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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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IMF Approves Jamaica Loan – Pain, No Gain Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Thursday, 23 May 2013 13:19

After months of speculation, in early May the IMF formally approved a new lending agreement with Jamaica worth $932.3 million. With additional commitments from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the total loan package amounts to $2 billion. But, after another year of negative economic growth (the fourth in the last five years), will this time be any different?

Jamaica previously agreed to an IMF loan in early 2010, which was coupled with a debt exchange that sought to lower interest rates but did not provide any haircut (a lowering of the debt’s principal). The agreement mandated harsh austerity measures and despite the debt exchange, Jamaica’s interest burden remained the highest in the world, at 11 percent of GDP. The agreement eventually broke down after a Jamaican court ruled that the government had to distribute back pay to public sector workers, against the wishes of the IMF. Nevertheless, Jamaica has largely continued the austerity measures from the first agreement. After a return to growth –albeit slow- in fiscal year 2011/12, Jamaica slipped back into a recession this past year, after cutting non-interest expenditure by over 2 percentage points of GDP. Even some within the IMF warned that the fiscal consolidation efforts were going too far and could threaten “the fragile recovery and social cohesion.”

As a precondition for the new IMF agreement, the Jamaican government undertook a second debt exchange in February of this year, seeking to lower interest costs and “bring down the debt burden over time.” However, similar to the previous exchange, the principal of the debt was not touched and interest costs remain extremely high and damaging. Of the 131 countries for which IMF World Economic Outlook data is available, Jamaica will still have the highest average interest burden in the world over the next six years. The debt exchange succeeded in extending the maturity profile of domestic debt (the amount coming due within five years decreased from 53.2 percent to 23.4 percent), but Jamaica is still expected to spend some 8 percent of GDP on interest payments for the next three years, crowding out needed spending elsewhere. Overall debt servicing is projected to take up 45 percent of total government expenditures over the next three years, only a slight reduction from the 46 percent average over the previous three.

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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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