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Amid Repression, Honduran Congress Fast Tracks Resource Development Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 02 August 2013 13:30

A contentious new law on “development promotion” that quickly passed the Honduran congress last month has provoked alarm in communities already trying to halt projects that could roll over indigenous rights and damage the environment. The “Ley de Promoción del Desarrollo y Reconversión de la Deuda Pública” (Development Promotion and Public Debt Restructuring Act) – passed under unusual and controversial congressional rules - will facilitate the sale of various public and natural resources for development purposes.

Legislators promoting the bill cited Honduras’ fiscal woes, saying revenue generated through the sale of concessions and of public assets would help the government pay off its debt. A new report [PDF] from the Congressional Research Service notes:

Honduras suffered an economic contraction of 2.4% in 2009 as a result of the combined impact of the global financial crisis and domestic political crisis. Although the economy has partially recovered, with estimated growth of 3.3% in 2012, the Honduran government continues to face serious fiscal challenges. The central government’s deficit has been growing in recent years. As it has struggled to obtain financing for the budget, public employees and contractors occasionally have gone unpaid and basic government services have been interrupted. Honduras also continues to face significant social disparities, with over two-thirds of the population living in poverty.

The CRS report goes on to state that “President Lobo also inherited a weak economy with high levels of poverty and inequality.” But as we described in a November 2009 report, “poverty and inequality decreased significantly during the Zelaya administration, with rapid growth of more than 6 percent during the first two years,” and “Some expansionary monetary policy was used to counter-act the global downturn in 2008.” This was interrupted by the coup – the “domestic political crisis” referred to by CRS -- to which we noted the Honduran economy was “especially vulnerable,” as well as to the global economic downturn.

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What Bradley Manning Taught Us about US Policy in the Americas Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Tuesday, 30 July 2013 15:35

Colonel Denise Lind has announced [PDF] that she found U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning “guilty” of five counts of violating the vaguely-worded Espionage Act, among other charges -- carrying a possible sentence of over 100 years imprisonment -- for providing information to journalists including those at Wikileaks. Manning had been prosecuted for over 20 charges, including “aiding the enemy.” Manning had pled guilty to 10 lesser offenses.

Manning faced possible life imprisonment were he to have been found guilty of the charge of “aiding the enemy,” which U.S. government prosecutors claimed he did since material Manning is said to have leaked was made available to Al Qaeda following its publication by Wikileaks. (Glenn Greenwald has suggested that Bob Woodward published “far more sensitive” information – which actually was read by Osama bin Laden – than Wikileaks did.)

Manning is just one of eight whistle-blowers to be charged under the Espionage Act by the Obama administration – more than twice as many as all other presidents combined – demonstrating an unprecedented campaign against those who expose government wrong-doing. It also represents an assault on the freedom of the press, since one significant impact will be that fewer whistle-blowers will be as likely to go to the media with previously undisclosed evidence of U.S. government misdeeds. As Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project said, “[I]t seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future."

In addition to the ACLU, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have condemned the verdict, among others.

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Analysis from National Endowment for Democracy Used in The Atlantic, with Significant Errors and Omissions Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Tuesday, 30 July 2013 10:37

This month, readers of The Atlantic were treated to a lengthy article documenting alarming threats to democracy in certain Latin American countries with progressive and leftist heads of government. The piece, written by Kurt Weyland and titled “Why Latin America is Becoming Less Democratic,” is riddled with significant errors and mischaracterizations. Perhaps even worse, editors at The Atlantic didn’t make clear that the article was first published in a “journal” that is funded by the U.S. government.

The original article was published in the Journal of Democracy, which has long focused on providing analysis to justify U.S. government intervention abroad.  The Journal of Democracy is an official publication of the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) International Forum for Democratic Studies. Although nominally a “nongovernmental” organization, the NED receives most of its funding from the U.S. Congress.  In 1991, Allen Weinstein, who helped found the NED and then became its acting president, told the Washington Post, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA" [1].

Some examples of the NED’s work include using U.S. government resources to fund groups and individuals involved in the short-lived 2002 coup d’état in Venezuela, and two years later funding organizers of the recall effort against then-president Hugo Chávez. One of the NED’s core grantees is the International Republican Institute, which played a major role in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Haiti in 2004.

These are just a few examples that highlight the NED’s disreputable history in Latin America, which would take far more space than a blog post to tell.  While it clearly would have been worth noting the source of the article, the article itself is full of both factual errors and egregious mischaracterizations.  To keep this post brief, I’ll only review a few of the most egregious errors here.

  1. Weyland writes: “Since the third wave reached Latin America in 1978, the region had seen only occasional threats and temporary interruptions of democracy in individual nations.”
  2. This statement is only reasonable if one completely ignores the U.S. government’s role in the region, which constituted a threat to democracy that was neither “temporary” nor limited to “individual nations.”  Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. conducted a massive and well-organized campaign, especially in Central America, using Cold War pretexts to install and support leaders who would foster favorable conditions for U.S. business interests. 

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Friends for the Week: Members of Congress Critique the OAS Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 25 July 2013 16:29

The Hill is reporting that “A House panel unanimously voted Wednesday to limit the U.S. share of the Organization of American States [OAS] regular budget to 50 percent or less.”  Does this mean that members of Congress have come to realize the OAS’s role in arbitrarily changing the result of Haiti’s 2010/2011 elections?   Do they want to limit the U.S.’s enormous influence over parts of the OAS? 

Nope.  Members of Congress have introduced this and other bills to limit U.S. support for the OAS precisely for the opposite reason:  they believe that the OAS is no longer an effective tool for “defending U.S. interests abroad,” and this is only the latest attempt to punish deviation from Washington’s objectives.  Here is an excerpt from research prepared for Congress that shows the limits of “bipartisan” debate on this topic:

U.S. policymakers have responded to the United States’ declining ability to advance its policy preferences within the OAS in a number of ways. Some Members of Congress allege that the OAS has allied itself with anti-U.S. regimes, and is weakening democracy in Latin America. Accordingly, they maintain that support for the OAS runs counter to U.S. objectives in the hemisphere, and that the United States should withhold funding from the organization. Others disagree, arguing that OAS actions continue to closely align with U.S. priorities in many cases, and that defunding the OAS would amount to the United States turning its back on the Western Hemisphere. They maintain that weakening the one multilateral forum that includes every democratic nation of the hemisphere would strengthen the hands of hostile governments while further weakening U.S. influence in the region.

In other words, the debate seems to be whether the goal of defeating our government’s official enemies would best be served by maintaining funding or reducing funding to the OAS.  Few in Congress question why we are making enemies with democratic countries in Latin America, or countries that pose no threat to the U.S., such as Cuba.

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Latin America’s Tragic Engagement with Microcredit Print
Written by Milford Bateman   
Tuesday, 23 July 2013 14:08

Thirty years ago, the international development community was abuzz with excitement. This was because it appeared that the perfect solution to poverty, exclusion and under-development had finally been found in the form of microcredit. As originally conceived, microcredit is the provision of micro-loans to the poor to allow them to establish a range of income-generating activities, supposedly facilitating an escape from poverty through individual entrepreneurship and self-help. Perhaps nowhere more than in Latin America was the excitement so intense. Stoked by the uplifting claims of Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto [1], that a vastly expanded informal economy would prove to be the economic salvation of the continent, the U.S. government through the World Bank and its own aid arm, USAID, along with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), led the charge to establish the microcredit movement as the dominant local intervention to address poverty.

However, the sour reality that Latin America faces today is that all the excitement over microcredit was fundamentally misplaced. As I argue in a recent article [PDF] published in the Mexican journal Ola Financiera, the microcredit movement has likely proved to be one of the most destructive interventions brought to Latin America over the last 30 years. A growing number of Latin American governments and international development agencies are now finally reconsidering their once unconditional support for the microcredit model. So what went wrong? Let me point to a few of the most important problems.

First, the overarching outcome of the microcredit model in Latin America has been an increase in the supply of “poverty-push” informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures. Yet rather than creating a De Soto-esque foundation for rapid growth and poverty reduction, the very worst possible foundation for promoting long-term poverty reduction and sustainable development was created. As economists such as Alice Amsden, Robert Wade and Ha-Joon Chang have convincingly shown, the now wealthy developed countries and the East Asian “miracle” economies found that what is really needed to escape poverty is for the state to engineer an entirely different constellation of the “right” enterprises: that is, enterprises that are formalized, large enough to reap important economies of scale, can innovate, can use new technology, are willing to train their workers, can supply larger enterprises with quality inputs, can facilitate new organizational routines and capabilities, and can eventually export. Economic history shows, too, that financing the expansion of the “wrong” sort of informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures will simply not lead to sustainable development. As Ha-Joon Chang brilliantly points out, Africa has more individual entrepreneurs than perhaps any other location on the planet, and many more are being created all the time thanks to rafts of microcredit programs backed by the developed countries, yet Africa remains in poverty precisely because of this fact. Likewise in Latin America: by programmatically channelling its scarce financial resources (savings and remittances) into informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures, and so away from virtually all other higher-value uses, the continent has actually been progressively destroying its economic base.

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Spanish Newspaper ABC Runs a “Completely False” Report on Venezuela, Again Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 22 July 2013 14:35

ABC, the far-right newspaper in Spain, has again been caught running a false report related to Venezuela. On July 18, the paper reported that Secretary of State John Kerry had phoned Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua and told him that the U.S. government was enacting a raft of sanctions against Venezuela for its having offered political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The punitive measures, according to ABC, included revoking the visas of senior officials' and Venezuelan businessmen’s “associated with chavismo” (which the paper reported had already begun a week earlier), and suspension of U.S. exports of gas and oil derivatives to Venezuela. The paper also reported that Kerry had informed Jaua that the U.S. would not permit any Venezuelan plane suspected of carrying Snowden to fly over either U.S. or NATO-member country airspace, unless the plane was a presidential flight carrying President Nicolás Maduro himself. “Immunity is not for the plane, but the president,” ABC’s “sources” cited Kerry as saying.

The report was picked up by a number of Venezuelan media outlets, including the opposition-oriented El Universal, the Miami-based Venezuela Al Día, and even what is widely considered Venezuela’s most objective newspaper, Últimas Noticias. U.S. English-language media outlets were more cautious, with only UPI running an article summarizing the ABC report prior without waiting for verification from the State Department.

But AFP reported on Saturday:

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Kerry spoke about Snowden by telephone on July 12 with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.

But she denied as "completely false" a report in the Spanish newspaper ABC that Kerry had threatened to suspend sales of gasoline or oil products to Caracas if it granted Snowden asylum.

"The secretary made no reference in his conversation with Foreign Minister Jaua as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden or receive him," she said, reading from a statement.

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Scholars Write on the Supposed "Irony" of Snowden's Asylum Requests in Latin America Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 18 July 2013 12:02

A group of Latin America scholars have taken issue with the supposed “irony” of Edward Snowden’s requests for asylum in Ecuador, and acceptance of asylum in Venezuela. The authors debunk what they say “has become a media meme” that it is “ironic” that a whistle-blower and free press advocate like Snowden would seek asylum in those countries. The authors point out, “most media outlets in Ecuador and Venezuela are privately-owned, and opposition in their orientation.”

The letter also offers important context and corrections of reports that seem to discredit the governments of Ecuador under President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Venezuela under Hugo Chávez (and now Nicolás Maduro), which “contribute to a climate of demonization that enables U.S. aggression against those countries and damages relations between the people of the U.S. and our foreign neighbors.” While the media contacts for the letter say they have received few responses from the reporters and editors to whom they sent the letter, it has received some attention, with Chicago Public Media station WBEZ interviewing Ecuador expert Steve Striffler (at 22:30) on their “World View” program yesterday and posting an article about the letter on their site here.

Here is the full text:

The supposed “irony” of whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeking asylum in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela has become a media meme. Numerous articles, op-eds, reports and editorials in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and MSNBC have hammered on this idea since the news first broke that Snowden was seeking asylum in Ecuador. It was a predictable retread of the same meme last year when Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the Ecuadorian government deliberated his asylum request for months.

Of course, any such “ironies” would be irrelevant even if they were based on factual considerations.  The media has never noted the “irony” of the many thousands of people who have taken refuge in the United States, which is currently torturing people in a secret prison at Guantanamo, and regularly kills civilians in drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Nor has the press noted the “irony” of refugees who have fled here from terror that was actively funded and sponsored by the U.S. government, e.g. from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries.

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General Strike in Brazil Responds to Wave of Street Protests Print
Written by Brian Mier (guest post)   
Friday, 12 July 2013 16:37

I have lived in Brazil for 18 years.  Yesterday I decided that an opportunity to protest for a 40-hour workweek was too important to pass up, and headed to Rio de Janeiro’s Candelaria square to march with the unions.

The march was part of a general strike held across Brazil yesterday. Across the country banks, ports, factories and construction projects shut down.  Protesters closed off 50 highways in 18 states.  In Brasilia, the Landless Peasant’s Movement (MST) occupied the Incra (agrarian reform) Federal Ministry.  The strike was coordinated by a group of 70 union federations, such as the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT; the Unified Workers' Central, in English) and Força Sindical, the national student union (UNE) and social movements like the MST. 

cut-mier
(Photo by Brian Mier)

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Thumbing its Nose at International Law, US Pressures Latin America to Reject Snowden’s “Serious Asylum Claim” Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Friday, 12 July 2013 15:52

After meeting with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden today, Human Rights Watch issued a statement reiterating their appeal for his asylum case to be treated fairly. The statement read:

“Edward Snowden has a serious asylum claim that should be considered fairly by Russia or any other country where he may apply,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “He should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.”

Snowden has disclosed serious rights violations by the US. But US law does not provide sufficient protection for whistleblowers when classified information is involved. The US has charged Snowden, among other things, with violating the Espionage Act, a vague law that provides no exceptions or defenses to whistleblowers who disclose matters of serious public importance.



Washington’s actions appear to be aimed at preventing Snowden from gaining an opportunity to claim refuge, in violation of his right to seek asylum under international law.

But while human rights organizations and legal experts have pointed out the compelling case for granting Snowden asylum, most of the media continues to treat offers from Latin America as nothing more than governments “thumbing their noses” at the U.S. A front page article in today’s New York Times on the U.S. pressuring Latin American governments to not accept Snowden’s asylum doesn’t quote any organization or individual making the legal case for asylum, but does quote former American ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson:

“What I think is going on among Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua and possibly others is, who can replace Chávez as the main U.S. antagonist?”

The article also points out that the U.S. is threatening these countries, whose only action has been to consider asylum for Snowden, as human rights groups have recommended. The Times quotes an anonymous official:

“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” a senior State Department official focusing on the matter said recently, adding that helping Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

“If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case,” the official said.
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US’ Double Standard on Extraditions Contributes to its Increasing Isolation Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 11 July 2013 10:09

Revelations of extensive NSA spying on several Latin American countries have further weakened U.S. relations with neighbors south of the border. Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are demanding answers, Peruvian president Ollanta Humala condemned the spying, and the Brazilian Senate has called on U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon to testify about the U.S. surveillance of millions of Brazilian citizens.

As we have noted, an Organization of American States resolution passed on Tuesday – with the U.S. and Canada dissenting – further demonstrates Washington’s current political isolation in the hemisphere. The resolution expressed “solidarity” with Bolivia and its president, Evo Morales and “firmly call[s] on the Governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain to provide the necessary explanations of the events that took place” related to President Morales’ plane being denied airspace and forced to land in Austria, whereupon it was searched, apparently due to bad U.S. intelligence that Edward Snowden was on board. (CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot touches on theories of a “dry run”/rehearsal response to Snowden leaving Russia here.)

The targeting of President Morales’ plane is all the more egregious considering the U.S. government’s ongoing refusal to extradite Bolivia’s former president Gonzalo (“Goni”) Sánchez de Lozada for serious human rights crimes related to the shooting of protesters in 2003. Goni lives comfortably just outside Washington, D.C. in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and as a member emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue is close to Washington foreign policy circles. The worst allegations that pundits have leveled at Snowden are that his leaks could endanger Americans – allegations for which there is no evidence. The case against Goni, however, is serious: he is believed to be responsible for ordering the military to attack protesters, resulting in the shooting deaths of over 67 and injury to over 400.

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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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