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This is Calculated, and Looking Very Suspicious Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Monday, 15 April 2013 13:40

The White House said today that a 100 percent audit of the votes in Venezuela was “an important, prudent and necessary step.”

Now it is no surprise that the White House would be on the side of the opposition to the Chavistas, which has been the U.S. position even before the military coup that Washington supported in 2002.

The really ominous thing here is that for years the Obama administration has been smart enough not to overtly take sides in an internal struggle within Venezuela.  That’s because the Obama team knows that this only helps discredit the opposition. 

They know very well that their call for a 100 percent audit will, if it has any influence, make it less likely that the Venezuelan government would support such an audit.  This statement will just add fuel to the fire of those who say that the normal election rules, which mandate an audit of 54 percent of the machines (matching the paper ballots), should be respected; and that it would be a violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty to give in to external pressure.

So why did the White House make this statement, which is also sure to greatly annoy the new government of Venezuela?  The most obvious answer, unfortunately, is that they want to promote conflict within the country.  That is not a good sign.  In previous Venezuelan presidential elections, since the recall referendum of 2004, both Republican and Democratic administrations did not necessarily want conflict because these elections were very close to the U.S. national elections, and it is a general rule to avoid risks that might raise the price of oil before an election, and so they recognized the results.  It would be a very bad turn indeed if they have changed their policy.

If the White House merely wanted to support a 100 percent audit, it could do so privately, even to both sides (the NYT reported today that President Maduro reached out to the Obama administration through Bill Richardson, looking to improve relations).  The White House statement today shows once again that it is definitely not interested in improving relations. Nor is it interested in a 100 percent audit of the vote. 

 
Venezuela’s Presidential Elections 2013 Live Blog Print
Written by CEPR   
Sunday, 14 April 2013 06:15

10:12 PM EDT: The National Electoral Council (CNE) officially declared Nicolás Maduro president. Tibisay Lucena, CNE’s president, made the announcement with Maduro standing by her side.

According to unconfirmed reports, after being declared the winner, Maduro suggested that the equivalent of a coup is being prepared by those who will not respect Venezuelan constitutions. Jorge Rodríguez, the governing PSUV’s campaign manager, has been quoted saying that Capriles, by disregarding the CNE’s results, “is calling for a coup against Venezuelan democracy.” 

Regarding a potential audit or re-count, Professor David Smilde reports that an audit of a majority of the votes is always conducted after an election: 

Venezuela uses electronic voting machines that emit a paper ballot which the voter then deposits in a sealed box. In all elections 53-54% of these boxes are subject to citizen audit immediately after the election. Citizens who were selected to work a given election table and witness from political parties go through the votes one by one. That process takes a couple of hours.

Mark Weisbrot noted this in his response to initial reports of the White House’s statement in support of a full re-count, which he called "calculated" and "very suspicious." Since then, the State Department press office released the transcript for its daily press briefing, which demonstrated the U.S. government’s insistence on calling for a recount despite no indications that the CNE was considering such a move. Reporters present at the briefing attempted to get a firm answer from the State Department as to whether it was suggesting that the U.S. would not recognize the election unless all votes were re-counted, as only the opposition has demanded. Here is an excerpt from that exchange. 

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As Paraguay Prepares for Elections, Unanswered Questions about a Massacre, a Coup and the United States Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Tuesday, 16 April 2013 00:00

On June 15, 2012 a violent eviction of campesinos from occupied land in the Curuguaty region of Paraguay left 17 people dead, including 6 police officers. A week later, President Fernando Lugo was impeached without due process by an opposition controlled legislature, in what most of the rest of the region would regard as a coup. The reason given was Lugo’s poor handling of the situation in Curuguaty.

Next Sunday Paraguay will hold presidential elections, the first since the removal of Lugo. The election pits the Colorado party, which ruled Paraguay for 61 years until the 2008 election of Lugo, versus the Liberal party of current President (and Lugo’s Vice President) Federico Franco. Yet, 6 months after the clash in Curuguaty, and on the eve of presidential elections the Paraguayan government has done little to investigate what happened on June 15. As Natalia Viana of Publica, a nonprofit investigative journalism center in Brazil writes in this week’s edition of The Nation, “As Paraguay prepares to elect a new president on April 21, a growing number of citizens believe that answering the question of what happened in Curuguaty is the key to the truth behind Lugo's impeachment.” What’s more, Viana notes, is that “it is increasingly clear that his ouster was facilitated by entities in Paraguay who not only wanted him gone from the moment he was elected, but who enjoyed financial support from the United States.”

For some time about 70 landless people had been occupying 2,000 hectares of land. Viana notes that the “supposed owner of the land, Blas Riquelme, was a known land grabber and former president of Paraguay's conservative opposition party, the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party). But it was Riquelme who was occupying the land unlawfully; its rightful owner was the Instituto Nacional de Desarollo Rural y Tierra—the Paraguayan Land Institute—which tried to fight the eviction, only to be ignored by the local courts.” Paraguay has long been dominated by large landholders and is the fourth largest exporter of soy in the world; according to Viana two percent of the population controls over 75 percent of the land. Eventually, 14 of the landless Paraguayans were arrested. Then in December, Vidal Vega, who was a key witness in the investigation into the violent eviction, was assassinated. 

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Rory Carroll’s Venezuela Revisited Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Thursday, 11 April 2013 17:13

Rory Carroll responds to my criticism of his NPR interview on Venezuela by calling it a “daft polemic.”  But I would like for him to explain why inflation and currency depreciation, which do not measure living standards, are more important than poverty, extreme poverty, income inequality, income per person (measured in real, inflation-adjusted terms), health care, and employment. That would truly be a “daft polemic” – but that is what he is implying in his interview.

There are other things wrong with his interview that I didn’t have room for in 800 words.  For example, he says that Chávez “basically rained petrodollars over the country, certainly in his first seven years in power.”

In fact, Chávez didn’t have petrodollars to rain on anyone for his first four years, because he did not have control over the national oil company (PDVSA).  That was controlled by his opponents, who during those years had “a strategy of military overthrow,” according to opposition leader and journalist Teodoro Petkoff.  So they used PDVSA to try and overthrow the government, including the military coup of 2002 and the devastating oil strike of 2002-2003.

Carroll’s portrayal of Chávez as “playing the race card” is also somewhat misleading.  He gives the impression that this was an important part of his politics. But in fact it was not. It was more like in the United States under President Obama, where part of the right-wing opposition plays on racist sentiment against the president (only this was much more open and explicit in Venezuela, with opposition calling Chávez a “monkey” and “gorilla” ), but President Obama does not make a point out of being African-American.  Chávez was proud of his Afro-Venezuelan and indigenous heritage, but he did not talk about it all that much.  And like Obama, he didn’t use the bully pulpit to talk about racial discrimination, or try to mobilize voters along these lines.  In Venezuela, even more than in the U.S., most people are not aware of the extent of racial discrimination.  Of course this is even more true of the upper income groups. I remember being on a television show with a prominent Venezuelan-American, and he declared that there was no racial discrimination in Venezuela; this is a typical belief of upper-income Venezuelans.  But in Venezuela, as in much of Latin America, while it is obvious to even a casual observer that there is a huge difference in skin color between upper-income and lower-income groups, there is not anywhere near the sense of “racial” identity (or even awareness of racial discrimination) as there is in the United States.  So even if Chávez had wanted to mobilize people along racial lines, it would not have been an effective political strategy.

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The Vatican, Pinochet, and the ‘Mopping Up’ of ‘Natural Bloodshed’ Following Chile’s Coup Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 16:56

Yesterday WikiLeaks announced the release of a new archive of U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents, 205,901 of which “relat[e] to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger." This new addition contains cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence from 1973-1976 and is part of the larger collection of almost two million documents and U.S. diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has called, “the single most significant body of geopolitical material ever published.” WikiLeaks has grouped the material together in a searchable database called the “Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy.”  

The first of these cables to make a splash about Latin America is one that exposes the Vatican’s reaction to news of human rights atrocities in Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet, who participated in the military coup that toppled the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in September of 1973. Pinochet was responsible for the torture and murders of thousands of people.

In the cable to then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, dated five weeks after the military take-over, the Vatican’s deputy Secretary of State Giovanni Benelli dismissed reports of torture and murders by the military government as “exaggerated coverage of events” and denounced the media’s coverage “as possibly greatest success of Communist propaganda,” lamenting that this showed “how Communists can influence free world media in future."

As if on cue from the CIA –whose covert operations in Chile were instrumental in the toppling of the Allende government- the cable insists that reports of torture, disappearances, and murders by the military regime were fabrications, “leftist propaganda”:

Despite Vatican’s efforts, leftist propaganda has been remarkably successful even with number of more conservative cardinals and prelates who seem incapable of viewing situation objectively.

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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. 

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