A New America Is Shaping

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A New America is Shaping
Sources: Center for Economic and Policy Research
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I. The Main countries working in that direction
II. How is it being organized
III. How it is being undermined

New articles are in green font, older ones in blue.


1.  Venezuela 
2.  Bolivia
3.  Ecuador
4.  Brazil
5.  Argentina
6.  El Salvador
7.  Cuba
8.  Uruguay
9.  Mexico
10. Ecuador














3.1 Ecuador's economic acheivement  






























1. Venezuela:


MercoPress. January 18, 2013

Marie Garcia contributed to this report.

Vice-president Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday that Venezuela is willing to have the ‘best possible relations’ with the US government as long as these are based on respect and equality. He added that it was President Hugo Chavez who instructed the newly named Foreign minister Elias Jaua on the issue.

"President Chavez has given very precise orders, and he also instructed our new Foreign minister, our dear comrade Elias Jaua that with the government of the US we are always willing to have the best possible relations based on mutual respect and on equality conditions", said Maduro.

The Vice-president who passed on to Jaua the Foreign ministry after six years in the post, said that the US media elite as well as its governments, sooner than later, "will have to acknowledge the new independence of Latin America"

"Latin America and the Caribbean are no longer the backyard of the US elites. Latin America is on its own path in economic and political affairs…This should give way to a new cycle of relations, respectful relations" said Maduro who is head of the Executive since Chavez left for Cuba over a month ago for his fourth cancer surgery.

"In the framework of this new reality, the Venezuelan government will always be willing to have the best possible relations with the governments of the US, at any moment".

But, insisted Maduro "on the basis of absolute respect and non intervention in the internal affairs of our country". 

Last 4 January Maduro revealed that at the end of November there had been three contacts between Venezuela and the US in which the establishment of improved relations in the understanding of mutual absolute respect was considered.

Maduro who considered the contacts as ‘normal’ said they involved the Venezuelan ambassador before OAS, Roy Chaderton and were specifically authorized by Chavez who remains convalescent in Cuba

Although the US remains as the main trade partner of Venezuela, bilateral relations have gone through bad moments, currently probably the lowest since the end of 2010 when ambassadors were withdrawn. Venezuela denied consent to the new US ambassador following statements before the US Congress and Washington left the Venezuelan ambassador in the US with no visa.

Likewise when the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA for its links with Iran and because of the situation in the Venezuelan consulate in Miami closed for over a year following Washington’s decision to expel the head of that office.

Richard Gott. New Statesman. January 30, 2013

This piece was originally published as part of a cover package in the New Statesman magazine, alongside an article by Rory Carroll entitled "An elected autocrat".

An atmosphere of sadness and imminent tragedy has taken over the towns and cities of Venezuela as Hugo Chávez nears death. For so long portrayed in the west as a buffoon or a socialist firebrand, this immensely important political figure has suddenly begun to be treated with dignity and respect.

What is not yet understood is that Chávez, who is suffering from cancer, has been the most significant ruler in Latin America since Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in January 1959, more than half a century ago. Such extraordinary and charismatic people emerge rarely in history; they leave an imprint that lasts for decades.

I have long been a supporter of Chávez, writing and talking about him since he first emerged as a serious and revolutionary political contender in the middle of the 1990s. He embodied two vibrant traditions from Latin America in the 1960s: the memory of the left-wing guerrilla movements of that period, inspired by Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution (and, of course, by Castro) and the unusual experience of government by left-wing army officers, notably General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru and General Omar Torríjos in Panama. He also embraced the powerful current of left-wing nationalism in Latin America’s leftist parties, often repressed during the years of the cold war, but never far from the surface.

Chávez was born in the village of Sabaneta in July 1954, in the wide cattle lands of Barinas State (he is a year younger than Tony Blair). His parents were schoolteachers and members of Copei, the Christian democratic party.

Ambitious to be a baseball player, he joined the army at the age of 17 rather than following his elder brother to study at the University of the Andes in Mérida.

A frustrated intellectual, Chávez became an inspiring history teacher at the Caracas military academy, influencing a generation of young officers with his tales of Venezuelan dissidents from the 19th century, starting with Simón Bolívar. In Venezuela, a country dominated by white European immigrants and overlaid with a thick cultural veneer of American consumerism, he sought to recreate pride in an alternative historical vision of a land peopled by the often-ignored descendants of Native Americans and black slaves.

In 1982, dismayed by the growing decadence and corruption of the civilian politicians, Chávez formed a “Bolivarian revolutionary movement” within the armed forces that started as a political study group and ended up a subversive organisation hoping for an appropriate moment to stage a coup d’état. This came after 1989, when civil unrest erupted in several cities; the armed forces were called out to suppress it with great violence, killing more than a thousand people.

Chávez and his small band of middleranking officers then staged a coup in February 1992. It was successful in much of the country but failed in Caracas, where Chávez was in charge of the insurrection. Faced with defeat, he surrendered and appeared briefly on national television to announce that he was giving up, “for now”.

His implicit promise that he would return another day brought him immediate popularity countrywide, especially in the shanty towns and rural areas.

Chávez represented the hope of profound change in a stagnant and unequal society, and six years later, in 1998, leading an ad hoc party, the “Fifth Republic Movement”, he was elected president of Venezuela with 56 per cent of the vote. His victory was the result of the electoral implosion of the ruling parties of the previous 40 years, Copei and Democratic Action (affiliated to the Socialist International). The remnants of these two discredited parties have struggled unsuccessfully ever since to create an opposition worthy of the name.

At the end of 1999, after Chávez had been in power for a year, I went to Caracas to in - terview him and to write a book about him. It was already obvious then that he was the most interesting figure to have emerged in Latin America since the fall of Salvador Allende’s government in September 1973, nearly 30 years earlier. We met on a Monday morning on the verandah of his home at La Casona, an official residence in eastern Caracas surrounded by a gorgeous tropical garden. I had often seen him loom large on television, but in person he seemed a size smaller. He had an infectious grin and a capacity to talk non-stop and it was difficult to get a word in.

We sat there alone throughout the morning, with occasional calls for coffee and orange juice, as he ranged over the entire history of Latin America. He emphasised the need to halt and reverse the persistent population drain from country to town in Venezuela.

He was impressed that my researches had taken me all over the country, not just to visit his birthplace in Sabaneta but to the remote settlement of Elorza, on a tributary of the Orinoco close to the Colombian border, to which he had been exiled in the 1980s when the government first got wind of his activities. Elorza was a tiring, 12-hour bus journey south of Barinas.

He invited me to fly with him that week to look at various rural projects, and half the cabinet came with us. Chávez asked questions all the time, prodding his ministers to take a direct interest in what needed to be done. His capacity to enthuse and educate was remarkable and left me and the ministers exhausted by the end of the day.

I have been back to Caracas most years since then and have talked to Chávez many times. He has always been the same, welcoming, keen to talk, and always recognising me, even in a crowd. Who was this strange Englishman who had taken the trouble to write a book about him? When among civilians, he would single out old women and small children for attention; at a military parade he would talk to the lowest ranks before taking on the top brass. It is this reversal of normal public practice that has made him so special and so loved.

Chávez had great ambitions to improve conditions for Venezuela’s poor and to include them in the national debate, but in the first few years he had no very clear idea how to do it. His single most significant political initiative, announced on day one, was to call for a progressive constitution, ratified by referendum (a pattern copied by Bolivia and Ecuador). The aim was to change the rules of the political game and lay the groundwork for a more participative society. With the wind of a popular election result in his sails, the enfeebled opposition could do nothing to stop him.

Chávez understood at an early stage that Venezuela needed to revive Opec, the organisation of oil-producing countries, where unity of outlook was needed in order to secure a regular and respectable rent. He visited several Opec states that were unpopular in western eyes, including Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but it was worth the effort and the opprobrium. With Venezuela leading the first efforts in 1998, the price of oil has risen since then from $10 a barrel to over $100 in 2012. This was a significant change, but Chávez also needed to be persuaded by his own petroleum experts to recover government control of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the nationalised oil company and the country’s chief source of revenue. Under the ancien régime, the company had been organised to benefit itself, not to distribute its royalties for the benefit of the people.

Finally, after a lockout by PDVSA in 2002 (preceded by an equally subversive attempt at a military coup), the Chávez government took full control of the oil company, sacked the old management and forced the foreign companies working under contract to increase the royalties they paid.

Huge sums of money were now diverted into organising wide-ranging social programmes at home and buying influence abroad in the Caribbean, notably in Cuba, as well as in other parts of South America. This has been Chávez’s lasting legacy, and is the basis of his project to promote “21st-century socialism” in Venezuela and more widely on the continent.

Chávez’s rhetoric has been more powerful than his record of achievement. He has recovered the meaning and potential popularity of the word “socialism”, after its worldwide collapse following the self-destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991, and has brought a number of important public utilities under state control. Yet even now France has a larger public sector than Venezuela.

Journalistic NGOs and human rights groups complain about what they see as attacks on freedom of the press in Venezuela, usually mentioning in passing the forced closure of a whites-only television channel that would have been shut down much earlier in other parts of the world. Of the huge widening of the media franchise in Venezuela, in the innumerable new community radio stations and alternative TV channels, there is little comment in foreign reports.

Nor do we hear much from western journalists about the changing nature of life in the shanty towns, with the spread of health programmes and education opportunities, or the recent construction of housing projects, or the experiments with co-operatives and community councils.

Why has Chávez had such a bad press? Several individual journalists are guilty of idleness, ignorance and bad faith. Living cheek by jowl with the opposition population in the upper-class zones of Caracas, they find it difficult not to share the views and prejudices of their neighbours. Yet the poor performance of individuals does not explain why the badmouthing of Chávez has been so prevalent throughout the western world, on the Europe continent and in the United States as well as in Britain. Le Monde and El País, Libération and El Mundo have been just as critical as the reporters of the Guardianand the New York Times.

Part of the image problem lies with longsurviving caricatures of Latin America in the popular memory that have little relevance to the continent today. There is a history of military dictators, with or without the dark glasses, which dates back to the first half of the 20th century and reached its peak in the era of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina.

The military tradition led to imprisonment and torture, and the dropping of prisoners out of aeroplanes into the sea. In such a context, how is it that Colonel Chávez, a paratrooper in a red beret, has turned out to be such a progressive man?

Elections in Latin America are more often than not flawed. “You won the election, but I won the count” was the usual response of the Somoza family in Nicaragua to an unfavourable result. Yet outside observers have consistently declared Venezuela’s elections to be fair, and Chávez is no Pinochet. The Venezuelan armed forces have been restructured to serve the people.

Another problem is that Chávez’s reinvention of socialism, as well as his close affection for Fidel Castro, seem old-fashioned to some. Academics who had hoped for a smooth transition to western democratic patterns in Latin America after the downfall of the dictators have also been disappointed by the Venezuelan experience, so different from what they had hoped for or been led to expect. Chávez has fallen foul of most of the left-of-centre politicians and intellectuals in Europe, who have remained in thrall to the social-democratic ideology common in the 1990s. They have ignored his appeal for something different to be summoned up in Latin America.

In a world where such people are subservient to the demands of the American empire, it is easy for the rare figure who speaks out against it to be viewed as an idiot or a despot. Chávez has had good reason to oppose the United States: it has tried to overthrow him. Yet it is not just his rejection of Washington’s foreign wars that alarms: these have had many opponents in Europe, too. It is his outright hostility to US economic policy, filtered through organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whose formulae are slavishly adhered to in western Europe, that is considered outlandish.

Chávez’s search for a different economic policy, with a powerful role for the state, is thought to be foolish, utopian and destined to fail. Yet with many countries in Europe in a state of economic collapse – largely the result of their long embrace of neoliberal policies – his project for Latin America may soon have wider appeal.

Venezuela and Latin America, and the wider world beyond, now face a future in which Chávez will no longer be physically present. However, he has not only helped to construct and project Venezuela as an interesting and important country for the first time, at ease with itself and its historical heritage, he has reimagined the continent of Latin America with a vision of what might be possible. Long after successive presidents of the United States have disappeared into the obscurity of their presidential archives, the memory of Hugo Chávez will survive in Latin America, along with that of Simón Bolívar and Che Guevara, as an influential leader who promised much but was cut down in his prime.



Hugo Chávez and his party won 13 of 14 elections mainly because they greatly improved the living standards of the majority of voters in Venezuela. Since 2004, after the economy recovered from the devastating opposition oil strike, poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by more than 70 percent.

And this measures only cash income: Millions of people also got access to health care for the first time, and access to education also increased sharply, with college enrollment doubling and free tuition for many. Eligibility for public pensions tripled; and in the past two years the government has built hundreds of thousands of houses. Most of the poverty reduction came from increased employment, not "government handouts," and during most of Chávez’s tenure the private sector has grown faster than the public sector. These numbers are not really in dispute among economists or international statistical agencies. If you follow Venezuela and haven’t heard any of this, it’s because the media is giving you the equivalent of a "tea party" view of the country.

Also, the 20 years prior to Chávez were an economic disaster, with per capita income actually falling between 1980 and 1998. So naturally most people have noticed the difference. Is this progress sustainable? The press focuses on Venezuela’s inflation, which, at just under 18 percent is about the highest in the region. However it has come down from 28.2 percent in 2010, even as the economy has recovered and growth has accelerated. This shows that the government can bring inflation down with the right policies. Chávez’s party won in 20 of 23 states during a regional election on Dec. 16, even with Chávez himself absent from the campaign trail. This indicates that his successor will likely win if he should step down. 

This should not be surprising. All of the left-leaning governments in South America--Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay--have been re-elected, some repeatedly, for similar reasons: They have brought real economic and social change and significant improvements in living standards for the majority.


         Danny Glover. Foreign Policy in Focus. October 30, 2012

Former President Jimmy Carter reportedly referred to as the best in the world.

I had the privilege of traveling to Venezuela and witnessing the country's October 7 presidential election and watching the South American country's extraordinarily active and engaged citizenry in action. An impressive 81 percent of the electorate participated in a transparent and secure electoral process that former president Jimmy Carter reportedly referred to as the best in the world.

President Hugo Chavez's 10-point margin of victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles stands as a testament to the enduring popularity of his participatory democracy programs and his government's focus on addressing the needs of the poor.

Capriles campaigned on a platform that supported the government's social programs, while criticizing inefficiencies in many government sectors and capitalizing on fears over high rates of violence and unchecked corruption. In reality, as former key supporters revealed, and the majority of voters affirmed at the ballot box, Capriles and his allies backed a sweeping neo-liberal program fundamentally opposed to the current government's state-led, pro-social economic policies and support for direct collaboration with citizens in improving their wellbeing.

In contrast to his prior contempt for the democratic decisions of Venezeulans—including a failed coup in 2002—Capriles formally conceded defeat shortly after the election results were announced. Although media coverage of Venezuelan politics might have led one to think otherwise, these presidential elections were about much more than Chavez, as significant as he may be as torch-bearer of the poor and marginalized.

Venezuela's Afro-Descendents

I began to get a sense of the bigger picture when I visited the country for the first time nine years ago at the invitation of the Afro-Venezuelan Network. I saw how Venezuela's Afro-descendents—among the most under-educated, marginalized, and impoverished people in the country—were becoming proactive as full citizens under the Chavez government, increasingly participating in political decision-making at the local level and claiming a voice in regional, national, and even international affairs. And I became increasingly aware of the growing political collaboration among Afro-Venezuelans, the Chavez government, and the approximately 150 million people of African descent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

My initial impressions, informed by my university studies in economics and my professional experience in community development in San Francisco, were confirmed on each of my subsequent visits. I observed numerous social, educational, cultural, and economic development projects that were improving the lives of marginalized communities and facilitating direct citizen participation and critical engagement in broader national, regional, and global affairs.

The Chavez government has also helped raise awareness about the historical links between racial exploitation and disempowerment and the socio-cultural relationship between wealth and luxury versus inequality and misery. The government's policies, for which the majority of Venezuelan citizens of all backgrounds have voted for the last 13 years, are addressing the legacy of slavery and helping expose and overcome generations of discrimination based on race, class, and gender.

On my most recent trip to witness the elections, I was greatly moved by the extraordinary civility and enthusiasm of voters from across the political spectrum, despite the fact that the opposing campaign agendas clearly represent radically different visions for the people and the country. Though media accounts create the impression that extreme political polarization is pervasive throughout Venezuela, I witnessed an atmosphere of respect and tranquility at the voting centers. At every voting booth, volunteers from both campaigns were present to ensure that citizens had access to the ballot box and could freely exercise their choice for president.

But the most important moment of my trip was the day after the election when I met with local leaders and activists from the Afro-Venezuela community of San Jose in Barlovento, on the northern coast of Venezuela. I conversed with community leaders descended from the "maroons"—Venezuelans who had escaped slavery and created self-sustaining communities over 400 years ago.

Youth leaders described the educational missions and government programs that provided them with unprecedented access to higher education. Members of workers' cooperatives discussed new state cacao processing factories co-managed by managers and workers that had helped lift the local economy and offered fair prices and social support to poor farmers. Other representatives of the community explained how new health and education missions were addressing the needs of communities that had had little or no access to basic services. In the small, poor community I visited, I learned about a state-run clinic focused exclusively on women's health issues. Though local leaders by and large expressed admiration for President Chavez and his policies, they also noted unresolved issues that they wanted to see addressed.

A Better Life

More generally, life has improved for a great number of Venezuelans over the last decade. Poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty cut by 70 percent. Free health care, education, and public pension programs have been greatly expanded, the minimum wage has steadily increased, and unemployment has dropped below 8 percent. 

The most promising aspect of the Venezuelan government's social development agenda is the proactive effort to promote democratic engagement and citizen control over local conditions and possibilities. We should all take note that these efforts are taking place in the middle of a global financial, economic, and ethical meltdown, when many countries are sharply scaling back social policies and embracing the neoliberal polices Venezuela has repeatedly rejected.

A great deal of the foreign media coverage of Venezuela gives the impression that Chavez's social and economic policies are incoherent, unsustainable, and based on short-term electoral considerations. For years, the financial press has predicted an imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy. But, in fact, Venezuela enjoys a large trade surplus and has relatively little public debt. That provides the government with lots of room for continued expansionary fiscal, monetary, and social development policies.

The press also often vilifies Chavez and portrays his supporters—a strong majority of the country—as poor, reverent masses who are blindly manipulated by populist rhetoric and occasional cash handouts. This portrayal is not only false, it is denigrating and injurious to the basic workings of democracy: ordinary people expressing their desires with visions of an improved quality of life, development projects, and a choice of political stewards to achieve their goals. Yet, nearly 14 years after Chavez was first elected, misrepresentations and outright fabrications still prevail in mainstream U.S. papers, television news programs, and in the statements of politicians from both major parties.

If you want to understand how the Chavez administration continues to win free and fair elections, you need only hear the stories of formerly marginalized communities and look more carefully at the country's social and economic indicators. As I spoke with Afro-Venezuelans about their support for President Chavez and his agenda, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that we as a nation must undergo a "true revolution of values." As King explained, "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say, 'This is not just.'"

In the Oct. 7 elections, as in more than a dozen previous electoral cycles, Venezuela has shown that the majority of its people have a clear notion of justice and how it can be achieved. It is now time for those of us in the United States to look at our alliance with the elites of Latin America and say: This is not just. 


      Mark Weisbrot. The Guardian. October 3, 2012

On 30 May, Dan Rather, one of America's best-known journalists, announced that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez would die "in a couple of months at most". Four months later Chávez is not only alive and campaigning but widely expected to win re-election on Sunday.

Such is the state of misrepresentation of Venezuela – it is probably the most lied-about country in the world – that a journalist can say almost anything about Chávez or his government and it is unlikely to be challenged, so long as it is negative. Even worse, Rather referred to Chávez as "the dictator" – a term that few, if any, political scientists familiar with the country would countenance.

Here is what Jimmy Carter said about Venezuela's "dictatorship" a few weeks ago: "As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."

Carter won a Nobel prize for his work through the election-monitoring Carter Center, which has observed and certified past Venezuelan elections. But because Washington has sought for more than a decade to delegitimise Venezuela's government, his viewpoint is only rarely reported. His latest comments went unreported in almost all of the US media.

In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.

Unlike in the US, where in a close vote we really have no idea who won (see Bush v Gore), Venezuelans can be sure that their vote counts. And also unlike the US, where as many as 90 million eligible voters will not vote in November, the government in Venezuela has done everything to increase voter registration (now at a record of about 97%) and participation.

Yet the US foreign policy establishment (which includes most of the American and western media) seethes with contempt for Venezuela's democratic process. In a report timed for the elections, the so-called Committee to Protect Journalists says that the government controls a "media empire", neglecting to inform its readers that Venezuelan state TV has only about 5-8% of the country's audience. Of course, Chávez can interrupt normal programming with his speeches (under a law that pre-dates his administration), and regularly does so. But the opposition still has most of the media, including radio and print media – not to mention most of the wealth and income of the country.

The opposition will probably lose this election not because of the government's advantages of incumbency – which are abused throughout the hemisphere, including the United States, but because the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans have dramatically improved under Chávez. Since 2004, when the government gained control over the oil industry and the economy had recovered from the devastating, extra-legal attempts to overthrow it (including the 2002 US-backed military coup and oil strike of 2002-2003), poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty by 70%. And this measures only cash income. Millions have access to healthcare for the first time, and college enrolment has doubled, with free tuition for many students. Inequality has also been considerably reduced. By contrast, the two decades that preceded Chávez amount to one of the worst economic failures in Latin America, with real income per person actually falling by 14% between 1980 and 1998.

In Washington, democracy has a simple definition: does a government do what the state department wants it to do? And of course here, the idea of politicians actually delivering on what they promised to voters is also an unfamiliar concept. So it is not just Venezuela that regularly comes under fire from the Washington establishment: all of the left and newly independent governments of South America, including Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia are in the crosshairs (although Brazil is considered too big to get the same treatment except from the right). The state department tries to keep its eyes on the prize: Venezuela is sitting on 500bn barrels of oil, and doesn't respect Washington's foreign policy. That is what makes it public enemy number one, and gets it the worst media coverage.

But Venezuela is part of a "Latin American spring" that has produced the most democratic, progressive, and independent group of governments that the region has ever had. They work together, and Venezuela has solid support among its neighbours. This is the former president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, last month: "A victory for Chávez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America … this victory will strike another blow against imperialism."

South America's support is Venezuela's best guarantee against continuing attempts by Washington – which is still spending millions of dollars within the country in addition to unknown covert funds – to undermine, delegitimise, and destabilise democracy in Venezuela. 

      Chris Carlson. Venezuelanalysis. November 13, 2012

Punto Fijo, November 13th, 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela was elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday for the period 2013-2016, sparking criticism both domestically and in the United States of supposed human rights abuses in Venezuela.

Venezuela received a total of 154 votes from UN General Assembly members, easily surpassing the minimum of 97 votes needed to be elected, despite what Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Valera called a “shameful and manipulative campaign” against Venezuela from international organizations and the media.

Also elected from Latin America were Brazil and Argentina, receiving 184 and 176 votes respectively. Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay are the three Latin American countries that will be replaced on the council.

Venezuelan government officials celebrated the news as a victory and a sign of Venezuela’s good reputation in the international arena.

“This is a demonstration of the strength of the [Bolivarian] revolution in the world, and the successful state policies to protect the human rights of all Venezuelans without exception,” said UN Ambassador Jorge Valero.

Venezuelan vice-president Nicolás Maduro said the decision shows that the country has an “ample guarantee of human rights” and said it was one of a “series of victories in the international arena.”

But the country’s entry was met with criticism among the Venezuelan opposition and in some US media. The criticisms centered around Venezuela’s so-called “political prisoners” and supposed lack of freedom of expression.

Venezuelan opposition leader and former UN Ambassador Diego Arria accused the government of gaining entry through “negotiation” and called it a sign of the “collapse” of the UN Human Rights Commission.

“We still have political prisoners, because that’s what they are, like the case of Judge [María Lourdes] Afiuni, among others,” he said.

The Washington Post, whose editorial board published an article yesterday against Venezuela’s entry, also cited the case of Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was arrested in 2009 after she ordered the release of a businessman accused of money laundering.

International media and human rights groups often refer to the case as an example of Venezuela’s “political prisoners” and the lack of an independent judiciary, though it has been pointed out that the judge was not a known critic of the Chavez government, and that the businessman’s release was carried out in an illegal way which allowed him to flee the country after exiting through a back door of the court.

Other critics, such as Human Rights Watch, cite a lack of press freedom in Venezuela, stating that the Chavez government “freely intimidates, censors and prosecutes its critics.”

But defenders of the Venezuelan government cite the rapid growth of media outlets in the country during the Chavez government, and the daily criticisms against the government in private media.

“You have to see the huge amount of private media that everyday are constantly attacking the government” said Venezuelan writer Luis Britto Garcia recently. “They call the president a dictator, a tyrant. How could they say these things if there were not freedom of expression?”

UN Ambassador Jorge Valero also referred to Venezuela’s past human rights record, and pointed to the current government’s improvement over previous governments.

“We have never tortured a political opponent, nor have we made any political parties illegal. We’ve never violated the will of the parliament. We’ve never carried out a policy of forced disappearances. These [past] violations of human rights have been completely overcome,” he said.

Valero said he hopes Venezuela’s membership on the Human Rights Council will allow Venezuela to be a “spokesperson for the south” in monitoring human rights. Venezuela will serve a three-year term on the commission beginning on January 1st, 2013.

      Eugenio Martinez. Forbes. November 6, 2012

The voting process proved to be technically error-free, and the results were uncontested.

This article is by Eugenio Martinez, who covers elections for Venezuela’s newspaper El Universal 

Hugo Chavez won the lengthy and polarized presidential race in Venezuela last month by 11 points. Many anticipated that the contest would end in a dead heat and lead to an extended, contentious battle to determine the winner, but the voting process proved to be technically error-free, and the results were uncontested.

On Election Day in the U.S., with the presidential race going down to the wire and predicted to be among the closest in history, concerns are being raised by both parties about the possibility of a drawn-out battle over the reliability and accuracy of polling systems and vote counts. Should this happen, it may be time for the greatest democracy in the world to take a lesson from Venezuela on how to develop and administer an efficient electronic voting system spanning across all stages of the electoral process.

I’ve covered Venezuelan elections as a journalist for the past 14 years. I have published dozens of articles emphasizing why the results of Venezuela’s elections truly reflect the will of the majority. During the last eight years Venezuelan electoral authorities developed a truly reliable voting system. Technically speaking, our elections are impeccable.

This year’s contest represented the first in which Chavez’s incumbency was truly at risk. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, seemed to have every advantage. Despite Chavez’s mastery of campaigning and retail politics, Capriles was younger and more athletic. Chavez’s bout with cancer had dominated Venezuela’s political media, and Capriles had Chavez on the ropes regarding his administration’s poor record of inefficiency, soaring crime rates, rising debt, high inflation, and stuttering social services.

But despite the dire predictions, the handicappers and media experts who forecast a Chavez loss and potential ensuing chaos were wrong. Capriles conceded shortly after the Consejo Nacional Electoral, Venezuela’s electoral body, announced the results. The two candidates then engaged in an informal chat that restored a sense of civility in a nation marked by upheaval.

With the implementation of a new technology-based voting system developed by a company called Smartmatic, accurate results were available almost instantly. Minutes after the last precinct closed, authorities were able to announce official results with approximately 90% of the votes accounted for. It all went off so smoothly that even Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, chief coordinator of Capriles’ supporting organization, deemed the process positive and successful.

The veracity of the voting went unchallenged thanks to an unprecedented level of auditability. Technicians from both parties and outside observers participated in more than 16 audits and tests leading up to Election Day. More than 50% of the polling stations were audited after they closed, double-checking their machine-printed tally reports by comparing them with the printed votes placed in the ballot boxes.

The result was historic. No convincing argument demonstrating electoral malfeasance has surfaced. The system worked, and the transparency of the technological process and testing of the system precluded any protest or complaints. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called the Venezuelan electoral technology a model for other democracies.

Last month, as Venezuelans once again demonstrated their determination to solve differences through that most peaceful means, democratic elections, turnout was unprecedented, at 81%. That represented a cry for reconciliation and lasting democracy and peace. As our electoral technology continues to become stronger, I have no doubt that it will prove to be a model for elections around the world.

      Ewan Robertson. Venezuelanalysis. October 25, 2012

Mission Robinson, yesterday celebrated its 9th anniversary, with the program having taught over 1.75 million Venezuelans to read and write since its founding

Mérida, 29th October 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s literacy and primary education program, Mission Robinson, yesterday celebrated its 9th anniversary, with the program having taught over 1.75 million Venezuelans to read and write since its founding.

Launched by President Hugo Chavez on 28 October 2003, the program uses the Cuban literacy methodology “Yes I Can”. One of the program’s greatest achievements was to teach almost 1.5 million Venezuelans basic literacy skills in its first two years, with Venezuela being declared an “Illiteracy Free Territory” by United Nations body UNESCO in October 2005.

Of those taught reading and writing skills, over 39,000 are indigenous people, 7,249 are disabled persons, 1,442 are prisoners and over 7,250 belong to Socialist Production Units (UPS).

Mission Robinson encapsulates not only a basic literacy program, but primary education (Robinson II) and reading circles (Robinson III) to encourage continued practice and assimilation of skills learned in the first stages of the social program.

In recent years, a key focus of Mission Robinson has become reaching out to those who lack basic literacy skills and have still not incorporated themselves into the program, in order to turn Venezuela into “one big classroom;” according to the program’s director general Marisol Calzadilla.

Speaking to Venezuelan state news agency AVN, she said “there’s still a tough residue [of people] that’s very hard [to reach], and we won’t give up and will continue convincing them [to participate]. They are senior citizens, the majority over sixty years, due to which it’s been an uphill struggle”.

Last year Mission Robinson was extended with a special focus on incorporating senior citizens, particularly those in remote or rural areas, into the program.

There are currently almost 247,000 Venezuelans enrolled in some aspect of Mission Robinson, supported by 33,757 volunteer teachers, or “facilitators” as they are known. Calzadilla made reference to the effort made by facilitators to encourage people to incorporate themselves into the social mission.

“It’s so beautiful to see how the facilitators fight to get people involved. They look for you in your house, they convince you, and they make you fall in love [with education] so that you study,” she said.

Mission Robinson works in conjunction with a variety of other educational programs launched by the Chavez government to incorporate citizens who had been previously excluded or had missed out from the traditional education system. These include Mission Ribas (high school education), Mission Sucre (insertion into free university education), and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, also founded in 2003.

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2. Bolivia:


       Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. November 16, 2012

While the U. S. courts have granted civil rights to corporations, Bolivia has enacted a new law enshrining the legal rights of nature. The “Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well,” promulgated by President Evo Morales on October 15, establishes eleven rights of Mother Earth, including the right to life, biodiversity, pure water, clean air, and freedom from genetic modification and contamination.

The concept of nature as a legal subject—a protagonist with its own interests and rights—is a novel approach in the field of environmental law, offering a potentially revolutionary tool for groups engaged in environmental conflicts. Still, given Bolivia’s structural dependence on extractive industry—with minerals and natural gas constituting 70% of its exports—and the Morales government’s continued reliance on these sectors to generate state revenues for poverty reduction and industrialization, whether the new law will be useful in challenging government-supported development projects remains an open question.

The new Mother Earth law, elaborating on a declaratory “short law” adopted by the Bolivian congress in December 2010, has been a high priority for Bolivia’s indigenous and peasant movements, and results from a commitment made by Morales at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change held in Cochabamba earlier that year. Key provisions include an extension of Bolivia’s agrarian reform program (with women, indigenous peoples, afro-bolivians, and migrant settlers having preference for redistributed lands), establishment of a Mother Earth “Ombudsman” and a Climate Justice Fund, a ban on genetically-modified seeds and crops, and a requirement that all infrastructure and development projects respect the natural environment and provide remediation for any incidental damages.

Taken together, these and other measures are designed to bring about a new model of “integral development” that balances the exploitation of natural resources to meet human needs with environmental protection. The law reflects a fundamental tenet of the Morales government: that it’s possible for the Bolivian state to harness extractive industry, without destroying the environment, for the benefit of impoverished Bolivians, allowing them to “live well” (vivir bien), in equilibrium with nature.

As Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera has emphasized, the Mother Earth law is not designed to hamper resource extraction or industrial development. “If we have to produce, we have to produce,” he stated at the law’s promulgation ceremony. “If we have to extract some mineral, we have to extract it, but finding equilibrium between the satisfaction of needs and protecting Mother Earth.”

Private mining interests in Bolivia view the law as providing a new rationale for the government to expropriate their operations without compensation—as recently occurred with Canadian transnational South American Silver at the Malku Khota mine—and even to demand reparations. As one commentator cautions, “Bolivia is again signaling clear hostility to foreign investment, albeit in a new and intriguing way.”

Soy producers in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands have protested the ban on genetically modified seeds, which would affect 90% of the soybean crop. After minerals and natural gas, soy is Bolivia’s third largest export commodity, generating $800 million last year. More than 70% of the land devoted to soy in the department of Santa Cruz is in the hands of foreign producers, predominantly Brazilians and Mennonites.1410 Credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture

The producers argue that the ban will also limit  other crops—such as corn, sugar, and rice—that are planted in rotation with soy, driving up costs and causing possible shortages in the domestic market. Morales has agreed to reconsider the ban, in the interest of ensuring food security and expansion of the agricultural frontier. Although Morales announced a 5-year program in June 2010 to completely eliminate genetically-modified crops, the current “food sovereignty” law bans GMO seeds only for crops indigenous to Bolivia (such as potatoes and quinoa), but allows transgenic varieties for non-native crops, such as cotton, rice, sugar cane, and soy.

From another perspective, the country’s two leading indigenous federations CONAMAQ and CIDOB (representing highland and lowlands indigenous groups, respectively) have disassociated themselves from the Mother Earth law, which they view as betraying the principles of vivir bien and the original declaratory legislation.  The new law, CONAMAQ argues, is about legitimizing the Morales government’s developmentalist agenda, not about rethinking the extractivist model and transitioning towards alternative, more ecological, modes of development. Further, while the law recognizes the right of indigenous groups to free, prior, and informed consultation regarding development projects that affect them, it does not reflect the goal of achieving their consent, as required by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Some environmental critics see the law as rife with vague and contradictory promises, geared both to protecting the environment and to furthering extractivist development. This could set the stage for more divisive conflicts, they warn, as both sets of interests lay claims to the law’s protection.

Whether the new law might provide a useful tool for those engaged in current environmental conflicts with the government, such as indigenous groups resisting the TIPNIS highway in Bolivia’s Amazon region, remains to be seen. Clearly that’s not what the Morales government has in mind. At the promulgation ceremony, Garcia Linera contrasted the Mother Earth law’s new paradigm with the posture advanced by “environmental fundamentalists” in the TIPNIS (indigenous leaders and NGOs), whose efforts to keep the state at bay, he argues, only provide opportunities for “green capitalists” to continue contaminating the environment while TIPNIS inhabitants remain in poverty.

According to Jim Shultz of the Cochabamba-based Democracy Center, the weaknesses of Bolivia’s legal system will effectively limit the law's reach. “If Mother Earth truly did have legal standing,” he notes, “then the indigenous peoples protesting the government’s plan to construct a highway through the rainforest would certainly be able to use it to challenge that highway. In the end, the pretty words of the law, sadly, have little impact on the ambitious mining and other environmentally destructive activities being carried out across the country.” 

Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s weekly blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).


      Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. November 2, 2012

“According to S&P, Bolivia’s economy is now “one of the strongest among its peers.” Since Morales’ election in 2005, Bolivia's economy has tripled in size”

Bolivia returned to the international credit markets last month after an absence of nearly a century, selling $500 million in 10-year bonds at an interest rate of 4.875%. The country’s last global bond sale was in the 1920s, to finance expansion of the national railway network.

The event highlights the success of President Evo Morales' unique brand of economic pragmatism, as well as some ironic impacts of the global financial crisis.

The bonds, sold by Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, were rated BB-, three notches below “investment grade.” Still, they were oversubscribed by a factor of more than 8, generating demand worth $4.2 billion from 267 international investors. More than 80% of the bonds were placed with North American and European buyers.

According to statistics provided by the Morales government, Bolivia is paying less on its new debt than many other countries with equivalent or better risk ratings, including Vietnam, Peru and Chile. Bolivia’s borrowing rate is half of Venezuela’s, and considerably less than the Latin American average (7.963%).

What explains this favorable global financial reception for the most impoverished nation in South America? For one thing, rating agency Standard and Poor’s gives Bolivia high marks for its strong macroeconomic indicators, relative political stability, and Morales’ prudent fiscal and monetary policies. According to S&P, Bolivia’s economy is now “one of the strongest among its peers.”

Since Morales’ election in 2005, Bolivia's economy has tripled in size. It is projected to grow at 5% or more for the third straight year in 2012, faster than the growth rates achieved by Brazil or Mexico.

International reserves have sky-rocketed from $1.7 billion to $12.7 billion under Morales and now constitute 50% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), providing an important buffer against economic downturns. Meanwhile, internal and external debt has dropped to 31% of GDP. For six straight years, Bolivia has achieved a fiscal budget surplus.

GDP per capita has nearly doubled since 2005, while the number of people living on less than $1 per day has fallen from 38% to 24%. Domestic demand is increasing rapidly. According to the World Bank, Bolivia is now a “middle income country.”

These strong indicators would seem to validate Morales’ unconventional—by market standards—economic policy, which has included the renationalization of strategic sectors divested by past neoliberal governments (such as hydrocarbons, telecommunications, and hydroelectricity).  The vast increase in state hydrocarbons and mining revenues under Morales—also fueled by high commodity prices—is largely responsible for Bolivia’s economic prosperity and redistributive accomplishments.

Still, S&P cautions that Bolivia’s overdependence on these sectors—which generate 70% of the country’s exports and more than 30% of government revenues—has contributed to its less than optimal credit rating. The country’s “high level of political turmoil” and continuing social conflict is cited as another negative factor.

Good timing has also played a role in Bolivia’s credit market success. As a result of the global financial crisis, with near-zero benchmark bond rates in the U.S. and Europe, a surplus of investor capital is chasing new, more profitable, investment opportunities in so-called “emerging market” economies. These countries—many of which have never sold debt before, or not for years—are now taking advantage of the lowest borrowing costs on record. Earlier this month, Brazil sold its bonds for 2.686%, an interest rate considerably lower than Bolivia’s. These rates were unheard of even a short time ago (which helps to explain the gap between Bolivia’s borrowing costs and those of other Latin American countries whose bond sales were completed earlier).

Some western analysts have seized on the perceived ideological inconsistency of Bolivia’s successful foray into the global bond market to vent their hostility against the Morales government. “Morales has the chutzpah, and three Wall Street institutions have the temerity, to issue bonds for a government that has personified twenty-first century Latin American socialism, and continues a time-honored tradition of expropriating foreign owned assets,” says Daniel Wagner of Country Risk Solutions.

In reality, economic pragmatism has been a consistent hallmark of the Morales government, despite its anti-capitalist rhetoric and political stridency. Even in such sectors as hydrocarbons, where the government has majority ownership and control, Morales has gone to great lengths to encourage private investment through incentives and guarantees to companies that are willing to participate on Bolivia’s terms. Six years after the Bolivia’s hydrocarbons nationalization, not a single foreign oil and gas company has pulled out of the country.

For Finance Minister Luis Arce, there is no contradiction between Bolivia’s state-led economic policy and its re-entry into the global credit markets. The bond sale, he says, is just another part of the government’s strategy aimed at resource recovery, industrialization, and poverty reduction.

“The issuance of bonds,” Arce explains, “is to help accelerate what we are already doing. Today we are showing the world that we have the ability [to successfully manage Bolivia’s economy]. And the great merit is that we are doing all of this on our own, without anyone’s help.”

Some Bolivian economists, including former Central Bank head Armando Méndez Morales, question why Bolivia should pay international creditors $24 million in annual interest for the next ten years, when it has substantial reserves and budget surpluses available. For Arce, this as an opportune moment to demonstrate Bolivia’s strong economic position to the world. “The objective of the bonds,” he says, “is to position Bolivia in the international community.”

What really matters, editorializes the daily Página Siete, is how the $500 million will be spent. The government has proposed to use the funds primarily for highway construction, a critical national priority (Bolivia, a country of 420,000 square miles, had only 2,200 miles of paved roads in 2000). Still, it would be more than ironic if the purveyors of global finance capital were to become the indirect patrons of the controversial TIPNIS highway, whose opponents are accused by Morales of conspiring with the very same transnational interests.

Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s weekly blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).


BBC. June 27, 2011

Bolivian President Evo Morales, has signed a new law which aims to ensure food security for his country.

Under the plan, state-owned companies will be set up to produce seeds and fertilisers.

The government aims to safeguard biodiversity and protect native foodstuffs, as well as ending dependence on foreign seed companies.

Early this year, there were violent protests across the country, sparked by food shortages and spiraling prices.

The recent rise in global food prices forced many Bolivians to abandon their indigenous staples, such as quinoa, in favour of cheaper, imported products.

The government plans to invest $5bn (£3.1bn) over 10 years, with generous credits to small farmers, in order to bring about what it calls a food revolution to ensure Bolivians can feed themselves for generations to come.

"My comrades, when we act as players in the production, we are going to improve this production," President Morales told a crowd of supporters.

Indigenous crops
Bolivia is home to thousands of native varieties of crops, including potato and corn.

The Morales government wants to improve genetic stock through natural selection.

It rejects what it describes as an invasion of genetically-modified seeds, fearing they will contaminate indigenous species, and prove to be too expensive for small farmers to buy.

Lisa Panades, the Bolivian representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said the legislation was a step in the right direction.

"The law aims and is creating the conditions to boost food production, especially among small farmers who are the most vulnerable. Of course, the law on its own is not enough, but I think that - with the government's backing - if the law is applied well, there are excellent conditions for Bolivia to guarantee its food sovereignty."

Bolivia has been far from immune to the recent volatility in food prices. Sugar prices doubled earlier this year.

Some highland communities have taken to eating rice and pasta instead of their traditional crops, such as quinoa, because of price rises.

In February, President Morales abandoned a public appearance in the mining city of Oruro, in the face of an angry protests over food shortages and price rises.

There were violent demonstrations in a number of Bolivian cities. 

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 3. Ecuador:

Gonzalo Solano, AP. October 31, 2012

"Those who are earning too much will be giving more to the poorest of this country," the charismatic leftist said in a weekend address. "The time has arrived to redistribute those profits."

QUITO, Ecuador -- President Rafael Correa has long used his bully pulpit to bash bankers as profit-mongers who brought Ecuador and the rest of the world to the edge of financial collapse. Now, he says he'll give a bigger share of those profits to the country's poor.

Less than four months before presidential elections, Correa has announced the sort of bold measure that would delight anti-Wall Street protesters in the United States who blame unchecked financial-sector greed for the economic downturn.

"Those who are earning too much will be giving more to the poorest of this country," the charismatic leftist said in a weekend address. "The time has arrived to redistribute those profits."

Under his plan, taxes would go up on bank holdings abroad and an excise tax on financial services would increase, with the proceeds used to increase lump-sum payments for single mothers, the elderly poor and other needy Ecuadoreans.

Correa said the move would raise $200 million to $300 million a year, money that would not just help pay for the increased monthly subsidies but also would finance "other wealth redistribution activities."

The increase was first suggested by the very man who is likely to be Correa's top challenger in February elections. Guillermo Lasso said that if he were elected, he would boost the monthly aid payments that 1.2 million Ecuadoreans receive to $50 from the current $35.

But Lasso, former director of Guayaquil Bank, did not intend to underwrite the increase by raising taxes on banks already heavily regulated by Correa, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The proposal is virtually guaranteed to take effect because Correa introduced it as an emergency measure, which automatically becomes law if Congress doesn't reject it within 30 days. Correa's opponents don't have enough votes to knock it down.

"My duty is to the poor," Correa said Saturday in his weekly TV and radio show, which pre-empts all other programming. The self-described 21st-century socialist, who says his politics are guided by the teachings of Christ, even went so far as to call out well-known Ecuadoran banking families that would be hit, "the Pachanos, the Egas and the Lassos."

Lasso, said he's pleased his idea of boosting monthly aid payments to the poor has been embraced. But along with the rest of the banking industry, he says Correa will be weighing it down with an unfair tax burden.

"It's not the way to go, because it only creates more obstacles for entrepreneurs, for those who create jobs," Lasso told reporters after Correa announced the bill on Friday.

Produbanco's president, Abelardo Pachano, told the newspaper El Comercio that the proposed tax would "destabilize the banking industry, weaken it and clip its wings." The victims would be Ecuador's 7 million depositors, he said, who account for nearly half the small South American nation's 15 million people.

Lasso, 57, remains the chief stockholder in Guayaquil Bank and has not formally announced his candidacy.

Correa, who was first elected in 2006, has built a solid base of support through populist programs that have widened the social safety net and broadened investment in education.

He has doubled public spending, and Ecuador now devotes a greater share of its economy, 10 percent of gross domestic product, to public investment in infrastructure, education and other purposes than any other nation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A similar formula helped Correa's ally in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, win re-election on Oct. 7, though Correa has not moved to nationalize the private sector as Chavez has.

Instead, Correa has restricted the ability of businesses to expand into other industrial sectors and, in the case of banks, he's promoted consumer-protection measures, including a law that prevents banks from penalizing first-time home buyers of modest means if they default on mortgages.

Correa hasn't announced his candidacy for re-election, but the latest poll by the firm Cedatos gives him 55 percent support against 23 percent for Lasso, with other candidates dividing the rest. It surveyed 2,320 people in 15 cities and had an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.

Political scientist Jorge Leon of the Ecuador campus of FLACSO university called Correa's move a political masterstroke "because it puts the bankers in a terrible situation," making them scapegoats.

Correa, whose only previous job in government was as finance minister, has alienated bankers before, both at home and abroad. Under his watch in 2009, Ecuador defaulted on nearly $3.9 billion in external debt.

He has long blamed bankers for a financial crisis at the end of the 1990s that provoked a bloodless 2000 coup. The country was nearly at the point of hyperinflation and half of the country's 42 banks collapsed amid accusations of malfeasance.

The industry's profits have climbed steadily since Correa won election, from $239 million in 2006 to $393 million last year, even as banks were forced to reduce fees for credit cards, repatriate funds held abroad and purchase public debt.

Ecuador's private bankers association complains that it already pays the state about $309 million annually in taxes and other fees that eat up nearly 80 percent of its profits.

The director of the national revenue service, Carlos Marx Carrasco, contested that figure, claiming the banks only paid $170 million in taxes.

Correa's populist stand has won supporters such as Gilberto Albornoz, a 43-year-old Quito attorney.

"It's good that the bankers help the poorest," he said. "They turn themselves into millionaires with the money of the people and they should contribute to the country and the poorest."

But Carolina Holguin, a 32-year-old insurance company worker, said she worries the taxes will wind up hurting consumers.

"The money in the banks doesn't belong to the bankers. It belongs to us, the depositors, simple people, small, medium and big companies. Now we're going to have to think a lot before putting our savings in banks because the government is desperate to get more financial resources to spend."

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

Gonzalo Solano on Twitter: http://twitter.com/GESolano

Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak

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ECUADOR BEGINS TO ROAR ‘Fander Falconi. The Guardian. April 7, 2013
The jaguar is the tiger of the South American continent. Living in the Amazon rainforest, it symbolises agility, cunning and surprise. Ecuador is now being described as Latin America's jaguar. That's because not only have we broken with the orthodoxies of the Washington consensus but we are developing innovative economic alternatives of our own, born in the southern hemisphere.

Ecuador's transformation began in 2007, after the electoral victory of President Rafael Correa's so-called citizen's revolution. After six years in office, the revolution won a new democratic majority in February, with 57% of the vote in the presidential election and two-thirds of the seats in the parliament.

By rejecting the neoliberal recipes of privatisation, structural adjustment and curtailed demand, we have grown by 4.3% over the last five years despite the global slowdown. Central to this growth, and to the reduction of unemployment to the lowest rate in the region, has been public investment, which at 14% in 2011 is the highest in Latin America.

This is a key part of moving our economy away from reliance on commodity exports and mineral extraction, to one based on knowledge. We have also reformed and re-regulated the banking system, expanded the role of co-operatives and credit unions, and renegotiated lopsided agreements with multinational companies.

Our alternative model for society is based on the concept of "good living" – "buen vivir" in Spanish, or "sumak kausay" as it is in Quechua, our indigenous Andean language. Rooted in the ancient societies of the Andes, this is not a return to the past but looks to the future, rejecting narrow conceptions of development exclusively based on economic growth. And it rejects the false dichotomy between state and market in favour of a more complex interrelation of society with state, market and nature.

During the first term of the citizen's revolution, incomes were redistributed and poverty rapidly reduced. According to the UN, Ecuador cut inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, by more than any other Latin American country between 2007 and 2011 – a significant achievement in a region with the greatest concentration of social inequality in the world.

To do this, we have prioritised our population's rights over our commitments to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which forced Ecuador to repay its debt on unjust terms, meaning neglecting health, education, social infrastructure and public investment. In 2006 Ecuador's external debt service accounted for 24% of the state budget. Now it is only 4%, freeing up resources to transform lives.

In line with our values of sustainable development, Ecuador is the first country in the world whose constitution recognises the rights of nature. We have launched an internationally backed plan to stop the exploitation of oil in a large Amazon area, with the aim of reducing carbon emissions and providing resources to expand renewable energy.

We are working to deepen regional integration to boost development, aiming for a collective basis to meet economic and environmental challenges. We are convinced that "free trade agreements" would, at present, damage our country and be bad business for it.

Supported by the vast majority of its people, a historical process of building the "great Latin American nation" is under way. Already it offers lessons for the rest of the world: in how to increase social equality by putting the human being above capital; in innovative financial models to overcome the threat of crises; and in new conceptions of good living, based on social and environmental sustainability. Ecuador is at the heart of this transformation, offering some of the skills of the jaguar


4. Brazil:

JOHN LYONS. Wall Street Journal. November 28, 2012

SAO PAULO, Brazil—In Brazil, fresh corruption charges are threatening to shake the Workers Party of President Dilma Rousseff anew, even as judges are doling out jail terms in a previous embezzlement scandal that brought down senior party officials and tarred the legacy of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

On Wednesday, the senate said it would hold hearings into the new allegations on an undetermined date and call the country's justice minister and attorney general to testify. The two aren't suspected of wrongdoing.

So far, Federal Police have charged a group of officials, including a one-time aide to Mr. da Silva, in a cash-for-influence scheme that appears to have reached into numerous government agencies. The aide, Rosemary Noronha, was appointed presidential chief of staff for Sao Paulo by Mr. da Silva and held that position until she was fired on Saturday after the charges against her were unveiled.

Also fired so far in the widening scandal are an assistant attorney general and two brothers, Paulo and Rubens Vieira, directors of the national water and aviation agencies, respectively. Police allege that Ms. Noronha served as a conduit between corrupt government officials and people seeking official favors, such as jobs or favorable audits. Ms. Noronha, the Vieira brothers and the others reject the charges and are contesting them.

Supporters of the government say the new allegations are more evidence that Ms. Rousseff is serious about rooting out the corruption that has hampered government for decades. News reports of corruption scandals, such as hidden videos of officials taking bribes, are a long time staple of television news. What has changed, these supporters say, is that officials accused of corruption are increasingly facing charges and criminal trial—once a rare occurrence.

"This kind of thing has happened for a long time in Brazil. What is changing is that it is being combated. The real significance is the competent institutions now have a greater interest in investigating," said Cesar Carvalho, political analyst at CAC Consultoria in Brasilia.

Case in point was the sentencing this month of Mr. da Silva's one-time chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, to nearly 11 years in prison on corruption and other charges stemming from Mr. da Silva's first term in office. Mr. Dirceu and 24 others were convicted as part of a scheme to buy votes in congress, and judges are still handing out sentences in the case. Mr. Dirceu insists he isn't guilty.

The latest allegations are also a sign that Brazil has a long way to go to root out deep-seeded corruption. The latest case was uncovered because a government worker who said he had accepted around $50,000 to help a firm win a contract in the scheme decided to blow the whistle and take evidence to the Federal Police.

Another shift: Corruption allegations in Brazil are often aired first informally in news stories based on leaks and anonymous tips. Ms. Rousseff fired several officials at the outset of her term in 2010 who were the targets of such anonymously sourced articles.

But the latest case followed a more institutional path, coming in the form of official charges brought by the Federal Police as result of an investigation.

Indeed, the Federal Police, Brazil's version of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, has become increasingly proficient in using wire taps and other techniques to make corruption cases in recent years, gaining public trust in a country where skepticism about police is generally high. The fact that a whistle blower felt confident bringing such evidence to the Federal Police is a measure of the agency's growing credibility as legitimate corruption fighters, observers said.

Brazilians are broadly applauding the anti-corruption cases. At the same time, analysts say it may raise tension between Ms. Rousseff and her mentor Mr. da Silva, who was president from 2003 to 2010 and picked Ms. Rousseff to succeed him when he was prevented from running again due to term limits.

Mr. da Silva is still popular and plays an important role in party politics, including selecting candidates in local races and helping them campaign.

The former leader repeatedly denied the existence of a cash-for-vote scheme during his government. Ms. Rousseff, meantime, remained silent on the matter as the scandal went to trial and ultimately convicted Mr. da Silva's top aide, Mr. Dirceu.

The latest allegations are also close to Mr. da Silva. The chief of staff charged a linchpin in the alleged scheme, Ms. Noronha, traveled on several occasions with Mr. da Silva and also worked closely with Mr. Dirceu earlier in her career. Mr. da Silva has said he felt "stabbed in the back" after the allegations emerged that Ms. Noronha was trading favors.


Brazil looks likely to elect an extraordinary leader next weekend 
By Hugh O'Shaughnessy Sunday, 26 September 2010

Dilma Rousseff in her 1970 police mugshot, when she led a revolutionary group 
The world's most powerful woman will start coming into her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing to take her place as President of Brazil.
As head of state, president Dilma Rousseff would outrank Angela Merkel's Chancellor, and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State: her enormous country of 200 million people is revelling in its new oil wealth. Brazil's growth rate, rivalling China's, is one that Europe and Washington can only envy.

Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's presidential poll will be greeted with delight by millions. It marks the final demolition of the "national security state", an arrangement that conservative governments in the US and Europe once regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while favouring their rich friends.

Ms Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant to Brazil and his schoolteacher wife, has benefited from being, in effect, the prime minister of the immensely popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former union leader. But, with a record of determination and success (which includes appearing to have conquered lymphatic cancer), this wife, mother and grandmother will be her own woman. The polls say she has built up an unassailable lead – of more than 50 per cent compared with less than 30 per cent – over her nearest rival, an uninspiring man of the centre called Jose Serra. Few doubt that she will be installed in the Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia in January.

Like President Jose Mujica of, Brazil's neighbour, Ms Rousseff is unashamed of a past as an urban guerrilla which included battling the generals and spending time in jail as a political prisoner. As a little girl growing up in the provincial city of Belo Horizonte, she says she dreamed successively of becoming a ballerina, a firefighter and a trapeze artist. The nuns at her school took her class to the city's poor area to show them the vast gaps between the middle-class minority and the vast majority of the poor. She remembers that when a young beggar with sad eyes came to her family's door she tore a currency note in half to share with him, not knowing that half a banknote had no value. 

Her father, Pedro, died when she was 14, but by then he had introduced her to the novels of Zola and Dostoevski. After that, she and her siblings had to work hard with their mother to make ends meet. By 16 she was in POLOP (Workers' Politics), a group outside the traditional Brazilian Communist Party that sought to bring socialism to those who knew little about it. 
The generals seized power in 1964 and decreed a reign of terror to defend what they called "national security". She joined secretive radical groups that saw nothing wrong with taking up arms against an illegitimate military. Besides cosseting the rich and crushing trade unions and the underclass, the generals censored the press, forbidding editors from leaving gaps in newspapers to show where news had been suppressed. 

Ms Rousseff ended up in the clandestine VAR-Palmares (Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard). In the 1960s and 1970s, members of such organisations seized foreign diplomats for ransom: a US ambassador was swapped for a dozen political prisoners; a German ambassador was exchanged for 40 militants; a Swiss envoy swapped for 70. They also shot foreign torture experts sent to train the generals' death squads. Though she says she never used weapons, she was eventually rounded up and tortured by the secret police in Brazil's equivalent to Abu Ghraib, the Tiradentes prison in Sao Paulo. She was given a 25-month sentence for "subversion" and freed after three years. Today she openly confesses to having "wanted to change the world".

In 1973 she moved to the prosperous southern state of do Sul, where her second husband, Carlos Araujo, a lawyer, was finishing a four-year term as a political prisoner (her first marriage with a young left-winger, Claudio Galeno, had not survived the strains of two people being on the run in different cities). She went back to university, started working for the state government in 1975, and had a daughter, Paula. 

In 1986, she was named finance chief Alegre, the state capital, where her political talents began to blossom. Yet the 1990s were bitter-sweet years for her. In 1993 she was named secretary of energy for the state, and pulled off the coup of vastly increasing power production, ensuring the state was spared the power cuts that plagued the rest of the country. 
She had 1,000km of new electric power lines, new dams and thermal power stations built while persuading citizens to switch off the lights whenever they could. Her political star started shining brightly. But in 1994, after 24 years together, she separated from Mr Araujo, though apparently on good terms. At the same time she was torn between academic life and politics, but her attempt to gain a doctorate in social sciences failed in 1998.

In 2000 she threw her lot in with Lula and his Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party which set its sights successfully on combining economic growth with an attack on poverty. The two immediately hit it off and she became his first energy minister in 2003. Two years later he made her his chief of staff and has since backed her as his successor. She has been by his side as Brazil has found vast new offshore oil deposits, aiding a leader whom many in the European and US media were denouncing a decade ago as a extreme left-wing wrecker to pull 24 million Brazilians out of poverty. Lula stood by her in April last year as she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, a condition that was declared under control a year ago. Recent reports of financial irregularities among her staff do not seem to have damaged her popularity.

Ms Rousseff is likely to invite President Mujica of Uruguay to her inauguration in the New Year. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay – other successful South American leaders who have, like her, weathered merciless campaigns of denigration in the Western media – are also sure to be there. It will be a celebration of political decency – and feminism.

Female representation: A woman's place... is in the government
In recent years, female political representation has undergone significant growth, with dramatic changes occurring in unexpected corners of the globe. In some countries women are dominating cabinets and even parliamentary chambers. By comparison, the UK falls far behind, with only 22 per cent of seats in the Commons currently held by women. 
Bolivia In the Bolivian cabinet, 10 men are now matched by 10 women. In 2009, women won 25 per cent of seats in the lower chamber, and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.
Costa Rica In 2010, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber. 
Argentina In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber and 47 per cent in the upper chamber.
Cuba In 2009, women won 41 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
Rwanda In 2009, women won 56 per cent of seats in the lower chamber and 35 per cent in the upper chamber.
Mozambique In 2009, women won 39 per cent of seats in the lower chamber. 
Angola In 2009, women won 38 per cent of seats in the lower chamber. 
Switzerland Has a female-dominated cabinet for the first time. In 2007, women won 29 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
Germany In 2009, the cabinet had six women and 10 men. That year, women won 33 per cent of lower chamber seats.
Spain Nine women compared with eight men in cabinet. In 2008, women won 37 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
Norway Equal numbers of men and women in the cabinet. Women won 40 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
Denmark Nine women and 10 men in cabinet. In 2007, women won 23 per cent of seats in the lower chamber.
Netherlands Three women and nine men in cabinet. In 2010, women won 41 per cent of seats in the lower chamber. 
Charlotte Sewell

Leonardo Boff - Theologian - Earthcharter Commission

Due to the economic contraction caused by the present financial crisis, the number of hungry people has jumped, according to FAO, from 860 million to 1.2 billion. This perverse fact presents an ethical and political challenge. How can we attend the vital needs of these millions and millions of persons? 

Historically, this has been a big challenge, because it has never been possible to fully satisfy the demand for food, be it for reasons of weather, soil fertility, or lack of social organization. Except for the first paleolithic era, when the population was small and the means of life were abundant, hunger has existed throughout all of history. Food distribution has almost always been unequal. 

The curse of hunger is not actually a technical problem. Techniques exist to produce with extraordinary efficacy. Food production exceeds the growth of world population, but it is distributed badly. 20% of humanity uses 80% of the means of life: 80% of humanity must make do with only 20% of those means. This is where the injustice lies. 

This perverse situation is caused by humanity's lack of ethical sensitivity towards the other. It is as if we had totally forgotten our ancestral origins, and the initial cooperation that enabled us to become humans. 

This deficit of humanity results from a type of society that favors the individual over society, that values private property more than solidarian co-participation, competition over cooperation: a society that gives more weight to values linked to masculinity (in men and women) such as rationality, power, and the use of force, than to the values linked to the feminine (also in both man and women), such as sensibility towards the processes of life, caring, and the inclination towards cooperation. 

As it can be deduced, the current ethic is egotistical and excluding. It is not at the service of the lives of all, and their needed care, but at the service of certain individuals or groups, to the exclusion of others. 

At the root of the curse of hunger lies a basic inhumanity. If we do not strengthen the ethic of solidarity, the caring by some for others, there will be no way of overcoming it. 
It is important to consider that the human disaster of hunger is also a political one. Politics relates to the organization of society, the exercise of power, and the common good. For several centuries in the West, and now in a globalized manner, political power has been hostage to economic power, expressed in the capitalist form of production. Profits are not democratically shared to benefit everyone, but privatized by those who hold property, power, and knowledge; only secondarily for the benefit of others. That is why political power does not serve the common good, but creates inequalities that represent true social injustice, and now, on a worldwide basis. As a result, millions and millions of persons have only left-over crumbs that are not sufficient to fulfill vital necessities. Or they simply die from diseases related to hunger, mostly innocent children. 

If these values are not inverted, if the economy is not ruled by politics, politics not guided by ethics, and ethics not inspired by basic solidarity, it will be impossible to solve world hunger and poor nutrition. The piercing cries of millions of hungry people continuously rise to heaven, with no efficacious reply from anywhere to silence those cries. 

Finally, it must be recognized that hunger also results from the lack of understanding of the role of women in agriculture. According to an evaluation by FAO, women produce a large part of what is consumed in the world: from 80% – 98% in Sub-Saharan Africa; 50% – 80% in Asia, and 30% in East and Central Europe. There will be no food security without giving the women in agriculture more power to decide the destiny of life on the Earth. Women represent 60% of humanity. By their nature, women are more linked to life and its reproduction. It is absolutely unacceptable that due to the mere fact of being women, they are denied title to the land, access to credit, and to other cultural goods. Their reproductive rights are also not recognized, and they lack access to the technical knowledge necessary to improve food production. 

Absent such measures, Gandhi's critique still resonates: «hunger is an insult; it degrades, dehumanizes and destroys the body and the spirit… if not the very soul; it is the most lethal form of violence that exists». 

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By Mark Weisbrot This column was published by The Guardian Unlimited (UK) 10/27/2010 

The sudden death of Néstor Kirchner today is a great loss not only to Argentina but to the region and the world. Kirchner took office as president in May 2003, when Argentina was in the initial stages of its recovery from a terrible recession. His role in rescuing Argentina’s economy is comparable to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression of the United States. Like Roosevelt, Kirchner had to stand up not only to powerful moneyed interests but also to most of the economics profession, which was insisting that his policies would lead to disaster. They proved wrong, and Kirchner was right.

Argentina’s recession from 1998-2002 was indeed comparable to the U.S. Great Depression in terms of unemployment, which peaked at more than 21 percent, and lost output (about 20 percent of GDP). The majority of Argentines, who had until then enjoyed living standards among the highest in Latin America, were pushed below the poverty line. In December of 2002 and January 2003, the country underwent a massive devaluation, a world-historical record sovereign default on $95 billion of debt, and a collapse of the financial system.

Although some of the heterodox policies that ultimately ensured Argentina’s rapid recovery were begun in the year before Kirchner took office, he had to follow them through some tough challenges to make Argentina the fastest growing economy in the region. 

One big challenge came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Fund had been instrumental in bringing about the collapse – by supporting, among other bad policies, an overvalued exchange rate with ever increasing indebtedness at rising interest rates. But when Argentina’s economy inevitably collapsed the Fund offered no help, just a series of conditions that would impede the economy’s recovery. The IMF was trying to get a better deal for the foreign creditor. Kirchner rightly refused the Fund’s conditions, and the IMF refused to roll over Argentina’s debt.

In September of 2003 the battle came to a head when Kirchner temporarily defaulted to the Fund rather than accept its conditions. It was an extraordinarily gutsy move – no middle income country had ever defaulted to the Fund, only a handful of failed or pariah states like Iraq or Congo. That’s because the IMF was seen as having the power to cut off even trade credits to a country that defaulted to them. No one knew for sure what would happen. But the Fund backed down and rolled over the loans. 

Argentina went on to grow at an average of more than 8 percent annually through 2008, pulling more than 11 million people in a country of 40 million out of poverty. The policies of the Kirchner government, including the Central Bank targeting of a stable and competitive real exchange rate, and taking a hard line against the defaulted creditors – were not popular in Washington or among the business press. But they worked. 

Kirchner’s successful face-off with the IMF came at a time when the Fund was rapidly losing influence in the world, after its failures in the Asian economic crisis that preceded Argentina’s collapse. It showed the world that a country could defy the IMF and live to tell about it, and contributed to the ensuing loss of IMF influence in Latin America and middle-income countries generally. Since the IMF was at the time the most important avenue of Washington’s influence in low-and-middle-income countries, this also contributed to the demise of United States influence, and especially in the recently-won independence of South America.

And Kirchner played a major role in consolidating this independence, working with the other left governments including Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Through institutions such as UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), MERCOSUR (the South American trading bloc), and numerous commercial agreements, South America was able to dramatically alter its trajectory. They successfully backed Bolivia’s government against an extra-parliamentary challenge from the right in 2008, and most recently stood behind Ecuador in that attempted coup there a few weeks ago. Unfortunately they did not succeed in overturning last year’s military coup in Honduras, where U.S. backing of the coup government proved decisive. But Argentina, together with UNASUR, still refuses to allow Honduras back into the OAS, despite heavy lobbying from Washington.

Kirchner also earned respect from human rights organizations for his willingness to prosecute and extradite some of the military officers accused of crimes against humanity during the 1976-1983 dictatorship – reversing the policies of previous governments. Together with his wife, current president Cristina Fernández, Néstor Kirchner has made an enormous contribution in helping to move Argentina and the region in a progressive direction. Although these efforts have not generally won him much favor in Washington and in international business circles, history will record him not only as a great president but an independence hero of Latin America.

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El Salvador:

By Mark Weisbrot 
Center for Economic and Policy Research The Guardian (UK) March 18, 2009 

Last Sunday's election in El Salvador, in which the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) won the presidency, didn't get a lot of attention in the
international press. It's a relatively small country (7million people on land the size of Massachusetts) and fairly poor (per capita income about half the regional average). And left governments have become the norm in Latin America:
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have all elected left governments over the last decade. South America is now more independent of the United States than Europe is.
But the FMLN's victory in El Salvador has a special significance for this hemisphere.

Central America and the Caribbean have long been the United States' "back yard" more than anywhere else. The people of the region have paid a terrible price - in blood, poverty, and underdevelopment - for their geographical and political
proximity to the United States. The list of U.S. interventions in the area would take the rest of this column, stretching from the 19th century (Cuba, in 1898) to the 21st, with the overthrow of Haiti's democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (for the second time) in 2004.

Those of us who can remember the 1980s can see President Ronald Reagan on television warning that "El Salvador is closer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts" as he sent guns and money to the Salvadoran military and its affiliated death squads. Their tens of thousands of targets – for torture, terror, and murder - were overwhelmingly civilians, including Catholic priests, nuns, and the heroic Archbishop Oscar Romero.  It seems ridiculous now that Reagan could have convinced the U.S. Congress that the people who won Sunday's election were not only a threat to our national security, but one that justified horrific atrocities. But he did. At the same time millions of Americans - including many church-based activists - joined a movement to stop U.S. support for the
terror, as well as what the United Nations later called genocide in Guatemala, and the U.S.-backed insurgency in Nicaragua (which was also a war against civilians).

Now we have come full circle. In 2007, Guatemalans elected a social democratic president for the first time since 1954, when the CIA intervened to overthrow the government. Last September, President Zelaya of Honduras - which served as a
U.S. base for U.S. military and paramilitary operations in the 1980s -- joined with Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez when they expelled their U.S. ambassadors: Zelaya defended their actions and postponed the accreditation of the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, saying that "the world powers must treat us fairly and with respect." In 2006 Nicaraguans elected Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas, the same president that Washington had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to topple in the 1980s.

El Salvador's election was not only another step toward regional independence but a triumph of hope against fear, much as in the U.S. presidential election of 2008. The ruling ARENA party, which was founded by right-wing death squad
leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, made fear their brand: fear of another civil war; fear of bad relations with the United States; fear of a "communist dictatorship." Almost comically, they tried to make the election into a referendum on Hugo Chávez. (Venezuela kept its distance from the election, with no endorsements or statements other than its desire to have good relations with whomever won).

ARENA was joined by Republican Members of Congress from the United States, who tried to promote the idea that Salvadorans - about a quarter of whom live in the U.S. - would face extra-ordinary problems with immigration and sending
remittances home if the FMLN won. Although these threats were completely without merit, the right's control over the media made them real for many Salvadorans. In the 2004 election the Bush administration joined this effort to intimidate Salvadoran voters, and it helped the right win.

The right's control over the media, its abuse of government in the elections, and its vast funding advantage (there are no restrictions on foreign funding) led José Antonio de Gabriel, the deputy chief of the European Union's observer mission to comment on "the absence of a level playing field." It's amazing that the FMLN was still able to win, and testimony to the high level of discipline, organization, and
self- sacrifice that comes from having a leadership that has survived war and hell on earth.

This time around, the Obama administration, after receiving thousands of phone calls - thanks to the solidarity movement that stems from the 1980s -- issued a statement of neutrality on the Friday before the election. The administration appears divided on El Salvador as with the rest of Latin America's left; at least one of Obama's highest-level advisors on Latin America favored the right-wing ruling party. But the statement of neutrality was a clear break from the Bush administration.

El Salvador's new president Mauricio Funes, a popular former TV journalist, will face many challenges, especially on the economic front. The country exports 10 percent of its GDP to the United States, and receives another 18 percent in
remittances from Salvadorans living there. Along with sizeable private investment flows, this makes El Salvador very vulnerable to the deep U.S. recession. El Salvador has also adopted the U.S. dollar as its national currency. This means that it cannot use exchange rate policy and is severely limited in monetary policy to counteract the recession. On top of this, it has recently signed an agreement with the IMF that commits the government to not pursuing a fiscal stimulus
for this year. And the FMLN will not have a majority in the Congress.

But the majority of Salvadorans, who are poor or near- poor, decided that the left would be more likely than the right to look out for them in hard times. That's a reasonable conclusion, and one that is shared by most of the hemisphere.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net).

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Michael Astor, AP. November 13, 2012

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba for the 21st year in a row.

The final tally Tuesday was 188-3, with Israel and Palau joining the United States. The Marshall Islands and Micronesia both abstained. Last year's tally for the symbolic measure was almost identical, 186-2, with three abstentions.

The embargo was first enacted in 1960 following Cuba's nationalization of properties belonging to U.S. citizens and corporations. Sanctions against the Caribbean nation were further strengthened to a near-total embargo in 1962.

Speaking before the General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez railed against the embargo calling the U.S. policy "inhumane, failed and anachronistic."

"Keeping this policy in force is not in the national interest of the United States. Quite on the contrary, it harms the interests of its citizens and companies - especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment - which, according to every poll, are demanding a change of policy," Rodriguez said. "What's the point of encroaching on the constitutional and civil rights and the freedom of travel of Americans by preventing them from visiting the Island when they can visit any other place in the planet, including those where their country is waging wars?"

Rodriguez added that although U.S. President Barack Obama had offered a new beginning with Cuba, after the 2008 election, "the reality of the last four years has been characterized by a persistent tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade."

The United States has made clear that although some restrictions on travel and remittances have been eased under the Obama administration it is not prepared to lift the sanctions entirely until the communist-run nation enacts more far-reaching political and economic reforms.

Ronald D. Godard, a senior U.S. adviser for western hemisphere affairs, defended the embargo as a "one of the tools in our overall efforts to encourage respect for the human rights and basic freedoms to which the United Nations itself is committed."

"Cuba's resolution seeks to identify an external scapegoat for the island's economic problems when they are principally caused by the economic policies that Cuban government has pursued for the past half century," Godard said.



    Fox News Latino.November 15, 2012

Barack Obama lives in the White House. UK Prime Minister David Cameron resides at the famed 10 Downing St. Even Venezuela’s socialist leader Hugo Chávez calls the cushy confines of the Miraflores Presidential Palace home.

But what about Uruguay’s José Mujica?

The diminutive president of the Southern Cone nation has shunned the country’s Residencia de Suárez for the cozy but modest quarters of his small home on the outskirts of the capital, Montevideo.

Dubbed by many media organizations as the world’s “poorest” president, Mujica and his wife keep house on a small farm surrounded by other tiny homes and guarded by only two police officers and his three-legged dog, Manuela.

"I've lived like this most of my life," Mujica told the BBC. "I can live well with what I have."

Unlike his forebearers and counterparts around the world who live in comfort and are chauffeured around in limousines, Mujica donates 90 percent of his salary $12,000 monthly salary to charity organizations benefiting the poor and small businesses and his means of transport is a beat-up 1987 Volkswagon Beetle worth about $1,800 – or the equivalent of his annual personal wealth declaration.

This year he bumped his wealth declaration up to $215,000 – only after declaring his wife’s assets of a land, tractors and a house – which still pales in comparison to Vice-President Danilo Astori's declared wealth and former President Tabare Vasquez’s bank account.

“I'm called 'the poorest president,' but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more," Mujica said. "This is a matter of freedom. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself."

Mujica, a former member of the leftist guerrilla group the Tupamaros, spent 14 years in prison during the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s and has four bullet wounds from action in the underground movement.

Elected in 2009, Mujica has been praised by some Uruguayans for how he lives and for his support of the country’s poor, but criticized by others for not using the country's recent economic prosperity to improve public health and education.

As his popularity falls below 50 percent for the first time since his election, Mujica has faced strong opposition for not vetoing a bill that legalized abortions and strongly supporting the legalization of marijuana.

Despite the criticism the Uruguayan leader has faced, he says he plans to remain true to his beliefs and keep living the way he wants to.

"I may appear to be an eccentric old man... But this is a free choice,” he said.



Gloria Muñoz Ramírez. America’s Program. January 4, 2013

Imagine close to 50,000 people marching in absolute silence, in five different townships, from two to five hours apart. Not a word, nor even a greeting. Just a raised fist in a sign of strength, determination and unity. Streets overflowing with masked faces and wordlessness. It is a huge demonstration of force–the largest in the entire history of the Zapatista movement–just days before the 19th anniversary of their first public appearance and 30 years since their founding.

What’s behind a mass mobilization like this, with no more resources than what the communities themselves can offer? Without the spending accounts of political parties or other organizations that only mobilize with government money?

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, by its Spanish initials) has taken a stance again. It wasn’t a surprise like the first dawn of 1994, since the Dec. 21, 2012 reappearance had been announced beforehand. But no one knew it would be in silence and with greater strength than two decades ago. Twenty years ago no one imagined the EZLN even existed and although the state had enough information to predict the attack, it preferred to wait to act to avoid dampening the parade of its entrance into the First World with NAFTA. Those days of January 1994, the government immediately ordered military operations, but it had already been surprised, along with the rest of the world. The same thing happened 19 years later, this time without arms.

With the federal army deployed throughout the territory with the pretext of the war on drugs, Chiapas is the most militarized state in the country. In a show of defiance, the Zapatistas retake the streets and the two flags that they have always flown—the EZLN flag and the Mexican flag—wave freely. They carried these two flags in 1994, they have walked with them throughout the years, they always bear them. They earned the right to traverse the country with their message of rebellion, with an army that backs them up, from the first twelve days of combat. No one can deny then that right.

Five presidents have ignored their demands. All have wanted to annihilate them, by bullets or with expensive government counterinsurgency programs. Slander and smear campaigns have surrounded them. The last year has seen a flurry of rumors of the death or illness of the spokesperson and military chief, subcomandante Marcos, who now has proved alive and well, like the tens of thousands of indigenous people of the organization who make up the backbone of the movement.

The silence of the march and the brief communiqué afterward revived expectations. What’s next? When? Not only those from below are asking, Enrique Peña Nieto must also be wondering, along with the many-colored and many-faceted powers that be, since it is clear that even though they avoid speaking their name and pretend that therefore they don’t exist, the demonstration of Dec. 21 is only the beginning. They’re there, and they’re legion. They are rebels. No one can buy them off. They are not divided. Their spokesperson is still their spokesperson. They are coming.

They surprised Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1994, in the middle of his New Year dinner and what was not only the end of his administration, but also, and for the elite, the beginning of a new era–one that was not supposed to include an insurrection from below. A declaration of war and the military takeover of seven municipal seats by an indigenous army was Salinas’ send-off.

Ernesto Zedillo was greeted in office with the message: “Welcome to the nightmare”. This was followed by a position that has remain unchanged since then: “You should disappear, not only because you represent a historic relation, a historic aberration, a negation of humanity, and a cynical cruelty; you should disappear also because you represent an insult to the intelligence. You made us possible; you made us grow. We are your other, your Siamese opposite. To get rid of us, you must disappear.” The Zapatistas began the Zedillo administration with the Third Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, in which they proposed the creation of a Movement for National Liberation.

The third presidency the Zapatistas experienced was headed by Vicente Fox Quezada, of the National Action Party (PAN), who broke with more than 70 years of PRI hegemony.  They told Fox from the first day of his government: “There should be no doubt. We are your opponents.” With this message one of the most important mobilizations of the Zapatista movement began—the March the Color of the Earth.

The re-election of the PAN to the federal government with Felipe Calderón Hinojosa at the helm was the next time the EZLN saw a change in government. This was also the launching of the Other Campaign, announced the first day of 2006: “We are going to begin to walk to keep our promise made in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. I will be the first to come out,” said Subcomandante Marcos, “to see what the path we will be walking is like and if there are dangers, and to learn to recognize the face and the word of our fellow travelers. To unite the Zapatista struggle with the struggle of workers in the cities and countryside of our country called Mexico.”

Today, five administrations later–with the important construction of autonomy in their villages, after many encounters and dis-encounters, with more than a few pains–the first message to the return of the PRI, and especially and as always to the people, is absolutely clear: “We are here.”

Gloria Muñoz Ramírez is the director of Desinformémonos, www.desinformemonos.org, where this article was first published in Spanish and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program at www.cipamericas.org.

Translation: Laura Carlsen  Photos: Tim Russo, Leonidas Oikonomakis



by Raúl Zibechi
(Raúl Zibechi is a radio and print journalist, writer, and political theorist from Uruguay.)

Translated by Kristin Bricker

The Zapatista communities' mobilization on December 21 and the Zapatista National Liberation Army's (EZLN's) three communiques on the 30th of the same month were received with joy and hope by many anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movements in Latin America. Immediately, these movements' media outlets reflected on the importance of the mass mobilization, which comes during a difficult moment for those who are still determined to resist the system of death that misgoverns us.

These past years have been especially complicated for movements that are determined to build a new world from below.  In most South American countries, repression of popular sectors has not ceased, despite the fact that the majority of the governments call themselves progressive.  The have implemented a set of "social policies" designed, according to them, to "combat poverty," but in reality they seek to impede poor peoples' autonomous organization or to neutralize it when it has already reached a certain grade of development.

Progressive social policies, as demonstrated by the cases of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, amongst others, have not managed to reduce inequality, nor redistribute wealth, nor carry out structural reforms, but they have been very effective when it comes to dividing popular organizations and in not a few cases detour the struggle's aims towards secondary issues.  They haven't touched land ownership and other means of production.  Social policies seek to mitigate the effects of accumulation by dispossession without modifying the policies that sustain this model: open-pit mining, monoculture, hydroelectric dams, and large infrastructure projects.

With the exception of Chile and Peru, where the student movement and mining resistance remain alive, in the majority of the countries the initiative has been passed on to the governments, anti-systemic movements are weaker and more isolated, and we have lost strategic goals.  Ever since formidable offensives against neoliberal privatization were launched, urban territorial work has found itself in an alley with a difficult short-term exit since ministries of social development, of solidarity economics and others have begun to infiltrate territories of resistance with programs that range from monetary transfers to poor families to various "support" for productive undertakings.  Initially, the movements receive this support with the hope of growing stronger, but after a short while they see how it spreads demoralization and disintegration in their ranks.

What is a grassroots collective to do when it builds a popular high school in a neighborhood, with great sacrifice based in collective work, when it sees how quickly the Government creates another high school in the area with better infrastructure and identical courses, and it even names it after known revolutionaries?  The answer is that we don't know.  We still haven't learned to work in territories that were once ours and are now spaces invaded by legions of workers and social workers with very progressive--and even radical--discourses, but who work for those above.

Zapatismo has grown stronger throughout this policy of military and "social" blockade and annihilation, where the State thoroughly dedicated itself to division through material "aid" as a complement to military and paramilitary campaigns.  That is why many of us received the December 21 mobilization with great joy.  Not because we suspected that they were no longer there, something that only those who listen to the media can believe, but rather because we proved that it is possible to go through the hell of military aggression combined with social counterinsurgency policies.  To know, study, and understand the Zapatista experience is more urgent than ever for those of us who live under the progressive model.

It is true that progressivism plays a positive role regarding the Yankee domination in that it seeks a certain autonomy for a local and regional capitalist development.  Faced with anti-systemic movements, however, those that try to follow the path of social democracy do not differentiate themselves at all from previous governments.  It is necessary to understand the duality within a single model: the progressive collision with Washington's interests but within the same logic of accumulation by dispossession.  In the strictest sense it has to do with a dispute between those who are the beneficiaries of the exploitation and oppression of those below, a role in which the local bourgeoisie and the administrators of the "leftist" parties allied with certain business unionism, claim part of the spoils.

The Zapatista journey leaves some lessons for the movements and the people who live "blockaded" by progressivism.

In the first place, the importance of militant commitment, the strength of values and principles, of not selling oneself out nor giving up despite how strong and powerful the enemy might appear and despite how isolated and weak the anti-systemic movements might be at a given moment.

Second, the necessity of following what one believes and thinking beyond immediate results, supposed successes or momentary failures, in contexts that are often fabricated by the media.  Persisting in the creation of movements that are neither institutionalized nor prisoners to electoral time frames is the only way to build strongly and long term.

Third, the importance of a different way of doing politics, without which there would be nothing beyond what which is media, institutional, or electoral.  An intense debate exists in not a few South American movements about the benefit of participating in elections or of institutionalizing themselves in various forms as a way of avoiding the isolation from territorial work and to enter into "real" politics.  The Zapatistas show us that there are other ways of doing politics that don't revolve around the occupation of the State's institutions and that consist in creating, down below, forms of making collective decisions, producing and reproducing our lives based in "governing by obeying."  This political culture is not adequate for those who try to use the common people as ladders for individual aspirations.  That's why so many politicians and intellectuals within the system reject those new forms, within which they must subordinate themselves to the collective.

Fourth, autonomy as a strategic aim and as a daily practice.  Thanks to the way in which the communities resolve their necessities, we have learned that autonomy cannot just be a declaration of intentions (as valuable as that might be) but rather it must be based in material autonomy, from food and health to education and the form of decision-making, that is, the form of governing ourselves.

Over the past few years we have seen experiences inspired by Zapatismo outside of Chiapas, including in some cities, which demonstrates that this is not about a political culture that is only valid in indigenous communities in that Mexican state.

Source: gara.naiz.info/paperezkoa/20130106/381125/es/La-tenaz-persistencia-zapatista:01/11



After years of silence, secluded in their base communities in Mexico's impoverished south, indigenous Zapatista rebels have re-emerged with a series of public statements in recent weeks, attempting to reignite passions for their demands of "land, liberty, work and peace".

In December, 40,000 Zapatista supporters marched through villages in Chiapas, re-asserting their presence. In January and February, Subcomandante Marcos - the Zapatistas' pipe-smoking, non-indigenous spokesman and an international media darling - issued a series of communiques slamming the government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which assumed power in December. "Our pains won't be lessened by opening ourselves up to those that hurt all over the world," Marcos wrote in late January, rallying supporters. "We will resist. We will struggle. Maybe we'll die. But one, ten, one hundred times, we'll always win."

The group first made international headlines on January 1, 1994, when they captured six towns in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state and one of the country's poorest regions. The Rand Corporation, a research group with links to the US military, said Chiapas is "characterized by tremendous age-old gaps between the wealthy and impoverished - kept wide by privileged landowners who ran feudal fiefdoms with private armies". For nearly two decades, the Zapatistas have attempted to build a system of autonomous governance, emphasizing indigenous dignity and collective agriculture. Indigenous members of the group could not be reached by Al Jazeera for comment, due in part to a lack of easy phone access.

The group had been quiet in recent years before the December rally and subsequent communiques. "They have been busy, building up their base as a social movement at the community level, even if they hadn't been in the media," Mark Berger, visiting professor of defense analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School, told Al Jazeera. There are between 100,000 and 200,000 people living in communities which support the Zapatistas, he said.

In recent communiques, Marcos has described Mexico's government as a "zombie state" controlled by the elite, a statement which likely resonates among some sectors of the population in a country plagued by pervasive inequality and corruption. Previous attempts to unify Mexico's social movements, from independent trade unionists, to feminists, students, punks and other indigenous people, have been met with mixed results. The "Other Campaign", the last major outreach drive launched by the Zapatistas in 2006, was largely unsuccessful in building a national movement. "The Other Campaign was very critical of electoral politics and it marked a fracture among the Mexican left," Alán Arias Marín, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Al Jazeera. "Locally [in Chiapas] the movement still has support."



Visionary, military strategist, and organizer of the people, these are just some of the characteristics of the new Subcomandante of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). During the first days of January 1994 he was known as Major Moisés, later in 2003 he would fill the position of Lieutenant Colonel. Today [Feb. 14] he is presented by the Zapatista military leader and spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, as the new Subcomandante of the insurgent forces.__"We want to introduce to you one of our many selves, our compañero Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. He watches over our door and with his voice is the voices of all of us.  We ask you to listen to him, that is, to look at him as we look at ourselves, " stated Subcomandante Marcos in an announcement on the new appointment.

Moisés is one of the best-known insurgent commanders in the public life of the EZLN. On February 16, 1994, during the handover of General Absalon Castellanos - an EZLN prisoner of war - he appeared for the first time directing what would be the beginning of Zapatista public events after the start of the war. It was an act full of symbolism that ended with the exchange of the former Governor of Chiapas, known for his ruthlessness, for hundreds of Zapatista prisoners that were captured during the first days of the war. It was an act used to present an ethical movement that had sentenced him [the former governor] to carry the weight of forgiveness of those he had humiliated, imprisoned and murdered.__"I come to hand over the prisoner of war, General Absalon Castellanos Dominguez. In short: The People's Army, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, has served as being the go between of warriors and rivals. The value of military honor is the only bridge. Only real men use it. Those who fight with honor, speak with honor." These were the first words heard from the then Major Moisés, during one of the most emotional events of the last 19 years of struggle: the first appearance of the Zapatista support bases in Guadalupe Tepeyac.

Subcomandante Moisés, a native Tzetal, came to the Zapatista organization, he says, in 1983.  He started out by being sent to "the city" as part of his preparation and there, in a clandestine house, he met Subcomandante Pedro, who would become his commander, and Moisés his right hand man. Later he would become very close to Subcomandante Marcos. Moisés was one of those who went to organize the people in the Tojolabal valley in Las Margaritas. He went from village to village, family to family, explaining the reasons of the struggle.__He is short in height but with an enormous heart and political vision, always wearing his black military hat, and wields a sense of humor that deeply honors the Tzeltal. Moisés was with Marcos when they had to withdraw after the government betrayed the EZLN on February 9, 1995. This is why much of the literature published during that period paints them as always being together, and [Moisés] as Marco's squire.__Yet, he was witness to one of the last meetings between Subcomandante Marcos and Pedro, being Pedro's second in command. Moisés recounted that the two commanders discussed the reasons for why they both wanted to go to war. Both said the other had to stay, if one fell, the other would need to take his place. Yet, they both left, the first went to seize San Cristobal de las Casas and the second Las Margaritas, where he was killed in combat that same morning. It was in that moment, with the insurgent troops without their commander, that the now new Subcomandante assumed command and control of the operation in the region.__Later, after the handover of Gen. Absalom, the Cathedral dialogues and the opening up of rebel territory to civil society and the media, the vast majority of the Zapatista's public activities moved to the Tojolabal valley, where Subcomandante Marcos appeared regularly alongside with then Major Moisés, Commander Tacho, and other military and civilian leaders of the region.__During those first months and years, Moisés, in addition to his work within the organization, presented himself as a representative for most of the national and international civil society. He offered media interviews to explain the beginnings of the Zapatista struggle, the content and reasons of their peaceful and political initiatives and, later, the function and purpose of the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, of which he was a promoter of its antecedent, the Association of Autonomous Municipalities.

In 2005, with the launch of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle, he was appointed by the General Command to be in charge of international affairs, in a commission known as "The Intergalactic". During that period, while Delegate Zero (Subcomandante Marcos) traveled the country in the Other Campaign, the then Lieutenant Colonel received visitors from other countries and sent greetings to international meetings.

At the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the EZLN, Moisés - open, and known for his patience and disposition, said: "Our way is that we practice first and then make theory. And that's how it was after the betrayal, when the political parties and government rejected the recognition of indigenous peoples; we begin to see how we were going to do it. "__Certainly Subcomandante Moisés can proudly subscribe to his own words when he said: "I think if you are going to be revolutionary, you have to be so until the end, because if one does not fulfill their full responsibility or they abandon the people, well then none of it is worth it. We who are engaged in struggle, our brothers and sisters from other states, of this same country Mexico, and the world, we need to assume that responsibilityŠ"

Which he does.

Source: Desinformémonos: 02/16


 10. Ecuador

        Lee Brown. Huffington Post. February 19, 2013

Government after government across Europe has been thrown out since the great recession began to drive back living standards. Whether on the centre-left, such as Gordon Brown and Zapatero, or on the right with Berlusconi and Sarkozy, political rejection has started to look inevitable.

But Rafael Correa's massive re-election win in Ecuador yesterday was a reminder to his European counterparts that political defeat is no iron law of politics. Correa's first term in office began just as the global economic crisis kicked in. Yet he has just been re-elected with nearly 60% of the vote and a 30 point lead over his main rival, a margin any European leader can only dream of.

So what lessons should politicians in Europe draw from this development in South America?

Firstly, Correa's growing popularity has been driven by his rejection of austerity. Posed as the only option in Europe, Correa has dismissed this 'suicide pact' in favour of economic stimulus favoured by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. The outcome is clear: stagnation in Europe and strong economic growth in Ecuador, averaging 4.35% over the past five years.

The boost to the economy has been based on massive investment in the country's long neglected infrastructure. Public investment increased six-fold between 2006 and 2012 and is now Latin America's highest. The logic will be obvious to those travelling to work on Britain's packed and delayed trains or unable to even get onto a housing waiting list.

But how did Ecuador find the money? Again, Rafael Correa challenged the consensus approach so dominating Europe. Instead of kowtowing, Correa stood up to the international financiers by renegotiating the country's stifling national debt. As Correa himself explained:

    "The cost of the external debt was one of the greatest obstacles to Ecuador's development. At one time, servicing the debt consumed 40 per cent of the budget, three times what was spent on the social sphere--education, health and so on". 

Today the opposite is true. There are clear lessons for politicians in Greece, Spain and Ireland.

Whilst the coalition government in Britain talks, but rarely acts, about tax avoidance by Starbucks and Amazon, in Ecuador taxes are now actually being collected from the banana magnates and other major companies who long believed that such payments were simply not their responsibility. The introduction of a more progressive tax system, based on the simple principle that those who have more pay more, has enabled Ecuador to double its tax revenue in the past five years.

A second key lesson from Ecuador is that economic growth is not enough - its benefits must be shared. The shocking revelation that, in the US, the top 1% captured as much as 93 percent of the nation's current economic recovery is only an extreme version of a thirty year pattern in Western economies, where the 'haves' become the 'have mores'.

The Occupy Movements that brought the issue of the top 1% to international prominence undoubtedly have a soul mate in Rafael Correa. Growth in Ecuador has created a much more equal wealth distribution. The ratio between the richest and the poorest households has shrunk. One million Ecuadorian households have escaped the grind of daily poverty and 450,000 children have been taken out of child labour. Free education, including at university level, and free healthcare are now guaranteed and are strengthening social integration. 

An important policy in achieving greater equality has been a restriction on companies paying dividends until workers receive a living wage. Is there any reason why Ed Miliband's stated support for a state living wage could not replicate this success?

Ecuador also demonstrates that the environmental and social crisis many countries face do not have to be put on the back burner until the economic crisis is resolved. Cameron's recent remarks that "There are series of areas - social legislation, employment legislation, environmental legislation - where Europe has gone far too far" underlines how the recession is being used as a cloak to drive back long fought for rights.

Rafael Correa has taken a different approach based on the totally sensible view that enhancing social inclusion is popular with the majority of voters.

Correa's first major change was a new constitution, approved by referendum, which emphasised human rights and social inclusion. The constitution outlawed discrimination against LGBT communities including through recognition of same-sex unions and associated rights on taxation, social security and inheritance. Disability rights have shot up the political agenda, led by a wheelchair-using vice president, with radical measures including a law that compels companies to set aside 4 per cent of jobs for people with disabilities. Multi-culturalism is celebrated and gender-sensitive budgeting is being used to narrow inequality gaps.

Ecuador has broke new ground too in genuinely prioritizing sustainable development. It is the first country in the world to guarantee rights to nature in its constitution. Ambitious environmental policies are seeking to turn this into a reality, with the Yasuni Initiative perhaps the most significant attempt. Through this, Ecuador will waive its right to exploit large oil deposits in one of the world's most biologically rich areas of rainforest. In return it is seeking contributions from the international community, of less than half the market value of the oil, to invest in renewable energy projects that will transform the energy mix whilst respecting the rights of the indigenous people in this precious area.

Anyone challenging Europe's current policy consensus with the ideas that saw Rafael Correa re-elected so convincingly would be told that this is unrealistic as, in the words of Liam Byrne, the money has run out. But given that Rafael Correa has overseen all of this in South America's third poorest country, it's clear that there is something missing in Europe its not economic resources but political will.



Jonathan Watts. The Guardian. February 19, 2013

As the world's only paraplegic head of state, he may just be the planet's most powerful wheelchair-using man. But the outgoing vice-president – and acting president – of Ecuador says he is more interested in humour, equality, health and ecology than the trappings of high office.

That may be a common refrain from faux-humble politicians the world over, but Lenín Moreno is about to prove it by stepping down despite the near certainty that he would win again if he stood for re-election.

It will be a loss for global efforts to improve the rights and wellbeing of disabled people – something that rarely gains much prominence on the development agenda. 

The 59-year-old politician and author has been the most visible champion of this issue in Latin America since he stood as Rafael Correa's running mate in 2006. For the past month, he has been acting president while his boss ran for re-election.

"Here you see me on the verge of exiting office. I'm happy," he said in an interview at the Carondelet presidential palace, where he receives visiting dignitaries, ministers, disabled people and the odd foreign journalist. "I don't enjoy being president. I don't like power. I like to be subordinate. I like to feel dominated like I am at home by my wife and three daughters."

It is partly his personal philosophy, partly a joke. Others suggest there is more to his resignation. Some say he is retiring because of health problems, or because he has grown distant from Correa. There is even speculation that Moreno is planning to run for president in 2017.

He raises his eyebrows at the thought. "Power comes with a stroke of fortune and you should quickly leave it behind. But while you are in that space, you must take advantage of it to realise your dearest ambition. For me, that was to promote the rights of the disabled."

This is unusual in any country, particularly a developing nation. The World Health Organisation only issued its first global report on disability in 2011.

It said there were 1 billion disabled people in the world and their exclusion was holding back development. Yet there is no mention of disability in the UN millennium goals and few politicians have pushed strongly on the issue.

Last year, Moreno was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for the transformation he has brought about in Ecuador. Under his watch, it has become one of the most progressive nations in Latin America when it comes to providing financial, technical and professional assistance to people with disabilities.

State spending on related fields has increased from $2m a year to $150m (£97m). Tests are carried out on newborns to ensure care is provided early, and all leading employers in Ecuador must earmark at least 4% of their jobs for disabled people.

Government figures note that 197,435 physically disabled people have received treatment, 430,289 have been provided with wheelchairs, special mattresses, canes, diapers or other materials, 17,876 have been given hearing aids, about 4,000 have been provided with prosthetic limbs (now manufactured in Ecuador).

There are also programmes to provide braille texts and computers for visually impaired people.

"I think we are on the right track. But this was not because of me. It was because of the citizens. I just lit the flame and it spread quickly," Moreno said. "But in regard to what we have achieved for disabled people through politics, it is only 20% of the goals I set. We need structural change."

The big shift under way is in attitudes – a revolution in thinking about disability. Families who once kept handicapped relatives hidden owing to shame and inadequate public facilities can now feel more comfortable travelling thanks to increased provision of wheelchairs and ramps – as well as the example set by Moreno, who has shown just how much can be achieved after losing the use of one's legs.

Moreno was born in 1953 in a remote region of the Amazon on the border between Ecuador and Peru. He got his first name from his father, a professor who idolised the Russian revolutionary.

He prospered as a businessman and a public official until 1998, when he was shot in the back by thieves during a shopping mall robbery. This left him paraplegic and, at first, morbidly depressed.

His recovery was aided by laughter – memorising jokes and watching comedies. He has since become a leading advocate of this alternative therapy, which aims to release endorphins that can relieve pain. He has published several books on the subject, including The Theory and Practice of Humour, World's Best Jokes and Laugh, Don't Be Sick!

Believing a love of life is an essential part of well-being, he promoted these ideas through the state soon after winning office.

"I launched a project called Smile Ecuador: We're Nice People. I was certain that kindness is a consequence of good humour. It is important to improve the quality and warmth of human life. It makes us better husbands, better sons, better workers, better bureaucrats and better teachers.

"At the time, many media commentators criticised me. They said, 'How can we be happy if we lack so much?' I told them that maybe we lack a lot because we are not happy and not kind. We were putting the cart before the horse.

"Power makes you lose your smile. At the beginning, I used to smile throughout the year, but now it is 50% of that. Now it seems to me that with my term about to finish, the media commentators who criticised me now recognise the importance of laughter."

Among the projects he will now devote himself to is a book on the connection between quantum physics and human values. Moreno is an admirer of Stephen Hawking and was disappointed that the British physicist was too unwell to attend a recent conference for disabled people in Ecuador.

They had first met six months ago. Moreno said they hit it off and he found Hawking to be an inspiration. "He's the greatest example of the power of a man in a wheelchair," he said. "When he said he couldn't come, I was seriously worried about his health. But I admit a bigger concern was that I won't meet him again. I hope there is still time."

With Moreno's own time in office about to end, commentators have lamented that this will be a loss to Correa, to disabled people and to Ecuador. But Moreno insists otherwise. 

"The other day someone asked me how I would like to be remembered. But I said: 'Who wants to be remembered?' True happiness is to be forgotten and to have the chance to start over again."

Additional research by Eduardo Varas and Marcela Ribadeneira. 

Back to Top

II How is it being organized  

Seumas Milne. The Guardian. February 19, 2013

Ever since the crash of 2008 exposed the rotten core of a failed economic model, we've been told there are no viable alternatives. As Europe sinks deeper into austerity, governing parties of whatever stripe are routinely rejected by disillusioned voters – only to be replaced by others delivering more welfare cuts, privatisation and inequality.

So what should we make of a part of the world where governments have resolutely turned their back on that model, slashed poverty and inequality, taken back industries and resources from corporate control, massively expanded public services and democratic participation – and keep getting re-elected in fiercely contested elections?

That is what has been happening in Latin America for a decade. The latest political leader to underline the trend is the radical economist Rafael Correa, re-elected as president of Ecuador at the weekend with an increased 57% share of the vote, while Correa's party won an outright majority in parliament.

But Ecuador is now part of a well-established pattern. Last October the much reviled but hugely popular Hugo Chávez, who returned home on Monday after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, was re-elected president of Venezuela with 55% of the vote after 14 years in power in a ballot far more fraud-proof than those in Britain or the US. That followed the re-election of Bolivia's Evo Morales, Latin America's first indigenous president, in 2009; the election of Lula's nominated successor Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in 2010; and of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina in 2011.

Despite their differences, it's not hard to see why. Latin America was the first to experience the disastrous impact of neoliberal dogma and the first to revolt against it. Correa was originally elected in the wake of an economic collapse so devastating that one in 10 left the country. Since then his "citizen's revolution" has cut poverty by nearly a third and extreme poverty by 45%. Unemployment has been slashed, while social security, free health and education have been rapidly expanded – including free higher education, now a constitutional right – while outsourcing has been outlawed.

And that has been achieved not only by using Ecuador's limited oil wealth to benefit the majority, but by making corporations and the well-off pay their taxes (receipts have almost tripled in six years), raising public investment to 15% of national income, extending public ownership, tough renegotiation of oil contracts and re-regulating the banking system to support development.

Many of the things, in fact, that conventional "free market" orthodoxy insists will lead to ruin, but have instead delivered rapid growth and social progress. Correa's government has also closed the US military base at Manta (he'd reconsider, he said, if the US "let us put a military base in Miami"), expanded gay, disability and indigenous rights and adopted some of the most radical environmental policies in the world. Those include the Yasuni initiative, under which Ecuador waives its right to exploit oil in a uniquely biodiverse part of the Amazon in return for international contributions to renewable energy projects.

But what is happening in Ecuador is only part of a progressive tide that has swept Latin America, as social democratic and radical socialist governments have attacked social and racial inequality, challenged US domination and begun to create genuine regional integration and independence for the first time in 500 years. And given what's already been delivered to the majority, it's hardly surprising they keep getting re-elected.

It says more about the western media (and their elite Latin American counterparts) than governments such as Ecuador's and Venezuela's that they are routinely portrayed as dictatorial. Part of that canard is about US hostility. In the case of Ecuador, it's also been fuelled by fury at Correa's decision to give asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden, over the threat of onward extradition to the US. In reality, the real anti-democratic menace comes from the US's own allies, who launched abortive coups against both Chávez and Correa – and successful ones in Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay last year.

Of course, Latin America's left-leaning governments have no shortage of failings, from corruption to crime. In Ecuador and elsewhere, tensions between the demands of development, the environment and indigenous rights have sharpened. And none of these experiences yet offer any kind of ready-made social or economic alternative model.

There is also a question whether the momentum of continental change can be maintained now that Chávez, who spearheaded it, is expected to stand down in the next few weeks. His anointed successor, the former trade unionist Nicolás Maduro, is in a strong position to win new elections. But neither he nor the charismatic Correa is likely to be able to match Chávez's catalytic regional role.

Latin America's transformation is nevertheless deeply rooted and popular, while a discredited right has little to offer. For the rest of the world, it makes a nonsense of the idea that five years into the crisis nothing can be done but more of the same. True, these are economies and societies at a very different stage of development, and their experiences can't simply be replicated elsewhere. But they have certainly shown there are multiple alternatives to neoliberal masochism – which win elections, too.


    By Nadia Martinez
    YES! Magazine
     By Nadia Martinez
    YES! Magazine

    Monday 20 August 2007

    As the people of Latin America build democracies from the bottom up, the symbols of power are changing. What used to be emblems of poverty and oppression - indigenous clothing and speech, the labels "campesino" and "landless worker" - are increasingly the symbols of new power. As people-powered movements drive the region toward social justice and equality, these symbols speak, not of elite authority limited to a few, but of power broadly shared.

    The symbolism was especially rich last year in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when the new minister of justice made her entrance at an international activists' summit. Casimira Rodríguez, a former domestic worker, wore the thick, black braids and pollera, a long, multilayered skirt, of an Aymara indigenous woman. As she made her way through the throng, Rodríguez further distinguished herself from a typical law-enforcement chief by passing out handfuls of coca leaves.

    Throughout the region, marginalized people are rising up, challenging the system that has kept them poor, and pursuing a new course. In country after country, people are selecting leaders who strongly reject the Washington-led "neoliberal" policies of restricted government spending on social programs, privatization of public services such as education and water, and opening up borders to foreign corporations.

    Of course, there are exceptions, most notably Mexico, where conservative Felipe Calderón claimed power after a bruising battle over disputed election results. But the growing backlash has driven old-guard presidents out of power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Bolivia. And, while there are sharp differences among the new leaders, there is no question that what put all of them in power was a growing outcry against economic injustice. Over 40 percent of the region still lives in poverty, and the gap between rich and poor is the widest in the world.

    No longer willing to accept perpetual poverty, Latin America's poor are redefining their societies and, in the process, redefining democracy. They are organizing large segments of society into strong, dynamic social movements with enough power to drive national politics. The challenge, of course, is to hold their new leaders accountable, to maintain the strength of the grassroots democratic power, and to go beyond symbolism to make real change.

Bolivia's Indigenous President

    In Bolivia, where indigenous people are the majority, there are already some concrete signs of progress. Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president, took office in 2006 with the strongest mandate of any Bolivian leader. Catapulted onto the national political stage by his struggles as a union leader defending the rights of coca growers, Morales came to power on the heels of massive popular uprisings that ousted three presidents in as many years.

    Despite sitting on the region's second largest natural gas reserves, Bolivia is South America's poorest country. In tandem with a wave of privatizations that swept Latin America in the 1990s, the oil and gas industry in Bolivia was opened for business to foreign oil companies, which garnered 82 percent of the profits, while leaving a scant 18 percent for Bolivia's coffers. Shortly after taking office, the Morales government set out to rewrite contracts with private companies. Negotiators increased the country's share of the profits to 50-80 percent by renegotiating contracts with 10 different companies, which will yield billions in additional revenue for the government to sustain its new social agenda.

    Spurred by his experience as a coca grower, Morales has introduced new policies that challenge the U.S. approach to the "drug war." Coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, has special ancestral significance for Bolivia's indigenous people and in its raw form is widely used to treat maladies such as stomach upset, altitude sickness, and stress, in addition to being a part of many Bolivians' daily routine.

    Under pressure from the U.S. government, previous Bolivian administrations tried coca eradication. Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network in Bolivia, says that "local farmers who planted coca as a means of subsistence would often face violent confrontations with the military and security forces who were mandated to destroy their crops, which in essence devastated their only means of livelihood."

    The Morales government has developed a farmer-friendly program that allows small farmers to grow small amounts of coca for domestic consumption, while also implementing a zero-cocaine policy that includes interdiction and anti-money laundering efforts to prevent drug trafficking.

In Brazil, a Metalworker Is President

    The political shift in Brazil is also steeped in powerful symbolism. When Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, a metalworker with an elementary education, rode a wave of popular support to the presidency in 2002, it inspired working-class people around the world. He was re-elected with a comfortable 60 percent of the vote in October 2006.

    Although his first term was tainted by corruption scandals and accusations from many on Brazil's left that he acquiesced too much to the demands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for strict fiscal policies, he fulfilled some of his campaign pledges to the poor who form his political base.

    According to the Center for Economic Policy Research, some 11 million families have benefited from the "bolsa família" - a monthly cash payment made to poor families in exchange for ensuring that their children stay in school. Signaling more pro-poor policies to come, one of the first acts of Lula's second term was announcing an 8.6 percent rise in the minimum wage.

Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution

    President Hugo Chávez is best known in the United States for his overblown rhetoric against President Bush. But in Latin America, the Venezuelan president is fond of conjuring up the symbolism of Simón Bolívar, the "liberator" of South America from Spanish rule, who dreamed of uniting the region in a strong bloc. And while it has garnered little attention here, Chávez has used oil windfalls to advance Bolívar's dream. Venezuela has purchased big chunks of Argentina and Ecuador's debts to the IMF, for example, and sold discounted oil to several of its neighbors and even to poor communities in the United States.

    And Venezuela has signed trade pacts with several countries that include novel bartering arrangements, such as agricultural products in exchange for doctors and other technical personnel. Chávez has devised a regional trade plan to counter the Bush-favored Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA, for its Spanish acronym) aims to benefit the poor and the environment, and to advance trade among countries within the region.

    In January, Venezuela and Argentina took another step towards breaking the region's dependence on such neoliberal institutions as the World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank, which have conditioned lending on "free market" policy reforms and harsh austerity measures. They pledged more than $1 billion to jump-start a new "Bank of the South." Bolivia and Ecuador have since signed on.

    Within Venezuela, Chávez has made impressive progress in boosting literacy levels and providing health and other services to the poor. He has teamed up with Cuba in cosponsoring a program called Operation Miracle to provide free eye surgery to poor residents from Venezuela, Panama, Jamaica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and a growing list of other countries. The Venezuelan government is also investing heavily in creating a model of local economic development through cooperatives.

    On the other hand, Chávez's fossil-fuel-based development plans - including a proposed gas pipeline from Venezuela to Argentina - are hardly visionary. As currently planned, the 5,000-mile pipeline will traverse areas of extreme ecological and cultural sensitivity. Several possible routes are being evaluated, but all run through the Amazon. Environmental and indigenous rights groups throughout Latin America have voiced opposition to the behemoth project, and have asked the Venezuelan government to halt all plans until they can be publicly debated.

Social Movements Redefine Democracy

    Some of the most hopeful democratic advances in Latin America are not the result of official policies, but of social movements harnessing their own power. The thousands of poor peasants who make up the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil have claimed the right to settle on and farm close to 7 million hectares, or 43,000 square miles, of unused land - a territory a little larger than the state of Ohio. For millions of people who are largely outside of the mainstream economic system, access to land is of paramount importance, as they depend on it for subsistence.

    Miguel Carter, of the Oxford-based Centre for Brazilian Studies, explains that groups like the MST contribute to the democratic process in important ways. "By improving the material conditions and cultural resources of its members" he says, "the landless movement has fortified the social foundations for democracy in Brazil."

    Indigenous movements, too, have gained ground. In the Amazonian region of Ecuador, after witnessing multinational oil companies for decades cut through the jungles of their ancestral lands in search of petroleum, indigenous women put their bodies on the line against the armed soldiers sent to escort oil workers. Known for fierce resistance to oil exploitation on their lands, the remote community of Sarayacu has so far succeeded in keeping the oil companies out.

    Throughout Latin America, scores of indigenous peoples have demonstrated that marginalized populations can organize and mobilize effectively enough to topple governments - as they have done in Ecuador and Bolivia - despite their lack of material resources and political power.

    A new characteristic of Latin American politics is greater collaboration among countries with the goal of breaking dependence on the North. In the past, countries were largely in competition for U.S. markets and development aid. Now they increasingly focus on complementing the strengths and weaknesses of one another, and seeking common solutions to their shared problems.

    One example is the newly formed South American Community of Nations (CSN, in Spanish), an attempt by the 12 countries of South America to create an "area that is integrated politically, socially, economically, environmentally, and in infrastructure." Because the initiative is new, it is unclear whether it will simply become a trading bloc that improves the region's competitive position in international markets, as is the case with the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). Alternatively, it could establish minimum social and environmental standards and the infrastructure not only to link to international markets but also to trade within Latin America.

    Similarly, in a radical departure from a traditional market-based approach, the Morales government has developed a "People's Trade Agreement," an innovative economic alternative based on principles of fair trade, labor, and environmental protections, and active state intervention in the economy to promote development.

    Although still in an embryonic stage, "it is unique," says Jason Tockman of the Bolivia Solidarity Network. "It has both a strong resonance with the alternative visions for social, economic and political integration proposed by the region's social movements, and the weight of state authority."

    The response to President Bush's visit to five Latin American countries in March is yet another sign that Latin Americans are choosing their own path, independent of the United States and its political and economic interests. Along Bush's route, thousands of people in the streets carrying colorful signs and "Bush Out" banners sent a clear message: people's movements are alive and well in Latin America, and they aren't falling for the White House's attempt to repackage the same unpopular U.S. policies under the guise of poverty alleviation.

    At the same time, Chávez was able to gather and rouse into a fervor an estimated 40,000 people at an anti-Bush rally in Argentina, where he announced that Bush was a "political cadaver" - alluding to the president's increased irrelevance in Latin America.

    After two centuries of the United States treating Latin America as if it were its backyard, organized popular movements across Latin America are changing the dynamics of the hemisphere. By electing more popular governments in eight countries and by organizing tens of millions of people, they have put up strong resistance to the U.S. agenda of corporate-led globalization, and they have created real alternatives on the ground.

    These efforts, combined with the Venezuela-led effort for alternative regional integration, not only provide the strongest counter-weight to the U.S. agenda anywhere in the world, but also offer multiple paths towards a better future for millions of people in the Americas.


Nadia Martinez was born and raised in Panama. She co-directs the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. Her focus is on Latin America, where she works with environmental, development, human rights, and indigenous organizations.


Greg Grandin. Tom Dispatch. February 18, 2013

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria.  The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture.  Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”

No region escapes the stain.  Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center.  Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.  Not even social-democratic Scandinavia.  Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses.  No region, that is, except Latin America.

What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.”  Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area.  It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”

Two, Three, Many CIAs 

How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis' movies might put it)?  After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries."

In the region, this meant three things.  First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces -- the police, military, and paramilitary squads -- to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense.  They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.  Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support.  Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag.  Three of the region’s current presidents -- Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega -- were victims of this reign of terror.

When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques -- and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks.  In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces.  Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage.  Then 9/11 happened.

 “Oh My Goodness”

In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers.  "Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important." Indeed.

This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got.  Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point?  After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” -- an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.

 “Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.”  Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere.  Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”

 “These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”

A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers.  On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused. 

Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit.  As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”

Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains.  Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.”  His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”

Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.   

Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment... caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”

Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets.  Rahma froze to death.     

And so the Open Society report goes... on and on and on.

Territorio Libre 

Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments.  Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command.  As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.

But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side.  His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.  It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model -- think of it as Reaganism on steroids -- that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years.  Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been. 

Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela.  Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S.  In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another.  In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.  

In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region.  Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war. 

Brazil’s “Smokescreen”

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.

A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.

 “[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said.  It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law.  “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act.  It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.”  The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.

One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” -- that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties  -- “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.”  In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many.  One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list. 

Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse. 

In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez.  Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.”  But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”

There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place!  It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington.  The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez. 

Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War

Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched.  It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico.  The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.  Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom -- the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America -- can operate more or less at will.  A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights. 

Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations.  U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic.  The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.   

But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.  Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture. 

Greg Grandin is a TomDispatch regular and the author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Lost Jungle City, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.  Later this year, his new book, Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, will be published by Metropolitan Books.


By Mark Weisbrot
This column was published by The Guardian Unlimited on February 25, 2010.  

America took another historic step forward this week with the creation of a new regional organization of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The United States and Canada were excluded. 

The increasing independence of Latin America has been one of the most important geopolitical changes over the last decade, affecting not only the region but the rest of the world as well. For example, Brazil has publicly supported Iran's right to enrich uranium and opposed further sanctions against the country. Latin America, once under the control of the United States, is increasingly emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda.

The Obama Administration's continuation of former President Bush's policies in the region undoubtedly helped spur the creation of this new organization, provisionally named the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Most importantly, the Obama team's ambivalence toward the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of President Mel Zelaya in Honduras last summer provoked deep resentment and distrust throughout the region. 

Although the Obama administration was officially against the coup, numerous actions from day one - including the first White House statement that failed to condemn the coup when it happened - made it clear in the diplomatic world that its real position was something different. The last straw came in November 2009 when the Obama administration brokered a deal for the return of Zelaya, and then joined the dictatorship in reneging on it. Washington then stood against the vast majority of the region in supporting the November elections for a new president under the dictatorship, which had systematically repressed the basic rights and civil liberties necessary to an electoral campaign.

Arturo Valenzuela, the US State Department's top official for Latin America, said that the new organization "should not be an effort that would replace the OAS".

The differences underlying the need for a new organization were clear in the statements and declarations that took place in the Unity Summit, held in Cancun February 22 -23. The summit issued a strong statement backing Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Malvinas (as they are called in Argentina) or Falklands Islands. The dispute, which dates back to the 19th century and led to a war in 1982, has become more prominent lately as the UK has unilaterally decided to explore for oil offshore the islands. President Lula da Silva of Brazil called for the United Nations to take a more active role in resolving the dispute.  And the Summit condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

These and other measures would be difficult or impossible to pass in the OAS. Furthermore, the OAS has long been manipulated by the United States, as from 2000-2004 when it was used to help build support for the coup that overthrew Haiti's elected president. And most recently, the U.S. and Canada blocked the OAS from taking stronger measures against the Honduran dictatorship last year.

Meanwhile, in Washington foreign policy circles, it is getting increasingly more difficult to maintain the worn-out fiction that the United States' differences with the region are a legacy of  President Bush's "lack of involvement," or to blame a few leftist trouble-makers like Bolivia,  Nicaragua, and of course the dreaded Venezuela.  It seems to have gone unnoticed that Brazil has taken the same positions as Venezuela and Bolivia on Iran and other foreign policy issues, and has strongly supported Chávez.  Perhaps the leadership of Mexico  -- a right-wing government that was one of the Bush Administration's few allies in the region - in establishing this new organization will stimulate some re-thinking. 

There are structural reasons for this process of increasing independence to continue, even if - and this is not on the horizon - a new government in Washington were to someday move away from its Cold War redux approach to the region. The United States has become increasingly less important as a trading partner for the region, especially since the recent recession as our trade deficit has shrunk. The region also increasingly has other sources of investment capital. The collapse of the IMF's creditors' cartel in the region has also eliminated the most important avenue of Washington's influence. 

The new organization is sorely needed. The Honduran coup was a threat to democracy in the entire region, as it encouraged other right-wing militaries and their allies to think that they might drag Latin America back to the days when the local elite, with Washington's help, could overturn the will of the electorate. An organization without the U.S. and Canada will be more capable of defending democracy, as well as economic and social progress in the region when it is under attack. It will also have a positive influence in helping to create a more multi-polar world internationally


Tamara Pearson. Venezuelanalysis. November 30, 2011

Mérida, November 30th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Increased security, a range of cultural events, and a declared public holiday are some of the preparations underway in Caracas for the founding conference of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to be held there at the end of the week. CELAC is an organisation the Venezuelan government hopes will counter the Organisation of American States (OAS).

The CELAC unites all independent countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada. Moves for its formation began in February 2010 at a Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit in Mexico just eight months after the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

The founding summit was going to be held on 5 July this year, to coincide with Venezuela’s celebration of 200 years since its Declaration of Independence, but was suspended due to President Hugo Chavez’s health. It will now be held on 2 and 3 December.

Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said the founding conference will discuss five key topics: the formal establishment of CELAC as an organisation, including its decision-making process and political structure; energy independence; social development, including food, health, and education policies; environmental development and the prevention of climate change; and the world economic crisis and its consequences, as well as independence from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Heads of states from 32 countries have confirmed their attendance, with Costa Rica the only country sending its vice-president.

Various Caracas sites have been decorated with countries’ flags or portraits of their presidents, to mark the event.

Luis Motta, Commanding General of the National Bolivarian Guard said they are increasing security measures and will be running a “special security operation” for the conference. The national government has also prohibited carrying weapons from today until 5 December in Caracas. Security forces assigned to the event are exempt.  Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, except those transporting food, water, water chemicals, gas, and medicine, are also prohibited.

Chavez declared Friday a public holiday in the Greater Caracas area, although only public sector workers will have the day off work.

Cultural events to coincide with the conference

Culture minister Pedro Calzadilla said various museums, theatres, and plazas will be “symbolically taken over” to mark the event.

“Caracas is going to become not just a celebration of Latin American union from the political point of view, but also from the cultural one,” he said.

The National Cinema Foundation will be showing 25 feature films from the region, and there will be dance performances and photographic exhibitions. Works of art from Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina, and Peru are on display, together with poems and sculptures from around the continent. All of the events will be free.

Venezuela’s Youth Symphonic Orchestra, lead by renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as well as the famous Puerto Rican band Calle 13, reggae singer Julian Marley- son of Bob Marley, Cuban group Buena Fe, and other Latin American groups will perform in a free concert on Saturday to celebrate CELAC .

Further, there is a Latin America and Caribbean Food festival being held, with traditional meals available from 16 of the 33 countries participating in CELAC. The festival includes cultural presentations, music, and cooking demonstrations from the contributing countries.

“[The launching of CELAC] is an event that will change the history of this continent,” Calzadilla said.

Analyst Luis Quintana, speaking on YVKE Mundial, said, “The birth of CELAC is the demise of the OAS...which will continue existing but it won’t have the same political weight that it had before, because it hasn’t fulfilled its established goals...it has never helped to solve problems, rather it has increased them... the people are about to witness the most important event in the history of Venezuela and Latin America... CELAC will attend to the historical needs of people.”

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IV.How it is being undermined


       Mark Weisbrot. Al Jazeera. December 18, 2012

President Obama went too far in throwing gratuitous insults at President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela on Friday, in an interview in Miami. By doing so, he not only offended the majority of Venezuelans, who voted to re-elect their president on October 7, but even many who did not. Chavez is fighting for his life, recovering from a difficult cancer operation; in Latin America, as in most of the world, this wholly unnecessary vilification of Chavez by Obama is a breach not only of diplomatic protocol but also of ordinary standards of civility.

Perhaps even more importantly, Obama's ill-timed aspersions sent an unpleasant message to the rest of the region. While Obama can get away with anything in the major media outlets, you can be sure that his remarks were noticed by the presidents and foreign ministries of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and others. The message was clear: Expect four more years of the same failed, Cold War policies toward Latin America that President George W Bush championed and Obama continued in his first term. 

These presidents see Chavez as a close friend and ally, someone who has helped them and the region; like millions of Venezuelans they are praying for his recovery. They also see Washington as responsible for the bad relations between the US and Venezuela (as well as the hemisphere generally), and these unfortunate remarks are additional confirmation. At the 2012 Summit of the Americas, Obama found himself as isolated as George W Bush was at the notorious 2005 summit. It was a sea change from the 2009 Summit, where everyone - including Chavez - greeted Obama warmly and saw in him the potential for a new era of US-Latin American relations.

To these governments, Obama's broadsides about Chavez's "authoritarian policies" and "suppression of dissent" have a bad smell, even ignoring the offensive timing. Venezuela just had an election in which the opposition, which has most of the income and wealth of the country, as well as most of the media, mobilised millions of voters. The turnout was 81 percent of registered voters, with about 97 percent of the voting-age population registered. The government did not "suppress dissent", nor has it done so in other elections; or even when the dissenters shut down the oil industry and crippled the economy in 2002-2003 - actions which would have been illegal and blocked by the force of the state in the United States. Peaceful protesters in Venezuela are far less likely to get beaten or tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets by security forces than they are in Spain, and probably most other democracies.

Yes, there have been abuses of authority in Venezuela, as in all of the hemisphere - as President Obama should know. It was Obama who defended the imprisonment without trial for more than two-and-a-half years, and abuse in custody, of Bradley Manning, which was condemned by the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture. It is Obama who has refused to grant freedom to Native American activist Leonard Peltier, widely seen throughout the world as a political prisoner, now in a US prison for 37 years. It is Obama who claims the right, and has used it, to kill American citizens without arrest or trial.

Venezuela is a middle-income country where the rule of law is relatively weak, as is the state generally (hence the absurdity of calling it "authoritarian"). But compared to other countries of its income level, it does not stand out for anything in the realm of human rights abuses. Certainly there is nothing in Venezuela comparable to the abuses by Washington allies such as Mexico; or Honduras - where candidates for political office, opposition activists, and journalists are regularly murdered. And much of the scholarly research on Venezuela under Chavez shows that it is more democratic and has more civil liberties than ever before in its own history. 

By contrast, we in the United States are not doing so well by comparison to our own history and income level. We have suffered a serious loss of civil liberties under the administrations of George W Bush and President Obama. And of course if we count the victims of US crimes abroad - the civilians and children killed by drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example - President Obama, the one with the "kill list", has little standing to criticise almost any foreign president.

"We would want to see a strong relationship between our two countries, but we're not going to change policies that prioritise making sure that there's freedom in Venezuela," Obama said, according to the Associated Press.

I can't think of anyone who believes that USpolicy in Venezuela, from Washington's involvement in the 2002 military coup, to continued funding today for Venezuelan opposition groups, has anything to do with promoting "freedom". This was just another public insult.

The Venezuelan government responded angrily to the remarks. But perhaps they would be more forgiving if they knew just how little President Obama, who never set foot in Latin America before he was president, knows about Venezuela or the region.

When President Obama met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff he said:

    "It gives me an opportunity as well to remark on the extraordinary progress that Brazil has made under the leadership of President Rousseff and her predecessor, President Lula, moving from dictatorship to democracy..."

So, if Obama (and his staff) didn't even know that Brazil's dictatorship came to an end more than a decade before Lula was elected in 2002, how can he be expected to know anything about Venezuela? I mean, Brazil is a big country, bigger than the continental US and the sixth largest economy in the world.

Obama fired his National Security Adviser for Latin America after the debacle at the 2012 Summit. He should fire the hack who fed him the insults for his Miami interview, and the incompetent slob who made him embarrass himself in front of the President of Brazil. Then he can clean out some of the 1950s Cold Warriors from the State Department. It's fine if he's not interested in Latin America - better for the region and the world - but he and his administration are creating a lot of unnecessary hostility.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC. He is also President of Just Foreign Policy.


Peter Kornbluh

Imprisoned in Cuba, Alan Gross is suing the U.S. government. And the documents the case reveals are putting the Obama administration in a tough spot. 
At the very end of John Kerry's Jan. 24th confirmation hearing, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) treated him to a lecture about repression in Cuba. "And then we have a United States citizen who all he tried to do is give access to the Internet to a small Jewish population in Havana and has been languishing in jail for almost four years," Menendez asserted. "That is real torture." In his final question to Kerry, Menendez asked if "we can expect you to be a strong supporter" of U.S. "democracy programs worldwide?" The all-but-confirmed nominee for secretary of state answered, "yes."
The democracy program in Cuba that concerns Menendez has come under increasing public scrutiny since that U.S. citizen, Alan Gross, was detained in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009. In the wake of his arrest, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), none other than John Kerry, put a temporary hold on the USAID-run operation, officially known as the Cuban Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (CDCPP). For almost a year, the SFRC made an effort to bring a degree of accountability to this little-known, under-the-radar, $140 million U.S. government initiative in Cuba.
To his credit, it is Gross himself who has done the most to lift the veil of secrecy from the CDCPP. Last year, he and his wife, Judy, filed a civil lawsuit against USAID and the contractor for whom Gross worked as a consultant, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), in an effort to call public attention to his plight and press the Obama administration to step up efforts to negotiate his release. Specifically, their suit seeks damages for the failure of USAID and DAI to inform him of the risks he faced, to "take basic remedial measures to protect Mr. Gross," and to provide the education and training "necessary to minimize the risk of harm to him."
Their legal complaint acknowledged that he was paid under a broader USAID contract with DAI to travel multiple times to Cuba, posing as a tourist, carrying specialized technology to establish independent satellite communications networks on various parts of the island; it quotes his own trip reports that this was "very risky business" for which he was not adequately trained or supervised.
This document, an August 2008 USAID contract with DAI, is one of a number of substantive records released in court filings by the suit that reveal the mission, procedures, and sensitive operations of USAID's Cuba program -- including contingency planning for political, civic, and economic support to a post-Castro government. Upgraded at the end of the Bush administration, the main objectives of the program are "hastening transition" to democracy (read: regime change), creating information channels to and from Cuba, and establishing a network through which USAID could create and deploy a "rapid response programmatic platform" on the island in the event of instability and transition.The contract shows that USAID's program intends to be prepared for a variety of contingencies in Cuba, including, as the implementation section of this document suggests, "if a USG-Determined Transition occurs, and USAID is asked to provide assistance." In that event, USAID hoped to have staffing, networking, and infrastructure in place to be able to rapidly supply financial, technological, and educational assistance to help a new government consolidate. The CDCPP is designed "to support Cuba's pro-democracy actors," the document states. "This task order will provide a contractual mechanism that will allow the USG to respond quickly to different types of opportunities or emergencies, particularly those that may result from macro-political changes." 
Due to the sensitivity of these operations, the "CDCPP demands continuous discretion," states another document attached to DAI's Jan. 15 motion to dismiss the suit. But the suit itself is already eroding the discreet nature of the USAID Cuba democracy operation, and opening it to public debate over the wisdom, propriety, and efficacy of the program. In DAI's decision to file these documents in court there seems to be an element of "graymail" -- the threat of exposure of far more sensitive information about the surreptitious nature of its work with the U.S. government in Cuba -- if the lawsuit goes forward. DAI's motion states clearly that the company is "deeply concerned that the development of the record in this case over the course of litigation could create significant risks to the U.S. Government's national security, foreign policy, and human rights interests."
The incoming secretary of state is no stranger to the Cuba issue. Indeed, the beginning of the Kerry era at the State Department presents an opportunity to reevaluate not only the democracy program, but the Obama administration's overall approach to Cuba policy. Despite Obama's campaign pledge to "write a new chapter" in U.S.-Cuban relations during his first term, the president failed to substantively alter Washington's half-century posture of hostility toward the Castro regime. The fact that Alan Gross's freedom depends on a new approach to U.S.-Cuban relations is an added incentive for that reevaluation to be expeditious.
When I visited Gross in late November in the military hospital where he is incarcerated, he told me that he wanted to see the United States and Cuba "sit down and talk tachlas -- truthfully -- about mutual interests," including his case. It is now up to Kerry to move toward a normal dialogue with the Cuban government in which Gross's case can be resolved. 



Dana Frank. Los Angeles Times. February 12, 2013

The United States is expanding its military presence in Honduras on a spectacular scale. The Associated Press reported this month in an investigative article that Washington in 2011 authorized $1.3 billion for U.S. military electronics in Honduras. This is happening while the post-coup regime of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is more out of control than ever, especially since the Honduran Congress staged a "technical coup" in December.

But as the Obama administration deepens its partnership with Honduras, ostensibly to fight the drug war, Democrats in Congress are increasingly rebelling. Here's a message, then, for new Secretary of State John Kerry: Recast U.S. policy in Honduras and the murderous drug war that justifies it.

In the last few years, the U.S. has been ramping up its military operations throughout Latin America in what the Associated Press called "the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War." The buildup has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $20 billion since 2002, for troops, ships, clandestine bases, radar, military and police training and other expenses.

U.S. military expenditures for Honduras in particular have gone up every year since 2009, when a military coup deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. At $67.4 million, 2012 Defense Department contracts for Honduras are triple those of 10 years ago. The U.S. spent $25 million last year to make the U.S. barracks at the Soto Cano air base permanent, and $89 million to keep 600 U.S. troops based there. U.S. direct aid to the Honduran military and police continues to climb as well.

But the Obama administration's escalating military commitment in Honduras only deepens its support for the corrupt and repressive Lobo government. State security forces still enjoy near-complete impunity for thousands of alleged human rights abuses and even murders since the 2009 coup. The government hasn't paid many of its teachers for at least six months, and the country is close to bankrupt.
On Dec. 13, in a clash of two equally corrupt groups of competing elites, the Honduran Congress illegally deposed four members of the Supreme Court, swearing in new justices within hours. Since then, the congress has run roughshod over the constitution, rapidly repassing a series of laws that had been overruled by the court, including a much-criticized mining law and a notorious law authorizing so-called model cities in which the constitution itself doesn't apply.
These actions blatantly disregard the rule of law. Yet the U.S. State Department looked the other way at this "technical coup."
In pouring U.S. military resources into the corrupt Honduran government, Washington argues that it is helping fight drug trafficking, which is indeed rampant, murderous and growing. But the Honduran government and the elites who control it are widely alleged to be implicated in the drug trafficking.
The drug war, though, does provide cover for a new wave of U.S. aggression in Latin America. Honduras, with the only large U.S. Air Force base between the United States and South America, has long been important as a linchpin of U.S. military domination of the region, including, most famously, U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup in Guatemala and the 1980s Contra war against the Nicaraguan government. Today, the expanding U.S. role poses an enormous threat to the whole region, and to Honduras' sovereignty.
Moreover, as the media have reported, the Obama administration's drug war in Honduras has been a disaster. In May 2012, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration participated in an operation in which four Afro-indigenous villagers were killed and several others injured in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. The DEA acknowledges that it killed two alleged drug traffickers in separate incidents in June and July. In July, after the Honduran military shot down two supposed drug planes in violation of international protocol, the U.S. suspended radar cooperation for drug flights. In January, in the first joint operation after cooperation resumed, the Honduran coast guard killed an alleged drug trafficker utilizing intelligence provided by DEA agents.
Many Democrats in Congress have had enough. On Jan. 30, 58 members of the House, led by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Kerry and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. demanding that the May 2012 incident involving the DEA be investigated, calling attention to state-sponsored repression of Afro-indigenous Hondurans and questioning the drug war. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt. ) has on hold about $30 million in U.S. aid to Honduran security forces, pending answers to questions about abuses of civilians and corruption.
That's a start, but Kerry and the administration need to reverse U.S. policy in Honduras altogether. End the bloody drug war and focus on job creation and social justice instead. Stop treating the current Honduran government like a friendly partner; instead, forthrightly denounce its human rights abuses and corruption of the rule of law. Help guarantee a free presidential election in November by condemning the assassinations of at least five opposition party activists and candidates in the last year, and demand adequate protection for the hundreds of Hondurans in the opposition who have received death threats.
In other words, stop arming Honduran thugs and allow those in the opposition the space to define their own future, free of U.S. interference.
Dana Frank is a professor of history at UC Santa Cruz whose work focuses on modern Honduras.
Por ejemplo de (1)  reducir el consumo enorme de hidrocarburos, con metas y fechas; (2) imponer reglas estrictas para reducir las emisiones CO2 industriales, con cifras y fechas; (3) conservar los recursos hidricos, imponiendo al pais entero un codigo de agua que no permitiria ninguna industria pesada, incluida la mineria, de explotar recursos naturales no-renovables en las cabezeras de cuenca---- lo que hasta hoy no hay.  
'Vulture funds' say Argentina must pay up

Investors who refused to join two sovereign debt restructurings by Argentina urged a US court to force the country to pay them.
These "vulture funds," who own Argentina bonds that have been in default for a decade, are demanding that the country finally pay the $1.33 billion that a federal judge said they are owed.
The demand came one month ahead of a Feb. 27 showdown before the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Argentina is seeking to have the appeals court overturn a finding in favour of the "holdout" creditors, which are led by NML Capital Ltd, part of a firm run by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and the Aurelius Capital Management funds.
But in written arguments submitted to that court today, Aurelius said Argentina must stop going "far beyond the reach of accountability" by letting holdouts go unpaid for more than a decade even as it pays holders of restructured bonds.
"It is hardly an injustice to have legal rulings which, at long last, mean that Argentina must pay the debts which it owes," Aurelius said, quoting an earlier decision in the case.
The case stems from Argentina's $100 billion debt default in 2002, and has been pursued in US courts because they have jurisdiction under Argentina's bond contracts with investors
Annie Bird. Upside Down World. November 9, 2012

In reaction to the June 28, 2009 military coup, the Organization of American States suspended Honduras ’ membership from July 5, 2009 to June 1, 2011, when ousted president Manuel Zelaya was allowed to return to the country
The Dinant Corporation and subsidiaries of the Jaremar Corporation, both Honduran African palm oil corporations blamed by campesino movements for the murder of approximately 80 campesinos in the Aguan river valley region since the June 2009 military coup, have received millions of dollars from the World Bank since the coup.  Most recently, on November 2, 2012, Orlando Campos, Reynaldo Rivera Paz, and José Omar Paz - all former members of a campesino movement which contests rights to the “ Panama farm” against Dinant Corporation’s illegitimate claims - were killed in a drive-by shooting as they waited for a bus. The following day, in an unprecedented arrest of a death squad member, police officer Marvin Noe García Santos was arrested for these assassinations.
On August 13, 2012, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman [CAO] - internal agency of the World Bank that monitors compliance with Bank standards and safeguards - published its appraisal of a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s private financing arm, the International Finance Corporation [IFC], to the Dinant Corporation palm oil corporation of Honduras, and found that an audit of the Dinant loan should be conducted.  This appraisal was “initiated by the CAO Vice-President in response to a letter submitted in November 2010 by Rights Action to the President of the World Bank Group in November 2010, and conversations between CAO and local NGOs.” It determined an audit of the World Bank loan’s social and environmental performance will be conducted.
On November 17, 2010, two days after five campesinos from the Movimiento Campesino del Aguan (MCA) were killed by security forces employed by the Dinant Corporation owned by Miguel Facusse, Rights Action sent a letter to the president of the World Bank charging that the Bank shared responsibility for the killings given that, one year before, on November 5, 2009, the World Bank released $15 million dollars to Dinant, the first half of the $30 million loan.  This World Bank loan disbursement occurred while a military-backed junta controlled Honduras , in the aftermath of the June 2009 military coup, and brutal State repression was again becoming systematic throughout Honduras .  For months on end, every single day, peaceful pro-democracy protests against the military coup took place in the streets of Honduras , and were violently repressed by the junta.  Death squads began operating again in Honduras , targeting pro-democracy activists.
Faccuse’s Dinant Corporation has been involved in land rights disputes with campesinos since 1994 when, through violence and fraud, it began acquiring land titles to African palm cooperatives.  Since January 2010, Dinant security forces have been accused of participation in death squad activities and are likely responsible for the murder of approximately 80 campesino land rights activists and bystanders.
Lack of Reaction to 2009 Military Coup
In reaction to the June 28, 2009 military coup, the Organization of American States suspended Honduras ’ membership from July 5, 2009 to June 1, 2011, when ousted president Manuel Zelaya was allowed to return to the country.  While the OAS’s reaction to the military coup was a historic moment, as the nations of Latin America roundly rejected the dangerous resurgence of military coups in Latin America , the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) continued to allow most funding to flow, only temporarily suspending the signature of new loan agreements.  Honduran recipients of World Bank / IDB loan at the time of the coup were largely businessmen who also – not surprisingly - played a central role backing the coup, particularly Miguel Facusse. 
The World Bank’s reaction – actually its lack of reaction - to the 2009 coup contributed directly to the sweeping impunity enjoyed by the authors of the coup, the same climate of impunity which has spawned politically motivated death squad activity in Honduras on a level not seen in Central America since the years of US-backed military repression of the 1980s and early 90s.  The World Bank’s role in basically legitimizing the 2009 military coup and post-coup junta demonstrates, once again, how urgent it is that multilateral investment banks not be allowed to act with such impunity, continuing with “business as usual”.
All transactions of the “development” banks must be fundamentally based on the guarantee of human rights and compliance with international law, frameworks are almost entirely, rhetoric aside, ignored by the World Bank and IDB.  The Operational Directives that govern the World Bank are completely inadequate and in no way provide a rights protective framework for people impacted by the Bank’s investment decisions … even as the World Bank, for the first time, begins to fund public security forces.
In our November 17, 2010 letter, Rights Action commented:
“The potential for this human rights disaster had been widely known, given that at least 19 farmers in this region have been killed in the context of conflicts with biofuel industry interests and given that Honduras , since the June 2009 military coup, has been ruled by an illegitimate and repressive regime.  This history, combined with the absolute lack of a human rights protective framework capable of adequately addressing conflicts in Honduras , made the decision to release funding to Dinant Corporation a case of gross negligence of the World Bank's human rights and due diligence obligations.”
The letter explains that in October 2009, prior to the loan disbursement, the UN Working Group on Mercenaries denounced that Honduran African palm producers were recruiting Colombian former AUC paramilitaries implicated in grave human rights abuses in their own country.  The letter continues:
“Decisions and actions taken by the World Bank following the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras , have impacted negatively on the rule of law internationally and the general well-being of the Honduran population. The World Bank decision to release funds to Dinant sent a clear message to Dinant: that the company and its owners enjoy impunity for their actions, and the World Bank will tolerate violence, illegal land grabbing, and even participation in military coups by corporations and their owners… .”
“Because World Bank members can only consist of the internationally and domestically recognized governments of a given state, loans disbursed or agreed upon by the World Bank to or with a ‘de facto’ government are illegitimate and therefore non-binding on the population of that territory. The World Bank should defer to the OAS and other international organizations in determining which governments are internationally recognized and legitimated… .”
“It is also important to emphasize that the member nations within the Board of Directors of the Bank cannot evade their obligations under customary law and general principles of law by creating an international organization that would not be bound by the legal limits imposed upon its Member States.”
The WB internal oversight appraisal determined that there was sufficient cause for concern to carry out an audit of the loan, given that “the CAO concludes that the IFC’s social and environmental performance in relation to this investment merits further enquiry.”  The audit will examine: “whether IFC exercised due diligence in its review of the social risks attached to the Project; whether IFC responded adequately to the context of intensifying social and political conflict surrounding the Project post commitment; and whether IFC policies and procedures provide adequate guidance to staff on how to assess and manage social risks associated with projects in areas that are subject to conflict or conflict prone.”
It is unclear when this audit will or has begun, and whether it could lead to a suspension of the second disbursement of the Dinant loan, or whether the audit will address the Bank’s role in grave human rights violations and contributing to impunity in Honduras following the June 28, 2009 military coup.
In 2008, Dinant lined up a series of publicly funded loans totaling slightly under $100 million from the World Bank Group, the Inter American Development Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) and a German “development” bank.  However, on April 12, 2011, the German state-owned development bank, DEG Deutsche Investitions, announced suspension of the loan after pressure from European human rights organizations.  As of yet, the IDB and BCIE appear to have proceeded with funding.
"Greenwashing' and 'Land Laundering'
In addition, Dinant was actively participating in the Round-table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), planning ‘clean’ palm oil certification mechanisms, and had applied for carbon credits with the United Nations sponsored Clean Development Mechanism.  While the large loans indicate that Dinant may have been preparing for expansion, the RSPO participation and UN carbon credits may have had other objectives, not just ‘green washing’, but ‘land laundering’.  Land laundering is a term coined in Colombia to describe the various means employed by former paramilitaries to “wash” or give legitimacy to illegally obtained land titles.  A key strategy in Colombia has been engaging with international “development” agencies, lending an air of legitimacy to corporations with dubious land rights claims and often heavily implicated in drug trafficking.
The World Bank must get out of green washing and land laundering.  The Bank’s actions assist in the robbery of land, stolen by violent actors that enjoy Bank funding, who actively undermine a functional justice system, and generate impunity for grave human rights violations related to the violent and illegal land grabbing.
Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action
BBC. October 31, 2012
A Spanish judge has indicted seven former members of the Chilean secret police for their alleged role in the kidnapping and murder of a Spanish diplomat during Chile's military rule.
The judge also ordered international arrest warrants for the seven accused.
UN diplomat Carmelo Soria was working in Chile when he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1976.
He is one of about 3,000 people to have been killed during Gen Augusto Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990.
Judge Pablo Ruz charged six Chileans and one US citizen, all of whom worked for Gen Augusto Pinochet's secret police force, with genocide, murder and kidnapping.
'Drugged and strangled'
Those charged include Juan Contreras, the former director of the secret police, Dina. Contreras is currently serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity in Chile.
Also indicted was US citizen Michael Townley. Townley worked for the Dina in Chile, from where he was extradited to the United States in 1978.
He confessed to and was sentenced for his involvement in the 1976 murder of the Chilean ambassador to the US, Orlando Letelier, and his assistant.
He is reportedly living in the US under a witness protection programme.
The remaining indictees are all former Dina agents.
Judge Ruz said two of them stopped Carmelo Soria, who worked for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, as he was driving to his home in the capital, Santiago.
The judge said two of the indicted agents detained Mr Soria, saying he had committed a traffic infraction.
'Not effective'
They took Mr Soria to Townley's apartment, where he was questioned and tortured, according to Judge Ruz.
The agents apparently suspected Mr Soria of having links to Chile's communist party.
Judge Ruz said the agents forced Soria to get drunk, either by forcing him to drink alcohol or by injecting it into his bloodstream.
He was then strangled, his body placed in his car, and the car driven into a canal, Judge Ruz said.
His body was pulled from the canal two days later. The Chilean authorities said Mr Soria had driven the car into the canal drunk.
Months later, a Washington Post investigation showed his death had been the result of torture, but Chile's military authorities refused to open another investigation.
The current case was brought by Spain's President Allende Foundation and taken up by Judge Ruz after another Spanish judge ruled that the investigation into the alleged crimes against Mr. Soria "had not been effective" in Chile.
BBC. November 15, 2012
A judge in Argentina has charged sugar magnate Carlos Blaquier, 85, with unlawfully detaining dozens of opposition activists during military rule, a charge he denies.
Mr Blaquier is suspected of taking part in "The Night of the Blackout" in the northern Jujuy region.
In the 1976 incident, police used power cuts to kidnap suspected left-wing activists under cover of darkness.
Witnesses say many were taken in vans belonging to Mr Blaquier's company.
Judge Fernando Luis Povina said Mr Blaquier, who owns Ledesma sugar company, is accused of "being the main participant in 29 cases of unlawful detention".
Alberto Lemos, who managed the sugar company Ledesma at the time of the incident, has also been charged with unlawful detention.
Police crackdown
Police unlawfully arrested about 400 students, workers and activists suspected of harbouring left-wing sympathies between 20 and 27 of July 1976.
Most of them were taken from their homes in three towns in the Jujuy region during recurrent power cuts, suspected to have been engineered by the company who controlled the electricity supply in the area.
Relatives of those taken say some of the victims were transported to police stations and torture centres in Ledesma company vans.
Survivors have also reported being held on the company's premises, where they say they were interrogated, beaten and tortured.
Some were released after days, others were held in police custody and illegal detention centres for years.
Thirty people remain missing and are believed to have been killed during the Night of the Blackout or in the detention which followed.
During Argentina's seven-year military rule (1976-1983), an estimated 30,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and killed.
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The old America we will hopefully leave behind
Let us look at what could be destroyed with our next war. The same destruction that was caused in Iraq. Ancient relics, Vibrant culture. Well developed and prosperous society.
Appendix: The only country who supported the US besides Israel voting against Cuba, was Palau
Republic of Palau 

Area of the Country 177 sq mi  
Population 2011 estimate 20,956 
Was first visited by Europeans in the 18th century, and were made part of the Spanish East Indies in 1885. Following Spain's defeat in the Spanish–American War in 1898, the islands were sold to Imperial Germany in 1899 under the terms of the German–Spanish Treaty, where they were administered as part of German New Guinea. The Imperial Japanese Navy conquered Palau during World War I, and the islands were later made a part of the Japanese-ruled South Pacific Mandate by the League of Nations. During World War II, skirmishes, including the major Battle of Peleliu, were fought between American and Japanese troops as part of the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign. Along with other Pacific Islands, Palau was made a part of the United States-governed Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
in 1947. Having voted against joining the newly-independent Federated States of Micronesia in 1979, the islands gained full sovereignty in 1994 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. With the US providing defense, funding, and access to social services.
Palau's economy is based mainly on tourism, subsistence agriculture, and fishing, with a significant portion of Gross National Product (GNP) derived from foreign aid. The country's currency is the United States dollar.

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