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Are Honduran Election Polls Reliable? Print
Written by Joe Sammut   
Friday, 18 October 2013 15:02

The imminent Honduran presidential elections have been met with polls published by a surfeit of different polling firms. Unfortunately, however, these are notably inconsistent and show significant differences in their results. While the majority project Xiomara Castro, wife of the deposed President Zelaya, as the winner, there is a notable divergence in the size of the lead. In the scant coverage that they have given, the international press has paid almost exclusive attention to the polls conducted by the noted U.S. polling company, CID-Gallup.

Gallup has a lofty reputation in the U.S. as the first modern pollster. It accurately predicted the result of the 1936 presidential election by using modern sampling methods, and in the process destroyed the reputation of the Literary Digest poll, which had previously been considered the most accurate because of its much larger sample. This demonstrated the importance of representative sampling in order to reliably predict voting intentions. However, in Honduras, Gallup’s polling data has been divergent from actual electoral results, suggesting a bias towards the (right-wing) National Party.

This is important as Gallup is the most prolific, widely quoted and one of the longest standing pollsters in Honduras. In 2005, the last relatively free election in Honduras,1 Gallup in two separate polls predicted poll leads of 8 percent and 16 percent respectively in favor of the National Party candidate, Porfirio Lobo. These polls, coming just weeks before2 the actual election, were remarkably divergent from the actual result that Manuel Zelaya won with 45.6 percent of the vote to Lobo’s 42.2. This raises questions about the reliability of the recent poll by Gallup, paid for by the National Party controlled Congress, ahead of the coming election showing Xiomara Castro de Zelaya with a lead —within the margin of error— of just 2 percent.

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Militarization, Austerity and Privatization: What’s Happening in Paraguay? Print
Written by Sara Kozameh (guest post)   
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 14:54

On August 15, Horacio Cartes, a millionaire, businessman, and alleged drug-trafficker assumed the presidency in Paraguay, leading the Colorado Party back into power after a four-year interruption from its 61-year rule by Fernando Lugo, who was deposed last year in a “parliamentary coup.” Cartes has been investigated by the U.S. government for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to this 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Since Cartes started his term eight weeks ago, several announcements have been made regarding Paraguay’s social and economic policy that are worth noting.

Militarization

Only a week after having taken office, Paraguay’s Congress –in which the Colorado Party has a majority in both houses– granted the president the power to deploy the military within the country to carry out policing activities. Despite opposition from human rights organizations who fear a return to dictatorship-era military operations, three days later Cartes ordered 400 military personnel to areas in which disputes over land tenure are ongoing. On August 28th the military entered an elementary school with demands to interview children on the whereabouts of suspected rebels and arrested several land rights activists and peasant leaders in the area.

The military powers granted to Cartes are especially alarming in a country that spent most of the 20th century either in political turmoil or under brutal dictatorship. The increased militarization of the Cartes regime is occurring in a context of growing discontent over public sector layoffs and privatization plans.

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The DEA’s Disappointing Response to Members of Congress Pressing for U.S. Investigation of Ahuas Killings Print
Written by Alexander Main   
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 13:37

Nearly 17 months ago, dozens of heavily-armed Honduran and U.S. police agents carried out a pre-dawn drug interdiction operation along the Patuca River that left two women, a teenager and a young man dead and several others injured.  There is no evidence that the dead victims or the 12 other individuals traveling on the same boat – six of whom were women and six of whom were children ranging in age from two to fourteen – had any ties to drug trafficking.  The tragic incident – which Rights Action and CEPR analyzed extensively in the report “Collateral Damage of a Drug War” – left over half a dozen orphans in its wake and deeply scarred the tightly knit indigenous community of Ahuas, where the shootings took place. 

As we noted in a recent follow-up report – “Still Waiting for Justice” – the judicial investigation of the incident remains woefully incomplete and neither the injured victims nor the relatives of the deceased victims have received any sort of compensation.  Particularly troubling is the fact that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which played a leading role in the May 11, 2012 operation, has failed to cooperate with Honduran investigators who have sought to question the DEA agents who participated in the mission and perform forensic exams on their firearms. 

In January of this year, 58 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concern about the Ahuas killings and asking for a U.S. investigation of the incident to be carried out.  A full six months later, the DEA sent the 58 members a response which made no reference to the request for an investigation and provided a description of the DEA’s role in the incident which contains significant inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims. 

CEPR has obtained a copy of this letter and is making it available online [PDF].  Here is the complete text of the paragraph of the letter that addresses the Ahuas killings:  

On May 11, 2012, the Honduran TRT, supported by DEA FAST, were recovering over 400 kilograms of cocaine when there was an exchange of gunfire between suspected drug traffickers and Honduran TRT members.  Although no injuries were confirmed nor injured persons identified immediately after the shooting, media reports and a report subsequently issued by the GOH stated that two men and two women were killed on May 11, 2012.  The GOH report also determined that neither of the female decedents was pregnant, and that no DEA FAST members fired their weapons during the May 11, 2012 incident.  According to the DEA’s Office of Inspections’ internal review, no DEA FAST members fired their weapons during the May 11, 2012 incident.  Contrary to media reports referenced in your letter, all operations conducted under Operation Anvil were led by the GOH, with support from DEA and DOS.  All operations are planned, coordinated and executed with input and agreement from DOS, DEA and the GOH. 

Let’s now take a closer look at the assertions that the DEA makes in this paragraph:

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New Report Details Multilateral Development Bank, U.S. Role in Human Rights Abuses in Río Blanco, Honduras Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Monday, 07 October 2013 10:27

A new report [PDF] from Rights Action examines the conflict in Río Blanco, Honduras, where the indigenous Lenca community has been involved in a stand-off against security forces and a major development company (Desarollos Energéticos, SA, or DESA) in order to prevent the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Gualcarque River. The report’s release comes just a few weeks after a court ordered the arrest of one of the most prominent figures opposing the dams, Berta Cáceres, coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), on weapons and other charges that are widely seen as bogus. Two of Berta’s colleagues, Tomás Gómez and Aureliano Molina also face charges under accusations that they “had instigated the protests” that have blocked access to the project site for over 185 days, and Amnesty International has declared that “If they are imprisoned,” the organization “will consider them prisoners of conscience.”

The case has attracted international support for COPINH, the persecuted activists, and the Lenca community of Río Blanco, with over 11,000 people having signed a MoveOn.org petition urging the U.S. government to tell the Honduran authorities to drop the bogus charges. Protests have been held in several cities in the U.S. and various Latin American countries in support of Cáceres, Gómez and Molina and the Río Blanco community. "In Honduras it is increasingly clear that those who oppose a government plan may be imprisoned," Ana Marcia Aguiluz of the Center for Justice and International Law told the Associated Press.

The Rights Action report addresses the charges against Cáceres and her colleagues, concluding that:

The public prosecutor’s office and the judiciary have aggressively and tendentiously prosecuted accusations against Lenca community members, and the human rights activists who support them.  The state has subjected human rights defenders to penal processes for actions which are simply the legitimate defense of the rights of indigenous communities.  This has led to the impending imprisonment of one of Honduras’ most recognized indigenous rights activists, Berta Caceres.

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Petraeus' Statement on Plan Colombia at Odds With Reality Print
Written by Eileen O'Grady   
Thursday, 03 October 2013 08:45

Last week, former CIA director David Petraeus coauthored a column with the Brookings Institute’s Michael O’Hanlon hailing U.S. policy in Colombia as “one of the best stories on the national security front of the 21st century to date.” That same day, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stood before the United Nations in New York and recalled the more than 220,000 people who have been killed in the conflict over the past 50 years, emphasizing the “harsh and ugly reality of a conflict that [is] unfortunately, still in force.”

The juxtaposition of the two leaders’ statements points toward the U.S.’s ongoing focus on a militarized approach to the war on drugs, despite overwhelming evidence that suggests that Plan Colombia has been, according to Amnesty International, “a failure in every respect.”

Petraeus, a key driver of U.S. efforts to increase drone operations in the Middle East, touts Plan Colombia as a “success story” because of the massive increase in the size of Colombia’s armed forces and influx of new intelligence and targeting technology. Such measures for Colombia’s success remain predictably superficial, and are, moreover, divorced from the program’s stated aims to reduce cultivation and drug-related violence. While there has indeed been an increase in military presence since Plan Colombia’s inception in 2000, it has by no means been a victory for U.S. “security assistance.”

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Who “Calls the Shots” for NGO’s in Colombia? Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Saturday, 28 September 2013 11:13

La Silla Vacía, a Colombian news and opinion website, has been publishing top ten lists with profiles and full explanations on various topics to map the “most powerful” individuals and organizations in Colombia.  For example, there have been lists describing who has the most influence in congress, in negotiating land reform and rural land rights, and in shaping public opinion (hint: the top spot goes to a former president).  Yesterday, they profiled the most influential actors in Colombia’s NGOs and civil society networks.  Topping of that list was U.S. federal government agency USAID.* 

According to foreignassistance.gov, the U.S. government is spending about $354 million this year in foreign assistance to Colombia, of which about 98 percent comes from USAID and the State Department.  This amounts to a lot of influence on public policy mainly through funding dozens of NGOs, as the article from La Silla Vacía explains.  Of course, the term “NGO” is notoriously flexible.  As we can see common conventions dictate that organizations primarily funded by foreign governments –namely the U.S. government—are be labeled NGOs. 

From interviews with six directors or former directors of NGOs and two former ministers, Juan Esteban Lewin, the piece’s author, was able to get a sense for how USAID shifts public policy discussion in Colombia.  The amount of financial resources available through USAID affects which issues Colombian NGOs work on.  As they compete with each other for funding, the NGOs end up shifting their focus to more closely match USAID’s four main working areas (three of which are related to post-conflict peace).  On the other hand, since a good part of the funds actually end up in the hands of USAID subcontractors—the article names Olgoonik Technical Services, Management Systems International and Chemonics—the money flowing into Colombian nonprofits from the U.S. government agency isn’t as large as it first appears. 

The author quotes one interviewee as saying that international funders “call the shots” and “dole out prominence to local NGOs” (“tienen la sartén por el mango y le dosifican el protagonismo a las ONG locales”).

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Dilma Speaks Out Against Spying and Boeing “Top Salesman” Obama May Lose $4 Billion Deal Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 08:16

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington last week and made a strong statement yesterday by using her speech at the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the U.S. for its illegal espionage activities in Brazil.  Currently, the U.S. government maintains that NSA information gathering is done for reasons of national security, but Rousseff argued at length that this argument “cannot be sustained” while calling for “a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet.”  President Obama, who spoke directly after her, made no reference to the NSA spy program or Latin America at all, even though it was widely expected that Dilma would bring up these issues. 

When the press reported that Rousseff had cancelled a state visit to Washington last week, many writers contextualized the decision by describing the revelations of NSA espionage in Brazil: from collecting data on millions of private communications, to hacking the networks of oil company Petrobras (majority owned by the state), and even gaining access to Dilma’s personal communications.

Other helpful context for Dilma’s decision would be the ongoing talks between her administration and the U.S. government since the news first broke of NSA activity in Brazil in early July.  Here are highlights of official meetings that show Dilma’s decision to cancel the visit came after repeated, high level communications with U.S. government representatives:

  • U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Rousseff talk over the phone for 25 minutes, and Biden offers to provide more information and technical details to Brazil, but no specific plans are reported. (7/19) 
  • U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon (now replaced by Liliana Ayalde) meets with officials at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, where Foreign Minister Figueiredo asks for “a formal written explanation… as soon as possible, this week.” (9/2)
  • Obama meets with Rousseff on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit, and afterward the Brazilian president says she wanted specifics on the spying: “I want to know everything they have.  Everything.” The Obama administration agreed to a one-week timeline for a formal response, according to Rousseff. (9/5)
  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice meets with Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, saying that the Obama administration wants to clarify the issue and has ordered a comprehensive review of the NSA. (9/11)
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What Do Latin American Countries Stand to Gain from the TPP? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 20 September 2013 09:23

A new CEPR paper by economist David Rosnick examines the impact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade and investment agreement, modeled on NAFTA – could be expected to have on U.S. wages.  The TPP, which is currently being negotiated by 12 countries in Latin America, Asia, North America – as well as by Australia and New Zealand – would result in a net lowering of wages for most U.S. workers, as the inequality effect of the increased trade would outsize the miniscule economic growth projections associated with it. Latin American governments involved in TPP negotiations include Chile, Mexico and Peru, all of which already have NAFTA-style trade and investment arrangements with the U.S.

Economic growth and job creation have historically been promoted as key incentives for why countries should rush to enact such so-called “free trade” agreements. NAFTA, for example, was touted as offering tremendous economic potential to Mexico, with predictions that the country would become a “First World” nation. But Mexico’s growth – stagnant since the neoliberal era that began in the 1980’s – did not pick up following NAFTA’s implementation in 1994. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot and then-Research Associate Rebecca Ray noted in a paper last year:

Mexico’s economic growth since 2000 has not improved over that of the long-term failure of the previous two decades.  Its average annual per capita growth of 0.9 percent for 2000-2011 is about the same as the 0.8 percent annual rate from 1980 to 2000, and a small fraction of the 3.7 percent rate of the pre-2000 era.  

Mexico’s economy since 2000 has also performed very badly as compared with the rest of Latin America.  Its annual growth of GDP per person is less than half of the growth experienced by the rest of the region.

The impact on Mexico from the global recession – caused by the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble and bubbles in European countries – has been significant, and negative. Mexico, whose exports to the U.S. accounted for 21 percent of its GDP in 2007, suffered the worst output loss -- 9.4 percent of GDP -- in Latin America during the 2008-2009 recession. Although Mexico's growth was good in the three years of recovery since its recession, inspiring a spate of articles in the business press with high praise and hopes that 30 years of economic sacrifice had finally paid off, the economy shrank in the second quarter of this year and projections for 2013 have now been halved to a meager 1.8 percent growth.

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You Probably Didn’t Hear that Venezuela Was Again Ranked the Happiest Country in South America Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 15:50

The U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its World Happiness Report for 2013 last week. Following up on the first such report, released last year, the U.N. says that the 2013 edition

delves in more detail into the analysis of the global happiness data, examining trends over time and breaking down each country’s score into its component parts, so that citizens and policy makers can understand their country’s ranking. It also draws connections to other major initiatives to measure well-being, including those conducted by the OECD and UNDP’s Human Development Report…

The World Happiness Report, as with similar such studies as the Happy Planet Index is in part a response to perceived shortcomings with traditional economic and social measures such as growth, poverty rates, employment, education, life expectancy and other indicators.

While U.S. media coverage of the report was not overwhelming, there was some. The report was also covered in numerous international outlets in countries throughout Europe, in Asia, Africa and Australia and New Zealand, among others. CNN noted that 

“On a regional basis, by far the largest gains in life evaluations in terms of the prevalence and size of the increases have been in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Sub-Saharan Africa", the report said. Reduced levels of corruption also contributed to the rise.

But CNN neglected to mention that Venezuela ranked first – again – among South American nations as happiest.

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Blaming the Victims: U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Doubles Down Regarding Ahuas Shootings Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 13 September 2013 09:43

Earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske gave a talk at the Institute of the Americas in San Diego. During the Q and A, audience member Aaron Montenegro asked her about the May 11, 2012 DEA-related shooting incident in Ahuas, in Honduras’ Mosquitia region in which four local, unarmed villagers were killed and several others wounded. (As Americas Blog readers know, CEPR has co-authored two in-depth reports on the incident with Rights Action, based on evidence and interviews with survivors, witnesses, and various U.S. and Honduran officials; and on a review of official investigations.  And we have blogged about ongoing developments regarding the case as well.)

A recording of the revealing exchange is posted here, and a full transcript follows:

Question:  I'd like to mention something that you didn't talk about, and that's the Ahuas case in Mosquitia and the lack of cooperation coming from the U.S. Embassy.  For those of you who don't know, in indigenous territory, the Mosquitia, there was a massacre that took place in the name of fighting narcotráfico, and this was taking place with U.S. State Department helicopters, with DEA agents and subcontracted Guatemalan pilots. And there has been a refusal to participate within this investigation as far as the ballistic tests are concerned.  So I would just like for you to maybe address that and why there hasn't been so much forward participation with that if you are talking about impunity. And then, another question I would like to 

Moderator: Wait a minute, let’s do that one...

Question: OK.

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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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