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Monroe Doctrine 2012: U.S. Congress Wants Iran to Stay Out of "Our Little Region Over Here” Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 13 December 2012 16:02

Yesterday the Senate passed a slightly amended version of a House bill designed to limit Iran’s dealings and interests in the Western Hemisphere. The bill, H.R.3783, the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012” calls for a plan that would, among other things, “address any efforts by foreign persons, entities, and governments in the region to assist Iran in evading United States and international sanctions” and

support United States efforts to designate persons and entities in the Western Hemisphere for proliferation activities and terrorist activities relating to Iran, including affiliates of the IRGC, its Qods Force, and Hezbollah, under applicable law including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act; and

 (D) to address the vital national security interests of the United States in ensuring energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere that are free from the influence of any foreign government that would attempt to manipulate or disrupt global energy markets.

The historic trajectory out of which the legislation emerges is clear in the first two sections under the “Findings” (background):

Congress finds the following:

(1) The United States has vital political, economic, and security interests in the Western Hemisphere.

(2) Iran is pursuing cooperation with Latin American countries by signing economic and security agreements in order to create a network of diplomatic and economic relationships to lessen the blow of international sanctions and oppose Western attempts to constrict its ambitions.

In other words, the members of Congress who have passed this legislation want Iran to stay out of “our little region over here” as U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson referred to the Western Hemisphere in 1945. Such policies go back to the Monroe Doctrine, which declared the Western Hemisphere to be exclusively the United States’ sphere of influence. Apparently the U.S. Congress did not get the memo that even the Council on Foreign Relations considers the Monroe Doctrine to be dead- an anachronistic framework for an age in which Latin America has found a new independence from the United States and increasingly seeks out business and political arrangements with countries such as China and India.

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Washington Post Predicts Disaster for Venezuela, So What if They Turn Out Wrong for the 19th Time? Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 18:16

The Washington Post editorial board has long been one of the most shrill voices in the U.S. against the left governments of Latin America, and of course most apoplectic about Venezuela.  I have often suspected that they write these editorials for the right-wing press in Latin America, which often picks them up, and especially since most of the Post’s readers could care less about Venezuela or the other governments that they hate so much, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, etc.   This is a nice favor for their friends down South, because there are still many people who don’t know that the Post’s editorial board has been taken over by neocons, and so “Fox on 15th Street” still has a reputation in some quarters as a “liberal” voice.

As it has been doing without success for more than a decade, the Board in its latest editorial forecasts economic doom in the near future:

To win the election, the government spent wildly, running up a budget deficit of 20 percent of gross domestic product.  The next president consequently will be forced to devalue the currency, giving a boost to inflation that is already in double digits and worsening already-severe shortages of consumer goods.

According to the October estimate of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – no fan of Chávez – the government budget deficit for 2012 is forecast at 7.4 percent of GDP.  The Post doesn't give a source for it's 20 percent number, but a recent Wall Street Journal article attributed the number to Barclays.  This is the big investment bank that embarrassed itself and cost some of its investors a lot of money by telling them just two days before Venezuela’s October 7 election than “an opposition victory looks likely.”  Chavez won by 11 percentage points, which was just about the average of pre-election polling.

Also it is not clear why a budget deficit, as the Post argues, would force the government to devalue the currency.  After all, the government is mostly borrowing and spending in domestic currency, not dollars.  As for inflation, it is true that it has picked up in the two months since the election (October and November), but inflation over the past year has been 17.9 percent, as compared with 26.1 percent for 2011 and 28.2 percent for 2010.  So the trend over the past two years has been downward, despite the fact that the economy was recovering from a recession.

The Post Editorial Board also argues that if Chávez were to become incapacitated, it “could tip Venezuela, one of the largest U.S. oil suppliers, toward a prolonged period of turmoil or even violence.”  It’s not clear why this would be the case; Chávez has already asked his followers to vote for his Vice President, Nicolás Maduro, if he can no longer serve – indicating his desire to follow the constitution, which would mandate an election within 30 days of his leaving office. It’s possible that it could take more than 30 days to get things prepared, depending on events – but there’s no indication of potential turmoil or violence. There were similar predictions in much of the press regarding the October presidential election, but instead there was a record voter turnout, a clean election, and a peaceful acceptance of the results.

 
'Times' Fails to Include Expert Opinion in Discussing Argentina Media Law Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Monday, 03 December 2012 16:37

In a New York Times article over the weekend, Simon Romero and Emily Schmall report on the “battle” between the Argentine government and Grupo Clarín, the country’s largest media conglomerate. The “battle” centers on the implementation of a 2009 media law that would require Grupo Clarín to divest some of its TV, radio and cable broadcast licenses. In 2009, their licenses amounted to 73 percent of the nationwide total, a level that would not be allowed in the United States.

The reporters give readers the opinions of the two sides: the CEO of Clarín contends that “[t]his is about more than Clarín; this is about democracy,” while government officials respond that the law is about guaranteeing a “plurality of voices.”

Yet the Times fails to include the voice of Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of the Expression for the UN, who has described the Argentina media law as “a model for the continent and other regions of the world,” adding that "the principles of media diversity and pluralism are fundamental" in freedom of expression. 

As is generally the case when center-left governments challenge the media, there is reason to believe that the Argentina law is not about an attack on freedom of expression, but rather about democratizing a media landscape dominated by heavily-monopolized media conglomerates that are often opposed to the forces of change under way in the country. The Special Rapporteur agrees; and the Times’ readers would have benefited from hearing his opinion as well. 

 
Spanish-language Media Jumps on Assange’s “Ecuador is Insignificant” Comment, Disregards Context Print
Written by Alex Main   
Monday, 03 December 2012 15:25

CNN and much of the Spanish language press regaled in an apparent “aha!” moment last week when, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange referred to Ecuador as an “insignificant country.” CNN en español immediately reported on the incident on its Spanish-language news program. “For Julian Assange, Ecuador is an irrelevant country. Textual quote,” the anchor said, making quote signs with his fingers for added effect.  “The founder of Wikileaks belittles President Rafael Correa in an interview on this network,” he added, before broadcasting a very short excerpt of the interview in which Assange made the offensive remark.

Other Spanish-language news outlets quickly chimed in, eager to inform their audience that Assange, who has spent the last five months in Ecuador’s London embassy, gravely disrespected the country that has offered him asylum.  “Assange doesn’t mince his words, and calls Ecuador ‘insignicant’ ” headlined El Comercio, Ecuador’s leading daily.  Spanish online newspaper Libertad Digital stated:

Despite being six months now in their embassy in London, the founder of Wikileaks hasn’t said very nice things about Ecuador.  In an interview with the U.S. television network CNN, he avoided commenting on the situation of freedom of expression or the control of media by the government of Rafael Correa, as it is a country that is “insignificant” and its decisions don’t have the same importance as those of other states.

But relatively little attention was paid to a statement that WikiLeaks published in reaction to the coverage that Assange’s Ecuador comment had generated.  The statement provides a bit of critical background information that was generally not mentioned, or buried deep inside the articles:

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State Department All a Twitter About Human Rights in Honduras Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 30 November 2012 12:47

The Obama administration has been outspoken recently about human rights, but some statements are somewhat disconnected from actual policy.

Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough visited Honduras this week, meeting with President Lobo, “members of his cabinet, and civil society representatives.” At the conclusion of his visit, he issued a statement, saying among other things that

I …extended my congratulations to the Honduran people on their strong participation in a peaceful, democratic, primary election process on November 18, recognizing the commendable work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

“Peaceful” and “democratic” perhaps, aside from the various assassinations of opposition candidates and members belonging to the LIBRE party this year, and other political repression recently submitted to the International Criminal Court as evidence of “crimes against humanity and impunity in Honduras.” These murders represent another serious threat to Honduran democracy in the wake of the 2009 coup, and have led some analysts to conclude that “free and fair” elections next year are all but impossible. But the Obama administration seems to pretend the repression is not happening by describing the process as “peaceful.”

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske, meanwhile, also has become a vocal champion of human rights - on Twitter - reminding followers of significant dates in U.S. history for labor and civil rights, for example, and decrying attacks on women, and other serious rights abuses in Honduras.

On Wednesday, Kubiske Tweeted:

 

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Daily Headlines – November 27, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Tuesday, 27 November 2012 12:45

Yesterday Argentina appealed a ruling by a New York court that could force Argentina to pay holdout bondholders known as vulture funds, reports the Associated Press.  Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina must put $1.3 billion into an escrow account by December 15. If Argentina refuses to do so, the court ruling would force Bank of New York Mellon, which distributes payments to those bondholders who did accept a restructuring following the 2001 default, to stop those payments. The ruling is based on the parri passu clause, which the court interpreted as requiring equal treatment to both the bondholders who accepted a restructuring and those that held out. If, as President Kirchner has indicated, Argentina refuses to pay the vulture funds and the appeal is unsuccessful, it could lead Argentina into a technical default. Siding with Argentina in the court case is the US Federal Reserve, commercial banks and holders of restructured bonds. Also, as the AP points out, even critics of Kirchner in Argentina have criticized the judge’s ruling in recent days, as it threatens the successful economic growth that resulted after the default in 2001. For more on the case, click here and here.

Meanwhile, writing in The Guardian, Cambridge economics professor Ha-Joon Chang highlights the need for a sovereign bankruptcy law, similar to what countries offer debt-laden companies. Once a company declares bankruptcy, “the debtor company and its creditors are forced to work together to reorganise the company's affairs, under clear rules.” Unfortunately, as Chang notes, “no mechanism like this exists for countries, which is what has made sovereign debt crises so difficult to manage.” Chang uses the examples of Greece and Argentina, arguing that the effects of their debt problems go far beyond their borders, noting that “In the Argentinian case, we are risking not just an end to Argentina's recovery but a fresh round of turmoil in the global financial market because of one questionable US court ruling.”

A new report from the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean reports on the reduction of poverty in the region over the last few decades, reports the AP. Overall, despite recording the lowest poverty level in three decades, some 167 million people still remain mired in poverty in the region. This is one million fewer than in 2010 and represents some 29 percent of the population. The report, “Social Panorama of Latin America 2012”, released today, also reports on trends in inequality. The report notes that “on average, the richest 10% of the Latin American population receives 32% of total income, while the poorest 40% receive just 15% of income.” Since 2002, the countries that have shown the largest decrease in inequality are Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In all of these countries the Gini coefficient fell at an annual rate of more than two percent. To read the entire report, which “examines paid employment in care activities, as well as household spending on care services, and proposes a series of policy recommendations,” click here. For more on the reduction of inequality in Latin America, see here and here.

Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is in Washington today to meet with President Obama, reports CNN. In an op-ed printed by the Washington Post last week, Peña Nieto lays out his agenda for the meeting with Obama, noting that “It is a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns. Our mutual interests are too vast and complex to be restricted in this short-sighted way.” As CNN notes, Peña Nieto will focus on economic issues as well as security in his visit. Meanwhile, writing in Huffington Post, John Ackerman a professor at UNAM-Mexico City writes that Obama is losing credibility by cozying up to Peña Nieto. Ackerman notes that the recent election in Mexico was “a far cry from normal democratic politics” and warns that Peña Nieto represents a return to the old guard, which “represents the worst of Mexico's authoritarian past.” Ackerman concludes that by cozying up to Mexico’s new president “Obama sends a clear message that his Latin America policy will be equally as shortsighted in his second term as it was during his first.”

 
Honduras’ Party Primaries: Voters Went to the Polls, But Can Next Year’s Elections be “Free and Fair”? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 13:04

“Will the elections in Honduras be free and fair?”

This was the question asked yesterday by Aljazeera’s Inside Story Americas, in a discussion with professor Dana Frank of the University of California Santa Cruz, and Pam Spees, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed evidence last week with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding ongoing impunity for crimes against humanity committed by coup leaders Roberto Micheletti, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, palm oil magnate Miguel Facusse, and others. (See our previous post here.)

Honduras’ presidential elections are a year away, but if they are anything like the country’s previous elections in 2009, the answer would be no. Those elections were overseen by an un-elected coup regime, which attacked protesters, raided civil society offices and censored media outlets. An Amnesty International spokesperson declared, “Justice seems to have been absent also on Election Day in Honduras," and most Latin American countries refused to recognize the new government of Porfirio Lobo afterward.

Party primary elections were held on Sunday, with the preliminary results showingMauricio Villeda ahead as presidential candidate for the Liberal Party while the National Party was favoring Juan Orlando Hernández,” and former first lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya emerged – running unopposed - as the candidate of the new Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) party (which emerged from the National Resistance Front to the coup (FNRP)). Notably, of the three, Zelaya had received the most votes (357,926) as of this writing, with Hernández’s 306,012 second. But, only about two-thirds of the mesas had been examined before technical problems caused a vote count disruption, and Hernández’s National Party challenger Ricardo Álvarez called for a “vote by vote recount.” The Supreme Electoral Tribunal vowed yesterday to issue final results “within 10 days.”

As the CCR and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) noted in its evidence to the ICC, several LIBRE party candidates and members have been killed this year. Spees told Aljazeera:

We saw the same types of threats and violence around the elections in November of 2009 after the coup, and it’s continued and expanded, and what we’re seeing is either killings of candidates or would-be candidates. We’re seeing threats and attacks. It’s not an atmosphere in which you can legitimately, realistically expect to have free and fair elections.

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Colombian Peace Talks Begin in Havana: Inclusive Participation for Lasting Peace? Print
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 15:51

As dialogue opens on the second day of the much anticipated peace negotiations between the Colombian government and longstanding rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), citizen inclusion and participation in the process have been sought as part of an expressed commitment from both sides to incorporate input from Colombian civil society, a main tenet of the General Agreement for the Termination of Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace. The country’s bicameral congressional Peace Commissions, with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and technical support from the United Nations, have called for the “extensive participation in the conversations between the Colombian national government and the FARC”, inviting Colombian civil society to present proposals to be included at the negotiating table.

To facilitate this process, various platforms have been provided for citizen engagement in proposing solutions to the conflict based on the five-point agenda of the peace process, including regional meetings and a forthcoming online forum for submitting proposals. The regional roundtable meetings were designed to “guarantee the extensive participation of different regional social sectors, including organizations of farmers, indigenous peoples, afro-Colombians, women, union workers, students, human rights defenders, youth, environmentalists, LGBTQ communities, peace initiatives, churches, guilds, businesses, academics, social researchers and victims of the conflict.”

These regional meetings have been held throughout the country, offering a space for civil society leaders to present their organizations’ proposals on the first three agenda items to be discussed at the talks: agrarian development policy, illicit crop substitution, and political participation (future roundtable meetings to be held in 2013 are set to include issues related to victims, a fourth subject area of the peace agenda). Similarly, an electronic forum is said to be in the works as a mechanism to receive additional citizen input, the technical finalization of which delayed negotiations four days from their initially planned start date of November 15. With these participatory mechanisms in place, the stage now seems to be set for the desired inclusion of Colombian civil society in the peace talks as part of the larger process seeking an end to half a century of civil conflict.

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Murders of Teenagers and Opposition Party Members Underscore Impunity in Honduras and the Failure of U.S. “Vetting” Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 16 November 2012 15:39

In previous blog posts we’ve commented on the rampant political violence in Honduras since the country’s 2009 military coup, as well as the alleged involvement of Honduran security forces in extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. Sadly, recent reports from Honduras suggest that the situation continues to deteriorate. Today we’ll provide an update on some of the troubling recent events in Honduras - the recent killing of an unarmed boy allegedly carried out by U.S.- vetted military troops; the targeted killings of opposition politicians – as well as efforts by non-governmental groups to hold Honduran authorities accountable for the ongoing attacks and the country’s pervasive climate of impunity.

U.S.-vetted soldiers allegedly murder unarmed boy

Breaking news this week reveals that soldiers vetted by the U.S. chased after, shot and killed a 15-year-old boy, Ebed Yanes, who supposedly ran through a check point on a motorcycle in Tegucigalpa on the night of May 26. The Associated Press’ Alberto Arce and Martha Mendoza reported that, according to a soldier involved in the incident who came forward:

The boy, he said, did not stop at the checkpoint, but raced through it. They followed him in the Ford pickup, chasing him through the dark alleys for at least five minutes. The boy turned into an alley too narrow for the truck, so the driver stopped. The lieutenant sitting in the front passenger seat ordered the unit to open fire as he jumped out of the truck and started shooting. Two other soldiers got out and fired from 30 meters away, with soldier Eleazar Abimael Rodriguez dropping to his knee in the firing position, said the soldier, who is now a protected witness. The motorcyclist was shot.

AP notes that the soldier alleged to have fired first, Josue Sierra, was trained last year at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA), at Fort Benning, Georgia, and has been charged with attempting to cover up a crime and violating official duties. Lt. Col. Reynel Funes, who allegedly oversaw a cover-up of the murder (in part by having the soldiers switch out their weapons) also attended the SOA in 1984, and went to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in 2006, AP reports.

The revelations behind Yanes’ murder – only brought to light through the brave investigative work of his father - further demonstrates the rampant impunity and corruption within the Honduran military and police, even by officers “vetted” by the U.S. Despite recent misleading comments by U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske in the Honduran press, the U.S. Congress is already withholding funds to the Honduran police over the national police chief’s past ties to death squads, and counternarcotics operations and radar support to the Honduran police and military has been suspended following Honduras’ shooting down of airplanes, and the May 11 shootings of several local villagers in a counter-drugs operation in the Moskitia region. A State Department official cited in AP’s report yesterday says that “the withholding may reach $50 million, including $8.3 million in counter-narcotics aid, and $38 million under the Central America Regional Security Initiative.”

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Mexican Senate Passes Labor Reform Bill, Weakening Worker Rights Print
Written by Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:17

The Mexican senate approved controversial new labor reforms yesterday, the AP reports. The bill, which has faced mounting public protests, would allow greater flexibility on the part of owners to hire and fire workers, among other changes.  While supporters claim it will generate thousands of jobs, critics contend that it will erode what little benefits workers do have. Alejandra Barrales, a senator from the Democratic Revolution Party, told Reuters, “What we're doing here is annulling worker's rights.”

Aspects of the bill that unions had advocated for; the right to a secret ballot and increasing transparency of union finances, were stripped in the lower house and not included in the Senate version. Those reforms were seen as key to diminishing the power of the PRI-backed, non-democratic unions and supporting the development of smaller more independent groups.  The PRD did manage to get Senate approval for two articles (388 and 390) that allow workers to choose which union they want based on majority vote and require unions to submit proposed contracts to union members.  Ultimately, these were left out of the labor reform bill and sent back to the lower house for discussion and approval.

These reforms would have been especially important in the Mexican context because often collective bargaining agreements are signed by ‘unions’ that are company-backed.  Without independence, these frequently fail to represent the interests of workers, many of whom are unaware that their labor group is essentially an extension of the company they work for

Senator Manuel Bartlett told reporters Tuesday night that, “This law is an attack against social justice, and the only ones who will benefit are going to be the business owners.” For example, the law legalizes trial periods and initial training contracts, which allow employers options for offering more tenuous employment and paying lower wages with fewer benefits.  With respect to outsourcing, a practice already used but now formally sanctioned, the law allows employers even more ways to combine low wages with little or no health, housing, severance and profit-sharing benefits, according to the AP.

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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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