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Not Writing History Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 14:29

Ten days ago Guatemalan courts convicted former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt, to 80 years in prison for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Though the ruling has just been overturned on technical grounds, it was the first time that a country has been able to use its own criminal courts to try a former head of state for genocide, arguably making it one of the most important court decisions in decades. Despite the significance of the ruling, not just for what it represents for the more than 200,000 victims of the genocide and their families, but also for human rights worldwide, the mass media in the U.S.  has mostly ignored the U.S. role in contributing to and supporting the genocide.

The New York Times provided a couple of exceptions in the last week. Its “Room for Debate,” feature, which is regularly published online but not in the print edition, and allows perspectives from a broader political spectrum than is normally permitted in news articles or even the op-ed page,  published a range of opinions on the extent of U.S. support and complicity for the Ríos Montt regime. And last week the New York Times published an exceptional print article about the role of the U.S. government in Guatemala, Reagan’s financial and fervent military support for Ríos Montt’s bloody dictatorship, and how this aspect of the genocide had been conspicuously absent during the trial against Ríos Montt.  

Amazingly, the Washington Post chose not to report at all on the historic ruling in their print edition following the day of the ruling. Although stories on corruption scandals in India, a detained youth activist in Egypt, and voting in Pakistan did make the international section of the print edition of that day’s Washington Post,  the Post found no space to print this story. Two days after the conviction was announced (and after it made headlines around the world), and buried deep in the digest section of Sunday’s print international section were a total of 73 words dedicated to what it said human rights activists called “a historic moment” in Guatemala.

This dearth of words from the Washington Post shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, not reporting or investigating news about massacres and genocide in Guatemala when it had the opportunity to do so is consistent with the Post’s reporting on the country throughout the 1980s when the U.S. government supported death squads in the countryside killing anyone and everyone that they could. Yes, the Post reported on Guatemala, and on guerrillas, and occasionally it even paid some lip-service to the idea that some people claimed that the government and army, not the guerrillas, were behind the vast majority of deaths in the country. But, despite reliable indications and reports that government-led massacres and even a genocide was in fact underway in Guatemala, for example from this October, 1982 episode of PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer Report  and this one from November of 1983, the Post neglected the opportunity to dig up the truth during this period. The New York Times, it should be pointed out, also mostly ignored the genocide when it was taking place. This was the pre-internet era, so if these newspapers did not report on massacres, for the United States public and policy-makers, they weren’t part of the news.  (However, investigative reporter Allan Nairn did get opinion pieces into the NYT and Washington Post some time after the worst massacres had occurred.)

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U.S. Media Continues to Treat Capriles’ Complaints Seriously Despite Lack of Evidence Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 20 May 2013 16:53

As we have noted previously, statistical analysis shows that Venezuelan opposition challenger Henrique Capriles has an almost impossible chance of seeing the April 14 election result change through a full audit of voting machines, as he had demanded.

We have issued two press releases about this, as well as our full paper detailing our calculations step-by-step, and CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot had an op-ed on this in Aljazeera English. Mark also presented these findings at a recent high-profile conference at the Celso Furtado Center in Rio. Despite being reported in a variety of Latin American and Spanish media, including Spanish newspaper El País, Argentine media outlet Télam, and Venezuela’s Panorama, the U.S. media has ignored this important part of the story. We have corresponded with several reporters who initially expressed interest in the one-in-25-thousand-trillion figure. None of them has since cited the statistical improbability of Capriles’ seeing the election results change through the full audit, nor have other major U.S. media outlets. One reporter writing for a major U.S. newspaper has told us that his editors refuse to publish anything related to our statistical analysis or regarding the audit and its significance more generally.

Henrique Capriles’ recent comments demonstrate why the ongoing vote audit, and more importantly, the first audit (conducted on April 14) is still relevant. In an El Pais article from May 9, Capriles says that 400,000 more people voted for him than Maduro, and that therefore the CNE’s vote count must have been wrong:

“If they rescind the electoral records we have questioned in the electoral dispute we have filed with the Supreme Court - which make up 55.4 percent of the votes cast – we would win the elections by 400,000 votes, two percent in our favor. And that’s without going into details,” he says with righteous conviction.

It appears that Capriles is still alleging the vote count was stolen in a way that would have been detectable in the first audit, and hence the statistical analysis still applies.  If tens of thousands of voters voted multiple times, it would be very difficult to stuff the receipt boxes to match the multiple voting, without having some discrepancies between the machine and the paper count. The receipt boxes are in plain sight of all observers and it would be impossible for a voter to stuff multiple pieces of paper through the thin slot without anyone seeing. It would also be impossible to vote more than once without not only the collaboration of observers to fix the machines to allow this, but a conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people, with no subsequent leaks.

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International Crisis Promotion from the “International Crisis Group” Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Friday, 17 May 2013 10:59

The International Crisis Group (ICG) sells itself as “working to prevent conflict worldwide” but there is one country where their mission looks more like promoting rather than preventing conflict.  Exhibit A is their report on Venezuela, released today. 

There is a lot wrong with this report – most of it reads like a statement from the Venezuelan political opposition, rather than a neutral third-party observer.   But the most ugly and pernicious thing is the report’s insistence that “the validity of the election result [in Venezuela] needs to be clarified” and that a “full and transparent audit result” is necessary, or else  the government’s “rule will increasingly come to be seen by many as an imposition, with unpredictable, possibly violent consequences.”

These statements strongly imply that the Venezuelan government is to blame if the opposition returns to violence, as it has in the past, in its ongoing refusal to accept the results of a democratic election.

For the governments of Latin America, and almost all of the world, there is no doubt about the “validity of the election result.”  It is really only the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. government that has questioned it.

The International Crisis Group has a $20 million dollar annual budget, about half of which comes from the United States and allied governments who share the State Department’s political agenda, with additional contributions from big oil companies including BP and Shell. So in some ways it is not surprising that it would take the position of the U.S. government, even when the U.S. government is, as in this case, completely isolated in the world.  However, the ICG does not always do this in other countries, so this report stands out as a particularly disgraceful blot on their record.

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U.S. Supported Former Ally Ríos Montt While Aware of Atrocities Committed by the Dictatorship Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre and Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:22

The initial trial of Guatemala’s ex-president Efraín Ríos Montt concluded on Friday with a conviction on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and an 80-year prison sentence.  Hailed as “the first time any nation [has] been able to use its domestic criminal courts to try a former head of state for genocide,” the ruling has many people looking back at the history while wondering what will happen next.  After a CIA-planned coup in 1954 to defend the interests of the United Fruit Company, Guatemala was ruled for 42 years by right-wing dictatorships.  For 36 of those years a civil war was fought between the government and a leftist insurgency, with the government also targeting hundreds of thousands of indigenous villagers and other civilians as part of a scorched-earth campaign.  In this, the Guatemalan government was supported politically and equipped with weapons by the United States, with full knowledge that they were used in a campaign of genocide, torture and war crimes. 

One of the important justifications for the Reagan administration’s support of Ríos Montt may sound eerily familiar.  In a memorandum prepared by the State Department for President Reagan on the occasion of his upcoming meeting with Ríos Montt, Secretary of State George P. Shultz gives the following account of the situation:

Key Congressmen continue to react negatively to numerous reports, many of them fabricated, others true, of government atrocities against noncombatants.  Ignoring the likelihood that Rios Montt will be overthrown and replaced by a repressive government if we fail to provide politically meaningful support to him, they argue that Guatemala’s human rights record must be substantially improved beyond the present situation before moving ahead with security and, in some cases, economic assistance. 

From:  Your Meeting with Guatemalan President Rios Montt on December 4.  [Includes Talking Points], Secret, Memorandum, November 20, 1982, 4 pp.

As was pointed out in the Pan-American Post this week, similar justifications are being used for militarized U.S. support for the coup government in Honduras:

The Honduran national police are inefficient, corrupt, resistant to reform, and may be conducting extrajudicial killings in an organized capacity, but they’re the only reliable force in the country in the fight against transnational crime. At least, according to the United States [government].

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AP Further Documents Evidence of Honduran Police Death Squads; U.S. State Department Hits Back Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Tuesday, 14 May 2013 16:40

A new investigative feature by award-winning Associated Press correspondent Alberto Arce probes deeper into recurring police death squad activity in Honduras. Following up on his reports in March, Arce details the cases of several gang suspects who have disappeared after being taken into police custody, as well as what witnesses have described as the gunning-down, in cold blood, of suspects in the streets. The article reveals that:

At least five times in the last few months, members of a Honduras street gang were killed or went missing just after run-ins with the U.S.-supported national police, The Associated Press has determined, feeding accusations that they were victims of federal death squads.


In March, two mothers discovered the bodies of their sons after the men had called in a panic to say they were surrounded by armed, masked police. The young men, both members of the 18th Street gang, had been shot in the head, their hands bound so tightly the cords cut to the bone.

That was shortly after three members of 18th Street were detained by armed, masked men and taken to a police station. Two men with no criminal history were released, but their friend disappeared without any record of his detention.

A month after the AP reported that an 18th Street gang leader and his girlfriend vanished from police custody, they are still missing.

As we have previously examined, Arce has noted that U.S. support for the Honduran National Police while some officers engage in death squad activity would seem to violate the Leahy Law. Rather than proceed with greater caution or reexamine ongoing policy, the U.S. State Department has responded defensively. Arce quotes Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield as saying

“The option is that if we don’t work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of the mission of policing, or communities take matters in their own hands. In other words, the law of the jungle, in which there are no police and where every citizen is armed and ready to mete out justice,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said in Spanish during a March 28 video chat.*

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Private Bank Profits Don’t Represent the Health of the Economy Print
Written by Arthur Phillips   
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 16:02

Bloomberg’s Nathan Gill wrote a particularly one-sided article on Thursday, in which he states that “Ecuador’s bid to reduce poverty by taxing its banks is threatening to deepen the nation’s economic slump.”

“Slump” seems somewhat dire to describe the state of the Ecuadorian economy. In 2012 the economy grew by 5 percent, and it is projected to grow by 4.45 percent for 2013.

The report also offers no convincing evidence that Ecuador’s taxation of its banks is hurting the economy. 

The article specifically focuses on a set of reforms that took effect on January 1, including the elimination of banks’ tax deductions for reinvested profits and a 0.35 percent tax on assets held abroad. The reporter argues that a sharp drop in bank profits in the first quarter of this year was a result of the taxation. He then argues that an increase in the banks’ interest rates must also be due to the reforms:

Non-government banks, including Citigroup Inc (C).’s local unit, raised rates on corporate loans by an average 0.21 percentage point in the first quarter to 8.88 percent, the highest since November 2010, according to central bank data. That compares with a decline of 0.72 percentage point to 8.81 percent in Colombia and an increase of 0.01 percentage point to 5.79 percent for similar loans in Peru.

However, this causality is not at all clear.  It is more likely that this modest increase in interest rates is attributable to a recent uptick in inflation. Consumer prices increased at an annualized rate of 4.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, as compared to a rate of 0.2 percent in the last quarter of last year.

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Obama and the Militarization of the “Drug War” in Mexico and Central America Print
Written by Alex Main   
Tuesday, 07 May 2013 15:57

During his trip last week to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Obama sought to down play the U.S.’s security agenda in the region, emphasizing trade relations, energy cooperation and other more benign themes.  In a May 3rd joint press conference with his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla, Obama stated that it was necessary “to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don't see a brighter future ahead.”  Asked by a journalist about the potential use of U.S. warships to counter drug-trafficking, Obama said “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking.”

Human rights organizations from North America and Central America have a very different impression of the administration’s regional security policy.  In a letter sent to Obama and the other region’s presidents on April 30th, over 145 civil society organizations [PDF] from the U.S., Mexico and the countries of Central America called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.”   These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”  The letter presents a scathing indictment of the U.S.-backed so-called “war on drugs” throughout the region:

Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the “war on drugs.”  The deployment of our countries’ armed forces  to combat organized crime and drug-trafficking, and the increasing militarization of police units, endanger already weak civilian institutions and leads to increased human rights violations.

In Mexico, the letter says, “drug-related violence and the militarized response has killed an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children in the past six years. More than 26,000 have been disappeared, and countless numbers have been wounded and traumatized.”  The letter also discusses the situation in Guatemala, where violence is “reaching levels only seen during the internal armed conflict” and “controversial ‘security’ policies have placed the military back onto the streets.  And, in Honduras:

Since the coup d’état that forced the elected president into exile in 2009, the rule of law has disintegrated while violence and impunity have soared. We are witnessing a resurgence of death squad tactics with targeted killings of land rights advocates, journalists, LGBT activists, lawyers, women’s rights advocates, political activists and the Garifuna’s community. Both military and police are allegedly involved in abuses and killings but are almost never brought to justice.

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Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala Print
Written by Annie Bird   
Friday, 03 May 2013 16:29

On March 19, 2013 Guatemala became the first nation to try a former head of state, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity in its own courts, an extraordinary achievement that led award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn to state that, “Guatemala has reached a higher level of civilization than the United States,” where such a trial would be unthinkable.   Ríos Montt’s took power in a March 1982 coup and his brutal military campaign that human rights defenders have characterized as genocidal received support from President Ronald Regan, though his administration denied it at the time.

Nairn had flown to Guatemala City as a proposed witness but once in Guatemala, he was asked not to testify after another witness, a former soldier, unexpectedly named current President Otto Pérez Molina as responsible for crimes against humanity.  In September 1982, Nairn had interviewed then Major Pérez Molina, a commander in the area where the crimes Ríos Montt is being tried for had occurred.  It appears that his testimony would have implicated the current president in crimes, and the victims’ lawyers were afraid that pushing the political establishment any further would endanger the case.

On April 18, the case was unexpectedly annulled by a judge not overseeing the trial, pre-trial judge Carol Patricia Flores.  She made the illegal ruling two days after former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein signed a communique published in Guatemalan newspapers, along with 11 other former members of the administration of Álvaro Arzú, calling the charges of genocide against Ríos Montt a “threat to the nation” and suggesting that if a sentence for genocide were handed down it could mean a return to political violence.

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ALBA Members Take the Lead in Crafting Alternatives in Arbitrating Investor-State Disputes Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 03 May 2013 08:43

In an article this week in the Malaysian Star, South Centre Director Martin Khor describes a move by Latin American and Caribbean countries – most of which belong to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas group, or ALBA –  to form an alternative to the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to settle investor-state disputes, noting the predilection of ICSID to rule in favor of corporations:

LEADERS of several Latin American countries have set up a new coalition to coordinate actions to face the growing number of international legal suits being taken against governments by transnational companies.

A ministerial meeting of 12 countries held in Guayaquil, Ecuador, decided on several joint actions to counter the threat posed by these lawsuits, which have claimed millions or even billions of dollars from governments.

Seven of the countries, mostly represented by their ministers of foreign affairs, trade or finance, adopted a declaration with an agreement to form a conference of states affected by transnational interests.

They are Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, St Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Venezuela.

But while these are all ALBA members (except the Dominican Republic), Khor notes that several other countries were also present at the meeting are not: “Representatives of another five countries (Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico) also attended the meeting and will convey the results to their respective governments.”

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Senator Menendez Meets with President Lobo to Discuss U.S. Funding for Honduras Print
Written by Arthur Phillips   
Thursday, 02 May 2013 14:30

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) met with Honduran president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo on Wednesday as part of a tour through Central America. According to press reports, Menendez characterized the trip, during which the Senator also visited El Salvador and Guatemala, as an opportunity to evaluate regional counter-narcotics and security initiatives that the U.S. is funding at increasing levels through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). A Spanish-language press report on the trip quotes Menendez as having said that he intends to “explore the specific points of this funding proposal,” and that he wants to “see what works and what does not.”

The State Department’s 2014 budget proposal, submitted on April 10, requests $161.5 million in funding for CARSI, a $26 million increase from the previous year. The proposal requests $4.5 million in foreign military financing specifically for Honduras, an increase of 450% over the FY2012 total. And Just the Facts, a joint project of nonpartisan groups focused on U.S.-Latin American relations, notes that current budget proposals have total U.S. military and police funding for Honduras in FY2014 at $8.7 million, a 63% increase over 2013 projections. Furthermore, according to a Congressional Research Service report, as of last July the State Department and USAID had planned to allocate a combined $72 million to Honduras in FY2012.

These rising levels of funding for the police and military run counter to the concerns of many lawmakers in Washington around the lack of accountability for U.S. involvement in Honduran security and anti-narcotics operations. It also highlights the seriousness of recent reports that the State Department has been supporting units under the command of National Police Chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who allegedly ran death-squads a decade ago, and, more broadly, that the police have been accused of continuing to commit death-squad murders today. In December the National Autonomous University, citing the police’s own reports, announced that police had killed 149 civilians in the previous two years.

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