Map of the Western Hemisphere

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.

  FB-logo  Subscribe by E-mail  

This article in The Hill, Obama administration set to make NSA leaker Snowdens trip tough, looks at some of the possibilities for Snowden flying to safety without running into interference from the U.S. government or its allies.  It contains this interesting speculation:

“Morales was forced to refuel in Austria, which is not a NATO member. Snowden was not aboard the flight, but some have speculated that it might have been a dry run to test how a flight carrying the accused felon would fare over NATO-member countries.”

Dry run by whom?  I don't think Evo could have fooled the U.S. into thinking that Snowden was on his plane.  More likely a "dry run" by the U.S. -- especially since they were almost certainly watching Evo's plane and knew exactly who boarded it and who didn't.  If U.S. intelligence agencies didn't do that, then they are more incompetent than anyone can imagine.

The article isn’t very convincing on the eastern route:

“Traveling eastward from Moscow also looks dim. It would involve a nearly eight-hour flight across Russia that would touch dangerously close to Chinese and Japanese airspace. There would be no likely sympathetic refueling destination in the Pacific Ocean on the way toward South America.”

It’s not clear what the problem is with Chinese airspace; there is no evidence that they want to interfere with Snowden’s travels.  Also, it’s not clear why Snowden couldn’t refuel in eastern Russia, and then fly down the Pacific in international air space to friendly countries in South America, which would be well within range of a non-stop flight for a decent private plane.

The question then would be whether the U.S. would flagrantly violate international law, and do what Obama previously said he wouldnt do, by going after his plane in international air space.  This is something that a reporter should ask the White House.

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot did an interview via email with one of Greece’s leading daily newspapers, Eleftherotypia last week. The interview, which occurred prior to the news that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia had offered political asylum to Edward Snowden, appears in Eleftherotypia today. Mark’s original responses, in English, appear below:

Eleftherotypia: Why do you think Snowden did it?  He has destroyed his life now. Does he have a very high sense of justice or is there something else behind it?

Mark Weisbrot: I think he explained his reasons very eloquently in his first public interview, with Glenn Greenwald, and especially this:

I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there, day to day, in the office, watches what happening­, and goes, "This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."

I think he strongly believes this.  He is against the idea of government deciding major issues of public policy in secret.

What will happen to him? How do you see the asylum requests developing?

He has at least three countries -- Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela -- that are almost guaranteed to give him asylum.  There are numerous others that would give him asylum or refugee status if he showed up in their territories, which includes their embassies.  So the main problem right now is transportation.  But I think that will be resolved, sooner or later.

Will the U.S. use the carrot-and-stick policy in order to make sure no country offers him asylum so they can get him back to face justice?

They are trying very, very hard to do that. But they are losing -- contrary to what you might read or hear in the international media.  First, as I mentioned, there are several countries willing to give him asylum or refuge. This includes Russia, which he rejected because of their conditions. Second, they cannot push everyone around indefinitely. France in particular was embarrassed by this latest episode where they blocked Evo Morales' plane from passing through their air space, on the false rumor that Snowden may have been aboard. Spain, which considers its relations with Latin America to be important especially because of its large investments and commerce there, also paid a price for being Washington's thug in this case. So there are costs to their strategy.

Rory Carroll has been reporting on Ecuador and the Snowden case for the Guardian, but not without serious criticism.  Most outrageous was the headline on his most recent article, which may have not been the reporter’s doing: Rafael Correa not considering Snowden asylum: helping him was a 'mistake.'

This is of course very misleading; Correa made it clear in his interview that providing travel documents was a “mistake,” since this is not Ecuador’s responsibility; and that he would consider asylum for Snowden if Snowden was in Ecuadorean territory. The headline tells the reader that Correa has abandoned Snowden, but anyone who reads it can see that if Snowden arrived at an Ecuadorean embassy, his application for asylum would be seriously considered, and very likely granted.

The Guardian has since corrected the headline.

Correa himself criticized Carroll’s reporting on the interview, saying:

Translation: “My statements for The Guardian totally decontextualized. Fortunately we have it taped. [We are] to not fall into the same trap of the very same as always!"

UNASUR released a statement today in response to the incident where Evo Morales' plane was forced to land in Austria after threats to search the plane for Snowden.  EU officials are scrambling to explain why Bolivian government officials are claiming that the president's plane was blocked from flying over several countries.  These events seem to parallel the incident where U.K. government officials threatened to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy in order to capture wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Here is our translation of the UNASUR statement:

Statement from the Union of South American Nations

The Union of South American Nations – UNASUR – has taken note, with the greatest concern, of the Statement-Denunciation issued by the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, by which the government states its claim before the international community due to the surprising withdrawal of permissions over airspace and landing for the presidential airplane that carried President Evo Morales Ayma and his party, in return flight, after his participation in the Second Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, held in the Russian Federation.

The Union of South American Countries – UNASUR – makes public its strong solidarity with the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and in particular with its President Mr. Evo Morales Ayma.  Additionally, it expresses its indignation and profound rejection of these acts which constitute unfriendly and unjustifiable acts that have also put in serious risk the security of the Bolivian head of state and his party.

UNASUR demands a clarification of these acts and an explanation as it were to arise.

This is the original, posted on the website for Peru's foreign ministry.

In an important development today, Amnesty International stated that “The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.”

This is significant because the international press coverage of the Snowden drama has almost completely ignored the question of whether Snowden’s rights are being violated by U.S. efforts to prevent him from seeking asylum under international law. 

It will be interesting to see if any of the major media outlets covering these events will report on this important and apparently well-grounded legal argument, given that they have reported on the Obama administration’s arguments that countries are legally obligated to hand Snowden over to the United States.  Also, Amnesty International is one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, and its statement should be relevant to news reporting on the Snowden case.

The full statement is reproduced below:

2 July 2013

USA must not persecute whistleblower Edward Snowden

The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights Amnesty International said today.

“The US attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum are deplorable,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International. “It is his unassailable right, enshrined in international law, to claim asylum and this should not be impeded.”

The organization also believes that the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower could be at risk of ill-treatment if extradited to the USA.

“No country can return a person to another country where there is a serious risk of ill-treatment,” said Bochenek.

“We know that others who have been prosecuted for similar acts have been held in conditions that not only Amnesty International but UN officials considered cruel inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law.”

Senior US officials have already condemned Snowden without a trial, labelling him both guilty and a traitor, raising serious questions as to whether he’d receive a fair trial. Likewise the US authorities move to charge Snowden under the Espionage Act could leave him with no provision to launch a public interest whistle-blowing defence under US law.

"It appears he is being charged by the US government primarily for revealing its - and other governments’ - unlawful actions that violate human rights,” said Bochenek.

“No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations. Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression.”

Besides filing charges against Snowden, the US authorities have revoked his passport – which interferes with his rights to freedom of movement and to seek asylum elsewhere.

“Snowden is a whistleblower. He has disclosed issues of enormous public interest in the US and around the world. And yet instead of addressing or even owning up to these actions, the US government is more intent on going after Edward Snowden.”

“Any forced transfer to the USA would put him at risk of human rights violations and must be challenged,” said Michael Bochenek.

In an important development today, Amnesty International published a release stating that  “The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.”

This is significant because the international press coverage of the Snowden drama has almost completely ignored the question of whether Snowden’s rights are being violated by U.S. efforts to prevent him from seeking asylum under international law. 

“It is his unassailable right, enshrined in international law, to claim asylum and this should not be impeded,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International Director of Law and Policy.

It will be interesting to see if any of the major media outlets covering these events will report on this important and apparently well-grounded legal argument, given that they have reported on the Obama administration’s arguments that countries are legally obligated to hand Snowden over to the United States.

As we have previously noted, the Obama administration has reversed course, seeking to lower the profile of the Snowden case after its threats against Russia, Ecuador, and Hong Kong backfired and after apparently realizing that public support for Snowden remains high despite a U.S. government-led effort to demonize him in the media. This has resulted in a litany of mixed messages from senior administration officials.

The Guardian and AP reported on Saturday that when asked about Snowden, Ambassador Susan Rice, who yesterday began her new position as National Security Adviser, had responded that “I don't think the diplomatic consequences, at least as they are foreseeable now, are that significant.” But, the AP reported, “U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called Snowden's leaks a serious breach that damaged national security. Hagel said Thursday an assessment of the damage is being done now.”

AP also noted that Rice attempted to do damage control, responding to “commentators who say Snowden's disclosures have made Obama a lame duck, damaged his political base, and hurt U.S. foreign policy.”

Rice’s statements on Snowden – which were made before revelations in Der Spiegel regarding U.S. spying on the E.U. – also contrast with rhetoric from top legislators, both Democrats and Republicans. Senator Dianne Feinstein has accused Snowden of “treason,” and House Speaker John Boehner called him a “traitor.”

The change in the White House’s tone came last week as Obama told reporters during his visit to Senegal, “I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” and “I get you that it’s a fascinating story for the press,” …but “in terms of U.S. interests, the damage was done with respect to the initial leaks.”

Dozens of actors, directors, authors, former whistle-blowers, musicians, journalists, and activists have signed onto a letter addressed to President Correa urging him to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden. As Popwrapped! has noted, the many famous signatories to the letter are not the only celebrities to have openly shown their support for Snowden; others who have done so over Twitter include Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono.

The letter is signed by Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Daniel Ellsberg, Danny Glover, John Cusack, Amber Heard, Shia LaBeouf, Roseanne Barr, Naomi Klein, Boots Riley, Juan Cole, Cenk Uygur, Jacob Appelbaum (developer of The Tor Project), Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans (Cofounders of CODEPINK), Ann Wright (retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat), Ray McGovern (Former U.S. Army officer and longtime senior CIA analyst (ret.)), Walter Riley (attorney; Civil Rights activist and Chair of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute), Bill Fletcher, Jr. (writer and activist), Kevin Gosztola (journalist with Firedoglake.com), John Pilger (filmmaker and journalist), Ignacio Ramonet (journalist and author), Kent Spriggs (Guantanamo habeas counsel), Kevin Martin (Executive Director of Peace Action), Kathy Kelly (Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence), Mark C. Johnson (Executive Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation), Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor, Tikkun and Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives), Norman Solomon (Cofounder of RootsAction.org) and over 10,000 others.

The letter was circulated by Just Foreign Policy and is posted on their website.

In addition to “Pentagon papers” whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg and Iraq war whistle-blower Joe Wilson, the letter is signed by Thomas Drake (the former NSA Senior Executive and whistleblower) and Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent & former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel, and one of three “whistleblowers” named Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002).

As we noted yesterday, there has been a chorus from policymakers, media outlets, and others urging a cutting of U.S. trade preferences for Ecuador if the Ecuadorean government grants Edward Snowden political asylum – despite that one of the main goals of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) is to reduce coca cultivation. As the Wall Street Journal reported today, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez issued a stern and patronizing warning to Ecuador:

"Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior," said Mr. Menendez in a news release. If Ecuador grants Mr. Snowden asylum, Mr. Menendez said he would lead the effort to cut Ecuador's duty-free access to the U.S. market. "I urge President [Rafael] Correa to do the right thing by the United States and Ecuador, and deny Snowden's request for asylum."

But now the Ecuadorean government has ruined Congress’ fun by giving up the ATPDEA benefits before Senator Menendez et al had a chance to take them away. The move is not merely symbolic. Before the whole Snowden issue came up the government of Ecuador and its embassy in the U.S. launched a large campaign to emphasize the importance of the ATPDEA, with events around Washington and ads like this one in the D.C. Metro:

 

In my last post I wrote about how dumb it was for our Secretary of State to try and threaten other countries, especially those as big and independent as Russia and China, into rendering Edward Snowden. Apparently some of the geniuses in the White House and State Department have figured this out after the last couple of days of embarrassing failures.   From the New York Times:

Discussions between American and Russian officials continued on Wednesday, and the White House further softened its language in the hope of an outcome that does not further damage ties between the two countries.

“We agree with President Putin that we don’t want the situation to harm our relations,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The Obama team has been doing better in the more important media efforts than they have in diplomacy, mainly because they have reliable allies in the media with a lot of power to manipulate public opinion.

Amnesty International Condemns Violations of Snowden's Human Rights By U.S. Government

 7/2/2013

 

In an important development today, Amnesty International stated that “The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights.”

This is significant because the international press coverage of the Snowden drama has almost completely ignored the question of whether Snowden’s rights are being violated by U.S. efforts to prevent him from seeking asylum under international law. 

It will be interesting to see if any of the major media outlets covering these events will report on this important and apparently well-grounded legal argument, given that they have reported on the Obama administration’s arguments that countries are legally obligated to hand Snowden over to the United States.  Also, Amnesty International is one of the most important human rights organizations in the world, and its statement should be relevant to news reporting on the Snowden case.

Read the full Amnesty International statement here.

 

Snowden’s Revelations Go from Being a “Serious Breach” to Not “Significant” as Obama Administration Shifts Message

 7/2/2013

As we have previously noted, the Obama administration has reversed course, seeking to lower the profile of the Snowden case after its threats against Russia, Ecuador, and Hong Kong backfired and after apparently realizing that public support for Snowden remains high despite a U.S. government-led effort to demonize him in the media. This has resulted in a litany of mixed messages from senior administration officials.

Is the Obama administration simply disorganized, or has the strategy changed over time as information about the Snowden case and government surveillance reaches wider and wider audiences? Also, what is the overall strategy of the government as an international effort develops to protect the right to privacy and the right to asylum?  We try to answer some of these questions here.

 

Gentlemen Don't Read Each Other's Mail

 7/1/2013

A reporter went after State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell at the State Department's Daily Press Briefing today about European anger in response to Snowden's revelations of U.S. surveillance of European officials and citizens. Here we will quote at length because the exchange was amusing and revealing:

QUESTION: When discussing this issue, the – with the Europeans or others who might be upset or are saying that they’re upset, the U.S. position is that all countries engage in intelligence gathering and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the content of that diplomatic exchange, other than to say that we’re going to have it very directly and privately with the countries concerned.

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: Hold on, I’m just – but you’re not admitting any wrongdoing, though?

MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t say that. I said we’ll have our --

QUESTION: I know. I want to make sure that I understand, when these conversations happen, you’re not saying, “Oh, sorry.”

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to characterize --

QUESTION: You’re not – you’re explaining what you do, and you’re saying, “This isn’t unusual and you probably do it as well.”

MR. VENTRELL: To take the lens back a little bit, I think a number of these countries are countries we have a very strong relationship with on a number of fronts --

QUESTION: Or you did, at least, have a very strong relationship with.

What’s up with John Kerry, or whoever is writing his talking points?  Did he really think he was going to publicly threaten Russia and bully its government into capturing Snowden and rendering him to the U.S.?  (Wikileaks has correctly noted that such a capture and hand-over would be a “rendition,” analogous to the people the U.S. and allied governmental agencies have captured and turned over to countries like Egypt and Syria to be tortured).

There would be “consequences,” warned Kerry, if the Russians didn’t do what he wanted – and for China and Hong Kong, too.  Russia doesn’t even have an extradition treaty with the U.S., and even if it did, it would be Kerry’s threats to interfere with the laws of asylum and refugees that were the real violation of international law here, not Russia’s allowing him to remain in Russia, or pass through its airport.

An amateur could have told Kerry that if he really wanted to threaten Russia, he should have at least had the sense to do it in private.  A public threat just makes it even less likely that any leader would embarrass himself by following U.S. orders.  Not that Putin was likely to do that anyway.

Putin poked fun at these threats yesterday when he declared that Snowden is a “free man,” and brushed aside the whole affair as like “shearing a piglet – a lot of squealing but not much wool.”

Various U.S. media outlets suggest ulterior motives for why Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa may want to consider granting political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, writes “In championing Snowden, President Correa is further cementing his image as a successor to Chávez who can take on the US." The Washington Post projected a similar theme with an article headlined, “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Public Radio International’s The World likewise headlined a piece with “Ecuador Leader Thumbs Nose at US, Trying to Help Snowden with Asylum.”

Writing in CNN online, however, Latin America scholar Steve Striffler advances an entirely different and apparently (to the media) incomprehensible notion: that Ecuador’s decision might be based on principles. Striffler writes that “The prevailing explanation among U.S. pundits … [that] Correa's stance … is all about scoring political points …is too simplistic an explanation and relies on a misunderstanding of Correa and the leftward shift that has swept Latin America during the past 25 years.”

He goes on to write:

…when Correa offered Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange asylum in 2012, he had relatively little to gain politically beyond raising his international profile. At the time, he was expected to easily win re-election (which he did), in large part because under his administration unemployment levels had reached record lows, public spending on education had more than doubled and medical care was more accessible than ever. This was despite the fact that Ecuador had been hit harder than almost any country in the region by the financial crisis of 2008.

Correa pumped money into the economy, reformed the financial system, took control of the central bank and otherwise worked, however imperfectly, to build a government and economy that serves the interests of the people.

Simply put, Correa's popularity insured that there was relatively little to be gained by taking on Assange in 2012. Quite the opposite, Correa's embrace of Assange produced an intense backlash by the media in Ecuador, which then amped up opposition during the election.

On Tuesday, June 18th, Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 21 U.S. Senate Democrats expressing “concern regarding the grave human rights situation and deterioration of the rule of law in Honduras” and questioning the State Department’s assessment that the Honduran government is taking measures to protect basic human rights and address abuses committed by security forces.  The letter, which was initiated by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), also notes “recent reports of death squads working with the police” and “a pattern of violence and threats against journalists, human rights defenders, members of the clergy, union leaders, opposition figures, students, small farmers and LGBT activists.”  It calls for a “thorough review” of U.S. security assistance to Honduras “to ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations.”  Finally, it asks Kerry to “make every reasonable effort to help ensure that Honduras’ upcoming November 2013 elections are free, fair and peaceful.”

It is rare for so many Democratic senators – approximately 40% of the entire Senate Democratic caucus – to take a position on Latin America policy, particularly one that appears to run counter to administration policy.  The committee positions held by the letter signers add even more weight to the message that’s being delivered to Kerry.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the signers’ committee assignments:

  • Seven out of ten of the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee are signers, including Barbara Boxer (D-CA, second-ranking) and Ben Cardin (third-ranking). 

  • Seven of the letter signers are on the Appropriations Committee – which controls the federal government’s purse strings – including Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the full committee, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations (which has direct control over the funding of foreign assistance) and Dick Durbin who chairs the Subcommittee on Armed Services Appropriations. 

  • Several of the signers belong to the Armed Services Committee (also of direct relevance given the ongoing military assistance to Honduras), including Jack Reed (D-RI), second-ranking Democrat on the committee.

  • Finally, given recent controversial DEA activities in Honduras – such as the May 2012 interdiction operation during which four Miskitu villagers were killed – it’s worth noting that several Judiciary Committee members are also letter signers, including the chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy. 

October 5, 2012

Henrique Capriles’ campaign coordinator Leopoldo López is quoted in the press saying, "We have been and will continue to be respectful of the established processes," ahead of the October 7 presidential elections.

October 7, 2012

Capriles assures voters that their vote is secret.  His election campaign tweets, “Remember that the vote is secret, only you and God will know who you voted for! Vote without fear” and similar messages during election day.

 

Ignacio Avalos, director of the independent Venezuelan Election Observatory is quoted in the press saying "The government and the opposition both agree that the electoral system is good in general," and, "Opposition experts concluded that you cannot cheat the system."

 

When going to vote, Capriles tells reporters “if I had any doubt whatsoever of the transparency of this process I wouldn’t be here.”

 

Following the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) announcement that President Hugo Chávez has won re-election, Capriles promptly concedes defeat, accepting the electoral results even though other members of the opposition reject the results, citing alleged fraud and “irregularities.”

March 5, 2013

President Chávez dies.

March 8, 2013

The MUD boycotts the swearing-in ceremony of Vice President Nicolás Maduro as interim president, and most of the opposition does not attend.

March 9, 2013

The CNE announces that elections for a new president will take place April 14.

March 25, 2013

Opposition legislators Ricardo Sánchez, Carlos Vargas, and Andrés Avelino announce they are breaking with Capriles’ campaign, warning of a MUD plan to reject the election results, and saying the Capriles campaign was “encouraging a climate of instability and violence, where the terrible and painful consequence ...intensifies the perverse division between Venezuelans.” They also referred to some opposition members’ acceptance of illegal campaign funds.

As we noted earlier, a leaked State Department memo suggests that  Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield tried to discourage investigators from State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security from investigating the circumstances in which four villagers were killed in a joint DEA-Honduran police counternarcotics operation in Ahuas, Honduras last year.  Additionally, according to the allegations summarized in the memo, DEA officials refused to cooperate with OIG investigators working on the same case.

The memo, which dates from October of last year and which CEPR has seen, summarizes “several investigations into possible cases of misconduct [that] were influenced, manipulated or called off,” as Reuters described them. Some of the other cases mentioned in the document include allegations that members of the Secretary of State’s detail “allegedly engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” including in Colombia (the memo notes that “[t]hese events occurred prior to the Secret Service scandal in Colombia”); and that U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” (Gutman denies the allegations.)

The section on the Ahuas shootings also reveals that, although the DEA agents in Honduras were officially under the authority of the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, the ambassador’s security attaché – also known as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) - was initially “not aware of the incident, as DEA had not reported it.”  The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID) only “became aware” of the incident “through news reporting.”

Yet another investigative report from the Associated Press’ Alberto Arce reveals more details on the extent of corruption within the Honduran police. Arce describes how a recent U.S.-funded program aimed at cleaning up the Honduran National Police ended in dismal failure:

One by one, hundreds of police officers were called to a hotel in the capital and subjected to polygraph tests administered by Colombian technicians funded by the U.S. government. "Have you received money from organized crime?" they were asked in a series of questions about wrongdoing. "Have you been involved in serious crimes?"

Nearly four of every 10 officers failed the test in the first five months it was administered, some giving answers that indicated that they had tortured suspects, accepted bribes and taken drugs, according to a U.S. document provided to The Associated Press.

Then, despite the clear indications of serious wrongdoing, the police cleanup effort went nowhere.

By April of this year, the Honduran government said it had dismissed a mere seven officers from the more-than-11,000-member force, a vivid illustration of the lack of progress in a year-old effort aided by the U.S. to reform police in a country that's swamped with U.S.-bound cocaine and wracked by one of the world's highest homicide rates.

Some of the seven officers have since been reinstated, the minister of public security told congress.

Arce notes that recent efforts to purge the police forces of dirty cops were opposed by “dozens of officers [who] simply refused to accept a mass polygraph exam, seizing a police building until the government backed down” after 1,400 of them were suspended last week and told to take the test.

As we have previously noted, following the Venezuelan National Electoral Council’s (CNE’s) decision to conduct a full audit of voting receipts, as Henrique Capriles had originally demanded, Capriles reversed his position and announced he would boycott the audit. Concurrent with this shift, he began to focus on new demands: he wanted an audit of the voter registry and the fingerprint registry, claiming that such audits would be needed in order to ensure there had been not repeat voting. Capriles has not plausibly explained how such repeat voting would be possible in a system where there are two records: an electronic record and a paper record of voting receipts, and where each voter must first present identification and fingerprints before being allowed to vote.

Auditing all the remaining paper voting receipts is no simple task. The receipts must be brought in from all over the country to the Mariches storehouse where the audit is being conducted, and election monitors from the U.S. have noted that some of the boxes containing these receipts are even being carried by canoe from remote areas in the Amazon and elsewhere. While the CNE was consumed with this task over the past several weeks, Venezuelan opposition figures raised a cry, demanding to have the fingerprint registry examined.

Last week the CNE reaffirmed earlier reports that it would conduct this audit as well, the latest of about 20 audits demanded by the opposition to which the CNE has agreed. The CNE officials have said, however, that the fingerprint verification will take time, and they would be unlikely to release results until September. While Capriles’ call for the fingerprint audit have gained traction in the English language media, the CNE officials’ announcements that they plan to conduct such an audit have not. As we have noted, there has been very little reporting on the audits in the U.S. and U.K. press in general, from the just completed audit of all the remaining voting receipts, to the 18 audits demanded by the opposition (and carried out by the CNE), mostly carried out before the election. The most recent -- and very brief -- reference to the audits in Reuters, for example, inverts the opposition’s shifting demands to put the blame on the election’s winner: "Maduro originally accepted a proposal for a full audit of the close April election which he won, but then backtracked and has since hardened his stance."

Ahead of today’s closing of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Guatemala, numerous drug policy, human rights and other organizations called on the governments of the Americas [PDF] to consider alternatives to the decades-long U.S.-led “war on drugs.” The open letter appeals from these groups echo those made ahead of the Central American Integration System summit at the beginning of May: “Prohibitionist policies and the war on drugs have intensified violent conflict in the region,” and human rights have suffered. Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco made a similar declaration: “The ‘drug war’ has taken a huge toll in the Americas, from the carnage of brutal drug-trafficking organizations to the egregious abuses by security forces fighting them,” and “Governments should find new policies to address the harm drug use causes while curbing the violence and abuse that have plagued the current approach.” Human Rights Watch recommends decriminalization of personal drug use.

The drug question was the focus of the meeting, which followed the release of an OAS report that considers alternative policies including legalization and treatment, as opposed to criminalization and incarceration. Timed to coincide with the OAS General Assembly, an op-ed in the Guardian of London on Tuesday by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos summarizes four drug policy scenarios described in the OAS report.

The OAS report is just the latest in a tide of policy papers, studies, opinion pieces, rallies and marches all with a similar refrain: it’s time for a change on drug policy. While the U.S. continues to express resistance (Kerry is reported to have remarked at the assembly that “I say to all those who speak about legalization and reform:  the challenges go far beyond a single ingredient. Drugs destroy lives, destroy families.”), countries in Latin America are moving ahead. Most notably, Uruguay is poised to become the first country in the region to legalize and regulate marijuana, with the lower house expected to soon approve such reforms that are backed by President José Mujica and his Frente Amplio party.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) is nearing the end of the third and final phase of its audit of the remaining votes from the April 14 presidential election, reportedly scheduled to finish on June 7. As we have noted, the English-language media has generally neglected to report the audit’s progress, despite that the process was originally demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles as a means to resolving the dispute over the election’s outcome. Capriles has also underscored the audit’s relevance – despite having shifted his demands and decided to officially boycott it – by claiming this month that he had actually won the election by 400,000 votes.

As predicted through a statistical analysis of the initial “hot audit” of 53 percent of voting machines on April 14, the audit of the remainder has so far produced results upholding the official results showing Maduro to be the winner. According to the CNE, the first two phases “have yielded 99.98% agreement between the voting receipts deposited in boxes and the data recorded on the tallies issued by the voting machines," media outlets report.

Does Capriles have a plausible claim that the election could have been stolen? Contrary to his characterization of a biased and obstructionist CNE, as we have previously noted the CNE has made many concessions to the opposition, including 18 different audits, all of which involve witnesses from both parties. Capriles talks of numerous opposition observer complaints from throughout Venezuela on election day, yet our election live-blog on April 14 included numerous live reports from election monitors who talked to opposition representatives at dozens of voting centers in several states; few had any complaints, even less that could be considered serious. Capriles has shifted the focus of his attack to the electoral registry, but demographers from the Catholic University had reviewed the electoral registry prior to the election and found it trustworthy.

The two biggest gangs in Honduras publicly agreed to a truce on Tuesday, calling it an effort to reduce the violence that plagues the country and asking for forgiveness and government support. Romulo Emiliani, the Catholic bishop of San Pedro Sula—the world’s most violent city outside a warzone—helped broker the agreement along with Adam Blackwell, a security ambassador for the Organization of American States (OAS). President Pepe Lobo has reportedly said he is prepared “to do whatever is necessary" to back the initiative.

The truce has been compared to a similar agreement between the same transnational gangs in El Salvador, made in March of last year. That country’s government reported a halving of the murder rate after the truce, and a 45 percent drop in the first four months of 2013 compared to the previous year. Despite such pronounced success, in January the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for El Salvador that many (including the gangs themselves) interpreted as an effort to undercut the truce’s effectiveness. Responding to the warning, which referred to outdated murder tallies, the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Security wondered aloud whether the State Department was misinformed and said the notice demonstrated that for the United States, “street violence, deaths, robberies mostly committed by gang members, that is not their priority—their priority is drug trafficking.”

Some commentators have already questioned whether the latest truce will result in outcomes similar to those seen in El Salvador. These doubts are due in part to the recognition that the police are widely believed to be involved in death squads and the military has been blamed for murders and disappearances, many against land rights and opposition activists. Associated Press reporter Alberto Arce quoted the rector of the National University of Honduras, Julieta Castellanos, as saying “The dynamic of violence in the country goes beyond gangs and reflects the existence of multiple actors that are difficult to pinpoint.” In December Castellanos presented a Violence Observatory report that showed police responsibility for at least 149 violent deaths in the previous 23 months, including the rector’s son, Rafael Alejandro Vargas. Castellanos also voiced concern that the truce could exacerbate the already extraordinary level of impunity in Honduras.

After months of speculation, in early May the IMF formally approved a new lending agreement with Jamaica worth $932.3 million. With additional commitments from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the total loan package amounts to $2 billion. But, after another year of negative economic growth (the fourth in the last five years), will this time be any different?

Jamaica previously agreed to an IMF loan in early 2010, which was coupled with a debt exchange that sought to lower interest rates but did not provide any haircut (a lowering of the debt’s principal). The agreement mandated harsh austerity measures and despite the debt exchange, Jamaica’s interest burden remained the highest in the world, at 11 percent of GDP. The agreement eventually broke down after a Jamaican court ruled that the government had to distribute back pay to public sector workers, against the wishes of the IMF. Nevertheless, Jamaica has largely continued the austerity measures from the first agreement. After a return to growth –albeit slow- in fiscal year 2011/12, Jamaica slipped back into a recession this past year, after cutting non-interest expenditure by over 2 percentage points of GDP. Even some within the IMF warned that the fiscal consolidation efforts were going too far and could threaten “the fragile recovery and social cohesion.”

As a precondition for the new IMF agreement, the Jamaican government undertook a second debt exchange in February of this year, seeking to lower interest costs and “bring down the debt burden over time.” However, similar to the previous exchange, the principal of the debt was not touched and interest costs remain extremely high and damaging. Of the 131 countries for which IMF World Economic Outlook data is available, Jamaica will still have the highest average interest burden in the world over the next six years. The debt exchange succeeded in extending the maturity profile of domestic debt (the amount coming due within five years decreased from 53.2 percent to 23.4 percent), but Jamaica is still expected to spend some 8 percent of GDP on interest payments for the next three years, crowding out needed spending elsewhere. Overall debt servicing is projected to take up 45 percent of total government expenditures over the next three years, only a slight reduction from the 46 percent average over the previous three.