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Official Honduran Report on May 11 Shooting Incident is a New Injustice to Victims Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 11 April 2013 09:22

CEPR has released a new paper, along with the human rights organization Rights Action, examining the Honduran Public Ministry's official report on the May 11, 2012 shooting incident last year in which four local villagers were killed in Ahuas in Honduras’ Moskitia region during a counternarcotics operation involving U.S. and Honduran agents. This is also the first time that the Public Ministry's report has been made available to the public, posted to Scribd in English here, and Spanish here.

The Honduran Public Ministry’s report deserves special scrutiny because thus far it represents the official version of events according to the Honduran authorities. And since the U.S. government has declined to conduct its own investigation – despite the wishes of 58 members of Congress - it also represents by default the version of events tacitly endorsed by U.S. authorities as well. The DEA and State Department didn’t allow Honduran investigators to question the U.S. agents and contractors that participated in the May 11 operation. At the same time a U.S. police detective working for the U.S. Embassy reportedly participated in the Public Ministry’s investigation, so the U.S. also bears some responsibility for the report’s flaws.

The CEPR/Rights Action paper found that the Public Ministry's report:

  • Makes “observations” (not conclusions) that are not supported by the evidence cited;
  • Omits key testimony, that would implicate the DEA, from police who were involved in the May 11 incident;
  • Relies on incomplete forensic examinations of the weapons involved, improper forensic examinations of the victims’ bodies and other improperly gathered evidence;
  • Does not attempt to establish who is ultimately responsible for the killings;
  • Ignores eyewitness reports claiming that at least one State Department-titled helicopter fired on the passenger boat carrying the shooting victims;
  • Does not attempt to establish whether the victims were “in any way involved in drug trafficking” as both Honduran and U.S. officials originally alleged;
  • Does not attempt to establish what authority was actually in charge of the operation;
  • Appears to be focused on absolving the DEA of all responsibility in the killings.
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The Real Lula Speaks Out Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 04 April 2013 12:18

Earlier this week, former president of Brazil Lula da Silva gave a warm and unequivocal endorsement of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela’s presidential race.  Given that the campaign officially started only two days ago, it would seem that this announcement was well timed for maximum effect.  The video was screened first at the Sao Paulo Forum on Monday at a meeting in Caracas , and it has since been aired as a campaign ad on several television stations.  Lula made a similar video praising Chávez for the Sao Paulo Forum in 2012. 

As many have pointed out, there is a deep irony here.  While Venezuela’s socialist party (PSUV) receives praise from political leaders of the Workers Party in Brazil, Henrique Capriles has lauded Brazil’s policy choices under Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff.  Capriles has pointed out gains under both these leftist leaders, and has said that he plans to follow the “Brazilian model” if elected, even saying “I'm 100 percent Lula.” 

Capriles’ basic argument is that Venezuela has been misgoverned under Chávez and needs to undergo a transformation like the one Brazil experienced since 2002, when Lula was elected.  What he does not acknowledge is that while both Venezuela and Brazil have been successful in achieving a more equitable society, in some ways Venezuela has been more successful.  For example, during the period when both Lula and Chávez were in office both inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) and poverty rates dropped faster in Venezuela.  Also, it is important to note that these statistics are based on measures that include only household income, which underestimates gains made through public programs like those in education, healthcare and pensions, which were expanded more in Venezuela than in Brazil.

Capriles is trying to tap into the “good left / bad left” dichotomy in which Brazil is praised as a regional political leader (and one with a gigantic economy), while distancing himself from the ALBA countries.  If we look at recent history, though, this arbitrary division doesn’t make sense.  At the last Summit of the Americas, the region united around the issues of (1) ending Cuba’s isolation, (2) finding alternatives to the drug war and (3) ending the occupation of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands.  Further, we can see that the ALBA countries are not a fringe group and have important ties to leftist political parties in the entire region, as well as the governments of Argentina and Brazil.

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So-Called ‘Civil Society’ in Post-Chávez Venezuela Print
Written by George Ciccariello-Maher   
Wednesday, 03 April 2013 16:55

There is a powerfully dangerous and condescending myth circulating about so-called ‘civil society’ in Venezuela, which goes something like this: as Daniel Levine put it on a recent radio program, “there’s just not independent groups as we conceive of civil society” in Venezuela. Focusing above all on the Communal Council phenomenon, Levine portrays these directly democratic institutions not as the radically participatory experiment they claim to be, but instead as little more than a cynical ruse by the late Hugo Chávez and his movement to enforce political objectives from above.

I can trace my interest in moving to Venezuela to this very question of civil society. As a young Ph.D student, I clearly remember reading a number of academic articles which attempted to clumsily impose the pre-established conceptual framework of civil society onto the development of participatory institutions in Venezuela. First with the nascent Bolivarian Circles and later with the Communal Councils formally established in 2006, U.S. academics have held up the template of civil society, scratched their heads as to why it doesn’t fit, and then concluded that since it does not, something must be wrong with Venezuela and not with their own concept. The Circles and the Councils, it was and continues to be argued, are not truly independent of the state, and therefore cannot be civil society “as we conceive.”

Firstly, the concept of civil society as we conceive it emerged and was cemented in struggles against dictatorship in the Southern Cone and against Soviet bureaucracy in Eastern Europe, displacing the far more critical variant associated with Gramsci. This new version privileges autonomy from the state as the criterion, systematically obscuring other crucial forces from which organizations might want to remain autonomous: imperial powers, the capitalist market, etc.

As a result, many accept as nominally ‘independent’ many forces that are nothing of the sort: private economic interests, NGOs with powerful funders, and foreign-backed political parties. Such forces constituted the bulk of the organized Venezuelan opposition, whose ‘civil’ credentials are questioned by few. Some have therefore described the 2002 coup against Chávez (which was reversed after 48 hours) as a “civil society coup,” and rightly so. It was this appropriation of an uncritical concept of civil society more than anything else that led many Venezuelan Chavistas to abandon the language of civil society at the same time that the anti-Chavistas seized upon it: this concept doesn’t describe what we’re doing, so let them have it.

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Argentina vs. the Vultures: What You Need to Know Print
Written by Arthur Phillips and Jake Johnston   
Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:34

Just ahead of the midnight deadline set out by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel, Argentina’s government submitted a letter (view document here) describing how it would go about paying holders of defaulted bonds. The payments would be for creditors who refused to take part in two previous debt exchanges, including the so-called “vulture fund” plaintiffs in this ongoing case, NML Capital, Ltd. V. Republic of Argentina.

Following the letter’s submission, a number of financial analysts quoted in the major media were unimpressed by Argentina’s latest move. The Wall Street Journal noted that one portfolio manager said “There was some hope they would have a more rational approach to this exercise, but that's definitely not the Argentina way.” Financial analyst Josh Rosner predicted to an AP reporter that "Monday morning is going to be a disaster." He also asked, "What if somebody took that new bond, and the Argentine government defaulted the next day?” Rosner may have momentarily forgotten that the South American government has made timely payments on all the bonds issued in the 2005 and 2010 settlements. The gist of the response in the media was “more shenanigans from Argentina.”

But what was lost in most reactions in the media is that Argentina has made significant concessions to creditors that until recently it had vowed, on principle, not to offer. (The plaintiffs, for their part, have shown no willingness to compromise.) Furthermore, the terms offered to NML would represent a sizeable return on the fund’s original investments in 2008 and would satisfy the requirement under the pari passu clause—which is at the heart of the case— that all bondholders are treated equally. Indeed, to offer a sweeter deal would appear to violate that clause at the expense of bondholders who took part in the 2005 and 2010 exchanges and accepted restructured bonds worth between 25 and 29 cents on the dollar.

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“We’re Witnessing a Reactivation of the Death Squads of the ‘80s”: An Interview with Bertha Oliva of COFADEH Print
Written by Alex Main   
Friday, 29 March 2013 16:10

Bertha Oliva is the General Coordinator of COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras. Bertha’s husband was "disappeared" in 1981, a period when death squads were active in Honduras. She founded COFADEH together with other women who lost their loved ones, in order to seek justice and compensation for the families of the hundreds of dissidents that were "disappeared" between 1979 and 1989. Since then Bertha and COFADEH have taken on some of the country’s most emblematic human rights cases and were a strong voice in opposition to the 2009 coup d’Etat and the repression that followed.  We interviewed her in Washington, D.C. on March 15th, shortly after she participated in a hearing on the human rights situation in Honduras at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).  During the hearing she said that death squads are targeting social leaders, lawyers, journalists and other groups and called on the IACHR to visit Honduras in the next six months to take stock of the human rights situation ahead of the November general elections (Bertha’s testimony can be viewed here, beginning at 17:40).  

Q:  On various occasions you’ve said that what you’re seeing today in Honduras is reminiscent of the difficult times you experienced in the ‘80s and I’d like you to elaborate on that.

In the ‘80s we had armed forces that were excessively empowered. Today Honduras is extremely similar, with military officers exercising control over many of the country’s institutions.  The military is now in the streets playing a security role – often substituting for the work of the police forces of the country. 

In the ‘80s we also witnessed the practice of forced disappearances and assassinations. In that era it was clear that they were killing social leaders, political opponents, but they also assassinated people who had no ties to dissident groups in order to generate confusion in public opinion and try to disqualify our denunciations of the killings of family members who were political opponents. 

Today they assassinate young people in a more atrocious fashion than in the ‘80s and we’re seeing a marked pattern of assassinations of women and youth.  And within this mass of people that are assassinated there are political opponents.  We refuse to dismiss these assassinations as simply a result of the extreme violence that we’re experiencing, as they try to tell the country.  We say that it is a product of impunity and Honduras’ historical debt for failing to resolve cases perpetrated by state agents…

In the ‘80s the presence of the U.S. in the country was extremely significant.  Today it’s the same.  New bases have opened as a result of an anti-drug cooperation agreement signed between Honduras and the U.S.

In the ‘80s it was clear that political opponents were being eliminated.  Today they’re also eliminating those who claim land rights, as exemplified in the Bajo Aguán.  More than 98 land rights activists have been assassinated.  The campesino sector in the Bajo Aguán has been psychologically and emotionally tortured on top of the physical torture that certain campesino leaders have been subjected to. 

Read more...

 

 
Did the AP Catch State Department Officials Lying to Congress About Honduran Death Squads? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 25 March 2013 15:30

Associated Press reporters Alberto Arce and Katherine Corcoran have written a follow up article to Arce’s investigative feature last week on the continuation of death squad activity by the Honduran police. The new article, which appeared in the New York Times and various other media over the weekend, suggests that U.S. State Department officials may have deceived members of Congress in order to illegally fund Honduran police units even though some police – under the command of National Police Director General Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla - may be involved in death squads.

The article begins:

The U.S. State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don't operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and "social cleansing."

But The Associated Press has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the "Tiger," who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried on one killing and acquitted. The rest of the cases were never fully investigated.

Honduran law prohibits any police unit from operating outside the command of the director general, according to a top Honduran government security official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity. He said that is true in practice as well as on paper.

Celso Alvarado, a criminal law professor and consultant to the Honduran Commission for Security and Justice Sector Reform, said the same.

"Every police officer in Honduras, regardless of their specific functions, is under the hierarchy and obedience of the director general," he said.

Congress has already withheld some funding ($30 million) to the Honduran police under the Leahy Law over concerns about Bonilla's alleged past death squad involvement, but the State Department has continued with some other funding and just announced a new $16.3 million commitment to the Honduran police during a visit to Honduras by Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield last weekend. AP noted that “Some of the U.S. money will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla.”

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The Other Side of the IACHR Reform Debate Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 22 March 2013 08:26

The Organization of American States (OAS) is set to take up proposed reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today at 11:00am EDT (live feed here). While arguments against the reforms have received column space in major U.S. media outlets, little attention has been granted to some of the criticisms laid out by the Ecuadorean government, which has been leading the effort for IACHR reform.

In a presentation [Spanish PDF here; English PDF here] to OAS members in Guayaquil on March 11, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pointed out that Ecuador is one of seven countries to have “subscribed in absolute terms” to all of the Inter-American human rights instruments, noting that:

Here, torture is not allowed, there is no death penalty, we have not invaded anyone at all, no drone and selectively killing terrorism suspects without trials, along with "collateral damage" as family, neighbors, etc. In Ecuador, as in all true State of Law, we pursue crime, not people, but precisely because it is already a real State of Law, and no one can be above the Law, which disturbs the supremacy powers.

Correa noted that only 24 of 34 states have ratified the “fundamental document” of the American Convention on Human Rights – the “San Jose Pact” that led to the creation of two bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Consequently, he states, only for those 24 countries are the organizations’ decisions binding.

The strong asymmetry between countries attached to the Convention versus those who finance and manage, has come to a completely perverting tool that was initially developed for the benefit of each and every American. Instead of this, some countries plan to intervene in other countries, while judges hide behind immunity by not being under the jurisdiction of the system and especially of the Court.

Correa pointed out a number of contradictions within the Inter-American system, such as that the Inter-American Commission is based in “a country that is not a part of the Inter-American Human Rights System, and that has ratified none of the inter-American human rights instruments” – the United States.

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Police Death Squads in Honduras Then and Now Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Wednesday, 20 March 2013 12:14

An important new investigative report from the Associated Press’ Alberto Arce describes the apparent ongoing activities of death squads within the Honduran police, reporting that:

In the last three years, the AP has learned, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula. The country's National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the 18th street gang.

The AP report also describes a now-infamous and disturbing video (posted here) that appears to show the extrajudicial, cold-blooded murders of two young men in city streets “by masked gunmen with AK-47s who pulled up in a large SUV” – consistent with the police death squad modus operandi as described in the article.

Arce writes that “Even the country's top police chief has been charged with being complicit,” going on to summarize charges against Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, now the National Chief of Police, for involvement in extrajudicial killings and disappearances back in 2002. Arce notes that “Last year, Bonilla was chosen to lead the national police force despite unanswered questions about his past. The U.S. Congress decided to withhold State Department funding to the police while they investigated the 2002 internal affairs report.”

A confidential 2003 State Department cable made available by Wikileaks reveals that State Department officials wanted Bonilla (then a fugitive) arrested at the time, and also were concerned with “extra-judicial killings of youth” – in which Bonilla was implicated:

¶12. (C) In his meeting with Minister of Public Security Oscar Alvarez, [Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan] Fisk urged Alvarez to take action against corrupt police, to send a strong signal about impunity by arresting fugitive policeman Juan Carlos "Tiger" Bonilla, and to act carefully against whistle-blowers, such as ex-Chief of Police Internal Affairs Maria Luisa Borjas. He also encouraged Alvarez to address the problem of extra-judicial killings of youth and trafficking in persons.

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Former Argentine Dictator Calls for Coup Against Cristina Kirchner’s Government Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 13:05

On Saturday March 16th, a weekly newspaper from Spain, Cambio16, published an interview with jailed former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Videla is serving two life sentences, another 50-year sentence, and continues to stand trial, for crimes against humanity, kidnapping, torture, and the unlawful appropriation of babies (that were taken from female prisoners who gave birth in captivity before they were murdered). These were crimes that he and fellow junta leaders committed following the 1976 coup d’état that they directed and that was responsible for the kidnapping, torture and deaths of an estimated 30,000 Argentines. 

When his interviewer, Ricardo Angoso, whom Página/12 points out is a stated opponent of the Kirchner government and far-right journalist, asked him what he would say to his “comrades” also serving time in prison for similar convictions, he stated:

I want to remind each one of them, especially the younger ones, who today on average fall between the ages of 58-68, and are still physically capable of combat, that in the case that this unjust imprisonment and slandering of the republic’s basic values continues, you reserve the duty of arming yourselves again in defense of the republic’s basic institutions, which are today being trampled upon by the Kirchner regime, led by president Cristina and her henchmen.*

According to Página/12, Videla also accuses the current government of wanting to turn towards a “failed communism of the Cuban sort.” He then declares that “it will again be the security and armed forces who, along with the people –from which they [the security and armed forces] originate- will impede it”. 

Read more...

 

 
British Analysts Side with Argentina on Falklands/Malvinas dispute, or ... as a headline from the Onion might read, “Surprise! Occupiers of occupied land want to remain part of occupying state." Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Friday, 15 March 2013 12:49

On Tuesday, the results of the British Referendum on the Falkland/Malvinas Islands came in. According to the BBC, out of the 1,517 votes cast in the referendum, representing 90 percent of eligible voters on the island, all but three of them voted for having the islands remain territory of the U.K. As the British government must have realized before holding the poll, this is not surprising. Despite the relative proximity of the islands to the Argentine mainland, their inhabitants of the island have very few ties to Argentina:  they are descendants of British colonizers, they speak English and maintain British traditions and citizenship. 

An episode that aired Wednesday of the Russia Today TV program “Crosstalk” focused on the question of sovereignty and self-determination of the islands and featured an Argentine researcher, an analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and a British historian who sided with Argentina’s legal claim for sovereignty on the islands.

Among the highlights from the episode is a discussion over whether the claim for the islands is an imperial project of the U.K. or whether the claim is legally legitimate.  Luke Coffey, a “Margaret Thatcher Fellow” at the Washington D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, argues [9:40] that the islands are in no way a British colonial project, while British historian, Richard Gott, disagrees [10:07]:  “I’m afraid it’s just not true. The British seized the islands in 1833 and subsequently settled it…”  

As Gott and British journalist Richard Norton-Taylor both point out, Britain has always been aware that its claims to the islands may not have been very strong. Norton-Taylor writes

The dispute over sovereignty has been going on for centuries, and Britain has never been really confident over its claim to the islands. In 1829, the Duke of Wellington observed: "I have perused the papers respecting the Falkland Islands. It is not clear to me that we have ever possessed the sovereignty of all these islands.”

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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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