

U.S. isolation on this issue is palpable.

Meeting in Jamaica, the foreign ministers of the Rio Group—every country in Latin America and most the Caribbean—called for reinstating Zelaya. OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza demanded that the Honduran government be led by its “legitimate” president. Both the UN and the European Union say they will not recognize the Nov. 29 elections.

More than 240 leading U.S. academics and Latin American experts sent a letter to Obama calling on the State Department to denounce human rights violations by the Micheletti government and re-instate Zelaya. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka demanded that the Obama Administration oppose the Nov. 29 election and return Zelaya to the presidency.

Mark Weisbrot, director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, says unless the Obama Administration reverses course, it is going to be “just as isolated as Bush vis-à-vis the hemisphere.”

Whatever the explanation for the shift in foreign policy , there is little argument about the results: anger, charges of betrayal, and a diminishment of hope, from the Middle East to Latin America.

*Readers can access the report at:


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Colombia: Old Domino’s New Clothes

Foreign Policy In Focus

March 15, 2004

There are moments in American foreign policy that run a déjà vu chill down one’s spine. Just such a moment was the recent talk to a group of Cali businessmen by William Wood, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. In his remarks, Wood endorsed efforts by the present government of President Alvaro Uribe to overturn that country’s constitution to permit himself a second term. “The U.S. Constitution permits presidential re-elections,” Wood argued, “that’s why we don’t see this proposal as anti-democratic.”

Wood’s remark harks back to the dark old days when the U.S. routinely intervened in Latin America, overthrowing governments and constitutions from Guatemala to Brazil.

In fact, the Uribe government’s pursuit of military victory in Colombia’s four-decade-old civil war has spawned a host of undemocratic measures, a human rights crisis, and the threat that the war might spill over into neighboring Venezuela.

While the Bush Administration argues human rights has improved under Uribe, trade unionists and human rights advocates disagree.

Two years ago, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights found “massive and systematic violations of (human) rights” and recommended 24 initiatives the Colombian government should take. According to human rights advocates, those steps have not been taken.

“The Uribe government has moved backwards on the UN recommendations,” says Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament and foreign policy and human rights spokesperson for the European Labor Party.

While mass murders and kidnappings have declined, 20 percent and 32 percent respectively, targeted killings and disappearances of unionists and left opposition supporters have increased.

Disappearances have increased from 258 in the 1994-95 period, to more than 1,200 a year since 2001.

In the past 10 years, more than 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered, almost all at the hands of the Colombian Army or the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). According to Human Rights watch, “There is detailed, abundant and compelling evidence of continuing close ties” between the two.

The most controversial of the new anti-terror legislation is Uribe’s plan to “demobilize” the AUC and allow the paramilitaries to buy their way out of trouble. “Rather than serving time in prison,” says Colombian Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, “there are alternative sentences and the individuals will be allowed to pay reparations.”

Human rights organizations contemptuously refer to the plan as “checkbook immunity.”

The Bush Administration has endorsed the process, even though AUC founder, Carlos Castano, has already been convicted in absentia for murder and drug dealing. The other AUC leader, Salvatore Mancuso, is a former associate of Medellin cocaine cartel chief, Pablo Escobar. Both are wanted by the US and Interpol for shipping over 17 tons of cocaine to Europe between 1997 and 2002.

This past November the government “demobilized” 856 members of a supposed AUC unit in Medellin. But according to Andy Webb-Vidal of the Financial Times, most of the “paras” were petty criminals and young unemployed men rounded up the night before in 28 government buses.

Human rights groups were outraged. “Instead of handing these criminals a microphone, the government should be concentrating on arresting them and bringing them to justice,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.

While the Bush Administration officially considers the AUC a “terrorist organization,” in practice U.S. aid has targeted only the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN).

FARC, and to a lesser extent the ELN, do engage in assassinations and kidnappings and levy “taxes” on the drug trade. But, according to human rights groups, 85 percent of the civilian deaths in Colombia occur at the hands of the armed forces or the paramilitaries.

Colombia is now the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel and Egypt. With that aid the Colombian army has added 35,000 troops, becoming increasingly mobile with its fleet of U.S. supplied helicopters. The U.S. has just helped deploy one Colombian combat battalion and is training another.

Colombia also has the largest US embassy in the world, and more than 20 US-based companies share $178 million per year in contracts. All total, the US has sent more than $3 billion in aid since Plan Colombia began in 2000, the great bulk of it to the police and the military.

Much of the war has been privatized, with huge arms corporations like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and TRW providing security forces, surveillance of insurgent movements, and drug interdiction. This privatization has allowed the companies to avoid having to answer to the U.S. Congress.

“My complaint about the use of private contractors,” says U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) “is their ability to fly under the radar to avoid accountability.”

Few observers think government forces can win a military victory, in large part because the conditions that ignited the war back in the late ‘60s have never been addressed by the Colombian government or the country’s elite.

Between 65 and 68 percent of Colombia’s people live in poverty, and 30 percent of the landowners control 95 percent of the land. “The land problem is at the center of the armed conflict,” says refugee advocate Jorge Rojas.

But instead of urging land reform and solutions to growing economic inequality in the country, the U.S. has turned the conflict into a war against terrorism and drugs.

A recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations, however, called US policy in Colombia and the Andes region “myopic,” arguing that the US’s focus on drugs in Colombia was “no longer sustainable.”

Rather than reconsidering policies that are increasingly under fire in the region, the Bush Administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric.

US Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), chair of the powerful House International Relations Committee, said of Colombia that “three hours by plane from Miami, we face a potential breeding ground for international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan.”

Former US Ambassador to Colombia, Curtis Kamman, told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government that “The terrorists who operate in Colombia have not explicitly declared the United States to be their target. But their political and economic objectives are incompatible with our values, and they could ultimately represent a force of evil no less troublesome than al Qaeda.”

The possibility that war could spread into neighboring countries appears very real. The Bush Administration has long hinted that populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is supporting FARC and the ELT.

Chavez fell afoul of the White House when he thawed relations between Venezuela and Cuba. But the Bush Administration declared virtual war on Chavez when he insisted on trying to re-negotiate 60-year old oil agreements with foreign oil producers. Venezuela has 77 billion barrels of oil and is the US’s fourth largest supplier. The Andes region as a whole supplies the US with 20 percent of its energy needs.

Venezuela, like Colombia, is mired in poverty and economic inequality. Some 80 percent of its population live in poverty, and 2 percent of the population controls 60 percent of the land. Rising oil revenues would go a long way toward alleviating some of those conditions.

There are some recent ominous developments.

On Jan. 23, the U.S. State Department coordinator for counter terrorism, Cofer Black, warned Venezuela that it was not doing enough in the global campaign against terrorism.

The Uribe government recently sent three brigades of troops to the Venezuelan border, and one Colombian Defense Department official told the Financial Times that because of the tense domestic situation in Venezuela, Chavez will “look to a confrontation with Colombia.”

There is no evidence that Venezuela wants a fight with Colombia—Venezuela’s population is 24 million to Colombia’s 44 million—but there may be domestic reasons for Uribe to spread the war.

While the Colombian government has made gains on the battlefield, the rising cost of the war and the growing opposition to the loss of political freedoms have begun to sour the nation on Uribe’s “Democratic Security.”

While news polls—always suspect in a media dominated by the nation’s elite—indicate 80 percent support for Uribe, facts on the ground suggest the support is not all that deep.

A recent nationwide government-sponsored referendum to increase the powers of the executive and raise military spending went down to defeat, and voters in Bogota elected a left-wing former union leader, Luis Garzon, Mayor. The mayoralty of the country’s largest city has long been considered a springboard to the national presidency.

The worry is that Uribe, egged on by an aggressive Bush Administration and his own military, might invade Venezuela on the pretext of attacking “guerilla havens” in the border region. If he did, it would lift a page from another war.

In April 1970, frustrated on the battlefield and chasing the illusion of military victory, the U.S. and South Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, plunging that country into a war that would eventually lead to the killing fields of Pol Pot. It also destabilized nations throughout the region.

Déjà vu all over again?

Conn Hallinan is a provost at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a lecturer in journalism, and an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus. He can be contacted at

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Targeting Unions in Colombia

Dispatches From the Edge

Berkeley Daily Planet

Oct. 23. 2008

There are lots of places in the world where you need to watch your step. You don’t want to be a Sunni in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad (or vice versa). It’s probably not smart to speak Tamal in southern Sri Lanka. You might want to keep being a Muslim under wraps in parts of Mindanao. But most of all you don’t want to be a trade unionist in the U.S.’s one remaining ally in South America, Colombia.

“Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist,” says Jeremy Dear, chair of the British trade union organization, Justice For Colombia (JFC), “In fact, more trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia during [Alvaro] Uribe’s presidency than in the rest of the world over the same period.”

In April, the Colombian Trade Union Confederation reported that the first part of 2008 saw a 77 percent increase in the murder of trade unionists.

One of the latest victims was Luis Mayusa Prada, a union leader from Saravena. On Aug. 8, two men pumped him full of bullets—17 to be exact. Prada was the third member of his family to be assassinated by right-wing paramilitaries. His sister Carmen Mayusa, a nurse and leader of the National Assn. Of Hospital and Clinic Workers, is on the run from death threats.

Prada, who left behind a wife and five children, was the 27th unionist to be murdered in 2008 and joins 3,000 others who have been assassinated in the past two decades. Only 3 percent of the cases have ever been solved.

The fact that so many cases go unsolved is hardly surprising. The perpetrators work hand-in-glove with Colombia’s police, military and, according to recent revelations, President Alvaro Uribe and his political allies.

According to the Washington Post, the head of Uribe’s secret police, who also served as the President’s campaign manager, was arrested for “giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.” Fourteen of Uribe’s supporters in congress have been jailed for aiding paramilitaries, and 62 others are under investigation.

There is an unholy trinity between the government, the Colombian military, and multi-national organizations that has reduced the number of trade unionists from more than three million in 1993 to fewer than 800,000 today.

Nor is there any question why trade unionists are the target.

Starting in the 1990s, foreign owned companies began investing heavily in Colombia. From 1990 to 2006, according to a recent study by Al Jazeera, direct foreign investment increased five-fold, making up 33 percent of the national earnings. In 2007 that jumped another 30 percent.

A major impetus for this influx of foreign capital is the push for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S., an initiative begun under the Clinton Administration forms a centerpiece for the Bush Administration’s Latin America policy.

Most trade unionists have resisted the influx of foreign investment because it has led to the privatization of government-owned services, such as hospitals and water systems. Unionists also fear that a FTA will wipe out Colombia’s small farmers and manufacturers, as it has done all over Latin America.

Cesar Ferrari, an economist as Bogotá’s University of Javeriana, says a FTA will benefit consumers, “because prices will decrease,” but “the producers, usually small farmers will lose out” because they cannot compete with subsidized U.S. goods.

Democrats concerned with labor rights are currently holding up approval of the FTA.

When unions and small farmers protest, the death squads appear, sometimes egged on by Colombia’s political leaders. When Colombia’s Vice-President Francisco Santos recently accused trade union members of links to “terrorists,” he essentially declared open season on unionists

Multinational corporations are also tied to the paramilitaries. Chiquita Brands International admitted to paying over one million dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the umbrella group for right-wing paramilitary death squads. Trade unionists have filed suits against the huge multinational food giants, Nestle and Coca Cola, charging that the companies have helped to target trade unionists for murder.

“There are tight relations between the government, the paramilitaries and corporations,” Renan Vega Cantor, a professor of history and economics at the University of Pedagojica told Al Jazeera. “The industrialists, commerce, land owners and TNCs [transnational corporations] were all behind the paramilitary groups.”

The U.S. has supplied more than $5.5 billion in aid to Colombia, the bulk of which goes to the military. Britain also supplies and trains the Colombian military.

Both countries are training the notorious High Mountain Battalions (HMB), an elite force that, according to Dear of JFC, has been directly linked to human rights violations. “International groups such as Amnesty [International] have denounced the killing of trade unionists at their hands, while Colombian human rights defenders have documented the gross and systematic violations carried out by the HMB, including torture, murder and the disappearance of numerous civilians.”

The JFC recently protested a meeting between British Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells and HMB commander, General Mario Montoya. Howells responded by accusing JFC of being linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Howells withdrew the charge under a barrage of criticism. “Such ill-informed remarks could put at risk the lives of trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders involved in projects supported by Justice For Colombia,” Dear points out.

JFC also demanded that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband investigate whether Britain may have trained Colombian army troops implicated in a series of 30 assassinations. Miliband has yet to respond to the organization.

According to a Washington Post examination of civilian deaths, the Colombian military has been killing civilians they then claim are guerrillas. Since 2005, according to the United Nations, murders of civilians have sharply escalated. The Uribe government has doubled the size of the Colombian military, making it the second largest on the continent.

“We used to see this as isolated, as a military patrol that lost control,” Bayron Gongora, a Medellin lawyer for the families of victims told the Post, “But what we are now seeing is systematic.”

The Colombian Inspector General’s office says most of the victims are marginal farmers, or even people kidnapped off the street. Vice Inspector Arturo Gomez told the Post that the increase in civilian deaths reflects the intense pressure Uribe has put on the military to come up with elevated body counts. A UN investigation found that the Army carries extra grenades and firearms to plant on victims.

Besides trade unionists, political activists, and random farmers, indigenous groups are targeted as well. On Sept. 28, a death squad murdered Raul Mendoza, an indigenous governor, and former member of the Council of Chiefs of the Regional Indigenous Council (RIC). Two other indigenous leaders, Ever Gonzalez and Cesar Marin, were assassinated as well.

According to RIC, Mendoza had warned local authorities that he had been threatened for criticizing the government’s lack of concern for the poor, and for his support for striking sugar cane workers. Some 18,000 sugar workers are on strike for higher pay and improved working conditions. Currently sugar workers work seven day a week, 14-hours a day.

Mendoza was murdered the day after Uribe charged that the sugar workers were linked to FARC.

The U.S. is currently expanding its presence in Colombia. The Colombian weekly Cambio says the U.S. is planning to move its military base from Manta, Ecuador, to Palanquero, 120 miles north of Bogotá. In 1998, U.S. mercenaries based at Palanquero rocketed a village in Eastern Colombia, killing 18 civilians. The base was also instrumental in Colombia’s March attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador that drew widespread condemnation throughout the region.

The Palanquero base houses up to 2,000 people and can handle up to 60 planes on three airstrips.

The move, however, has generated opposition in Colombia. “A decision of this caliber would have serious repercussions for our foreign relations,” former Colombian Defense Minister Pardo Rueda told Teo Ballve of NACLA Report. “The possible base would reinforce the opinion that the decisions of Colombia are subordinated to the north,”

The U.S. also recently reactivated its Fourth Fleet, which according to the Navy will conduct “varying missions including a range of contingency operations, counter narco-terrorism, and theater security cooperation activities” in Latin America. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva sharply condemned the move and warned that Brazil might consider responding by putting its navy on alert.

With the exception of Colombia, and U.S. support for the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the U.S, preoccupied with its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,.went through a period of military disengagement from Latin America, But that military footprint growing once again. Given the loss of its traditional bases in Panama, it will have to find friendly countries in Latin America, a rare commodity these days, to host its bases. Even if Washington felt inclined to criticize Colombia’s human rights record—and to date it has shown no such inclination—it is even less likely to raise the issue when it is looking for a new base.

Hence the killings go on.

“This climate of constant violence must end,” says Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation representing 168 million workers in 155 countries. “The workers of Colombia are crying out for respect of their most basic rights, as enshrined in the fundamental ILO [International Labor Organization] conventions ratified by Colombia.”

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Dark Redux

SF Examiner

Nov. 16, 2001

While the nation’s media is fixated on Afghanistan, the Bush Administration is quietly extending its “war on terrorism” into our own hemisphere. And a lot of it looks like a dark redux of the past.

In late September, Francis X. Taylor, head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism, told the press that “Our strategy in this hemisphere is similar to our strategy around the world, and it involves the use of all the elements of our national power.” Taylor’s target was Colombia’s two insurgent groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army, plus the right-wing paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces (UNO).

Taylor said that the three groups would “get the same treatment as any other terrorist group in terms of our interest in going after them,” adding this would include, “Where appropriate—as we are doing in Afghanistan—the use of military power.”

But the US has no intention of going after the paramilitaries. To do so would challenge the Colombian armed forces, our major ally in the 37-year old civil war. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports, “There is detailed, abundant, and compelling evidence of continuing close ties between the Colombian Army and paramilitary groups responsible for gross human rights violations.”

According to Colombian rights groups, the “paras” and the Army are responsible for 85% of the 30,000 annual extra-judicial killings in Colombia. In 2001 alone, the”paras” have murdered 118 trade unionists and “disappeared” another 66. While the Army claims it takes an “even-handed” approach to the three groups, a US intelligence report by the RAND Corporation documents that last year the Army killed 2,677 FARC members and 76 “paras,” even though UNO outnumbers FARC almost two to one.

The only thing the US has done about the “paras” is to cancel the visas of five fundraisers.

While the US and the Colombian Army claim to focus on the guerrillas because the latter are involved with narcotics, the leader of UNO, Carlos Castano, freely admits that 70 percent of the organization’s income comes from drugs. The RAND study says the rest “comes from extortion.” That’s a nicely balanced budget for an ally. And “ally” status is what UNO is headed for. When Vice-President Dick Cheney said last February that in the fight against terrorism “You’ve got to deal with some bad guys,” he had the Colombian “paras” in mind.

None of this has anything to do with fighting terrorism. The escalation of US presence started long before Sept. 11, with devastating effects on Colombian society. The Colombian Commission of Jurists found that since U.S. aid increased in July 2000, politically motivated killings have jumped from 12 to 20 per day, and the number of internal refugees is now two million.

According to the monthly publication, Counterpunch, the blueprint for intervention was drawn up more than a year ago by the US Air Force’s think tank, the RAND Corporation. RAND argues that the US faces a choice of either escalating its commitment “to include perhaps an operational role for US forces” or face a “serious loss of credibility” in its efforts to control terrorism in the region. Reviving a version of the old Southeast Asia “Domino Theory,” RAND argues that a failure for the US to act militarily would result in “spillover effect,” with terrorism spreading into neighboring countries.

According to RAND, efforts to control the “paras” is “unwise and shortsighted,” and the group should instead be reorganized into a “supervised network of self-defense organizations” a la Guatemala. Those particular “self-defense organizations” were responsible for a significant portion of the 200,000 plus civilian deaths in Guatemala’s long civil war.

Unbeknown to most Americans, the RAND study is already being implemented. While the White House claims there are only 500 military personal and 300 civilians in Colombia, Stratfor, a global intelligence company, says the figure is really 2,000. There may indeed be only 500 US soldiers in Colombia, but the Pentagon has just put 400 military advisors into Eloy Alfaro Airport in Manta, Equador. The airport borders Colombia, and the advisors’ mission is surveillance.

Some of these Americans are doing more than looking. Green Berets are in the field with one Colombian battalion and are training three more. And, according to the Miami Herald, US personal, armed with M-16s, engaged in a firefight with FARC last Feb. 18 near the town of Curillo in Southern Colombia. The reason no one has heard about this is because the Americans were working for a private contractor that hires former US military personal.

When the Examiner reported last year that US-supplied helicopters and anti-personal bombs killed 19 peasants and wounded 25 others in the town of Santo Domingo, what was not known at the time is that Americans civilians working for Air Scan International of Florida, on contract for Occidental Petroleum Company, served as spotters for the aircraft.

Private US companies like Air Scan, Military Professionals Resources Inc., Virginia Electronics, and DynCorp supply pilots, bodyguards, and security services, but unlike the US military, are not subject to congressional oversight. Privatizing the war has become a very handy way to hide the level of US involvement.

Ripples from Sept. 11 are already spreading in Latin America. Militaries in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have begun beefing up to join the “war on terrorism,” a worrisome development that could undermine fragile regional peace agreements. With the White House keeping the clamps on the news, and with intervention obscured by a screen of privacy, we may end up in a quagmire without any idea how it happened.

Let’s see, American advisors taking sides in a civil war fought thousands of miles away in the jungles. Have we been here before? Is this the “new war on terrorism” or a rerun of Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua?

Conn Hallinan

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Columbia & The Media

Columbia & The Media

San Francisco Examiner


Two events came together last month which underline the dangers posed by the U.S. media’s short attention span, coupled with its inability to recall things older than yesterday’s headlines. It is a failing that just might land this country into a foreign policy nightmare.

The first event came during the second presidential debate when moderator Jim Lehrer asked if the two candidates supported U.S. intervention in Colombia. The two briskly agreed they did, and Lehrer moved on without a follow-up question. The media barely noticed the issue the next day.

Less than a week later, a small article appeared on page five of the New York Times, buried under the head,“Colombia Says Rebels Have Killed 56 Troops”. It sent a cold shiver of memory down my spine.

Almost half the dead were aboard a U.S. supplied Black Hawk helicopter, purchased with some of the $289 million the Clinton Administration has poured into Colombia this past year as part of the U.S. war on drugs. But the Black Hawk was not fighting drug lords, it was trying to relieve a garrison of government troops besieged by anti-government guerrillas in the isolated town of Dabeiba in that country’s northwest, far from the coca and poppy fields in the south.

Nor was it the first time that U.S. supplied helicopters found themselves embroiled in the middle of the 40-year old civil war. On Dec. 13, 1998, an explosion rocked the tiny hamlet of Santo Domingo in Colombia’s northeastern Arauca Province, killing 19 people, including seven children, and seriously wounding 25 others. The peasants claimed it was a U.S. Black Hawk that attacked them, the Colombian Army claimed it was a rebel car bomb. This past May the FBI identified the explosive as a U.S. AN-M41 fragmentation bomb.

The downing of the Black Hawk has yet to be carried by local Bay Area newspapers, and unless you read the tiny bi-weekly In These Times out of Chicago, you would be unlikely to know about the FBI’s findings.

The cold chill I felt was not that this country was headed for another Vietnam. The analogy here is not Southeast Asia, but El Salvador, and the parallels should be making the media stand up and take notice.

As in El Salvador, where the rationale was the threat of communism, the Administration defines Colombian war as central to U.S. national security. In this case, a fight to choke off the flood of drugs into the U.S. As in El Salvador, “national security” has also been used to waive the human rights provisions tacked onto the recent $1.3 billion aid bill, in spite of the the Colombian military’s record of brutality. Some 37 Colombian human rights and humanitarian organizations have refused to take any of the aid because of the waiver.

The vast bulk of the $1.3 billion is for the police and the military. But the aid is not just in helicopters and weapons, but training as well. The Colombian Army is presently deploying a Anti-Narcotics Battalion in southern Colombia, the stronghold of Colombia’s strongest guerrilla army, the FARC. That battalion was trained in Fort Bragg, NC by the US 7th Special Forces Group, which will “advise” the unit in the field.

Ostensibly, the unit will “secure” coca and poppy fields, allowing the U.S. to spray them with herbicides. In reality, it will be an offensive into the middle of the FARC’s base of power, with more than 200,000 peasant farmers caught in the middle. The UN High Commission on Refugees has already alerted Ecuador to prepare for between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees. They will join two million other Colombian refugees, more than the numbers which sparked the Kosovo intervention.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, there is no way to “insure that it (aid) is not being used for other than counter narcotics purposes.” Both sides use drugs to buy weapons and supplies. Drugs largely fuel the 10,000 member right-wing paramilitaries, which, according to Human Rights Watch, are closely allied with the Army. Carlos Castano, head of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces, admits that 70 percent of the group’s income is drug generated.

I doubt that the U.S. will ever have many troops in Colombia, although five Americans died when a deHavilland RC-7 crashed last July while gathering surveillance on FARC movements. Like El Salvador, there will only be a scattering of names on some wall in Washington. But as in El Salvador, new weapons and training will increase civilian and guerrilla casualties geometrically, adding to the already 35,000 who have died in the war.

And as in El Salvador, the U.S. may find itself in the middle of a major human rights crisis. We trained a government unit in that war as well, the Atlacalt Battalion, which in December, 1981 rounded up between 700 and 900 residents of the town of El Mazote, and systematically murdered all but a few who slipped away to tell the tale.

If the media needs a memory jog, I suggest reading Mark Danner’s “The Truth about El Mazote” in the Dec.6, 1993 New Yorker Magazine. In it he chronicles how the Reagan Administration, denied, lied and stonewalled to keep the Congress and the public in the dark about the massacre. Reading it will take you back almost 20 years to survivor Rufina Claros lying hidden near a burning building and hearing her own son cry out:

“ Mama Rufina, help me! They killed my little sister! They’re killing me! Help me!”

Is this really where we want to go?

Conn Hallinan

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Cold Math

Dispatches From the Edge

Aug. 25, 2002

Want to know what all those mind-numbing figures on Brazilian bond ratings, Argentinean currency fluctuations, and Bolivian privatization mean in the real world?

*Some 23 million Brazilians are malnourished, and 40,000 a year die of hunger. Four million people are landless, while 3 percent of Brazil’s people own two-thirds of its land. Out of a population of 175 million, Brazil has 53 million poor, 23 million homeless, and eight million unemployed.

*Argentina’s unemployment rate is 21.5 percent and half of its 36 million people live in poverty. For the first time in 200 years, malnutrition is a serious problem.

*In Bolivia, 6 out of 10 people are poor, a figure that rises to nine out of 10 in some rural areas.

One could go on, adding Columbia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru to the litany of misery that transforms the cold math of international finance into human poverty and wretchedness.

According to the White House, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, the solution to the financial crisis is to stay the course, continuing the strategy of free trade, privatization and austerity. According to an increasing number of South Americans, the solution is to cast aside two decades of failed policies and challenge the rule of global capital. The problem is that the latter approach is on a collision course with the former and, given the people who run Latin American policy for the Bush Administration, that could be a very risky undertaking.

Brazilians have already discovered this. When leftist Workers Party’s candidate Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, a critic of IMF policies, took the lead in the race for President, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Merrill Lynch arbitrarily downgraded Brazilian bonds, weakening its currency and increasing its debt burden. Even the normally staid Financial Times took sharp issue with the move, accusing bond market investors of “overreacting to Brazil’s two biggest problems: political uncertainty and debt,” adding that the rating “is out of line with Brazil’s relatively solid public finances and low inflation.”

Misplaced panic or deliberate sabotage? That is the question an increasing number of Latin Americans are asking these days. Lots of people on the continent recall when the U.S. deliberately undermined the Chilean economy to set up the 1972 coup. Brazilians also remember 1964, when their own President, Joao Goulart, was overthrown by a U.S.-backed military coup for even considering land reform, rent control, restricting foreign profits and nationalizing oil. The 21-year dictatorship that followed not only widened the gap between rich and poor, it is the major source of the country’s present $250 billion foreign debt.

On the surface, the recent offer by the IMF to loan Brazil $30 billion would seem a godsend. The loan, however, is not aimed at alleviating the appalling poverty and disparity of wealth, but at insuring Brazil will continue to privatize key sections of the economy, open its markets, and pay back $20 billion to Citibank and FleetBoston through “austerity measures.” However, even the current conservative and pro-IMF President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, says “Brazil has tightened its accounts so far that it doesn’t know where to tighten any more.”

What if Brazilians (and Argentines, Paraguayans, Bolivians, etc.) say “enough” to policies that that have depressed standards of living from Mexico to Argentina? What happens if Silva wins and, instead of cutting social services to pay back banks, follows through on his plan to spend $16 billion a year for a decade aimed at alleviating poverty and illiteracy? Suppose Brazil develops an independent foreign policy on issues like the Colombian civil war, Cuba, and the Middle East?

With U.S. Latin American policy being decided by rightwing extremists likes Otto Reich and John Bolton at the State Department, Rogelio Pardo-Mauer at the Defense Department, Elliot Abrams at the National Security Council, and John Negroponte at the UN, Latin Americans are understandably nervous.

After Reich, Rogelio Pardo-Mauer, and National Security Director Condoleezza Rice openly supported the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, former Brazilian foreign minister Luis Felipe Lampreia warned there was “anxiety in Brazil and the rest of Latin America because the U.S. no longer seems so committed to democratic principles.”

The failed policies the White House is pushing have sparked riots and demonstrations across Latin America where the U.S. is quite rightly blamed for the disaster. By controlling 18 percent of the IMF’s voting shares, the U.S. essentially wields a veto over the organization’s actions and our fingerprints are all over the current crisis. “It was very clearly the Department of the Treasury that pushed Argentina over the edge and allowed it to collapse,” Walter Molano of BCP Securities argues.

The bottom line is that Brazil and other countries in Latin America are going to have to make a choice between Citibank and their own people. As Jean Ziegler of the UN Human Rights Commission argues, “Hunger is not a destiny, but the product of a totally unjust society. Those who die of hunger in Brazil are assassinated.”

The question is: will Latin Americans be allowed to find their own road to modernity, or are we looking at returning to the dark years when the U.S. destabilized countries it disagreed with and military dictatorships held a continent in thrall?

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