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Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media. For more information, sign up for our Latin America News Roundup or visit the archives.

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We have published a response to Vanderbilt University's Latin America Public Opinion Project, related to their report on USAID-funded anticrime and violence prevention programs in Central America.

We are responding to LAPOP's critique of our report, “Have US-Funded CARSI Programs Reduced Crime and Violence in Central America?” that we released in September 2016. Our September report was an examination of the only publicly accessible impact assessment of USAID-funded anticrime and community-based violence prevention programs carried out under the umbrella of the US State Department’s Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). LAPOP took issue with our illustration of certain methodological flaws in LAPOP’s study, as well as with the manner in which we presented our conclusions. LAPOP’s criticisms appear to be largely based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of our arguments and fail to address our main findings. The problems with the LAPOP study that we identified still stand, as does the validity of our conclusion: LAPOP’s study cannot support the conclusion that intervention caused the areas subject to treatment in the CARSI programs to improve relative to those areas where no intervention took place.

You can find our response paper, just published, here.

The clearest winner in Chile’s 2016 municipal elections was abstention, and that is bad news for all parties, left and right.

Municipal elections in Chile are often used as an indicator to measure how well traditional parties will fare in the following years’ parliamentary and presidential elections. During the latest elections ― held on October 23 ― Chileans voted for their alcaldes (mayors) and concejales (council members), varying between six, eight, or ten total local representatives, depending on the size of the population within the municipality.

The high rate of abstention in these elections isn’t surprising given the national polling data showing a steady decline in public confidence in government institutions and parties over the past two decades. According to the latest Servel figures, the 2016 municipal elections reached a 65 percent abstention level — a new historic high. The 35 percent participation rate for 2016’s municipal election is down from 43.2 percent in 2012.

In 2011, modifications to Chile’s electoral system instituted automatic voter inscription and the voluntary vote, following nearly a century ofobligatory voting. Taking these high abstention figures as simply a sign of voter apathy would be a mistake. Similarly, making an argument for a return to compulsory voting in order to increase participation also misses the point. At the center of the problem of abstention is the perceived failure of both the right and the left to implement reforms to create a more inclusive democracy and an equitable development model.

I traveled to Honduras recently to better understand how funding for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan (APP) is being spent and accounted for by its implementers. Nearly half of the $750 million that the US government is channeling to the APP in fiscal year 2016 is specifically allocated to CARSI. These are historic levels of funding to the region, unparalleled since the early 1990s when the US was involved in Central America’s internal armed conflicts. Numerous reports indicate that military and police-perpetrated human rights abuses have increased since the creation of CARSI and there is no real evidence that CARSI has yielded minimal, if any, results.

In fact, very little is known about the efficacy or impact of these programs at all, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent. On September 7, I co-authored a report published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that shows that the only publicly available impact assessment study of a CARSI program, published in 2014 by Vanderbilt University’s Latin America Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), doesn’t conclusively demonstrate, as the study claims, that the CARSI program has had positive results  (LAPOP has published a critique of this report, and CEPR staff are now preparing a response to this critique).

The specific CARSI program that the LAPOP study assesses is a community-based violence and crime prevention program that is implemented by the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) and its partners in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. In late 2014 a USAID official told Congress that “We have evidence that these kinds of programs are working, and evidence is crucial so we can build on what really works.” Since there is no hard evidence that the CARSI/USAID program is working  in the LAPOP study or elsewhere  I decided to have a closer look at the program on the ground in Honduras, a country I have worked in for over a decade, and see for myself.

In 2009, shortly after the coup d’état, the effects of which continue to be felt throughout Honduras, the country’s director of counternarcotics, retired General Julián Arístides González, was assassinated by unknown assailants. Then in 2011, a hit squad gunned down Aflredo Landaverde, another senior antidrug official. Despite much evidence of criminal activity by the Honduran police — including involvement in police brutality, extortion, rape, and sex trafficking and prostitution rings — investigative commissions made little headway. In fact, the Honduran government dismissed all advice from an independent police investigation commission created in 2012, before it was dissolved by the ruling National Party in 2014.

In August 2013, when current president Juan Orlando Hernández was president of Congress, he oversaw the creation of the Public Order Military Police (Policía Militar de Orden Público), a new branch of the Honduran Armed Forces. Since then, corruption scandals and allegations of abuses targeting civilians have continued unabated. The response from the government has been to further militarize law enforcement. In April 2016, news broke that high-level officials in the National Police had been involved in the assassinations of these antidrug officials and that evidence compiled in an internal report had passed through the hands of numerous police and Security Ministry officials without action.

These revelations came on the heels of massive public outcry over corruption scandals in other Honduran institutions, and the Honduran government was quick to create a new police reform commission. But there are reasons to suspect that the commission is really window-dressing aimed at ensuring continued international support.

As was reported following the assassination of prominent Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres in March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton erased all references to the 2009 coup in Honduras in the paperback edition of her memoirs, “Hard Choices.” Her three-page account of the coup in the original hardcover edition, where she admitted to having sanctioned it, was one of several lengthy sections cut from the paperback, published in April 2015 shortly after she had launched her presidential campaign.

A short, inconspicuous statement on the copyright page is the only indication that “a limited number of sections” — amounting to roughly 96 pages — had been cut “to accommodate a shorter length for this edition.” Many of the abridgements consist of narrative and description and are largely trivial, but there are a number of sections that were deleted from the original that also deserve attention.

After many weeks of fits and starts, the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Hondurasknown by its Spanish initials MACCIH — slowly began to sputter into motion late last month, with an initial series of meetings between MACCIH personnel and members of Honduras’ judicial institutions. On April 28, the Coalition Against Impunity made up of many of Honduras’ leading human rights and anti-impunity advocacy groups released a statement [here in English] lamenting MACCIH’s limited powers and noting that the only way for the mission to “generate some degree of credibility and lay the foundations for its legitimacy, is by producing immediate results with regards to the cases of corruption that have had the most impact on citizens, such as that of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) in which the governing party is involved.”

As Americas Blog readers are well aware, a major corruption scandal involving the ruling National Party and the IHSS which administers a state healthcare fund led to massive protests against the Honduran government from May to September of 2015As I described in a New York Times op-ed back in February, protesters called for the creation of a United Nations-backed commission modeled on Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Instead, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) came up with MACCIH, a body that lacks the far-reaching mandate and autonomy of the Guatemalan commission.

Despite the objections of the Coalition Against Impunity and the “indignados” protest movement, the Honduran government and the OAS went ahead and signed an agreement creating MACCIH on January 19 of this year. Various hurdles including opposition from the National Party in the Honduran congress delayed implementation of the agreement for several months. When MACCIH finally began to show signs of life in early April, it very quickly careened off in a strange and inauspicious direction.

With Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff facing a likely impeachment, Vice President Michel Temer has been in the spotlight as the likely successor. Last week Temer sat down for an interview with The Financial Times, categorically rejecting the idea that what is happening in Brazil is a coup. “There is no coup whatsoever happening here in Brazil,” Temer stated. He then points to public opinion being against Dilma as proof that it is not a coup. The Financial Times continues:

He said political and popular support for impeachment was also overwhelming, with 367 members of the 513-seat lower house of congress voting for the motion, well over the two-thirds, or 342 votes, required for it to pass, and polls showing 60 to 70 per cent of Brazilians were in favour of Ms Rousseff’s constitutional removal.

“Therefore, I ask, when she accuses me of being a conspirator or a coup-monger — do I really have the capacity to influence 367 deputies [congressmen] and 70 per cent of the Brazilian population? It’s entirely without foundation this claim.”

As long as the people support it! (I wonder how many in the U.S. would support the removal of congress, what with its current approval rating of 17 percent?)

Of course, Temer, unlike Dilma Rousseff, has actually been accused of corruption. A Supreme Court judge has recommended he also face impeachment trials for the same accounting tricks that Dilma is currently defending herself against. 

Since Temer seems to really care what the Brazilian people think, maybe he should check out the results of the latest poll from IBOPE. The AP reports:

A new poll Monday showed people overwhelmingly favored the hypothetical resignation of both Rousseff and Temer, followed by new presidential elections. Just over 60 percent of respondents said that scenario would be the best way out of the crisis, although no such solution is stipulated under Brazil's constitution. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they would prefer to see Rousseff continue her mandate, while just 8 percent of respondents said Rousseff's impeachment, followed by her substitution by Temer, would be their preferred solution.

As unpopular as Dilma may be, Temer appears even less popular. More people would prefer she continue her mandate than be replaced by Temer. Of course, the clear majority prefer new elections.

With limited access to chemical and mechanical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery, Cuban farmers have pioneered innovations in sustainable agriculture out of necessity since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Although most continue to employ conventional agricultural methods, and Cuba continues to import more than half of its food, around a quarter of the country’s farmers have nonetheless succeeded in supplying some 65 percent of national agricultural output using agroecological practices. These achievements, however, could come under threat with the expected resumption of U.S.-Cuban trade relations.

Having lost the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc trade partners, Cuba suffered an 80 percent reduction in foreign trade between 1989 and 1991, leaving it fully exposed to the U.S. trade embargo. Its agricultural sector was hit particularly hard given its heavy dependence on agrochemicals. Chemical fertilizer use per hectare, which had been roughly double that of the U.S. in 1989, fell by almost 90 percent in the following decade, while herbicide and pesticide use dropped by a similar amount.

TIME magazine has sunk to new lows, soliciting a billionaire Republican donor, Paul Singer, to write its blurb for recently elected Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s entry in the 2016 edition of “100 Leaders.” It’s not ridiculous because he’s either a billionaire or a Republican though, it’s that for the better part of the last decade the man has funded a multi-million dollar campaign against the previous Argentine government. Oh, and he stands to make a pretty penny from the decisions of the new president too.

First, the backstory. In 2001, Argentina had the largest ever sovereign debt default in history, some $100 billion that the country, in the midst of a disastrous recession, simply could not continue to service. Over the following years, Argentina negotiated and reached a settlement with 93 percent of its bondholders. They agreed to take a significant haircut on their holdings and were given new bonds that were linked to the country’s economic growth. Since Argentina did quite well after its default (more on that here), the bondholders recouped their investment and a tidy profit as well.

But that wasn’t enough for everyone. A group of vulture funds, many of whom bought the distressed debt on the secondary market for cents on the dollar, took Argentina to court in New York demanding full repayment. The previous Argentine government refused to comply with court orders demanding billions be paid to these vulture funds, including Singer’s. The Argentine legislature also passed laws preventing the government from dealing with the vultures.

From Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson to FIFA ethics lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani, the Panama Papers have already claimed their first few casualties despite having only been public knowledge for five days. In Peru, the revelations add yet another twist to an already tumultuous presidential election scheduled for this Sunday that has seen two candidates disqualified from running. Four of the remaining candidates now find themselves implicated in the same global financial scandal, including frontrunner Keiko Fujimori and her rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who is tied with Verónika Mendoza for second place.

The Peruvian elections were first thrown into turmoil on March 4, a month before the leak, when the country’s electoral board disqualified both Julio Guzmán and César Acuña from the elections. Guzmán, an economist from the liberal party Todos por el Perú (All for Peru), had been regarded as Fujimori’s main challenger at the time, polling between 16 and 18 percent compared to Fujimori’s roughly 30 percent. Acuña, on the other hand, was a marginal candidate with single-digit support. The electoral board voted to exclude Guzmán on a technicality, as his party had completed their paperwork incorrectly, as well as Acuña for illegally purchasing support. But the board then courted more controversy three weeks later, when it allowed Fujimori to continue running despite similar accusations of vote-buying against her.

With Guzmán out of the running, the race for second place is now a dead heat between former Prime Minister Kuczynski and left-wing lawmaker Mendoza, whose support has surged dramatically in recent weeks partly by picking up vast numbers of undecided voters, who still make up an estimated 40 percent of the electorate. Kuczynski is widely supported by the elites, with an agenda focused on promoting private investment by lowering taxes and cutting bureaucratic red tape, while Mendoza has opposed these policies in favor of increasing public spending to promote growth and to diversify the Peruvian economy away from its dependence on mining and other extractive industries. One of the two candidates is likely to face Fujimori in a runoff election in June.

The recent murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres has brought attention to the extreme danger faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Less than two weeks after Berta’s murder, Nelson García, another activist with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered following the eviction of Lenca communities from their land by state security forces. In the past few years, COPINH members have been killed by state forces, as in the case of Tomás García in 2013, and have faced intimidation, harassment and continual criminalization by the government (including the arrest in 2013 of Berta Cáceres along with two other COPINH leaders on trumped-up charges).

Within a context of increasing persecution and intimidation against Honduran social activists, COPINH’s experience is not unique. Activists across Honduras — whether they are from environmental, labor, indigenous or LGBT rights organizations — have faced intense repression and violence. These acts of violence almost never result in prosecutions, and rather than protect activists, Honduran security forces are frequently suspected of criminal complicity in the attacks.  

“Berta Cáceres, my mother, is not dead. She multiplied. So it is our job, everyone whose lives she touched in some way, to continue multiplying her. From now on, we are committed to carrying on this work.” -Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres, co-founder of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was killed by gunmen in her home on March 3rd. Less than two weeks later, one of Cáceres’ colleagues, a COPINH member named Nelson García, was also assassinated following the violent eviction of a Lenca community at Rio Chiquito.

On Wednesday, March 23, Cáceres’ daughter and a COPINH activist were joined by experts on international law and megaprojects to brief U.S. congressional staff and the general public on the events surrounding Cáceres’ assassination and the efforts of Cáceres’ family members and COPINH to seek justice. The congressional briefing, “The Assassination of Berta Cáceres and Ongoing Killings and Attacks Targeting Social Activists in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service.

In the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in the early hours of March 3. Winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her relentless opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which would have threatened the livelihoods of indigenous communities in the area, Cáceres had received numerous threats to her life in connection with her work.

In examining cases of journalists murdered since 2003, PEN International noted that Honduras has an impunity rate of 95 percent, a figure that has risen dramatically since a military coup in 2009. Honduras is even more deadly for environmentalists; at least 109 of them were murdered in Honduras between 2010 and 2015. As over 100 members of the U.S. Congress have pointed out, women, indigenous Hondurans, the LGBT community, Hondurans of African descent and other minorities have also been targeted.

Writer and filmmaker Pablo Villaça has weighed in with a scathing assessment of what appears to be a concerted effort between the Brazilian opposition, the Supreme Court and the national media to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office over her alleged manipulation of government accounts. Rousseff’s administration has been marred by a combination of economic recession, austerity measures and a growing corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras and top officials in her center-left Workers Party (PT).

There is no doubt that some officials within the PT have been heavily involved in corruption. Yet there is no lack of irony in the notion that Brazil’s centrist and right-wing opposition might sincerely be lending a helping hand to anti-corruption efforts. As The Intercept has astutely noted, most of the opposition parties working to impeach Rousseff are themselves “drowning in at least an equal amount of criminality” for the explicit purpose of personal gain – which Rousseff is not accused of, as Glenn Greenwald explains:

The irony of this widespread corruption is that President Rousseff herself is really the only significant politician, or one of the only significant politicians, in Brazil not to be implicated in any sort of corruption scheme for the—with the objective of personal enrichment. Everyone around her, virtually, including those trying to bring her government down and accuse her of corruption and impeach her, is implicated very seriously in schemes of corruption for personal enrichment. She’s essentially one of the only people who isn’t implicated that way.

Rumor has it that Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign is set to name hedge fund manager Paul Singer as its national finance chairman. The potential move may represent a belated attempt by the Republican establishment to rally behind Rubio in order to derail Donald Trump’s presidential bid, as Politico’s Mike Allen has suggested. It also draws the Florida senator ever closer to his second largest financial backer – who has incidentally just emerged victorious from a decade-long campaign to extract an exorbitant return from Argentina after its financial crisis of 2001.

Almost three years after Argentina defied a New York court ruling that would have forced the country to choose between default and certain bankruptcy, Argentine President Mauricio Macri reached a settlement on Monday with a small group of holdout creditors led by Singer’s Elliott Management. The deal still needs to be approved by the Argentine National Congress, which is set to vote on repealing two laws that currently prevent the country from paying these vulture funds.

Last summer, massive protests erupted in Honduras following revelations that hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to the country's national health service had been siphoned off by officials from the ruling National Party. In neighboring Guatemala, similar protests, sparked by a similar corruption scandal, raged for much of the summer and led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina. Following a far-reaching investigation by Guatemala's International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG, by its Spanish acronym), Pérez and former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti were charged with running a vast customs corruption network, and were jailed pending their respective trials.

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández remains firmly in place despite evidence that much of the embezzled public funds had been used for his 2013 presidential campaign. To try to placate the protesters, Hernández worked with the Organization of American States (OAS) on a joint proposal for a so-called Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, by its Spanish acronym). But protest leaders, and most Honduran human rights organizations, have rejected Hernández's proposal, considering it far too weak to effectively take on Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity, and not sufficiently independent. Instead, they have called for the creation of a United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (or CICIH), modeled on Guatemala's CICIG.

Critics of the OAS/Hernández proposal have pointed out that, in contrast with a CICIG-like entity, the MACCIH — as it is currently proposed — would lack the mandate and capacity to carry out judicial investigations and prosecutions, and instead would merely offer recommendations of reforms that the government is unlikely to ever implement (if past experience is any guide).   

On December 4, Congressman José Serrano and 53 of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives backed these demands in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to support the creation of a CICIH. In a separate statement Serrano said:

We cannot expect to fully address issues of violence and instability in Honduras when people do not feel as though they can trust their government or judicial system. It is time to establish an independent commission to root out corruption and restore trust.

Update 12:12 AM: President Nicolas Maduro stated in an address that "we accept" the results, as he had pledged he would.

Update: 12:08 AM (December 7, EST): With participation of almost 75 percent, the CNE has announced that the MUD (opposition coalition has won 99 seats, while the pro-government coalition has won 46. Nineteen seats are to be announced.

Update 11:58 PM (EST): CNE announcement of results beginning. Watch live here. CNE President Tibisay Lucena says process was "clean and reliable."

Update 11:31 PM (EST): The CNE is expected to announce results within minutes.

Update 10:42 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis reports that a CNE official was attacked in Chacao, Miranda state, while trying to enter a voting center, a few hours ago, with people chasing him shouting "kill him, kill him." Watch the video here.

Update 9:46 PM (EST): Stay posted. Official results are expected soon. Meanwhile, social media is abuzz over the opposition's unofficial claims of victory, helping to create a potentially dangerous situation.

Update 9:37 PM (EST): In an earlier press conference, Venezuela's defense minister said that there have been "72 electoral incidents," of which seven were electoral crimes, and seven individuals arrested.

Update 8:53 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes "Opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles are celebrating their win on Twitter," and Reuters is likewise reporting:

But the celebration is premature, since, as Reuters notes as the CNE has not announced results yet. Such premature announcements are reminiscent of past elections, such as in 2013, when Capriles cried foul and accused the authorities of a plot to rob him of the election even before results were announced.

Also reminiscent of 2013's elections are attacks on social media accounts of people and outlets considered to be chavista.

Update 8:09 PM (EST): Opal Tometi tweeted:

Three batches of Hillary Clinton’s emails have now been released and, though many emails are heavily redacted, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how Clinton handled major international developments during her tenure at the State Department. One of the first big issues to hit Clinton’s desk was the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras that forced democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya into exile. Officially the U.S. joined the rest of the hemisphere in opposing the coup, but Zelaya—who had grown close to radical social movements at home and signed cooperation agreements with Venezuela—wasn’t in the administration’s good books.

The released emails provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of how Clinton pursued a contradictory policy of appearing to back the restoration of democracy in Honduras while actually undermining efforts to get Zelaya back into power. The Intercept and other outlets have provided useful analyses of these emails, but there are a number of revealing passages, some in the most recent batch of emails, that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve.

A number of Clinton emails show how, starting shortly after the coup, HRC and her team shifted the deliberations on Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS)—where Zelaya could benefit from the strong support of left-wing allies throughout the region—to the San José negotiation process in Costa Rica. There, representatives of the coup regime were placed on an equal footing with representatives of Zelaya’s constitutional government, and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias (a close U.S. ally) as mediator. Unsurprisingly, the negotiation process only succeeded in one thing: keeping Zelaya out of office for the rest of his constitutional mandate. 

From the outset, U.S. interests and policy goals in Honduras were clearly identified in the emails that darted back and forth between Clinton and her advisors. On the day of the coup (June 28, 2009), Tom Shannon, the outgoing Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, provided an update for Clinton and her close staff that noted that he was “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” A later email, with talking points for a phone call between Clinton and the Spanish foreign minister, indicated that Clinton’s team was already focused on making sure that Honduras’ upcoming national elections would take place on schedule (in November of 2009):

We hope Spain will work with us and the OAS to ensure a restoration of democratic order that will allow Honduras to carry through with its electoral timetable (presidential vote scheduled for November).

This talking point would prove to be mostly false. In later emails we see how the OAS is removed from the U.S. agenda, and the “restoration of democratic order” takes a back seat to the State Department’s goal of going forward with Honduras’ November elections no matter what. 

Members of Congress have once again called on the Obama administration to stop funding Honduras’ security forces. Alarmed at the rampant militarization of policing activities throughout the country and a rash of recent reports of human rights abuses involving Honduran security forces, 21 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry on August 19 expressing their concern and making a series of specific requests, including “the suspension and re-evaluation of further training and support for Honduran police and military units until the Honduran government adequately addresses human rights abuses.” 

For several years now U.S. legislators have been urging the administration to either suspend or overhaul its security assistance programs in Honduras. Back in March of 2012, 94 Democrats asked then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend military and police assistance, noting “credible allegations of widespread, serious allegations of human rights abuses attributed to [Honduran] security forces” and the impunity surrounding targeted attacks against “human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists.” Two years later, 108 House Democrats sent a letter to Kerry expressing concern over the accelerated militarization of domestic law enforcement under current president Juan Orlando Hernández and calling for the State Department to review its security programs in Honduras. Similar letters have appeared in the U.S. Senate, with, for instance, 21 senators questioning Honduran government compliance with human rights conditions attached to U.S. security assistance.

The Congressional letter of August 19 – led by Representatives Hank Johnson (a leading opponent of militarized law enforcement in the U.S.) and Jan Schakowsky (who has led several previous letters regarding Honduras’ appalling human rights situation) – describes the steady militarization of policing that has taken place in Honduras since 2010: The massive deployment of army units to police Honduran streets, followed by the creation of a 3000-strong military police force under a military line of command and a new “super-ministry” of Security combining civilian and military security institutions under the direction of a recently retired general.

This militarization trend is troubling enough in a country that only emerged from military rule in the 1980s and was subjected to a military coup d’état in June of 2009, but there is also abundant documented evidence of widespread abuses perpetrated by military personnel and militarized police, some of which is described in the letter:

A pusher cares less for the health of an addict than squeezing every last penny from the customer. Perhaps this is more so when the victim tries to manage the addiction. Likewise, creditors hardly have the best interests of debtors at heart. Thus, we ought to cast a suspicious eye when creditors make suggestions regarding fiscal policy for their debtors.

In 2002, in the face of a nearly four-year depression and increased borrowing to maintain an overvalued peso, Argentina devalued and defaulted on external debt. The economy recovered rapidly. To come out of default Argentina negotiated in 2005 and again in 2010 haircut deals with the majority of foreign creditors, but a small minority of holdouts continue to prevent Argentina from borrowing internationally. Unable to roll over its debts, Argentina has recently drawn down on foreign reserves in order to make principal payments. Ideally, this is neither better nor worse an option than borrowing. However there is a risk that the drawdown of foreign reserves can feed speculation against the peso, thereby contributing to a black market premium and inflation.

Absent sufficient reserves, Argentina must find a way to borrow or again reduce its debt service. One obvious way forward is for creditors to once again accept new international borrowing from Argentina. This would allow Argentina to roll over its current debt, although it may face a higher interest rate than implied by its current servicing of debt. However, creditors have made an alternative suggestion. According to Moody’s Investors Service, “For Argentina to regain full access to capital markets, its next government will need to reach an agreement with the holdout creditors that have not accepted a restructuring agreement.”

In other words, by bargaining further with its creditors Argentina must now pay for the mere option of continuing to service its debt. With Argentina’s dwindling capacity to pay out of reserves, Moody’s is insisting that Argentina would be welcomed back into credit markets if only it promised to borrow more. Such is the way of the debt pusher—inflicting pain upon anyone who struggles from addiction in the hopes that the struggle is just too great and the victim relapses with greater intensity.

On October 20, 2010, just a few days before Dilma Rousseff was reelected to serve a second term as president of Brazil, newscasts focused on reports that opposing candidate José Serra had interrupted his campaign to undergo medical examination after supposedly being attacked by members of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) during a rally in Rio de Janeiro. In much of the major media and on social networks, it was claimed that the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate had been hit by a heavy object. In fact, as documented by at least five TV cameras, Serra had been hit by a harmless ball of crumpled paper.

Earlier this year, on July 30, an attack at the Lula Institute in Sao Paulo (named for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also from the PT) involving a homemade explosive was reported as an “incident” of no major consequence. Merval Pereira, a columnist for O Globo, denounced the attempt by petistas (members or supporters of the PT) and Lula’s supporters to transform the event into a “terrorist act,” pointing out that “it only made a small hole in the door.” Ricardo Noblat, also a columnist at O Globo, raised the question of whether the throwing of the explosive wasn’t a “setup to allow Lula to pose as a victim.” Reinaldo Azevedo, in turn, on his blog for Veja magazine – one of Brazil’s most influential publications — accused petistas of wanting to exploit the bomb attack in order to crack down on opposition demonstrations scheduled for August 16 (no crackdown of any kind occurred).

Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples of bias in the Brazilian news media. Brazil’s large media outlets present themselves as bulwarks of democracy when in reality they work to guarantee that a society of exclusion and elitism remains in place. O Globo, for example, was one of the earliest supporters of the military coup d’état in Brazil, and it was only in August 2013 that a public retraction from the newspaper= recognized that “the editorial support for the 1964 coup was an error.”

Until the PT won the presidency, the historic social exclusion of certain sectors of the population had never been countered with efficient public policies. Years of per capita income stagnation, neoliberal economic policies and high income concentration exacerbated a large social gap, as shown by high levels of poverty and illiteracy. The result was that a significant portion of the population had no access to social rights guaranteed under the Constitution (healthcare, education, and complete political participation). The PT’s national project was based on social inclusion and the redistribution of income for millions of people who previously had not had the opportunity to fully exercise their citizenship. From the moment the PT began to gain national relevance in Brazilian politics in the 1980s, the country’s traditional media, led by a few families, made one of its main objectives preventing that project from fully developing.