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U.S. Threats to Other Countries on Snowden Not Working Very Well Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 14:34

What’s up with John Kerry, or whoever is writing his talking points?  Did he really think he was going to publicly threaten Russia and bully its government into capturing Snowden and rendering him to the U.S.?  (Wikileaks has correctly noted that such a capture and hand-over would be a “rendition,” analogous to the people the U.S. and allied governmental agencies have captured and turned over to countries like Egypt and Syria to be tortured).

There would be “consequences,” warned Kerry, if the Russians didn’t do what he wanted – and for China and Hong Kong, too.  Russia doesn’t even have an extradition treaty with the U.S., and even if it did, it would be Kerry’s threats to interfere with the laws of asylum and refugees that were the real violation of international law here, not Russia’s allowing him to remain in Russia, or pass through its airport.

An amateur could have told Kerry that if he really wanted to threaten Russia, he should have at least had the sense to do it in private.  A public threat just makes it even less likely that any leader would embarrass himself by following U.S. orders.  Not that Putin was likely to do that anyway.

Putin poked fun at these threats yesterday when he declared that Snowden is a “free man,” and brushed aside the whole affair as like “shearing a piglet – a lot of squealing but not much wool.”

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Why Might Ecuador Grant Snowden Political Asylum? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 10:33

Various U.S. media outlets suggest ulterior motives for why Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa may want to consider granting political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, writes “In championing Snowden, President Correa is further cementing his image as a successor to Chávez who can take on the US." The Washington Post projected a similar theme with an article headlined, “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Public Radio International’s The World likewise headlined a piece with “Ecuador Leader Thumbs Nose at US, Trying to Help Snowden with Asylum.”

Writing in CNN online, however, Latin America scholar Steve Striffler advances an entirely different and apparently (to the media) incomprehensible notion: that Ecuador’s decision might be based on principles. Striffler writes that “The prevailing explanation among U.S. pundits … [that] Correa's stance … is all about scoring political points …is too simplistic an explanation and relies on a misunderstanding of Correa and the leftward shift that has swept Latin America during the past 25 years.”

He goes on to write:

…when Correa offered Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange asylum in 2012, he had relatively little to gain politically beyond raising his international profile. At the time, he was expected to easily win re-election (which he did), in large part because under his administration unemployment levels had reached record lows, public spending on education had more than doubled and medical care was more accessible than ever. This was despite the fact that Ecuador had been hit harder than almost any country in the region by the financial crisis of 2008.

Correa pumped money into the economy, reformed the financial system, took control of the central bank and otherwise worked, however imperfectly, to build a government and economy that serves the interests of the people.

Simply put, Correa's popularity insured that there was relatively little to be gained by taking on Assange in 2012. Quite the opposite, Correa's embrace of Assange produced an intense backlash by the media in Ecuador, which then amped up opposition during the election.

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Twenty-one U.S. Senators Ask Kerry to Conduct “Thorough Review” of Security Assistance to Honduras Print
Written by Alexander Main   
Wednesday, 19 June 2013 17:58

On Tuesday, June 18th, Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 21 U.S. Senate Democrats expressing “concern regarding the grave human rights situation and deterioration of the rule of law in Honduras” and questioning the State Department’s assessment that the Honduran government is taking measures to protect basic human rights and address abuses committed by security forces.  The letter, which was initiated by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), also notes “recent reports of death squads working with the police” and “a pattern of violence and threats against journalists, human rights defenders, members of the clergy, union leaders, opposition figures, students, small farmers and LGBT activists.”  It calls for a “thorough review” of U.S. security assistance to Honduras “to ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations.”  Finally, it asks Kerry to “make every reasonable effort to help ensure that Honduras’ upcoming November 2013 elections are free, fair and peaceful.”

It is rare for so many Democratic senators – approximately 40% of the entire Senate Democratic caucus – to take a position on Latin America policy, particularly one that appears to run counter to administration policy.  The committee positions held by the letter signers add even more weight to the message that’s being delivered to Kerry.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the signers’ committee assignments:

  • Seven out of ten of the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee are signers, including Barbara Boxer (D-CA, second-ranking) and Ben Cardin (third-ranking). 

  • Seven of the letter signers are on the Appropriations Committee – which controls the federal government’s purse strings – including Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the full committee, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations (which has direct control over the funding of foreign assistance) and Dick Durbin who chairs the Subcommittee on Armed Services Appropriations. 

  • Several of the signers belong to the Armed Services Committee (also of direct relevance given the ongoing military assistance to Honduras), including Jack Reed (D-RI), second-ranking Democrat on the committee.

  • Finally, given recent controversial DEA activities in Honduras – such as the May 2012 interdiction operation during which four Miskitu villagers were killed – it’s worth noting that several Judiciary Committee members are also letter signers, including the chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy. 
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A Timeline of Venezuelan Opposition Reactions to the Recent Elections Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre and Dan Beeton   
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 13:54

 

October 5, 2012 Henrique Capriles’ campaign coordinator Leopoldo López is quoted in the press saying, "We have been and will continue to be respectful of the established processes," ahead of the October 7 presidential elections.
October 7, 2012 Capriles assures voters that their vote is secret.  His election campaign tweets, “Remember that the vote is secret, only you and God will know who you voted for! Vote without fear” and similar messages during election day.
  Ignacio Avalos, director of the independent Venezuelan Election Observatory is quoted in the press saying "The government and the opposition both agree that the electoral system is good in general," and, "Opposition experts concluded that you cannot cheat the system."
  When going to vote, Capriles tells reporters “if I had any doubt whatsoever of the transparency of this process I wouldn’t be here.”
  Following the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) announcement that President Hugo Chávez has won re-election, Capriles promptly concedes defeat, accepting the electoral results even though other members of the opposition reject the results, citing alleged fraud and “irregularities.”
March 5, 2013 President Chávez dies.
March 8, 2013 The MUD boycotts the swearing-in ceremony of Vice President Nicolás Maduro as interim president, and most of the opposition does not attend.
March 9, 2013 The CNE announces that elections for a new president will take place April 14.
March 25, 2013 Opposition legislators Ricardo Sánchez, Carlos Vargas, and Andrés Avelino announce they are breaking with Capriles’ campaign, warning of a MUD plan to reject the election results, and saying the Capriles campaign was “encouraging a climate of instability and violence, where the terrible and painful consequence ...intensifies the perverse division between Venezuelans.” They also referred to some opposition members’ acceptance of illegal campaign funds.
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Leaked State Department Memo’s “DEA Shootings in Honduras” Portion, Dissected Print
Written by Dan Beeton and Alexander Main   
Thursday, 13 June 2013 16:10

As we noted earlier, a leaked State Department memo suggests that  Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield tried to discourage investigators from State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security from investigating the circumstances in which four villagers were killed in a joint DEA-Honduran police counternarcotics operation in Ahuas, Honduras last year.  Additionally, according to the allegations summarized in the memo, DEA officials refused to cooperate with OIG investigators working on the same case.

The memo, which dates from October of last year and which CEPR has seen, summarizes “several investigations into possible cases of misconduct [that] were influenced, manipulated or called off,” as Reuters described them. Some of the other cases mentioned in the document include allegations that members of the Secretary of State’s detail “allegedly engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” including in Colombia (the memo notes that “[t]hese events occurred prior to the Secret Service scandal in Colombia”); and that U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” (Gutman denies the allegations.)

The section on the Ahuas shootings also reveals that, although the DEA agents in Honduras were officially under the authority of the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, the ambassador’s security attaché – also known as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) - was initially “not aware of the incident, as DEA had not reported it.”  The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID) only “became aware” of the incident “through news reporting.”

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Bad Cop, No Dollar Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 13 June 2013 12:07

Yet another investigative report from the Associated Press’ Alberto Arce reveals more details on the extent of corruption within the Honduran police. Arce describes how a recent U.S.-funded program aimed at cleaning up the Honduran National Police ended in dismal failure:

One by one, hundreds of police officers were called to a hotel in the capital and subjected to polygraph tests administered by Colombian technicians funded by the U.S. government. "Have you received money from organized crime?" they were asked in a series of questions about wrongdoing. "Have you been involved in serious crimes?"

Nearly four of every 10 officers failed the test in the first five months it was administered, some giving answers that indicated that they had tortured suspects, accepted bribes and taken drugs, according to a U.S. document provided to The Associated Press.

Then, despite the clear indications of serious wrongdoing, the police cleanup effort went nowhere.

By April of this year, the Honduran government said it had dismissed a mere seven officers from the more-than-11,000-member force, a vivid illustration of the lack of progress in a year-old effort aided by the U.S. to reform police in a country that's swamped with U.S.-bound cocaine and wracked by one of the world's highest homicide rates.

Some of the seven officers have since been reinstated, the minister of public security told congress.

Arce notes that recent efforts to purge the police forces of dirty cops were opposed by “dozens of officers [who] simply refused to accept a mass polygraph exam, seizing a police building until the government backed down” after 1,400 of them were suspended last week and told to take the test.

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Unreasonable Doubt: Despite the CNE’s Many Audits, Capriles Remains Dissatisfied Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 10 June 2013 11:21

As we have previously noted, following the Venezuelan National Electoral Council’s (CNE’s) decision to conduct a full audit of voting receipts, as Henrique Capriles had originally demanded, Capriles reversed his position and announced he would boycott the audit. Concurrent with this shift, he began to focus on new demands: he wanted an audit of the voter registry and the fingerprint registry, claiming that such audits would be needed in order to ensure there had been not repeat voting. Capriles has not plausibly explained how such repeat voting would be possible in a system where there are two records: an electronic record and a paper record of voting receipts, and where each voter must first present identification and fingerprints before being allowed to vote.

Auditing all the remaining paper voting receipts is no simple task. The receipts must be brought in from all over the country to the Mariches storehouse where the audit is being conducted, and election monitors from the U.S. have noted that some of the boxes containing these receipts are even being carried by canoe from remote areas in the Amazon and elsewhere. While the CNE was consumed with this task over the past several weeks, Venezuelan opposition figures raised a cry, demanding to have the fingerprint registry examined.

Last week the CNE reaffirmed earlier reports that it would conduct this audit as well, the latest of about 20 audits demanded by the opposition to which the CNE has agreed. The CNE officials have said, however, that the fingerprint verification will take time, and they would be unlikely to release results until September. While Capriles’ call for the fingerprint audit have gained traction in the English language media, the CNE officials’ announcements that they plan to conduct such an audit have not. As we have noted, there has been very little reporting on the audits in the U.S. and U.K. press in general, from the just completed audit of all the remaining voting receipts, to the 18 audits demanded by the opposition (and carried out by the CNE), mostly carried out before the election. The most recent -- and very brief -- reference to the audits in Reuters, for example, inverts the opposition’s shifting demands to put the blame on the election’s winner: "Maduro originally accepted a proposal for a full audit of the close April election which he won, but then backtracked and has since hardened his stance."

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Latin America Just Says "No" to the War on Drugs Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 06 June 2013 16:06

Ahead of today’s closing of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Guatemala, numerous drug policy, human rights and other organizations called on the governments of the Americas [PDF] to consider alternatives to the decades-long U.S.-led “war on drugs.” The open letter appeals from these groups echo those made ahead of the Central American Integration System summit at the beginning of May: “Prohibitionist policies and the war on drugs have intensified violent conflict in the region,” and human rights have suffered. Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco made a similar declaration: “The ‘drug war’ has taken a huge toll in the Americas, from the carnage of brutal drug-trafficking organizations to the egregious abuses by security forces fighting them,” and “Governments should find new policies to address the harm drug use causes while curbing the violence and abuse that have plagued the current approach.” Human Rights Watch recommends decriminalization of personal drug use.

The drug question was the focus of the meeting, which followed the release of an OAS report that considers alternative policies including legalization and treatment, as opposed to criminalization and incarceration. Timed to coincide with the OAS General Assembly, an op-ed in the Guardian of London on Tuesday by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos summarizes four drug policy scenarios described in the OAS report.

The OAS report is just the latest in a tide of policy papers, studies, opinion pieces, rallies and marches all with a similar refrain: it’s time for a change on drug policy. While the U.S. continues to express resistance (Kerry is reported to have remarked at the assembly that “I say to all those who speak about legalization and reform:  the challenges go far beyond a single ingredient. Drugs destroy lives, destroy families.”), countries in Latin America are moving ahead. Most notably, Uruguay is poised to become the first country in the region to legalize and regulate marijuana, with the lower house expected to soon approve such reforms that are backed by President José Mujica and his Frente Amplio party.

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Venezuelan Election Audit Nears its Finish with 99.98% Clean Results So Far Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 31 May 2013 11:21

The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) is nearing the end of the third and final phase of its audit of the remaining votes from the April 14 presidential election, reportedly scheduled to finish on June 7. As we have noted, the English-language media has generally neglected to report the audit’s progress, despite that the process was originally demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles as a means to resolving the dispute over the election’s outcome. Capriles has also underscored the audit’s relevance – despite having shifted his demands and decided to officially boycott it – by claiming this month that he had actually won the election by 400,000 votes.

As predicted through a statistical analysis of the initial “hot audit” of 53 percent of voting machines on April 14, the audit of the remainder has so far produced results upholding the official results showing Maduro to be the winner. According to the CNE, the first two phases “have yielded 99.98% agreement between the voting receipts deposited in boxes and the data recorded on the tallies issued by the voting machines," media outlets report.

Does Capriles have a plausible claim that the election could have been stolen? Contrary to his characterization of a biased and obstructionist CNE, as we have previously noted the CNE has made many concessions to the opposition, including 18 different audits, all of which involve witnesses from both parties. Capriles talks of numerous opposition observer complaints from throughout Venezuela on election day, yet our election live-blog on April 14 included numerous live reports from election monitors who talked to opposition representatives at dozens of voting centers in several states; few had any complaints, even less that could be considered serious. Capriles has shifted the focus of his attack to the electoral registry, but demographers from the Catholic University had reviewed the electoral registry prior to the election and found it trustworthy.

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Honduran Gangs Claim Truce, but Police and Military Still Deadly Print
Written by Arthur Phillips   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 15:17

The two biggest gangs in Honduras publicly agreed to a truce on Tuesday, calling it an effort to reduce the violence that plagues the country and asking for forgiveness and government support. Romulo Emiliani, the Catholic bishop of San Pedro Sula—the world’s most violent city outside a warzone—helped broker the agreement along with Adam Blackwell, a security ambassador for the Organization of American States (OAS). President Pepe Lobo has reportedly said he is prepared “to do whatever is necessary" to back the initiative.

The truce has been compared to a similar agreement between the same transnational gangs in El Salvador, made in March of last year. That country’s government reported a halving of the murder rate after the truce, and a 45 percent drop in the first four months of 2013 compared to the previous year. Despite such pronounced success, in January the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for El Salvador that many (including the gangs themselves) interpreted as an effort to undercut the truce’s effectiveness. Responding to the warning, which referred to outdated murder tallies, the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Security wondered aloud whether the State Department was misinformed and said the notice demonstrated that for the United States, “street violence, deaths, robberies mostly committed by gang members, that is not their priority—their priority is drug trafficking.”

Some commentators have already questioned whether the latest truce will result in outcomes similar to those seen in El Salvador. These doubts are due in part to the recognition that the police are widely believed to be involved in death squads and the military has been blamed for murders and disappearances, many against land rights and opposition activists. Associated Press reporter Alberto Arce quoted the rector of the National University of Honduras, Julieta Castellanos, as saying “The dynamic of violence in the country goes beyond gangs and reflects the existence of multiple actors that are difficult to pinpoint.” In December Castellanos presented a Violence Observatory report that showed police responsibility for at least 149 violent deaths in the previous 23 months, including the rector’s son, Rafael Alejandro Vargas. Castellanos also voiced concern that the truce could exacerbate the already extraordinary level of impunity in Honduras.

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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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