Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One Year Later: Honduras Resistance Strong Despite US-Supported Coup

by: Laura Raymond and Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Demonstrators in Honduras, August 11, 2009. (Photo: CescoMad; Edited: Jared Rodriguez /t r u t h o u t)One year ago, on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by gunfire. A coup was carried out by U.S.-trained military officers, including graduates of the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas (WHINSEC) in Georgia. President Zelaya was illegally taken to Costa Rica.
Democracy in Honduras ended as a de facto government of the rich and powerful seized control. A sham election backed by the U.S. confirmed the leadership of the coup powers. The U.S. and powerful lobbyists continue to roam the hemisphere trying to convince other Latin American countries to normalize relations with the coup government.
The media has ignored the revival of U.S. hard power in the Americas and the widespread resistance that challenges it.
A pro-democracy movement, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) formed in the coup's aftermath. Despite horrendous repression, it has organized the anger and passion of a multitude of mass-based popular movements - landless workers, farmers, women, LGBTQ folks, unions, youth and others - and spread a palpable energy of possibility and hope throughout the country.
These forces of democracy have been subjected to police killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, rape and other sexual abuse of women and girls, torture and harassment of journalists, judges and activists. Prominent LGBTQ activists, labor organizers, campesinos and youth working with the resistance have been assassinated. Leaders have been driven into exile.
Four judges, including the president of Honduran Judges for Democracy, were fired in May 2010 for criticizing the illegality of the coup. Two of them went on a widely-supported hunger strike in the nation's capital. Judges who participated in public demonstrations in favor of the de facto government remain in power.
In 2010 alone, seven journalists have been murdered. Many others have been threatened. Reporters Without Borders calls Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Why was there a coup? Honduras was planning to hold a June 28 poll on whether or not a referendum for forming a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution should be on the November ballot. Many among the poor correctly view the current constitution as favoring corporations and wealthy landowners. As a result of the constitutional preference for the rich and powerful, Honduras has one of the largest wealth gaps between the rich and poor in Latin America.
Washington and the Honduran elite were also angered that President Zelaya signed an agreement to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). ALBA is a regional trade agreement that provides an alternative to the free trade agreements such as CAFTA that have been pushed by Washington, yet are opposed by many popular movements through the Americas.
Zelaya's proposal to transform Soto Cano Air Base, historically important to the U.S. military, into a much-needed civilian airport was unpopular in Washington, as was his lack of support for the privatization of the telecommunications industry.
Forces in the U.S. provided critical support for the coup. As members of the resistance have explained, coups do not happen in Latin America without the support of those with power in the U.S. Right-wing ideologues and shell NGOs based out of Washington played a critical role in the coup, before and since. A leadership vacuum in the Obama administration regarding Honduras has led to extreme right-wing ideologues directing U.S. policy there. These people are hell-bent on stopping the growing populist movements throughout Latin America from gaining more influence and power. Some, such as Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, have moved from positions in the State Department and United Nations into private lobbying firms or conservative think tanks. Others, such as Robert Carmona-Borjas, who was granted asylum in the U.S. after his involvement in the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez, are working for so-called NGOs that use vague missions such as "anti-corruption" to mask the foreign policy work they do.
In the past year, the business elite in Honduras have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Washington-based lobbying and PR firms to get the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties in line. For example, the Asociación Hondureña de Maquiladoras (Honduran Association of Maquiladoras) hired the Cormac Group to lobby the U.S. government regarding "foreign relations" just days after the coup. Close Clinton confidant Lanny Davis lobbied for the coup powers in DC. A delegation of Republican Senators travelled to Honduras in the fall to support the coup government, and organized for wider Congressional support upon their return.
Despite initially condemning the coup, the Obama administration has completely shifted its position. It provided critical, life-giving approval to the widely denounced elections that were boycotted by much of the Honduran population. The military that was killing people in the streets was also guarding the ballot boxes. Major candidates such as Carlos H. Reyes, now a leader of the resistance, refused to run. The Carter Center, the United Nations, and other respected election observers refused to observe. The FNRP called on people to stay home.
The Organization of American States suspended Honduras and has continued to resist efforts of Secretary of State Clinton to pressure them into readmitting Honduras. However, the U.S. pushed for and was able to secure the formation of a high-level OAS panel to "study" the re-entry of Honduras at its recent meeting in Peru. We may well start to see the international community beginning to normalize relations with this illegitimate government.
As it stands now, the coup government of Honduras' biggest ally is the United States.
A year after the coup, U.S. activists and pro-democracy supporters need to increase their knowledge about what is going on with our neighbors in Honduras and stand in solidarity with the resistance. For democracy to mean anything, it has to mean that plans for a national referendum to rewrite a Constitution to better serve a nation's people should not be met with a U.S.-supported military coup.
Once again the U.S. is on the wrong side in Latin America.
Once again, the U.S. government is undermining democracy and actively supporting a government that is murdering its own people.
Once again, the U.S. has sided with anti-democracy forces and is trying to bully the world into rubber-stamp approval of our mistakes.
Moving forward from this unfortunate anniversary, one thing is certain - the people's movement in Honduras is only growing. The resistance has gone ahead with organizing for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Today, there will be massive demonstrations throughout Honduras. We must stand with this dramatic and powerful social movement and challenge our own government to support the forces of democracy, not destroy them.
CCR will be hosting the NYC premiere of a film about the Resistance on July 7, 7pm at Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan. It will also premiere in DC and Berkeley.
For more information about the Honduran resistance, please see their website (and click on the "English" tab):

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Backlog of Colombian human rights cases pose a test for new president, the U.S.

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- The verdict this week was a milestone: A distant court affiliated with the Washington-based Organization of American States held the Colombian government responsible for the 1994 assassination of a prominent senator.

Lion of a radical political party whose members were slain by the hundreds, Manuel Cepeda was shot dead in an operation partly organized by Colombia's army. The case is one of hundreds of murders and massacres, old and new, that have entered the inter-American justice system from Colombia, a nation suffering from a simmering, half-century-old guerrilla conflict.

As President Alvaro Uribe prepares to leave office in August after eight years in power, investigators at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the OAS, are grappling with many of these cases. The most recent have triggered a national and international firestorm over the army's systematic killing of peasant farmers to inflate combat kills and revelations that Uribe's secret police spied on opponents, foreign diplomats and rights groups.

"If you put all of this together, the extrajudicial executions, the espionage of human rights defenders, it's all really a constant over the years," Santiago Canton, an Argentine who has headed the rights commission for nine years, said by phone from Washington. "That's very dangerous."

The backlog of cases and what they say about Colombia's history of rights violations pose a test for Uribe's successor, Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister elected Sunday. Among his priorities is winning U.S. congressional approval of a free-trade pact, which would eliminate tariffs on Colombian exports. So far, the effort has stalled because of Democratic concerns about rights being violated with impunity here.

Colombia's record is also a challenge for the Obama administration as it tries to forge closer ties to the rest of Latin America. The effort has been hamstrung by diplomatic imbroglios, including criticism from some governments of Uribe's rights record and U.S. support for Colombia's army.

"This is a problem for the United States," said Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador here.

Frechette said the Santos administration must also demonstrate a commitment to preventing abuses and ending impunity, which led countries across the hemisphere to create the rights commission in the first place. "He has to say, 'Colombia is a modern country, and we understand all these things about human rights violations, and we're going to stand up and fly right,' " Frechette said.

Luis Alfonso Hoyos, Colombia's ambassador to the OAS, said Colombia, unlike some other countries, readily cooperates with the rights commission's investigations and abides by its rulings and those of a sister organization, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica.

Inter-American system

In the inter-American justice system, the commission's seven members study victims' petitions and issue voluminous reports with recommendations on cases involving serious abuses. Particularly egregious cases are taken by the rights court, which can order governments to pay damages to victims, acknowledge state collaboration in crimes or make other gestures.

Although the court and commission do not have the power to imprison guilty parties, the evidence collected by its investigators has been used in successful criminal prosecutions of perpetrators in Peru, Argentina and Chile. The public attention given to these investigations can also spur countries to investigate and prevent crimes more effectively.

Hoyos, the ambassador in Washington, said Colombia's prosecutors, for instance, have vigorously investigated the killings of union activists by right-wing death squads, cases particularly troubling to the commission. Colombian prosecutors in the past eight years have won convictions against 373 people, the government said, a dramatic improvement over the situation in the 1990s.

"We acknowledge that much needs to be done," Hoyos said, "but the advances are indisputable."

1,055 Colombian cases

Investigators from the rights commission examine cases from OAS member states, including the United States, whose operation of a detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been condemned.

The most complaints, 1,400, have come from Peru. Mexico's offensive against drug cartels has generated numerous cases. And in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez's carefully calibrated repression of opponents is under increasingly close scrutiny.

But Washington's closest ally in the region, Colombia, has been the source of the most serious cases of abuse before the commission, investigators familiar with the cases said. In all, the commission is evaluating 1,055 cases. Dozens of the cases of serious violations took place during Uribe's administration.

In the court's latest ruling on Colombia, the state was ordered to apologize publicly to Cepeda's family, build a monument in his honor and fund a university scholarship in his name.

Ivan Cepeda, the senator's son, welcomed the verdict but said he hoped that it would also spur more resources to improve criminal investigations of rights-related crimes.

"If there were justice in Colombia," he said, "you wouldn't have to go the inter-American system of justice."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Caracas to take over US-owned rigs

Chavez's socialist revolution has led to banking and power assets being nationalised [AFP]
Venezuela has said that it will nationalise 11 oil rigs owned by a US company.

The takeover of the rigs, owned by the Helmerich and Payne oil firm, is the most recent move in a programme of nationalisation as part of the socialist 'Bolivarian revolution' of Hugo Chavez, the president.

The rigs have been out of use for months due to a dispute over payments by PDVSA, the state oil company.

Helmerich and Payne, which owns other rigs in the country, had said that it would not work at the sites until they were paid the $49 million it was owed. It did not immediately comment on the planned nationalisation.

Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan oil minister, said on Thursday that the facilities were being taken over to bring them back into production.

'Weakening government'

Ramirez said that firms like Helmerich and Payne who had refused to put their rigs into production were aiming to weaken the government.

"There is a group of drill owners that has refused to discuss tariffs and services with PDVSA and have preferred to keep this equipment stored for a year," he said.

"That is the specific case with US multinational Helmerich and Payne."

Venezuela has suffered a reduction in oil output since 2008.

Despite having significant oil reserves the country is undergoing economic struggles, with power shortages and low food resources affecting Chavez's promises to pull people out of poverty.

His government has nationalised telecommunications, power and steel firms during the last three years.

The government also nationalised Banco Federal, a mid-sized bank, last week giving the state control of 25 per cent of the banking sector.

Legislative elections are to be held in September and Chavez needs to reverse popularity losses due to Venezuela's recession before then

Oil-giants such as Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes also work in Venezuela, although the former pair have avoided public disputes with the government.

Brazil govt plans to limit foreign land purchases

By STAN LEHMAN, Associated Press Writer

SAO PAULO – Brazil's government wants to tighten restrictions on foreign ownership of farm lands in Latin America's biggest country, the Agrarian Development Ministry said Tuesday.
Ministry spokeswoman Denise Mantovani confirmed published remarks by Minister Guilherme Cassel, who said that the government does not want foreigners to buy agricultural land in Brazil.
"We do not need foreigners to produce food in Brazil," Cassel told the business newspaper Valor Economico. "This is the policy of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva."
"Because of food security, Brazilian lands must remain in Brazilian hands," the minister said.
Mantovani said that 10 million acres (4 million hectares) of land had been registered by foreigners as of 2008 and that between 2002 and 2008, foreigners invested $2.43 billion to purchase land.
According to Valor Economico, the decision to put a lid on foreign ownership of land is due to rising world demand for food, water and natural resources.
Mantovani said that current law says large rural properties can only be purchased by Brazilian citizens or residents.
"But foreigners often bypass that rule by setting up companies in Brazil, which are controlled abroad, to purchase land. This is a foreign company and this is what we want to control."
"I am not a xenophobe but our land is finite. The population grows and demands food," the minister said.
Mantovani said that representatives from several ministries were preparing a constitutional amendment to further restrict foreign ownership of land.
She said the amendment being drawn up "could include the revoking of land titles already purchased by foreigners." She did not provide details.
Most foreigners purchase land to raise cattle and grow soybeans and other crops in the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Sao Paulo, Bahia and Minas Gerais.
We are going to draw up an amendment that will make it clear that foreigners can invest in any field, except land." the minister said.
It is unclear when the amendment will be debated in Congress.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Exiled police major gives deposition on Colombian militia

By Juan Forero

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- A retired police major who is in exile in Argentina was deposed Tuesday by the Colombian attorney general's office after he accused President Álvaro Uribe's brother of having led a right-wing paramilitary group in the early 1990s.

A high-ranking prosecutor, Hernando Castañeda, traveled to Buenos Aires and took a three-hour deposition from Juan Carlos Meneses, the former police official. Meneses told The Washington Post in May, when he was living in Venezuela, that Santiago Uribe had led an illegal militia in the town of Yarumal that killed guerrilla sympathizers and suspected rebels.

Officials in the attorney general's office said Meneses's declaration would be evaluated in Bogota to determine if a long-dormant case against Uribe could be reopened.

Meneses, who was commander of the Yarumal police force in 1994, had publicly recounted how he and Uribe planned killings. Briefly jailed but not convicted, Meneses said he fled Colombia in October after associates in the security services warned him he would soon be killed for knowing too much. He went to Venezuela but has also been in Argentina, where he has met with the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

Santiago Uribe has denied the accusations, though he said in a May interview that he expected the case to be reopened on the basis of the new allegations. The Colombian government has vigorously defended the president's brother, accusing Meneses of being paid by a drug-trafficking outfit to make the claims.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Far Worse Than Watergate: Report Reveals Widening Scandal Regarding Intelligence Agency as New Government Takes Office in Colombia

As Colombians prepare to elect a new president on Sunday, a new report reveals the shocking details of the Colombian intelligence agency's Watergate-like scandal, which went well beyond illegally spying on key players in the country's democracy. The Department of Administrative Security (DAS), Colombia's intelligence agency, actually orchestrated active efforts to sabotage the activities of Colombian judges, journalists, human rights defenders, international organizations and political opponents.

The authors of Far Worse than Watergate, the U.S. Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America, reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from the Colombian Attorney General and other sources, revealing how the DAS developed elaborate defamation campaigns -- with titles like "Operation Halloween"-- to destabilize NGOs, create divisions within opposition movements, fabricate false ties to guerrilla groups to ruin defenders' reputations, and undermine the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the DAS was even behind grotesque threats issued to a human rights defender and a journalist -- and their daughters.

The scandal highlights the need to clean up Colombian intelligence operations. To maintain credibility, Colombia's next president -- to be elected on June 20th -- will have to address the dirty tricks, death threats and sabotage efforts against numerous defenders of democracy in Colombia. The new president should also take steps to remove the capacity of the President and his advisors to order intelligence operations without safeguards and oversight. In order to avoid repeat offenses and a politicization of intelligence, the Colombian Congress should be encouraged to exert oversight. The Colombian government must demonstrate that security does not come at the cost of fundamental freedoms.

But U.S. policymakers have cause for concern as well. Did the United States fund these illegal efforts, and in so doing endanger important human rights proponents and political actors? According to U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield, the United States has supplied surveillance equipment to the DAS, although he has claimed it was not used for illegal purposes. But we can not rest assured. During the trial of former DAS director Jorge Noguera, a detective testified that he had been part of a U.S.-funded special unit that apparently tracked union activities. The U.S. Congress appropriately responded to this Watergate-like scandal by including a prohibition of funding for the DAS in the FY2010 foreign operations bill. This is a vital first step. But the same prohibition must be included in defense and intelligence appropriation bills. Congress must investigate whether or not U.S. training and equipment were used for the sinister purpose of undermining the work of legitimate political actors. And most importantly, the U.S. government must establish guarantees to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are never used for criminal ends.

By: Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia, Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, Abigail Poe, Center for International Policy and Gimena Sanchez, Washington Office on Latin America.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Haitian Farmers Resist GM Crops, Environmental Destruction

by: Beverly Bell, t r u t h o u t | Interview

Fast-growing plants and used tires in a demonstration garden of the Peasant Movement of Papay. Haiti's movement of small farmer advocates ecological agriculture as well as policies which protect both the environment and local production. (Photo: Roberto [Bear] Guerra.)
In part II of an interview, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste discusses the role that agriculture can play in Haiti in addressing both the environmental and food crises. (See "The Clock is Set to Zero" for the first part.) Jean-Baptiste is the executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP by its Creole acronym) and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP). Until this year, he also sat on the international coordinating committee of Vía Campesina, a confederation of organizations of peasant, family, indigenous and landless farmers from more than 60 countries.

The solutions Jean-Baptiste and many other Haitians propose reside in part in one set of policies and programs, which can restore land and other riches of nature, and another set, which can protect small-scale, sustainable agricultural production from agribusiness. An additional part of the solution rests in agro-ecology, a model of agriculture based on environmental health. Developed as an alternative to the Green Revolution, agro-ecology urges local production of healthy, organic food for local markets. It values biodiversity and traditional knowledge and opposes genetic modification and patenting of seeds. Haiti is among the many countries with thriving movements of organized farmers who are advancing this model.

Jean-Baptiste gave this interview from Papay where the MPP has created ecological demonstration gardens. The farmers maximize the productivity of small pieces of land in ways which sustain, rather than exhaust, it. They use all natural resources efficiently in bio-loops. They germinate seedlings inside of discarded tires and use other inventive gardening methodology. They are growing fast-growing plants, which yield harvests in six weeks, in addition to other organic vegetables and medicinal plants. Their goats, rabbits and chickens consume kitchen and garden waste and, from it, produce manure which is then used as fertilizer. Compost serves as additional fertilizer. The operation also involves draining gray water from kitchens and showers and running it through several ponds filled with sand, gravel and charcoal; with the cleaned water that emerges, they breed fish and irrigate gardens. MPP also employs cisterns, gravity-fed irrigation and other catchment and watering systems to conserve and maximize water during dry season.

This interview predated the news that Monsanto has donated 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds to Haiti. For Jean-Baptiste's and the MPP's response, see "Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Seeds."
"In contrast to the destruction that the industrial sector is causing around the world, Vía Campesina and other groups such as Friends of Nature have done studies that show that peasant and family agriculture can combat climate change. I'm in a Vía Campesina commission on climate change and, there, we're clear: to impact climate change, we have to change the mode of agricultural production. Peasants around the world are very vigilant about this. In Haiti, we have an advantage, which is that the majority of peasants grow only organically.

"We see the development of Haiti through the production of local, organic food; the conservation of that food; and its transformation into products for the cities. The peasants have said, 'Let's talk about storage and transformation and commercialization in local and national markets. Let's develop an economy where peasants have control.' This could really develop the riches of the country while bringing Haiti back environmentally.

"We see reforestation as extremely important. Haiti has less than 2% tree cover. Two years ago we asked for each rural section to plant 10,000 trees each, or 56,000 trees each year. That would allow us to cover the country.

"Also, if we could plant fruit orchard plantations, that would have three objectives. It would protect the environment. It would give peasants income so that wouldn't have to cut down tress to make wood charcoal. It would also mean that we wouldn't have to depend any more on the Dominican Republic for the lemons, the coconuts, the oranges and other food we consume.

"I talked with an exporter who told me that 200,000 cases of Haitian [Madame] Françique mangos are sold in five square kilometers in Manhattan. That means that there is an enormous market for mangoes in the U.S., which could also help us combat deforestation.

"One thing we need for that to happen is integrated water management systems. Now because of deforestation, when it rains, we get floods. Maybe an earthquake comes every 50 or 100 years, but floods are each year and hurricanes almost every year. Houses get washed away, animals get washed away, land gets washed away, people get washed away. I was talking with a peasant who said we used to have two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. Now we have two seasons: the dry season and the flood season.

"With good irrigation systems we could produce a lot of food and we could help the environment. In Haiti, we have 300,000 hectares of land that could be irrigated, but we have maybe 30,000 or 40,000 that have a good irrigation system now.

"We're developing different irrigation systems with wells that you pump with solar panels. You can use cisterns that catch water on the roof. We've had great experiences with one or two families capturing 15,000 liters of water that have carried them through the dry season. We have other, more advanced systems of mountaintop catchment lakes, which let you to hold rain in lakes that you make with bulldozers or abundant peasant labor, so that when the dry season comes you can have water and you can still grow food. You can also treat gray water, like in the MPP center; we treat the water that comes from the shower and kitchen with a series of lakes with gravel, sand and charcoal.

"One of the things we're doing is creating solar energy, because peasants should have electricity. One member of MPP has two lightbulbs run from a solar panel. He can play his radio, charge his telephone, even watch television.

"All our public positions are clearly against genetically modified seeds and against agro-fuels. We're in a heated battle against the introduction of GM [genetically modified] seeds and against jatropha plantations. We're especially against jatropha, the plant that has a seed that gives oil which you can make agro-diesel from. We don't call it bio-diesel, because we in Vía Campesina are clear that 'bio' means life and that you can't mix life with diesel and big business. They say jatropha is a miracle plant, but from other studies and my own, I know it's a catastrophe plant. One thing we want is a law against jatropha and a law against the introduction of GM seeds. Last year we marched to the parliament and we were well-received. In October we met with the parliament again and we were going to meet them again in January but now we're in a national crisis. But peasants are very vigilant about this.

"We in Haiti are committed to staying a county where organic, biological agriculture dominates. We know that Clinton and the multinationals, the IMF and the WTO, have another plan for us - one based on the import of GM seeds and food aid, one based on making us grow for export, including growing for agro-diesel. But we're putting on pressure to say: no, that's not what Haiti needs, here is what popular Haitian organizations want, here is our agenda."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Priest faces criticism for shining light on human rights abuses in Colombia

By Juan Forero

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- The ruling issued this week was one of the most severe ever handed down in Colombia against a member of the security forces: 30 years in prison for a retired army colonel found responsible for the disappearance of 11 people in 1985.

And it happened in part because of the tireless work of a mild-mannered Catholic priest, the Rev. Javier Giraldo, who sought out evidence from witnesses and made sure that the relatives of the victims were heard by prosecutors and journalists.

For 30 years, Giraldo has been investigating some of the most heinous human rights abuses committed during Colombia's shadowy war and blaming those he says are responsible -- often U.S.-backed security forces. In recent weeks, that work has garnered attention like never before, with his adversaries issuing public threats against the man they call "the Marxist priest," and even President Álvaro Uribe leveling criticism against him.

Giraldo's most recent campaign, which resulted in former police major Juan Carlos Meneses,to President Alvaro, to commit murders in a small northern town in 1994. Giraldo accompanied Meneses to Buenos Aires, where he recounted his story in a videotaped meeting with prominent Argentines.

"A person who incriminates himself is likely a person who is telling the truth," said Giraldo, 65.

Giraldo's role in the Meneses case prompted President Uribe to call him "a useful idiot" of criminal bands out to discredit the administration. A more customary accusation came from Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, a pro-government essayist who labeled Giraldo a "nefarious priest" who does the bidding of the country's largest guerrilla army.

But others see Giraldo as an almost mythical figure who tirelessly collects evidence about crimes that have gone unpunished. That means urging witnesses to come forward, even soldiers and police overcome by their conscience after participating in atrocities.

"He's incredibly important -- a moral figure who is not linked to any armed groups," said Gimena Sanchez, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, a policy group. "I think he completely and utterly pushes the envelope."

Sitting in his small office, Giraldo said he expects to be attacked for his work as an investigator for the Bogota-based Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP). On the walls around his table are photographs of priests and other activists killed in Colombia.

"The establishment tries to delegitimize those who denounce and whoever helps the victims," said Giraldo, who has declined the government's offer of bodyguards. "The intent is to damage one's image, to portray me as a guerrilla supporter."

Those who know Giraldo say he is no stooge of the irregular armies battling for control of land and drugs. He does, however, turn convention on its head by reminding Colombians that their country is still a land of unspeakable crimes.

Colombians have been astonished by his revelations, many of which center on massacres committed by right-wing death squads linked to the military. For a quarter century, Giraldo also worked to shed light on the storming of the Palace of Justice in 1985, when troops wrested control from a guerrilla commando team in a firefight that left more than 100 dead, including 11 Supreme Court justices.

Years later, witnesses and videotaped evidence showed that guerrillas as well as innocent cafeteria workers were taken alive from the palace by soldiers, tortured and killed. A civilian judge found the retired colonel who led the operation, Luis Alfonso Plazas, responsible.

On Thursday, Uribe, flanked by the country's top military commanders, criticized the ruling.

For those who have worked to clarify atrocities, the sentence against Plazas vindicated work by Giraldo and other rights advocates. "He openly denounced this crime, and worked to find witness testimonies," said Jorge Molano, who has worked on the case.

The government initially denied Giraldo's accusations in the Palace of Justice and other cases. But Giraldo's supporters say his allegations, many years later, are proven to be true.

"People say he is paranoid, and then the truth comes out," said César Rodríguez, a legal scholar at University of the Andes and a member of DeJusticia, a legal policy group. "And he is vindicated."

What does concern some rights activists and constitutional experts is the priest's rejection of the justice system.

"The problem is there is hardly any justice," said Giraldo, explaining that the ring leaders of atrocities rarely end up behind bars.

But Alfonso Gómez Méndez, a former attorney general, said Giraldo's failure to support investigations weakens the very justice system that the priest accuses of not doing enough.

"This attitude does not help us to end the impunity," he said. "Justice has advanced in many areas, but the problem is not just the justice system but the attitude of the people."

When pressed, Giraldo acknowledged recent progress, including the arrests of dozens of military officers. He also said that despite his break with the justice system, his work will continue.

"I break with a justice system that is absolutely rotten," Giraldo said. "But I am not saying that I will stop denouncing crimes."

Another Honduran journalist has been killed

The journalist Arturo Mondragon, a resident of Danli, El Paraiso, was killed last night when he walked out from the building where he worked for TV channel.

Mondragon was the news director for channel 16 of Danli, located in eastern Honduras. The profesional had denounced a series of events related to the stealing of cattle and other critical issues.

The Minister of Security, Oscar Alvarez, assured the publica that they are carrying out the investigation but would not reveal what they have found so as to not compromise the process. Since the beginning of 2010 eight journalists have been killed in Honduras.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Washington Paid Journalists to Spin News against the Cuban Five

Walter Lippmann

HAVANA, Cuba, Jun 3 (acn) Washington paid nearly $74,400 to
journalists in Miami as part of a smear campaign against five Cuban
antiterrorists that remain unjustly imprisoned in the United States
since 1998.

The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five —as Gerardo Hernandez,
Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando Gonzalez
are internationally known— announced in a press conferencee on
Wednesday that the new evidence was obtained through a Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) request made 18 months ago.

“Fourteen names came back of journalists who it turns out were
receiving covertly monies from the US government,” said Gloria La
Riva, the coordinator of the committee.

Prensa Latina news agency reports that among those accepting bribes
is reporter Pablo Alfonso, who received $58,600 for 16 articles
published by El Nuevo Herald newspaper.

“This shows that the US Government was an accomplice to manipulating
the jury by bribing journalists that violated the principles of
impartiality and accuracy,” said Heidi Boghosian, from the US
National Lawyers Guild.

She affirmed that constitutional rights were also violated in the
process against the Cuban Five including the Sixth Amendment, which
protects the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

La Riva stated that they began a campaign calling on US Attorney
General Eric Holder to immediately move to remedy the situation and
added that the only remedy can be the freeing of the Cuban Five and
allowing them to go home.

She noted that the mission of the Cuban Five —who were monitoring
anti-Cuba extremist groupss that were planning and carrying out
terrorist attacks against the island— was to save lives. “Yet they
sit in prisoon while known terrorists and terror groups walk free in
Miami,” she pointed out.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

United Nations Attacks Refugee Camp, Protests Mount

Beverly Bell

Last week, the United Nations peacekeeping mission fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowded refugee camp, leaving at least six hospitalized and others suffering respiratory problems. Citizen organizations plan demonstrations for today, the sixth anniversary of the U.N. armed presence in Haiti. The march is part of growing protests against the military forces which have amassed in Haiti since the January 12 earthquake and the lack of attention to displaced people's needs.

On May 23, students at the School of Ethnology of the State University of Haiti held another in a series of protests on the central Champs de Mars Boulevard. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, by its French acronym) and Haitian police went into the school, firing tears gas and rubber bullets while the students threw rocks.

Then at about 3:00, MINUSTAH troops began firing in the internally displaced people's camp in the downtown parks around Champs de Mars, where many thousands of people are crowded into tight quarters. The firing continued for hours, according to residents interviewed for this article and other reports. Camp residents reported that babies and small children choked on the gas and passed out, as did at least two women with preexisting heart conditions. Three doctors with Partners in Health at the University Hospital reported treating at least six victims of rubber bullet rounds. Two children were wounded in the face, one of them requiring about ten stitches, according to one of the doctors.[1]

When the attack began, camp residents, including many elderly and infirm people, and babies and small children fled. "I saw one woman running with her twins that are three or four months old," said Eramithe Delva. "She had one in each arm, and with every step as she ran they banged against her chest. Is this what they want for us?" Many spent the night in the streets, for fear of returning to the camp. Residents interviewed said they had no idea why MINUSTAH fired on them.

MINUSTAH has since issued an apology for entering in the School of Ethnology. The statement did not mention the attack on the camp.

Demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and other areas of the country have become a daily occurrence. Most of them protest the government's handling of the disaster and the heavy political and military presence of foreign powers since January 12. Within days after the earthquake, 12,600 U.N. troops, 20,000 U.S. troops, 2,000 Canadians, 600 French, and more from other countries amassed there.

Rural organizer Selina Pierre-Louis said, "We don't know what these soldiers came to do. They have batons and guns in their hands. They zoom up and down in their huge vehicles all day. We're not at war and we're not armed. We need technical support, we need reconstruction, we need psychological help. They're not doing anything to help the rebuilding. They're just adding to our trauma."

Troop levels overall have abated since the first months after the earthquake. The most recent figures on MINUSTAH's web site show that just over 9,000 MINUSTAH forces remain there. The mission's cost for the current fiscal year is $611.75 million.[2]

The Security Council-approved MINUSTAH was established on June 1, 2004 with a triple mandate of ensuring a "secure and stable environment," promoting a constitutional political process, and strengthening human rights. Francky Etienne Remy, who owns a small craft shop in Jacmel, said, "The Haitian police are totally ineffectual so MINUSTAH fills a vacuum."

Yet MINUSTAH troops have repeatedly been accused of killings, arbitrary arrests, and human rights violations throughout the duration of the mission. (See, for example, the reports of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.) These charges include an attack by MINUSTAH forces in Cité Soleil on April 15, 2005, killing several[3]; an attack on July 6, 2005, resulting in an uncertain number of deaths[4]; the killing of at least five, and possibly many more, people in Cité Soleil in December 22, 2006[5]; and the shooting death of a young man at the funeral of a prominent priest on July 14, 2009[6].

In February, 2008, the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services released its findings from an investigation into accusations against Sri Lankan MINUSTAH troops. It found that acts of sexual exploitation and abuse of children were "frequent" and occurred "at virtually every location where the contingent personnel were deployed."[7]

MINUSTAH forces have also been shot at and killed. MINUSTAH claims it has suffered 152 troop fatalities.[8]

Beyond charges of unnecessary force, others like the student, small farmer, worker, and popular organizations who are organizing today's march, oppose MINUSTAH because they claim the mission undermines Haitian sovereignty. The May 26 press statement for the march, signed by ten organizations, states, "After the January 12 catastrophe, the occupation has been strengthened with other foreign soldiers and MINUSTAH, on the pretext that they are helping us... [T]hey did nothing to help prevent more than 300,000 people from dying under rubble... Now on the sixth anniversary of the occupation, we are taking to the streets of Port-au-Prince to get the country out from under the rubble of MINUSTAH."[9]

Community organizer Nixon Boumba with the grassroots organization Democratic Popular Movement said in an interview, "We're asking for Haitians to be the true actors in their future, and for an end to the occupation to allow the country to have dignity and autonomy for the development and transformation of the country. We need schools, we need people in the camps attended to. After January 12 there have been a lot of opportunities to resolve the problems in the country. Instead, Canada, France, the U.S., Brazil, and others have acted like imperialists, strengthening their power and trying to undermine our chance to change the quality of our country. The U.S. wants Haiti to serve as a military base for the Caribbean, to control resistance from Latin America. And they want to prevent a massive emigration toward the U.S. and Canada."

[1] Information gathered from author interviews as well as first-person testimony collected by Melinda Miles, KOMPAY, and reported in a May 25 email to the author; and by Ansel Herz, Inter Press Service, reported in "U.N. Clash with Frustrated Students Spills into Camps," May 25.
[2] MINUSTAH Facts and Figures,
[3] Eyewitness testimony, AP television news story, April 15, 2010.
[7] Human Rights Watch, "Haiti: Events of 2008,"
[8] MINUSTAH Facts and Figures,
[9] Gwoup 77 et al., "Press Release: Let's mobilize to get the country out of the rubble of foreign aid and the rubble of the occupation," Port-au-Prince, May 26, 2010.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds,, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.