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Who “Calls the Shots” for NGO’s in Colombia? Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Saturday, 28 September 2013 11:13

La Silla Vacía, a Colombian news and opinion website, has been publishing top ten lists with profiles and full explanations on various topics to map the “most powerful” individuals and organizations in Colombia.  For example, there have been lists describing who has the most influence in congress, in negotiating land reform and rural land rights, and in shaping public opinion (hint: the top spot goes to a former president).  Yesterday, they profiled the most influential actors in Colombia’s NGOs and civil society networks.  Topping of that list was U.S. federal government agency USAID.* 

According to foreignassistance.gov, the U.S. government is spending about $354 million this year in foreign assistance to Colombia, of which about 98 percent comes from USAID and the State Department.  This amounts to a lot of influence on public policy mainly through funding dozens of NGOs, as the article from La Silla Vacía explains.  Of course, the term “NGO” is notoriously flexible.  As we can see common conventions dictate that organizations primarily funded by foreign governments –namely the U.S. government—are be labeled NGOs. 

From interviews with six directors or former directors of NGOs and two former ministers, Juan Esteban Lewin, the piece’s author, was able to get a sense for how USAID shifts public policy discussion in Colombia.  The amount of financial resources available through USAID affects which issues Colombian NGOs work on.  As they compete with each other for funding, the NGOs end up shifting their focus to more closely match USAID’s four main working areas (three of which are related to post-conflict peace).  On the other hand, since a good part of the funds actually end up in the hands of USAID subcontractors—the article names Olgoonik Technical Services, Management Systems International and Chemonics—the money flowing into Colombian nonprofits from the U.S. government agency isn’t as large as it first appears. 

The author quotes one interviewee as saying that international funders “call the shots” and “dole out prominence to local NGOs” (“tienen la sartén por el mango y le dosifican el protagonismo a las ONG locales”).

Read more...

 

 
Dilma Speaks Out Against Spying and Boeing “Top Salesman” Obama May Lose $4 Billion Deal Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 08:16

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington last week and made a strong statement yesterday by using her speech at the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the U.S. for its illegal espionage activities in Brazil.  Currently, the U.S. government maintains that NSA information gathering is done for reasons of national security, but Rousseff argued at length that this argument “cannot be sustained” while calling for “a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet.”  President Obama, who spoke directly after her, made no reference to the NSA spy program or Latin America at all, even though it was widely expected that Dilma would bring up these issues. 

When the press reported that Rousseff had cancelled a state visit to Washington last week, many writers contextualized the decision by describing the revelations of NSA espionage in Brazil: from collecting data on millions of private communications, to hacking the networks of oil company Petrobras (majority owned by the state), and even gaining access to Dilma’s personal communications.

Other helpful context for Dilma’s decision would be the ongoing talks between her administration and the U.S. government since the news first broke of NSA activity in Brazil in early July.  Here are highlights of official meetings that show Dilma’s decision to cancel the visit came after repeated, high level communications with U.S. government representatives:

  • U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Rousseff talk over the phone for 25 minutes, and Biden offers to provide more information and technical details to Brazil, but no specific plans are reported. (7/19) 
  • U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon (now replaced by Liliana Ayalde) meets with officials at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, where Foreign Minister Figueiredo asks for “a formal written explanation… as soon as possible, this week.” (9/2)
  • Obama meets with Rousseff on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit, and afterward the Brazilian president says she wanted specifics on the spying: “I want to know everything they have.  Everything.” The Obama administration agreed to a one-week timeline for a formal response, according to Rousseff. (9/5)
  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice meets with Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, saying that the Obama administration wants to clarify the issue and has ordered a comprehensive review of the NSA. (9/11)
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What Do Latin American Countries Stand to Gain from the TPP? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 20 September 2013 09:23

A new CEPR paper by economist David Rosnick examines the impact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade and investment agreement, modeled on NAFTA – could be expected to have on U.S. wages.  The TPP, which is currently being negotiated by 12 countries in Latin America, Asia, North America – as well as by Australia and New Zealand – would result in a net lowering of wages for most U.S. workers, as the inequality effect of the increased trade would outsize the miniscule economic growth projections associated with it. Latin American governments involved in TPP negotiations include Chile, Mexico and Peru, all of which already have NAFTA-style trade and investment arrangements with the U.S.

Economic growth and job creation have historically been promoted as key incentives for why countries should rush to enact such so-called “free trade” agreements. NAFTA, for example, was touted as offering tremendous economic potential to Mexico, with predictions that the country would become a “First World” nation. But Mexico’s growth – stagnant since the neoliberal era that began in the 1980’s – did not pick up following NAFTA’s implementation in 1994. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and then-Research Associate Rebecca Ray noted in a paper last year:

Mexico’s economic growth since 2000 has not improved over that of the long-term failure of the previous two decades.  Its average annual per capita growth of 0.9 percent for 2000-2011 is about the same as the 0.8 percent annual rate from 1980 to 2000, and a small fraction of the 3.7 percent rate of the pre-2000 era.  

Mexico’s economy since 2000 has also performed very badly as compared with the rest of Latin America.  Its annual growth of GDP per person is less than half of the growth experienced by the rest of the region.

The impact on Mexico from the global recession – caused by the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble and bubbles in European countries – has been significant, and negative. Mexico, whose exports to the U.S. accounted for 21 percent of its GDP in 2007, suffered the worst output loss -- 9.4 percent of GDP -- in Latin America during the 2008-2009 recession. Although Mexico's growth was good in the three years of recovery since its recession, inspiring a spate of articles in the business press with high praise and hopes that 30 years of economic sacrifice had finally paid off, the economy shrank in the second quarter of this year and projections for 2013 have now been halved to a meager 1.8 percent growth.

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You Probably Didn’t Hear that Venezuela Was Again Ranked the Happiest Country in South America Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 15:50

The U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its World Happiness Report for 2013 last week. Following up on the first such report, released last year, the U.N. says that the 2013 edition

delves in more detail into the analysis of the global happiness data, examining trends over time and breaking down each country’s score into its component parts, so that citizens and policy makers can understand their country’s ranking. It also draws connections to other major initiatives to measure well-being, including those conducted by the OECD and UNDP’s Human Development Report…

The World Happiness Report, as with similar such studies as the Happy Planet Index is in part a response to perceived shortcomings with traditional economic and social measures such as growth, poverty rates, employment, education, life expectancy and other indicators.

While U.S. media coverage of the report was not overwhelming, there was some. The report was also covered in numerous international outlets in countries throughout Europe, in Asia, Africa and Australia and New Zealand, among others. CNN noted that 

“On a regional basis, by far the largest gains in life evaluations in terms of the prevalence and size of the increases have been in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Sub-Saharan Africa", the report said. Reduced levels of corruption also contributed to the rise.

But CNN neglected to mention that Venezuela ranked first – again – among South American nations as happiest.

Read more...

 

 
Blaming the Victims: U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Doubles Down Regarding Ahuas Shootings Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 13 September 2013 09:43

Earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske gave a talk at the Institute of the Americas in San Diego. During the Q and A, audience member Aaron Montenegro asked her about the May 11, 2012 DEA-related shooting incident in Ahuas, in Honduras’ Mosquitia region in which four local, unarmed villagers were killed and several others wounded. (As Americas Blog readers know, CEPR has co-authored two in-depth reports on the incident with Rights Action, based on evidence and interviews with survivors, witnesses, and various U.S. and Honduran officials; and on a review of official investigations.  And we have blogged about ongoing developments regarding the case as well.)

A recording of the revealing exchange is posted here, and a full transcript follows:

Question:  I'd like to mention something that you didn't talk about, and that's the Ahuas case in Mosquitia and the lack of cooperation coming from the U.S. Embassy.  For those of you who don't know, in indigenous territory, the Mosquitia, there was a massacre that took place in the name of fighting narcotráfico, and this was taking place with U.S. State Department helicopters, with DEA agents and subcontracted Guatemalan pilots. And there has been a refusal to participate within this investigation as far as the ballistic tests are concerned.  So I would just like for you to maybe address that and why there hasn't been so much forward participation with that if you are talking about impunity. And then, another question I would like to 

Moderator: Wait a minute, let’s do that one...

Question: OK.

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CELAC issues statement on Syria Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 16:10

CELAC, a regional bloc that includes every country in the Americas except the U.S. and Canada, released a statement yesterday on the situation in Syria.  The group, whose rotating presidency is currently held by Raúl Castro of Cuba, called for an end to the violence in Syria by way of a negotiated political solution.  In the statement CELAC issued a reminder that any action on Syria must be approved by the U.N. Security Council in accordance with international law.  

Below is our translation of the statement, from the original text in Spanish.

***

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) deeply regrets the loss of human lives and expresses grave concern for the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, and for the dangers it poses to the Middle East and for international peace and security. 

CELAC expresses its strongest condemnation for the use of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, regardless of where they are used and who deploys them, and its member states reaffirm their full commitment to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Therefore, we call upon those who have verifiable evidence on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and those who have used them to turn in that evidence to the research teams set up by the United Nations, as part an effort that will fully clarify the facts and prevent further consequences. 

We ask that the Security Council, based on its vested powers and the Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria, intensify its efforts for peace, so that the attacks might end, and resolve that if the use of chemical weapons is verified then those responsible will not be allowed impunity.  CELAC reminds that any action can only be taken by the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

CELAC, reiterating its commitment to peace and its respect for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and in International Law, including International Humanitarian Law, demands an immediate end to the violence and that civilian populations be protected, and firmly calls to end the provision of weapons to the Syrian territories and to all sides, in order to avoid violence and attacks against civilian populations and to create the conditions whereby a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria that has cost thousands of innocent people their lives can progress. 

In this context, CELAC calls upon the Secretary General of the United Nations to continue his efforts to bring an end to the conflict and reiterates its support for Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy, and for an international conference on the situation in Syria.

 
The Most Awkward G20 Summit Ever? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:36

President Obama is in St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in the G20 Summit today and tomorrow, amidst a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and several G20 member nations. Looming over the summit are the Obama administration’s plans for a possible military attack on Syria, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that a U.S. military response without U.N. Security Council approval “can only be interpreted as an aggression" and UNASUR – which includes G20 members Argentina and Brazil, issued a statement that “condemns external interventions that are inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”

New revelations of NSA spying on other G20 member nation presidents – Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico – leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and first reported in Brazil’s O Globo, have also created new frictions. Rousseff is reportedly considering canceling a state visit to Washington next month over the espionage and the Obama administration’s response to the revelations, and reportedly has canceled a scheduled trip to D.C. next week by an advance team that was to have done preparations for her visit. The Brazilian government has demanded an apology from the Obama administration. In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, an anonymous senior Brazilian official underscored the gravity of the situation:

[T]he official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the episode, said Rousseff feels "patronized" by the U.S. response so far to the Globo report. She is prepared to cancel the visit as well as take punitive action, including ruling out the purchase of F-18 Super Hornet fighters from Chicago-based Boeing Co, the official said.

"She is completely furious," the official said.

"This is a major, major crisis .... There needs to be an apology. It needs to be public. Without that, it's basically impossible for her to go to Washington in October," the official said.

Other media reports suggest that Brazil may implement measures to channel its Internet communications through non-U.S. companies. But when asked in a press briefing aboard Air Force One this morning, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes did not suggest that such an apology would be forthcoming:

Read more...

 

 
Colombia: “It's Unacceptable that the Actions of a Few Impact the Lives of the Majority” Print
Written by Mabel Duran-Sanchez   
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 10:59

Since the beginning of the global economic downturn in 2008 governments around the world have faced protests led by popular movements. 

Recently there have been mass protests close to home, in Brazil. These protests were initially sparked by a hike in bus fare prices and tensions over preparations for the FIFA World Cup but quickly developed into more complex nationwide movements demanding more government transparency, particularly with regard to public spending; increased investment in social safety-nets, and greater opportunities for political participation.

The Brazilian protests made big news headlines here in the States; the largest such protests in Brazil since the early 1990s. However, while there is worldwide attention to mass uprisings, there has been little U.S. media coverage of a national strike taking place in another nearby country, Colombia. As explained by Dave Johnson from the Campaign for America’s Future:

There is a big strike in Colombia, and you probably don’t know about it. Farmers and others are protesting over a variety of grievances including the devastating effect of free-trade agreements, privatization and inequality-driven poverty. Corporate-owned American media is not covering it... Almost the only American outlet covering this strike is the Miami Herald.

In fact, major news outlets like The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have not covered the farmers’ national strike in Colombia to date (save for the Post’s running of a 127-word AP blurb on August 30). The New York Times has only acknowledged the Colombian farmers’ struggle in an article on the stalled Colombian peace talks from Saturday, August 24 and a 130-word note on August 31. The earlier article mentions the farmers’ struggle in passing:

The rebel group said in its statement that it needed to ‘focus exclusively’ on analyzing Mr. Santos’s proposal, while also criticizing the government's economic and social policies at a time when protests by farmers, truckers and coffee growers are roiling parts of the country.

Read more...

 

 
What Makes Killings by Police in St. Lucia Different from Those in Honduras? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 23 August 2013 14:10

As we have previously described, members of Congress have called for suspension of U.S. aid to Honduras’ police and military over allegations – and evidence – of human rights abuses, including forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. The U.S. State Department response has been one of deception and circumvention, with officials saying U.S. assistance to the Honduran police does not go to National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla – at the same time that Honduran officials point out that Bonilla is of course in charge of all Honduran police officers.

It appears though that the State Department has no problem in halting support to rights-abusing police forces elsewhere when it wants. Reuters reported yesterday:

The United States has suspended assistance to the police department of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia as a result of allegations of serious human rights violations, the State Department confirmed on Thursday.



The allegations stem from 12 killings committed between 2010 and 2011, some of which were committed by an "ad hoc task force within the police department," a U.S. State Department Human Rights Report said.

The alleged extra-judicial killings stemmed from the circulation of a hit list targeting persons deemed to be criminals. Five suspects whose names were on that list were shot and killed during police operations.

Read more...

 

 
US Military Considers IMF-Mandated Policies to Be Dangerous for Honduras, Declassified Document Shows Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 19 August 2013 13:35

A newly declassified intelligence estimate [large PDF] from the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) reveals that the U.S. military considers International Monetary Fund (IMF) policy constraints on Honduras to be a factor that could lead to greater unrest. The memo is dated July 22, 2011 and was originally designated as “SECRET/ORCON/NOFORN” (meaning “Dissemination & Extraction of Information Controlled by Originator” and “Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals/Governments/Non-US Citizens”).

In assessing Honduras’ “social environment,” the memo states:

Economic conditions in Honduras will have a tremendous impact on the social environment over the mid to long term. Efforts to combat rampant poverty, inequality, and unemployment will continue to be hindered by budgetary pressures. Over the medium term, IMF-established targets aimed at boosting Honduran macroeconomic stability will continue to reign in public expenditures. Should key social programs remain under- or unfunded, preexisting socio-economic cleavages between the poor and elite business sectors may be further aggravated and lead to an escalation in protests.

The document comes back to this theme in its conclusion, with the last two sentences reading:

Honduras' progress towards compliance with IMF guidelines and recent full reintegration into the international community increase the likelihood of the country receiving expanded international aid. However, as Honduras continues to reign in its domestic fiscal policy to remain in compliance with IMF mandates, the nation will continually struggle to effectively respond to growing security and socio-economic concerns. [Emphasis added.]

Read more...

 

 
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