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Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media. For more information, sign up for our Latin America News Roundup or visit the archives.

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During a visit to Washington in late July, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina jointly called for a regional security initiative modeled on Plan Colombia in response to the rampant violence sweeping their countries.  In an October 29th Congressional briefing, human rights advocates from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia made a distinctly different appeal.  Describing how militarized security programs cut from the same cloth as Plan Colombia had undermined human rights and democracy in their countries, they earnestly called on the U.S. Congress to reconsider its ongoing support for these programs. 

The briefing, hosted by the office of Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and co-sponsored by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Just Associates, CISPES and CIP-Americas, was entirely videotaped by CEPR, and can be viewed here (in Spanish with no subtitles). 

For those who are interested in these issues but don’t speak Spanish or have limited time, we provide a translation of key excerpts from each of the four powerful presentations made by the human rights defenders.

First, a quick summary of the event:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, discussed how the U.S. security agenda in Guatemala undermines citizen security. Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), talked about how abuses by U.S.-backed security forces have increased, while judicial authorities justify rather than investigate the violence. María Luisa Aguilar López of the Mexican human rights organization Tlachinollan, explained how the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero is not an exception, but rather a representative case in a country that has recorded at least 22,000 forced disappearances since the U.S.-backed, militarized drug war began in Mexico in 2006.  Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, described the dire effects of Plan Colombia on human rights and democracy in Colombia, including thousands of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and how the U.S. is now helping export the Colombian model to other countries. 

Kathryn Johnson, from the Washington office of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, moderated the panel.  In her introductory and closing remarks she shared passages from a statement by the MesoAmerican Working Group on the impact of U.S. security assistance on human rights in Mexico and Central America, including policy recommendations for U.S. lawmakers.  The statement is available here [pdf].

Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network writes that in a recent meeting

… Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nation's [sic] interests in projects that would develop the [shared area of the Gulf of Fonseca] and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration mentions, among other projects

…the "implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park." The idea is to convert the Gulf into a "Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone."

Radio Progreso has noted that the Honduran government is courting investment for the projects from “the European Union [and] the Inter-American Development Bank and is seeking investors in Panama and the United States.”

The ZEDEs, or “model cities,” are areas in which large portions of the Honduran constitution will not apply, including various sections that apply to fundamental and internationally-recognized human rights.

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation recently traveled to Honduras to investigate the legal implications of the proposed ZEDEs. In a report released in September, the NLG described how few articles of the constitution residents of the ZEDEs would actually enjoy:

The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP) was founded in 1993, with support from liberation theology sectors of the Catholic Church, as a federation of poor people’s social movements representing the poor and working class, homeless people’s unions, Afro-Brazilian movements, working class women’s groups, housing movements, indigenous people’s organizations and the LGBT movement.  Today, it has hundreds of thousands of members, acts in nearly every state in Brazil, and is an important actor on the Latin American left.

The CMP's Luís “Gegê” Gonzaga da Silva is a former MR-8 Guerilla who was arrested and tortured during the military dictatorship and helped found the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) party in São Paulo in 1982. He has remained affiliated with the party ever since, and is one of the leaders of its internal Socialism or Barbarism Caucus. He never held public office, never benefited financially from his status as one of the party founders and has spent the last 30 years organizing mass occupations of homeless families in abandoned buildings in downtown São Paulo.

In 2005, a corrupt local judge and São Paulo military police framed him for a murder that took place in an occupied building on a day when he was not in town. He eventually spent 54 days behind bars before Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) lawyers got him out on habeas corpus. Declining an invitation by Hugo Chávez to move to Venezuela, at the age of 64 he decided to go underground and spent two years in hiding, as a group of Brazil’s best human rights lawyers worked pro-bono to clear his name.  When the charges were thrown out, he returned to his public housing apartment in a former abandoned building in downtown São Paulo and picked up where he left off, leading a squatters movement called the Movimento de Moradia do Centro de São Paulo (MMC). I spoke with him by Skype recently to find out what he thinks about this Sunday’s presidential elections.

Gegê
(Photo by Brian Mier)

The second round of Brazil’s presidential elections, taking place Sunday, could be close according to polls showing President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) favored by 52 percent over challenger Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 48 percent. As we noted with Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections, media coverage can have a strong impact on election turnout and voter preferences, and there is compelling research [doc] that Mexico’s TV duopoly was decisive in determining the outcome of Mexico’s 2006 election. While Brazil’s media is mostly opposed to the PT, it hasn’t been able to swing recent presidential elections – but it appears it’s not for a lack of trying.

Manchetômetro (literal translation: “headline meter”), an independent project affiliated with the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, has analyzed major media coverage of the main candidates and parties in Brazil. Focusing on TV coverage on Brazil’s largest audience TV news program “Jornal Nacional,” and front-page coverage in Brazil’s three largest newspapers (Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo), Manchetômetro has documented a pattern of lopsided coverage that has disproportionately put Dilma Rousseff and the PT in a negative light, while opposition candidate Aécio Neves of the PSDB (and first round challenger Marina Silva) have received much more positive treatment and much less negative coverage, proportionately. Manchetômetro’s analysis also reveals that this bias against the PT is not new; coverage favored Fernando Henrique Cardoso (of the PSDB) over Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva during the 1998 election, and there was also more favorable treatment of the economic situation under Cardoso than the current economic downturn under Dilma, though the former was significantly worse than the latter.

TV Coverage: “Jornal Nacional”

Globo’s decades-old “Jornal Nacional” is considered to be a leading news program on Brazilian television; with around 18 million viewers (in 2013) it has a total audience of about twice the combined viewers of the four leading U.S. Sunday morning news talk shows (“This Week,” “Face the Nation,” “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday”). The program’s influence may not be surprising considering Globo’s dominant position in Brazil’s media landscape. In a 2009 book, Giancarlo Summa (who did communications for Lula’s 2006 campaign) noted that Globo controlled 61.5 percent of UHF television stations, 31.8 percent of VHF TV, 40.7 percent of newspaper distribution, 30.1 percent of AM radio, 28 percent of FM radio and - through an association with Rupert Murdoch - 77 percent of the cable TV market.

Manchetômetro found a strong bias against Dilma Rousseff in “Jornal Nacional” coverage. During the campaign period (beginning July 6, and up to October 22), 21 percent of the coverage of Rousseff was negative, the most of any candidate. The percentage of positive coverage that Rousseff received was just 1 percent, much less than any other candidate. (Rousseff also had 78 percent “neutral” treatment.)

Campaigning for the Bolivia’s presidential election officially ended on Wednesday, ahead of voting on Sunday. The election, which includes 272,058 voters living abroad in 33 countries, will be observed by a mission from the Organization of American States. While the final outcome is likely to be a first-round victory for the incumbent, Evo Morales, the most interesting results will come from the four departments of the media luna region. In the past, the Morales administration has faced significant opposition there, including a sometimes violent secessionist movement.  This year, the president has a chance to win majority support in all four of the departments, which would mark a major turning point in Bolivian politics.

Earlier this week, Morales expressed confidence that he will surpass his 2009 record of support, and that as much as 70 percent of the electorate will vote for him this year. Morales won previous elections handily, with 54 percent of the vote in 2005, and 64 percent in 2009. When his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), celebrated the end of its campaign in what has been an opposition stronghold, Santa Cruz, on Tuesday, thousands of people came together to show their support, demonstrating changing dynamics in the relationship between the MAS and Santa Cruz. Then on Wednesday, Morales brought his campaign to an end in El Alto, where he claimed that he will win in all nine of Bolivia’s departments, saying:

Bolivia is united, the “half-moon” is over, now it is a full moon. We have all united at the top the social forces and the youth, who have joined for two reasons: because of the patriotic agenda and stability and because of the economic growth that guarantees hope for future generations.

The “half moon,” or “media luna,” is located in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia and is comprised of the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija. According to an IPSOS poll the MAS could win in Santa Cruz with 50 percent of the votes. In the 2009 presidential elections, Morales lost in Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. Things have been changing, however, and Morales has been strategic in building and maintaining alliances in the media luna departments. Not only do polls show that Morales might win in Santa Cruz, but he might also win in Beni (44 percent), Pando (54 percent), and Tarija (43 percent).

On October 12, Bolivians will go to the polls to choose their next president for a five-year term. Recent polling suggests that the incumbent, Evo Morales, will obtain a decisive first-round victory over his closest opponent, Samuel Doria Medina. Below are ten graphs on economic and social developments since Evo’s election in 2005 that help explain the strong support for his re-election.

 

      1. Economic Growth: Bolivia has grown much faster over the last 8 years under President Evo Morales than in any period over the past three-and-a-half decades.

Source: International Monetary Fund.

Marina Silva unexpectedly became a front-runner in the 2014 Brazilian general election when her presidential running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash this August, catapulting her to the head of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) ticket. After this, Silva briefly took the lead in the polls, but in the last few weeks the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT), has recaptured the momentum and the lead in a potential second round match-up with Silva. In an opinion piece written for Al Jazeera, Zeynep Zileli Rabanea explains Silva’s appeal:

With her background being quite different from the regular ruling elite - a woman of African descent from Amazonia - she has been portrayed favourably by the international media both as a disruptive force and as a welcome departure from the usual suspects running Brazil (Rousseff's workers' party [sic] has been in power for more than a decade). Silva has even been depicted as a kind of "green" heroine, all of a sudden popping up on the political field to save Brazil from corruption.

The rest of the piece is dedicated to examining this reputation in light of Silva’s election platform. Silva advocates a rebalancing of foreign policy, bringing the country closer to the United States; she proposes signing trade deals with the U.S., Europe and some of the Asian country trading blocs; and she has embraced big agriculture in a series of policy changes, including dropping her opposition to genetically modified crops. In terms of macroeconomic policy she has focused on lowering the government budget deficit and raising interest rates to curb inflation. Could these policies be the appropriate response to a slowing economy?

Brazil has a housing shortage of around 5.8 million units, while there are around 6 million vacant units in empty houses and buildings located mainly in the downtown areas of its large cities. Urban social movements have historically tried to resolve this problem by coordinating squatters’ occupations of empty buildings, and they have successfully pressured the government to legalize these activities, resulting in some of the world’s most progressive property rights. Articles 182 and 183 of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution guarantee that the social function of property overrides the profit motive.  After a decade of protests and advocacy, in 2001, these amendments were further defined through the complimentary Statute of the City legislation. According to Brazilian law, buildings that do not fulfill their “social function,” that are left vacant and owing property taxes can, after a certain period of time, be taken over by people who don’t own any property of their own and converted to low income housing at the government’s expense. Unfortunately this law, like many other progressive laws of its kind in Brazil, is ignored by many local governments.

According to Evaniza Rodriques, from the União Nacional de Moradia Popular (National People’s Housing Union, or UNMP) there are around 35,000 people squatting in 60 abandoned buildings in São Paulo’s downtown region, trying to pressure the government for ownership.  Currently, 30 of these buildings are undergoing legal processes to be returned to their former owners. As the violent eviction of hundreds of people from a building on São João Avenue in downtown São Paulo last week shows, military police violence against squatters groups is increasing.

Benedito “Dito” Barbosa is a lawyer and founding member of the Central de Movimentos Populares (People’s Movements Central, or CMP).  Earlier this year, while trying to communicate with his clients during a technically-unconstitutional mass forced eviction in downtown São Paulo, Dito, a man of humble origins in his 50s, was beaten, choked and dragged down the sidewalk by Sâo Paulo military police.  It was not an isolated incident. There have been seven cases of lawyers beaten by police while trying to perform their duties during mass evictions in São Paulo this year.

The government of Bolivia has built a cable car that connects the cities of La Paz and El Alto, giving commuters a much better alternative to the long and congested path they would otherwise have to take in buses and road transportation. Together, these neighboring cities are home to about 2 million people. The cable car, which cost $234 million, was built by the Austrian company Doppelmayr and will have considerable benefits for workers and the environment, and will reduce poverty, if we can judge from precedents with cable car projects in Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil.

The World Bank notes that:

Urban poverty may be reduced through the contribution which transport makes to the efficiency of the urban economy and so to the overall growth of incomes.  Urban transport policies can also be focused more specifically on meeting the needs of the poor.  Inability to access jobs and services is an important element of the social exclusion which defines urban poverty.  Accessibility is important not only for its role in facilitating regular and stable income-earning employment, but also as a part of the social capital which maintains the social relations forming the safety net of poor people in many societies.

This is very important in a country where the national poverty rate is still 43.4 percent and extreme poverty is 21.6 percent (2012). Traffic congestion for commuters traveling between these two cities has been a real obstacle. As the World Bank asserts, “Inadequate and congested urban transport is damaging to the city economy and harms both rich and poor.”  The relationship between lacking transport and poverty has also been demonstrated and explored in academic research.

In addition, as the Bolivian Agency for Information (ABI) points out, Bolivia’s new cable car will conserve energy and time as well as reduce car accidents.  Some critics in Bolivia, like Rolando Carvajal, point out that the cable car will make only a small difference because it will serve (together with other new transportation initiatives) less than 20 percent of commuters.  Carvajal also claims that the government has been using the cable car as a palliative in an election year, even moving the inauguration of the red line closer to the elections.  But President Evo Morales has no serious challenge to his re-election, and did not need to build a $234 million cable car to assure that he would win. Polls have shown that Morales enjoys considerable support; according to a recent poll carried out by the company Equipos-Mori, Morales is leading with 54 percent and his opponent, Samuel Doria Medina, follows with only 14 percent.

The New York Times ran an investigative article over the weekend examining foreign government funding of U.S. think tanks. The article found that

More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.

The article was a good example of investigative journalism. However, it did miss one point that is perhaps most important for majority of U.S. citizens and residents, who are generally opposed to much of our government’s foreign policy, especially e.g., wars of choice. This is that the foreign governments funding the think tanks in question are all allies of the United States, and often share U.S. foreign policy goals. In that sense they may reinforce the U.S. government’s influence over media and ideas.  This paid influence in “the marketplace of ideas” help perpetuate the process by which the media that reaches most Americans does not recognize an independent civil society on foreign policy issues. Practically all of the experts that Americans see on major TV on foreign policy issues are either government officials, former government officials, or are getting money from the government – or from its foreign allies.  

Writing about the investigation, the Non-Profit Quarterly noted that sometimes think tanks are not overly transparent regarding their foreign funding:

There are several very disturbing elements to this story that should be a concern for all nonprofits.

First, because these think tanks are 501(c) organizations, the public disclosure of their funding relationships with foreign governments may be difficult to spot in formal documents such as Form 990s. For example, on the CSIS website, there is a list of foreign governments that have provided funding to the organization, but without funding amounts, dates, or the specific projects or initiatives they may have supported. There is nothing in the latest CSIS Form 990 posted on the GuideStar website identifying or describing any foreign government funding of the organization. One would think that funding from other sovereign nations might be something that should be a matter of public disclosure.

The American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) is Elliott Management’s main public relations and lobbying arm supporting its long-running legal fight against Argentina in U.S. courts to collect on debt purchased in the aftermath of the country’s 2001 default. Although it markets itself as a coalition, ATFA has in the past had to remove several groups from its list of supporters after the Wall Street Journal found that they had never heard of the organization, much less supported it. Over the years, ATFA has gone to creative lengths both to lobby the hedge funds’ case and to generally defame Argentina, by alleging nefarious ties with Iran, for example.

One of ATFA’s main goals has been to divert attention away from the fact that the fight over Argentina’s debt fundamentally hinges on the heavy-handed tactics of large hedge fund owners, like Elliott’s Paul Singer, to collect a lot of money on distressed sovereign debt. These tactics are not pretty, and these hedge funds rightly earned the name “vulture funds” long before the Argentina case, as CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker has pointed out. So one of ATFA’s strategies has been to highlight how Argentina’s actions have supposedly hurt the “little guys” and how the vulture funds’ case somehow represents a fight for these underdogs.

ATFA has not been great at coalition building, however. To date, perhaps their most successful lobbying push was their attempt to portray Argentina as cheating retired educators. Before 2010’s bond restructuring, one of the holdout creditors was TIAA-CREF, which had a relatively small stake in the defaulted bonds. Jumping on this fact, ATFA alleged that Argentina seriously harmed the pensions of retired academics, hosting an event [PDF] on the default’s effect on teachers, coordinating [PDF] letters [PDF] to members of Congress, and launching an ad campaign  [PDF]. ATFA’s ad lists the members of the “American Task Force Argentina Educator Coalition” who support the vulture fund’s case: the Alabama, Georgia, and Colorado conferences of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Nebraska Community College Association, and lastly, the Nebraska Retired Teacher Association. That’s it. There was no participation from the national AAUP or TIAA-CREF in this campaign; in the case of the Georgia conference of the AAUP, it’s unclear if the collaboration with ATFA involved the participation of anyone but the group’s then-executive secretary. When Congressman Eric Massa later pushed ATFA-backed legislation to punish Argentina over the debt issue, ATFA’s efforts may have helped the bill to garner some extra co-sponsors. But Massa’s ATFA legislation died, just like all of its later versions.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), the body that governs credit derivatives, recently declared a “failure to pay” credit event that triggers payment of credit default swaps (CDS) on Argentina’s debt. Bloomberg and others have raised the question of whether Paul Singer’s Elliott Associates or other hedge funds involved in the case against Argentina hold any of these CDS—and may be forcing a default and profiting from their CDS positions.

Elliott’s lawyers have denied that the firm owns CDS on Argentina’s debt, and a December, 2012 Reuters report cites an anonymous source saying the firm did have some, but no longer does. When asked by Judge Rosemary Pooler in a February 27th hearing in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals if Elliott’s NML owned any of the CDS, Elliott’s lawyer, Ted Olson, gave an evasive answer:

“I don’t know that that’s true,” Olson said. “I’m informed it isn’t true. But if it was true, it would be utterly irrelevant.”

Bloomberg pointed out that it was unclear if the denial applied to just NML Capital the Elliott subsidiary represented in the case, or to all of Paul Singer’s firms.

ISDA Decision

On June 20th, the law firm Schulte Roth & Zaber (SRZ) sent a memo on behalf of an anonymous holder of Argentine CDS to the ISDA Credit Derivatives Determination Committee (DC) asking them to decide whether Argentina had defaulted on its debt, and also arguing that Argentina’s public statements were tantamount to a repudiation of its restructured bond payments, urging them to rule that Argentina had triggered a “repudiation/moratorium” credit event.

SRZ wrote that their client’s CDS were set to expire on the 20th of June, and that if the ISDA DC ruled that “repudiation/moratorium” had occurred, this would extend the life of the CDS.

The ISDA DC did rule that Argentina had defaulted through a “failure to pay” credit event, which is different than a “repudiation/moratorium” credit event in that it apparently doesn’t extend the life of expired CDS, though it does trigger payment of non-expired CDS. ISDA DC later confirmed that Argentina’s public statements did not constitute a “repudiation” credit event. The ‘no’ vote was unanimous among the DC’s 15 members, including Elliott Management, which is a non-dealer voting member.

After penning an op-ed which blames the U.S. backed cold war and drug war for leading to the recent surge in migration from Central America, the Guatemalan President has hired a cold warrior to lobby the U.S. for increasing drug war cooperation. Confused yet? Okay, let’s start over.

Last week, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina wrote an op-ed in the Guardian arguing that the U.S. shared responsibility for a legacy that has spurred the current migration crisis involving the surge of unaccompanied Central American children arriving at U.S. borders:

…the so-called cold war had one of its hot spots in Guatemala…Communist and anti-communist ideologies created in Guatemala one of the bloodiest conflicts in Latin America, with weapons and money mostly from countries outside the region. More damaging was that for decades governments diverted resources from social and economic programs to security and defense.

Nonetheless, after the curse of the cold war, we faced another war: the war on drugs. Again based on ideological motivations, this new war diverted scarce funding from policies to foster education, health and employment to programs to block the flow of drugs from producer countries in South America to the consumer countries in the north. The failure of the war on drugs is widely recognized today, both for its limited capacity to stop drug flow, and its terrible consequences, expanding violence, corrupting institutions and weakening the rule of law.

While Perez Molina makes some fine points in his op-ed, he also completely leaves out his own role in the exact policies he’s criticizing. During the Cold War, Molina was a Guatemalan military officer involved in a “scorched earth” campaign that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and he has even been personally linked to serious human rights violations from this time period. Pot, meet kettle.

The situation took a turn for the ironic this week when O’Dwyers reported that Guatemala had hired notorious and far-right cold-warrior Otto Reich to lobby on the government’s behalf in Washington. Reich, who’s also been pretty much at the center of every lousy U.S. policy in the region since the Cold War, will be paid over $100,000 to, among other things:

Design a strategy to move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, D.C., allowing representatives in the North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference to Guatemala of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as well as the last century, and are eager to talk about the present and future of Guatemala of the 21st century.

Last week the Wall Street Journal had a front page article on the net worth of Argentina’s first family since 2003, the year Néstor Kirchner was elected president. Based on financial disclosures with Argentina’s Anti-Corruption Office, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “the couple's net worth rose from $2.5 million to $17.7 million” between 2003 and 2010. Implying that such returns must involve some sort of corruption, the Journal writes, a “lot of people in Argentina want to know where that money came from.”

But there is a serious problem with the way the data are presented here. The Journal is reporting the Kirchners’ net worth in dollars, without adjusting for local inflation. This makes the increase look much bigger than it is, since Argentina had cumulative inflation of nearly 200 percent during these years, according to private estimates.

WSJ Kirchner wealth

If the Wall Street Journal had taken inflation into account then the Kirchner’s net worth would have looked quite different. From $2.5 million in 2003, the Kirchners’ real net worth increased to around $6.1 million in 2010.

Simply adjusting for inflation takes away more than three-quarters of the Kirchners’ gain. Should the Journal have known this and adjusted for inflation? The question answers itself. We won’t speculate about anyone’s motives.

Election season officially kicked off in Brazil on July 1st. For the past 7 months, amid wide-scale attacks on her competency -- and against the Brazilian economy -- coming from all sides of the political spectrum in the Anglophone media, President Dilma Rousseff’s poll numbers have remained stable, placing her far ahead of her closest competitor, Senator Aécio Neves of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s PSDB party.  IBOPE, Brazil’s most widely-respected polling agency, released numbers last week showing that 38 percent of the Brazilian public intends to vote for Dilma. According to IBOPE this is the same percentage who intended to vote for her in the last poll that was taken immediately before the World Cup, and roughly the same percentage that have supported her all year.  Brazil has a multi-party system and she is currently far enough ahead of the remaining candidates that if the election were held tomorrow, she would win in the first round.

According to another recent poll by Datafolha [PDF], Dilma is leading in every region in Brazil. The numbers are close in the wealthy Southeast and South, but her lead climbs in the poorer North and Northeast. In the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest and second most populous region, the percentage of people saying they will vote for her climbs to 55 percent.

João Pedro Stedile, one of the national leaders of the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST), breaks down the choices that voters have this October in the following manner: “Dilma Rousseff and (third-most-popular candidate) Eduardo Campos represent neo-developmentalism, and Aécio Neves represents neoliberalism.” Neo-developmentalism is a term that people on the Brazilian left use to describe the PT’s modern version of developmentalism. Developmentalism is a Keynesian-influenced economic strategy first developed in the 1940s in the Third World by economists like Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado  based on income redistribution through social welfare initiatives, government stimulus for national industrial production and consumption, maintaining key sectors of the economy under control of state companies, and a high minimum wage, that was employed at varying levels by Brazilian president João (Jango) Goulart before the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964. Many people on the Brazilian left apply the “neo” prefix to the 12 years of PT government due to the neoliberal policies initiated in the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, such as an independent and monetarist Central Bank , that the PT has done little to revert and that blend with traditional developmentalist policies such as large minimum wage hikes, high social spending on welfare programs, maintaining state control over the petroleum industry and mortgage market and subsidizing  the construction and manufacturing industries.

[Below is an update to the blog post from July 21 reviewing how Latin America's political leaders responded to Israel's siege on Gaza.]

In a coordinated move on Tuesday (July 29), several Latin American countries recalled their ambassadors to Israel, including El Salvador, Chile, and Peru, the latter two of which made a point to say they had consulted with each other before announcing their decision. This means that five countries so far have recalled their ambassadors over Israel’s attack on Gaza which began July 8th, since Brazil and Ecuador had done so earlier. According to reports from Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying that El Salvador, Peru and Chile were encouraging Hamas by recalling their ambassadors. 

El Salvador announced its decision to recall its ambassador over “the serious escalation in violence and the realization of indiscriminate bombing from Israel into the Gaza Strip,” which they say has resulted in many deaths, injuries, an exodus of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and serious material damage. Chile recalled its ambassador the same day (July 29), saying that Israel’s military operations “comprise a collective punishment against the civilian population of Palestine in Gaza.” The same statement from Chile condemns rocket launches by Hamas against civilians in Israel, but argues that Israeli operations in Gaza “violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an indispensable requirement for the justification of legitimate defense.” The government of Peru recalled its ambassador and said that Israel’s military operations in Gaza “constitute a new and reiterated violation of the basic norms of international humanitarian law.”

In addition, several countries put out new statements reacting to the conflict.

On Monday, I wrote this article looking at the splits within the Obama administration on policy toward Venezuela and how they were manifested in the case of Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.  Carvajal was arrested last Wednesday in the Dutch island of Aruba with the help of the DEA, after he arrived to take up a post as Consular-General at the Venezuelan embassy there. Washington’s attempt to extradite him to the U.S., despite his diplomatic immunity, collapsed on Sunday night when the government of the Netherlands acknowledged Carvajal’s protected diplomatic status.

My argument was that the failed extradition was another attempt by the hard right to blow up diplomatic relations with Venezuela. It failed for the same reason that the previous attempt – the proposed economic sanctions against Venezuela that passed the House of Representatives on May 28,  did not become law:  President Obama (or whoever is in charge of U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere), does not want to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela at this point.

Since yesterday, three more developments have followed the failed extradition attempt:  first, Senator Bob Corker (the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) released his hold on the sanctions legislation.  This was what was officially holding up the sanctions bill in the Senate. 

At the same time, a group of senators including Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, and Marco Rubio, the co-sponsors of the Senate’s version of the proposed Venezuela sanctions bill, released a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “use the existing authorities that the Administration has to levy targeted sanctions against individuals that have been complicit in human rights violations in Venezuela.” This may be a signal from the most militant anti-Venezuela members of the Senate that they have reached some sort of agreement not to push forward with their own sanctions legislation, which the State Department has referred to as “unhelpful,” if the Obama administration utilizes its “existing authorities” to pressure Venezuela.

On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel -- defying calls by the Security Council, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:[1]

The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.

As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.

McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?

Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera.  It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.

In an effort to defend NAFTA and promote similar agreements, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) – Washington’s most influential think tank on international economic policy – had a full day of events yesterday. The program highlighted one of their recent publications [pdf], which seeks “not to rehash old claims that may have been overstated but to clear the air so that the benefits and challenges of trade can be examined in an objective light.” In spite of this disclaimer, the authors grossly overstated the benefits of NAFTA for Mexico, and put forward a number of misleading claims, including a particularly egregious bait-and-switch used to justify a rant against the economic policies of the “Andean-3” aka Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. It is a good example of how ideology can trump facts when it comes to commercial agreements made in Washington.

Earlier this year, CEPR published a paper giving an overview of the Mexican economy in the NAFTA era (“Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years”), so I will focus here on the claims made about Mexico by the PIIE economists. In terms of their bottom line for Mexico, the authors’ findings concur with our conclusions. They say that “Mexican growth in the NAFTA era has been disappointing.” But they also argue that without NAFTA Mexico’s economy would be $170 billion smaller. In other words, they attribute half of Mexico’s (per capita) growth rate to trade in goods and services stimulated by NAFTA (see table below.) Given Mexico’s population (about 118 million), this amounts to a payoff of $1,441 per person, or about $4 per day. In a country where over 27 percent of the population lives on less than $4 a day – in rural areas it is over 48 percent of the population – this would be very significant. In reality, results such as these are produced by economic models that are highly sensitive to parameters which the researchers themselves determine, so it is easy to end up with results that corroborate one’s worldview.

Brazilians may have little love for Germany following Brazil’s historic World Cup loss to the German team Tuesday, but the two countries do have something in common: both have notably been targeted for espionage by the U.S. Yesterday, U.S.-German relations suffered a new blow after Germany announced it was kicking out the CIA station chief over revelations that an employee of the German defense ministry may have passed secrets to the U.S. government. Just last week a member of Germany’s intelligence service was arrested, accused of selling information to the CIA. These scandals follow disclosures made available by Edward Snowden last year of NSA spying on Germans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden has also revealed extensive political and economic spying by the NSA on Brazil.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.

Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”

German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.

Germany is a key partner for U.S. intelligence, and Germany’s allegations and response are no doubt being taken very seriously by both the Obama administration and the media. While the administration clearly hopes it can downplay the scandal -- and while the CIA chooses to Tweet about its robotic fish rather than publicly address the incident (h/t Jonathan Schwarz) -- officials have underscored the gravity of Germany’s response in anonymous comments to press.  The AP reported:


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