Posted by Charles II on May 19, 2013
Jamie Doward, The Guardian:
European governments and the Obama administration are this weekend studying a “gamechanging” report on global drugs policy that is being seen in some quarters as the beginning of the end for blanket prohibition.
Publication of the Organisation of American States (OAS) review, commissioned at last year’s Cartagena Summit of the Americas attended by Barack Obama, reflects growing dissatisfaction among Latin American countries with the current global policy on illicit drugs.
Posted in Latin America, War On Some Drugs | 2 Comments »
Posted by Charles II on May 10, 2013
Just about a month ago, the genocidal president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina shut down the trial of the man who at that time was ordering the genocide done, Rios Montt. Now, via Meteor Blades at DK, some good news. Mike McDonald of Reuters reports that the trial concluded, and Rios Montt was convicted:
A Guatemalan court on Friday found former dictator Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloodiest phase of the country’s 36-year civil war.
He was sentenced to 50 years in prison on the genocide charge and 30 years for crimes against humanity. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country.
Rios Montt, 86, took power after a coup in 1982….
Prosecutors say Rios Montt turned a blind eye [actually, they said he designed the program] as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his 1982-1983 rule, the most violent period of a 1960-1996 civil war in which as many as 250,000 people died.
When our leaders say that can’t get things done, remember that the judge and prosecutor in this case have been constantly threatened. That’s what political courage looks like.
Rios Montt will probably never face actual punishment. He is 86, he has powerful friends at higher levels in the court system (not to mention Guatemala’s president), and it’s not clear that the American government is on the side of justice. After all, the genocide could not have taken place without the active help of Ronald Reagan.
But history has been made. For the first time, a mass murderer has been tried by the population he abused. Caps off to the brave people who used peaceful means to end and finally discredit Rios Montt’s violent reign.
The inestimable Robert Parry reminds us that this makes Ronald Reagan an accessory to mass murder:
U.S. intelligence officers in the region also kept the Reagan administration abreast of the expanding slaughter. For instance, according to one “secret” cable from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban.
On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas. A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.”
Despite these atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters in May 1981 to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.
What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”
Posted in Good Things, Latin America | 3 Comments »
Posted by Charles II on May 1, 2013
The first link is actually from 2010, but it’s an important one that I had missed.
The United States actually intervened in Brazilian politics as recently as 2005, organizing a conference to promote a legal change that would make it more difficult for legislators to switch parties. This would have strengthened the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) government, since the PT has party discipline but many opposition politicians do not. This intervention by the U.S. government was only discovered last year through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in Washington.
Weisbrot, April 20th:
Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of “regime change” against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002. The most high-profile example is in Venezuela itself, during the past week. As this goes to press, Washington has grown increasingly isolated in its efforts to destabilize the newly elected government of Nicolas Maduro.
But Venezuela is not the only country to fall prey to Washington’s efforts to reverse the electoral results of the past 15 years in Latin America. It is now clear that last year’s ouster of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was also aided and abetted by the United States government. In a brilliant investigative work for Agência Pública, journalist Natalia Viana shows that the Obama administration funded the principal actors involved in the “parliamentary coup” against Lugo. Washington then helped organize international support for coup.
Daniel Kovalik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
I just returned from Venezuela where I was one of 170 international election observers from around the world, including India, Brazil, Great Britain, Argentina, South Korea and France. Among the observers were two former presidents (of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic), judges, lawyers and high-ranking officials of national electoral councils.
What we found was a transparent, reliable, well-run and thoroughly audited electoral system.
Dawn Paley, Upside Down World:
There’s a new President in Latin America….
Horacio Cartes is his name,
Cartes’ link to drug traffickers was reported in the New York Times, and his implication in money laundering has been amply documented. “Through the utilization of a [Drug Enforcement Administration] [Buenos Aires Country Office] cooperating source and other DEA undercover personnel, agents have infiltrated CARTES’ money laundering enterprise, an organization believed to launder large quantities of United States currency generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics, from the [Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil] to the United States,” according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks. As if that wasn’t enough, a recent report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that a bank owned by Cartes opened a secret locale in the offshore tax-haven of the Cook Islands.
Posted in Brazil, Latin America, State Department, Venezuela | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Charles II on April 19, 2013
This is a government which the United States proudly supported when it was a dictatorship killing two hundred thousand Guatemalans–and still proudly supports.
ALLAN NAIRN: [In the 1980s] The [Guatemalan] army swept through the northwest highlands. And according to soldiers who I interviewed at the time, as they were carrying out the sweeps, they would go into villages, surround them, pull people out of their homes, line them up, execute them. A forensic witness testified in the trial that 80 percent of the remains they’ve recovered had gunshot wounds to the head. Witnesses have—witnesses and survivors have described Ríos Montt’s troops beheading people. One talked about an old woman who was beheaded, and then they kicked her head around the floor. They ripped the hearts out of children as their bodies were still warm, and they piled them on a table for their parents to see.’
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial against former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity came to an abrupt end Thursday when an appeals court suspended the trial before a criminal court was scheduled to reach a verdict. Investigative journalist Allan Nairn reported last night Guatemalan army associates had threatened the lives of case judges and prosecutors and that the case had been annulled after intervention by Guatemala’s president, General Otto Pérez Molina.
So, the guy who was actually ripping children’s hearts is now president and shut down the trial of the guy who was ordering him to rip children’s hearts out of their bodies.
There’s a lot more in the interviews. For example:
at the end of his testimony, the prosecution read to this general an excerpt from a Guatemalan military training document. And the document said it is often difficult for soldiers to accept the fact that they may be required to execute repressive actions against civilian women, children and sick people, but with proper training, they can be made to do so. So, the prosecutor asked the Ríos Montt general, “Well, General, what is your response to this document?” And the general responded by saying, “Well, that training document which we use is an almost literal translation of a U.S. training document.”
And the fact that a guy who is Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts now:
was involved in the supply of arms to terrorists, in this case the Guatemalan military… Hillary Clinton chose him as the special envoy to North Korea.
Guatemala is a respected ally of the U.S. today–a paragon of “democracy.” Even though the president can shut down a trial because he doesn’t like what is being said about him. The Constitutional Court will rule within ten days on whether the trial will proceed.
Wonder how they’ll handle these legal arguments:
ALLAN NAIRN: In one case, one of—one of the lawyers involved in pushing the case forward was approached by a man who offered him a million dollars if he would kill the case against Ríos Montt, a million U.S. dollars. He also said he would help him launder the money, set up offshore bank accounts. The lawyer rejected that. The man then took out a pistol, put the pistol on the table and said, “I know where your children are.” Another was approached on the street with a—with a direct death threat.
Posted in crimes, impunity, Latin America, Ronald Reagan | 1 Comment »
Posted by Charles II on April 12, 2013
Nicolas Maduro, who is running to succeed Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, has published a thoughtful column in The Guardian. An excerpt:
The media myth that our political project would fall apart without Chávez was a fundamental misreading of Venezuela’s revolution. Chávez has left a solid edifice, its foundation a broad, united movement that supports the process of transformation. We’ve lost our extraordinary leader, but his project – built collectively by workers, farmers, women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, and the young – is more alive than ever.
The media often portray Venezuela as on the brink of economic collapse – but our economy is stronger than ever. We have a low debt burden and a significant trade surplus, and have accumulated close to $30bn in international reserves.
I don’t know if Maduro will be a good or even an effective leader. But I do know that when the likely president of one our largest oil suppliers writes a calm, coherent statement of this kind, a free press would report it. What I read in the NYT is a bad joke, a parody of what a free press should look like (here, here, here)
The election is this Sunday.
Posted in Election Day, Latin America, Venezuela | 2 Comments »
Posted by Charles II on March 16, 2013
In a previous thread, there has been fascinating discussion on Pope Francis, with our commenters bringing in terrific links. As I see it, there are five strands to the thread:
1. Did Father Bergoglio collaborate with the Argentine Junta during the Dirty War?
* Journalist Horacio Verbitzky has a document from the Argentine Foreign Ministry which states that Father Bergoglio accused one of the priests of subversion years after this priest and another were seized by the Junta, and tortured. Verbitzky obtained statements from the priests to the effect that they were denied the protection of the Church from the Junta by Father Bergoglio.
* Brother John in comments mentions the statement by human rights champion Adolfo Pérez Esquivel that Bergoglio had no connection at all to the dictatorship.
2. Did Bishop/Archbishop/Cardinal Bergoglio participate in the cover-up and stonewalling of the investigation of the crimes of the Dirty War?
* Verbitzky states that Cardinal Bergoglio lied in court about the forced surrender of children for adoption [In English, as noted by commenter Ji, here. This is presumably in regard to the child of Elena De La Cuadra.
* He also states that cardinal Bergoglio denied that the church archives contained any information about the disappeared/detained, whereas there was a document in which bishops Raúl Primatesta, Juan Aramburu y Vicente Zazpe talked frankly with the dictator (Videla) about whether to tell families whether their loved ones were alive or not.
* Via Jim, in comments, Fr. Christian von Wernich has not been defrocked despite having been convicted of being an accomplice in the murders of seven people, and additional cases of torture and false imprisonment. Commenter Rich Grabner of Mex Files says that it’s normal for prisoners to ply their trades, so as long as von Wernich hasn’t been defrocked, it’s not surprising he would say Mass.
* Cardinal Bergoglio refused to testify in court in two cases involving torture and murder. When he did testify, he was evasive.
* Commenter Jim points to two photos (one and two) which may indicate that Father Bergoglio gave communion to dictator Jorge Rafael Videla soon after Videla’s release from prison (the priest’s face is not shown, so it might be a misidentification).
* Bergoglio helped Verbitzky unravel a case involving the hiding of prisoners held by the Junta from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
3. Is there any connection between the corruption scandal that engulfed the Italian branch of Communion and Liberation and then-Cardinal Bergoglio?
* On this, there is no evidence whatsoever. What is known is that the Italian branch of Communion and Liberation is up to its eyeballs in a corruption scandal. Cardinal Angelo Scola has not been tied in, but the scandal probably cost him the papacy.
4. Since past money-laundering by the Church has involved CIA operations to overthrow left-wing governments, is Communion and Liberation part of such an effort to overthrow the Bolivarian governments of Central and South America?
* There is no direct evidence on this matter. For a review of Vatican financial scandals see Betty Clermont at DK
* Verbitzky states that he believes that the elevation of Bergoglio to Pope signals that the Church intends to undertake an operation similar to what it did in Poland with Solidarity in the 1980s: presumably meaning, to overthrow the Bolivarian governments.
5. More broadly, does Pope Francis intend to end financial and moral corruption in the Church and return it to its mission of spreading the gospel and helping the poor? Or will he lead the Church down the road of further politicization?
* Bergoglio has engaged in open politicking over the issue of marriage equality for gays, which he called a “Holy War.”
* Via Brother John,
liberation theologian Leonard Boff says that he believes that Pope Francis intends to create a “Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power.”
I’m neutral. I hope the Church straightens out and flies right. It is too important to too many people to get itself tangled up in overthrowing governments, domestic politics, and financial corruption. Those are moral diseases that breed when the Church gets too close to the rich. The cure is for the Church to get close to the poor. I wish Francis all success if that is his aim, and I wish him all due justice if he is using the poor as a screen for another aim.
Posted in Latin America, Pope Francis, poverty, religion | 11 Comments »
Posted by Charles II on January 31, 2013
Guatemala achieved a breakthrough for justice today with the opening of the landmark criminal trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, former military dictator, for genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt, along with his chief of army intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, is charged with ordering and overseeing a bloody counterinsurgency campaign during his 1982-83 regime that sought to wipe out guerrilla forces and anyone who supported them. The indictment accuses the two retired generals of responsibility for fifteen massacres in the Ixil region of the country’s northwestern Quiché department, resulting in the deaths of 1,771 unarmed men, women and children.
One of Rios Montt’s defense attorneys says that this is a “‘politucal lynching’” instigated by the current government which is “’full of ex-guerrillas.’”
Somehow I don’t think that “lynching” of the kind Rios Montt faces will be anywhere near as fatal as what happened to the 1,771 unarmed Ixils (Mayans) or the many innocent thousands more who died thanks to Rios Montt… those thousands being just a fraction of the 200,000 who died in the 36-year long dirty war run by right-wing dictators.
Posted in Latin America | Comments Off
Posted by Charles II on January 10, 2013
DemocracyNow had an excellent debate between Michael Shifter and Pomona college professor (and Venezuelan emigre) Miguel Tinker Salas.
The essential points are that:
* when Chavez took over, things were in terrible shape
* the price of oil is much higher now than before Chavez took office
* things are not great now
One interpretation (Shifter) is that Chavez got lucky over the price of oil but otherwise squandered his time in office. The other interpretation is that Chavez was lucky in the price of oil, but unlucky in having the opposition he had, that his first few years in office were a loss due to factors outside his control, but that lately he’s done much better. This view is supported by Weisbrot and Johnston (see Fig. 1).
The one interesting issue raised by Shifter is the decline in Venezuelan production of oil (and natural gas). These are issues important to social stability, since natural gas is used for electrical generation (insufficient production = blackouts), and Venezuelans expect cheap gasoline. Euan Mearns at The Oil Drum says
OPEC stalwart and heavy weight Venezuela has had flat production over the decade of between 2 and 2.5 mmbpd. The impact of the 2002/ 03 general strike upon production is clear to see. Production has been hitting near term highs over 2.5 mmbpd and spare capacity is essentially zero.
What seems to be limiting oil production is a shortage of natural gas, as well as a decline in readily-accessible reserves in favor of the Orinoco Basin heavy crude similar to the Canadian tar sands. So, it’s not clear to me that Shifter’s criticism is valid, except insofar as it rests on the endemic corruption in Venezuelan society that makes it harder to do anything. The story of why they are producing more nat gas sounds like an example of that.
Another interesting issue raised in the debate is what the factions within chavismo are. Basically it seems that there are two principal factions, a civil society movement led by Nicolas Maduro, and a military faction led by Diosdado Cabello.
Posted in Latin America, Oil, Venezuela | 1 Comment »
Posted by Charles II on January 8, 2013
Newly-elected president Hugo Chavez is in Cuba getting treatment for cancer. He developed a lung infection, which means he can’t travel back to Venezuela for the inauguration. The Venezuelan Constitution specifies (see Art. 231) that the swearing in must be done on the 10th, either before the Legislature or the Supreme Court. So the right wing is trying to force new elections in the hope that they can split Chavez’s successors in a new election. Their argument is flawed, because Art. 234 specifies detailed procedures to declare a president-elect permanently disabled, and those procedures are under the control of Chavez proteges. (Something similar, by the way, happened during the coup d’etat against Honduras’s Zelaya, where he was declared permanently disabled to hold the presidency because the right-wing wouldn’t let him return).
The danger of the US considering this an opportune moment to meddle in Venezuela’s affairs is, in my opinion, significant. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that Chavez will survive this most recent health crisis, meaning that we could be seeing new elections in a few months. But the real problem is that the factions within the Chavez bloc have serious strains, and there is no figure of his stature and cleverness to hold it all together and keep infighting from weakening the coalition. It is good to see other Latin American countries rallying around to try to prevent the right-wing seizure of power through their mischievous interpretation of the Constitution.
This is a tragic situation. I think Chavez made a mistake by running again, because he has been drifting toward authoritarianism to try to overcome seemingly intractable problems. I have also said that the greatest failure of the Bolivaran “revolution” is the failure to develop leaders who could continue the process of change after his passing. There’s no doubt that a significant majority of the population believes that Chavez was on the right track, even if they disagreed with specific policies. If their will is denied, it will be a tragedy for democracy, and it will leave Venezuela ripe for crisis. Democracy only works when most people want it to, and it’s pretty clear that neither the US nor the Venezuelan oligarchy want it to.
Update: Greg Palast has a piece on Chavez, as well as a DVD. Palast thinks Nicolas Maduro can, and deserves to, survive the coming storm.
And right on cue, the Catholic Church lays down markers with the opposition. Jonathan Watts and Virginia Lopez, The Guardian:
“The nation’s political and social stability is at serious risk,” said Bishop Diego Padrón, the conference’s president, reading a statement from the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.
They never learn.
And Mark Weisbrot rebuts fear-mongering on the Venezuelan economy.
Posted in Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela | 4 Comments »
Posted by Charles II on December 29, 2012
Some of you may know Victor Jara, a Chilean musician who was swept up in the Pinochet mass arrests and executed. The legend is that, while interned at the Chile sports stadium (now Victor Jara Stadium), he encouraged resistance by playing his guitar. When his captors smashed his fingers and told him to play, he continued his defiance by singing until at last they silenced him with machine gun bullets. It probably happened a little differently, but there’s no doubt that he faced death bravely.
Aside from politics, he was just a great guitarist and vocalist.
Via Bohica at DK, his killers have been indicted: Lieutenant Pedro Barrientos, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Sánchez, and six more.
I hope God adds a little to their sentence for their crimes against acoustic guitar.
Hear Arlo sing his story.
Update: Litho has more.
Posted in abuse of power, history, Latin America | 1 Comment »