Latin America News Round-up
October 15, 2012
U.S. Rethinks a Drug War After Deaths in Honduras
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Hillary Clinton Arrives in Latin America Next Week
Colombia Ditches Brazil at IMF as BRIC Power Estranges Neighbors. Bloomberg
Argentine Lobby Mystifies 'Members'. Wall Street Journal
Chile sends envoy to Ghana over seized Argentine ship. AFP
Chilean student demonstrations leaders honoured with human rights prize in US. Mercopress
Northern Andean Region
Chavez announces new Venezuelan Cabinet. AP
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez played role in Colombia's peace talks with Farc. The Observer
Once a partner of Colombian guerrillas, Venezuela now helps in peace talks. Washington Post
Colombia apology for devastation in Amazon rubber boom. BBC
Colombia initiates protection program for left wing parties. Colombia Reports
Dozens Arrested in Colombia Protests. EFE
Western Andean Region
Ecuador to fight oil dispute fine. AFP
Morales: Relations with US awful. AP
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
20 Years Later, Environmentalists Still Unhappy With NAFTA. KPBS
Mexico's drug cartels target journalists in brutal killing spree. The Observer
U.S. Rethinks a Drug War After Deaths in Honduras. New York Times
Panama leader tells Germany he wants to adopt euro. Reuters
Missile Crisis Documents Give Details on U.S. Secret Approach to Cuba. EFE
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Hillary Clinton Arrives in Latin America Next Week. EFE
Aid recipients to IMF: What took you so long? Reuters
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Colombia Ditches Brazil at IMF as BRIC Power Estranges Neighbors
Matthew Bristow and Sandrine Rastello. Bloomberg. October 14, 2012
Instead of Brazil’s nine-nation constituency on the IMF’s 24-member executive board, the Andean nation will join forces with a group led by Mexico, Colombian central bank chief Jose Dario Uribe said in an Oct. 13 interview in Tokyo. The move is part of the IMF’s biggest board reshuffle in two decades.
Brazil has been one of the most vocal of the IMF’s 188 members, pushing policy makers to grant emerging markets a bigger say at the Washington-based lender and criticizing many of its policy prescriptions. The country’s increasing clout on the global stage makes it challenging for a nation like Colombia to be heard, said Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada and IMF specialist.
“It can be difficult to be in a group with a rising economic power like Brazil” that “can be self-centered in its pursuit of its agenda,” Momani said in an Oct. 13 interview in Tokyo. “Without Colombia, Brazilians are freer to act as they will, but losing a Spanish-speaking country doesn’t help its legitimacy as a regional power.”
Uribe, in an interview at the IMF meetings, didn’t say whether the decision to switch chairs was motivated by any disagreement with Brazil.
“It’s a group where there’s a receptivity toward a country like Colombia, where there are great historical and commercial ties,” Uribe said of Mexico. He said details of the move will be announced later.
As part of its new group, Colombia will share leadership responsibilities on a rotating basis with Mexico, Spain and Venezuela, Mexican Deputy Finance Minister Gerardo Rodriguez said in an interview also in Tokyo.
Nicaragua, and the Portuguese-speaking nations of Cape Verde and East Timor will be added to the constituency represented by Brazilian executive board director Paulo Nogueira Batista, according to an IMF document obtained by Bloomberg News.
Still, the three countries combined have fewer than half of the 8,477 votes corresponding to Colombia, meaning the country’s departure will reduce Brazil’s voting share on the board. Colombia is the biggest of eight Latin American nations that belong to Brazil’s constituency, a group that also includes the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Trinidad & Tobago.
Domenico Lombardi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the loss of Colombia is reversible for Brazil as it sees its voting share increase in successive shifts on the board.
“Clearly there is a short term negative effect but this is likely to be compensated in the medium term,” said Lombardi, who has served on the boards of the IMF and World Bank.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government has boosted ties with Mexico, which Nomura Securities forecasts could overtake Brazil as Latin America’s No. 1 economy within a decade. Currently Brazil’s $2.4 trillion economy is more than twice the size of Mexico’s, according to IMF data.
Mexico and Colombia came together earlier this year to create the Pacific Alliance of the region’s most-open economies, distancing themselves from the Brazil and Argentina-led Mercosur trade pact, which has been raising import restrictions amid the global economic slowdown. Colombia also followed Mexico, Peru and Chile -- all members of the fledgling trade group -- and implemented a free trade agreement with the U.S.
The movements on the IMF board, which approves loans and economic assessments of member countries, aren’t limited to emerging economies. Europe is making changes in its constituencies to meet a 2010 pledge to reduce representation by two chairs in favor of developing economies.
Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are forming their own group, along with countries currently represented by the Netherlands, Belgian Finance Minister Steven Vanackere told the IMF’s steering committee Oct. 13. Turkey, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are now in a group as well, and will rotate as executive directors, he said.
The chair of Nordic countries will extend its rotation to Baltic members of the group, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said.
The European moves were criticized by Brazil and South Africa. Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega called them “cosmetic,” saying they mainly help emerging markets within Europe.
“This of course fails to correct the overrepresentation of Europe in the board, sending yet another negative signal to the outside world,” Mantega said in his speech to IMF members in Tokyo.
The Brazilian Finance Ministry did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment about Colombia’s move to the Mexican chair.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Tokyo at email@example.com; Matthew Bristow in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com
Argentine Lobby Mystifies 'Members'
IANTHE JEANNE DUGAN. Wall Street Journal. October 14, 2012
When a New York hedge fund detained an Argentine naval training ship in Ghana earlier this month, it called international attention to a lobbying group at the center of a high-stakes financial tug of war.
How Larry Matlack, a Kansas farmer, became affiliated with the group is a mystery to him.
The Argentine ship ARA Libertad was detained this month by hedge fund Elliott Management, which backs an investor lobbying group.
Mr. Matlack is president of American Agriculture Movement, a farmers' advocacy group that was listed among about 40 members of American Task Force Argentina, whose stated mission is to help investors recoup money from Argentina's 2001 bond default and subsequent restructuring.
But Mr. Matlack and some leaders of other groups representing ranchers, teachers and farmers, are baffled about why the task force listed their organizations as members "united for a just and fair reconciliation" of Argentina's default.
Reached while he was planting wheat on his farm, Mr. Matlack said he had never heard of American Task Force Argentina. "We don't have anything to do with Argentina's debt," he said.
Also perplexed are leaders of the Colorado conference of the American Association of University Professors, which was listed under members and supporters. "This is absolutely foreign to me," says Ray Hogler, legislative director of the academic group.
Both groups were dropped from the list after the Wall Street Journal alerted the task force to the discrepancies.
Robert Raben, executive director of American Task Force Argentina, said the lobbying group has an "opt-in" and "opt-out" model and everyone listed as a member had at some point signed an authorization form. Mr. Raben, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who runs a consultancy, said he would reach out to members and update the list if needed.
The lobbying group got attention last week after a backer, hedge fund Elliott Management Corp., detained the ARA Libertad, a 103-meter-long ship. It was the latest effort by an Elliott unit, NML Capital, to collect $1.6 billion that courts say it is owed due to Argentina's default.
Argentina argued the ship went to Ghana to perform military functions and was protected from being seized. On Thursday, a Ghanaian commercial court judge rejected that argument, and ordered the boat to remain in a Ghanaian port unless Argentina posts a $20 million bond. Argentina is expected to appeal.
A spokesman for Elliott declined to comment.
In a statement, Argentina's foreign ministry cited Elliott's connection with the task force. Arguing that Argentina has the money but refuses to pay, the group has spent more than $3 million lobbying since 2007, counting among victories pending U.S. legislation to essentially force Argentina to pay investors.
Jorge Arguello, ambassador of Argentina in the United States, recently blasted the task force as "vulture funds'…lobby facade" with "a goal of making millions for what they had gotten for mere pennies."
The task force has said that the government just doesn't like the heat it has turned up. "Argentina's status as an international scofflaw has been well-documented," it said in a recent statement.
In 2007, American Task Force Argentina listed five supporters, including Elliott.
"Members have come in and out over the years, and I expect will continue to do so as long as Argentina fights so hard to avoid its commitments," Mr. Raben said in an email. "That's the sole reason we've come together; that's the sole interest of the task force—to draw attention to Argentina's misbehavior."
Jess Peterson, a Montana rancher who is executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, says his group joined the task force because farmers are affected by trade policies on imports of meat and other agriculture. Teachers have investments in Argentina through their pension funds.
"We're grateful that the task force is getting the word out about Argentina's bad acts—and how it affects everything from teachers to businessmen to rural America," Mr. Peterson said.
But others say their affiliations appear to have been extrapolated from letters they wrote to U.S. lawmakers, many of which were posted on the American Task Force Argentina website.
Until questions were raised by The Wall Street Journal, the site listed a 2007 news release issued by the American Agriculture Movement quoting its president—Mr. Matlack, the Kansas farmer. He called Argentina's debt default "a manipulative practice to drive down the value of their currency and create an unfair export incentive for their country's agricultural products."
But Mr. Matlack says the letter wasn't written for American Task Force Argentina. David Senter, a Washington-based consultant to the American agriculture group, says he vaguely remembers a meeting several years ago in which farmers got together to discuss Argentina.
"Maybe there was a letter asking for support to remedy the default situation," says Mr. Senter. "Somebody must have dug up that letter from way back."
Some say they don't have a clue why they were listed. "I have never heard of American Task Force Argentina," says Nate Hair, president of Cattle Producers of Washington, a trade group whose name also was pulled after inquiries from The Wall Street Journal.
American Task Force Argentina is co-chaired by Robert Shapiro, a former U.S. undersecretary of Commerce who now runs a consulting firm. The other co-chair is Nancy Soderberg, who served as a U.N. ambassador and foreign-policy adviser to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Ms. Soderberg didn't respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Shapiro said members have a "strong interest in normalizing economic and commercial relations between the U.S. and Argentina. That's why they joined…. Not myself or Ambassador Soderberg would ever tolerate the listing of any organization that had not joined."
Chile sends envoy to Ghana over seized Argentine ship
AFP. October 14, 2012
SANTIAGO — Chile will send envoys to Ghana in an attempt to persuade the West African nation to release an Argentine navy ship seized over a dispute with creditors, a top government official said Saturday.
There are 15 Chilean sailors among the crew of the ARA "Libertad," a three-masted tall ship seized October 2 by Ghanaian court order in response to a suit over Argentina's 2002 bond default.
Ronald McIntyre, Chile's naval attache in London, will travel to Ghana along with a consular official, Chile Defense Minister Andres Allamand said Saturday.
Allamand told the online daily Emol that McIntyre will join a high-level mission that includes Argentina's deputy ministers of defense and foreign affairs.
More than 200 officers, non-commissioned officers and midshipmen on an annual training voyage have been stranded in the port of Tema, near Accra, since the frigate was seized.
The Chileans "are in good condition and carrying out activities on the ship as well as on land," Allamand told Emol.
The crew also includes sailors from Bolivia, Paraguay, Suriname, Peru, Venezuela and South Africa.
NML Capital -- a so-called "vulture fund" that bought Argentine bonds at a discount when the country's economy was in freefall in 2000 -- claims in documents filed in a Ghanaian court that it is owed more than $370 million, including the outstanding principle plus the interest.
Buenos Aires has rescheduled and refinanced much of the its debt, but bonds held by speculative funds are among the unsettled business.
The Ghanaian lawyer acting on behalf of NML, Ace Ankomah, told AFP the Libertad could be released "tomorrow" if Argentina posts a bond of $20 million.
Argentina argues that -- according to the Maritime Rights Convention signed by both countries -- military vessels cannot be seized or detained under any circumstances.
NML won its first judgment over Buenos Aires in New York in 2006 and secured a similar victory in Britain's Supreme Court in 2011.
Both courts found Argentina's immunity claims invalid, but the only payment Buenos Aires has made so far was a token $270,000 in August, court documents show.
Chilean student demonstrations leaders honoured with human rights prize in US
Mercopress. October 15, 2012
Two student leaders who have been at the head of the 18 months long demonstrations in Chile demanding an overhaul of the education system will be honoured this week with the 2012 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Prize in representation of the Chilean Students Federation.
Noam Titelman, president of the Catholic University of Chile students federation and Camila Vallejo Vice-president of the Chilean Federation of Students have been invited by the Institute for Policy Studies which grants the prize and will also have a full agenda of contracts with university communities and other organizations such as “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy Washington”, which last year became famous for their protests marches in New York and the US capital.
On Monday Titelman and Vallejo are scheduled to meet with the Graduates Centre from the New York University, where they will be debating on education reform with students from Quebec and New York. In the afternoon they will hold another meeting at the Hemispheric Institute.
On Tuesday they travel to Washington where on Wednesday and in the name of the Chilean Students’ Confederation they will receive the Institute of Policy Studies Prize, which has been awarded since 1977 to honour of the former Chilean Foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his secretary Ron Moffitt killed in Washington by a hit-group sent by the regime of dictator Pinochet which planted a bomb in the car the victims were driving.
Among other who received the prize are the Chilean Solidarity Vicarage in 1986 (which played a leading role in the resistance to the Pinochet regime) and former Brazilian president Lula da Silva in 2003.
The two student leaders are scheduled to end their US tour on Thursday, when they will be addressing students from Harvard University at Boston.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Chavez announces new Venezuelan Cabinet
JORGE RUEDA. AP. October 13, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez swore in his new vice president and six other Cabinet ministers on Saturday, less than a week after winning a new mandate to extend his self-styled Bolivarian revolution.
Former Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro replaced Elias Jaua as Chavez's vice president. The 49-year-old Maduro, a burly former bus driver, is considered the member of Chavez's government with the closest ties to Cuba's Fidel and Raul Castro.
The vice presidential job has assumed new importance because of Chavez's recent struggle with cancer and rumors have circulated that Maduro is being groomed as his successor.
Jaua will be the ruling party's candidate for the governorship of Miranda, Venezuela's second largest state, which is the power base of Henrique Capriles, the rival Chavez beat in Oct. 7 elections.
Among the Cabinet changes was the appointment of Gen. Nestor Reverol as the new minister of the interior and justice, replacing Tareck El Aissami, who will run to be governor of Aragua. Reverol had led Venezuela's anti-drug body.
Adm. Carmen Melendez is the new head of the Office of the Presidency, replacing Erika Farias, who will seek the governorship of the west-central state of Cojedes.
New ministers of information and communication, agriculture, the environment and indigenous peoples were also sworn in.
In the swearing-in ceremony aired on state television, Chavez called on his new ministers to continue "the fight to transform the old capitalist and bourgeoisie state ... into a socialist state."
He also called for greater government efficiency.
Chavez won 55 percent of the vote in the election, beating Capriles by 11 percentage points. Chavez has been in power for almost 14 years and his new term is for six more years.
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez played role in Colombia's peace talks with Farc
Peter Beaumont. The Observer. October 13, 2012
The ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, together with Venezuela's recently re-elected leader Hugo Chávez, played a critical role in bringing the Colombian government and the deadly Farc guerrilla group together for peace talks that could end one of Latin America's longest-running civil wars, the Observer has learned.
According to sources closely involved in the peace process, which sees historic talks opening in Oslo on Wednesday, the key breakthrough after almost four years of back-channel talks between the two sides came during a visit earlier this year by Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, to Cuba, where he met both Castro and Chávez, who was in Cuba being treated for cancer.
That meeting was the first of many in Havana between the two sides, facilitated primarily by Cuba and Norway with the backing of Venezuela, which saw agreement on the detailed agenda for the first round of talks this week. "Officially President Santos went to Cuba to discuss the Americas summit," said a source intimately involved in the peace negotiations. "But the purpose of that trip was to discuss the peace initiative."
The meetings earlier this year followed the decision last year by Santos to take the step of recognising that an "armed conflict" existed in his country, an initiative encouraged by Chávez since 2008. Those contacts also came in the same period that Farc announced it was ending kidnapping, one of five preconditions for talks that had been set down by Santos as a gesture of goodwill.
Farc and the government have been at war since 1964, with the group more recently accused of having taken a directing role in coca production in areas it controls, an issue that will be on the agenda for the talks.
But in what is being billed as the best chance to bring about a negotiated end to the long-running conflict, the Colombian government delegation will sit down with Farc leaders whose Interpol arrest warrants have been suspended to allow them to travel to Oslo without fear of arrest.
The government delegation, for the first time ever, will include retired generals with the trust of the country's military and representatives of Colombia's business elite, whose presence, it is hoped, will help sell any peace deal that emerges to those hostile to the process.
After the failure of the last round of peace negotiations, which foundered 12 years ago, top of the agenda will be the issues of land reform – Farc's key demand – political participation, the disarmament of the guerrilla group and the issue of paramilitaries who have in the past sought to torpedo any deal.
The disclosure of the key role of Cuba in organising support for the peace process marked the culmination of a long period of back-channel talks first initiated by Santos's predecessor as president, Alvaro Uribe, under whom Santos served as minister of defence.
During those four years contacts continued despite the death during an army operation of Farc's leader, Alfonso Cano, last year.
Others credited with having created the conditions for the talks in Norway are unnamed former participants in the Northern Ireland peace process.
The talks are due to begin amid warnings from both sides, as well as observers, that a serious threat exists from those on both sides of Colombia's political divide who might attempt to use violence to derail the process.
The attempt to reach a negotiated peace settlement foundered over a decade ago as both sides accused the other of stalling and rebuilding their forces, a period, observers say, that saw a doubling of anti-Farc paramilitaries.
A senior Colombian government source, who briefed the Observer on condition of anonymity, described the chances for talks as the best ever, adding that the Santos government had already enacted a new law for land reform and victim restitution. "President Santos is a pragmatist. He has already presented to congress a framework for an agreement. Colombia was already moving into a post-conflict phase, in some respects, even as the conflict continues. It is the right moment. Farc have a historic opportunity – probably the last – to find a solution to this conflict with dignity. To go into history and say they fought for social justice. To say they fought for land reform.
"We want to see 'Timochenko' [Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, who took over command of Farc after Cano's death in 2011] in Colombia's congress just as we have seen Gerry Adams in the Northern Ireland assembly."
The sense of a guarded new optimism is shared by outside observers, including Marc Chernick, a US academic who has followed the history of Colombian peace negotiations and written The Farc at the Negotiating Table. Speaking from Colombia on Friday, Chernick said: "I've observed all the previous negotiations and I have been optimistic before, but this time I believe there is a real seriousness on both sides that has not been shown before.
"In the past Farc has always asked for a demilitarised zone as a precondition and this time it has not pressed for that. Four years ago it started to release prisoners, first civilians then military, and then renounced kidnapping.
"Clearly they want to talk. And they stayed at the table for the pre-negotiations even though three senior leaders were killed, including Alfonso Cano.
"Santos is clear, too. He was former minister of defence under President Uribe. They pushed the war as hard as they could and killed leaders. Now he has recognised that it will go on indefinitely. So Santos has come to the conclusion that only a negotiated solution is possible."
Chernick – like the senior government source – warned of the risk of violence during the peace talks from those, particularly on the right, opposed to peace with Farc, not least, he says, from paramilitaries who, although officially "disbanded", are still active and supported by elite sectors of society.
"What is different this time," added Chernick, "is that both sides have signed up to the idea that the intended end of the peace talks is the end of the conflict."
Once a partner of Colombian guerrillas, Venezuela now helps in peace talks
Juan Forero. Washington Post. October 13, 2012
BOGOTA, Colombia — When peace negotiations between Colombia’s government and Marxist rebels begin this week, a country once accused of helping the guerrillas in their war against the government will be on hand: Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, has had an affinity with the insurgents.
For many Colombians, the populist firebrand is a destabilizing force who wanted to see the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, take power late in the last decade from right-wing President Alvaro Uribe. Chavez once told the Venezuelan congress that Colombia’s guerrillas were fighting for a legitimate cause, and his government was accused of trying to isolate Uribe, a key U.S. ally in the war on drugs during an eight-year term that ended in 2010.
But Uribe’s center-right successor, Juan Manuel Santos, repaired tattered relations with Venezuela and then opted to take advantage of the admiration the FARC has for Chavez. Santos named Venezuela as one of four countries to participate in negotiations that begin Monday with the rebel group in Norway before moving to Cuba, where the bulk of the talks will take place.
And it has become clear in recent weeks that Chavez and his aides — particularly Nicolas Maduro, who was foreign minister until being named vice president this past week — have helped ensure that FARC commanders feel secure about meeting with Santos’s negotiators.
“Chavez has been extremely active on the peace process, not only logistically,” said Aldo Civico, a Rutgers University conflict resolution expert who has spoken to Colombian negotiators about the talks. “My understanding is that he has been able to talk to the members of the FARC negotiation team and encourage them to stay within the dynamic of the peace talks, to engage constructively.”
Norway, a country with a long history of brokering deals in conflicted countries, and Cuba, the host of the talks in the months ahead, will serve in the role of guarantors, with representatives from those countries sitting in on negotiations.
Venezuela and Chile, whose government is considered a close ally of Colombia’s government, are known as “acompañantes” — literally, company. They are to help with logistics, provide diplomatic support and “do whatever the parties ask them to do,” said a Colombian official familiar with the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Those who closely track the policies in the region said that Venezuela’s role is especially important because of the relationship Chavez and his closest associates have forged with FARC commanders during the Venezuelan leader’s 14 years in power.
“Without Venezuela, it would be very difficult to have a successful negotiation,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue policy group in Washington. “They give some guarantees of legitimacy and credibility to the process and ensure that the talks stay on track.”
Santos, as defense minister for Uribe, oversaw some of the army’s biggest blows against the FARC, including strikes that killed some top commanders.
At the same time, Colombian military and police intelligence reported that the long, porous border Colombia shares with Venezuela had become a sanctuary for FARC units — a claim that was supported by people who live in border towns, rebel deserters and documents seized by Colombia’s army in abandoned rebel camps.
The United States also asserted that Venezuela had close ties to the FARC, and in 2008 it accused three top aides to Chavez of helping the rebels traffic in cocaine and battle Uribe’s government.
But upon his inauguration as president in August 2010, Santos moved fast to reopen a dialogue with Venezuela. “His main objective was to pursue a peace process, and he knew it would be hard to achieve without Chavez’s cooperation,” Shifter said.
The Venezuelan government, which had strenuously denied the accusations against it, responded positively to Santos’s diplomatic initiatives, noted Adam Isacson, a senior analyst on Colombia for the policy group Washington Office on Latin America.
“You have a president who wants to be seen as a peacemaker and wants to unite the region and cares about that,” Isacson said of Chavez. “Whatever advantage he saw in having a relationship with the FARC is probably now gone.”
Guerrilla negotiators have recently spoken publicly of Venezuela’s role in facilitating the talks and helping with the logistics that permitted them to get to Cuba for the preliminary negotiations that took place earlier this year with Colombian government representatives.
Chavez, too, has spoken about his government’s role in the talks, saying that his hope is for the guerrillas to reintegrate into society and continue their struggle through politics. He has also named a representative who will be in Cuba, Roy Chaderton, an experienced diplomat who has served in Washington as ambassador to the Organization of American States.
“With the guarantees Colombia’s government offers, with a good debate, with good talks, with a good accord, I think that the FARC could move into a political process,” Chavez said at a news conference last month in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.
“They asked us for help,” he said of the FARC, “and I told the president, ‘Whatever needs to be done for Colombia’s peace, I’m willing to do it.’”
Colombia apology for devastation in Amazon rubber boom
BBC. October 12, 2012
Colombia's president has apologised to indigenous communities in the Amazon for deaths and destruction caused by the rubber boom around 100 years ago.
Backed by Colombia's government, a Peruvian firm tapped rubber from 1912 to 1929 near La Chorrera in the south.
Up 100,000 people were killed and communities devastated, according to indigenous leaders.
President Juan Manuel Santos asked for forgiveness "for all the dead and their orphans".
He apologised "in the name of a company, a government".
Mr Santos said that in pursuit of progress, the government of the day "failed to understand the importance of safeguarding each indigenous person and culture as an essential part of a society we now understand as multi-ethnic and multicultural."
Torture and mutilation
Rubber barons in the Amazon carried out horrendous human rights abuses, first documented by British diplomat Roger Casement in 1912.
These included forced labour, slavery, torture and mutilation, says the BBC's Arturo Wallace in Colombia.
The apology was issued on the day Latin Americans mark the beginning of Spanish colonisation.
The Day of the Race, as the date is known in the region, commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus on the continent on 12 October 1492.
The president named nine indigenous peoples who were decimated by the rubber-tapping project of Julio Cesar Arana, a controversial Peruvian entrepreneur and politician.
"It is essential to contribute towards healing the wounds inflicted on your lives and in the memory of our nation," he said.
President Santos vowed that such abuses would never happen again.
The Colombian government recognises 87 indigenous groups but the Colombian Indigenous Organisation, OIC says there are 102.
Up to one-third of them face extinction because of the armed conflict and forced displacement.
Colombia initiates protection program for left wing parties
Caitlin Trent. Colombia Reports. October 12, 2012
After enduring a history of killings and disappearances committed by armed actors of the paramilitary and the State, a special protection program for surviving members of the Patriotic Union and Colombian Communist Party has been initiated by the government.
W Radio reported that Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo announced that a decree would formally comply with the Human Rights Commission stating that "the Government should take precautionary measures to safeguard the lives of members, activists, survivors and leaders of these organizations."
The Patriotic Union (UP) was born from failed FARC peace negotiations in 1985 when a group of the guerrillas laid down arms and, along with other left wing groups, formed the UP political party. The UP subsequently suffered some 3,000 murders over the next few years, including congress members and the UP's presidential candidate.
The party had ceased to formally exist by 2002 due to a combination of "political genocide" and the mass extermination of its members. The murders were blamed on drug traffickers and paramilitaries, but were allegedly aided by members of state security forces.
The Colombian Communist Party (PCC) is still active, despite also being subjected to persecution and assassinations of its members.
The new decree consolidates the Special Protection Program, providing security measures for leaders, remaining members and survivors of the Patriotic Union and the Colombian Communist Party. The National Protection Unit, the Interior Ministry, the National Police and other authorities at the national, municipal and departmental levels will therefore provide preventive and protective measures for members of the targeted group in order to "effectively guarantee their rights to life, liberty, integrity and security."
Dozens Arrested in Colombia Protests
EFE. October 14, 2012
BOGOTA – Colombian “indignados” took to the streets of the nation’s biggest cities during their “Day of Dignity” protest against the country’s social inequality, during which 71 people were arrested in the capital for disturbing the peace.
A range of social sectors answered the call to Friday’s demonstrations in Bogota, from students participating in an apprenticeship program to judicial employees who walked off the job Thursday to demand the government comply with a 20-year-old mandate to standardize their pay.
A total of 71 demonstrators were arrested in Bogota on grounds of causing public disorder, while charges were filed against one individual for striking a police officer.
Bogota government secretary Guillermo Asprilla told reporters that eight people suffered slight injuries.
Meanwhile several downtown stores in the capital were damaged when attacked with clubs and stones, as was a bus station.
Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo, for his part, regretted that some people took advantage of legitimate marches to carry out acts of violence.
“What the government wants to repeat today and always guarantee is the right to freedom of speech, the right to march. We have the absolute conviction that social organizations should be able to exercise this right of social protest – the only thing we regret is that there have been isolated acts of violence,” Carrillo said.
Protests were not confined to the cities, however, as residents mounted demonstrations in remote rural areas of provinces such as Putumayo, bordering Ecuador, and Norte de Santander, which sits on the border with Venezuela.
The number of participants nationwide was about 300,000, said David Florez, spokesman for the leftist Marcha Patriotica movement and organizer of the protest together with close to 100 non-governmental organizations.
Florez said that the “National Indignados March” took place in 25 of the 32 Colombian provinces and had a spirit of “civilizing the widespread disagreement of the Colombia people with the unequal model of the country.”
According to local media, homemade bombs were thrown during many of the demonstrations, while paint-filled capsules were splattered against some buildings.
Florez also said that “at this critical juncture we must demand the direct participation of the popular movement in the peace talks” between the government and the FARC, planned to begin on Oct. 17 in Norway.
“The possibility of making peace must include all Colombians in a discussion of the kind of country we want. There can be no peace if this continues to be the most unequal country in the world,” he said.
Colombia is the world’s 10th most-unequal country in terms of income distribution as measured by the Gini index, a metric used by the World Bank, United Nations and other international institutions.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador to fight oil dispute fine
AFP. October 13, 2012
QUITO — Ecuador said Saturday it will fight to avoid paying a fine to Occidental Petroleum as compensation for canceling a contract with the US oil giant.
"We will continue fighting to not pay a penny to this abusive transnational corporation," said President Rafael Correa, accusing the company of "wanting to deliberately defraud the state."
Earlier this month, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is a branch of the World Bank, released a ruling declaring Quito must pay $1.77 billion plus interest to Occidental Petroleum as compensation for canceling a contract with the company.
Including taxes, the amount is now $2.3 billion, Correa said Saturday.
In May 2006, Occidental Petroleum, or Oxy, sued Ecuador for $3.37 billion at the ICSID a day after the country announced the cancelation of a contract under which the company could extract 100,000 barrels of oil per day from the South American nation's Amazon basin region.
Ecuador was angry that Oxy had sold 40 percent of its shares to the Canadian company Encana without first advising the Quito government.
Correa said that by selling part of its shares without notice, Oxy was "defrauding the Ecuadoran state and openly violating the law and the contract."
Morales: Relations with US awful
CARLOS VALDEZ. AP. October 14, 2012
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Evo Morales has never been interested in currying favor with Washington.
Quite the contrary.
On Friday, Bolivia's first indigenous president marked the 520th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World with a characteristic jab at the United States.
During a ceremony marking "Decolonization Day," he said relations with the U.S. Embassy in La Paz have become awful - "like a turd."
He recalled that previous Bolivian governments would seek Washington's blessing on key appointments, including interior minister and police and armed forces chiefs.
That all changed after Morales, a longtime coca growers' union leader, took office in 2006. Two years later, he kicked out U.S. drug agents and Washington's ambassador, accusing them of inciting the opposition.
U.S. counterdrug cooperation has since been radically reduced to Bolivia, which along with Peru and Colombia is a major cocaine-producing nation.
Bolivia and the United States signed an agreement 11 months ago under which they agreed to seek to restore relations the ambassadorial level.
But that day has yet to arrive, and Morales is upset that the United States last month declared for a fourth time that Bolivia has been insufficiently cooperative in the war on drugs.
The United Nations and the United States both agree that Bolivia's coca crop, the raw material of cocaine, was smaller last year than in 2010, and credit increased government eradication.
But U.S. officials say Bolivia has at the same time become a haven for drug traffickers. They say it has actually boosted cocaine production, including by transporting coca paste from neighboring Peru for final processing in Bolivia.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
20 Years Later, Environmentalists Still Unhappy With NAFTA
Adrian Florido. KPBS. October 15, 2012
TIJUANA, Mexico — In eastern Tijuana, near warehouses and factories manufacturing televisions and medical supplies to be shipped abroad, there are four concrete basketball courts. They’re sometimes used for tournaments, but are otherwise usually quiet.
The edge of a sprawling industrial complex seems a strange place for the government-owned courts, but as it turns out, there weren’t many options for what to put there. Buried deep beneath are tons of lead and other toxic material, entombed in a concrete cell and layers of thick protective plastic.
More intensive construction on the site might risk disturbing the hazardous waste.
The waste was left there by an American battery recycling plant called Metales y Derivados that was shut down in the mid-90s. Its owner fled to San Diego without cleaning it up. It took a coalition of environmental activists and neighbors ten years to get the government to clean the site. Today, it is exhibit A for environmentalists who oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened the door for rapid cross-border industrialization with only limited provisions for environmental protection.
NAFTA didn’t establish any multinational environmental regulations when it was signed 20 years ago. It created no tri-national environmental police. It implemented no fines for polluters.
What it did create was the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, based in Canada. It’s the body that accepts complaints from citizens of the U.S., Mexico or Canada who believe their government is not enforcing environmental laws.
The commission investigates those complaints, and if it determines a serious environmental hazard is going unaddressed, it issues a report called a factual record.
Citizens or nonprofits can then use that factual record as an advocacy tool to try to get the site they’re concerned about cleaned up, both through private and governmental efforts. The commission works with the governments of all three countries to encourage enforcement and develop other environmental programs, but it does not itself have enforcement authority.
“That’s really nothing in terms of establishing environmental standards,” said Diane Takvorian, who directs the Environmental Health Coalition, the San Diego nonprofit that led the charge to clean up the Metales y Derivados site.
In the Metales y Derivados case, the factual record was ultimately an important tool for the Environmental Health Coalition, because it served as a third-party affirmation that the group and community’s concerns were valid and that the site posed a grave risk to people. But the report took four years to complete, and Takvorian, who also serves as an adviser to the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, said that was one of the shorter ones.
“There are others that have taken five, six years. Some have taken up to eight years and are still languishing.”
Waiting that long for the commission to complete its investigation, she said, can render the commission’s determination effectively pointless if toxic waste is allowed to fester and contaminate surrounding communities during all that time.
This summer, at a conference in New Orleans, the Commission on Environmental Cooperation adopted a new timeline for responding to citizen complaints of environmental contamination. Its goal is now to fully respond within two years of a complaint being filed.
The delays in closing the Metales y Derivados case and others were primary motivators for the change.
“There was really a sense that there was an inordinate delay and that this was not helpful,” said Evan Wayne, the commission’s director.
While acknowledging the commission’s limited role and the long delay in getting the Metales y Derivados site cleaned up, he said that without the citizen complaint process, it might have been an even more difficult task to accomplish.
“NAFTA has in effect empowered or enabled Mexico to raise its environmental standards, its enforcement, to a level that is higher than it would have been without NAFTA.”
The commission, government officials and environmental advocates all agree that the cleanup spurred by citizen involvement in the Tijuana case, bolstered by the commission’s factual record, helped establish a route by which the Mexican government can undertake the cleanup of other toxic sites.
But environmentalists’ counterclaim is that without NAFTA -- or if the treaty at least contained more enforcement provisions -- environmental contamination might not be as bad, nor would so much responsibility for cleanup fall on citizens.
“This was a process that says you can complain about your government and the lack of environmental enforcement, but we’re really not going to do anything about it,” Takvorian said.
In the 18 years that NAFTA has been effect, the Commission on Environmental Cooperation has received a total of 79 complaints of environmental pollution across North America. It has issued factual records for only 15, and is in the process of completing five more.
Mexico's drug cartels target journalists in brutal killing spree
Ed Vulliamy. The Observer. October 13, 2012
He shakes as he speaks and at moments his eyes fill. "It's certain that the people who killed my colleague were criminals," he says. "The killing had the modus operandi of organised crime. But who sent them and why? That's the question, that's the smokescreen."
This is a colleague of Víctor Manuel Báez Chino, whose mutilated body was found in June in the main square of Xalapa, capital of the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz. Báez was the state's crime editor for an online edition of the national newspaper Milenio and editor of the Police Report website (currently down) which covered crime.
In August, state prosecutors declared the case closed. Witnesses, they said, had identified the bodies of two men killed in a shootout as the same people who had kidnapped the reporter. Báez's circles were "entirely unconvinced", says his colleague.
Báez is one of 56 journalists killed during Mexico's drug war since 2006 (a figure calculated by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists). The war reached a climax last week with the killing by Mexican marines of the leader of the wildest – albeit not the biggest – narco cartel: the paramilitary Zetas, which counts Veracruz, with its strategically crucial gulf port, among its strongholds.
After a spate of further killings this year, Veracruz became the focus for this war against the press: six reporters were killed in Mexico within a month leading to mid-May, three of them in Veracruz.
This is no sideshow in a wider war involving the drugs cartels, argues the committee's representative in Mexico, Mike O'Connor. He insists that "the silencing of the press and killing of journalists is integral to the reality, the big story, of what is happening here: that the cartels are taking territory".
Furthermore, he says: "The inability of the government to really solve hardly any of the crimes against journalists during the four years I've been here is a metaphor for its inability to solve crimes against common citizens. They simply cannot do it. And you wonder: if they can't solve these crimes, why not? Is it because they don't want to?"
Of course, the threats and killings proliferate beyond Veracruz, across Mexico. In the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Ramón Cantú, publisher of the local El Mañana, said, after his paper's offices were attacked by the Zetas: "We are censoring the paper because we have to get our children to school." In Ciudad Juárez, my friend Sandra Rodríguez is among the reporters who work on bravely, despite the killing of two colleagues, "because we have to carry on with this task, to expose what is going on".
Among those brutally killed in Veracruz was Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, whose decapitated, tortured body was found in July last year, dumped near the offices of her newspaper, Imagen, two days after she was seized by armed men as she left home.
State prosecutor Reynaldo Escobar Pérez insisted the killing was not linked to her work and state governor Javier Duarte de Ochea said authorities were pursuing "multiple lines of investigation". Another was Miguel Angel López Velasco, columnist for the daily Notiver, who was killed along with his wife and son the previous month.
Apart from the barbarism of his killing, Víctor Báez's death bore another hallmark of a narco execution: a note pinned to his torso, this one reading: "Here's what happens to traitors and people who act clever. Sincerely, the Zetas." But Báez's colleague says that he learned from the marines "that the note was not there when the body was discovered by a neighbour who found Víctor's door open – it was put there later… by someone, for some reason". All of which compounds the strangeness of Báez's death, the explanation for which anguishes his colleague, as we sit in a cafe, shielded by the sound of the grinding of fresh coffee grown in the hills beyond the city.
"He had no connection to the cartels. Víctor knew how to stay independent. I was one of the last people to see him – he seemed tranquil, he had nothing to do with the government or the narcos." But Báez did know some background to the most infamous murder of a reporter in Veracruz: that on 28 April this year of Regina Martínez, a friend of his.
Martínez was Veracruz state correspondent for Proceso magazine, by repute one of Mexico's most prestigious. She was found dead in her lavatory, beaten and strangled to death.
"Others have died in worse ways than Regina," said a friend and one-time source of Martínez in Xalapa last week. "In some ways, I'm amazed she wasn't killed before. She was working for some time on dirty police" – and her voice trails off. "Regina was a good friend of mine and one of the few who dared to write about what is happening here."
There has been public outrage in Veracruz over Martínez's murder, as there has been across Mexico at the others. Martínez's killing provoked street demonstrations demanding that the perpetrators and those who gave them orders be brought to justice. On Saturday in Xalapa, an assembly was hosted by a new student movement in Mexico, I Am 132, with local reporters, to discuss common cause and strategies for mutual protection.
I Am 132 is so called after 131 students appeared on YouTube to give their names and ID numbers and deny allegations that they had been paid to disrupt a meeting addressed by the incoming Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. The skirmish had been over development of land for an airport, but the movement expanded into narco war, free speech and assaults on the press.
"At first, we thought the reporters were part of the problem," says the movement's humblingly brave young spokesman in Veracruz. "Then we saw the big picture, and how it must be for them, and the idea this weekend is for an assembly that can work towards a safety network of some kind."
Into all this, last week, the Mexican branch of the Hay-on-Wye literary festival arrived – Hay Xalapa – guest of the state government. Hay had been criticised from some quarters for accepting the hospitality, but rode it to stage an event of intellectual effervescence and allow the opening of an international window to Xalapa's journalists. Representatives of the freedom of expression group PEN arrived to make preparations for a campaign over the murder of reporters in Mexico, to be launched on the next Day of the Dead, on 2 November.
The president of PEN America, Peter Godwin, found himself present at an unexpected photo opportunity between state governor Duarte and Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka. Godwin petitioned the governor "to express", he said afterwards, "PEN's grave concerns about the killings of journalists in Veracruz in particular and the climate of impunity in Mexico generally. I concluded my questioning of the governor by saying that I hoped that there would be no more journalists killed in Veracruz province between this Hay and the next."
(To complete the surreality of the occasion, Proceso magazine posted on its website a detailed account of a supposed meeting in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Xalapa, at which Duarte supposedly "exploded" with recrimination at Godwin, esteemed American writer John Lee Anderson and me for speaking badly of Veracruz. The story was a fabrication – denied by the governor's office and all three of us. )
It happens that the Committee to Protect Journalists is represented in Mexico by one of America's most experienced and renowned reporters. Mike O'Connor is a veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America during the 1980s for CBS television and of other conflicts thereafter for the New York Times. For nearly four years now, he has documented and investigated the intimidation and murder of Mexican reporters and toured the country consulting those under threat. He is uniquely qualified to explain how the war against the press speaks to Mexico's carnage.
"The government and authorities are ceding territory to the cartels and, for the cartels to take territory, three things have to happen," says O'Connor. "One is to control the institutions with guns – basically, the police. The second is to control political power. And, for the first two to be effective, you have to control the press.
"Every journalist I've spoken to says that the corruption of forces is such that the cartels control the politicians. That does not say that the cartels get money from this – there are rewards for the politicians and there's a very strong disincentive not to co-operate. I'm not quite sure what the word is to describe the relationship, but ultimately the capo is in charge."
However: "When I… say to a roomful of journalists, 'Ask the question, Quien manda aquí? (Who's in charge?'), they take a virtual step backwards, wide-eyed. That's the question you ask yourself at night when you're drunk and your wife is asleep and you hope no one hears you."
O'Connor argues: "You can't have a democracy without an informed public… Mexico has all the structures of a democracy, but it does not have an informed public. It has a public which knows the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, but doesn't know who runs the city or the state they live in. It does not know who is in charge. People know it's corrupt, but they don't know what's going on, because the reporters cannot ask: 'Who's in charge?' You cannot find in your newspaper, in most parts of the country, information about the big story – and the big story is that organised crime has taken over, or is working very successfully at taking over, your city, town or village.
"And if you report that, you get killed. Mostly, you don't think about reporting that."
O'Connor summarises government officials as insisting that all Mexican journalists are corrupt and the victims are working for the cartels – "as if they could possibly know". Working on the ground, he says: "Look, I don't have the FBI crime lab behind me – I do the investigations I can within the environment I have. And I know that at some times and in some places, a reporter might get approached by someone with a pistol, and told to write this but not that, and there may be some money in it. And if you don't, we know where you and your family live.
"Is that working for the cartel? Federal officials use that context to make out that the dead are working for the cartels. I know reporters who get asked by the police chief, 'Why are you so curious?' That's a threat."
However, he says, "the people I know in Xalapa say that Regina Martínez was looking into the political and economic elite. That is what she wrote about". Then O'Connor qualifies the judgment, only slightly, with a favourite dictum of his, that "Mexico is a country where you do not need facts to arrive at a conclusion. People will hold on to a belief without being able to give it a factual basis. But that does not mean it is not true."
The atrocious news arrived just as the Hay festival left Xalapa: that while it was in town, another reporter from a journalistic family, and his daughter, had been killed – both decapitated. Roberto Rizzo Murrieta who worked for the Mundo de Córdoba paper, was murdered at home with his child, María Antonia. The state prosecutor said again that "multiple lines of investigation" had been opened and a domestic employee was under suspicion.
U.S. Rethinks a Drug War After Deaths in Honduras
DAMIEN CAVE and GINGER THOMPSON. New York Times. October 12, 2012
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The Honduran Air Force pilot did not know what to do. It was the dead of night, and he was chasing a small, suspected drug plane at a dangerously low altitude, just a few hundred feet above the Caribbean. He fired warning shots, but instead of landing, the plane flew lower and closer to the sea.
“So the pilot made a decision, thinking it was the best thing to do,” said Arturo Corrales, Honduras’s foreign minister, one of several officials to give the first detailed account of the episode. “He shot down the plane.”
Four days later, on July 31, it happened again. Another flight departed from a small town on the Venezuelan coast, and using American radar intelligence, a Honduran fighter pilot shot it down over the water.
How many people were killed? Were drugs aboard, or innocent civilians? Officials here and in Washington say they do not know. The planes were never found. But the two episodes — clear violations of international law and established protocols — have ignited outrage in the United States, bringing one of its most ambitious international offensives against drug traffickers to a sudden halt just months after it started.
All joint operations in Honduras are now suspended. Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, expressing the concerns of several Democrats in Congress, is holding up tens of millions of dollars in security assistance, not just because of the planes, but also over suspected human rights abuses by the Honduran police and three shootings in which commandos with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration effectively led raids when they were only supposed to act as advisers.
The downed aircraft, in particular, reminded veteran officials of an American missionary plane that was shot down in 2001 by Peruvian authorities using American intelligence. It was only a matter of time, they said, before another plane with the supposedly guilty turned out to be filled with the innocent.
But the clash between the Obama administration and lawmakers had been building for months. Fearful that Central America was becoming overrun by organized crime, perhaps worse than in the worst parts of Mexico, the State Department, the D.E.A. and the Pentagon rushed ahead this year with a muscular antidrug program with several Latin American nations, hoping to protect Honduras and use it as a chokepoint to cut off the flow of drugs heading north.
Then the series of fatal enforcement actions — some by the Honduran military, others involving shootings by American agents — quickly turned the antidrug cooperation, often promoted as a model of international teamwork, into a case study of what can go wrong when the tactics of war are used to fight a crime problem that goes well beyond drugs.
“You can’t cure the whole body by just treating the arm,” said Edmundo Orellana, Honduras’s former defense minister and attorney general. “You have to heal the whole thing.”
A sweeping new plan for Honduras, focused more on judicial reform and institution-building, is now being jointly developed by Honduras and the United States. But State Department officials must first reassure Congress that the deaths have been investigated and that new safeguards, like limits on the role of American forces, will be put in place.
“We are trying to see what to do differently or better,” said Lisa J. Kubiske, the American ambassador in Honduras.
The challenge is dizzying, and the new plan, according to a recent draft shown to The New York Times, is more aspirational than anything aimed at combating drugs and impunity in Mexico, or Colombia before that. It includes not just boats and helicopters, but also broad restructuring: several new investigative entities, an expanded vetting program for the police, more power for prosecutors, and a network of safe houses for witnesses.
Officials from both countries have often failed to fully grasp the weakness of the Honduran institutions deployed to turn the country around. But the need to act is obvious. The country’s homicide rate is among the highest in the world, and corruption has chewed through government from top to bottom.
“We know that unless we really help these governments and address the complexities of these challenges they face, their people and societies would be further endangered,” said Maria Otero, under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights.
“Honduras,” she added, “is the most vulnerable and threatened of them all.”
A Country’s Cry for Help
The foreign minister, Mr. Corrales, a hulk of a man with a loud laugh and a degree in engineering, said he visited Washington in early 2011 with a request for help in four areas: investigation, impunity, organized crime and corruption. President Porfirio Lobo, in meetings with the Americans, put it more bluntly: “We’re drowning.”
In 2010, a year after a military coup eventually brought the conservative Lobo government to power, drug flights to Honduras spiked to 82, from six in 2006. Half the country, which is only a little bigger than Tennessee, was out of government control. Then last October, the mingling of corruption and impunity hit the front pages here with the murder of Rafael Alejandro Vargas, the 22-year-old son of Julieta Castellanos, the rector of Honduras’s largest university.
Mr. Vargas’s death stood out not just because he was the son of a prominent academic; he was killed by police officers, who appeared to have kidnapped him as he left a birthday party, and then killed him when they realized who he was. Many of the officers were not arrested.
“It was a wake-up call for all of Honduras of just how corrupt and infiltrated the police were,” Ms. Otero said.
Another State Department official said the killing — along with the soaring homicide rate and the increased trafficking — sounded alarms in Washington: “It raised for us the specter of Honduras becoming another northern Mexico.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanded a strong response, and William R. Brownfield, the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, became the point man for what was created: a broad security program centered on rapid-response law enforcement activities organized by the D.E.A. and the Pentagon.
Known as Anvil, it was meant to work alongside efforts like outreach to youth and training for some police officers, prosecutors and judges. But the interdiction of cocaine was the immediate focus. Mr. Brownfield and other officials wanted to test whether they could keep drug planes from landing on Honduras’s isolated Caribbean coast.
The plan was for American and Colombian radar intelligence to guide D.E.A. agents working with the Honduran police. They would intercept drug planes once they landed, using State Department helicopters flown by Guatemalan pilots. “It was the most multinational law enforcement operation we have ever conducted,” Mr. Brownfield said.
They started in the spring, and several officials, including Ambassador Kubiske, said the program had succeeded in many ways. From April 24 to July 3, 4.7 tons of cocaine were seized, and the number of drug flights coming into Honduras fell significantly.
But the operation had evident procedural flaws. It was started without some simple measures that could have prevented deaths or allowed for swift investigations and a full public accounting when things went wrong.
According to a senior American official who was not authorized to speak on the record, there were no detailed rules governing American participation in law enforcement operations. Honduran officials also described cases in which the rules of engagement for the D.E.A. and the police were vague and ad hoc.
“In these kinds of situations, who can really say how the decision to shoot is made?” said Héctor Iván Mejía, a spokesman for the Honduran National Police.
And for a law enforcement program, investigations seemed to be an afterthought. On several occasions, crime scenes were left unsecured for more than 12 hours, until an investigator could be flown to them. After episodes in which suspects were injured or killed, it often took days — and significant public pressure — to begin inquiries about whether deadly force was justified, too late to create a full and credible account.
The Honduran authorities were not much help. After one previously undisclosed interdiction raid in July, soldiers refused to board an American military helicopter that had come to collect reinforcements.
More broadly, it was often unclear who was in charge. Sometimes neither Honduran nor American authorities seemed to know who was ultimately responsible for the policy.
The D.E.A.’s role was especially contentious. Its commandos were part of a tactical assault program known as FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team, which has been credited with victories against drug traffickers from Peru to Afghanistan. But a May 11 shooting in a town called Ahuas, in which gunfire killed four people whom neighbors said were innocent, led to concerns in Congress that the D.E.A.’s commandos were operating with impunity.
The agents were supposed to act as trainers. “During our operations in Honduras, Honduran law enforcement is always in the lead, and we play a support and mentorship role,” said Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the D.E.A.
But American officials overseeing Anvil now acknowledge that turned out not to be the case. Members of the Honduran police teams told government investigators that they took their orders from the D.E.A. Americans officials said that the FAST teams, deploying tactics honed in Afghanistan, did not feel confident in the Hondurans’ abilities to take the lead.
Three of the five joint interdiction operations during Anvil included deadly shootings. In Ahuas, officials said the gunfire came from the Honduran police. In late June, D.E.A. agents shot and killed the pilot of a plane bearing drugs, and another pilot who landed farther inland on July 3. Anvil ended soon afterward, several days ahead of schedule.
“This operation was bungled in its conception, in its implementation and in its aftermath,” said Mr. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s panel on the State Department and foreign operations.
Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Mrs. Clinton, “Unfortunately, this is not the first time the United States has come perilously close to an overmilitarized strategy toward a country too small and institutionally weak for its citizens to challenge the policy.”
Mr. Brownfield, the assistant secretary, said it was impossible to “offer a zero risk program for interdicting drugs in Central America.” He noted that the shootings during interdiction raids happened in the middle of the night, in remote locations that were hard for investigators to reach. Despite these challenges, he said that investigations were conducted and that he was “basically satisfied” that he knew what had happened.
But an aide to Mr. Leahy said members of Congress were not reassured. “One of several reasons funds currently are being withheld is that we have yet to see the results of any investigation, and there is little confidence that the next time would be any better,” the aide said.
Military Justice Gone Awry
When the Honduran Air Force pilot took off from his base at La Ceiba on July 26, tracking a plane without a flight plan, the State Department helicopters used for interdiction had already returned to Guatemala. The D.E.A. agents were gone. Anvil had ended, but the broader mission of joint enforcement and the sharing of American intelligence had not.
From the moment the Honduran pilot departed in his aging Tucano turboprop, just before midnight, he was in radio contact with Colombian authorities, who regularly receive radar intelligence from the American military’s Southern Command.
Intelligence-sharing is a major component of the American approach to fighting drugs regionally, and military commanders said they were not especially worried about any mistakes as they watched the suspicious flight on their radar screens. Nearly a decade earlier, Honduran military commanders signed an agreement with the United States to abide by laws that prohibit firing on civilian aircraft. After all, small single-engine planes are used by local airlines, courier services and missionaries all over Honduras’s remote northeastern coast.
Yet Honduran and American officials said the Honduran pilots did not seem to be aware of the rules.
Mr. Corrales, the foreign minister, and some American officials have concluded that the downed planes amounted to misapplied military justice, urged on by societal anger and the broader weaknesses of Honduras’s institutions.
“It reflects a lot of frustration in the country, that they think this is a tool they need to use,” Ambassador Kubiske said. “If you had a law enforcement system and then a justice system that could reliably detain suspected narcos when they land — if they could seize the goods and put together a strong case.” She added, “If they had a strong functioning system, then this would look like a less attractive alternative.”
Creating a stronger system is at the core of what some officials are now calling Anvil II. A draft of the plan provided by Mr. Corrales shows a major shift toward shoring up judicial institutions with new entities focused on organized and financial crime.
Mr. Corrales said the plan was closer to what he had hoped for before Anvil, with a few protective fixes: each vetted investigative unit will include up to three embedded prosecutors, who will direct the activities of Honduran police officers and D.E.A. agents.
The D.E.A.’s role will also probably change. American officials say they are discussing how to keep it more limited, possibly by requiring FAST agents to stay on helicopters during raids, “more like a coach on the sidelines,” one American military official said.
Much of what is being proposed would be paid for with a national security tax Honduras recently established. The Americans have agreed to help Honduras determine how the money will be spent, and if Congress releases its hold on American contributions, joint security programs will accelerate quickly.
But many Hondurans worry that the pull of the familiar — of muscular, military-style interdiction — may be difficult to resist. In the handwritten notes on Mr. Corrales’s draft, he placed a No. 1 next to two items: intelligence-sharing, and a reference to training for 20 Honduran helicopter pilots.
Honduran officials have also resisted demands from Congress for a more thorough investigation of Juan Carlos Bonilla, the head of the Honduran police, who has been accused of running a death squad that killed at least three people from 1998 to 2002. (He was acquitted of a single murder charge in 2004, though critics say the case was hindered by corruption.)
Dr. Castellanos, the university rector, said the challenge for Honduras and the Americans would be staying focused on long-term problems like corruption. “It’s a tragedy; there is no confidence in the state,” she said, wearing black in her university office.
The old game of cocaine cat-and-mouse tends to look like a quicker fix, she said, with its obvious targets and clear victories measured in tons seized. Since Anvil ended, officials have seen a revival of suspicious planes heading to Honduras, with many landing inland, along rivers.
“This moment presents us with an opportunity for institutional reform,” Dr. Castellanos said. But that will depend on whether the new effort goes after more than just drugs and uproots the criminal networks that have already burrowed into Honduran society.
“There’s infiltration everywhere,” she said. “There is no guarantee it can be stopped.”
Panama leader tells Germany he wants to adopt euro
Reuters. October 14, 2012
(Reuters) - Panama would like to introduce the euro as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar, President Ricardo Martinelli told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday during a visit to Europe.
"In Panama the currency in free circulation is the American dollar and I told the chancellor we are looking for ways for the euro to become another currency of legal circulation and to be accepted in the Panamanian market," President Ricardo Martinelli told a joint news conference with Merkel in Berlin.
Martinelli provided no details about the switch but he expressed "full confidence" in the German and European economies and said he expected the euro zone debt crisis would soon pass.
Seventeen of the European Union's 27 member states are in the euro zone but euros are also in circulation in a number of non-EU countries, including Kosovo and Montenegro in the Balkans as well as tiny Monaco and Andorra, and in overseas territories.
Panama's dollarized economy - almost 10,000 kilometers from mainland Europe - is one of the fastest growing in Latin America, expanding 10.6 percent last year with help from heavy infrastructure spending including the expansion of the Panama Canal.
Financial markets' fears of a possible meltdown of the common currency have eased since the European Central Bank said it was ready to buy unlimited quantities of sovereign debt to reduce borrowing costs of vulnerable countries such as Spain.
But Merkel, head of the currency bloc's largest economy, has said Europe needs to persevere with tough austerity measures and move towards closer banking, fiscal and political union in order to secure the euro's future.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Gareth Jones and Patrick Graham)
Missile Crisis Documents Give Details on U.S. Secret Approach to Cuba
EFE. October 14, 2012
WASHINGTON – Declassified Kennedy Library documents reveal further details of a secret U.S. effort to reach an accord with communist Cuba and avoid a nuclear war during the 1962 missile crisis.
The National Security Archive, a Washington-based, non-governmental research center, on Friday posted documents from the newly declassified papers of Robert F. Kennedy, who at that time was serving as attorney general in the administration of his brother, then-President John F. Kennedy.
RFK played a key role in negotiations to find a peaceful solution to the two-week crisis, which was one of the most serious of the Cold War and had the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of a nuclear conflict.
The crisis erupted after an American U-2 spy plane detected the presence of Soviet ballistic missiles on the communist-ruled island on Oct. 14, 1962.
Among the documents from the Kennedy Library is the rough draft of a proposed letter to Fidel Castro, identified as “señor F.C.,” and evaluated by a team of advisers to President Kennedy on Oct. 17, a day after the head of state learned about the existence of the missiles.
That letter, available to historians for the first time, “initiated a chain of events that led to a complicated back-channel diplomacy between Washington and Havana at the height of what Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger called ‘the most dangerous moment in human history,’” the NSA said in a statement.
The missive warns Castro that by deploying the missiles on the Caribbean island, the Soviets “raised grave issues for Cuba.”
“To serve their interests, they have justified the Western Hemisphere countries in making an attack on Cuba which would lead to the immediate overthrow of your regime,” it read.
But the letter also offered a “carrot” in the form of negotiations to improve relations “once the Soviets and their weapons of mass destruction were gone,” the NSA said.
In the initial deliberations on how to respond to the crisis, however, the president’s top advisers urged him to reject that message to Cuba because it would “undermine the option of a surprise U.S. air attack on the island.”
Kennedy eventually opted for a “naval quarantine of Cuba” to buy time while pursuing diplomatic efforts to convince the Soviets to withdraw their missiles, and he also instructed the State Department to come up with diplomatic alternatives to an attack on Cuba.
On Oct. 25, 1962, the State Department recommended an “approach to Castro” through the mediation of Brazil that laid out his options: “the overthrow of his regime, if not its physical destruction,” or “assurances, regardless of whether we intended to carry them out, that we would not ourselves undertake to overthrow the regime” if he expelled both the Russians and their missiles from the island.
Kennedy approved the delivery of that message to Castro the following day, albeit “disguised as a Brazilian peace initiative sent by the government of populist president Joao Goulart, rather than one from Washington,” the NSA said.
A Brazilian envoy arrived in Havana on Oct. 29, although “the urgency and relevance of Kennedy’s Brazilian back-channel message had been eclipsed by events.”
The day before, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev “agreed to withdraw the missiles in return for Kennedy’s public pledge not to invade Cuba, and the president’s secret promise to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey sometime in the near future,” it added.
The declassified documents also include notes by Robert Kennedy on the so-called “black Saturday” of Oct. 27, when fears of a nuclear war between the two superpowers reached their peak.
The details of the Kennedy administration’s “approach” to Castro remained a state secret for more than 40 years until 2004, when historian James Hershberg published an account of the diplomatic effort based on documents found in the archives of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry and White House National Security Council tapes.
According to Peter Kornbluh, the NSA’s Cuba analyst, the RFK papers, declassified on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “reinforce the key historical lesson of the missile crisis: the need and role for creative diplomacy to avoid the threat of nuclear Armageddon.”
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
EFE. October 14, 2012
Latin America News – Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State arrives in Lima on Monday and that day will meet with the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala.
“In Peru, Secretary Clinton will meet with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to discuss bilateral and regional cooperation,” EFE reported.
“We also participate in an international conference on financial inclusion of women, in which a speech before the plenary,” the spokesman added.
The conference, entitled “The Power: Women as Engine of Growth and Social Inclusion”, is organized by the U.S. State Department together with the Peruvian Government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
This will be the second trip to Peru and Latin America by Clinton, who will be accompanied by the Special Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer.
The last visit to latin America by Clinton was in, 2012 June, for the Rio +20 Conference on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil.
Earlier in the year Clinton traveled to Colombia to attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.
Last year in 2011, Clinton visited the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Jamaica, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil,Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Aid recipients to IMF: What took you so long?
Reuters. October 15, 2012
(Reuters) - Graduates of IMF emergency loan programmes accepted the Fund's admission that it miscalculated the cost of austerity with a mix of schadenfreude and frustration that the change came too late to spare them economic pain.
Countries such as Argentina, Indonesia and South Korea, which were required to make deep budget cuts in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in International Monetary Fund aid, said the lending institution was finally learning from mistakes made during financial crises in Asia and Latin America.
"People learn from what happened in the past," said Indonesia's Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan. "Certainly what we went through in 1998 was painful. I lived through that, and hopefully the... difficulties we went through served as lessons."
Indonesia signed a $10 billion IMF loan deal in 1997 as the Asian financial crisis raged, and started an economic programme that called for spending cuts, tax increases, bank closures and tight monetary policy which the IMF predicted would limit the downturn.
Indonesia's economy ended up contracting by 13 percent in 1998, nowhere near the IMF's forecast for 3 percent growth.
Former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn admitted in 2010 that the lending institution had made "mistakes" in Asia.
Last week, the Fund released research showing that the economic damage from aggressive austerity measures may be as much as three times larger than previously assumed.
"Advice is sometimes difficult - both giving and receiving," current IMF head Christine Lagarde said in a speech at the start of the group's meetings in Tokyo on Friday.
In line with the research, the IMF has softened its earlier advice on austerity in the euro zone crisis, arguing now that forcing Greece and other debt-burdened countries at the centre of the debt storm to reduce their deficits too quickly would be counterproductive.
CUSHIONING THE BLOW
The IMF's research shows a marked difference in how austerity affected advanced countries before and after 2009, when most of the world's major central banks had cut interest rates to near zero to fight the global financial crisis.
Normally, when fiscal policy tightens, central banks can cushion the blow by lowering interest rates. But because rates are now about as low as they can go, monetary policy can do little to offset the budget tightening.
"We are in a period in which many countries are in the liquidity trap," said Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist. "As we know it doesn't mean they cannot use monetary policy, but monetary policy is much more constrained than in normal times. In this case, you just get the effect of fiscal consolidation without the offset from monetary policy."
In Indonesia back in 1997, the IMF recommended both budget cuts and tight monetary policy, which critics have long argued exacerbated the downturn.
The IMF acknowledged in 1999 that it could have allowed for quicker policy easing when it became apparent that the economy was faring far worse than predicted. But it also blamed the government for not properly implementing the programme.
The IMF's reputation in Asia remains tarnished to this day, and countries in the region have amassed some $6 trillion in foreign exchange reserves in part to ensure they will never again have to seek a bailout.
STRATEGIES "BOUND TO FAIL"
Hernán Lorenzino, Argentina's minister of economy and public finance, said the IMF's admission was a "first step" that should lead it to change tack in Europe, where it has lent to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
"Once again... the IMF is endorsing policy conditionalities and reform strategies that are bound to fail, worsening recession and unemployment levels in programme countries and leading to unsustainable debt paths and social failure," Lorenzino wrote in his official statement to the IMF.
Argentina borrowed about $23 billion through a series of IMF loans over the past decade, which it has since repaid, and is now a vocal critic of the conditions that the institution places upon loan recipients.
Although Lorenzino cancelled his trip to the Tokyo meeting at the last minute, citing the need to resolve a labour dispute at home, he spoke out against the Fund, saying it "overestimates the impact of its recipes", according to the local Ambito daily.
"It is amazing that their reports use 'fiscal consolidation' as a euphemism for the adjustments," he was quoted as saying at a conference in Buenos Aires. "Continuing to support the financial system over the real economy simply makes workers suffer the consequences of the crisis."
South Korea took out a $21 billion IMF credit line in 1997 and agreed to an economic programme that envisioned its gross domestic product slowing to 3 percent in 1998 from 5.7 percent the year before. The economy actually contracted by nearly 6 percent in 1998.
Chung Duck-koo, who headed the South Korean delegation that negotiated the 1997 bailout, said the Fund misdiagnosed a currency crisis as a fiscal policy problem and prescribed the wrong reforms.
"It was like a fire fighter, having arrived far too late, who turned out to be short of sufficient water and short of the precise assessment of the nature of the fire," he told Reuters. "Therefore, the fire resulted in getting bigger."
At least one country said it has found success in diverging from the IMF's economic recipes.
Bolivian Finance Minister Luis Arce said his government had decided to ignore IMF policies after observing the failure of the fund's policies in other countries.
Arce said his government had reduced extreme poverty to just over 24 percent of the population in 2011 from more than 38 percent in 2005 by pursuing policies contrary to Fund recommendations. Per capita GDP doubled between 2005 and 2011.
"In Bolivia we have achieved better wealth distribution with higher state involvement. We have never had faith in the market and we abandoned a market-based economy in 2006," Arce said, adding that the faith many IMF economists have shown in the "perfect market" was misguided, given the economic crises caused by their policies.
"The directors of the IMF have good intentions but certain departments are absolutely deaf to the changes that should be made within the Fund," Arce continued. "The best thing Lagarde could do is make sure her good intentions make it through to the next level."