Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coup d'état continues in Ecuador

Chaos broke out in Ecuador when members of the nation’s military and national police forces turned to violence to protest a new law that reduces their pay and benefits.

The coup d'état has not ended and it has not failed, argued author and lawyer Eva Golinger, who is in Caracas, Venezuela. The coup d'état is ongoing, she said.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said he was attacked by police with tear gas. He has been hospitalized due to injuries.

“President Correa in Ecuador has been sequestered by police and military forces. He is in a military hospital where he was taken after he was attacked by the police forces, but he’s now being detained. He is not there anymore n his own will,” said Golinger.

She explained that members of Correa’s government and his supports have attempted to gain access to the President, but the military is denying them access. Meanwhile, opposition groups have spoken out in favor of the Coup d'état and are calling for Correa’s resignation.

“The law that apparently the police were protesting seems to be just be an excuse for some plans that were already underway to execute a coup against Correa,” Golinger said.

In a telephone interview earlier in the day, Correa said there were forces working to assassinate him, but he insisted that even if he is killed his policies will continue in his absence.

Correa’s government and policies have been in conflict with the United States for years, including his rejection of a US based that had been located in the country. Today the US still maintains a presence through the US Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.

”Some of the groups coming out calling for the president’s resignation are known as groups receiving funding from these US agencies. So, again there is an indications already in just the beginning moments of this coup that’s underway of backing from different US agencies,” said Golinger.

Coup attempts in Latin America in recent years took place in nations that are or were members of the Bolivarian Alliance, which works to oppose US hegemony in the region.

“It seems to be that this is an attempt to deter Latin American integration and independence,” said Golinger.

Author and journalist Marc Saint Upéry in Quito, Ecuador said, if it is indeed a coup d'état it is very poorly organized. He said what is happening is a rebellion by the police forces over the reduction in their benefits and pay. The Correa government has said however that benefits have not been cut, and that pay has actually been increased.
“It’s the kind over reaction which makes real political manipulation. What I don’t see is a real big consideration with strategically thinking. I think if it is a coup d'état, I think it’s a very badly organized coup d'état,” said Upéry.

It has been reported that Correa said there was an attempt on his life.

“That’s not exactly what he said,” said Upéry. “He went to talk to the policemen in one of their camps and there he said, ‘well if you want to kill me, kill me’. The fact is they didn’t kill him.”

But, when the president left some policemen used a noxious gas which did impact him.

“If they wanted to kill him, they could have killed him very easily,” said Upéry.

He explained that he is still not sure what the policemen want, their only demands have been that the law be changed to return the benefits they feel they have lost.

The national army has however issued a declaration in support of Correa and issued a state of emergency, placing them in charge.

“What should happen is that the army intervenes to free the president,” said Upéry.

However, Upéry said that such an incident would be a very delicate because the army does not want to have to take lives or shed the blood of police members.

The people of Ecuador have come out in strong support for the president. The people want the police to stop and the president to be released, even though some do understand the concerns of the police force, said Upéry.

As this goes on, crime has suddenly risen and armed gangs have taken to the streets since there are no ongoing police patrols.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Retired Military Officers Urge Lifting of Cuba Travel Ban

Laura Rozen, Politico, September 27, 2010

Nine retired U.S. military officers are urging that the U.S. travel ban to Cuba be lifted.

In a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), retired generals Paul Eaton, Robert Gard, John Castellaw, John Hutson, David Irvine, John Johns, Stephen Xenakis, and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson argue that Cuba does not pose a threat to the security of the United States. Eaton currently serves as a senior advisor to the progressive National Security Network, and Wilkerson was an advisor to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We have already seen how the loosened travel restrictions for families visiting relatives in Cuba have begun to build good will and change from within in Cuba," the retired U.S. military officers write. "Lifting the overall travel ban would extend this cultural and economic engagement and … [enhance] our security by removing unnecessary sources of discontent in a country so close to the United States."

Repression's Reward in Honduras? Dinner with Obama.

Dana Frank. Huffington Post. September 24, 2010

Why is the U.S. still supporting a repressive regime in Honduras? While Secretary of State Clinton continues to insist that democracy is marching forward in Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo's ongoing coup government has been escalating its violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators, opposition radio stations, and critics. Repression under Lobo has now achieved levels equal to those after Roberto Micheletti took power in the June 28, 2009 coup. Lobo's reward: dinner at the White House this week.

The details are chilling, and bald. On Wednesday, September 15 -- Independence Day, for Hondurans -- police and the military brutally broke up an opposition demonstration in San Pedro Sula, the country's second largest city. First troops broke into the entrance to Radio Uno, the only opposition radio station in the city, lobbed tear gas into its windows, trashed its offices, and very deliberately destroyed a popular statue of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya. Ten minutes into a concert in the Central Park, police suddenly stormed the stage and destroyed the instruments of all three musical groups ready to perform. At the same time, amidst clouds of tear gas and other chemicals, troops turned viciously on the peacefully gathered demonstrators, grabbing people randomly and beating them with batons. Officers beat up teenagers in a high school drum corps; they smashed all the windows and lights of a union-owned pickup truck parked nearby; an elderly man selling lottery tickets died of the tear gas.

Ever since Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo came into office as President of Honduras in January, after a fraudulent election from which opposition candidates withdrew, he's been testing what he and the nation's elites can get away with, gradually unleashing more and more violence against the opposition. On August 13 police violently attacked peaceful demonstrators in Choloma with tear gas, brutal beatings with batons, and further beatings while in detention. When teachers marched in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on August 26 and 27, they were met with tear gas, batons, and even live ammunition.

Paramilitary-style assassinations and death threats against trade unionists, campesino activists, and feminists active in the opposition continue unabated, with complete impunity. Last Friday night, September 17, gunmen shot and killed Juana Bustillo, a leader in the social security workers' union. Nine journalists critical of the government have been killed since Lobo took office. On September 19 in Tegucigalpa, unknown assailants shot at Luis Galdamez, a prominent opposition radio and TV commentator, as he entered his home with his young son. The police wouldn't even show up for an hour and a half.

Although many in the U.S. press still cast the Honduran opposition as merely supporters of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, they are united by a far deeper vision that hopes to address the country's overwhelming poverty and break the lockdown of the oligarchs on its political system and economy. The resistance has so far collected 1,346,876 signatures (out of a country of 7.8 million) calling for a constitutional convention through which to refound Honduran society.

The opposition is also trying hard to stop a wave of economic aggression against its already impoverished working people. It is demanding that Lobo finally declare a new minimum wage, as he has been legally mandated to do for months now. It is also trying to stop a draconian reformation of the country's basic labor law, that will not only destroy full-time, permanent employment -- which in turn, is legally necessary for workers to form unions -- but allows employers to pay 30% of what they they owe employees not in actual money but in company scrip -- with its value set by the company.

President Lobo persists in cloaking his repressive military-led rule by calling it a "government of national reconciliation." All the repression, in his fictional world, is just common crime. Yes, common crime, much of it gang-led, is hideously rampant in Honduras. But it flourishes in the ripe climate of mass poverty the Honduran oligarchs foster; and it doesn't account for the selective assassinations of opposition activists and journalists, over and over. And Lobo, of course, not the gangs, is the one ordering the police to attack demonstrations and countenancing paramilitary assassinations.

The Obama administration supports this chilling regime one hundred percent. Military aid has been fully restored. The International Monetary Fund on September 10 announced an additional $196 million loan to Honduras. Preposterously, just as Lobo launched the tear gas on Independence Day in Honduras, Hillary Clinton praised once again its "resumption of democratic and constitutional government."

Rather than extol Lobo, send him more and more guns and funds, and invite him to a gracious dinner with other presidents visiting the United Nations, Obama should cut all ties with the regime and stop pressuring the Organization of American States to re-admit Honduras. The White House should heed a letter currently circulating in Congress, sponsored by Representative Sam Farr, and cut all military aid. And please, no dinners legitimating repressive, fraudulent thugs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chavez allies see congressional majority cut back


President Hugo Chavez's allies held on to control of Venezuela's congress in election results released Monday, but his opponents made major gains that trimmed the firebrand leader's power — an achievement that sent him a warning with two years to go before the next presidential vote.
Both sides claimed the results were a victory, but Chavez lost the two-thirds majority that has allowed his allies to ignore the opposition while giving the president decree powers, rewriting fundamental laws and appointing key officials such as Supreme Court justices.
With the vast majority of votes from Sunday's election counted, Chavez's socialist party won at least 96 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition coalition won at least 61 seats, National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said. Chavez's party had held an overwhelming majority in the outgoing congress because the opposition boycotted the past election.
The remaining eight seats Sunday went either to a small splinter party or had not yet been determined, she said.
A day after the vote, electoral officials still had not released actual vote counts.
Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, leader of the opposition coalition, said its own counts showed anti-Chavez candidates garnered a majority of the popular vote despite getting fewer than half the seats up for election.
Opposition parties complain that recent electoral changes drawn up by Chavez's allies give heavier representation to rural areas where the president is most popular. It is an advantage Chavez will not have in the 2012 presidential vote.
While government opponents celebrated the results as a victory, Chavez dismissed their claims in posts on Twitter. "The squalid ones say they won. Well, let them keep 'winning' like that!" Chavez wrote.
A crowd of government supporters who had gathered outside the presidential palace showed mixed emotions when Lucena announced the results. Some showed disappointment by holding their heads in their hands while others thrust their fists in the air, declaring a triumph.
Chavez backers drove through downtown Caracas celebrating, waving party flags and honking horns. Powerful fireworks exploded above the streets, echoing throughout much of the capital.
Opposition leaders celebrated at the coalition's headquarters in Caracas, where they hugged and kissed each other amid smiling supporters.
The opposition's goal was to win a majority of the assembly's seats. Even though they fell short, they will be now able to put some constraints on Chavez's lawmaking power, and will also be empowered to demand checks on government spending.
The opposition, which boycotted the last legislative elections in 2005, dramatically increased its representation beyond the dozen or so lawmakers who defected from Chavez's camp in the current National Assembly.
"There's going to be some paralysis in the assembly because many decisions require a two-thirds majority. It's going to put some brakes on Chavez's project," said Gregory Wilpert, author of the book "Changing Venezuela By Taking Power."
"For the opposition it's a mixed bag, but it's a step forward in the sense that they've committed themselves to playing the democratic game," Wilpert added, noting that Chavez opponents attempted — and failed — to oust Chavez through a 2002 coup.
In the western state of Zulia, where the opposition won 12 of the 15 posts up for grabs, Gov. Pablo Perez attributed the opposition's gains to the coalition's decision to field a single candidate for each of the 165 seats being contested.
"We showed Venezuela that we can advance if we're united," Perez said.
Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, said the outcome could prompt Chavez to concentrate on resolving pressing domestic problems, which include rampant violent crime, a lingering economic recession and Latin America's highest rate of inflation.
"It might force him to be more pragmatic and increasingly more focused on internal matters, especially now that he's got his eye looking toward 2012," when he faces re-election, Tinker Salas said.
Still, the opposition lacks a strong presence in many of the rural states where Chavez remains most popular, making it more difficult for government foes to win strong backing for a presidential candidate within two years, Tinker Salas said.
Polls suggest Chavez remains the most popular politician in Venezuela, yet surveys also have shown a decline in his popularity in the past two years as disenchantment has grown over the nation's persisting domestic problems.
Since he was first elected in 1998, Chavez has fashioned himself as a revolutionary-turned-president, carrying on the legacy of his mentor Fidel Castro, with a nationalist vision and a deep-seated antagonism toward the U.S. government. He has largely funded his government with Venezuela's ample oil wealth, touting social programs targeted to his support base.
During the campaign, Chavez had portrayed the vote as a choice between his "Bolivarian Revolution" and opposition politicians he accuses of serving the interests of the wealthy and his adversaries in the U.S. government.
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda and Ian James contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Colombian senator ousted for links to FARC

By the CNN Wire Staff

Colombia's attorney general removed and disqualified Sen. Piedad Cordoba from the Congress for 18 years for having "promoted and collaborated" with the FARC guerrillas, the attorney general's office said in a statement.
Attorney General Alejandro Ordonez Maldonado made the announcement Monday.
Cordoba is a controversial political figure in Colombia.
She heads Colombians for Peace, a group trying to end to the decades-old war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
Cordoba has had a hand in freeing prisoners held by the FARC, including two soldiers released in March, one of them who was a captive of the rebels for 12 years.
Cordoba has had a hand in the release of at least 19 hostages.
The high-profile releases have earned Cordoba praise and a rumors of being a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Critics say that her ties to the FARC are too close for comfort, however.
Ordonez said that the investigation against Cordoba originated from computers seized in a 2008 operation against a top FARC leader, Raul Reyes. Reyes was killed in a Colombian military raid.
The evidence showed communications between the FARC and the senator, who was identified under the aliases "Teodora," "Teodora de Bolivar," "La Negra" and "La Negrita," the statement said.
In these communications with the FARC, a designated terrorist group, Cordoba overreached her functions and authority to negotiate hostage releases, the statement said.
The links found on the computers were corroborated through other channels, including legal phone taps, the attorney general's office said.
On her Twitter account, Cordoba wrote Thursday that she was meeting with her attorneys about the attorney general's decision. "Be calm," she wrote.
Investigators "established with certainty that the senator sent advice to the FARC," the statement said.
In particular, the investigation found that she advised the rebel group not to send videos of hostages and instead voice recordings, with the goal of helping meet the group's agenda, the statement said.
The attorney general's office said that Cordoba instructed the FARC to release proof of life videos from the hostages with the goal of making other countries look favorable. She also made public statements aimed at promoting the rebel group and helping their interests, the statement said.
While Cordoba lost her senatorial post, she was not charged with treason, the attorney general pointed out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WOLA slams US certification of Colombia's rights record


U.S. NGO the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) expressed disappointment at the U.S. State Department's decision to certify that Colombia's government meets with statutory requirements on human rights.

WOLA points out that the Department of State acknowledges "abundant" human rights violations and a lack of progress on prosecutions. "By certifying that human rights conditions are met despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the U.S. government has once again prioritized the delivery of its complete package of military assistance over progress on human rights."

"The U.S. Congress should use its authority to freeze the assistance attached to the conditions until greater human rights progress is achieved," says the NGO.

WOLA argues that Colombia has not complied with the conditions required by the U.S. Congress to receive the aid. The State Department's decision frees up $30.3 million dollars in aid.

An earlier statement released by WOLA in conjunction with several other human rights groups and NGOs urged the State Department not to certify Colombia, because "not only has Colombia failed to meet the conditions, it has taken a significant step backward during the last year-long certification period, particularly in failing to bring human rights crimes by security forces to justice."

This statement highlighted the lack of investigation and prosecution into cases of extrajudicial executions; the expansion of paramilitary and criminal groups; and increased threats against human rights defenders, journalists, Afro-Colombian groups, indigenous organizations, and trade unionists.

In a statement on the decision, the U.S. Department of State said that while "there continues to be a need for improvement," the Santos administration "takes human rights seriously."

Honduran Police Tear Gas Zeyala Supporters; 1 Dead


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- A street vendor died Thursday from inhaling tear gas fired by police against hundreds of supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Separately, gunmen killed the government's deputy director of transportation -- the latest in a string of assassinations in a country plagued with political turmoil and rampant crime.

The police used tear gas and a water cannon to break up the demonstration Wednesday in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. The police chased some of the protesters into an opposition radio station, whose employees were forced to evacuate because of the tear gas.

Efrain Hernandez, 66, died in the hospital Thursday, police said in a statement. Hernandez, who sold lottery tickets in the area, had asthma. Three others were hurt, including one person struck in the face with a tear gas canister.

Police spokesman Hector Mejia said the demonstrators were intimidating a group of students participating in a government-organized march to mark the 189th anniversary of Honduras' independence from Spain.

The protesters -- some of whom were students themselves -- denied that, saying police attacked without provocation.

''Dozens of students were savagely beaten,'' said Orfilia Mejia, a former opposition congresswoman and mother of Aristides Mejia, the vice president under Zelaya.

Zelaya was ousted in a June 2009 coup in a dispute over changing the Honduran Constitution. He was replaced by an interim government, which in January handed over power to Porfirio Lobo, the president elected in November elections that had been scheduled before Zelaya's ouster.

Zelaya supporters have kept up demonstrations to demand his return from exile in the Dominican Republic. Lobo has said Zelaya is welcome to return to Honduras, but must face charges of fraud, usurping other institutions' powers and falsifying documents.

During the protest Wednesday, police chased several demonstrators into the offices of Radio Uno, even as employees of the station fled outside as the tear gas wafted in.

Radio Uno director Arnulfo Aguilar said police hurled objects that broke the station's windows and beat one of his employees unconscious.

The police listed the employee, Ernesto Bardales, as one of the three injured.

''This is a repressive act by the Lobo's coup government, which we will denounce to the world,'' Aguilar said.

Defense Minister Marlon Pascua said the Zelaya supporters were trying to infiltrate and disrupt the government-organized march.

''We didn't repress anybody,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Transportation Director Rosel Quinonez was killed Thursday night as he got out of his car in the northern city of La Ceiba.

Authorities had no information on a possible motive. Quinonez, 46, was a longtime politician in Lobo's National Party.

''We regret that these sort of actions are happening in Honduras,'' Transport Director Blas Ramos said in a news conference. ''We feel besieged and sad.''

Dozens of politicians, journalists, activists, security officials, businessmen and lawyers have been killed in recent years in Honduras.

The vast majority of those cases have gone unresolved, although authorities suspect a myriad of motives in an impoverished country of persistent political unrest and a soaring homicide rate fueled by drug trafficking.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

36 Colombian Union Leaders Slain in 2010

BOGOTA – Thirty-six union leaders have been murdered in Colombia so far this year, compared with 26 during the first eight months of 2009, an official of the CUT labor federation said Tuesday.

Five of the 36 slain leaders were from a single organization, the Adida union representing teachers in the northwestern province of Antioquia, CUT human rights director Luis Alberto Vanegas said.

Paramilitary groups involved in drug trafficking routinely distribute flyers threatening union activists, he said.

“A high percentage of those who threaten and pursue unionists are the private armies of paramilitaries financed by landholding business-owners,” Vanegas said.

More than 2,700 unionists have been killed in Colombia since 1986, including 40 slain last year, making the Andean nation the world’s most dangerous country for organized labor, the CUT says.

Those statistics have prompted U.S. lawmakers to oppose ratification of the trade accord the Bush administration negotiated with Colombia, a pact that remains on hold. EFE

Cuba says U.S. embargo has toughened under Obama

By Nelson Acosta

(Reuters) - The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has gotten tougher under U.S. President Barack Obama, not more lenient as many had expected when he took office, a top Cuban official said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in the Cuban government's annual update on the 48-year-old embargo, said the United States is levying bigger fines, applying sanctions more firmly and pursuing embargo-busting financial transactions more vigorously under Obama.

"The embargo policy in the last two years, which is to say under the government of President Obama, has not changed at all," Rodriguez said in a press conference. "In some aspects, it has even hardened."

In terms of U.S. policy toward Cuba, Obama had performed "below expectations that had been created in the international community and American public opinion," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the embargo has cost Cuba $751 billion over the years, adjusted for inflation and the changing value of the dollar.

"It is, without any doubt, the primary obstacle to the economic development of our country," he said.

The United Nations is scheduled to hold its annual vote on a resolution condemning the embargo on October 26. Last year, only three countries -- the United States, Israel and Palau -- voted against the measure.

The embargo, said Rodriguez, "is a museum piece of the Cold War. It is, moreover, a failed policy."

The embargo was fully imposed in 1962, with the aim of toppling the communist government put in place by Fidel Castro after he took power in a 1959 revolution.

The embargo prohibits most trade with Cuba, with exceptions for agricultural products and medicine.

Obama spoke early on of improving relations with Cuba, but insisted the embargo -- which Cuba calls a "blockade" -- would stay in place until the Caribbean island improved its human rights and released political prisoners.

He has eased the embargo slightly by removing restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to the island and the amount of money they can send to their family members in Cuba.

There has been more leniency, too, in granting of licenses for visits by U.S. performers and academics, but progress has stalled since Cuba detained a U.S. contractor in December on suspicion of espionage.

The contractor, Alan Gross, remains behind bars in Cuba, without formal charges. The U.S. says he was not a spy, but was in Cuba installing Internet services for Jewish groups.

Rodriguez was questioned about Gross, but he responded only that the embargo is a unilateral act by the U.S. and must be lifted immediately and without conditions.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Jerry Norton)