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Friend for the Week: Senator Bob Menendez Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 16 April 2015 18:55

The Americas Blog’s friend for the week is none other than Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey! Currently under federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, Senator Menendez recently took a break from trashing Venezuela and fighting the administration over its attempts to normalize relations with Cuba and reach a deal with Iran in order to add his voice to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who criticize “Fast Track,” also known as Trade Promotion Authority.

Late last night, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced a Senate Finance Committee hearing with just 12 hours notice. The hearing started off this morning with three Cabinet level officials giving testimony, despite the fact that the “Fast Track” bill had not been published. All three said they had not seen the final text of the bill, which in any event was introduced several hours later, at around 2:30 PM this afternoon.

This rushed timeline and lack of transparency was the focus of a statement published by Menendez and signed by half of the Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee:

With millions of jobs on the line, American workers and manufacturers deserve more than a hastily scheduled hearing without an underlying bill. Congress should undergo a thorough and deliberative committee process for debating trade agreements that account for 40 percent of our world’s GDP. And we should be debating a bill that has seen the light of day and contains strong provisions to protect American workers against illegal trade practices like currency manipulation.

During his time for questions, Senator Menendez rightly pressed the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, on his estimate of the net jobs effect of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here is the exchange, taken from a transcript prepared by CQ Congressional Transcripts:

MENENDEZ:

[…] Ambassador Froman, I asked you at our last hearing on the broad question of trade, how many jobs do you expect to be created -- net jobs, I would say, because in every process of trade, there are winners and losers -- net jobs to be created in TPP within the first year, the first five years, the first 10 years?

You didn't give me any figures, and I'm wondering if, at this point, you're in the position to describe what that would be.

FROMAN:

So when the -- the agreement is complete, there'll be a full economic analysis done.

I think the most authoritative analysis right now is probably the one that comes from the Peterson report -- the Peterson Institute that talks about expanding exports when fully implemented by $123 billion a year, adding $77 billion to U.S. GDP and contributing to many more high-paying jobs.

It depends a bit on where you are on the spectrum of full employment. If you're not at full employment, then it adds jobs. If you are at full employment, then it adds better jobs. And so it'll bend a little bit...

MENENDEZ:

So -- so we don't have a number on the jobs? You're talking about just gross?

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A CEPR Primer on Obama’s Trip to Jamaica and Panama Print
Written by CEPR   
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 14:09

From April 8-11, President Obama will make his first trip south of the U.S. border since February of 2014.  On April 9, he will be in Kingston, Jamaica for meetings with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization made up of 15 Caribbean governments.  Then on April 10 and 11, he will be in Panama City where he’ll participate in the seventh Summit of the Americas alongside the leaders of every independent government in the hemisphere including – for the first time – the Republic of Cuba.   

As we had predicted, the last Summit of the Americas that took place in Cartagena, Colombia in April of 2012 was a stormy affair for Obama, with many Latin American leaders objecting to the U.S.’ refusal to allow Cuba’s participation in the summit and criticizing the U.S. “War on Drugs” (not to mention that little scandal involving Secret Service agents and local prostitutes).  Following Obama’s efforts to begin the normalization of relations with Cuba and the lifting of his veto on Raul Castro’s participation in the Panama summit, many expect the U.S. president to receive a warmer welcome this time around.  But dark clouds have gathered again following the White House’s executive order declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary national security threat” and slapping senior Venezuelan officials with sanctions. 

On April 7, two senior White House officials, Ricardo Zúñiga – National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs – and Ben Rhodes – Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications – provided the press with a briefing on Obama’s trip to Kingston and Panama City.  As a service to our readers, CEPR has the pleasure of offering its own background briefing on some of the key issues that are sure to come up during Obama’s trip, with a few choice contributions from the aforementioned White House briefing.

Let’s start with Jamaica.  On April 9, President Obama will, in the words of Zúñiga, “have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Miller about (…) our strong support for Jamaica's work to deal with a debt crisis, with a fiscal crisis, and its strong performance in the last two years in working with the IMF and World Bank and others to address that, in support of the prosperity and security of her citizens.”

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“U.S. Ties with Mexico’s Military Have Never Been Closer”: An Interview with Jesse Franzblau Print
Written by Mateo Crossa   
Tuesday, 07 April 2015 14:19

The kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero has sparked renewed attention to the devastating effects of the U.S.-backed drug war in Mexico. More than six months have passed since the students’ disappearance, and while dozens of police officials and local drug gang members have been arrested, the investigations are marred with allegations of coerced confessions, and investigators are accused of covering up the truth by suppressing information.

Currently, a “caravan” of family members of the victims is traveling around the U.S. to bring attention to the terrible consequences of the war against drugs in Mexico. Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval, spokesperson for the group of parents and a member of the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa Guerrero, said the caravan aims “to shed light on the foreign policy of the United States, specifically the Mérida Initiative and its connection with the socioeconomic conditions and violence in Mexico.”

The Mérida Initiative was negotiated behind closed doors between former presidents George W. Bush of the U.S. and Felipe Calderón of Mexico in March 2007, and was inaugurated in December 2008. The former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Antonio O. Garza, said months before it was approved that it was “the most aggressive undertaking ever to combat Mexican drug cartels.” U.S. funding for judicial processes, forensic services, investigative capacity, and Mexico’s judicial reforms doesn’t seem to have had much impact so far: impunity remains rampant in Mexico, with 98.3 percent of crimes going unpunished. According to a recent U.N. report, Mexican security agents regularly engage in torture. The U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances has also found that the problem of disappearances of civilians at the hands of the police and military is worsened by the government inaction.

I recently discussed these issues, by email, with Jesse Franzblau – a policy analyst who has been researching U.S. foreign policy and human rights in Mexico and Latin America since 2006. Franzblau has carried out research and written articles for the National Security Archive, The Nation, Al Jazeera, NACLA, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Law Review and other outlets. Last year he was nominated, along with Mike Evans of the National Security Archive, and three Mexican journalists Carmen Aristegui, Daniel Lizárraga and Irvin Huerta (all formerly of Mexican news network MVS Noticias), for the 2014 Gabriel García Márquez Award for investigative journalism for their coverage of secret U.S. surveillance programs in Mexico.

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Child Rapes and “Sex Parties” by US Forces are Latest to Tarnish Plan Colombia’s Image Print
Written by Eileen O'Grady   
Friday, 27 March 2015 12:04

Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.  

A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.

According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.

While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.

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Wall Street Journal Gets the Numbers Wrong on Venezuelan Health Care Spending Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Friday, 20 March 2015 13:49

I have sometimes noted that in the current “four legs good, two legs bad” discourse about Venezuela, journalists can write almost anything about the country and no one will question it – so long as it is something negative.  On Saturday, March 13, the Wall Street Journal published this chart on its front page in the print edition, below, and claimed health care spending as a percent of economic output was “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” The chart shows Venezuela’s health care spending at 1.6 percent of GDP.

WSJ chart: "A System in Poor Health"


The chart and text don’t say it, but they are referring to public (i.e., government) spending on health care, which one can find by looking at the original data from the World Health Organization.  When I read this, I thought, this can’t be true:  The Venezuelan government spends about the same percentage of GDP on health care as Haiti? The lowest of 19 countries in the hemisphere? Less than some of the poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? And these numbers are for 2012, when the economy was booming (5.7 percent real GDP growth), Venezuelan oil was at 103 dollars per barrel, and the government built more than 200,000 homes. They had no money for health care?

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Honduras: US Government Fails to Act to Prevent Labor Rights Violations Print
Written by Mateo Crossa   
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:16

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations handed a 78-page submission to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) claiming that the Government of Honduras violated its commitments under the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) Labor Chapter. In response to these claims, DOL published a report that “found evidence of labor law violations in nearly all the cases.” The DOL provided a series of recommendations to address the concerns raised and called for the implementation of a monitoring and action plan.

Although the report included a number of problems that ended up demonstrating labor rights violations in Honduras, some issues were addressed in a way that make the case’s future seem uncertain.

The report was published almost three years after the submission was handed in (March 26, 2012). This is not the first instance in which the DOL has been slow to respond to claims of CAFTA-DR labor violations. In April 2008, the DOL received a submission from the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan workers’ organizations alleging that the Guatemalan government had violated its obligations under the CAFTA-DR to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, DOL issued a report in January 2009 finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala's labor law enforcement and making specific recommendations for improvement. It also stated that the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) “will reassess the situation within the next six months following publication of this report and determine whether further action is warranted.” However, instead of six months, six years have passed and OTLA has still not announced what it will do. In the case of the new Honduran report, the OTLA assures that within 12 months it will assess whether there has been progress in resolving the labor violations, but is there any chance that this timeline will be respected?

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Live Blog: Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on Venezuela Print
Written by CEPR   
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 07:59

We will be live blogging the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Venezuela this morning here.

The hearing, “Deepening Political and Economic Crisis in Venezuela: Implications for U.S. Interests and the Western Hemisphere,” will be presided over by Senator Marco Rubio, one of the co-sponsors of sanctions legislation against Venezuela passed last year. The hearing will consist of two panels, with officials from the U.S. State Department and the Treasury followed by representatives of civil society.

Estaremos blogueando en vivo desde acá esta mañana la audiencia de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado de EE.UU. sobre Venezuela.

La audiencia, titulada “La profundización de la crisis política y económica en Venezuela: implicaciones para los intereses de EE.UU. y para el hemisferio occidental”, estará presidida por el Senador Marco Rubio, uno de los copatrocinadores de la ley de sanciones contra Venezuela que fue promulgada el año pasado. La audiencia consistirá de dos paneles, con funcionarios del Departamento de Estado y del Tesoro, luego con representantes de la sociedad civil.
Haga click aquí para acceder a los vínculos de todos los testimonios

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Transcript from Mark Weisbrot's Appearance on The Diane Rehm Show Print
Written by CEPR   
Friday, 13 March 2015 16:29

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot recently appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to discuss Escalating Tensions Between The U.S. And Venezuela. The audio of the show is available here, and a transcript follows.

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Breaking News: The New York Times Reports on What the Rest of the Western Hemisphere Thinks About the Conflict Between the US and Venezuela Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Friday, 13 March 2015 12:33

In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.

The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:

“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”

The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed.  One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)

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The Agents of Unregulated Globalization vs. the Agents of the Fight against Climate Change Print
Written by Jeanette Bonifaz   
Friday, 09 January 2015 13:26

Woman farmer in Ecuador

(Photo credit: FAO)

Experts have argued for some time that small farms can play an important role in the struggle against climate change and that governments should prioritize strengthening and protecting small and medium-sized farms. Yet small farmers continue to be the victims of land displacement, killings, and other human rights violations, often perpetrated by state security forces, private companies, and paramilitaries, in many parts of Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world. Rural workers face the destruction of their environment and culture, lack access to basic needs, and rarely have a say in the policymaking processes that affect their lives.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), says his organization emphasizes that such “smallholders are among the most effective clients for public funds for dealing with issues around climate change.” Yet a focus on making profits for agribusiness has led to the breakup of Indigenous organizations; increased hunger; environmental destruction; migration from rural areas to cities; and unregulated, unsafe, and low-wage work. As Diego Montón from la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo points out, agribusiness and its transnational companies have transformed food into a commodity at the mercy of financial speculation. Through mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture and General Agreement on Trade in Services [PDF], corporations wield enormous influence over how prices of goods, agricultural models, and trade mechanisms are determined, including the standards for quality, efficiency, and distribution.

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About The Americas Blog

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.

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