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.

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In response to Wednesday’s announcement that the United States would work to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, Mexico’s former ambassador to Cuba revealed that his country had pursued a strategy of provoking the Cuban government in order to gain favor with the Bush administration. Ricardo Pascoe, who served as Ambassador from 2000-2002, says that Mexican President Vicente Fox and Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda worked to appease the White House by damaging Mexico’s ties with Cuba, while he fought to maintain the bilateral relationship. Pascoe says his position is now vindicated since Mexico, a natural interlocutor between the U.S. and Cuba, which could have played a large role in the two country’s negotiations, lost out to Canada as host for secret bilateral talks.

“Mexico was in the worst position of all: completely left out,” said Pascoe, also exclaiming: “They didn’t choose Mexican territory for the talks (as would have been natural in other times). But with Fox and Castañeda we lost our historic standing with the island!”

Pascoe explained that the bilateral relationship between Mexico and Cuba could not be repaired under the governments of Felipe Calderón and current President Enrique Peña Nieto. For Pascoe, this not only demonstrates the failure of Mexico’s foreign policy toward Cuba, but more generally the country’s foreign policy toward Latin America.

Speaking more broadly about global issues, Pascoe said that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba has significance beyond the domestic Latino/Latina vote and even considerations of Obama’s own legacy. Taken together with the previous day’s announcement that the European Union was removing Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations, Pascoe suggested that this can be seen as an indication that circumstances are forcing our political leaders to support more sensible and pragmatic policies.

Pascoe said: “This shows that in such a tumultuous world it is in the interest of political leaders to reduce the level of conflict wherever they can. It is clear that they chose these two cases because [the former policies] didn’t make the least bit of sense anymore.”

In response to Wednesday’s announcement that the United States would work to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, Mexico’s former ambassador to Cuba revealed that his country had pursued a strategy of provoking the Cuban government in order to gain favor with the Bush administration. Ricardo Pascoe, who served as Ambassador from 2000-2002, says that Mexican President Vicente Fox and Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda worked to appease the White House by damaging Mexico’s ties with Cuba, while he fought to maintain the bilateral relationship. Pascoe says his position is now vindicated since Mexico, a natural interlocutor between the U.S. and Cuba, which could have played a large role in the two country’s negotiations, lost out to Canada as host for secret bilateral talks.

“Mexico was in the worst position of all: completely left out,” said Pascoe, also exclaiming: “They didn’t choose Mexican territory for the talks (as would have been natural in other times). But with Fox and Castañeda we lost our historic standing with the island!”

Pascoe explained that the bilateral relationship between Mexico and Cuba could not be repaired under the governments of Felipe Calderón and current President Enrique Peña Nieto. For Pascoe, this not only demonstrates the failure of Mexico’s foreign policy toward Cuba, but more generally the country’s foreign policy toward Latin America.

Speaking more broadly about global issues, Pascoe said that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba has significance beyond the domestic Latino/Latina vote and even considerations of Obama’s own legacy. Taken together with the previous day’s announcement that the European Union was removing Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations, Pascoe suggested that this can be seen as an indication that circumstances are forcing our political leaders to support more sensible and pragmatic policies.

Pascoe said: “This shows that in such a tumultuous world it is in the interest of political leaders to reduce the level of conflict wherever they can. It is clear that they chose these two cases because [the former policies] didn’t make the least bit of sense anymore.”

Theresa Jessouroun’s new documentary, “A Queima Roupa” (“Point Blank”) tells the story of the past 20 years of massacres committed by the Rio de Janeiro military police. These chacinas are frequently committed in retribution for a killed police officer and traditionally involve coming into a poor neighborhood and killing random, Afro-Brazilian youth. In the film, Ivan Custódio, a former police officer and member of the “Cavalos Corredores death squad that orchestrated the notorious chacina in Vigário Geral, tells how police hide most of the bodies, and claims to have killed more than 300 people. The film focuses on Rio de Janeiro, but could have been made anywhere in Brazil. Last month in the city of Belém, after an officer was killed, off-duty cops announced their massacre on Facebook and proceeded to go into a slum and kill an estimated 35 people. As usual, most of the victims were Afro-Brazilian teenagers who had no criminal record and were killed to create a climate of terror in their neighborhood.

As solidarity protests spread around the world over racially motivated police violence in Ferguson and New York, it is important to note that this problem is not limited to the United States (or Mexico). In 2012, approximately 23,100 Afro-Brazilian males between the ages of 15 and 29 were murdered in Brazil, according to Amnesty International.  A large number of these were executions, perpetrated by death squads, militias or vigilantes, three groups that are primarily made up of off duty or former police officers. A 2009 study by economist Daniel Cerqueira [PDF] found that Afro-Brazilians are twice as likely as whites to suffer violence from the police. The ratio of police officers to citizens killed by police this year was 21:1, and the National Public Security Forum estimates that 2,212 people were killed by the police in 2013, but some experts believe the actual numbers may dwarf these estimates.

Alexandre Ciconello, the researcher responsible for Amnesty International Brazil’s “Jovem Negro Vivo” campaign against what many call the genocide of young, Afro-Brazilian males, says, “We don’t know how many people the police kill in Brazil. All we have are estimates. Some states don’t report on the issue or provide very poor information. Some states include homicides committed by police outside of working hours, and others don’t. When you look at a state like Rio de Janeiro, which doesn’t calculate murders committed by off-duty police, this becomes a problem because of the militias.”

Militias are organized crime factions typically run by of off-duty and former police officers [PDF] who make money by extorting small businesses, selling pirate cable TV and cooking gas, and administering a parallel justice system in poor neighborhoods that typically metes out severe punishments such as beatings for perpetrators of domestic violence and summary execution for recreational drug use and rape. According to estimates, militias control 45 percent of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The recent arrest of Military Police Special Forces Commander Coronel Antonio Fontenelle and 22 other policemen for running a militia in Rio during their days off highlights the level of involvement between the military police and death squad activities.

In a recent interview about her documentary, Jessouroun made it clear that there are no indications that the problem of systematic violence committed against Afro-Brazilian youth will disappear unless structural changes are made. There are two problems, resulting from the failure to fully transition from military dictatorship to democracy, which activists and progressive lawmakers have been trying to resolve for years, against fierce opposition from conservatives.

The first issue is that military police regulate themselves in a separate court and prison system and are not regulated by the rule of law which applies to the rest of the nation. One of the official goals of the Workers Party (PT) for the past two decades has been to dissolve the military police. Like many of its goals, such as agrarian, political and urban reform, the results to date have been meager and critics question the government’s commitment. Shortly after this year’s elections, the PT leadership met with President Dilma Rousseff to officially remind her to work toward this and other party objectives. Last year, PT Senator Lindberg Farias introduced a bill, PEC 51, to dissolve the military police, but it hasn’t come up for a vote yet due to fierce opposition, some of which comes from within the PT’s governing coalition.

The second issue is that that internal investigations are not required for citizens whom police claim were killed while resisting arrest.  In 2012, Paulo Teixeira, a PT congressman from São Paulo, introduced bill 4471/12 to require cases of people killed resisting arrest to be investigated as homicides. It is coming up for vote in the lower house this month, and there is a good chance that it will pass. If not, it will be harder next month, when the most conservative congress in decades takes office, with a strengthened “Bullet Caucus” made up of former military officers and policemen and its allies in the Evangelical Caucus.

Social movements and civil society activists who fight police violence are doing everything they can to ensure that these measures are passed into law. If this happens, it will be an important step in the right direction.  If not, Rio de Janeiro State University violence researcher Dr. Ignacio Cano’s recent comment that in Brazil “Ferguson happens every day” will remain as pertinent as ever.

Brian Mier is a geographer, writer and member of the Brazilian National Urban Reform Form executive secretariat who has lived in Brazil for 19 years.

Theresa Jessouroun’s new documentary, “A Queima Roupa” (“Point Blank”) tells the story of the past 20 years of massacres committed by the Rio de Janeiro military police. These chacinas are frequently committed in retribution for a killed police officer and traditionally involve coming into a poor neighborhood and killing random, Afro-Brazilian youth. In the film, Ivan Custódio, a former police officer and member of the “Cavalos Corredores death squad that orchestrated the notorious chacina in Vigário Geral, tells how police hide most of the bodies, and claims to have killed more than 300 people. The film focuses on Rio de Janeiro, but could have been made anywhere in Brazil. Last month in the city of Belém, after an officer was killed, off-duty cops announced their massacre on Facebook and proceeded to go into a slum and kill an estimated 35 people. As usual, most of the victims were Afro-Brazilian teenagers who had no criminal record and were killed to create a climate of terror in their neighborhood.

As solidarity protests spread around the world over racially motivated police violence in Ferguson and New York, it is important to note that this problem is not limited to the United States (or Mexico). In 2012, approximately 23,100 Afro-Brazilian males between the ages of 15 and 29 were murdered in Brazil, according to Amnesty International.  A large number of these were executions, perpetrated by death squads, militias or vigilantes, three groups that are primarily made up of off duty or former police officers. A 2009 study by economist Daniel Cerqueira [PDF] found that Afro-Brazilians are twice as likely as whites to suffer violence from the police. The ratio of police officers to citizens killed by police this year was 21:1, and the National Public Security Forum estimates that 2,212 people were killed by the police in 2013, but some experts believe the actual numbers may dwarf these estimates.

Alexandre Ciconello, the researcher responsible for Amnesty International Brazil’s “Jovem Negro Vivo” campaign against what many call the genocide of young, Afro-Brazilian males, says, “We don’t know how many people the police kill in Brazil. All we have are estimates. Some states don’t report on the issue or provide very poor information. Some states include homicides committed by police outside of working hours, and others don’t. When you look at a state like Rio de Janeiro, which doesn’t calculate murders committed by off-duty police, this becomes a problem because of the militias.”

Militias are organized crime factions typically run by of off-duty and former police officers [PDF] who make money by extorting small businesses, selling pirate cable TV and cooking gas, and administering a parallel justice system in poor neighborhoods that typically metes out severe punishments such as beatings for perpetrators of domestic violence and summary execution for recreational drug use and rape. According to estimates, militias control 45 percent of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The recent arrest of Military Police Special Forces Commander Coronel Antonio Fontenelle and 22 other policemen for running a militia in Rio during their days off highlights the level of involvement between the military police and death squad activities.

In a recent interview about her documentary, Jessouroun made it clear that there are no indications that the problem of systematic violence committed against Afro-Brazilian youth will disappear unless structural changes are made. There are two problems, resulting from the failure to fully transition from military dictatorship to democracy, which activists and progressive lawmakers have been trying to resolve for years, against fierce opposition from conservatives.

The first issue is that military police regulate themselves in a separate court and prison system and are not regulated by the rule of law which applies to the rest of the nation. One of the official goals of the Workers Party (PT) for the past two decades has been to dissolve the military police. Like many of its goals, such as agrarian, political and urban reform, the results to date have been meager and critics question the government’s commitment. Shortly after this year’s elections, the PT leadership met with President Dilma Rousseff to officially remind her to work toward this and other party objectives. Last year, PT Senator Lindberg Farias introduced a bill, PEC 51, to dissolve the military police, but it hasn’t come up for a vote yet due to fierce opposition, some of which comes from within the PT’s governing coalition.

The second issue is that that internal investigations are not required for citizens whom police claim were killed while resisting arrest.  In 2012, Paulo Teixeira, a PT congressman from São Paulo, introduced bill 4471/12 to require cases of people killed resisting arrest to be investigated as homicides. It is coming up for vote in the lower house this month, and there is a good chance that it will pass. If not, it will be harder next month, when the most conservative congress in decades takes office, with a strengthened “Bullet Caucus” made up of former military officers and policemen and its allies in the Evangelical Caucus.

Social movements and civil society activists who fight police violence are doing everything they can to ensure that these measures are passed into law. If this happens, it will be an important step in the right direction.  If not, Rio de Janeiro State University violence researcher Dr. Ignacio Cano’s recent comment that in Brazil “Ferguson happens every day” will remain as pertinent as ever.

Brian Mier is a geographer, writer and member of the Brazilian National Urban Reform Form executive secretariat who has lived in Brazil for 19 years.

On December 9th, CEPR Senior Associate for International Policy Alex Main testified about the human rights situation in Honduras before the Subcommittee of International Human Rights of Canada’s House of Commons.  The Subcommittee asked Alex to discuss the state of human rights in Honduras since the November 2013 elections, focusing in particular on attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and justice sector workers.  He was also asked to comment on government measures designed to address human rights abuses, on the implementation of precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and on Honduras’ electoral process.

In his opening statement, Alex discussed these points and others, including the growing militarization taking place in Honduras, and in conclusion said:

Honduras’ human rights situation remains as dire as ever and, in many cases, targeted attacks against members of at-risk sectors – including human rights defenders and journalists – have recently increased in number.  Meanwhile, impunity around these and other crimes remains appallingly high. 

The government’s response to this situation over the last 12 months has been grossly inadequate and, in some areas, completely counterproductive.  The processes by which the government claims to address corruption and criminality within the security forces and the judiciary are arbitrary and ineffective.  Genuine police reform appears to be off the agenda, following the dissolution of a reform commission whose proposals were systematically ignored, despite the backing of the human rights community.  The government’s plans to further militarize law enforcement activities, and to involve the military in other traditionally civilian tasks, including state-sponsored extracurricular activities for young people, is an alarming, negative trend that will further undermine human rights and democracy in Honduras.

In short, the government’s record over the last 12 months indicates that it has little real will to address Honduras’ human rights crisis.

The statement was followed by a series of recommendations to Canadian lawmakers.  Here are the top three:

  • The implementation of the Canadian-Honduran free trade agreement of 2014 as well as bilateral security assistance and Canadian support for IFI programs in Honduras should be contingent on genuine and substantive progress in the prosecution of human rights abuses.
  • Canadian private companies should be urged to ensure that their operations and investments in Honduras are not directly or indirectly contributing to human rights abuses, environmental degradation, or violation of the laws of Honduras.
  • The Canadian government should use its voice and vote in international financial institutions, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, and in international organizations including the Organization of American States and the United Nations to uphold the above principles and to make respect for human rights and the rule of law in Honduras the first priority regarding all matters dealing with Honduras. In particular, the Canadian government should use its voice and vote to ensure that the IADB, World Bank and IMF are not contributing to human rights abuses or environmental degradation through funding for projects in Honduras.

You can read the full written testimony here

On December 9th, CEPR Senior Associate for International Policy Alex Main testified about the human rights situation in Honduras before the Subcommittee of International Human Rights of Canada’s House of Commons.  The Subcommittee asked Alex to discuss the state of human rights in Honduras since the November 2013 elections, focusing in particular on attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and justice sector workers.  He was also asked to comment on government measures designed to address human rights abuses, on the implementation of precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and on Honduras’ electoral process.

In his opening statement, Alex discussed these points and others, including the growing militarization taking place in Honduras, and in conclusion said:

Honduras’ human rights situation remains as dire as ever and, in many cases, targeted attacks against members of at-risk sectors – including human rights defenders and journalists – have recently increased in number.  Meanwhile, impunity around these and other crimes remains appallingly high. 

The government’s response to this situation over the last 12 months has been grossly inadequate and, in some areas, completely counterproductive.  The processes by which the government claims to address corruption and criminality within the security forces and the judiciary are arbitrary and ineffective.  Genuine police reform appears to be off the agenda, following the dissolution of a reform commission whose proposals were systematically ignored, despite the backing of the human rights community.  The government’s plans to further militarize law enforcement activities, and to involve the military in other traditionally civilian tasks, including state-sponsored extracurricular activities for young people, is an alarming, negative trend that will further undermine human rights and democracy in Honduras.

In short, the government’s record over the last 12 months indicates that it has little real will to address Honduras’ human rights crisis.

The statement was followed by a series of recommendations to Canadian lawmakers.  Here are the top three:

  • The implementation of the Canadian-Honduran free trade agreement of 2014 as well as bilateral security assistance and Canadian support for IFI programs in Honduras should be contingent on genuine and substantive progress in the prosecution of human rights abuses.
  • Canadian private companies should be urged to ensure that their operations and investments in Honduras are not directly or indirectly contributing to human rights abuses, environmental degradation, or violation of the laws of Honduras.
  • The Canadian government should use its voice and vote in international financial institutions, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, and in international organizations including the Organization of American States and the United Nations to uphold the above principles and to make respect for human rights and the rule of law in Honduras the first priority regarding all matters dealing with Honduras. In particular, the Canadian government should use its voice and vote to ensure that the IADB, World Bank and IMF are not contributing to human rights abuses or environmental degradation through funding for projects in Honduras.

You can read the full written testimony here

On November 14, the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the three countries that comprise Central America’s Northern Triangle – presented their “Alliance for Prosperity” plan [PDF] at an event at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). The plan was originally made public in September, and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández presented it to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. General Assembly. But the Washington event was the real “coming out” party for the proposal, as it appears key funding will emanate from the IADB, the U.S. government and other Washington-based sources.

Ostensibly a response to the root causes of migration that led to this summer’s child refugee “crisis,” the plan appears to be nothing less than a blueprint for a major economic and social transformation of the region, including large-scale reforms in education, policing, energy, finances and legal and justice systems, and requiring sizeable investments in areas such as infrastructure, job creation and crime reduction. To say the plan is ambitious is an under-statement.

The leaders of the three countries telegraphed the rough concept for the plan during their July visit to D.C. in which they called for a “Plan Colombia” for Central America. It is notable that two major proponents of Plan Colombia’s creation during the Clinton administration – Vice President (then Senator) Biden and IADB President Luis Moreno (then with the U.S. Mission in Colombia) – spoke at the IADB event.

Biden’s remarks on November 14 suggest a reversal from his earlier response to the presidents, in which he said that the U.S. would not invest in a “Plan Colombia” for Central America because “Central American governments aren’t even close to being prepared to make some of the decisions that the Colombians made, because they are hard.” As a Senator, Biden had pushed for support for the Colombian military to be a key part of Plan Colombia, saying that the military “have never been accused themselves of doing human rights abuses.” (In the wake of the “false positives” scandal, in which the Colombian military was caught killing civilians and dressing them like FARC, Biden’s comments seem especially shocking, but the Colombian military’s human rights record was already scandalous at the time.)

But on November 14, Biden struck a different tone, explicitly referencing Plan Colombia and saying that today the Colombian people “enjoy significant security and growth.” Moreno also referenced Plan Colombia in his opening remarks, and other speakers returned to the theme of Colombia’s “success” and how Central America could replicate it, event attendees noted.

Hernández went further, saying that Mexico, like Colombia, used to be in a difficult situation but that they had turned it around. Mexico’s “successes” are often exaggerated in Washington and in the U.S. media, but this must have seemed a bit much even to some in the audience, considering recent events.

Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina remarked, “The crisis has become a huge opportunity.”

This may be more honest, for while the plan describes numerous social ills that undoubtedly are holding back the Northern Triangle countries and that push people to leave – poverty, crime, violence, poor education and others – it is unclear how much that the plan envisions will help to eliminate these problems or whether, in some areas at least, it might make them worse. Instead, the plan brings to mind various past cases of crises exploited for economic gain, as Naomi Klein detailed in her landmark book, The Shock Doctrine.

The plan notes that “more than half of the population of our countries still lives in poverty,” and that “20% of the wealthiest segment of population accounts for more than half of overall national income.” It also describes challenges posed by insufficient tax revenue:

We need to improve infrastructure and address social needs, but our fiscal space is limited. Although we recently implemented tax reforms along with measures to improve management of public finances, these steps have not yielded the results that were expected. Fiscal revenues have remained between 10 and 14% of GDP, below the average in Latin America.

So what measures does the plan propose in order to tackle these problems? Considering, for example, that poverty and inequality have increased since the ruling National Party administrations have been in power in Honduras, does this mean that the Honduran government is about to change course and implement a raft of different policies? Will it significantly increase taxes on Miguel Facussé and the other richest people in the country?

If so, there is no mention of it. Instead, the plan talks vaguely of

…improving tax revenues and their management through an overhaul of our tax systems and how they are administered. We will strengthen the systems, processes and the professionalization of human resources in our tax and customs administrations, with the goal of making them perform better.

Elsewhere, the plan describes the “creation of special economic zones” as one route toward prosperity:

With the goal of encouraging development in the most underdeveloped areas, we propose the creation of special economic zones that will grant preferential treatment to new investment. We expect that the companies that establish themselves in those zones will generate high quality jobs, while the State will provide the infrastructure and public services needed to stimulate economic activity.

While the plan itself does not make explicit mention of the Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs) being planned in Honduras, the reference to such “special zones” calls them to mind. Boosting trade, in part through such zones, appears to be a major component of the strategy, yet some of the plan’s assertions in this regard seem at odds with its vows to “boost quality control systems (livestock and crop health and safety, food safety and product traceability) so goods can reach market unencumbered.” The plan states:

…we are convinced that there is room to deepen our existing trade agreements and facilitate the achievement of the Plan’s goals. For instance, we could use the certification of goods that are produced in the prioritized regions or value chains and grant them temporary advantages and access to the United State market. Preferential treatment via quotas and more flexible rules of origin could also be established for exporting certified goods to the United States.

Yet the largest market for the Northern Triangle’s goods, the U.S., has long promoted a trade policy in which health and safety standards (not to mention labor and environmental protections) – are harmonized downwards. “Boosting quality control systems” has not been part of the trade schemes that the plan references either; tougher quality control for products is seen instead as a barrier to freer trade.

Similarly, when the plan talks of “improving labor market conditions,” it seems more likely that this means “improvements” that will benefit employers (known as increased “labor market flexibility” in economic-speak), not workers. The plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, repeated, illegal violations of workers’ rights in Honduras led the AFL-CIO to file a complaint with the U.S. government in 2012, urging that it take action under the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement. (For its part, the U.S. government has yet to act on the complaint – despite being mandated to do so within 6 months.) Dozens of trade unionists have been murdered in Honduras since the coup, and last year Guatemala surpassed Colombia for the distinction of being “the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation [PDF].

The plan’s concepts for police and judicial reform seem at odds with the current realities of rampant corruption, impunity and death squad activity. Over 100 members of the U.S. Congress have urged restrictions on U.S. support for the Honduran police and military over human rights concerns, and the Leahy Law is supposed to ensure that such funds do not go to known rights abusers. The Alliance for Prosperity Plan could bypass this and channel huge sums to corrupt Honduran and Guatemalan security forces.

Tourism and agribusiness are other focuses of the plan, and both sectors from which U.S. companies could potentially make big profits. Both are also related to areas of intense violence and state-backed oppression in Honduras, as wealthy businessmen attempt to push off or defraud campesinos and Garifuna communities (in the Bajo Aguán, Zacate Grande, the Northern coast and elsewhere) from their land in order to make way for development projects.

From all these major components, it seems that private businesses – and especially foreign businesses — have much to gain from the “Alliance for Prosperity,” especially with “the State …provid[ing] the infrastructure and public services”; the Obama administration contributing hundreds of millions in aid to the region; the IADB supporting the plan; and USAID backing a high level executive team comprised of delegates from the three governments — all from which foreign investors can benefit. The IADB event was geared at private businesses, as Vice President Biden made clear when said there were “important people here,” with “none more important than those in the private sector.” Jodi Bond, Vice President of the Americas for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – one of the most powerful business lobbies in Washington – moderated the second panel.

“The feeling that I had walking out of that room was that it was really an event for buy-in,” Natalia Escruceria of the organization Just Associates, who attended the event, said.

Whether or not private investors buy into the plan, the Northern Triangle’s deep problems of violence, crime, weak institutions, corruption, poverty and inequality are not likely to go away any time soon considering the governments’ proposed solutions.

On November 14, the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the three countries that comprise Central America’s Northern Triangle – presented their “Alliance for Prosperity” plan [PDF] at an event at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). The plan was originally made public in September, and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández presented it to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. General Assembly. But the Washington event was the real “coming out” party for the proposal, as it appears key funding will emanate from the IADB, the U.S. government and other Washington-based sources.

Ostensibly a response to the root causes of migration that led to this summer’s child refugee “crisis,” the plan appears to be nothing less than a blueprint for a major economic and social transformation of the region, including large-scale reforms in education, policing, energy, finances and legal and justice systems, and requiring sizeable investments in areas such as infrastructure, job creation and crime reduction. To say the plan is ambitious is an under-statement.

The leaders of the three countries telegraphed the rough concept for the plan during their July visit to D.C. in which they called for a “Plan Colombia” for Central America. It is notable that two major proponents of Plan Colombia’s creation during the Clinton administration – Vice President (then Senator) Biden and IADB President Luis Moreno (then with the U.S. Mission in Colombia) – spoke at the IADB event.

Biden’s remarks on November 14 suggest a reversal from his earlier response to the presidents, in which he said that the U.S. would not invest in a “Plan Colombia” for Central America because “Central American governments aren’t even close to being prepared to make some of the decisions that the Colombians made, because they are hard.” As a Senator, Biden had pushed for support for the Colombian military to be a key part of Plan Colombia, saying that the military “have never been accused themselves of doing human rights abuses.” (In the wake of the “false positives” scandal, in which the Colombian military was caught killing civilians and dressing them like FARC, Biden’s comments seem especially shocking, but the Colombian military’s human rights record was already scandalous at the time.)

But on November 14, Biden struck a different tone, explicitly referencing Plan Colombia and saying that today the Colombian people “enjoy significant security and growth.” Moreno also referenced Plan Colombia in his opening remarks, and other speakers returned to the theme of Colombia’s “success” and how Central America could replicate it, event attendees noted.

Hernández went further, saying that Mexico, like Colombia, used to be in a difficult situation but that they had turned it around. Mexico’s “successes” are often exaggerated in Washington and in the U.S. media, but this must have seemed a bit much even to some in the audience, considering recent events.

Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina remarked, “The crisis has become a huge opportunity.”

This may be more honest, for while the plan describes numerous social ills that undoubtedly are holding back the Northern Triangle countries and that push people to leave – poverty, crime, violence, poor education and others – it is unclear how much that the plan envisions will help to eliminate these problems or whether, in some areas at least, it might make them worse. Instead, the plan brings to mind various past cases of crises exploited for economic gain, as Naomi Klein detailed in her landmark book, The Shock Doctrine.

The plan notes that “more than half of the population of our countries still lives in poverty,” and that “20% of the wealthiest segment of population accounts for more than half of overall national income.” It also describes challenges posed by insufficient tax revenue:

We need to improve infrastructure and address social needs, but our fiscal space is limited. Although we recently implemented tax reforms along with measures to improve management of public finances, these steps have not yielded the results that were expected. Fiscal revenues have remained between 10 and 14% of GDP, below the average in Latin America.

So what measures does the plan propose in order to tackle these problems? Considering, for example, that poverty and inequality have increased since the ruling National Party administrations have been in power in Honduras, does this mean that the Honduran government is about to change course and implement a raft of different policies? Will it significantly increase taxes on Miguel Facussé and the other richest people in the country?

If so, there is no mention of it. Instead, the plan talks vaguely of

…improving tax revenues and their management through an overhaul of our tax systems and how they are administered. We will strengthen the systems, processes and the professionalization of human resources in our tax and customs administrations, with the goal of making them perform better.

Elsewhere, the plan describes the “creation of special economic zones” as one route toward prosperity:

With the goal of encouraging development in the most underdeveloped areas, we propose the creation of special economic zones that will grant preferential treatment to new investment. We expect that the companies that establish themselves in those zones will generate high quality jobs, while the State will provide the infrastructure and public services needed to stimulate economic activity.

While the plan itself does not make explicit mention of the Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs) being planned in Honduras, the reference to such “special zones” calls them to mind. Boosting trade, in part through such zones, appears to be a major component of the strategy, yet some of the plan’s assertions in this regard seem at odds with its vows to “boost quality control systems (livestock and crop health and safety, food safety and product traceability) so goods can reach market unencumbered.” The plan states:

…we are convinced that there is room to deepen our existing trade agreements and facilitate the achievement of the Plan’s goals. For instance, we could use the certification of goods that are produced in the prioritized regions or value chains and grant them temporary advantages and access to the United State market. Preferential treatment via quotas and more flexible rules of origin could also be established for exporting certified goods to the United States.

Yet the largest market for the Northern Triangle’s goods, the U.S., has long promoted a trade policy in which health and safety standards (not to mention labor and environmental protections) – are harmonized downwards. “Boosting quality control systems” has not been part of the trade schemes that the plan references either; tougher quality control for products is seen instead as a barrier to freer trade.

Similarly, when the plan talks of “improving labor market conditions,” it seems more likely that this means “improvements” that will benefit employers (known as increased “labor market flexibility” in economic-speak), not workers. The plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, repeated, illegal violations of workers’ rights in Honduras led the AFL-CIO to file a complaint with the U.S. government in 2012, urging that it take action under the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement. (For its part, the U.S. government has yet to act on the complaint – despite being mandated to do so within 6 months.) Dozens of trade unionists have been murdered in Honduras since the coup, and last year Guatemala surpassed Colombia for the distinction of being “the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation [PDF].

The plan’s concepts for police and judicial reform seem at odds with the current realities of rampant corruption, impunity and death squad activity. Over 100 members of the U.S. Congress have urged restrictions on U.S. support for the Honduran police and military over human rights concerns, and the Leahy Law is supposed to ensure that such funds do not go to known rights abusers. The Alliance for Prosperity Plan could bypass this and channel huge sums to corrupt Honduran and Guatemalan security forces.

Tourism and agribusiness are other focuses of the plan, and both sectors from which U.S. companies could potentially make big profits. Both are also related to areas of intense violence and state-backed oppression in Honduras, as wealthy businessmen attempt to push off or defraud campesinos and Garifuna communities (in the Bajo Aguán, Zacate Grande, the Northern coast and elsewhere) from their land in order to make way for development projects.

From all these major components, it seems that private businesses – and especially foreign businesses — have much to gain from the “Alliance for Prosperity,” especially with “the State …provid[ing] the infrastructure and public services”; the Obama administration contributing hundreds of millions in aid to the region; the IADB supporting the plan; and USAID backing a high level executive team comprised of delegates from the three governments — all from which foreign investors can benefit. The IADB event was geared at private businesses, as Vice President Biden made clear when said there were “important people here,” with “none more important than those in the private sector.” Jodi Bond, Vice President of the Americas for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – one of the most powerful business lobbies in Washington – moderated the second panel.

“The feeling that I had walking out of that room was that it was really an event for buy-in,” Natalia Escruceria of the organization Just Associates, who attended the event, said.

Whether or not private investors buy into the plan, the Northern Triangle’s deep problems of violence, crime, weak institutions, corruption, poverty and inequality are not likely to go away any time soon considering the governments’ proposed solutions.

In 2012, a congressional coup brought down Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo over allegations that he had mishandled the conflict between rural workers and the family of the late businessman and ex-senator Blas Riquelme over a 2,000 hectare territory named Marina Cué located in Curuguaty in the department of Canindeyú. In June of 2012, the conflict that had been escalating for years erupted in a violent land eviction effort that ended with the deaths of 11 farmers and 6 policemen. Federico Franco, the Vice-President, replaced Lugo and ruled until Horacio Cartes, from the Colorado Party, won elections in April 2013 and took office in August. Today the conflict remains unresolved and the drama is being played out in a scenario that reflects the vast and historic injustices for rural workers, an alarming concentration of land, and a nation with inadequate public institutions to serve and protect its citizens.

More than two years later, justice remains elusive. The trial of 13 farm workers accused of killing the 6 police officers, which had been scheduled for last Monday, November 17, has been postponed to June 2015. By then, the landless farmers, who face charges of land invasion, criminal association, and attempted murder, among others, will have completed 3 years of detention without having been convicted. They are unable to work and provide for their families, who are now in an even more precarious situation than when they settled in Marina Cué.

As many have noted, it is questionable that the investigation is led by the police and the Public Ministry, instead of by an independent commission like the one established by ex-President Lugo, which was to have been overseen by the Organization of American States (but was dismantled by Franco as soon as he took power). The government investigation’s one-sided conclusions blame the farmworkers for the killings, even though 11 of the 17 killed were farmworkers. The official version is that the farmers ambushed the policemen, and the police responded accordingly. Meanwhile, nobody is under investigation for the deaths of the 11 farmers. To the farmerworkers’ dismay, the Public Ministry quickly discredited alternative investigations that claimed there was no ambush attempt on the part of the farmworkers and that instead the police had fired on them indiscriminately.

Vicente Morales, a lawyer representing 11 of the 13 farmers, pointed out that “The cops were more than 300, with machine guns, helicopters, shotguns and grenades. And the peasants were no more than 50, malnourished, sick with dengue, and with children from one to three years-old that supposedly were being used as bait.” He also pointed out that the ownership of the lands in Marina Cué is still in question, since it is an area, as is much of the land in Paraguay, that the dictatorship and post-dictatorship governments gave away to friends and family members. Nevertheless, the defendants are being charged with land invasion. This represents how superficial the current process is, paying no attention to the roots of the conflict and reflecting the still prevalent inequality, impunity, and favoritism for wealthy families. As Raul Zibechi of the Center for International Policy explains:

1% of the landowners control 77% of productive land, and 40% of farmers own only 1% of the land. 9.7 million hectares are concentrated among just 351 landholders, while there are 300,000 landless campesinos.

To reach these levels of land concentration and foreign ownership, the [Paraguayan] state and landowners have unleashed a war against the campesinado. In the 25 years since the end of the Stroessner dictatorship, they got the rural population to fall by almost 50%. The Chokokue Report, 1989-2013 by the Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay (Codehupy) reflects this reality.

The repression and violence against rural workers in Paraguay and elsewhere in Latin America is nothing new, but the cynicism of the current administration regarding the “Curuguaty Massacre” is perhaps unprecedented.

Fortunately, the conflict has caught the attention of some policymakers in the United States who have called for a just ending to this conflict. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy read a declaration [PDF] in front of the U.S. Senate on November 12, 2014, urging Presdent Cartes to resolve the dispute and allow the families affected access to land. Leahy and 11 other representatives signed a letter [PDF] to Cartes that read in part:

On that day, 11 farmers and 6 police lost their lives and many were injured during the forced eviction of some 60 landless farmers by over 300 police in riot gear from government land that -­ while claimed by a private company — is recognized by institutions in your government as belonging to the Paraguayan State and intended for land reform.

As you know, accountability of public institutions is essential for societies to thrive. We therefore urge you to pursue a clear and fair resolution to this land dispute case, including a full investigation to ensure those responsible for the murders and reported human rights abuses on June 15, 2012 are brought to justice.

We also urge you to continue to move forward with implementation of agrarian reform policies consistent with Paraguay’s existing laws; this would help enable farmers in Curuguaty to acquire rights over the Marina Kue property in order to feed their families and ensure the livelihood of their community.

Additionally, La Via Campesina, Oxfam America, the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR) and other organizations joined with a coalition of more than 40 organizations in Paraguay to push for an independent and fair investigation and comprehensive land reform. Six months of strong mobilization, as Oxfam Paraguay points out, brought together thousands of volunteers and support from countries in Latin America as well as from Germany, Spain, and the United States. The international campaign “Jóvenes sin tierra = Tierra sin futuro” (“Youth without land = Land without future”) collected 37,000 signatures of support from 60 different countries.

It offers hope that policymakers, organizations, and activists around the world are paying attention and pressuring the government of Paraguay to carry out a fair and independent investigation to bring justice to all the victims of the conflict. This would shed light on the irregularities of the current process and hopefully serve as a starting point to bring about more justice, transparency, and real agrarian reform in a country in which 1.6 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the land.

In 2012, a congressional coup brought down Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo over allegations that he had mishandled the conflict between rural workers and the family of the late businessman and ex-senator Blas Riquelme over a 2,000 hectare territory named Marina Cué located in Curuguaty in the department of Canindeyú. In June of 2012, the conflict that had been escalating for years erupted in a violent land eviction effort that ended with the deaths of 11 farmers and 6 policemen. Federico Franco, the Vice-President, replaced Lugo and ruled until Horacio Cartes, from the Colorado Party, won elections in April 2013 and took office in August. Today the conflict remains unresolved and the drama is being played out in a scenario that reflects the vast and historic injustices for rural workers, an alarming concentration of land, and a nation with inadequate public institutions to serve and protect its citizens.

More than two years later, justice remains elusive. The trial of 13 farm workers accused of killing the 6 police officers, which had been scheduled for last Monday, November 17, has been postponed to June 2015. By then, the landless farmers, who face charges of land invasion, criminal association, and attempted murder, among others, will have completed 3 years of detention without having been convicted. They are unable to work and provide for their families, who are now in an even more precarious situation than when they settled in Marina Cué.

As many have noted, it is questionable that the investigation is led by the police and the Public Ministry, instead of by an independent commission like the one established by ex-President Lugo, which was to have been overseen by the Organization of American States (but was dismantled by Franco as soon as he took power). The government investigation’s one-sided conclusions blame the farmworkers for the killings, even though 11 of the 17 killed were farmworkers. The official version is that the farmers ambushed the policemen, and the police responded accordingly. Meanwhile, nobody is under investigation for the deaths of the 11 farmers. To the farmerworkers’ dismay, the Public Ministry quickly discredited alternative investigations that claimed there was no ambush attempt on the part of the farmworkers and that instead the police had fired on them indiscriminately.

Vicente Morales, a lawyer representing 11 of the 13 farmers, pointed out that “The cops were more than 300, with machine guns, helicopters, shotguns and grenades. And the peasants were no more than 50, malnourished, sick with dengue, and with children from one to three years-old that supposedly were being used as bait.” He also pointed out that the ownership of the lands in Marina Cué is still in question, since it is an area, as is much of the land in Paraguay, that the dictatorship and post-dictatorship governments gave away to friends and family members. Nevertheless, the defendants are being charged with land invasion. This represents how superficial the current process is, paying no attention to the roots of the conflict and reflecting the still prevalent inequality, impunity, and favoritism for wealthy families. As Raul Zibechi of the Center for International Policy explains:

1% of the landowners control 77% of productive land, and 40% of farmers own only 1% of the land. 9.7 million hectares are concentrated among just 351 landholders, while there are 300,000 landless campesinos.

To reach these levels of land concentration and foreign ownership, the [Paraguayan] state and landowners have unleashed a war against the campesinado. In the 25 years since the end of the Stroessner dictatorship, they got the rural population to fall by almost 50%. The Chokokue Report, 1989-2013 by the Human Rights Coordinator of Paraguay (Codehupy) reflects this reality.

The repression and violence against rural workers in Paraguay and elsewhere in Latin America is nothing new, but the cynicism of the current administration regarding the “Curuguaty Massacre” is perhaps unprecedented.

Fortunately, the conflict has caught the attention of some policymakers in the United States who have called for a just ending to this conflict. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy read a declaration [PDF] in front of the U.S. Senate on November 12, 2014, urging Presdent Cartes to resolve the dispute and allow the families affected access to land. Leahy and 11 other representatives signed a letter [PDF] to Cartes that read in part:

On that day, 11 farmers and 6 police lost their lives and many were injured during the forced eviction of some 60 landless farmers by over 300 police in riot gear from government land that -­ while claimed by a private company — is recognized by institutions in your government as belonging to the Paraguayan State and intended for land reform.

As you know, accountability of public institutions is essential for societies to thrive. We therefore urge you to pursue a clear and fair resolution to this land dispute case, including a full investigation to ensure those responsible for the murders and reported human rights abuses on June 15, 2012 are brought to justice.

We also urge you to continue to move forward with implementation of agrarian reform policies consistent with Paraguay’s existing laws; this would help enable farmers in Curuguaty to acquire rights over the Marina Kue property in order to feed their families and ensure the livelihood of their community.

Additionally, La Via Campesina, Oxfam America, the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR) and other organizations joined with a coalition of more than 40 organizations in Paraguay to push for an independent and fair investigation and comprehensive land reform. Six months of strong mobilization, as Oxfam Paraguay points out, brought together thousands of volunteers and support from countries in Latin America as well as from Germany, Spain, and the United States. The international campaign “Jóvenes sin tierra = Tierra sin futuro” (“Youth without land = Land without future”) collected 37,000 signatures of support from 60 different countries.

It offers hope that policymakers, organizations, and activists around the world are paying attention and pressuring the government of Paraguay to carry out a fair and independent investigation to bring justice to all the victims of the conflict. This would shed light on the irregularities of the current process and hopefully serve as a starting point to bring about more justice, transparency, and real agrarian reform in a country in which 1.6 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the land.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article covering Wednesday’s protests in Ecuador against President Rafael Correa, but key facts were missing and the article contained several misleading statements.

First, it is curious that the WSJ chose to focus on a protest of reportedly “around 3,000 protesters,” when a much larger demonstration took place on Saturday in favor of the government’s labor reform policy. The pro-government rally had participation from 100,000 people, according to organizers, and news outlets such as EFE reported participation of “tens of thousands of workers.” Perhaps an argument can be made that protests are more interesting than rallies supporting measures championed by the government, but the WSJ used the same word, “thousands,” to describe the number of attendees at both events.

The piece also includes a line that reads, “Mr. Correa took office in early 2007 and promptly engineered a new constitution that allowed for his re-election.” In reality, a constitutional convention (i.e. adopting a new constitution) was one of Rafael Correa’s campaign promises the year he was first elected (with 56.7 percent of the vote). Further, the old 1998 constitution allowed for indefinite re-election, though not consecutively, for the presidency, while the 2008 constitution set a limit of two-terms for the presidency, which could be served consecutively. Neither of these basic facts was mentioned in the article.

Finally, the motivations for the protest are selectively reported. Besides vague references to the government’s allegedly “authoritarian attitudes,” two issues are mentioned: “union leaders said the government is looking to divide them by creating new government-dependent organizations and undermine their rights, especially to strike” and “protesters are also rejecting proposed constitutional amendments that would open the door for indefinite re-election of Mr. Correa.” Regarding the first point, the author seems to be referencing the creation of a national workers’ united center (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores), a union federation similar to those in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. No argument was given as to why this organization would undermine workers’ rights.

Second, the constitutional changes would allow the indefinite re-election of any office holder (as the WSJ has previously reported), not just Correa. Reasonable people may disagree with this reform, but unlimited re-election is not always seen as inherently anti-democratic. In the Western Hemisphere alone, Canada and Nicaragua allow unlimited re-election, and countries including Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica allow indefinite re-election for non-consecutive term.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article covering Wednesday’s protests in Ecuador against President Rafael Correa, but key facts were missing and the article contained several misleading statements.

First, it is curious that the WSJ chose to focus on a protest of reportedly “around 3,000 protesters,” when a much larger demonstration took place on Saturday in favor of the government’s labor reform policy. The pro-government rally had participation from 100,000 people, according to organizers, and news outlets such as EFE reported participation of “tens of thousands of workers.” Perhaps an argument can be made that protests are more interesting than rallies supporting measures championed by the government, but the WSJ used the same word, “thousands,” to describe the number of attendees at both events.

The piece also includes a line that reads, “Mr. Correa took office in early 2007 and promptly engineered a new constitution that allowed for his re-election.” In reality, a constitutional convention (i.e. adopting a new constitution) was one of Rafael Correa’s campaign promises the year he was first elected (with 56.7 percent of the vote). Further, the old 1998 constitution allowed for indefinite re-election, though not consecutively, for the presidency, while the 2008 constitution set a limit of two-terms for the presidency, which could be served consecutively. Neither of these basic facts was mentioned in the article.

Finally, the motivations for the protest are selectively reported. Besides vague references to the government’s allegedly “authoritarian attitudes,” two issues are mentioned: “union leaders said the government is looking to divide them by creating new government-dependent organizations and undermine their rights, especially to strike” and “protesters are also rejecting proposed constitutional amendments that would open the door for indefinite re-election of Mr. Correa.” Regarding the first point, the author seems to be referencing the creation of a national workers’ united center (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores), a union federation similar to those in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. No argument was given as to why this organization would undermine workers’ rights.

Second, the constitutional changes would allow the indefinite re-election of any office holder (as the WSJ has previously reported), not just Correa. Reasonable people may disagree with this reform, but unlimited re-election is not always seen as inherently anti-democratic. In the Western Hemisphere alone, Canada and Nicaragua allow unlimited re-election, and countries including Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica allow indefinite re-election for non-consecutive term.

During a visit to Washington in late July, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina jointly called for a regional security initiative modeled on Plan Colombia in response to the rampant violence sweeping their countries.  In an October 29th Congressional briefing, human rights advocates from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia made a distinctly different appeal.  Describing how militarized security programs cut from the same cloth as Plan Colombia had undermined human rights and democracy in their countries, they earnestly called on the U.S. Congress to reconsider its ongoing support for these programs. 

The briefing, hosted by the office of Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and co-sponsored by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Just Associates, CISPES and CIP-Americas, was entirely videotaped by CEPR, and can be viewed here (in Spanish with no subtitles). 

For those who are interested in these issues but don’t speak Spanish or have limited time, we provide a translation of key excerpts from each of the four powerful presentations made by the human rights defenders.

First, a quick summary of the event:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, discussed how the U.S. security agenda in Guatemala undermines citizen security. Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), talked about how abuses by U.S.-backed security forces have increased, while judicial authorities justify rather than investigate the violence. María Luisa Aguilar López of the Mexican human rights organization Tlachinollan, explained how the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero is not an exception, but rather a representative case in a country that has recorded at least 22,000 forced disappearances since the U.S.-backed, militarized drug war began in Mexico in 2006.  Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, described the dire effects of Plan Colombia on human rights and democracy in Colombia, including thousands of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and how the U.S. is now helping export the Colombian model to other countries. 

Kathryn Johnson, from the Washington office of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, moderated the panel.  In her introductory and closing remarks she shared passages from a statement by the MesoAmerican Working Group on the impact of U.S. security assistance on human rights in Mexico and Central America, including policy recommendations for U.S. lawmakers.  The statement is available here [pdf].

Here are translated excerpts from each presentation:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, Guatemala.  

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Hernandez

“What does it mean when our governments and authorities develop security agendas and policies based, not on the needs of the population and on their responsibility to guarantee the right to life, the right to freedom, and the full enjoyment of every right, but instead on the interests and concerns of another country, in this case on the anti-drug policy of the U.S. government, on its anti-terrorist policy, on its anti-immigration policy? (…) This has [for Guatemala] meant a process which, over the last ten years, has led to virtual disappearance of civil security forces.

“I ask you to imagine that, instead of police forces in the streets of each one of your cities and states, you constantly see members of the armed forces; that, instead of filing a criminal complaint before judicial authorities, you actually must do it before a military authority.  This is the reality we live day by day. (…) Similarly to what occurred during the internal armed conflict of the 1980s, there is a military deployment that stretches across all of the national territory.”

She notes that the Guatemalan armed forces haven’t been purged since the 1980s despite enormous human rights abuses; how military equipment, like grenades has ended up in the hands of drug cartel members; and how the military apparatus is working to destroy the limited independence of the judiciary. Otto Pérez Molina, a former general suspected of responsibility for human rights abuses during the 80s, is asking the U.S. government for support to further strengthen the army, saying that “they need more support to guarantee that this institution remain in charge of citizen security for Guatemala.”

“I come to you with the voice of my brothers and sisters in Guatemala (…), with the voice of pain of the disappeared, with the pain of the bus drivers that are killed on a daily basis. (…) We don’t want the strengthening of institutions that, instead of protecting our lives, continue to put them in constant danger. (…) We want to walk in the streets as you do here (…) enjoying the possibility of walking without fear of being detained at any moment and becoming victims of illegal actions on the part of security forces like the armed forces, that haven’t been trained to deal with citizen security.  We’ve come to ask you that, before authorizing a security policy based on the needs that could arise over here, you consider that this policy shouldn’t be pursued if it creates victims in our societies.”

 

Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).

 “We have returned to the old days [of rampant militarization], we’ve gone back something like 30 years when we first began looking for victims of disappearances… We’re seeing the reappearance of the odious practice of forced disappearances that we thought was a thing of the past. 

“It is the same actors that have committed crimes against humanity that are, in the name of security and democracy, committing new, strong violations of human rights. We can’t advance, and it can’t be said that there is an interest in our country in strengthening the democratic state, because democracies don’t grow stronger with military troops in the streets.

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Oliva

“We’ve seen the return of civil-military actions, sometimes attributable to the military police [force], sometimes attributable to military policing, but that combined have led to profound human rights violations.

“When we talk about militarization, it’s not just about seeing military troops in the streets.  It’s about the effects of their presence that we experience on a daily basis. (…) We’re talking about torture (…), extrajudicial executions.

“Violence and insecurity is growing worse.  Now it’s not one, but two to seven people that are killed in a single incident (…) and there is no action on the part of judicial agents that is oriented toward investigating and sanctioning those who are responsible.  (…)  Judicial authorities limit themselves to producing information about the victims:  ‘they were gangsters, or they were members of an organized crime group’ (…) it appears as if they’ve prepared a profile of the person to justify the killing.

“International accompaniers [of human rights defenders and of communities defending land rights] are also subjected to illegal and arbitrary detentions (…) and the state is incapable of investigating.   It is only capable of justifying.”

She reminds the audience of the constant threats and intimidations that human rights defenders face in Honduras, including herself.  “Today I’m fearful of speaking. (…)  A year ago, there were two of us here speaking about Honduras (…)  Before we’d even returned to our country there was a campaign and an official report stating that we were discrediting our country and that, therefore, we were bad Hondurans.”

“Why are so many young [Hondurans] going to the U.S. today?  It’s because of bad security policies.”

 

María Luisa Aguilar López, Tlachinollan, Mexico.

“Mexico is a country that, outside of Mexico, is portrayed as being a country of reforms, a country that’s in the vanguard, that’s progressive, that’s among the 20 strongest economies of the world.  And within Mexico we see a country that is deeply damaged, with a social fabric that is completely torn apart, with a human rights situation that is truly deplorable (…) with many documented cases in which public authorities and organized crime are completely co-dependent (…) with an economy based on extortion.”

She discusses the creeping militarization throughout Mexico, how the country’s public institutions have become progressively militarized.  She discusses the gendarmería, a new militarized police force (similar to the new military police force of Honduras) involved in law enforcement but with military training. [Editor’s note: in mid October, Mexico’s Minister of Finance told investors that the gendarmería would provide security for private companies’ projects around the country, provoking cries of protest from Mexican human rights and environmental activists].

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Aguilar

She discusses the case of the 43 missing students in Guerrero, which has sparked protests throughout Mexico and the world. “It is a representative case, not an isolated case,” she says, noting that there have been over 22,000 disappearances since the U.S.-backed drug war started in 2006. 

“It demonstrates how the judicial system is incapable of properly investigating an enormous crime.” 

She notes that over a month has passed since the 43 students disappeared and that all that investigators have produced so far are 11 mass graves, none of which appear to contain the remains of the students. [Editor’s note:  Mexican authorities announced in early November that gang members admitted to incinerating the students after they were handed over to them by local police, but parents of the missing students have expressed deep skepticism regarding official accounts.] 

“There is a clear problem of forced disappearances in Mexico…  There is a clear problem of violence in Mexico.  The U.S. needs to acknowledge this problem, as a neighboring country.  To date, the U.S. government hasn’t recognized that just beyond its borders there is a grave problem of generalized violence, of forced disappearances, that can’t be solved by continuing to train and fund the armed forces.”

[In addition to Lopez’s presentation, CIP Americas distributed a fact sheet at the briefing entitled “Mexico in Crisis: U.S. Drug War Funding, Ayotzinapa and Human Rights Violations” which can be viewed here].

 

Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination:

He describes some of Plan Colombia’s main features: states of exception that sideline the rule of law; the creation of paramilitary groups, acting in coordination with military agents; clandestine operations, forced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial execution (false positives).  He discusses the findings of a report co-authored with John Lindsay Poland [PDF] that looks at the role that U.S. security assistance played in the 5,763 “false positive” cases of extrajudicial civilian assassinations by Colombian military units.  As these abuses occurred, between 2000 and 2010, Colombia received $6 billion in military assistance from the U.S. and sent military advisors to train troops and accompany operations.  The Colombian army grew from 230,000 troops to a half million, thereby becoming the biggest army in Latin America.

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Yepes

He goes on to describe “the empowerment and preponderance that the military acquires over Colombian society (…) a veritable untouchable caste.  These half million men have a big influence over the political system and even impact electoral campaigns in order to favor the candidates that are most supportive of the militarization of the country, as was witnessed in the last electoral campaign.   Even more worrying is the military’s refusal to respond to the crimes committed during the armed conflict (…) They permanently demand that military troops not be investigated by ordinary [civilian] justice; the military has (…) imposed constitutional reforms and reforms to laws to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of military crimes is carried out (…) through military judicial authorities.

“This is the model that the U.S. has presented as a successful model. An export model that should be extended to other countries (…)  Basically [this model] seeks to promote Colombia, or the Colombian army, to be used to build local capacity in the fight against organized crime.  Colombia has thus been turned into the nerve center of U.S. security policy for the entire continent.”

He lists the quantity of troops trained by Colombian trainers in various countries:  Mexico: 13,000 troops trained by Colombians; Panama: more than 3000; Honduras: around 3000; Guatemala: close to 2000, etc.

“Through proxies, the U.S. is involving itself in internal conflicts, doing the same sort of training that the U.S. used to provide at a lower financial and political cost.  This development of military capacity has also been extended to the paramilitarization of other armies. You all know the Blackwater company, that later changed its name to Xe Services [Editor’s note: and then changed its name to Academi].  It has also been training in Colombian scenarios in order to export [the Colombian methods] to other parts of the world.

“There are also reports of retired Colombian military agents that have later participated in the training of police that have later lent their services to criminal groups, such as the Zetas in Mexico. 

“So, let’s not believe that the Colombian model can be a successful model.  The statistics of 30,000 disappeared in the internal armed conflict and close to 6,000 victims of extrajudicial executions doesn’t bode well for the possibility of exporting this experience to other countries.”

“(…) Finally, we consider that U.S. policies are incoherent.  On the one hand, you have policies of the Department of Defense that basically seek to provide a lot of military support, a strong militarization, and strong support for the militaries in each country, and using indicators based in methods that ignore human rights considerations.  On the other hand, you have parallel efforts in which the Department of State imposes conditions of respect for human rights, but that don’t manage to diminish the excesses and abuses that occur.”

During a visit to Washington in late July, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina jointly called for a regional security initiative modeled on Plan Colombia in response to the rampant violence sweeping their countries.  In an October 29th Congressional briefing, human rights advocates from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia made a distinctly different appeal.  Describing how militarized security programs cut from the same cloth as Plan Colombia had undermined human rights and democracy in their countries, they earnestly called on the U.S. Congress to reconsider its ongoing support for these programs. 

The briefing, hosted by the office of Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and co-sponsored by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Just Associates, CISPES and CIP-Americas, was entirely videotaped by CEPR, and can be viewed here (in Spanish with no subtitles). 

For those who are interested in these issues but don’t speak Spanish or have limited time, we provide a translation of key excerpts from each of the four powerful presentations made by the human rights defenders.

First, a quick summary of the event:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, discussed how the U.S. security agenda in Guatemala undermines citizen security. Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), talked about how abuses by U.S.-backed security forces have increased, while judicial authorities justify rather than investigate the violence. María Luisa Aguilar López of the Mexican human rights organization Tlachinollan, explained how the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero is not an exception, but rather a representative case in a country that has recorded at least 22,000 forced disappearances since the U.S.-backed, militarized drug war began in Mexico in 2006.  Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, described the dire effects of Plan Colombia on human rights and democracy in Colombia, including thousands of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and how the U.S. is now helping export the Colombian model to other countries. 

Kathryn Johnson, from the Washington office of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, moderated the panel.  In her introductory and closing remarks she shared passages from a statement by the MesoAmerican Working Group on the impact of U.S. security assistance on human rights in Mexico and Central America, including policy recommendations for U.S. lawmakers.  The statement is available here [pdf].

Here are translated excerpts from each presentation:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, Guatemala.  

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Hernandez

“What does it mean when our governments and authorities develop security agendas and policies based, not on the needs of the population and on their responsibility to guarantee the right to life, the right to freedom, and the full enjoyment of every right, but instead on the interests and concerns of another country, in this case on the anti-drug policy of the U.S. government, on its anti-terrorist policy, on its anti-immigration policy? (…) This has [for Guatemala] meant a process which, over the last ten years, has led to virtual disappearance of civil security forces.

“I ask you to imagine that, instead of police forces in the streets of each one of your cities and states, you constantly see members of the armed forces; that, instead of filing a criminal complaint before judicial authorities, you actually must do it before a military authority.  This is the reality we live day by day. (…) Similarly to what occurred during the internal armed conflict of the 1980s, there is a military deployment that stretches across all of the national territory.”

She notes that the Guatemalan armed forces haven’t been purged since the 1980s despite enormous human rights abuses; how military equipment, like grenades has ended up in the hands of drug cartel members; and how the military apparatus is working to destroy the limited independence of the judiciary. Otto Pérez Molina, a former general suspected of responsibility for human rights abuses during the 80s, is asking the U.S. government for support to further strengthen the army, saying that “they need more support to guarantee that this institution remain in charge of citizen security for Guatemala.”

“I come to you with the voice of my brothers and sisters in Guatemala (…), with the voice of pain of the disappeared, with the pain of the bus drivers that are killed on a daily basis. (…) We don’t want the strengthening of institutions that, instead of protecting our lives, continue to put them in constant danger. (…) We want to walk in the streets as you do here (…) enjoying the possibility of walking without fear of being detained at any moment and becoming victims of illegal actions on the part of security forces like the armed forces, that haven’t been trained to deal with citizen security.  We’ve come to ask you that, before authorizing a security policy based on the needs that could arise over here, you consider that this policy shouldn’t be pursued if it creates victims in our societies.”

 

Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).

 “We have returned to the old days [of rampant militarization], we’ve gone back something like 30 years when we first began looking for victims of disappearances… We’re seeing the reappearance of the odious practice of forced disappearances that we thought was a thing of the past. 

“It is the same actors that have committed crimes against humanity that are, in the name of security and democracy, committing new, strong violations of human rights. We can’t advance, and it can’t be said that there is an interest in our country in strengthening the democratic state, because democracies don’t grow stronger with military troops in the streets.

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Oliva

“We’ve seen the return of civil-military actions, sometimes attributable to the military police [force], sometimes attributable to military policing, but that combined have led to profound human rights violations.

“When we talk about militarization, it’s not just about seeing military troops in the streets.  It’s about the effects of their presence that we experience on a daily basis. (…) We’re talking about torture (…), extrajudicial executions.

“Violence and insecurity is growing worse.  Now it’s not one, but two to seven people that are killed in a single incident (…) and there is no action on the part of judicial agents that is oriented toward investigating and sanctioning those who are responsible.  (…)  Judicial authorities limit themselves to producing information about the victims:  ‘they were gangsters, or they were members of an organized crime group’ (…) it appears as if they’ve prepared a profile of the person to justify the killing.

“International accompaniers [of human rights defenders and of communities defending land rights] are also subjected to illegal and arbitrary detentions (…) and the state is incapable of investigating.   It is only capable of justifying.”

She reminds the audience of the constant threats and intimidations that human rights defenders face in Honduras, including herself.  “Today I’m fearful of speaking. (…)  A year ago, there were two of us here speaking about Honduras (…)  Before we’d even returned to our country there was a campaign and an official report stating that we were discrediting our country and that, therefore, we were bad Hondurans.”

“Why are so many young [Hondurans] going to the U.S. today?  It’s because of bad security policies.”

 

María Luisa Aguilar López, Tlachinollan, Mexico.

“Mexico is a country that, outside of Mexico, is portrayed as being a country of reforms, a country that’s in the vanguard, that’s progressive, that’s among the 20 strongest economies of the world.  And within Mexico we see a country that is deeply damaged, with a social fabric that is completely torn apart, with a human rights situation that is truly deplorable (…) with many documented cases in which public authorities and organized crime are completely co-dependent (…) with an economy based on extortion.”

She discusses the creeping militarization throughout Mexico, how the country’s public institutions have become progressively militarized.  She discusses the gendarmería, a new militarized police force (similar to the new military police force of Honduras) involved in law enforcement but with military training. [Editor’s note: in mid October, Mexico’s Minister of Finance told investors that the gendarmería would provide security for private companies’ projects around the country, provoking cries of protest from Mexican human rights and environmental activists].

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Aguilar

She discusses the case of the 43 missing students in Guerrero, which has sparked protests throughout Mexico and the world. “It is a representative case, not an isolated case,” she says, noting that there have been over 22,000 disappearances since the U.S.-backed drug war started in 2006. 

“It demonstrates how the judicial system is incapable of properly investigating an enormous crime.” 

She notes that over a month has passed since the 43 students disappeared and that all that investigators have produced so far are 11 mass graves, none of which appear to contain the remains of the students. [Editor’s note:  Mexican authorities announced in early November that gang members admitted to incinerating the students after they were handed over to them by local police, but parents of the missing students have expressed deep skepticism regarding official accounts.] 

“There is a clear problem of forced disappearances in Mexico…  There is a clear problem of violence in Mexico.  The U.S. needs to acknowledge this problem, as a neighboring country.  To date, the U.S. government hasn’t recognized that just beyond its borders there is a grave problem of generalized violence, of forced disappearances, that can’t be solved by continuing to train and fund the armed forces.”

[In addition to Lopez’s presentation, CIP Americas distributed a fact sheet at the briefing entitled “Mexico in Crisis: U.S. Drug War Funding, Ayotzinapa and Human Rights Violations” which can be viewed here].

 

Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination:

He describes some of Plan Colombia’s main features: states of exception that sideline the rule of law; the creation of paramilitary groups, acting in coordination with military agents; clandestine operations, forced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial execution (false positives).  He discusses the findings of a report co-authored with John Lindsay Poland [PDF] that looks at the role that U.S. security assistance played in the 5,763 “false positive” cases of extrajudicial civilian assassinations by Colombian military units.  As these abuses occurred, between 2000 and 2010, Colombia received $6 billion in military assistance from the U.S. and sent military advisors to train troops and accompany operations.  The Colombian army grew from 230,000 troops to a half million, thereby becoming the biggest army in Latin America.

Security-briefing-10-20-14-Yepes

He goes on to describe “the empowerment and preponderance that the military acquires over Colombian society (…) a veritable untouchable caste.  These half million men have a big influence over the political system and even impact electoral campaigns in order to favor the candidates that are most supportive of the militarization of the country, as was witnessed in the last electoral campaign.   Even more worrying is the military’s refusal to respond to the crimes committed during the armed conflict (…) They permanently demand that military troops not be investigated by ordinary [civilian] justice; the military has (…) imposed constitutional reforms and reforms to laws to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of military crimes is carried out (…) through military judicial authorities.

“This is the model that the U.S. has presented as a successful model. An export model that should be extended to other countries (…)  Basically [this model] seeks to promote Colombia, or the Colombian army, to be used to build local capacity in the fight against organized crime.  Colombia has thus been turned into the nerve center of U.S. security policy for the entire continent.”

He lists the quantity of troops trained by Colombian trainers in various countries:  Mexico: 13,000 troops trained by Colombians; Panama: more than 3000; Honduras: around 3000; Guatemala: close to 2000, etc.

“Through proxies, the U.S. is involving itself in internal conflicts, doing the same sort of training that the U.S. used to provide at a lower financial and political cost.  This development of military capacity has also been extended to the paramilitarization of other armies. You all know the Blackwater company, that later changed its name to Xe Services [Editor’s note: and then changed its name to Academi].  It has also been training in Colombian scenarios in order to export [the Colombian methods] to other parts of the world.

“There are also reports of retired Colombian military agents that have later participated in the training of police that have later lent their services to criminal groups, such as the Zetas in Mexico. 

“So, let’s not believe that the Colombian model can be a successful model.  The statistics of 30,000 disappeared in the internal armed conflict and close to 6,000 victims of extrajudicial executions doesn’t bode well for the possibility of exporting this experience to other countries.”

“(…) Finally, we consider that U.S. policies are incoherent.  On the one hand, you have policies of the Department of Defense that basically seek to provide a lot of military support, a strong militarization, and strong support for the militaries in each country, and using indicators based in methods that ignore human rights considerations.  On the other hand, you have parallel efforts in which the Department of State imposes conditions of respect for human rights, but that don’t manage to diminish the excesses and abuses that occur.”

Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network writes that in a recent meeting

… Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nation’s [sic] interests in projects that would develop the [shared area of the Gulf of Fonseca] and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration mentions, among other projects

…the “implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park.” The idea is to convert the Gulf into a “Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone.”

Radio Progreso has noted that the Honduran government is courting investment for the projects from “the European Union [and] the Inter-American Development Bank and is seeking investors in Panama and the United States.”

The ZEDEs, or “model cities,” are areas in which large portions of the Honduran constitution will not apply, including various sections that apply to fundamental and internationally-recognized human rights.

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation recently traveled to Honduras to investigate the legal implications of the proposed ZEDEs. In a report released in September, the NLG described how few articles of the constitution residents of the ZEDEs would actually enjoy:

Chapter I, Article 1 of the ZEDE law states that Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 19 of the Constitution are fully applicable. These provisions define the territorial limits of Honduras, obligate Honduras to international treaties and forbid the ratification of treaties that damage Honduras’ territorial integrity or sovereignty. The remaining sections of the Honduran Constitution, a document of 379 articles, will have only the effect that they are given by an agreement between the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices (CABP), the independent governing board of the ZEDEs and the corporate promoters seeking to develop the land. [Emphasis added.]

Many fundamental rights of Honduran citizens who live within the borders of ZEDEs are not protected under the new ZEDE law. These rights include: the right to Habeas Corpus or Amparo 20 , Article 183; the inviolability of a right to life, 65; guarantees of human dignity and bodily integrity, 68; the guarantee against the extraction of forced labor, 69; freedom of expression, 72; protections for a free press, 73; freedom of religion, 77; guarantees of assembly and association, 78, 79, and 80; freedom of movement, 81; the right to a defense, to court access, and to counsel for indigents, 82 and 83; and freedom from non-legal detainment, 84 and 85.

Who is this CABP who will govern the ZEDEs and determine which basic human rights will be granted to their residents?

The 21-member CABP, which was announced in February 2014, includes nine US citizens, three Europeans and only four Hondurans. The CABP is dominated by neoliberal and libertarian activists, several with close connections to former President Ronald Reagan [including Grover Norquist and Mark Klugmann].

Ironically, the ZEDEs are being promoted by some libertarian intellectuals and “activists” as perhaps “the freest cities in the world” despite the fact that the zones will shred another fundamental right, and one usually considered sacred to libertarians: property rights. The NLG explains:

A further particularly troubling aspect of the ZEDE law relates to the provisions that allow for the placement of ZEDEs in areas of “low population density,” and in municipalities in the departments adjoining the Gulf of Fonseca and the Caribbean Sea, without prior consultation with the affected communities.

As an example, the report cites the historic Garifuna community of Rio Negro at Trujillo in Colón, which was disrupted by shady land deals ahead of foreign investment. “ZEDEs have created an increased the fear of such incidents in the future,” the NLG states.

Further down, the report elaborates that “ZEDEs do not present Hondurans with authentic choice because they can be imposed on unwilling communities without any referendum,” and that “If the Honduran National Statistics Institute declares the area to have a lower than average population density for a rural area, Congress may impose a ZEDE on any existing communities in that area without even the basic protection of a referendum.”

The NLG notes that “These provisions …violate international law.”

As both the NLG report and Radio Progreso describe, communities in Zacate Grande and Amapala are among those threatened with losing property to ZEDEs that might be “imposed” on them. As attorney Lauren Carasik, one of the authors of the NLG report, wrote in Foreign Affairs in August, “If Zacate Grande is subsumed into the first ZEDE, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants will lose the right to help determine what happens to its land or its resources.”

This is why, as Spring reported,

Last week on October 23, communities and individuals from all over Southern Honduras (El Transito, Nacaome, Amapala, Zacate Grande, Tegucigalpa, etc) crossed the beautiful Gulf of Fonseca – from Coyolito to Amapala – to participate in a march against the ZEDE project proposed for the area. While some participants handed out copies of the ZEDE law, over 500 people marched from the Amapala dock to the municipality office.

Amapala and neighboring communities are being sidelined from the decision-making process that could lead to ZEDEs in their region of Southern Honduras. Radio Progreso reports that while the Korea International Cooperation Agency is funding a feasibility study for the Gulf of Fonseca region, the study has not been presented to the mayors of the relevant municipalities, Alianza, Nacaome and Amapala en Valle. Residents of the areas being considered for ZEDEs are being told very little. NLG investigators explain that

Virtually everyone in the Gulf of Fonseca region who spoke with the delegation voiced concerns about the government’s unwillingness to explain the effects that ZEDEs will have on existing communities within their borders.

…despite the ZEDEs’ potential to nullify existing labor contracts and labor laws in their territory, members of the union of workers at the port that operates in the Gulf of Fonseca have been told nothing. They fear that the arrival of a ZEDE will spell the end of their jobs when a proposed port at Amapala replaces their livelihood.

The Gulf is just one of 14 “potential zones” the Honduran government is considering.

As Radio Progreso notes, the Liberty and Refundation (LIBRE) party is hoping to see the repeal of the constitutional amendment and the organic law facilitating establishment of the ZEDEs. Instead, LIBRE is proposing forms of investment that don’t involve “the surrender of national sovereignty and territory.”

Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network writes that in a recent meeting

… Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nation’s [sic] interests in projects that would develop the [shared area of the Gulf of Fonseca] and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration mentions, among other projects

…the “implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park.” The idea is to convert the Gulf into a “Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone.”

Radio Progreso has noted that the Honduran government is courting investment for the projects from “the European Union [and] the Inter-American Development Bank and is seeking investors in Panama and the United States.”

The ZEDEs, or “model cities,” are areas in which large portions of the Honduran constitution will not apply, including various sections that apply to fundamental and internationally-recognized human rights.

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation recently traveled to Honduras to investigate the legal implications of the proposed ZEDEs. In a report released in September, the NLG described how few articles of the constitution residents of the ZEDEs would actually enjoy:

Chapter I, Article 1 of the ZEDE law states that Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 19 of the Constitution are fully applicable. These provisions define the territorial limits of Honduras, obligate Honduras to international treaties and forbid the ratification of treaties that damage Honduras’ territorial integrity or sovereignty. The remaining sections of the Honduran Constitution, a document of 379 articles, will have only the effect that they are given by an agreement between the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices (CABP), the independent governing board of the ZEDEs and the corporate promoters seeking to develop the land. [Emphasis added.]

Many fundamental rights of Honduran citizens who live within the borders of ZEDEs are not protected under the new ZEDE law. These rights include: the right to Habeas Corpus or Amparo 20 , Article 183; the inviolability of a right to life, 65; guarantees of human dignity and bodily integrity, 68; the guarantee against the extraction of forced labor, 69; freedom of expression, 72; protections for a free press, 73; freedom of religion, 77; guarantees of assembly and association, 78, 79, and 80; freedom of movement, 81; the right to a defense, to court access, and to counsel for indigents, 82 and 83; and freedom from non-legal detainment, 84 and 85.

Who is this CABP who will govern the ZEDEs and determine which basic human rights will be granted to their residents?

The 21-member CABP, which was announced in February 2014, includes nine US citizens, three Europeans and only four Hondurans. The CABP is dominated by neoliberal and libertarian activists, several with close connections to former President Ronald Reagan [including Grover Norquist and Mark Klugmann].

Ironically, the ZEDEs are being promoted by some libertarian intellectuals and “activists” as perhaps “the freest cities in the world” despite the fact that the zones will shred another fundamental right, and one usually considered sacred to libertarians: property rights. The NLG explains:

A further particularly troubling aspect of the ZEDE law relates to the provisions that allow for the placement of ZEDEs in areas of “low population density,” and in municipalities in the departments adjoining the Gulf of Fonseca and the Caribbean Sea, without prior consultation with the affected communities.

As an example, the report cites the historic Garifuna community of Rio Negro at Trujillo in Colón, which was disrupted by shady land deals ahead of foreign investment. “ZEDEs have created an increased the fear of such incidents in the future,” the NLG states.

Further down, the report elaborates that “ZEDEs do not present Hondurans with authentic choice because they can be imposed on unwilling communities without any referendum,” and that “If the Honduran National Statistics Institute declares the area to have a lower than average population density for a rural area, Congress may impose a ZEDE on any existing communities in that area without even the basic protection of a referendum.”

The NLG notes that “These provisions …violate international law.”

As both the NLG report and Radio Progreso describe, communities in Zacate Grande and Amapala are among those threatened with losing property to ZEDEs that might be “imposed” on them. As attorney Lauren Carasik, one of the authors of the NLG report, wrote in Foreign Affairs in August, “If Zacate Grande is subsumed into the first ZEDE, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants will lose the right to help determine what happens to its land or its resources.”

This is why, as Spring reported,

Last week on October 23, communities and individuals from all over Southern Honduras (El Transito, Nacaome, Amapala, Zacate Grande, Tegucigalpa, etc) crossed the beautiful Gulf of Fonseca – from Coyolito to Amapala – to participate in a march against the ZEDE project proposed for the area. While some participants handed out copies of the ZEDE law, over 500 people marched from the Amapala dock to the municipality office.

Amapala and neighboring communities are being sidelined from the decision-making process that could lead to ZEDEs in their region of Southern Honduras. Radio Progreso reports that while the Korea International Cooperation Agency is funding a feasibility study for the Gulf of Fonseca region, the study has not been presented to the mayors of the relevant municipalities, Alianza, Nacaome and Amapala en Valle. Residents of the areas being considered for ZEDEs are being told very little. NLG investigators explain that

Virtually everyone in the Gulf of Fonseca region who spoke with the delegation voiced concerns about the government’s unwillingness to explain the effects that ZEDEs will have on existing communities within their borders.

…despite the ZEDEs’ potential to nullify existing labor contracts and labor laws in their territory, members of the union of workers at the port that operates in the Gulf of Fonseca have been told nothing. They fear that the arrival of a ZEDE will spell the end of their jobs when a proposed port at Amapala replaces their livelihood.

The Gulf is just one of 14 “potential zones” the Honduran government is considering.

As Radio Progreso notes, the Liberty and Refundation (LIBRE) party is hoping to see the repeal of the constitutional amendment and the organic law facilitating establishment of the ZEDEs. Instead, LIBRE is proposing forms of investment that don’t involve “the surrender of national sovereignty and territory.”

The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP) was founded in 1993, with support from liberation theology sectors of the Catholic Church, as a federation of poor people’s social movements representing the poor and working class, homeless people’s unions, Afro-Brazilian movements, working class women’s groups, housing movements, indigenous people’s organizations and the LGBT movement.  Today, it has hundreds of thousands of members, acts in nearly every state in Brazil, and is an important actor on the Latin American left.

The CMP’s Luís “Gegê” Gonzaga da Silva is a former MR-8 Guerilla who was arrested and tortured during the military dictatorship and helped found the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) party in São Paulo in 1982. He has remained affiliated with the party ever since, and is one of the leaders of its internal Socialism or Barbarism Caucus. He never held public office, never benefited financially from his status as one of the party founders and has spent the last 30 years organizing mass occupations of homeless families in abandoned buildings in downtown São Paulo.

In 2005, a corrupt local judge and São Paulo military police framed him for a murder that took place in an occupied building on a day when he was not in town. He eventually spent 54 days behind bars before Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) lawyers got him out on habeas corpus. Declining an invitation by Hugo Chávez to move to Venezuela, at the age of 64 he decided to go underground and spent two years in hiding, as a group of Brazil’s best human rights lawyers worked pro-bono to clear his name.  When the charges were thrown out, he returned to his public housing apartment in a former abandoned building in downtown São Paulo and picked up where he left off, leading a squatters movement called the Movimento de Moradia do Centro de São Paulo (MMC). I spoke with him by Skype recently to find out what he thinks about this Sunday’s presidential elections.

Gegê
(Photo by Brian Mier)

Why do you support Dilma Rousseff?

Gegê: During the last 12 years the Brazilian working class was able to experiment with better living conditions. It may not be everything that we deserve, but there were 500 years since the European invasion during which we lived off of practically nothing.  During this period capitalism made no concessions. In these past 12 years, even if the concessions were small, we can see that the people out in the Northeastern back country are living another moment, a moment less wretched that what they experienced before 2002 when Lula was elected. For us, members of the social movements who have a name to preserve in saying that we are part of the left, it would be very contradictory in this current social context to not support Dilma’s candidacy.

I support her because there is a huge Northeastern population scattered across the entire country, in places like São Paulo, Brasilia and Rio, who support Dilma Rousseff unconditionally, and it would be a big contradiction if it were otherwise. 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency was one of the worst experiences in Brazilian history and he is from the same political party that is running against Dilma this Sunday.  It will be the worst setback in history if Aécio Neves is elected. Even the most radical left parties, like PSOL [the Socialism and Freedom Party] and PSTU [United Socialist Workers Party] are together with the PT now. They are saying “PSDB never again.” They recognize the fact that 8 years of PSDB [Social Democratic Party] government nearly sunk our country.

There are some middle class intellectuals and journalists, especially in the U.S. and Northern Europe, who have argued in recent years that the PT is no longer a left party, that it is neoliberal.

Gegê: Any government in a capitalist country has the task of managing the crisis in capitalism. The only country in the Americas that had a successful revolution is Cuba. But for us, who live in countries that manage the capitalist crisis, elections do not represent a revolution. I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that we could have done much more during this 12 years if we didn’t have one of the most conservative congresses in history, with the evangelical caucus, the “bullet caucus” [a block of extreme-right elected officials who are former military officers and police] and the ruralist [agribusiness] caucus who are all against the workers. So it was very difficult for Lula or Dilma to enact the kind of reforms they wanted to.

When Dilma went on TV last year after the protests began and tried to implement political reform, her own vice president spoke against it. The Vice President (Michel Temer, from the PMDB party) publically positioned himself and his party against the reforms.  Senator Aécio Neves met with the Brazilian ultra-right to set up a strategy to defeat Dilma if she brought her proposal for a referendum on political reform to Congress.  And now, when this next group of congressmen takes office, it will be even more conservative. The changes in Congress and the Senate are for the worse. I agree that the sustainability of a government cannot happen from the top down; it has to happen through dialogue with the working class. This dialogue could have been deeper, but Lula and Dilma never cut off dialogue with the social movements during the last 12 years. How could a rag picker have addressed Congress? During the last 12 years the rag pickers union sat directly with both presidents many different times in Brasilia. They created a National Negritude Ministry [Secretariat for Promotion of Policies for Racial Equality]. For the first time ever, they created a national Ministry of Women’s Rights. So, you can’t say that it has been a revolutionary government, but anyone who says that it has been a totally neoliberal government is being inconsequential because during these 12 years you had prostitutes unions, LGBT movements, rag pickers and indigenous groups in the presidential palace and this level of dialogue shows that it was different from Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s reign.

Lula and Dilma left us lacking in terms of a full social transformation but this is the result of 500 years of history. You can’t change everything in 12 years unless you have a revolution and give back everything the bourgeois has stolen from the poor. Are Lula and Dilma neoliberal? Where is this neoliberalism? If Lula and Dilma are neoliberal what name will you give to Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government? If you are going to call Lula and Dilma neoliberal then the FHC government must have been ultra-right.

What are some of the groups on the organized, working class left that are supporting Dilma?

Gegê: One-hundred percent of the MST, CMP, CUT (Unified Workers Central labor union federation) and most labor unions are supporting Dilma. There are people in every union in the country supporting Dilma. There are one or two breaks at the top of some organizations, like the case of the Força Sindical (labor union federation) but most rank and file members of the Força Sindical are supporting Dilma.

How has PT changed since 1982 when you helped found the party?

Gegê: I have been involved with the PT since the days during the dictatorship when we talked about the need for a revolutionary workers’ party.  I can’t say that today’s PT is the same party that was created in 1982. All left political parties around the world have changed since their founding.  The Brazilian left parties that radicalized, like the PSTU, have a hard time electing one single alderman or state congressman. PSOL has managed to elect a few people, but most of them are also supporting Dilma in the presidential election because they have a full understanding of the setback that will happen with the election of the ultra-right. Any government of Aécio Neves and Marina Silva [who entered his coalition after losing on October 5] will benefit from the hidden policies of the U.S. government and the CIA.

How would you compare the last 12 years of PT government with so called left governments in the North?

Gegê: I believe that the PT has not sunk to the level of the left parties in France, England and Germany because the working class in those countries has nearly disappeared; you only have small segments that are unable to hold large, coherent protests.

During the protests in 2013, the advance of neo-fascism brought the working class to the streets but we realized that there was another project in mind. Today, I imagine what the working class looks like in England- a minority of people working in the service sector. What is left? During my last visit to Europe I noticed that workers who had a high standard of living are being forced to lower their expectations.

What is going to happen on Sunday?

Gegê: I hope Dilma wins, because her loss won’t just represent a loss for the Brazilian working class; it will be a major loss for the working class in the whole world. Aécio will pull out of the BRICS development bank, which could be a big advance for the working class depending on how it is used.  We are proud that we have eradicated hunger and that we no longer have a shortage of doctors in our public health system, and we are sure that Aécio will do everything he can to send the 15,000 Cuban doctors back home if he is elected.  People in the U.S. have to know who their government’s candidate is. Aécio Neves is the CIA’s candidate. I hope he loses, but even if Dilma is re-elected we will have to fight a lot for political reform during the next four years. The people are not free just because Dilma or Lula wins the presidency. The people have slightly better opportunities but we are still a long way off from having any kind of revolution. You may say that a revolution would be bloody but maybe with this, with deaths on both sides, we could manage to really change all of this shit.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of CEPR.

The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP) was founded in 1993, with support from liberation theology sectors of the Catholic Church, as a federation of poor people’s social movements representing the poor and working class, homeless people’s unions, Afro-Brazilian movements, working class women’s groups, housing movements, indigenous people’s organizations and the LGBT movement.  Today, it has hundreds of thousands of members, acts in nearly every state in Brazil, and is an important actor on the Latin American left.

The CMP’s Luís “Gegê” Gonzaga da Silva is a former MR-8 Guerilla who was arrested and tortured during the military dictatorship and helped found the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) party in São Paulo in 1982. He has remained affiliated with the party ever since, and is one of the leaders of its internal Socialism or Barbarism Caucus. He never held public office, never benefited financially from his status as one of the party founders and has spent the last 30 years organizing mass occupations of homeless families in abandoned buildings in downtown São Paulo.

In 2005, a corrupt local judge and São Paulo military police framed him for a murder that took place in an occupied building on a day when he was not in town. He eventually spent 54 days behind bars before Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) lawyers got him out on habeas corpus. Declining an invitation by Hugo Chávez to move to Venezuela, at the age of 64 he decided to go underground and spent two years in hiding, as a group of Brazil’s best human rights lawyers worked pro-bono to clear his name.  When the charges were thrown out, he returned to his public housing apartment in a former abandoned building in downtown São Paulo and picked up where he left off, leading a squatters movement called the Movimento de Moradia do Centro de São Paulo (MMC). I spoke with him by Skype recently to find out what he thinks about this Sunday’s presidential elections.

Gegê
(Photo by Brian Mier)

Why do you support Dilma Rousseff?

Gegê: During the last 12 years the Brazilian working class was able to experiment with better living conditions. It may not be everything that we deserve, but there were 500 years since the European invasion during which we lived off of practically nothing.  During this period capitalism made no concessions. In these past 12 years, even if the concessions were small, we can see that the people out in the Northeastern back country are living another moment, a moment less wretched that what they experienced before 2002 when Lula was elected. For us, members of the social movements who have a name to preserve in saying that we are part of the left, it would be very contradictory in this current social context to not support Dilma’s candidacy.

I support her because there is a huge Northeastern population scattered across the entire country, in places like São Paulo, Brasilia and Rio, who support Dilma Rousseff unconditionally, and it would be a big contradiction if it were otherwise. 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency was one of the worst experiences in Brazilian history and he is from the same political party that is running against Dilma this Sunday.  It will be the worst setback in history if Aécio Neves is elected. Even the most radical left parties, like PSOL [the Socialism and Freedom Party] and PSTU [United Socialist Workers Party] are together with the PT now. They are saying “PSDB never again.” They recognize the fact that 8 years of PSDB [Social Democratic Party] government nearly sunk our country.

There are some middle class intellectuals and journalists, especially in the U.S. and Northern Europe, who have argued in recent years that the PT is no longer a left party, that it is neoliberal.

Gegê: Any government in a capitalist country has the task of managing the crisis in capitalism. The only country in the Americas that had a successful revolution is Cuba. But for us, who live in countries that manage the capitalist crisis, elections do not represent a revolution. I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that we could have done much more during this 12 years if we didn’t have one of the most conservative congresses in history, with the evangelical caucus, the “bullet caucus” [a block of extreme-right elected officials who are former military officers and police] and the ruralist [agribusiness] caucus who are all against the workers. So it was very difficult for Lula or Dilma to enact the kind of reforms they wanted to.

When Dilma went on TV last year after the protests began and tried to implement political reform, her own vice president spoke against it. The Vice President (Michel Temer, from the PMDB party) publically positioned himself and his party against the reforms.  Senator Aécio Neves met with the Brazilian ultra-right to set up a strategy to defeat Dilma if she brought her proposal for a referendum on political reform to Congress.  And now, when this next group of congressmen takes office, it will be even more conservative. The changes in Congress and the Senate are for the worse. I agree that the sustainability of a government cannot happen from the top down; it has to happen through dialogue with the working class. This dialogue could have been deeper, but Lula and Dilma never cut off dialogue with the social movements during the last 12 years. How could a rag picker have addressed Congress? During the last 12 years the rag pickers union sat directly with both presidents many different times in Brasilia. They created a National Negritude Ministry [Secretariat for Promotion of Policies for Racial Equality]. For the first time ever, they created a national Ministry of Women’s Rights. So, you can’t say that it has been a revolutionary government, but anyone who says that it has been a totally neoliberal government is being inconsequential because during these 12 years you had prostitutes unions, LGBT movements, rag pickers and indigenous groups in the presidential palace and this level of dialogue shows that it was different from Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s reign.

Lula and Dilma left us lacking in terms of a full social transformation but this is the result of 500 years of history. You can’t change everything in 12 years unless you have a revolution and give back everything the bourgeois has stolen from the poor. Are Lula and Dilma neoliberal? Where is this neoliberalism? If Lula and Dilma are neoliberal what name will you give to Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government? If you are going to call Lula and Dilma neoliberal then the FHC government must have been ultra-right.

What are some of the groups on the organized, working class left that are supporting Dilma?

Gegê: One-hundred percent of the MST, CMP, CUT (Unified Workers Central labor union federation) and most labor unions are supporting Dilma. There are people in every union in the country supporting Dilma. There are one or two breaks at the top of some organizations, like the case of the Força Sindical (labor union federation) but most rank and file members of the Força Sindical are supporting Dilma.

How has PT changed since 1982 when you helped found the party?

Gegê: I have been involved with the PT since the days during the dictatorship when we talked about the need for a revolutionary workers’ party.  I can’t say that today’s PT is the same party that was created in 1982. All left political parties around the world have changed since their founding.  The Brazilian left parties that radicalized, like the PSTU, have a hard time electing one single alderman or state congressman. PSOL has managed to elect a few people, but most of them are also supporting Dilma in the presidential election because they have a full understanding of the setback that will happen with the election of the ultra-right. Any government of Aécio Neves and Marina Silva [who entered his coalition after losing on October 5] will benefit from the hidden policies of the U.S. government and the CIA.

How would you compare the last 12 years of PT government with so called left governments in the North?

Gegê: I believe that the PT has not sunk to the level of the left parties in France, England and Germany because the working class in those countries has nearly disappeared; you only have small segments that are unable to hold large, coherent protests.

During the protests in 2013, the advance of neo-fascism brought the working class to the streets but we realized that there was another project in mind. Today, I imagine what the working class looks like in England- a minority of people working in the service sector. What is left? During my last visit to Europe I noticed that workers who had a high standard of living are being forced to lower their expectations.

What is going to happen on Sunday?

Gegê: I hope Dilma wins, because her loss won’t just represent a loss for the Brazilian working class; it will be a major loss for the working class in the whole world. Aécio will pull out of the BRICS development bank, which could be a big advance for the working class depending on how it is used.  We are proud that we have eradicated hunger and that we no longer have a shortage of doctors in our public health system, and we are sure that Aécio will do everything he can to send the 15,000 Cuban doctors back home if he is elected.  People in the U.S. have to know who their government’s candidate is. Aécio Neves is the CIA’s candidate. I hope he loses, but even if Dilma is re-elected we will have to fight a lot for political reform during the next four years. The people are not free just because Dilma or Lula wins the presidency. The people have slightly better opportunities but we are still a long way off from having any kind of revolution. You may say that a revolution would be bloody but maybe with this, with deaths on both sides, we could manage to really change all of this shit.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of CEPR.

The second round of Brazil’s presidential elections, taking place Sunday, could be close according to polls showing President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) favored by 52 percent over challenger Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 48 percent. As we noted with Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections, media coverage can have a strong impact on election turnout and voter preferences, and there is compelling research [doc] that Mexico’s TV duopoly was decisive in determining the outcome of Mexico’s 2006 election. While Brazil’s media is mostly opposed to the PT, it hasn’t been able to swing recent presidential elections – but it appears it’s not for a lack of trying.

Manchetômetro (literal translation: “headline meter”), an independent project affiliated with the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, has analyzed major media coverage of the main candidates and parties in Brazil. Focusing on TV coverage on Brazil’s largest audience TV news program “Jornal Nacional,” and front-page coverage in Brazil’s three largest newspapers (Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo), Manchetômetro has documented a pattern of lopsided coverage that has disproportionately put Dilma Rousseff and the PT in a negative light, while opposition candidate Aécio Neves of the PSDB (and first round challenger Marina Silva) have received much more positive treatment and much less negative coverage, proportionately. Manchetômetro’s analysis also reveals that this bias against the PT is not new; coverage favored Fernando Henrique Cardoso (of the PSDB) over Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva during the 1998 election, and there was also more favorable treatment of the economic situation under Cardoso than the current economic downturn under Dilma, though the former was significantly worse than the latter.

TV Coverage: “Jornal Nacional”

Globo’s decades-old “Jornal Nacional” is considered to be a leading news program on Brazilian television; with around 18 million viewers (in 2013) it has a total audience of about twice the combined viewers of the four leading U.S. Sunday morning news talk shows (“This Week,” “Face the Nation,” “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday”). The program’s influence may not be surprising considering Globo’s dominant position in Brazil’s media landscape. In a 2009 book, Giancarlo Summa (who did communications for Lula’s 2006 campaign) noted that Globo controlled 61.5 percent of UHF television stations, 31.8 percent of VHF TV, 40.7 percent of newspaper distribution, 30.1 percent of AM radio, 28 percent of FM radio and – through an association with Rupert Murdoch – 77 percent of the cable TV market.

Manchetômetro found a strong bias against Dilma Rousseff in “Jornal Nacional” coverage. During the campaign period (beginning July 6, and up to October 22), 21 percent of the coverage of Rousseff was negative, the most of any candidate. The percentage of positive coverage that Rousseff received was just 1 percent, much less than any other candidate. (Rousseff also had 78 percent “neutral” treatment.)

By comparison, coverage of Aécio Neves was 5 percent favorable, 4 percent negative and 91 percent neutral. Marina Silva had 6 percent positive coverage and no negative treatment at all. Her predecessor who had been her running mate, the late Eduardo Campos, received 18 percent favorable coverage and 15 percent negative treatment. Each of the opposition candidates received more than twice as much positive treatment on the show as Rousseff.

Manchetômetro also found disproportionately negative coverage of the PT during the campaign period, with 28 percent negative treatment on “Jornal Nacional” and no favorable coverage. While the PSDB also received more negative coverage than positive, it did receive some favorable coverage (1 percent) and much less negative treatment proportionately (5 percent) than the PT. The PT received far more negative coverage on the program than any of the other parties examined (the Democratic Movement Party, PMDB; the Socialist Party, PSB; and the PSDB). Manchetômetro found a similar pattern in 2014 coverage prior to the campaign period, but even worse, with just 0.4 percent positive coverage and 85 percent negative coverage of the PT — more than twice as much negative total air time than for any of the other parties.

Newspapers: Front Page Coverage

Analysis by Manchetômetro shows that media bias against the PT and Dilma Rousseff is not restricted to TV. The media monitoring project examined front page coverage in the three leading newspapers Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo, and explained its decision to focus on A1 treatment this way (our translation):

Newspaper covers have much greater communicative power than do mere fragments of news publications.

The headlines and cover photos are the most communicative elements in the publication, seen either by subscribers and their families, the people who buy newspapers at newsstands or even by the people who pass the newsstands every day, where the newspaper covers are exposed to public scrutiny.

The headlines and the cover pages are considered most relevant by the editors of the newspaper because they best summarize the contents of the entire publication, and supposedly attract more readers.

Manchetômetro coordinator João Feres Júnior also explained in an email: “A previous study done by us on the 2010 presidential election shows that the proportions of positive, negative and neutral valences on the cover are similar to the ones on the newspaper taken as a whole.”

Manchetômetro found that during the campaign period in 2014, the total number of positive, negative, and neutral headlines for each candidate, respectively, broke down like this (as of October 20):

  • Coverage for Neves was 14 percent positive (38 headlines), 14 percent negative (37 headlines) and 73 percent neutral.
  • For Rousseff, it was 1 percent positive (just five headlines), 43 percent negative (188 headlines), and 56 percent neutral.
  • For Campos (the PSB candidate who died in mid-August), it was 14 percent positive (14 headlines), 16 percent negative (17 headlines), and 71 percent neutral.
  • For Marina Silva, coverage was 7 percent positive (24 headlines), 19 percent negative (59 headlines), and 74 percent neutral.

Proportionately, each of the opposition candidates had a minimum of seven times as much positive coverage as Rousseff, and usually 14 times as much. Rousseff meanwhile saw more than twice as much negative treatment as any of the opposition candidates both in terms of a percent of total coverage and by number of headlines.

Front page treatment of political parties during the campaign period showed a similarly disproportionately negative tone toward the PT:

  • PT: 2 percent positive (four headlines), 69 percent negative (121 headlines), and 30 percent neutral.
  • PSDB: 11 percent positive (seven headlines), 40 percent negative (26 headlines), and 48 percent neutral.
  • PMDB: 2 percent positive (one headline), 47 percent negative (26 headlines) and 51 percent neutral.
  • PSB:  0 percent positive (zero headlines), 28 negative (19 headlines) and 72 percent neutral.

Among all the leading parties, the PT had the highest percentage of negative treatment by far.

A History of Bias in the Brazilian Media: Cardoso vs. Lula and Dilma

According to Manchetômetro, disproportionately negative media treatment of the PT and PT presidential candidates extends to ex-president Lula da Silva. Looking at ongoing coverage, the project has found that former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB has received proportionately more favorable coverage than Lula. As of October 22, coverage for Cardoso was 38 percent positive (10 mentions), 23 percent negative (six mentions) and 38 percent neutral (10 mentions); while treatment of Lula was 4 percent positive (6 mentions), 38 percent negative (53 mentions) and 58 percent neutral (81 mentions). This is consistent with media coverage of the 1998 elections, in which Manchetômetro noted that 23 percent of Cardoso’s coverage in the three leading newspapers was favorable and 12 percent negative, versus 3 percent favorable and 36 percent negative for Lula.

It is also interesting to see how Brazil’s major media has covered the economic issues surrounding presidential elections. As we have noted in a recent paper, Brazil’s economy has slowed down over the last three years, but since it took power in 2003, the Workers Party administrations have made significant gains in economic growth and social progress. From 2003 to 2014, GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation) grew at a rate of 2.5 percent, compared to 0.8 percent annual per capita growth during the Cardoso government (1995-2002). Nevertheless, even though many key economic indicators in 1998 were far less favorable than in 2014, there has been much more negative media coverage of the economy during the 2014 campaign period than in 1998.

Manchetômetro looked at coverage of the economy in O Estado de S. Paulo in both the 1998 and 2014 campaign periods and found that in 1998 there were 50 positive news stories about the economy, 76 negative stories, and 17 neutral ones. Since the campaign period began this year, there have been 9 positive stories on the economy, 127 negative stories, and 23 neutral stories. This means that in 1998 about 52 percent of cover stories on the economy were negative and 35 percent were positive, while this year 80 percent of cover stories on the economy have been negative and only about 6 percent positive. Manchetômetro finds that despite the fact that most economic indicators are better this year than they were in 1998, O Estado de S. Paulo coverage makes the Brazilian economy appear to be in worse shape than it was in 1998, when a significant part of the presidential campaign took place amidst a financial crisis.

Professor of Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Carlos Pinkusfeld comments in a Manchetômetro post:

The old adage says that truth is the first casualty of war. In “electoral battle,” discussion does not escape this maxim. Not so much by presenting misleading data, but by deliberately confusing interpretation and doomsday predictions. 

The second round of Brazil’s presidential elections, taking place Sunday, could be close according to polls showing President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) favored by 52 percent over challenger Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 48 percent. As we noted with Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections, media coverage can have a strong impact on election turnout and voter preferences, and there is compelling research [doc] that Mexico’s TV duopoly was decisive in determining the outcome of Mexico’s 2006 election. While Brazil’s media is mostly opposed to the PT, it hasn’t been able to swing recent presidential elections – but it appears it’s not for a lack of trying.

Manchetômetro (literal translation: “headline meter”), an independent project affiliated with the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, has analyzed major media coverage of the main candidates and parties in Brazil. Focusing on TV coverage on Brazil’s largest audience TV news program “Jornal Nacional,” and front-page coverage in Brazil’s three largest newspapers (Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo), Manchetômetro has documented a pattern of lopsided coverage that has disproportionately put Dilma Rousseff and the PT in a negative light, while opposition candidate Aécio Neves of the PSDB (and first round challenger Marina Silva) have received much more positive treatment and much less negative coverage, proportionately. Manchetômetro’s analysis also reveals that this bias against the PT is not new; coverage favored Fernando Henrique Cardoso (of the PSDB) over Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva during the 1998 election, and there was also more favorable treatment of the economic situation under Cardoso than the current economic downturn under Dilma, though the former was significantly worse than the latter.

TV Coverage: “Jornal Nacional”

Globo’s decades-old “Jornal Nacional” is considered to be a leading news program on Brazilian television; with around 18 million viewers (in 2013) it has a total audience of about twice the combined viewers of the four leading U.S. Sunday morning news talk shows (“This Week,” “Face the Nation,” “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday”). The program’s influence may not be surprising considering Globo’s dominant position in Brazil’s media landscape. In a 2009 book, Giancarlo Summa (who did communications for Lula’s 2006 campaign) noted that Globo controlled 61.5 percent of UHF television stations, 31.8 percent of VHF TV, 40.7 percent of newspaper distribution, 30.1 percent of AM radio, 28 percent of FM radio and – through an association with Rupert Murdoch – 77 percent of the cable TV market.

Manchetômetro found a strong bias against Dilma Rousseff in “Jornal Nacional” coverage. During the campaign period (beginning July 6, and up to October 22), 21 percent of the coverage of Rousseff was negative, the most of any candidate. The percentage of positive coverage that Rousseff received was just 1 percent, much less than any other candidate. (Rousseff also had 78 percent “neutral” treatment.)

By comparison, coverage of Aécio Neves was 5 percent favorable, 4 percent negative and 91 percent neutral. Marina Silva had 6 percent positive coverage and no negative treatment at all. Her predecessor who had been her running mate, the late Eduardo Campos, received 18 percent favorable coverage and 15 percent negative treatment. Each of the opposition candidates received more than twice as much positive treatment on the show as Rousseff.

Manchetômetro also found disproportionately negative coverage of the PT during the campaign period, with 28 percent negative treatment on “Jornal Nacional” and no favorable coverage. While the PSDB also received more negative coverage than positive, it did receive some favorable coverage (1 percent) and much less negative treatment proportionately (5 percent) than the PT. The PT received far more negative coverage on the program than any of the other parties examined (the Democratic Movement Party, PMDB; the Socialist Party, PSB; and the PSDB). Manchetômetro found a similar pattern in 2014 coverage prior to the campaign period, but even worse, with just 0.4 percent positive coverage and 85 percent negative coverage of the PT — more than twice as much negative total air time than for any of the other parties.

Newspapers: Front Page Coverage

Analysis by Manchetômetro shows that media bias against the PT and Dilma Rousseff is not restricted to TV. The media monitoring project examined front page coverage in the three leading newspapers Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo, and explained its decision to focus on A1 treatment this way (our translation):

Newspaper covers have much greater communicative power than do mere fragments of news publications.

The headlines and cover photos are the most communicative elements in the publication, seen either by subscribers and their families, the people who buy newspapers at newsstands or even by the people who pass the newsstands every day, where the newspaper covers are exposed to public scrutiny.

The headlines and the cover pages are considered most relevant by the editors of the newspaper because they best summarize the contents of the entire publication, and supposedly attract more readers.

Manchetômetro coordinator João Feres Júnior also explained in an email: “A previous study done by us on the 2010 presidential election shows that the proportions of positive, negative and neutral valences on the cover are similar to the ones on the newspaper taken as a whole.”

Manchetômetro found that during the campaign period in 2014, the total number of positive, negative, and neutral headlines for each candidate, respectively, broke down like this (as of October 20):

  • Coverage for Neves was 14 percent positive (38 headlines), 14 percent negative (37 headlines) and 73 percent neutral.
  • For Rousseff, it was 1 percent positive (just five headlines), 43 percent negative (188 headlines), and 56 percent neutral.
  • For Campos (the PSB candidate who died in mid-August), it was 14 percent positive (14 headlines), 16 percent negative (17 headlines), and 71 percent neutral.
  • For Marina Silva, coverage was 7 percent positive (24 headlines), 19 percent negative (59 headlines), and 74 percent neutral.

Proportionately, each of the opposition candidates had a minimum of seven times as much positive coverage as Rousseff, and usually 14 times as much. Rousseff meanwhile saw more than twice as much negative treatment as any of the opposition candidates both in terms of a percent of total coverage and by number of headlines.

Front page treatment of political parties during the campaign period showed a similarly disproportionately negative tone toward the PT:

  • PT: 2 percent positive (four headlines), 69 percent negative (121 headlines), and 30 percent neutral.
  • PSDB: 11 percent positive (seven headlines), 40 percent negative (26 headlines), and 48 percent neutral.
  • PMDB: 2 percent positive (one headline), 47 percent negative (26 headlines) and 51 percent neutral.
  • PSB:  0 percent positive (zero headlines), 28 negative (19 headlines) and 72 percent neutral.

Among all the leading parties, the PT had the highest percentage of negative treatment by far.

A History of Bias in the Brazilian Media: Cardoso vs. Lula and Dilma

According to Manchetômetro, disproportionately negative media treatment of the PT and PT presidential candidates extends to ex-president Lula da Silva. Looking at ongoing coverage, the project has found that former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB has received proportionately more favorable coverage than Lula. As of October 22, coverage for Cardoso was 38 percent positive (10 mentions), 23 percent negative (six mentions) and 38 percent neutral (10 mentions); while treatment of Lula was 4 percent positive (6 mentions), 38 percent negative (53 mentions) and 58 percent neutral (81 mentions). This is consistent with media coverage of the 1998 elections, in which Manchetômetro noted that 23 percent of Cardoso’s coverage in the three leading newspapers was favorable and 12 percent negative, versus 3 percent favorable and 36 percent negative for Lula.

It is also interesting to see how Brazil’s major media has covered the economic issues surrounding presidential elections. As we have noted in a recent paper, Brazil’s economy has slowed down over the last three years, but since it took power in 2003, the Workers Party administrations have made significant gains in economic growth and social progress. From 2003 to 2014, GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation) grew at a rate of 2.5 percent, compared to 0.8 percent annual per capita growth during the Cardoso government (1995-2002). Nevertheless, even though many key economic indicators in 1998 were far less favorable than in 2014, there has been much more negative media coverage of the economy during the 2014 campaign period than in 1998.

Manchetômetro looked at coverage of the economy in O Estado de S. Paulo in both the 1998 and 2014 campaign periods and found that in 1998 there were 50 positive news stories about the economy, 76 negative stories, and 17 neutral ones. Since the campaign period began this year, there have been 9 positive stories on the economy, 127 negative stories, and 23 neutral stories. This means that in 1998 about 52 percent of cover stories on the economy were negative and 35 percent were positive, while this year 80 percent of cover stories on the economy have been negative and only about 6 percent positive. Manchetômetro finds that despite the fact that most economic indicators are better this year than they were in 1998, O Estado de S. Paulo coverage makes the Brazilian economy appear to be in worse shape than it was in 1998, when a significant part of the presidential campaign took place amidst a financial crisis.

Professor of Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Carlos Pinkusfeld comments in a Manchetômetro post:

The old adage says that truth is the first casualty of war. In “electoral battle,” discussion does not escape this maxim. Not so much by presenting misleading data, but by deliberately confusing interpretation and doomsday predictions. 

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