The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

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.

Spanish description lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc in arcu neque. Nulla at est euismod, tempor ligula vitae, luctus justo. Ut auctor mi at orci porta pellentesque. Nunc imperdiet sapien sed orci semper, finibus auctor tellus placerat. Nulla scelerisque feugiat turpis quis venenatis. Curabitur mollis diam eu urna efficitur lobortis.

After penning an op-ed which blames the U.S. backed cold war and drug war for leading to the recent surge in migration from Central America, the Guatemalan President has hired a cold warrior to lobby the U.S. for increasing drug war cooperation. Confused yet? Okay, let’s start over.

Last week, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina wrote an op-ed in the Guardian arguing that the U.S. shared responsibility for a legacy that has spurred the current migration crisis involving the surge of unaccompanied Central American children arriving at U.S. borders:

…the so-called cold war had one of its hot spots in Guatemala…Communist and anti-communist ideologies created in Guatemala one of the bloodiest conflicts in Latin America, with weapons and money mostly from countries outside the region. More damaging was that for decades governments diverted resources from social and economic programs to security and defense.

Nonetheless, after the curse of the cold war, we faced another war: the war on drugs. Again based on ideological motivations, this new war diverted scarce funding from policies to foster education, health and employment to programs to block the flow of drugs from producer countries in South America to the consumer countries in the north. The failure of the war on drugs is widely recognized today, both for its limited capacity to stop drug flow, and its terrible consequences, expanding violence, corrupting institutions and weakening the rule of law.

While Perez Molina makes some fine points in his op-ed, he also completely leaves out his own role in the exact policies he’s criticizing. During the Cold War, Molina was a Guatemalan military officer involved in a “scorched earth” campaign that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and he has even been personally linked to serious human rights violations from this time period. Pot, meet kettle.

The situation took a turn for the ironic this week when O’Dwyers reported that Guatemala had hired notorious and far-right cold-warrior Otto Reich to lobby on the government’s behalf in Washington. Reich, who’s also been pretty much at the center of every lousy U.S. policy in the region since the Cold War, will be paid over $100,000 to, among other things:

Design a strategy to move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, D.C., allowing representatives in the North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference to Guatemala of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as well as the last century, and are eager to talk about the present and future of Guatemala of the 21st century.

Yeah, let’s forget that whole time period where the current president of Guatemala was out there (allegedly) committing human rights abuses. It’s all about the future, where Guatemala cares more about economic and social programs, right?

But then there’s this: according to the lobbying disclosure document, Reich will help, “[d]evelop a strategy that can advance military cooperation between the United States of America and Guatemala…” In other words, Reich will help bolster support for increasing military support for those failed drug war policies that, according to Molina, “diverted scarce funding from policies to foster education, health and employment…”

The lobbying contract between Guatemala and Reich was signed in mid-July, so when Molina wrote that Op-ed, Reich was already his lobbyist. Here’s the disclosure document so you can go see what other lovely things Reich will be doing on behalf of Guatemala.

After penning an op-ed which blames the U.S. backed cold war and drug war for leading to the recent surge in migration from Central America, the Guatemalan President has hired a cold warrior to lobby the U.S. for increasing drug war cooperation. Confused yet? Okay, let’s start over.

Last week, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina wrote an op-ed in the Guardian arguing that the U.S. shared responsibility for a legacy that has spurred the current migration crisis involving the surge of unaccompanied Central American children arriving at U.S. borders:

…the so-called cold war had one of its hot spots in Guatemala…Communist and anti-communist ideologies created in Guatemala one of the bloodiest conflicts in Latin America, with weapons and money mostly from countries outside the region. More damaging was that for decades governments diverted resources from social and economic programs to security and defense.

Nonetheless, after the curse of the cold war, we faced another war: the war on drugs. Again based on ideological motivations, this new war diverted scarce funding from policies to foster education, health and employment to programs to block the flow of drugs from producer countries in South America to the consumer countries in the north. The failure of the war on drugs is widely recognized today, both for its limited capacity to stop drug flow, and its terrible consequences, expanding violence, corrupting institutions and weakening the rule of law.

While Perez Molina makes some fine points in his op-ed, he also completely leaves out his own role in the exact policies he’s criticizing. During the Cold War, Molina was a Guatemalan military officer involved in a “scorched earth” campaign that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and he has even been personally linked to serious human rights violations from this time period. Pot, meet kettle.

The situation took a turn for the ironic this week when O’Dwyers reported that Guatemala had hired notorious and far-right cold-warrior Otto Reich to lobby on the government’s behalf in Washington. Reich, who’s also been pretty much at the center of every lousy U.S. policy in the region since the Cold War, will be paid over $100,000 to, among other things:

Design a strategy to move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, D.C., allowing representatives in the North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference to Guatemala of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as well as the last century, and are eager to talk about the present and future of Guatemala of the 21st century.

Yeah, let’s forget that whole time period where the current president of Guatemala was out there (allegedly) committing human rights abuses. It’s all about the future, where Guatemala cares more about economic and social programs, right?

But then there’s this: according to the lobbying disclosure document, Reich will help, “[d]evelop a strategy that can advance military cooperation between the United States of America and Guatemala…” In other words, Reich will help bolster support for increasing military support for those failed drug war policies that, according to Molina, “diverted scarce funding from policies to foster education, health and employment…”

The lobbying contract between Guatemala and Reich was signed in mid-July, so when Molina wrote that Op-ed, Reich was already his lobbyist. Here’s the disclosure document so you can go see what other lovely things Reich will be doing on behalf of Guatemala.

Last week the Wall Street Journal had a front page article on the net worth of Argentina’s first family since 2003, the year Néstor Kirchner was elected president. Based on financial disclosures with Argentina’s Anti-Corruption Office, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “the couple’s net worth rose from $2.5 million to $17.7 million” between 2003 and 2010. Implying that such returns must involve some sort of corruption, the Journal writes, a “lot of people in Argentina want to know where that money came from.”

But there is a serious problem with the way the data are presented here. The Journal is reporting the Kirchners’ net worth in dollars, without adjusting for local inflation. This makes the increase look much bigger than it is, since Argentina had cumulative inflation of nearly 200 percent during these years, according to private estimates.

WSJ Kirchner wealth

If the Wall Street Journal had taken inflation into account then the Kirchner’s net worth would have looked quite different. From $2.5 million in 2003, the Kirchners’ real net worth increased to around $6.1 million in 2010.

Simply adjusting for inflation takes away more than three-quarters of the Kirchners’ gain. Should the Journal have known this and adjusted for inflation? The question answers itself. We won’t speculate about anyone’s motives.

But inflation is not the only thing to take into account. The Argentine economy also grew very fast during this period, and was coming out of a depression in which asset prices were severely depressed. So when readers see this kind of an increase in nominal dollars, they are also not thinking about how much nominal asset prices in general increased in the Argentine economy during this time. A fair comparison for the increase in the Kirchners’ wealth would be to ask, how did they do as compared to someone who just put their money in the Argentine stock market in 2003 and left it there during these years?

In nominal pesos, using the Wall Street Journal analysis, the Kirchners’ net worth increased from 7.4 million pesos to nearly 70 million pesos between 2003 and 2010, an average annual increase of 37.7 percent in nominal (not inflation-adjusted) terms. The Argentine stock market, known as the Merval, increased at an average annual rate of 31.1 percent – in nominal terms — between 2003 and 2010. So, the Kirchners beat the market, but not by all that much. Where is the news here?

The importance of this kind of misrepresentation should not be underestimated. Many people will see the numbers at the top of the page, and in the graph accompanying the article, and assume that the Kirchners must have done something illegal in order to accumulate these gains. They will not have the inclination or time to do the research necessary to discover what is wrong with these numbers. The Journal, considered a credible news source, will be used by the opposition media – which is most of the media in Argentina – to accuse the president of corruption. Many people are cynical, and they will believe the accusations.  

Last week the Wall Street Journal had a front page article on the net worth of Argentina’s first family since 2003, the year Néstor Kirchner was elected president. Based on financial disclosures with Argentina’s Anti-Corruption Office, the Wall Street Journal reported that, “the couple’s net worth rose from $2.5 million to $17.7 million” between 2003 and 2010. Implying that such returns must involve some sort of corruption, the Journal writes, a “lot of people in Argentina want to know where that money came from.”

But there is a serious problem with the way the data are presented here. The Journal is reporting the Kirchners’ net worth in dollars, without adjusting for local inflation. This makes the increase look much bigger than it is, since Argentina had cumulative inflation of nearly 200 percent during these years, according to private estimates.

WSJ Kirchner wealth

If the Wall Street Journal had taken inflation into account then the Kirchner’s net worth would have looked quite different. From $2.5 million in 2003, the Kirchners’ real net worth increased to around $6.1 million in 2010.

Simply adjusting for inflation takes away more than three-quarters of the Kirchners’ gain. Should the Journal have known this and adjusted for inflation? The question answers itself. We won’t speculate about anyone’s motives.

But inflation is not the only thing to take into account. The Argentine economy also grew very fast during this period, and was coming out of a depression in which asset prices were severely depressed. So when readers see this kind of an increase in nominal dollars, they are also not thinking about how much nominal asset prices in general increased in the Argentine economy during this time. A fair comparison for the increase in the Kirchners’ wealth would be to ask, how did they do as compared to someone who just put their money in the Argentine stock market in 2003 and left it there during these years?

In nominal pesos, using the Wall Street Journal analysis, the Kirchners’ net worth increased from 7.4 million pesos to nearly 70 million pesos between 2003 and 2010, an average annual increase of 37.7 percent in nominal (not inflation-adjusted) terms. The Argentine stock market, known as the Merval, increased at an average annual rate of 31.1 percent – in nominal terms — between 2003 and 2010. So, the Kirchners beat the market, but not by all that much. Where is the news here?

The importance of this kind of misrepresentation should not be underestimated. Many people will see the numbers at the top of the page, and in the graph accompanying the article, and assume that the Kirchners must have done something illegal in order to accumulate these gains. They will not have the inclination or time to do the research necessary to discover what is wrong with these numbers. The Journal, considered a credible news source, will be used by the opposition media – which is most of the media in Argentina – to accuse the president of corruption. Many people are cynical, and they will believe the accusations.  

Election season officially kicked off in Brazil on July 1st. For the past 7 months, amid wide-scale attacks on her competency — and against the Brazilian economy — coming from all sides of the political spectrum in the Anglophone media, President Dilma Rousseff’s poll numbers have remained stable, placing her far ahead of her closest competitor, Senator Aécio Neves of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s PSDB party.  IBOPE, Brazil’s most widely-respected polling agency, released numbers last week showing that 38 percent of the Brazilian public intends to vote for Dilma. According to IBOPE this is the same percentage who intended to vote for her in the last poll that was taken immediately before the World Cup, and roughly the same percentage that have supported her all year.  Brazil has a multi-party system and she is currently far enough ahead of the remaining candidates that if the election were held tomorrow, she would win in the first round.

According to another recent poll by Datafolha [PDF], Dilma is leading in every region in Brazil. The numbers are close in the wealthy Southeast and South, but her lead climbs in the poorer North and Northeast. In the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest and second most populous region, the percentage of people saying they will vote for her climbs to 55 percent.

João Pedro Stedile, one of the national leaders of the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST), breaks down the choices that voters have this October in the following manner: “Dilma Rousseff and (third-most-popular candidate) Eduardo Campos represent neo-developmentalism, and Aécio Neves represents neoliberalism.” Neo-developmentalism is a term that people on the Brazilian left use to describe the PT’s modern version of developmentalism. Developmentalism is a Keynesian-influenced economic strategy first developed in the 1940s in the Third World by economists like Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado  based on income redistribution through social welfare initiatives, government stimulus for national industrial production and consumption, maintaining key sectors of the economy under control of state companies, and a high minimum wage, that was employed at varying levels by Brazilian president João (Jango) Goulart before the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964. Many people on the Brazilian left apply the “neo” prefix to the 12 years of PT government due to the neoliberal policies initiated in the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, such as an independent and monetarist Central Bank , that the PT has done little to revert and that blend with traditional developmentalist policies such as large minimum wage hikes, high social spending on welfare programs, maintaining state control over the petroleum industry and mortgage market and subsidizing  the construction and manufacturing industries.

Despite valid criticism of the PT from many people on the more radical left, including key players in the Goulart administration such as Chico Oliveira, the results of 12 years of these policies are impressive: employment boomed as 19.5 million new jobs were generated, and 36 million people moved above the poverty line. These numbers show why Dilma still has a large lead in the polls despite last year’s huge June/July protests, which were either misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted by many voices in the Anglophone media and academia as being primarily “anti-federal government” or “anti-World Cup.”

As the countdown to the World Cup moved forward this year, it seemed as if the corporate media was suddenly interested in human rights issues in Brazil (see, for example this AP article). The violent repression of protesters by Brazil’s state governments and their uncontrollable military police – an historic problem in Brazil – along with accusations of fraud during construction of expensive white-elephant stadiums — provided ample fodder for criticism. Although it appears that the widely-quoted predictions of forced evictions to make way for public projects, mainly Bus Rapid Transit corridors, directly related to the World Cup (the People’s Cup Committee initially projected 250,000 were to be displaced) were exaggerated, the fact remains that tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes and, in many cases, given lousy and technically illegal settlement packages by the city governments who evicted them. As the Financial Times smugly announced that the Brazilian economic strategy had failed, and the New York Times declared that “Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil,” the more sensationalist voices started predicting that Brazil was going to crash and burn, with huge street protests during the World Cup.

It didn’t happen.  In March, the MST announced that, despite its criticism of the Dilma administration for lack of action on agrarian reform and human rights abuses, it wasn’t going to protest against the World Cup, because it didn’t want to hurt her re-election prospects. The largest urban squatters’ social movements, like the MTST (Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem Teto, or urban homeless workers movement), the UNMP (União Nacional por Moradia Popular, or National Popular Housing Union) and the MNLM (Movimento Nacional de Luta para Moradia, or National Movement for Housing Struggle) staged a series of medium-sized protests across the country in the months leading up to the Cup. After they shut down nine bridges during rush hour in São Paulo with a group of 5,000 people, and put 12,000 on the street in front of Itaquerão stadium, Dilma met with movement leaders and struck a historic deal granting more social control over the huge Minha Casa Minha Vida program, which subsidizes low and lower middle income housing construction, with a guarantee of an additional 3 million new housing units built closer to city centers. At this point, the urban movements decided not to protest during the World Cup. This left small groups of primarily middle-class activists, some affiliated with small radical left political parties like the PSOL (that splintered off from the PT when Lula started isolating members of its “Socialism or Barbarianism” caucus in 2003) and others representing the tiny Black Blocs, some of which were infiltrated by undercover police and elements from the far-right.  Tactically inexperienced, many of these middle-class activists tried to organize protests on social media. Many of them had tens of thousands of people commit online to going, but only a few hundred actually appearing on the streets.

Despite this, old photos and articles of the 2013 riots and protests went viral on social media, presented as if they were happening in the lead-up to and during he World Cup. I witnessed that in some cases media figures who I followed presented them as current events, adding to the confusion.

Rutgers Professor Sean Mitchell wrote a recent article documenting how the image of Brazil has shifted over the last few years from positive, after Brazil avoided going into recession during the Global Recession of 2008-2009, to negative, strengthened by panicky headlines and “violence porn.” He did not offer a theory as to why this is happening, but I believe that the media used valid criticism of human rights violations and corruption related to the World Cup, often coming from voices in the middle-class, intellectual left, to reframe Brazil as a failing nation ripe for regime change. I found myself caught up in this process as critical articles I wrote were given sensationalist edits and headlines as well.  One would have to be naive to imagine that the U.S. government is not interested in privatization of the Brazilian state petroleum company, Petrobras, lowering protective tariffs and flexibilizing labor laws for American companies operating in Brazil, all of which are historic priorities for the opposition PSDB party. It is an old State Department tactic for regime change to foster a sense of political instability through supporting street protests in election years in Latin America. The organized Brazilian left knows that and it is one reason that the vast majority of labor unions and poor people’s social movements did not take to the streets during the World Cup.  

Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais.

Election season officially kicked off in Brazil on July 1st. For the past 7 months, amid wide-scale attacks on her competency — and against the Brazilian economy — coming from all sides of the political spectrum in the Anglophone media, President Dilma Rousseff’s poll numbers have remained stable, placing her far ahead of her closest competitor, Senator Aécio Neves of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s PSDB party.  IBOPE, Brazil’s most widely-respected polling agency, released numbers last week showing that 38 percent of the Brazilian public intends to vote for Dilma. According to IBOPE this is the same percentage who intended to vote for her in the last poll that was taken immediately before the World Cup, and roughly the same percentage that have supported her all year.  Brazil has a multi-party system and she is currently far enough ahead of the remaining candidates that if the election were held tomorrow, she would win in the first round.

According to another recent poll by Datafolha [PDF], Dilma is leading in every region in Brazil. The numbers are close in the wealthy Southeast and South, but her lead climbs in the poorer North and Northeast. In the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest and second most populous region, the percentage of people saying they will vote for her climbs to 55 percent.

João Pedro Stedile, one of the national leaders of the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST), breaks down the choices that voters have this October in the following manner: “Dilma Rousseff and (third-most-popular candidate) Eduardo Campos represent neo-developmentalism, and Aécio Neves represents neoliberalism.” Neo-developmentalism is a term that people on the Brazilian left use to describe the PT’s modern version of developmentalism. Developmentalism is a Keynesian-influenced economic strategy first developed in the 1940s in the Third World by economists like Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado  based on income redistribution through social welfare initiatives, government stimulus for national industrial production and consumption, maintaining key sectors of the economy under control of state companies, and a high minimum wage, that was employed at varying levels by Brazilian president João (Jango) Goulart before the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964. Many people on the Brazilian left apply the “neo” prefix to the 12 years of PT government due to the neoliberal policies initiated in the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, such as an independent and monetarist Central Bank , that the PT has done little to revert and that blend with traditional developmentalist policies such as large minimum wage hikes, high social spending on welfare programs, maintaining state control over the petroleum industry and mortgage market and subsidizing  the construction and manufacturing industries.

Despite valid criticism of the PT from many people on the more radical left, including key players in the Goulart administration such as Chico Oliveira, the results of 12 years of these policies are impressive: employment boomed as 19.5 million new jobs were generated, and 36 million people moved above the poverty line. These numbers show why Dilma still has a large lead in the polls despite last year’s huge June/July protests, which were either misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted by many voices in the Anglophone media and academia as being primarily “anti-federal government” or “anti-World Cup.”

As the countdown to the World Cup moved forward this year, it seemed as if the corporate media was suddenly interested in human rights issues in Brazil (see, for example this AP article). The violent repression of protesters by Brazil’s state governments and their uncontrollable military police – an historic problem in Brazil – along with accusations of fraud during construction of expensive white-elephant stadiums — provided ample fodder for criticism. Although it appears that the widely-quoted predictions of forced evictions to make way for public projects, mainly Bus Rapid Transit corridors, directly related to the World Cup (the People’s Cup Committee initially projected 250,000 were to be displaced) were exaggerated, the fact remains that tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes and, in many cases, given lousy and technically illegal settlement packages by the city governments who evicted them. As the Financial Times smugly announced that the Brazilian economic strategy had failed, and the New York Times declared that “Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil,” the more sensationalist voices started predicting that Brazil was going to crash and burn, with huge street protests during the World Cup.

It didn’t happen.  In March, the MST announced that, despite its criticism of the Dilma administration for lack of action on agrarian reform and human rights abuses, it wasn’t going to protest against the World Cup, because it didn’t want to hurt her re-election prospects. The largest urban squatters’ social movements, like the MTST (Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem Teto, or urban homeless workers movement), the UNMP (União Nacional por Moradia Popular, or National Popular Housing Union) and the MNLM (Movimento Nacional de Luta para Moradia, or National Movement for Housing Struggle) staged a series of medium-sized protests across the country in the months leading up to the Cup. After they shut down nine bridges during rush hour in São Paulo with a group of 5,000 people, and put 12,000 on the street in front of Itaquerão stadium, Dilma met with movement leaders and struck a historic deal granting more social control over the huge Minha Casa Minha Vida program, which subsidizes low and lower middle income housing construction, with a guarantee of an additional 3 million new housing units built closer to city centers. At this point, the urban movements decided not to protest during the World Cup. This left small groups of primarily middle-class activists, some affiliated with small radical left political parties like the PSOL (that splintered off from the PT when Lula started isolating members of its “Socialism or Barbarianism” caucus in 2003) and others representing the tiny Black Blocs, some of which were infiltrated by undercover police and elements from the far-right.  Tactically inexperienced, many of these middle-class activists tried to organize protests on social media. Many of them had tens of thousands of people commit online to going, but only a few hundred actually appearing on the streets.

Despite this, old photos and articles of the 2013 riots and protests went viral on social media, presented as if they were happening in the lead-up to and during he World Cup. I witnessed that in some cases media figures who I followed presented them as current events, adding to the confusion.

Rutgers Professor Sean Mitchell wrote a recent article documenting how the image of Brazil has shifted over the last few years from positive, after Brazil avoided going into recession during the Global Recession of 2008-2009, to negative, strengthened by panicky headlines and “violence porn.” He did not offer a theory as to why this is happening, but I believe that the media used valid criticism of human rights violations and corruption related to the World Cup, often coming from voices in the middle-class, intellectual left, to reframe Brazil as a failing nation ripe for regime change. I found myself caught up in this process as critical articles I wrote were given sensationalist edits and headlines as well.  One would have to be naive to imagine that the U.S. government is not interested in privatization of the Brazilian state petroleum company, Petrobras, lowering protective tariffs and flexibilizing labor laws for American companies operating in Brazil, all of which are historic priorities for the opposition PSDB party. It is an old State Department tactic for regime change to foster a sense of political instability through supporting street protests in election years in Latin America. The organized Brazilian left knows that and it is one reason that the vast majority of labor unions and poor people’s social movements did not take to the streets during the World Cup.  

Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais.

[Below is an update to the blog post from July 21 reviewing how Latin America’s political leaders responded to Israel’s siege on Gaza.]

In a coordinated move on Tuesday (July 29), several Latin American countries recalled their ambassadors to Israel, including El Salvador, Chile, and Peru, the latter two of which made a point to say they had consulted with each other before announcing their decision. This means that five countries so far have recalled their ambassadors over Israel’s attack on Gaza which began July 8th, since Brazil and Ecuador had done so earlier. According to reports from Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying that El Salvador, Peru and Chile were encouraging Hamas by recalling their ambassadors. 

El Salvador announced its decision to recall its ambassador over “the serious escalation in violence and the realization of indiscriminate bombing from Israel into the Gaza Strip,” which they say has resulted in many deaths, injuries, an exodus of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and serious material damage. Chile recalled its ambassador the same day (July 29), saying that Israel’s military operations “comprise a collective punishment against the civilian population of Palestine in Gaza.” The same statement from Chile condemns rocket launches by Hamas against civilians in Israel, but argues that Israeli operations in Gaza “violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an indispensable requirement for the justification of legitimate defense.” The government of Peru recalled its ambassador and said that Israel’s military operations in Gaza “constitute a new and reiterated violation of the basic norms of international humanitarian law.”

In addition, several countries put out new statements reacting to the conflict.

Argentina’s government put out a statement expressing concern over an Argentine priest working in Gaza to oversee care for 30 disabled children, nine elderly people and a group of six nuns. The message was sent to Israel’s ambassador to Argentina and makes clear that Argentina holds the government of Israel responsible for the priest’s safety, for the safety of his charges and for the resumption of food, electricity and water services to the neighborhood where they are located.

Yesterday (July 30), Bolivia declared Israel a “terrorist state” and cancelled a visa exception agreement that had been in effect since 1972. Brazil recalled its ambassador to Israel on July 23rd, saying “We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted.” The move drew criticism from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which said “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf.” Costa Rica put out a statement repudiating Israel’s disproportionate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza, and another deploring Israel’s attack on U.N. personnel and civilians on July 24.

All but one (Paraguay) of the Mercosur countries joined together in a statement (July 29) strongly condemning “the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.” The statement calls for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza so as to “permit the free movement of people, [and] the entry of food, medicine and humanitarian aid.”

The most recent statement from Colombia’s government brought it closer to the position of the vast majority of its neighbors who have condemned Israel’s attack on Gaza. While their press release from July 10th condemned “acts of violence and terrorism against Israel,” without mentioning operations of the Israeli armed forces, the latest statement from Colombia’s foreign ministry (July 22) “rejects the military offensive by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip” and expresses condolences for “victims of Israel’s retaliatory actions.”

[Below is an update to the blog post from July 21 reviewing how Latin America’s political leaders responded to Israel’s siege on Gaza.]

In a coordinated move on Tuesday (July 29), several Latin American countries recalled their ambassadors to Israel, including El Salvador, Chile, and Peru, the latter two of which made a point to say they had consulted with each other before announcing their decision. This means that five countries so far have recalled their ambassadors over Israel’s attack on Gaza which began July 8th, since Brazil and Ecuador had done so earlier. According to reports from Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying that El Salvador, Peru and Chile were encouraging Hamas by recalling their ambassadors. 

El Salvador announced its decision to recall its ambassador over “the serious escalation in violence and the realization of indiscriminate bombing from Israel into the Gaza Strip,” which they say has resulted in many deaths, injuries, an exodus of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and serious material damage. Chile recalled its ambassador the same day (July 29), saying that Israel’s military operations “comprise a collective punishment against the civilian population of Palestine in Gaza.” The same statement from Chile condemns rocket launches by Hamas against civilians in Israel, but argues that Israeli operations in Gaza “violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an indispensable requirement for the justification of legitimate defense.” The government of Peru recalled its ambassador and said that Israel’s military operations in Gaza “constitute a new and reiterated violation of the basic norms of international humanitarian law.”

In addition, several countries put out new statements reacting to the conflict.

Argentina’s government put out a statement expressing concern over an Argentine priest working in Gaza to oversee care for 30 disabled children, nine elderly people and a group of six nuns. The message was sent to Israel’s ambassador to Argentina and makes clear that Argentina holds the government of Israel responsible for the priest’s safety, for the safety of his charges and for the resumption of food, electricity and water services to the neighborhood where they are located.

Yesterday (July 30), Bolivia declared Israel a “terrorist state” and cancelled a visa exception agreement that had been in effect since 1972. Brazil recalled its ambassador to Israel on July 23rd, saying “We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted.” The move drew criticism from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which said “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf.” Costa Rica put out a statement repudiating Israel’s disproportionate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza, and another deploring Israel’s attack on U.N. personnel and civilians on July 24.

All but one (Paraguay) of the Mercosur countries joined together in a statement (July 29) strongly condemning “the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.” The statement calls for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza so as to “permit the free movement of people, [and] the entry of food, medicine and humanitarian aid.”

The most recent statement from Colombia’s government brought it closer to the position of the vast majority of its neighbors who have condemned Israel’s attack on Gaza. While their press release from July 10th condemned “acts of violence and terrorism against Israel,” without mentioning operations of the Israeli armed forces, the latest statement from Colombia’s foreign ministry (July 22) “rejects the military offensive by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip” and expresses condolences for “victims of Israel’s retaliatory actions.”

On Monday, I wrote this article looking at the splits within the Obama administration on policy toward Venezuela and how they were manifested in the case of Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.  Carvajal was arrested last Wednesday in the Dutch island of Aruba with the help of the DEA, after he arrived to take up a post as Consular-General at the Venezuelan embassy there. Washington’s attempt to extradite him to the U.S., despite his diplomatic immunity, collapsed on Sunday night when the government of the Netherlands acknowledged Carvajal’s protected diplomatic status.

My argument was that the failed extradition was another attempt by the hard right to blow up diplomatic relations with Venezuela. It failed for the same reason that the previous attempt – the proposed economic sanctions against Venezuela that passed the House of Representatives on May 28,  did not become law:  President Obama (or whoever is in charge of U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere), does not want to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela at this point.

Since yesterday, three more developments have followed the failed extradition attempt:  first, Senator Bob Corker (the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) released his hold on the sanctions legislation.  This was what was officially holding up the sanctions bill in the Senate. 

At the same time, a group of senators including Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, and Marco Rubio, the co-sponsors of the Senate’s version of the proposed Venezuela sanctions bill, released a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “use the existing authorities that the Administration has to levy targeted sanctions against individuals that have been complicit in human rights violations in Venezuela.” This may be a signal from the most militant anti-Venezuela members of the Senate that they have reached some sort of agreement not to push forward with their own sanctions legislation, which the State Department has referred to as “unhelpful,” if the Obama administration utilizes its “existing authorities” to pressure Venezuela.

Then today, the Obama administration threw a bone to the extreme right, with a press release from Secretary of State John Kerry announcing “restrictions on travel to the United States by a number of Venezuelan government officials who have been responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.”   This is of course a very hostile gesture that is transparently political, and has nothing to do with human rights.  As I noted previously with regard to the sanctions legislation:

There is no need to comment on the alleged rationale for the legislation, which was to punish human rights violations.  The Egyptian government has killed more than a thousand people since the military coup in July 2013, and sentenced 700 to death. The Israelis have also killed more than a thousand people in Gaza in just the past three weeks – most of them civilians, including more than 200 children. Not only is there no talk of sanctions against Israel or Egypt, there is not even talk of reducing or even conditioning the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, including military aid, that flow annually to these two countries. By comparison, 43 Venezuelans died in more than two months of violent protests seeking to topple a democratically-elected government, about half of them at the hands of the protesters themselves.

The number of Gaza residents killed has now passed 1,200, and needless to say there will not be any U.S. visa restrictions on Israelis “responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.” 

As for Venezuela, Kerry’s sop to the far right is obnoxious enough to signal that Washington is not in any hurry to move toward full (ambassadorial) diplomatic relations with Venezuela, at least until after the U.S. elections in November (a major influence on U.S. policy toward Latin America).  But it is not quite at the same level as the economic sanctions legislation or certainly the illegal extradition to the U.S. of a Venezuelan diplomat.  So, the administration likely sees it as a compromise with the extreme right that will not force Venezuela to break diplomatic relations, although it is a very hostile gesture and quite obviously done for domestic political reasons.  It sends yet another signal to Latin America that the U.S. is not a reliable diplomatic actor in the hemisphere.

On Monday, I wrote this article looking at the splits within the Obama administration on policy toward Venezuela and how they were manifested in the case of Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.  Carvajal was arrested last Wednesday in the Dutch island of Aruba with the help of the DEA, after he arrived to take up a post as Consular-General at the Venezuelan embassy there. Washington’s attempt to extradite him to the U.S., despite his diplomatic immunity, collapsed on Sunday night when the government of the Netherlands acknowledged Carvajal’s protected diplomatic status.

My argument was that the failed extradition was another attempt by the hard right to blow up diplomatic relations with Venezuela. It failed for the same reason that the previous attempt – the proposed economic sanctions against Venezuela that passed the House of Representatives on May 28,  did not become law:  President Obama (or whoever is in charge of U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere), does not want to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela at this point.

Since yesterday, three more developments have followed the failed extradition attempt:  first, Senator Bob Corker (the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) released his hold on the sanctions legislation.  This was what was officially holding up the sanctions bill in the Senate. 

At the same time, a group of senators including Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, and Marco Rubio, the co-sponsors of the Senate’s version of the proposed Venezuela sanctions bill, released a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “use the existing authorities that the Administration has to levy targeted sanctions against individuals that have been complicit in human rights violations in Venezuela.” This may be a signal from the most militant anti-Venezuela members of the Senate that they have reached some sort of agreement not to push forward with their own sanctions legislation, which the State Department has referred to as “unhelpful,” if the Obama administration utilizes its “existing authorities” to pressure Venezuela.

Then today, the Obama administration threw a bone to the extreme right, with a press release from Secretary of State John Kerry announcing “restrictions on travel to the United States by a number of Venezuelan government officials who have been responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.”   This is of course a very hostile gesture that is transparently political, and has nothing to do with human rights.  As I noted previously with regard to the sanctions legislation:

There is no need to comment on the alleged rationale for the legislation, which was to punish human rights violations.  The Egyptian government has killed more than a thousand people since the military coup in July 2013, and sentenced 700 to death. The Israelis have also killed more than a thousand people in Gaza in just the past three weeks – most of them civilians, including more than 200 children. Not only is there no talk of sanctions against Israel or Egypt, there is not even talk of reducing or even conditioning the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, including military aid, that flow annually to these two countries. By comparison, 43 Venezuelans died in more than two months of violent protests seeking to topple a democratically-elected government, about half of them at the hands of the protesters themselves.

The number of Gaza residents killed has now passed 1,200, and needless to say there will not be any U.S. visa restrictions on Israelis “responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.” 

As for Venezuela, Kerry’s sop to the far right is obnoxious enough to signal that Washington is not in any hurry to move toward full (ambassadorial) diplomatic relations with Venezuela, at least until after the U.S. elections in November (a major influence on U.S. policy toward Latin America).  But it is not quite at the same level as the economic sanctions legislation or certainly the illegal extradition to the U.S. of a Venezuelan diplomat.  So, the administration likely sees it as a compromise with the extreme right that will not force Venezuela to break diplomatic relations, although it is a very hostile gesture and quite obviously done for domestic political reasons.  It sends yet another signal to Latin America that the U.S. is not a reliable diplomatic actor in the hemisphere.

On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel — defying calls by the Security Council, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:[1]

The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.

The foreign ministry of Chile released a statement that “strongly condemns the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip,” also saying that “The reprehensible kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis and one young Palestinian cannot serve as an excuse to initiate terrorist actions nor to attack areas densely populated by civilians.” Chile has reportedly suspended trade talks with Israel and is considering withdrawal of its ambassador in Tel Aviv over Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Government of Ecuador released a statement saying that it:

strongly condemns the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which have left more than a hundred deaths [sic] and considerable damage to property and civil infrastructure, demands an immediate cessation of these aggressions against the Palestinian civilian population and called [sic] the State of Israel to exercise maximum restraint and act in accordance to international law and humanitarian law.

Uruguay issued a similar statement condemning the military attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which “caused dozens of civilian deaths and injuries, including women and children, in a disproportionate response to the launch of rockets against the Israeli territory on the part of armed Palestinian groups.” The statement also condemns the “repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk.” On the whole, this was not positively received by the Israeli ambassador to Uruguay. Finally, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement lamenting the murders of three young Israelis, saying it is a case that “demands a full investigation.” He also rejected the attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, saying:

the Bolivarian Government of Venezuelan energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation and urges its government to immediately end this aggression which goes against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity.

Clearly the language used by each country varies, but it is interesting to note that Venezuela’s response falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of condemning the Israeli siege. The Venezuelan foreign ministry issued a separate statement on behalf of the ALBA counties which echoes the Venezuelan government’s statement and reaffirms the ALBA group’s “unconditional solidarity, support and influence for the people of Palestine before this new wave of violence.”

Outside South America, several other countries issued strong responses, including Cuba and El Salvador. Cuba’s foreign ministry condemned Israel for “us[ing] its military and technological superiority to execute a policy of collective punishment with a disproportionate use of force which causes civilian casualties and enormous material damage.” El Salvador issued a statement in which the government “strongly condemns and rejects Israel’s increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip” which caused the “loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage.” Also, the statement explains that the U.N.’s legitimate self-defense clause “does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another State, much less against its civilian population.”

As an historical aside, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and several of the countries that introduced the resolution to the General Assembly were from Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guayana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Colombia stands out, not only in South America but in Latin America as a whole, for condemning the “acts of violence and terrorism” against Israel and its civilian population. They called on both Israel and Palestine to end the confrontations and return to the dialogue and negotiation. Colombia has not supported U.N. membership for Palestine, abstaining during the 2012 vote.

More measured statements were issued by the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras [PDF], Mexico, and Peru. These statements typically called for a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and condemned both sides equally for the violence. Several countries have not issued official responses, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Panama’s foreign minister did not release a dedicated statement on the recent events, but received the Israeli Ambassador for a meeting to strengthen the bilateral relationship during which time the Panamanian official expressed concern over the rise in violence in the Middle East and expressed support for a peaceful resolution.

These statements clearly show not only that the vast majority of Latin American countries are at odds with U.S. foreign policy, but also that these countries are more and more able to articulate opposing views that challenge U.S. State Department narratives. Back in 2010, CEPR examined the region’s response to Israel’s deadly raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and then as now we found that there was a “hemispheric isolation of the U.S. on critical foreign policy issues.” While the era of U.S. supported coups and interference in the region is not over, significant progress has been made to increase national sovereignty and independence in Latin America, and these are changes that reverberate not just throughout the hemisphere, but across the world.


[1] In this blog post, estimates for casualties and other statistics included in official statements are quoted as written in the original versions, not corrected for the latest information available. The latest numbers for the death toll indicate over 550 killed since July 8, 2014.

On July 10th, just two days after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (the largest attack on Gaza in several years) President Obama released a statement in which he “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” With a death toll now over 550, it is important to look beyond U.S. government sources for information and perspective. Foreign policy among the countries in Latin America conforms to the long-standing, overwhelming international consensus that opposes Israeli aggression and occupation, but it also reflects the region’s “second independence.” Over the last 15 years, most countries in Latin America have increased their ability to pursue a foreign policy agenda separate from the goals of the U.S. State Department. In the vast majority of cases, reactions to the latest hostilities are fundamentally at odds with the U.S. position, but they are also varied: many governments directly criticize Israel, using words like “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to describe recent events; other official statements limit themselves to calling for a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Some of the strongest statements were issued by left-leaning governments in South America, including those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The government of Argentina issued a statement “strongly condemn[ing] that Israel — defying calls by the Security Council, by the Secretary General and by the many voices of the international community – has decided to escalate the crisis by launching a ground offensive.” President Evo Morales of Bolivia announced that he had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) to consider a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.” (Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza.) The statement from Brazil reads in part:[1]

The Brazilian Government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with disproportionate use of force, which resulted in more than 230 Palestinians dead, many of them unarmed civilians and children. It equally condemns the firing of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.

The foreign ministry of Chile released a statement that “strongly condemns the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip,” also saying that “The reprehensible kidnappings and deaths of three young Israelis and one young Palestinian cannot serve as an excuse to initiate terrorist actions nor to attack areas densely populated by civilians.” Chile has reportedly suspended trade talks with Israel and is considering withdrawal of its ambassador in Tel Aviv over Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The Government of Ecuador released a statement saying that it:

strongly condemns the disproportionate military operations by the Israeli army against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which have left more than a hundred deaths [sic] and considerable damage to property and civil infrastructure, demands an immediate cessation of these aggressions against the Palestinian civilian population and called [sic] the State of Israel to exercise maximum restraint and act in accordance to international law and humanitarian law.

Uruguay issued a similar statement condemning the military attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which “caused dozens of civilian deaths and injuries, including women and children, in a disproportionate response to the launch of rockets against the Israeli territory on the part of armed Palestinian groups.” The statement also condemns the “repeated [rocket] launchings that put the civilian population in central and southern Israel at risk.” On the whole, this was not positively received by the Israeli ambassador to Uruguay. Finally, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela issued a statement lamenting the murders of three young Israelis, saying it is a case that “demands a full investigation.” He also rejected the attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, saying:

the Bolivarian Government of Venezuelan energetically condemns the unjust, disproportionate and illegal military response of the State of Israel against the historic Palestinian nation and urges its government to immediately end this aggression which goes against international law and against the most elemental sense of respect for life and human dignity.

Clearly the language used by each country varies, but it is interesting to note that Venezuela’s response falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of condemning the Israeli siege. The Venezuelan foreign ministry issued a separate statement on behalf of the ALBA counties which echoes the Venezuelan government’s statement and reaffirms the ALBA group’s “unconditional solidarity, support and influence for the people of Palestine before this new wave of violence.”

Outside South America, several other countries issued strong responses, including Cuba and El Salvador. Cuba’s foreign ministry condemned Israel for “us[ing] its military and technological superiority to execute a policy of collective punishment with a disproportionate use of force which causes civilian casualties and enormous material damage.” El Salvador issued a statement in which the government “strongly condemns and rejects Israel’s increased armed aggression against the Gaza Strip” which caused the “loss of human lives, hundreds of injuries and the flight of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, besides serious material damage.” Also, the statement explains that the U.N.’s legitimate self-defense clause “does not justify the use of disproportionate military force against another State, much less against its civilian population.”

As an historical aside, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and several of the countries that introduced the resolution to the General Assembly were from Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guayana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Colombia stands out, not only in South America but in Latin America as a whole, for condemning the “acts of violence and terrorism” against Israel and its civilian population. They called on both Israel and Palestine to end the confrontations and return to the dialogue and negotiation. Colombia has not supported U.N. membership for Palestine, abstaining during the 2012 vote.

More measured statements were issued by the governments of Costa Rica, Honduras [PDF], Mexico, and Peru. These statements typically called for a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and condemned both sides equally for the violence. Several countries have not issued official responses, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Panama’s foreign minister did not release a dedicated statement on the recent events, but received the Israeli Ambassador for a meeting to strengthen the bilateral relationship during which time the Panamanian official expressed concern over the rise in violence in the Middle East and expressed support for a peaceful resolution.

These statements clearly show not only that the vast majority of Latin American countries are at odds with U.S. foreign policy, but also that these countries are more and more able to articulate opposing views that challenge U.S. State Department narratives. Back in 2010, CEPR examined the region’s response to Israel’s deadly raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and then as now we found that there was a “hemispheric isolation of the U.S. on critical foreign policy issues.” While the era of U.S. supported coups and interference in the region is not over, significant progress has been made to increase national sovereignty and independence in Latin America, and these are changes that reverberate not just throughout the hemisphere, but across the world.


[1] In this blog post, estimates for casualties and other statistics included in official statements are quoted as written in the original versions, not corrected for the latest information available. The latest numbers for the death toll indicate over 550 killed since July 8, 2014.

As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.

McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?

Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera.  It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.

While officials and Congress members throw unfounded accusations at the Venezuelan government and continue to discuss punitive measures, there are no comparable discussions about removing tax-payer funded military aid to U.S. allies with abysmal human rights records –  let alone imposing sanctions — including states like Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many others. The U.S. ended its partial freeze of military aid to Egypt this January and has quietly defended Israel during its latest assault on Gaza, even as Palestinian casualties rise at an alarming rate. In this hemisphere, in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries ruled by rightwing allies of the Obama administration, the laws that condition U.S. military and security aid on human rights standards are nearly systematically ignored, just as they are in the Middle East.

Over the past dozen years, the U.S. government has made no secret of its hostility toward the government of Venezuela – even supporting and getting involved in a 2002 military coup against Chávez – despite the fact that, over and over again, it has been elected democratically. In her recent book, “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even refers to Chávez as a “self-aggrandizing dictator.” She is much more sympathetic toward Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, whom she doesn’t label a dictator, though she does qualify her praise of his commitment to Middle East peace by mentioning that he is an “autocrat at home.” Clinton is not shy in explaining how she urged President Obama not to call for Mubarak to step down during the height of the 2011 Egyptian protests, citing her concerns about U.S. interests, just as she is not shy about detailing how she intervened to ensure that democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was not reinstalled after an illegal military coup in Honduras.   Most importantly, while Mubarak was in office and while she was Secretary of State (i.e. when it mattered), Clinton, like virtually every other U.S. official, consistently defended the U.S. relationship with Egypt. Instead of referring to him as an autocrat while she headed the State Department, she famously referred to Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.”  

Last November, the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Latin America and announced the “end of the Monroe Doctrine,” stating that the U.S. would no longer work to undermine the sovereignty of its hemispheric neighbors in order to promote its own interests. The open secret is that U.S. officials still actively reserve the right to define human rights and democracy in ways that serve U.S. objectives. Over the decades and right up to the present, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to arm some of the world’s least democratic actors, often with some of the worst human rights records, from Suharto to Sisi. Even if one disagrees that the U.S.’s historic disdain for left governments in Latin America is not a factor in the push for sanctions against Venezuela, considering the role that the U.S. continues to play in supporting human right abuses around the world, why accept the U.S. government’s own terms in the debate?

As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.

McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?

Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera.  It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.

While officials and Congress members throw unfounded accusations at the Venezuelan government and continue to discuss punitive measures, there are no comparable discussions about removing tax-payer funded military aid to U.S. allies with abysmal human rights records –  let alone imposing sanctions — including states like Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many others. The U.S. ended its partial freeze of military aid to Egypt this January and has quietly defended Israel during its latest assault on Gaza, even as Palestinian casualties rise at an alarming rate. In this hemisphere, in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries ruled by rightwing allies of the Obama administration, the laws that condition U.S. military and security aid on human rights standards are nearly systematically ignored, just as they are in the Middle East.

Over the past dozen years, the U.S. government has made no secret of its hostility toward the government of Venezuela – even supporting and getting involved in a 2002 military coup against Chávez – despite the fact that, over and over again, it has been elected democratically. In her recent book, “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even refers to Chávez as a “self-aggrandizing dictator.” She is much more sympathetic toward Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, whom she doesn’t label a dictator, though she does qualify her praise of his commitment to Middle East peace by mentioning that he is an “autocrat at home.” Clinton is not shy in explaining how she urged President Obama not to call for Mubarak to step down during the height of the 2011 Egyptian protests, citing her concerns about U.S. interests, just as she is not shy about detailing how she intervened to ensure that democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was not reinstalled after an illegal military coup in Honduras.   Most importantly, while Mubarak was in office and while she was Secretary of State (i.e. when it mattered), Clinton, like virtually every other U.S. official, consistently defended the U.S. relationship with Egypt. Instead of referring to him as an autocrat while she headed the State Department, she famously referred to Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.”  

Last November, the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Latin America and announced the “end of the Monroe Doctrine,” stating that the U.S. would no longer work to undermine the sovereignty of its hemispheric neighbors in order to promote its own interests. The open secret is that U.S. officials still actively reserve the right to define human rights and democracy in ways that serve U.S. objectives. Over the decades and right up to the present, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to arm some of the world’s least democratic actors, often with some of the worst human rights records, from Suharto to Sisi. Even if one disagrees that the U.S.’s historic disdain for left governments in Latin America is not a factor in the push for sanctions against Venezuela, considering the role that the U.S. continues to play in supporting human right abuses around the world, why accept the U.S. government’s own terms in the debate?

In an effort to defend NAFTA and promote similar agreements, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) – Washington’s most influential think tank on international economic policy – had a full day of events yesterday. The program highlighted one of their recent publications [pdf], which seeks “not to rehash old claims that may have been overstated but to clear the air so that the benefits and challenges of trade can be examined in an objective light.” In spite of this disclaimer, the authors grossly overstated the benefits of NAFTA for Mexico, and put forward a number of misleading claims, including a particularly egregious bait-and-switch used to justify a rant against the economic policies of the “Andean-3” aka Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. It is a good example of how ideology can trump facts when it comes to commercial agreements made in Washington.

Earlier this year, CEPR published a paper giving an overview of the Mexican economy in the NAFTA era (“Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years”), so I will focus here on the claims made about Mexico by the PIIE economists. In terms of their bottom line for Mexico, the authors’ findings concur with our conclusions. They say that “Mexican growth in the NAFTA era has been disappointing.” But they also argue that without NAFTA Mexico’s economy would be $170 billion smaller. In other words, they attribute half of Mexico’s (per capita) growth rate to trade in goods and services stimulated by NAFTA (see table below.) Given Mexico’s population (about 118 million), this amounts to a payoff of $1,441 per person, or about $4 per day. In a country where over 27 percent of the population lives on less than $4 a day – in rural areas it is over 48 percent of the population – this would be very significant. In reality, results such as these are produced by economic models that are highly sensitive to parameters which the researchers themselves determine, so it is easy to end up with results that corroborate one’s worldview.

According to Hufbauer’s estimations (above), Mexico’s growth performance – which ranked 18th out of 20Latin American economies during the past 20 years – would have been less than half its actual abysmal performance without NAFTA. This is a bit tough to swallow. How badly can an economy like Mexico’s perform, when the rest of the region, including the U.S. economy is growing? And if that is the baseline, what does it say about what else is wrong with the Mexican economy? After all, NAFTA was mostly a continuation of policies adopted in the decade prior to the agreement.

The author of these conclusions is Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a name with which anyone who has done research on NAFTA will likely be familiar. For example, in 1993 he wrongly predicted that NAFTA would expand the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico. At the time, he was widely cited in the news media and by those who supported signing the deal. Under NAFTA, the opposite happened as the U.S. surplus turned into a growing deficit. He also said that NAFTA would “lead to long-term growth in Mexican per capita income,” eventually reaching “half of the U.S. level, a gain that substantially would ease illegal immigration to the U.S.” Instead, Mexico’s growth rate slowed, its unemployment level worsened, and immigration soared in the years following NAFTA (until post 9/11 border restrictions and two recessions, including the Great Recession, dampened it).

Certainly NAFTA is not solely to blame for this poor economic performance, but trade liberalization was part of a set of neoliberal economic reforms that on the whole resulted in a dramatic failure. While countries such as Brazil and Venezuela lifted millions out of poverty, Mexico’s stagnant poverty rate and growing population meant an additional 14.3 million people were left below the poverty line in 2012 as compared to 1994, the first year under NAFTA.

The policy brief takes an interesting turn when Hufbauer tries to defend Mexico’s low economic growth by comparing it to growth in the “Andean-3,” which he defines as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. He writes,

As mediocre as Mexican GDP performance was for two decades, it could have been worse. Look no further than the Andean-3 to see the adverse impact—in per capita income levels as well as growth—of populism, macroeconomic follies, and deep state intervention.

There are a few problems with this. First of all, Bolivia and Ecuador have grown faster than Mexico since 1994. That’s right, it is only by picking a third country, Venezuela, and averaging across all three countries since 1994 that one can get Hufbauer’s result. It is extremely misleading to claim that Mexico grew faster than a certain group of countries — in this case Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela – when in fact Mexico grew slower than two out of the three. When I asked the Dr. Hufbauer whether there was some mistake in my understanding, he simply confirmed that Mexico indeed grew slower than two of the three “Andean-3” countries.

Hufbauer attributes the supposedly poor economic performance of the “Andean-3” to “populism, macroeconomic follies, and deep state intervention,” but the growth rate that he uses is measured from 1994, and therefore does not correspond with the period in which the populist (left) governments were elected. He says that these countries took a “sharp left turn,” likely in reference to the elections of Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez, but these took place in 2005, 2006 and 1998, respectively. It makes no sense to critique a set of polices based on data on the country’s economic performance from more than a decade before those policies were enacted or even proposed.

Furthermore, we can look a little more closely at the Venezuelan example, since Hufbauer used that country’s data to make the country group as a whole appear as though it underperformed compared to Mexico. Was it “populism” and “deep state intervention” that led to Venezuela’s poor growth performance when we average up the years since 1994?[1]   Not even close.  The country suffered one of the worst growth collapses in a dismally performing hemisphere for the 20 years prior to 1998.  This did not turn around until the Chávez got control over the oil industry in 2003. (The oil industry, which is the most important sector of Venezuela’s economy, was controlled by Venezuela’s political opposition from 1999-2003, who used it to try and overthrow the government). Over the past decade, the Venezuelan economy has grown about twice as fast as Mexico’s.

Seemingly without irony, Hufbauer’s paper is titled “NAFTA at 20: Misleading Charges and Positive Achievements.” While I have tried to point out a few misleading claims related to Mexico, there is more to be done. As trade and investment agreements that hurt developing countries continue to move forward, and as their scope and impact only widens with each new round, there is a great demand for honest research that explains the connections between trade and international development goals around poverty reduction and inequality, as well as between trade and each country’s capability to pursue its national priorities.


[1] A meaningless date for Venezuela used for comparison with Mexico under NAFTA.

In an effort to defend NAFTA and promote similar agreements, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) – Washington’s most influential think tank on international economic policy – had a full day of events yesterday. The program highlighted one of their recent publications [pdf], which seeks “not to rehash old claims that may have been overstated but to clear the air so that the benefits and challenges of trade can be examined in an objective light.” In spite of this disclaimer, the authors grossly overstated the benefits of NAFTA for Mexico, and put forward a number of misleading claims, including a particularly egregious bait-and-switch used to justify a rant against the economic policies of the “Andean-3” aka Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. It is a good example of how ideology can trump facts when it comes to commercial agreements made in Washington.

Earlier this year, CEPR published a paper giving an overview of the Mexican economy in the NAFTA era (“Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years”), so I will focus here on the claims made about Mexico by the PIIE economists. In terms of their bottom line for Mexico, the authors’ findings concur with our conclusions. They say that “Mexican growth in the NAFTA era has been disappointing.” But they also argue that without NAFTA Mexico’s economy would be $170 billion smaller. In other words, they attribute half of Mexico’s (per capita) growth rate to trade in goods and services stimulated by NAFTA (see table below.) Given Mexico’s population (about 118 million), this amounts to a payoff of $1,441 per person, or about $4 per day. In a country where over 27 percent of the population lives on less than $4 a day – in rural areas it is over 48 percent of the population – this would be very significant. In reality, results such as these are produced by economic models that are highly sensitive to parameters which the researchers themselves determine, so it is easy to end up with results that corroborate one’s worldview.

According to Hufbauer’s estimations (above), Mexico’s growth performance – which ranked 18th out of 20Latin American economies during the past 20 years – would have been less than half its actual abysmal performance without NAFTA. This is a bit tough to swallow. How badly can an economy like Mexico’s perform, when the rest of the region, including the U.S. economy is growing? And if that is the baseline, what does it say about what else is wrong with the Mexican economy? After all, NAFTA was mostly a continuation of policies adopted in the decade prior to the agreement.

The author of these conclusions is Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a name with which anyone who has done research on NAFTA will likely be familiar. For example, in 1993 he wrongly predicted that NAFTA would expand the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico. At the time, he was widely cited in the news media and by those who supported signing the deal. Under NAFTA, the opposite happened as the U.S. surplus turned into a growing deficit. He also said that NAFTA would “lead to long-term growth in Mexican per capita income,” eventually reaching “half of the U.S. level, a gain that substantially would ease illegal immigration to the U.S.” Instead, Mexico’s growth rate slowed, its unemployment level worsened, and immigration soared in the years following NAFTA (until post 9/11 border restrictions and two recessions, including the Great Recession, dampened it).

Certainly NAFTA is not solely to blame for this poor economic performance, but trade liberalization was part of a set of neoliberal economic reforms that on the whole resulted in a dramatic failure. While countries such as Brazil and Venezuela lifted millions out of poverty, Mexico’s stagnant poverty rate and growing population meant an additional 14.3 million people were left below the poverty line in 2012 as compared to 1994, the first year under NAFTA.

The policy brief takes an interesting turn when Hufbauer tries to defend Mexico’s low economic growth by comparing it to growth in the “Andean-3,” which he defines as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. He writes,

As mediocre as Mexican GDP performance was for two decades, it could have been worse. Look no further than the Andean-3 to see the adverse impact—in per capita income levels as well as growth—of populism, macroeconomic follies, and deep state intervention.

There are a few problems with this. First of all, Bolivia and Ecuador have grown faster than Mexico since 1994. That’s right, it is only by picking a third country, Venezuela, and averaging across all three countries since 1994 that one can get Hufbauer’s result. It is extremely misleading to claim that Mexico grew faster than a certain group of countries — in this case Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela – when in fact Mexico grew slower than two out of the three. When I asked the Dr. Hufbauer whether there was some mistake in my understanding, he simply confirmed that Mexico indeed grew slower than two of the three “Andean-3” countries.

Hufbauer attributes the supposedly poor economic performance of the “Andean-3” to “populism, macroeconomic follies, and deep state intervention,” but the growth rate that he uses is measured from 1994, and therefore does not correspond with the period in which the populist (left) governments were elected. He says that these countries took a “sharp left turn,” likely in reference to the elections of Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez, but these took place in 2005, 2006 and 1998, respectively. It makes no sense to critique a set of polices based on data on the country’s economic performance from more than a decade before those policies were enacted or even proposed.

Furthermore, we can look a little more closely at the Venezuelan example, since Hufbauer used that country’s data to make the country group as a whole appear as though it underperformed compared to Mexico. Was it “populism” and “deep state intervention” that led to Venezuela’s poor growth performance when we average up the years since 1994?[1]   Not even close.  The country suffered one of the worst growth collapses in a dismally performing hemisphere for the 20 years prior to 1998.  This did not turn around until the Chávez got control over the oil industry in 2003. (The oil industry, which is the most important sector of Venezuela’s economy, was controlled by Venezuela’s political opposition from 1999-2003, who used it to try and overthrow the government). Over the past decade, the Venezuelan economy has grown about twice as fast as Mexico’s.

Seemingly without irony, Hufbauer’s paper is titled “NAFTA at 20: Misleading Charges and Positive Achievements.” While I have tried to point out a few misleading claims related to Mexico, there is more to be done. As trade and investment agreements that hurt developing countries continue to move forward, and as their scope and impact only widens with each new round, there is a great demand for honest research that explains the connections between trade and international development goals around poverty reduction and inequality, as well as between trade and each country’s capability to pursue its national priorities.


[1] A meaningless date for Venezuela used for comparison with Mexico under NAFTA.

Brazilians may have little love for Germany following Brazil’s historic World Cup loss to the German team Tuesday, but the two countries do have something in common: both have notably been targeted for espionage by the U.S. Yesterday, U.S.-German relations suffered a new blow after Germany announced it was kicking out the CIA station chief over revelations that an employee of the German defense ministry may have passed secrets to the U.S. government. Just last week a member of Germany’s intelligence service was arrested, accused of selling information to the CIA. These scandals follow disclosures made available by Edward Snowden last year of NSA spying on Germans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden has also revealed extensive political and economic spying by the NSA on Brazil.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.

Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”

German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.

Germany is a key partner for U.S. intelligence, and Germany’s allegations and response are no doubt being taken very seriously by both the Obama administration and the media. While the administration clearly hopes it can downplay the scandal — and while the CIA chooses to Tweet about its robotic fish rather than publicly address the incident (h/t Jonathan Schwarz) — officials have underscored the gravity of Germany’s response in anonymous comments to press.  The AP reported:

U.S. officials described Germany’s move as extraordinary. A former U.S. official said he couldn’t remember a time in recent history when an intelligence official was asked to leave a country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss intelligence issues publicly.

But in fact U.S. intelligence officials have recently been asked to leave countries, in Latin America: employees of the DEA. The Intercept recently revealed that, through cooperation with the NSA, the DEA has enabled large-scale surveillance of governments partnering with the DEA in counternarcotics operations. As we’ve previously noted, when Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA in 2005, accusing it of spying, the State Department rejected Venezuela’s accusations outright. When Bolivia expelled the DEA, saying its agents had “worked to conduct political espionage,” the State Department called the claims “patently absurd.”

In November, well before the new spying scandals involving Germany broke, David Rothkopf described the double-standard the U.S. government has regarding snooping on Latin American countries versus “friends” like Germany:

More recently, the White House’s reaction has revealed the double standard we have when it comes to surveilling our friends. If Brazil or Mexico is offended, that’s one thing, more easily shrugged off apparently. But when it was revealed that Germany, one of our closest allies, was also targeted (triggering a firestorm of anger in that country … compounded by anger in also targeted France and Spain), we treated it differently. These particular complaints now warranted a different kind of response. In this instance, both public and private assurances were given to senior German officials by both National Security Adviser Susan Rice and later President Barack Obama. The newly adopted argument was that the president had no idea this was going on and that it was stopped.

But the spying on the German government clearly wasn’t stopped, and now the Obama administration is facing the consequences.

The Doppelmoral also applies to the media. There were no hand-wringing editorials when the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia was revealed to have asked Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars to engage in spying, let alone any that took Venezuela’s complaints of DEA espionage seriously or lamented the damage done to U.S.-Latin American relations.

As a target of U.S. espionage, Germany is now in a class with Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and others. The German government may now want to consider offering asylum to Edward Snowden, as have some of those countries.

Brazilians may have little love for Germany following Brazil’s historic World Cup loss to the German team Tuesday, but the two countries do have something in common: both have notably been targeted for espionage by the U.S. Yesterday, U.S.-German relations suffered a new blow after Germany announced it was kicking out the CIA station chief over revelations that an employee of the German defense ministry may have passed secrets to the U.S. government. Just last week a member of Germany’s intelligence service was arrested, accused of selling information to the CIA. These scandals follow disclosures made available by Edward Snowden last year of NSA spying on Germans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden has also revealed extensive political and economic spying by the NSA on Brazil.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.

Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”

German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.

Germany is a key partner for U.S. intelligence, and Germany’s allegations and response are no doubt being taken very seriously by both the Obama administration and the media. While the administration clearly hopes it can downplay the scandal — and while the CIA chooses to Tweet about its robotic fish rather than publicly address the incident (h/t Jonathan Schwarz) — officials have underscored the gravity of Germany’s response in anonymous comments to press.  The AP reported:

U.S. officials described Germany’s move as extraordinary. A former U.S. official said he couldn’t remember a time in recent history when an intelligence official was asked to leave a country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss intelligence issues publicly.

But in fact U.S. intelligence officials have recently been asked to leave countries, in Latin America: employees of the DEA. The Intercept recently revealed that, through cooperation with the NSA, the DEA has enabled large-scale surveillance of governments partnering with the DEA in counternarcotics operations. As we’ve previously noted, when Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA in 2005, accusing it of spying, the State Department rejected Venezuela’s accusations outright. When Bolivia expelled the DEA, saying its agents had “worked to conduct political espionage,” the State Department called the claims “patently absurd.”

In November, well before the new spying scandals involving Germany broke, David Rothkopf described the double-standard the U.S. government has regarding snooping on Latin American countries versus “friends” like Germany:

More recently, the White House’s reaction has revealed the double standard we have when it comes to surveilling our friends. If Brazil or Mexico is offended, that’s one thing, more easily shrugged off apparently. But when it was revealed that Germany, one of our closest allies, was also targeted (triggering a firestorm of anger in that country … compounded by anger in also targeted France and Spain), we treated it differently. These particular complaints now warranted a different kind of response. In this instance, both public and private assurances were given to senior German officials by both National Security Adviser Susan Rice and later President Barack Obama. The newly adopted argument was that the president had no idea this was going on and that it was stopped.

But the spying on the German government clearly wasn’t stopped, and now the Obama administration is facing the consequences.

The Doppelmoral also applies to the media. There were no hand-wringing editorials when the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia was revealed to have asked Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars to engage in spying, let alone any that took Venezuela’s complaints of DEA espionage seriously or lamented the damage done to U.S.-Latin American relations.

As a target of U.S. espionage, Germany is now in a class with Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and others. The German government may now want to consider offering asylum to Edward Snowden, as have some of those countries.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government ran a very tight ship at the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral institution created by Washington at the start of the Cold War.  Though the OAS’  1948 Charter calls on its members to uphold democracy and respect the principle of non-intervention, for decades the U.S. supported military coups against democratic governments and intervened militarily around the hemisphere without serious opposition from within the regional body.  In 1962, the U.S. rallied a majority of member states behind a resolution to suspend Cuba’s membership in the organization and, in the years that followed, was successful in preventing the OAS from taking action against U.S.-backed Latin American dictatorships.

Until recently, the U.S. could systematically rely on the support of a solid group of rightwing allies at the OAS to defend its agenda.  But, as a result of the region’s far-reaching political shift to the left, the tide has clearly changed.  At the OAS General Assembly in 2009, the U.S. reluctantly joined the rest of the organization’s member countries in lifting the suspension on Cuba’s OAS membership.  After Honduras was expelled from the OAS following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras, the majority of members resisted U.S. efforts to restore the country’s membership until June of 2011 when deposed president Manuel Zelaya was finally allowed to return.  And in March of 2014, after working with the rightwing government of Panama to force an OAS discussion on opposition protests in Venezuela, the U.S. came up worse than empty handed.  Though the U.S. sought a resolution condemning the government of Venezuela and calling for OAS mediation, the member states – minus the U.S., Panama and Canada – backed a resolution that declared “solidarity and support” for Venezuela’s “democratic institutions” and for a process of dialogue already underway. 

Last week the U.S. once again stood alone, backed only by the rightwing government of Canada in its opposition to an OAS resolution supporting Argentina in its fight against vulture funds and the ruling of a judge in New York.   As Argentina news hounds and CEPR readers are well aware, the U.S. District Judge in New York, Thomas P. Griesa, ruled that Argentina would have to pay two hedge funds, aka vulture funds, the full value of Argentinean debt that the funds had bought for around twenty cents on the dollar. Griesa didn’t seem to care that 93 percent of the holders of the country’s defaulted debt had signed on to restructured debt agreements in 2005 and 2010.  In order to enforce his decision, Griesa’s ruling blocked Argentina from paying interest to the holders of the restructured bonds without first paying off the vulture funds.

As this decision would create a dangerous, far-reaching precedent – effectively calling into question any country’s sovereign right to restructure its debt – the U.S. Supreme Court was widely expected to oppose Griesa’s ruling when the case came before it in June.  Instead, the Court refused to hear the case, leading to international consternation and outrage.  At the OAS, senior foreign ministry officials from Latin America convened on July 3rd for a special meeting on the issue, and all those present – except for the U.S. and Canada – expressed support for the Argentinean government.  Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Luiz Alberto Figuereido, said that Brazil was “worried about the future impact of this precedent” created by the U.S. court decision. Luis Almagro, the foreign minister of Uruguay, said that the decision wasn’t good for sovereign states or for “any international financial entity or for any multilateral credit organization, because if at some moment they are negotiating the restructuring of any country, they can’t put up with this sort of competition [from vulture funds]. ”The OAS resolution [DOC] approved by every country but the U.S. and Canada was unreservedly supportive of Argentina, expressing:

  1. Its support to the Argentine Republic so that it can continue to meet its obligations, pay its debt, honor its financial commitments and through dialogue arrive at a fair, equitable and legal arrangement with 100% of its creditors.
  2. That it is essential for the stability and predictability of the international financial architecture to ensure that agreements reached between debtors and creditors in the context of sovereign debt-restructuring processes are respected by allowing that payment flows are distributed to cooperative creditors in accordance with the agreement reached with them in the process of consensual readjusting of the debt.
  3. Its full support to achieving a solution that seeks to facilitate the broad Argentine sovereign debt-process.

The U.S., out in the cold yet again, said in a footnote that: “the United States cannot support this declaration, and notes that the issue remains in the judicial process in the United States.” 

“I do not quite understand the U.S.’ position”, Argentinean foreign minister Hector Timerman declared after the OAS meeting.  He noted, with a touch of humor, that for the first time ever both the IMF and the Socialist International supported Argentina in its legal battle with the vulture funds. In a June 24 op-ed, CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot discussed the evidence that the U.S. administration may have contributed to the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Argentina case and what the reasons might be:

So why didn’t the Supreme Court hear the case? It could be that the court was influenced by a change of position on the part of the U.S. government, which may have convinced it that the case was not that important. Unlike France, Brazil, Mexico and Nobel Prize winning-economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. government did not file an amicus brief [PDF] with the Supreme Court, despite its filing in the appellate case. And – here is the big mystery – neither did the IMF, even though it has publically expressed concerns about the impact of that ruling.

On July 17, 2013, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde submitted notice that the fund would file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court. But then the IMF board met and, somewhat embarrassingly, because of objections from the U.S., decided against it. This could be why the Supreme Court did not invite a brief from the U.S. solicitor general, and ultimately did not hear the case. But who is responsible for Washington’s reversal?

As in an Agatha Christie novel, there are numerous suspects who could have done the deed. The vulture fund lobby – a well-connected group led by former Clinton administration officials– known as the American Task Force Argentina, spent over $1 million in 2013 on the case. Then there are the usual suspects in Congress, mostly neo-conservatives and the Florida delegation, who want a different political party in power in Argentina after this fall’s elections.

 

 

Once upon a time, the U.S. government ran a very tight ship at the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral institution created by Washington at the start of the Cold War.  Though the OAS’  1948 Charter calls on its members to uphold democracy and respect the principle of non-intervention, for decades the U.S. supported military coups against democratic governments and intervened militarily around the hemisphere without serious opposition from within the regional body.  In 1962, the U.S. rallied a majority of member states behind a resolution to suspend Cuba’s membership in the organization and, in the years that followed, was successful in preventing the OAS from taking action against U.S.-backed Latin American dictatorships.

Until recently, the U.S. could systematically rely on the support of a solid group of rightwing allies at the OAS to defend its agenda.  But, as a result of the region’s far-reaching political shift to the left, the tide has clearly changed.  At the OAS General Assembly in 2009, the U.S. reluctantly joined the rest of the organization’s member countries in lifting the suspension on Cuba’s OAS membership.  After Honduras was expelled from the OAS following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras, the majority of members resisted U.S. efforts to restore the country’s membership until June of 2011 when deposed president Manuel Zelaya was finally allowed to return.  And in March of 2014, after working with the rightwing government of Panama to force an OAS discussion on opposition protests in Venezuela, the U.S. came up worse than empty handed.  Though the U.S. sought a resolution condemning the government of Venezuela and calling for OAS mediation, the member states – minus the U.S., Panama and Canada – backed a resolution that declared “solidarity and support” for Venezuela’s “democratic institutions” and for a process of dialogue already underway. 

Last week the U.S. once again stood alone, backed only by the rightwing government of Canada in its opposition to an OAS resolution supporting Argentina in its fight against vulture funds and the ruling of a judge in New York.   As Argentina news hounds and CEPR readers are well aware, the U.S. District Judge in New York, Thomas P. Griesa, ruled that Argentina would have to pay two hedge funds, aka vulture funds, the full value of Argentinean debt that the funds had bought for around twenty cents on the dollar. Griesa didn’t seem to care that 93 percent of the holders of the country’s defaulted debt had signed on to restructured debt agreements in 2005 and 2010.  In order to enforce his decision, Griesa’s ruling blocked Argentina from paying interest to the holders of the restructured bonds without first paying off the vulture funds.

As this decision would create a dangerous, far-reaching precedent – effectively calling into question any country’s sovereign right to restructure its debt – the U.S. Supreme Court was widely expected to oppose Griesa’s ruling when the case came before it in June.  Instead, the Court refused to hear the case, leading to international consternation and outrage.  At the OAS, senior foreign ministry officials from Latin America convened on July 3rd for a special meeting on the issue, and all those present – except for the U.S. and Canada – expressed support for the Argentinean government.  Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs, Luiz Alberto Figuereido, said that Brazil was “worried about the future impact of this precedent” created by the U.S. court decision. Luis Almagro, the foreign minister of Uruguay, said that the decision wasn’t good for sovereign states or for “any international financial entity or for any multilateral credit organization, because if at some moment they are negotiating the restructuring of any country, they can’t put up with this sort of competition [from vulture funds]. ”The OAS resolution [DOC] approved by every country but the U.S. and Canada was unreservedly supportive of Argentina, expressing:

  1. Its support to the Argentine Republic so that it can continue to meet its obligations, pay its debt, honor its financial commitments and through dialogue arrive at a fair, equitable and legal arrangement with 100% of its creditors.
  2. That it is essential for the stability and predictability of the international financial architecture to ensure that agreements reached between debtors and creditors in the context of sovereign debt-restructuring processes are respected by allowing that payment flows are distributed to cooperative creditors in accordance with the agreement reached with them in the process of consensual readjusting of the debt.
  3. Its full support to achieving a solution that seeks to facilitate the broad Argentine sovereign debt-process.

The U.S., out in the cold yet again, said in a footnote that: “the United States cannot support this declaration, and notes that the issue remains in the judicial process in the United States.” 

“I do not quite understand the U.S.’ position”, Argentinean foreign minister Hector Timerman declared after the OAS meeting.  He noted, with a touch of humor, that for the first time ever both the IMF and the Socialist International supported Argentina in its legal battle with the vulture funds. In a June 24 op-ed, CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot discussed the evidence that the U.S. administration may have contributed to the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Argentina case and what the reasons might be:

So why didn’t the Supreme Court hear the case? It could be that the court was influenced by a change of position on the part of the U.S. government, which may have convinced it that the case was not that important. Unlike France, Brazil, Mexico and Nobel Prize winning-economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. government did not file an amicus brief [PDF] with the Supreme Court, despite its filing in the appellate case. And – here is the big mystery – neither did the IMF, even though it has publically expressed concerns about the impact of that ruling.

On July 17, 2013, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde submitted notice that the fund would file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court. But then the IMF board met and, somewhat embarrassingly, because of objections from the U.S., decided against it. This could be why the Supreme Court did not invite a brief from the U.S. solicitor general, and ultimately did not hear the case. But who is responsible for Washington’s reversal?

As in an Agatha Christie novel, there are numerous suspects who could have done the deed. The vulture fund lobby – a well-connected group led by former Clinton administration officials– known as the American Task Force Argentina, spent over $1 million in 2013 on the case. Then there are the usual suspects in Congress, mostly neo-conservatives and the Florida delegation, who want a different political party in power in Argentina after this fall’s elections.

 

 

Want to search in the archives?

¿Quieres buscar en los archivos?

Click Here Haga clic aquí