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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”. 

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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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What Will Selection of New Pope Mean for Latin America? Print
Written by Dan Beeton and Sara Kozameh   
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 18:39

This post was amended March 14, 2013 to reflect a correction by The Guardian.

The papal conclave announced today that the new pope will be Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina. “Pope Francis,” as he will be named, will be the first Latin American pope. Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – who has clashed with Bergoglio in the past over gay marriage and other issues – quickly issued a congratulatory message.

Even though he was reportedly the runner-up to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the last papal succession in 2005, Bergoglio was considered a dark horse candidate this time around. But the move could in part reflect recognition on the Roman Catholic Church’s part that it has been losing more and more of its flock in recent years to Protestant Evangelicalism and other denominations. The son of Italian parents, Bergoglio would seem to personify the link between Rome and Latin America. As National Catholic Reporter noted:

Bergoglio is a candidates [sic] who brings together the first world and the developing world in his own person. He's a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he's a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione make him part of another global network.

Much foreign media attention has focused much on Bergoglio’s austere lifestyle, but his selection could lead to further scrutiny of past wrongdoing by the Catholic Church just when pedophilia and sex abuse scandals have done significant damage to the Catholic Church’s image and membership. As the Irish Times wrote of Bergoglio:

his elevation to the papacy could lead to renewed scrutiny of the Argentinian church’s role in the country’s Dirty War, when it offered support to the military junta in its brutal campaign of murder of left-wing dissidents.

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Venezuelan Support to Haiti Under Chávez: Petrocaribe and Beyond Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Tuesday, 12 March 2013 15:56

Jake Johnston wrote a great piece about Chávez's legacy in Haiti on the Haiti Reconstruction and Relief Watch blog.  He writes:

Last week, after the passing of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Haiti declared three days of national mourning. President Martelly stated that Chávez was a “great friend of Haiti who never missed an opportunity to express his solidarity with the Haitian people in their most difficult times.” It’s not the first time Martelly had such kind words for the Venezuelan president. Last year, Martelly told the press that it was Venezuelan aid that was “the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact." In February, Martelly attended the 11th summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas, a regional political organization spearheaded by Venezuela, and announced that Haiti was debating joining the group as a full member. While most of the coverage around Chávez’s legacy in Haiti and the greater Caribbean has focused on the Petrocaribe initiative, which provides subsidized fuel to the region, Chávez developed close ties to the Haitian people well before Petrocaribe. Following the earthquake of 2010, Chávez, in cancelling Haiti’s debt to Venezuela, declared, “Haiti has no debt with Venezuela -- on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti." As Chávez was quick to point out, it was Haiti that provided a vital safe-haven for Latin American independence hero Símon Bolívar before he went on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule. 

Opposition to 2004 Coup

In 2004, following the U.S.-backed coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Chávez was one of only a few voices in the region condemning what had taken place and refusing to recognize the coup government. Chávez told the Organization of American States that, “The President of Haiti is called Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he was elected by the people." He formally extended an offer of asylum to Aristide in March of 2004. Perhaps the solidarity was in part due to the fact that just two years previously Chávez had been temporarily ousted in a coup, and similar actors were involved in both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups. As detailed in a 2004 investigation by Mother Jones, the International Republican Institute was active in both organizing and training those involved in the 2004 coup in Haiti as well as opposition factions before the 2002 coup in Venezuela, and its point man in Haiti at the time – Stanley Lucas, now an advisor to Martelly – had been in Venezuela some seven times prior to the coup.  Senior Bush administration officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich also actively supported both theVenezuelan and Haitian coups.

Click here to read the complete post.

 
Senior French Official Compares Chávez to French Statesmen De Gaulle and Blum Print
Written by Alex Main   
Monday, 11 March 2013 09:52

U.S. media coverage of the passing of President Hugo Chávez has focused a great deal on the tributes and condolences of leaders of so-called “axis of evil” countries like Iran and Belarus. It has mostly ignored the eulogies coming from the governments of nearly every country of the Western Hemisphere, with the notable exceptions of the U.S. and Canada that didn’t even bother offering condolences.  And there’s been hardly any mention of Western European governments’ reactions to Chavez’s death, though they’ve tended to be warmer than those of their North American partners.  For instance, Spain’s rightwing government offered “sincere condolences” to Chávez’s family, noted that the Venezuelan leader had had “a great influence in IberoAmerica” and sent the country’s crown prince to the funeral in Caracas last Friday.

French president François Hollande went a step further in his statement on March 6th, offering his “saddest condolences to the Venezuelan people” on the passing of a leader who “profoundly marked the history of his country.” 

The statement went on to say that “the late President expressed, beyond his temperament and orientations that not everyone shared, an undeniable will to struggle for justice and development.”

The French government sent its Minister of Overseas France (Outre-mers), Victorin Lurel, to Caracas for the funeral.  Following the funeral, Lurel, who is from the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe, made a powerful statement to the press:

the people [of Venezuela] are proud of what's been accomplished during the 14 years of [Chávez’s] presidency. All things being equal, Chávez is de Gaulle plus Léon Blum.  De Gaulle because he fundamentally changed the institutions and Léon Blum, that is the (1930s) Popular Front, because he struggled against injustices.

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Unprecedented Show of Support and Honor at the Historic Funeral of Hugo Chávez Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Sunday, 10 March 2013 13:53

The funeral for Venezuelan president, Hugo Rafaél Chávez Frías, was held the morning of Friday March 8th, at the Military Academy in Caracas, Venezuela. 55 countries sent delegations to the funeral. 33 of them were headed by presidents or heads of government. In a strong show of unity and support, every single one of Latin America’s presidents, and most of the Caribbean’s heads of state were present at Chávez’s funeral (though the presidents of Brazil and Argentina left early). 

This is a turnout with few precedents. The death of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963 brought together a total of 19 heads of state. The funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004 gathered 36 former and current heads of state. The death of Hugo Chávez brought together at least 38 former and current heads of state.

The governments of Spain, France, Portugal, Lebanon, Finland, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Australia, Syria, Greece, Ukraine, Croatia, Jordan, Slovenia, Turkey, Gambia, China, and Russia sent fairly high level delegations to represent their governments at the funeral. Spain’s royal heir, the prince of Asturias, attended, as did the General Secretary of the Organization of American States José Miguel Insulza, the Reverend Jesse Jackson –who spoke at the funeral, actor Sean Penn, and the much celebrated Venezuelan orchestra director Gustavo Dudamel, who missed one of his shows at the Los Angeles Philharmonic to direct the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra at the funeral.

Though much of the major media has ignored this international show of recognition for the government of Hugo Chávez, these responses to his death are a clear affirmation of respect and acknowledgement for his legacy, from Latin America and around the world.

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New York Times Reports False Statement on Venezuela’s Economic Growth During Chávez Years Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Friday, 08 March 2013 13:21

In an article by William Neuman, the New York Times reports that “Venezuela had one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region during the 14 years that Mr. Chávez held office, according to World Bank data.”

According to the latest IMF data, which is the same as World Bank data but includes 2012, Venezuela ranks 15th out of 33 countries in Latin America and Caribbean in GDP growth for 1999-2012.  Countries that grew slower than Venezuela during this period include Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and 10 other countries. 

 
Will the World Bank Stop Investing in Campesino Assassinations? Print
Written by Arthur Phillips   
Friday, 08 March 2013 11:41

On February 27, the office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched an audit of the lending arm’s $30 million investment in Tegucigalpa-based Corporación Dinant, which produces palm oil and food products. The audit comes in response to widespread claims of violence, intimidation, and illegal evictions carried out by Dinant’s private security guards in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán valley, the center of the country's ongoing land struggle. In offering its resources and reputation to the company, the World Bank and its member countries are complicit in the deaths of countless innocent farmers.

The COA’s review began just two days after the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries urged the Honduran government “to properly investigate and prosecute crimes committed by private security guards and to ensure that victims receive effective remedies.” A delegation from the Working Group was in the country from February 18 to 22, when it met with government officials and representatives of civil society and the private sector, including security firms. The delegates voiced their particular concern about the “alleged involvement of private security companies hired by landowners in widespread human rights violations including killings, disappearances, forced evictions and sexual violence against representatives of peasant associations in the Bajo Aguán region.” Dinant is the largest single landholder in the region.

An appointed panel of unnamed experts is currently convened in Washington, D.C., to review both the IFC’s adherence to its social and environmental policies and the role Dinant has played in the abuses. Many human rights observers consider the company’s owner, Miguel Facussé, to be one of the country’s most powerful men and hold him responsible for the killings of dozens of campesinos.

The audit had been a long time coming. On November 19, 2010, the human rights organization Rights Action wrote a letter to the World Bank’s then-president Robert Zoellick demanding that the financial institution suspend its funding to Honduras. The group cited the “context of grave human rights abuses and lack of independence of the justice system” as grounds to withhold funding, and characterized support for Dinant as “a case of gross negligence of the World Bank's human rights and due diligence obligations.” In the letter, Rights Action also noted that “at least 19 farmers in this region have been killed in the context of conflicts with biofuel industry interests.” (In a new report released two weeks ago, the same group declared that 88 farmers and their supporters have been killed in Bajo Aguán since January 2010, most of them in targeted assassinations.)

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Venezuelan Economic and Social Performance Under Hugo Chávez, in Graphs Print
Written by Jake Johnston and Sara Kozameh   
Thursday, 07 March 2013 17:26

On Tuesday, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez passed away after 14 years in office. Below is a series of graphs that illustrate the economic and social changes that have taken place in Venezuela during this time period.

1. Growth (Average Annual Percent)
GDP PerCap

Source: Banco Central de Venezuela

This graph shows overall GDP growth as well as per-capita growth in the pre-Chávez (1986-1999) era and the Chávez presidency.

From 1999-2003, the government did not control the state oil company; in fact, it was controlled by his opponents, who used it to try to overthrow the government, including the devastating oil strike of 2002--2003.  For that reason, a better measure of economic growth under the Chávez government would start after it got control over the state oil company, and therefore the economy.

Above you can see this growth both measured from 2004, and for the 1999-2012 period. We use 2004 because to start with 2003, a depressed year due to the oil strike, would exaggerate GDP growth during this period; by 2004, the economy had caught up with its pre-strike level of output. Growth after the government got control of the state oil company was much faster.  

2. Public vs. Private Growth – 1999-2012 (Average Annual Percent)
Private Public
Source: Banco Central de Venezuela

This graph shows the growth of the private sector versus the public sector during the Chávez years.

3. Inflation: Pre-Chávez vs. Chávez Years
inflation
Source: Banco Central de Venezuela

Inflation in Venezuela, consumer price index.

4. Unemployment Rate: Before and After Oil Strike
unemployment
Source: Banco Central de Venezuela, INEC

After the oil strike (and the deep recession that it caused) ended in 2003, unemployment dropped drastically, following many years of increases before Chávez was elected. In 1999, when Chávez took office, unemployment was 14.5 percent; for 2011 it was 7.8 percent.

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