Saturday, January 22, 2011

Latin America: The Empire Strikes Back

By Conn Hallinan

For the past decade, American policy vis-à-vis Latin
America has been relatively low-key, partly because of
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and partly because
the region has seen an unprecedented growth in economic
power and political independence. But, with Republicans
taking over the House of Representatives, that is about
to change, and, while the Southern Cone no longer
stands to attention when Washington snaps its fingers,
an aggressive and right wing Congress is capable of
causing considerable mischief.

Rep. Lleana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), a long-time hawk on
Cuba and leftist regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia, is
the new chair of the powerful House Committee on
Foreign Affairs, and the rightist Rep. Connie Mack (D-
Fl) heads up the House subcommittee on Western
Hemisphere affairs. Ros-Lethinen is already preparing
hearings aimed at Venezuela and Bolivia, and Mack will
try to put the former on the State Department's list of
countries sponsoring terrorism.

Ros-Lehtinen plans to target Venezuela's supposed ties
to Middle East terrorist groups and Iran's nuclear
weapons program, and to push for economic sanctions
against Venezuela's state-owned oil company and banks.
"It will be good for congressional subcommittees to
start talking about [President of Venezuela Hugo]
Chavez, about [President of Bolivia Evo] Morales, about
issues that have not been talked about," she told the
Miami Herald.

The new chairs of the House Intelligence Committee and
Judiciary Committee have also signaled they intend to
weigh in on establishing a more hawkish line on Latin

Unfortunately, it is the Obama administration that
created an opening for the Republicans. While the White
House came in pledging to improve relations with Latin
America, Washington has ended up supporting a coup in
Honduras, strengthening the U.S. military's presence in
the region, and ignoring growing criticism of its
failed war on drugs.

Recent disclosures by Wikileaks reveal the Obama
administration was well aware that the June 2009
Honduran coup against President Manuel Zelaya was
illegal; nonetheless, it intervened to help keep the
coup forces in power. Other cables demonstrate an on-
going American hostility to the Morales regime in
Bolivia and Washington's sympathy with secessionist
forces in that country's rich eastern provinces.

Many Latin Americans initially had high hopes the Obama
administration would bring a new approach to its
relations with the region, but some say they have seen
little difference from the Bush Administration. "The
truth is that nothing has changed and I view that with
sadness," says former Brazilian president Luiz Lula da
Silva. But things may go from bad to worse if the White
House is passive in the face of a sharp rightward turn
by Congress.

The Latin America of 2011 is not the same place it was
a generation ago. Economic growth has outstripped the
U.S. and Europe, progressive and left governments have
lifted 38 million people out of poverty, cut extreme
poverty by 70 percent, and increased literacy. The
region has also increased its south-south relations
with countries like China, South Africa and India.
China is now Brazil's number one trading partner. An
economic alliance-Mercosur-has knitted the region
together economically, and the U.S.-dominated
Organization of American States (OAS) finds itself
eclipsed by the newly formed Union of South American

But many countries in Latin America are still riven by
wealth disparities, ethnic divides, and powerful ties
between local oligarchies and the region's curse:
powerful and undemocratic police and militaries. One
such military pulled off the Honduran coup, and police
came within a whisker of overthrowing Ecuador's
progressive president, Rafael Correa, in 2010.

One 2007 Wikileaks cable titled "A Southern Cone
perspective on countering Chavez and reasserting U.S.
leadership," pointed out "Southern Cone militaries
remain key institutions in their respective countries
and important allies for the U.S." The author of the
cable, then ambassador to Chile, Craig Kelly, is
currently principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State. Kelly strongly recommended increasing aid to
Latin American militaries to help them "modernize."

In many cases, rightists in Latin America share an
agenda with right-wing forces in the U.S. For instance,
Republicans played a key role in supporting the
Honduran coup and continue to strengthen those ties. In
a recent trip to Honduras, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ca)
-a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee-brought together U.S. business leaders and
Honduran officials to discuss American investment.
Honduras was suspended from the OAS, and only a handful
of Latin American governments recognize the new
president, Porfirio Lobo.

It was the Obama Administration, however, who
recognized the government established by the coup, and
remains silent in the face of what Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch calls widespread
human rights violations by the Lobos regime, including
the unsolved murder of at least 18 opponents. U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is lobbying hard to
have Honduras re-admitted to the OAS.

A quick survey of Republican targets suggests troubled
waters ahead.

Chavez has won two elections and is enormously popular.
He has cut poverty, tripled social spending, doubled
university enrollment, and extended health care to most
of the poor. A U.S. engineered coup seems unlikely. But
a "supporter of terrorism" designation would cause
considerable difficulties with international financing
and foreign investment. Sanctions on oil and banking
would also disrupt the Venezuelan economy, in the long
run creating conditions favorable to a possible coup.

While it is hard to imagine what else the U.S. could do
to Cuba, Congress may try to choke off investment in
Cuba's growing oil and gas industries. Companies are
already jumping through hoops to avoid getting around
the current embargo. The Spanish oil company Repsol
and Italy's Eni SpA recently built an offshore oil rig
in China to dodge the blockade.

"It is ridiculous that Repsol, a Spanish oil company,
is paying an Italian firm to build an oil rig in China
that will be used next year to explore for oil 50 miles
from Florida," Sarah Stephens, director of the Center
for Democracy in the Americas told the Financial Times.
If the Republicans have their way, sanctions will be
applied to those oil companies.

Ecuador's Correa beat back a recent right-wing coup,
largely because of his 67 percent approval rating. He
has doubled spending on health care, increased social
spending, and stiffed an illegitimate $3.2 billion
foreign debt. But he has a tense relationship with
indigenous movements, which accuse him of trying to
marginalize them. While those groups did not support
the coup, neither did they rally to the government's
support. Those divisions could be easily exploited to
destabilize the government.

In the case of Bolivia, the Wikileak released cables,
according to Latin American journalist and author
Benjamin Dangl, "lays bare an embassy that is biased
against Evo Morales' government, underestimates the
sophistication of the governing party's grassroots
base, and is out of touch with the political reality of
the country."

The cables indicate the U.S. is relying on information
from extreme right wing and violent secessionist groups
in Eastern Bolivia, groups that receive financing and
training from the National Endowment for Democracy and
USAID. Both groups have close ties to American
intelligence organizations. Given Brazil's strong
opposition to any attempt to break up Bolivia, it is
not clear a succession movement would succeed. But
would Brazil-or Argentina, Uruguay or Paraguay-actually

Paraguay is also a country deeply divided between left
and right, with a progressive president who warned last
year that a coup by the country's powerful military was
a possibility.

The Obama administration's acceptance of the Honduran
coup sent a chill throughout Latin America, and
certainly emboldened those who see tanks and caudillos
as an answer to the region's surge of progressive
politics and independent foreign policy. The recent
effort by Turkey and Brazil to broker a compromise with
Iran over its nuclear program did not go down well in
Washington. Neither have efforts to chart an
independent course on the Middle East by nations in the
region. Several countries have formally recognized a
Palestinian state, and Peru will host an Arab-Latin
America summit Feb. 16.

Latin America is no longer an appendage to the colossus
of the north, but its growing independence is fragile,
as the coups in Honduras and Ecuador suggest. The chasm
between rich and poor is being closed, but it is still
substantial. The economies in the region are growing at
a respectable 6 percent, but, because they are
relatively small, they can be more easily derailed by
internal and external crises. Even as its power wanes,
the U.S. is still the world's largest economy with the
world's largest military. This, plus anti-democratic
forces in Latin America, is fertile ground for
mischief, particularly if there is not strong
resistance on the U.S. home front.

Read Conn Hallinan's writings at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Leaked cable reopens Honduras debate

By Kevin Bogardus

A State Department cable released by the website WikiLeaks has reopened the Washington debate over last year’s ouster of then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

The leaked July 2009 cable, signed by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, said the removal of Zelaya by the Honduran military “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” In stark language, the cable takes apart arguments made by defenders of Zelaya’s ouster, calling them fabrications or suppositions.

The cable has attracted the attention of the Obama administration’s critics on both the right and the left. For example, the cable has set off a new round of aspersions from the likely next chairman of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who said Llorens was “part of the problem, not the solution.”

“If I am fortunate enough to be the chair of the committee, we are going to continue to look into the actions of the ambassador in Honduras. I don’t think he played the appropriate role. The ambassador should not be on the ground trying to manipulate the outcome,” Mack told The Hill.

Mack and other Republicans have said Zelaya’s removal came about from his alleged power grab. Though Zelaya was shipped off to neighboring Costa Rica in the middle of the night by Honduran soldiers, GOP lawmakers have refused to call his ouster a coup. They say Hondurans chose to remove Zelaya through the actions of their legislative and judicial branches of government.

“There is no one with a straight face that can call this a military coup. It is disingenuous,” Mack said.

Others have disagreed, citing the leaked cable as further confirmation that the Honduran president’s ouster was an illegal coup.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a liberal think tank, testified before Congress last year about Zelaya’s ouster.

“The cable confirms what we believed from the beginning — this was a coup, it was unconstitutional, and it has helped undermine the rule of law, political and human rights in Honduras, with problems persisting to this day,” Stephens said.

She said the Obama administration has distanced itself from its original take on Zelaya’s removal.

“The reporting in the cable is quite clear in terms of where the administration started out, and it is equally clear that over time the Obama administration’s position on Honduras deviated further and further from the analysis contained in it,” Stephens said. “Given the conditions on the ground in Honduras, and given the repercussions in the region, we continue to believe that standing firm against the coup was the right position at the beginning and the administration should have stuck with it more firmly over time.”

In June 2009, Zelaya was deposed by the Honduran military after it was alleged he wanted to remove the presidency's term limits to stay in power. Zelaya has denied those accusations.

Zelaya was never reinstated to power to finish out his last term, and has now been exiled to the Dominican Republic. Honduras held elections in November 2009 that saw Porfirio Lobo win the presidency.

President Obama first called Zelaya’s ouster “not legal” and said it would set a "terrible precedent" for the region, striking a tone similar to the leaked cable. But later the U.S. government recognized Honduras’s elections last year despite calls for the administration not to do so due to the controversy over Zelaya’s removal.

Though that approach was criticized by some on the left, it has won praise from one key member of the House: Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Next Congress, Engel will likely be the ranking member of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Honduras.

Calling it “masterful job,” Engel said the Obama administration took a pragmatic, “middle-of-the-road” position that put itself between both parties up on Capitol Hill.

“The Republicans were annoyed at the beginning that the administration called it a coup and Democrats were annoyed at the end — not all, but some — that they recognized the elections,” Engel said. “I think what we did keeps the United States’ influence in a positive way alive there.”

The Central American nation now has its own representation in Washington to handle its relations with lawmakers.

Honduras has recently contracted with law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates, run by former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis. Davis-Block, Davis's new strategic consulting firm founded with Josh Block, the former American Israel Public Affairs Committee spokesman, is also helping out on the Honduras account.

According to Davis, Honduras’s government would like to move past the leaked cable describing Zelaya’s ouster.

“We are not commenting on past analyses by the Ambassador. The facts speak for themselves,” Davis said. “It's time to look to the future, not the past. Honduras is and has been a loyal ally of the U.S. and a constitutional democracy, operating with separate branches of government under the rule of law.”

Davis is a columnist for The Hill and a contributor to The Hill's Pundits Blog.

In the meantime, the Obama administration will have to contend with the new Republican House next year.

In his interview with The Hill, Mack repeated his earlier calls for Llorens to step aside. The Florida Republican said it was too early for him to call for hearings in Congress’s next session on Honduras but that what happened there will be “on my plate” next year.

“We will have to see. I would like us to do another hearing,” Mack said.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Office of the Press Secretary

Today, President Obama has directed the Secretaries of State,
Treasury, and Homeland Security to take a series of steps to continue
efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to
freely determine their country’s future.

The President has directed that changes be made to regulations and
policies governing: (1) purposeful travel; (2) non-family remittances;
and (3) U.S. airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from
Cuba. These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support
civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from,
and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from
Cuban authorities.

The President believes these actions, combined with the continuation
of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal
of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens. These
steps build upon the President’s April 2009 actions to help reunite
divided Cuban families; to facilitate greater telecommunications with
the Cuban people; and to increase humanitarian flows to Cuba.

The directed changes described below will be enacted through
modifications to existing Cuban Assets Control and Customs and Border
Protection regulations and policies and will take effect upon
publication of modified regulations in the Federal Register within 2

Purposeful Travel. To enhance contact with the Cuban people and
support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious,
cultural, and educational travel, the President has directed that
regulations and policies governing purposeful travel be modified to:

· Allow religious organizations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba
under a general license.

· Facilitate educational exchanges by: allowing accredited
institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba for course
work for academic credit under a general license; allowing students to
participate through academic institutions other than their own; and
facilitating instructor support to include support from adjunct and
part-time staff.

· Restore specific licensing of educational exchanges not involving
academic study pursuant to a degree program under the auspices of an
organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs.

· Modify requirements for licensing academic exchanges to require that
the proposed course of study be accepted for academic credit toward
their undergraduate or graduate degree (rather than regulating the
length of the academic exchange in Cuba).

· Allow specifically licensed academic institutions to sponsor or
cosponsor academic seminars, conferences, and workshops related to
Cuba and allow faculty, staff, and students to attend.

· Allow specific licensing to organize or conduct non-academic clinics
and workshops in Cuba for the Cuban people.

· Allow specific licensing for a greater scope of journalistic activities.

Remittances. To help expand the economic independence of the Cuban
people and to support a more vibrant Cuban civil society, the
President has directed the regulations governing non-family
remittances be modified to:

· Restore a general license category for any U.S. person to send
remittances (up to $500 per quarter) to non-family members in Cuba to
support private economic activity, among other purposes, subject to
the limitation that they cannot be provided to senior Cuban government
officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party.

· Create a general license for remittances to religious institutions
in Cuba in support of religious activities.

No change will be made to the general license for family remittances.

U.S. Airports. To better serve those who seek to visit family in Cuba
and engage in other licensed purposeful travel, the President has
directed that regulations governing the eligibility of U.S. airports
to serve as points of embarkation and return for licensed flights to
Cuba be modified to:

· Allow all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services
to licensed charters, provided such airports have adequate customs and
immigration capabilities and a licensed travel service provider has
expressed an interest in providing service to and from Cuba from that

The modifications will not change the designation of airports in Cuba
that are eligible to send or receive licensed charter flights to and
from the United States.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Million Plus Remain Homeless and Displaced in Haiti: One Year After Quake

by Bill Quigley and Jeena Shah / January 12th, 2011

One year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, more than a million people remain homeless in Haiti. Homemade shelters and tents are everywhere in Port au Prince. People are living under plastic tarps or sheets in concrete parks, up to the edge of major streets, in the side streets, behind buildings, in between buildings, on the sides of hills, literally everywhere.

UNICEF estimates that more than 1 million people – 380,000 of them children – still live in displacement camps.

“The recovery process” as UNICEF says, “is just beginning.”

One of the critical questions is how many people remain without adequate housing. While there are fewer big camps of homeless and displaced people, there has been extremely little rebuilding. The UN reported that 97,000 tents have been provided since the quake. Tents are an improvement over living under a sheet but they are not homes. Many families have lived many places in the last year circulating from rough shelters to tents to camps to other camps to living alongside other families.

It is important to understand that families may leave the huge unsupervised camps and still be homeless someplace else – like a tent in another part of the city or country. Moving from one type of homelessness to another cannot be allowed to be declared progress against homelessness and displacement.

The key human rights goal is housing, not moving out of the displacement camps.

One illustration of the housing challenge facing the Haitian people can be found in a recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM December report announced a reduction in the number of persons remaining in displacement camps. The IOM then wrongly concluded that the number of people displaced and homeless was reduced accordingly. Why is this conclusion wrong? Because the IOM report does not even try to track where displaced persons go after they leave a particular camp. They equate homeless families moving out of displacement camps as families finding housing.

These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading but threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an opportunity to examine some of the many important housing challenges still facing Haitians.

IOM Assertion: “We finally start to see light at the end of the tunnel for the earthquake-affected population…these are hopeful signs that many victims of the quake are getting on with their lives.” IOM reported there has been a 31% decrease in the number of internally displaced people living on IDP sites in Haiti since July.

Fact: Getting on with their lives? Of an estimated 1,268 displacement camps, at least 29% have been forcibly closed – meaning tens of thousands of people have been evicted, often through violent means. Many who are forcibly evicted from one site move on to set up camp for their families in another location, which is often more dangerous. This is not getting on with life; this is searching for less dangerous places for the family tent.

IOM Assertion: People with houses labeled red (uninhabitable or extremely dangerous) or yellow (in need of repair) have “chosen to return to the place of origin or nearby to establish a shelter.”

Fact: As of December 16, 2010, only 2,074 of the estimated 180,000 destroyed houses had been repaired and a small percentage of rubble had been cleared. Decisions by desperate homeowners to move back into still destroyed homes is hardly progress.

It is also not even possible for large numbers of people who were renters to return to their destroyed homes. The destruction of more than 180,000 private residences coupled with influx of international aid workers has made Haiti’s rental market soar. An estimated 80% of those rendered homeless by the earthquake were renters or occupiers of homes without any formal land title. Current rents are unreachable by the majority of displaced Haitians, many of whom lost their means of livelihood during the earthquake. The IOM admits “The lack of land tenure and the destruction of many houses in already congested slums left many of those displaced with few options but to remain in shelters.”

IOM Assertion: “Some households rendered homeless after the earthquake left congested Port au Prince all-together going home to the regions. Others sent their children to the countryside for a better life.”

Fact: Rural Haiti before the earthquake was home to 52% of the population, 88% of which was poor and 67% was extremely poor. Rural residents had a per capita income one third of the income of people living in urban areas and extremely limited access to basic services. Disaster response following the earthquake has not tackled the extreme structural violence that exists in rural areas, and Hurricane Tomas further destroyed livelihoods of rural communities. People moving from displacement camps in the city to living in a tent in the countryside have not really moved out of homelessness, they have just moved.

IOM Assertion: “Surviving in poor living conditions during the long hurricane season has persuaded many to seek alternative housing solutions.”

Fact: Homeless people are always seeking “alternative housing solutions.” Camp conditions even before Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak revealed that displaced Haitians were in camps because they had no “alternative housing solutions.” According to a study conducted by CUNY Professor Mark Schuller before both Hurricane Tomas and the outbreak of cholera, 40% of displacement camps did not have access to water, and 30% did not have toilets of any kind. Only 10% of families even had a tent, many of which were ripped beyond repair during the hurricane season; the rest were sleeping under tarps or even bed sheets. A study conducted even earlier by the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti found that 78% of families lived without enclosed shelter; 44% of families primarily drank untreated water; 27% of families defecated in a container, a plastic bag, or on open ground in the camps; and 75% of families had someone go an entire day without eating during one week and over 50% had children who did not eat for an entire day.

Human rights promise housing, not just forcing people away from displacement camps. Haiti needs practical and sustainable solutions for re-housing along with services and protections for the people still homeless.

One year later, it is critically important for the international community to assist Haitians to secure real housing. The million homeless Haitians and the hundreds of thousands who have moved out of the large homeless camps into other areas are our sisters and brothers and still need our solidarity and help.

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and a long-time Haiti advocate. Jeena Shah is a lawyer serving in Port au Prince as a Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network Fellow with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Contact Bill at and Jeena at Read other articles by Bill Quigley and Jeena Shah.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Honduras, the Holiday Season Brings Repression

by Dana Frank

As we settle into our warm winter naps in the United States, a new wave of military repression is sweeping through Honduras, directed at the campesino movement. In December troops moved in and once again attacked the poorest of Honduras' rural poor, who have been standing up for their rights with astonishing bravery since the June 28, 2009 military coup. Up here in the North we can turn cozily aware from their plight. But as we sleep, our tax dollars are at work funding the Honduran army, police, and ongoing illegitimate government.

For decades, the campesinos (peasants) of Honduras have been struggling for basic land rights, confronting a handful of elite oligarchs who have been gradually seizing their lands through extralegal means. And for decades, the campesinos have refused to starve, using collective action to demand meaningful land reform. The center of campesino struggle remains the Aguan Valley, in the Northeast corner of the country, where the country's richest and most powerful man (and the most important figure behind the coup), Miguel Facussé, has taken over much of the land in the lower Aguan Valley and planted it with African palms. He has his own private army, works closely with narcotraffickers in the region, and in many ways is more powerful locally than the Honduran national government.

Beginning last December, 2009, almost 10,000 campesinos, organized in the Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos de Aguan (the Unified Movement of Campesinos of Aguan, MUCA) and other groups have been staging "recuperations" of lands illegally seized by Facussé. The resulting repression has been brutal: in the past year as many as 20 campesinos have assassinated by police, the army, paramilitaries, and Facussé's private troops. In April, 2010, President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa sent in around 3,000 troops into the Aguan Valley to repress the campesino movement. Only after an international outcry did he pull out some of the troops and promise a small bit of land to the protesters.

Now a new wave of repression is terrorizing the region. On November 15, Facusse's hired assassins shot and killed five campesino activists in the Aguan Valley community of El Tumbador. The government has made no attempt to investigate the crimes. Completely thwarted on the legal front, on December 7, 2,500 organized campesinos from three different associations began a sit-in blockading the main highway running through the Aguan Valley, to demand an end to the ongoing militarization of the zone and justice for those murdered.

The night of Tuesday, December 14, the government announced it was going to forcibly remove the demonstrators from the highway at 6:00 the next morning. Somewhere between 800 and 1,000 troops poured into the area, surrounding the campesino community of Guadelupe Carney next to the highway. But just as the eviction was to begin, the protesters chose to voluntary leave the road.

When I arrived four hours later, the area remained completely militarized in a terrifying show of deliberate intimidation. On the way into the zone we passed two tear gas tanks containing tear gas and eight huge troop transport vehicles. As we entered the community we saw hundreds of police, army soldiers, special forces, private thugs, and troops in civilian clothes, walking in groups throughout the community and surrounding it completely. The residents told us they had not been allowed to leave since the evening before. I saw groups of officers search cars and houses, surround the local independent radio station, Radio Orquidea, for twenty minutes, and occupy the community-owned cafe. We could see snipers on the hillsides around the town. A helicopter circled round and round, low, with no apparent purpose except intimidation.

As time passed more and more troops began to show up and walk onto the grassy field in the center of town next to the church. They sat down with their backs against the few trees, sprawled across the lawn, or came in and out of a big grey-green military tent erected in the middle. Residents told me they'd seen several of the soldiers urinate in the church. That morning, I was told, the military had halted a bus of campesinos arriving to show solidarity, seized their cell phones, taken out the batteries, and hit two people.

The government's pretext for all this is to somehow show that the campesino movement is armed--and therefore justify the military occupation of the entire country. In a coordinated media campaign, it has alleged that arms are pouring in from Nicaragua and Venezuela and that human rights observers have come to the Aguan Valley only to lie about human rights abuses.

But the campesinos are unarmed. Desperate repeated searches of campesino homes, cars, and community buildings, the government has yet to find guns, and the protest movement remains astonishingly nonviolent after a year and a half of brutal repression. It's the government and its private allies that have the scary armaments. I saw hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons in the hands of the troops, in contrast to the campesinos' empty arms and empty stomachs. Moreover, the government is countenancing, indeed closely cooperating with an array of private armies that are proliferating in Honduras, especially Facusse's.

That same morning, on the opposite side of the country, in the community of Zacate Grande, the same array of private forces and government repression brutally attacked campesinos also challenging Facussé, in a campaign clearly coordinated with the actions in the Aguan Valley. Police, army soldiers, and the private police forces of the HSBC bank--suddenly claiming a different, unpaid mortgage on lands long owned by a local campesino family--attacked a group of campesinos refusing to leave their own land, launched tear gas and live bullets, and beat people brutally. Two people were hospitalized and twelve have been detained, including two journalists covering the attack.

Since the June 28, 2009 coup, as many as 200 people have been killed for their work opposing the regime, including trade unionists, gay rights activists, and ten journalists. Over 5,000 have been illegally detained. Women have been gang raped in custody, one of them gang raped again after she denounced it publicly. On September 15, in San Pedro Sula, the city's second largest city, troops tear gassed and invaded Radio Uno, an opposition Radio Station, and then broke up a concert, and tear gassed and beat up protesters at a large, peaceful demonstration by the opposition.

Yet in the entire year and a half since the coup, almost no one has been charged or prosecuted for any of this. Complete impunity reigns. In the words of Eduardo David Ardón, writing in the Honduran daily El Tiempo last week, "State terrorism has a green light, to exercise every kind of violence and commit crimes of every sort from right to left, without being judged or investigated." Meanwhile, five judges and magistrates who protested the coup remain fired, despite outcries by the international justice community.

And our United States government is paying the bills. U.S. aid to the Honduran military and ongoing coup government, only briefly and very partially curtailed after the coup, now flows freely. The Honduran military continues its training programs in Fort Benning, Georgia--where officers remain undisturbed in their classes the very week after the coop. The Honduran police also receive generous and regular training from the United States government, including a "rigorous, seven-month course" at the National Police Academy, according to a recent press release from the U.S. -Honduran Joint Task Force-Bravo. "The goal is to provide assistance to the academy on a more regular basis."

As the campesino movement illustrates, though, despite all this hideous repression the Honduran people are still pushing forward with their vision of a new Honduras based on social justice and democracy. The resistance movement, uniting the women's, gay, labor, campesino, indigenous, and Afro-indigenous movements, the human rights community, and the progressive wing of the Liberal Party, continues to strengthen itself, now building a neighborhood-by-neighborhood structure in preparation for a National Assembly on February 26.

In January, the opposition's Alternative Truth Commission (not to be confused with the government's bogus Truth Commission, which is going nowhere fast), is sending out a team of investigators to verify post-coup human rights violations throughout Honduras, collect new testimony, and correlate the information from all the country's human rights groups. In contrast to truth commissions launched in other countries, though, it is operating under very dangerous conditions, as the conflict is by no means resolved and the commission, despite a prestigious international composition, has no governmental powers.

Meanwhile, at home, a newly empowered congressional Right is ready to pounce. Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is about to control the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and her Cuban-American ultra-Right ally, Rep. Connie Mack, will head the Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs. They have already announced they plan hearings on Honduras with which to attack Obama from the Right.

As we awake from our holiday naps and begin the new year, Progressives need to demand, instead, that Congress challenge Obama from the Left, for his ongoing, overt support for the illegitimate coup regime in Honduras. But Congressmembers and Senators will only challenge the administration if we continue to build a grassroots movement, district by district, state by state, to pressure them from below--so that we can stop our US-funded military repression in Honduras, and help make it possible for the Honduran people to move toward the new, democratic society of which they dream.

Dana Frank is a Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America and Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on Venezuela and Hugo Chavez

By Eva Golinger

With so much misinformation circulating in different media outlets around the world about Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez, it's time to set the record straight. Venezuela is not a dictatorship and President Chavez is no dictator.

Just last evening the Venezuelan head of state participated in a meeting with a group of housing activists, who not only criticized - live on television - government policies and inaction on tenant and housing issues, but also proposed laws, regulations and projects that were received with open arms by Chavez himself. And last week, the Venezuelan President vetoed a law on higher education that had been approved by the prior year's majority pro-Chavez legislature, calling for more "open and wide" debate on the subject, to include critics and those who had protested the bill. That is not the behavior of a brutal dictator.

As someone who has been living on and off in Venezuela for over 17 years, I can testify to the extraordinary transformation the country has undertaken during the past decade since Chavez first was elected in 1998. He has been reelected by landslide majorities twice since then.

When I arrived to Venezuela for the first time in 1993, the country was in severe turmoil. Constitutional rights had been suspended and a nationwide curfew was imposed. Repression was widespread, the economy was in crisis, several newspapers, television and radio stations had been shut down or censored, and the government had imposed a forced military draft targeting young men from poor communities. There was an interim president in power, because the actual president, Carlos Andres Perez - hailed by Washington as an "outstanding democrat" - had just been impeached and imprisoned for corruption. Perez eventually escaped confinement and fled to Miami, where he resided until his death last month, living off the millions he stole from the Venezuelan people.

Even though a new president was elected in 1994, constitutional rights remained suspended on and off for years, until the elections in 1998 that brought Chavez to power. Since then, despite a short-lived coup d'etat in 2002, an economically-shattering sabotage of the oil industry in 2003 and multiple attempts against his government during the following years, President Chavez has never once limited constitutional rights nor imposed a curfew on the population. He hasn't ever ordered a state of emergency that would limit rights or shut down any media outlets. He even issued a general pardon in 2007 giving amnesty to all those involved in the 2002 coup, with the exception of individuals directly responsible for crimes against humanity or homicide.

Under the Chavez administration, poverty has been reduced in half, universal, quality, free healthcare and education have been guaranteed for all Venezuelans, new industries have been created and more and more political power has been placed in the hands of "ordinary" people who were previously excluded by the elite that ruled the country throughout the twentieth century.

So why do so many newspapers and broadcast media classify him as a dictator?

You may not like Hugo Chavez's way of speaking, or the fact that he was born into poverty, comes from the military, is a leftist and doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a head of state. But that doesn't make him a dictator.

In Venezuela, more than 80% of television, radio and print media remain in the hands of private interests critical of the government. So, despite what some international press claim, there is no censorship or violation of free expression in Venezuela. Calls to overthrow the government or to incite the armed forces to rebel against the state, which would clearly be prohibited in most nations, are broadcast on opposition-controlled television channels with public concessions (open signals, not cable). Just last month, the head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras, gave a press conference broadcast live on television and radio stations, during which he called the armed forces "traitors" who would "pay the price" if they didn't disobey government orders and "obey" the dictates of big business.

I can only imagine if a business leader in the United States were to go on television and call the US Army "traitors" if they didn't disobey the federal government. Secret Service would arrest the man immediately and the consequences would be severe. But something like that would never happen in the US, since no television station would ever broadcast anything that constituted a call to rebellion or disobedience against the government. That's illegal.

So, not only is there no censorship in Venezuela, there is an excess of "free" expression. One positive aspect of the permissive attitude assumed by the Chavez government with regards to media has been the proliferation of community and alternative media outlets throughout the nation, which have provided space and voice to those ignored by mainstream corporate media. During governments prior to the Chavez administration, community and alternative media were banned.

Recently, the Venezuelan legislature passed a law called the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Digital Media. The law does not censor internet or any other form of media. What it does do is disallow calls to assassinate the president or other individual, as well as prohibit incitement to crime, hate or violence on web sites operated from Venezuela. This is a standard in most democracies and is a sign of civility. The law also instills on media a responsibility to contribute to the education of citizens. Media have a huge power over society today. Why shouldn't they be responsible for their actions?

Another issue widely manipulated in mass media is the Enabling Act that was approved last month by the Venezuelan parliament. This law gives "decree" powers to the Executive to legislate on specific issues as stipulated in the bill. The Enabling Act does not usurp, inhibit or limit legislative functions of the National Assembly, nor is it unconstitutional or anti-democratic. The parliament can still debate and approve laws as usual within its authority. The Enabling law, which is permitted by the Constitution, was requested by President Chavez in order to provide rapid responses to a national emergency caused by torrential rainfall that devasted communities nationwide at the end of last year and left over 130,000 homeless. The law will not affect any constitutional rights nor impose a "dictatorship" on the country, it is merely a valid, legitimate response to an emergency situation that needs quick solutions.

And speaking of the Venezuelan legislature, there is a lot of deceitful information repeated and recycled in media worldwide about the composition of this year's new parliament. Venezuela had legislative elections in September 2010, and opposition - anti-Chavez - parties won 40% of the seats. Some say this is a majority, which is very strange. The pro-Chavez PSUV party won 60% of seats in the National Assembly, as the Venezuelan legislative body is called. That's 97 out of 165 seats, plus 1 more which was won by the pro-Chavez PCV party, for a total of 98.

On the other hand, the opposition bloc won 65 seats represented by 13 different political parties that don't necessarily agree on most issues. Two other seats were won by a third, independent party, PPT. So, the PSUV party won 97 seats in parliament and the next party in line is Accion Democratica (AD) with 22 seats. Who has the majority?

In 2005, the opposition parties boycotted the electoral process, and lost the near 50% they had in parliament from the year 2000. Now, their bloc has been reduced to 40%, yet they claim to have "grown" in numbers. This perspective has been reiterated in mainstream media, despite its erroneous and manipulative nature.

The opposition bloc has already announced it will seek foreign intervention to help overthrow the government. Not only is this illegal, it's incredibly dangerous. Many of the candidates and most of the parties that conform the opposition in Venezuela have already been receiving millions of dollars annually in funding from several US and international agencies, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), both financed with US taxpayer monies. The stated purpose of this funding has been to "promote democracy" in Venezuela and help build the opposition forces against Chavez. This is a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and a waste of US taxpayer dollars. US citizens: Is this the way you want your hard-earned money to be spent?

This week, opposition leaders will meet with their counterparts in Washington. They have already said their mission is to seek more aid to help remove President Chavez from power. Unfortunately, their undemocratic actions have already been welcomed in the US Capitol. Representative Connie Mack (R-FL), now head of the House Sub-Committte on Foreign Relations for the Western Hemisphere, announced on the first day of Congress that his one goal this year is to place Venezuela on the list of "state sponors of terrorism". And Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), now head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has backed that objective, even going as far as to publicly state she would welcome the "assassination of Fidel Castro or any other repressive leader" such as Hugo Chavez.

On January 1, President Chavez held a brief, informal and amicable encounter with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brasilia, during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's new president. No agreements were reached, but the exchange of hands and smiles stabilized an escalation in tensions between both nations, which had produced a diplomatic crisis at the end of last year. But upon her return to Washington, Clinton was severely criticized by media, particularly The Washington Post, which accused her of being too "soft" on Venezuela.

The Washington Post's calls for war against Venezuela are dangerous. Remember, conditioning of public opinion is necessary to justify aggression against another nation. The campaigns of demonization against Saddam Hussein, Iraq and Islam were essential to initiate the wars in the Middle East which have yet to cease. Is the public willing to be influenced by media that have a political (and economic) agenda that seeks to oust a democratically-elected and popularly supported government just because they don't like its policies?

With the recent tragic events in Arizona it should become even more evident that media have power and influence over individual actions. Hate speech, demonization campaigns, manipulative and deceitful information are dangerous and can lead to abominable consequences, including war.

It's time to stop the escalating aggression against Venezuela and accept the facts: Venezuela is not a dictatorship, and while many of you may not like Hugo Chavez, a majority of Venezuelans who voted for him do. And in this scenario, they're the ones who matter.