The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.

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

Last week, I went through public documentation that indicates Ecuadorian presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, despite “retiring” from banking in 2012, continues to be the largest shareholder in Banco Guayaquil. There is also public documentation not to mention Lasso’s own admission that he and his family are owners of a bank in Panama, Banisi. In 2014, Ecuador passed new regulations preventing banks from having subsidiaries in tax havens, potentially putting Lasso and his family in violation of the law.

Lasso has not addressed the allegations in depth, but has acknowledged that his family owns the Panamanian bank while also declaring that all his assets are public and in Ecuador. Moving past the obvious contradictory nature of such statements (if you own a bank in Panama, it’s pretty clear that not all your assets are in Ecuador), new revelations this week from Cynthia Garcia of Argentina’s Página/12 indicate that Lasso and his associates likely have significant offshore holdings in addition to those located in the Panamanian bank, particularly in the state of Florida ? known for its lax corporate oversight and as an ideal spot for foreigners to park their dollars. Prompted by Garcia’s reporting, I again looked into the public record to see what was there.

In 2009, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, Guillermo E. Lasso the candidate’s son registered an LLC in Florida called Nora Investment US. From June 2009 to December 2010, the holding company purchased 59 properties, which it still owns today, in Florida’s Broward County according to publicly available records. The purchases, mostly condos, totaled $5.7 million.

But this was just the beginning. In 2011, two new directors were added to Nora Investment US: Miguel Macias and Euvenia Touriz. Both were previously officials at Banco Guayaquil, and both are currently listed as directors at the Banisi bank in Panama that is owned by Lasso. From 2011 to 2013, Lasso (the candidate’s son), Macias, and Touriz registered 10 LLCs in Florida in which they are all listed as directors. The additional LLCs were also used to purchase properties in Florida.

In August 2014, following Ecuador’s implementation of new regulations concerning offshore assets, Lasso’s son’s name was systematically removed as a director from all 10 companies, the public records show. But Macias and Touriz continued to open additional holding companies. It is important to note that while LLCs list directors, the so-called beneficial owner or true owner is concealed.

The proliferation of new holding companies continued, however. There are currently 28 different holding companies registered in Florida that list Macias and Touriz as directors as a simple search here shows. Far from just past practice, the public record shows the two Lasso associates registering a new company as recently as January 2017 ? just a few months ago and in the height of the presidential campaign.

Together, the 28 holding companies are owners of Florida properties with an assessed market value of $31.2 million  likely an undervaluation. With the exception of two million dollar commercial properties each purchased in April 2016, there is no public record of any mortgages being taken out by the holding companies, indicating that the purchases were likely made with cash.

Most of the properties purchased appear to be multiple units within larger real estate developments. For example, on just one day in February 2012, one LLC, Nora Investment Tres US, purchased 19 homes in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, totalling $2.6 million. On April 15, 2011, another company, Nora Investment Uno US, purchased 14 properties in Doral, Florida for a total of $3.2 million.

However, in more recent years, the real estate purchases shifted from lower cost units to high-end luxury apartments in Miami. From July 2013 through October 2015, nine different holding companies purchased a total of 14 apartments in Miami  many of which are in the same building complex, the Asia Brickell Key Miami. The average purchase price of these 14 properties was $1.2 million, and there appears to be no record of any mortgage being taken out for any of the purchases. The most expensive of the luxury condos, purchased for $1.7 million in March 2014, can be seen in this real estate company’s promotional video.

The most recent real estate purchase by one of these Lasso-affiliated LLCs was made in July 2016, according to publicly available records.

To be clear, there is no documentation of who the real owners of these 28 Florida-registered LLCs actually are. However, the presence of Guillermo Lasso’s son on the initial registration documents, and the ongoing presence of two directors of Lasso’s Panamanian bank on all 28 LLCs, certainly raises significant questions about the 144 properties they currently own in Florida, and to what extent the Lasso family has used offshore tax havens and LLCs to hide its wealth. (In 2012, Ecuador recognized the US states of Florida, Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware as “tax havens.” In 2015 Ecuador removed the four states from its list of tax havens, but introduced the concept of low tax jurisdictions which are handled on a case-by-case basis.)

It’s worth noting that alongside this February’s first-round presidential elections, Ecuadorians approved a ballot initiative barring politicians in the country from having bank accounts or companies in tax havens.

Last week, I went through public documentation that indicates Ecuadorian presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, despite “retiring” from banking in 2012, continues to be the largest shareholder in Banco Guayaquil. There is also public documentation not to mention Lasso’s own admission that he and his family are owners of a bank in Panama, Banisi. In 2014, Ecuador passed new regulations preventing banks from having subsidiaries in tax havens, potentially putting Lasso and his family in violation of the law.

Lasso has not addressed the allegations in depth, but has acknowledged that his family owns the Panamanian bank while also declaring that all his assets are public and in Ecuador. Moving past the obvious contradictory nature of such statements (if you own a bank in Panama, it’s pretty clear that not all your assets are in Ecuador), new revelations this week from Cynthia Garcia of Argentina’s Página/12 indicate that Lasso and his associates likely have significant offshore holdings in addition to those located in the Panamanian bank, particularly in the state of Florida ? known for its lax corporate oversight and as an ideal spot for foreigners to park their dollars. Prompted by Garcia’s reporting, I again looked into the public record to see what was there.

In 2009, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, Guillermo E. Lasso the candidate’s son registered an LLC in Florida called Nora Investment US. From June 2009 to December 2010, the holding company purchased 59 properties, which it still owns today, in Florida’s Broward County according to publicly available records. The purchases, mostly condos, totaled $5.7 million.

But this was just the beginning. In 2011, two new directors were added to Nora Investment US: Miguel Macias and Euvenia Touriz. Both were previously officials at Banco Guayaquil, and both are currently listed as directors at the Banisi bank in Panama that is owned by Lasso. From 2011 to 2013, Lasso (the candidate’s son), Macias, and Touriz registered 10 LLCs in Florida in which they are all listed as directors. The additional LLCs were also used to purchase properties in Florida.

In August 2014, following Ecuador’s implementation of new regulations concerning offshore assets, Lasso’s son’s name was systematically removed as a director from all 10 companies, the public records show. But Macias and Touriz continued to open additional holding companies. It is important to note that while LLCs list directors, the so-called beneficial owner or true owner is concealed.

The proliferation of new holding companies continued, however. There are currently 28 different holding companies registered in Florida that list Macias and Touriz as directors as a simple search here shows. Far from just past practice, the public record shows the two Lasso associates registering a new company as recently as January 2017 ? just a few months ago and in the height of the presidential campaign.

Together, the 28 holding companies are owners of Florida properties with an assessed market value of $31.2 million  likely an undervaluation. With the exception of two million dollar commercial properties each purchased in April 2016, there is no public record of any mortgages being taken out by the holding companies, indicating that the purchases were likely made with cash.

Most of the properties purchased appear to be multiple units within larger real estate developments. For example, on just one day in February 2012, one LLC, Nora Investment Tres US, purchased 19 homes in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, totalling $2.6 million. On April 15, 2011, another company, Nora Investment Uno US, purchased 14 properties in Doral, Florida for a total of $3.2 million.

However, in more recent years, the real estate purchases shifted from lower cost units to high-end luxury apartments in Miami. From July 2013 through October 2015, nine different holding companies purchased a total of 14 apartments in Miami  many of which are in the same building complex, the Asia Brickell Key Miami. The average purchase price of these 14 properties was $1.2 million, and there appears to be no record of any mortgage being taken out for any of the purchases. The most expensive of the luxury condos, purchased for $1.7 million in March 2014, can be seen in this real estate company’s promotional video.

The most recent real estate purchase by one of these Lasso-affiliated LLCs was made in July 2016, according to publicly available records.

To be clear, there is no documentation of who the real owners of these 28 Florida-registered LLCs actually are. However, the presence of Guillermo Lasso’s son on the initial registration documents, and the ongoing presence of two directors of Lasso’s Panamanian bank on all 28 LLCs, certainly raises significant questions about the 144 properties they currently own in Florida, and to what extent the Lasso family has used offshore tax havens and LLCs to hide its wealth. (In 2012, Ecuador recognized the US states of Florida, Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware as “tax havens.” In 2015 Ecuador removed the four states from its list of tax havens, but introduced the concept of low tax jurisdictions which are handled on a case-by-case basis.)

It’s worth noting that alongside this February’s first-round presidential elections, Ecuadorians approved a ballot initiative barring politicians in the country from having bank accounts or companies in tax havens.

Guillermo Lasso, the opposition presidential candidate in Ecuador’s upcoming runoff election, resigned as executive vice president of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, Banco Guayaquil, in 2012. In the current campaign, much of the international media has referred to Lasso as an “ex-banker” or “former banker.” But an investigation into Lasso’s offshore holdings and trusts, by Cynthia Garcia of Argentina’s Página/12, reveals a complex web of holding companies that obscure Lasso’s financial positions and indicates that Lasso may even be breaking Ecuadorian law with his ownership stake in a bank in the tax haven of Panama.

In 2013, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations, five Delaware-registered companies, bearing the names of cities across the world, transferred their shares in Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, Corporación MultiBG, to five trusts. Each trust just happens to bear the initials of family members and associates of Lasso. One contains Lasso’s initials — GLM — for Guillermo Lasso Mendoza (Fideicomiso Mercantil de Administración GLM). It appears that Lasso has maintained a significant stake in Banco Guayaquil through this trust.

Ownership records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Companies show that GLM trust is currently the largest shareholder in Corporación MultiBG, with a 39.5 percent stake. Together, the five trusts related to Lasso control 77.5 percent of the shares of MultiBG.

A 2014 Banco Guayaquil document, prepared for a bond issuance, reveals that MultiBG holds 78.87 percent of the $293 million in Banco Guayaquil shares. This would imply that GLM Trust currently has a more than $90 million stake in the bank; the five trusts together hold almost double that.

Despite being described as a “former banker,” Lasso has continued as the chairman of MultiBG and still presides over board meetings of Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations.

In his presidential campaign, Lasso has pledged to eliminate a number of taxes that have been levied on the financial sector under the administration of current President Rafael Correa. Lasso’s apparent ownership stake in Banco Guayaquil means he would stand to make millions off those tax cuts, if implemented.

But the revelations do not just concern his obscured and likely stake in Ecuador’s financial sector.

In 2007, Banco Guayaquil opened an offshore bank in Panama, Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá). A 2007 public record from Panama’s Superintendency of Banks reveals that the largest shareholder of Corporación MultiBG (the parent company of Banco Guayaquil) at the time was Andean Investments Ltd, a Cayman Island registered company. Andean Investments is no longer an active company, as it appears its shares went to the Delaware registered companies, and then, most recently, to the trusts associated with Lasso. But the record indicates the historical connections between Lasso and offshore holding companies.

In 2011, the name of Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá) was changed to Banisi.

In 2014, Ecuador passed new legislation that prevented bankers (or banks) from having subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Panama is considered as such by Ecuador’s Superintendency of Banks.

Following the new law, Banisi transferred 100 percent of its shares to a new Panama-registered company, Banisi Holding.

The Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations docket on Banisi Holding (Folio Nº 788480) confirms Guillermo Lasso is the president and a director. Lasso’s wife is listed as a director and as the treasurer. Lasso’s son is also listed among the officers. The registry shows Banisi Holding as having $30 million in capital. The company was registered by the law firm Sucre, Arias and Reyes, based in Panama. But the corporate records do not disclose who the ultimate owners of Banisi Holding actually are.

In April 2016, following the release of the “Panama Papers,” Lasso acknowledged that he had a Panamanian company, Banisi Holding, that owned Banisi Bank.

But the paper trail continues to disguise Lasso’s apparent stake in Banisi. A 2015 audit of Banisi Holding, conducted by the international firm Deloitte, states that the ultimate controlling company of Banisi Holding is yet another Panamanian company, Pietro Overseas.

Pietro Overseas, according to the Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations (Folio Nº 735031) has capital of just $10,000. It was registered by the Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee. Its directors are Marco A. San Berguido, Gina A. Martinez G., and Fernando A. Gil. The directors, who appear to be Panamanian lawyers, are associated with hundreds of companies in Panama.

Is Pietro Overseas, in reality, owned by Lasso? And does it even matter, since Lasso already admitted to owning Banisi? Either way, the public record raises significant questions about Lasso’s financial holdings both in Ecuador and abroad, if his ownership of Banisi Holding is proven in court, would appear to put him in violation of Ecuador’s laws.

Guillermo Lasso, the opposition presidential candidate in Ecuador’s upcoming runoff election, resigned as executive vice president of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, Banco Guayaquil, in 2012. In the current campaign, much of the international media has referred to Lasso as an “ex-banker” or “former banker.” But an investigation into Lasso’s offshore holdings and trusts, by Cynthia Garcia of Argentina’s Página/12, reveals a complex web of holding companies that obscure Lasso’s financial positions and indicates that Lasso may even be breaking Ecuadorian law with his ownership stake in a bank in the tax haven of Panama.

In 2013, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations, five Delaware-registered companies, bearing the names of cities across the world, transferred their shares in Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, Corporación MultiBG, to five trusts. Each trust just happens to bear the initials of family members and associates of Lasso. One contains Lasso’s initials — GLM — for Guillermo Lasso Mendoza (Fideicomiso Mercantil de Administración GLM). It appears that Lasso has maintained a significant stake in Banco Guayaquil through this trust.

Ownership records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Companies show that GLM trust is currently the largest shareholder in Corporación MultiBG, with a 39.5 percent stake. Together, the five trusts related to Lasso control 77.5 percent of the shares of MultiBG.

A 2014 Banco Guayaquil document, prepared for a bond issuance, reveals that MultiBG holds 78.87 percent of the $293 million in Banco Guayaquil shares. This would imply that GLM Trust currently has a more than $90 million stake in the bank; the five trusts together hold almost double that.

Despite being described as a “former banker,” Lasso has continued as the chairman of MultiBG and still presides over board meetings of Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations.

In his presidential campaign, Lasso has pledged to eliminate a number of taxes that have been levied on the financial sector under the administration of current President Rafael Correa. Lasso’s apparent ownership stake in Banco Guayaquil means he would stand to make millions off those tax cuts, if implemented.

But the revelations do not just concern his obscured and likely stake in Ecuador’s financial sector.

In 2007, Banco Guayaquil opened an offshore bank in Panama, Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá). A 2007 public record from Panama’s Superintendency of Banks reveals that the largest shareholder of Corporación MultiBG (the parent company of Banco Guayaquil) at the time was Andean Investments Ltd, a Cayman Island registered company. Andean Investments is no longer an active company, as it appears its shares went to the Delaware registered companies, and then, most recently, to the trusts associated with Lasso. But the record indicates the historical connections between Lasso and offshore holding companies.

In 2011, the name of Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá) was changed to Banisi.

In 2014, Ecuador passed new legislation that prevented bankers (or banks) from having subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Panama is considered as such by Ecuador’s Superintendency of Banks.

Following the new law, Banisi transferred 100 percent of its shares to a new Panama-registered company, Banisi Holding.

The Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations docket on Banisi Holding (Folio Nº 788480) confirms Guillermo Lasso is the president and a director. Lasso’s wife is listed as a director and as the treasurer. Lasso’s son is also listed among the officers. The registry shows Banisi Holding as having $30 million in capital. The company was registered by the law firm Sucre, Arias and Reyes, based in Panama. But the corporate records do not disclose who the ultimate owners of Banisi Holding actually are.

In April 2016, following the release of the “Panama Papers,” Lasso acknowledged that he had a Panamanian company, Banisi Holding, that owned Banisi Bank.

But the paper trail continues to disguise Lasso’s apparent stake in Banisi. A 2015 audit of Banisi Holding, conducted by the international firm Deloitte, states that the ultimate controlling company of Banisi Holding is yet another Panamanian company, Pietro Overseas.

Pietro Overseas, according to the Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations (Folio Nº 735031) has capital of just $10,000. It was registered by the Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee. Its directors are Marco A. San Berguido, Gina A. Martinez G., and Fernando A. Gil. The directors, who appear to be Panamanian lawyers, are associated with hundreds of companies in Panama.

Is Pietro Overseas, in reality, owned by Lasso? And does it even matter, since Lasso already admitted to owning Banisi? Either way, the public record raises significant questions about Lasso’s financial holdings both in Ecuador and abroad, if his ownership of Banisi Holding is proven in court, would appear to put him in violation of Ecuador’s laws.

After a year of zero growth over 2014, Brazil’s economy shrank nearly 6 percent in 2015, and another 3 percent over the first three quarters of 2016. Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter was only 0.7 percent greater than in the same period of 2010. Yet over those six years, the working-age population grew about 8 percent.

Domestic demand has collapsed. From its peak at the start of 2014, Brazilian demand for real goods and services has fallen nearly 11 percent, subtracting 4 percentage points annualized from real GDP growth.

For more, check out the latest Latin America Data Byte.

After a year of zero growth over 2014, Brazil’s economy shrank nearly 6 percent in 2015, and another 3 percent over the first three quarters of 2016. Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter was only 0.7 percent greater than in the same period of 2010. Yet over those six years, the working-age population grew about 8 percent.

Domestic demand has collapsed. From its peak at the start of 2014, Brazilian demand for real goods and services has fallen nearly 11 percent, subtracting 4 percentage points annualized from real GDP growth.

For more, check out the latest Latin America Data Byte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The economic transformation imposed by the military regime after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende altered the country’s political system. Allende’s model of mass participation and egalitarian politics was replaced with a political style guided by consensus among politicians and by technocratic mediation. The center-left Concertación coalition governed for the majority of the transition to democracy and, to its credit, made important modifications and reforms while maintaining economic growth rates that were among the highest in the hemisphere. Yet the underlying neoliberal development model has gone unchanged, while Chile continues to be listed as the most unequal developed country in the OECD.

Falling confidence in the center-left’s consensus politics, as well as its internal disunity and fragmentation, opened the way in 2010 for the ascendancy of Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s first elected right-wing president. Piñera’s popularity momentarily peaked at 63 percent during the rescue of 33 trapped miners in October 2010, and then dramatically fell to 26 percent after the popular uprisings in August 2011, according to reported surveys. The rise in mass mobilizations, especially the 2011 student protests, reawakened segments of the population that had been affected negatively by the extension of “free market” principles to educationhealth carethe pension system and labor.

In that context, during the 2013 presidential race, the center-left Concertación sought to renovate itself by adopting the demands of popular sectors and by forming a new political platform promising significant reforms. The coalition refashioned itself as the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), by incorporating many of the leading student actors from 2011 and previously excluded leftist and independent parties, such as the Communist Party. In order to understand the high abstention rate and current unpopularity of this new coalition it’s necessary to examine further the economic and political developments of Michelle Bachelet’s second term.

Bachelet was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote. Of the 56 reform measures she promised within the first 100 days in office, 41 were instituted. A series of scandals and a slowing economic growth rate forced Bachelet to scale back the ambitions of her reform projects. Chilean annual GDP growth had averaged 5 percent between 1990 and 2014, but there are signs that the economy has been slowing. With annual growth expected at 1.9 percent in 2016 (down from 2.1 percent in 2015), the fall in demand and price of copper could be partly to blame.

A number of high-profile corruption investigations have also compromised Bachelet’s reform agenda. The uncovering of a web of illegal campaign contributions by business interests tarnished the public perception of Chile’s political class. The “Pentagate” case, as it is known,is smaller in scale than Brazil’s “car wash” scandal; however it has been equally disastrous in damaging the image of nearly all major Chilean political parties. While Bachelet has not been personally implicated in these scandals, her son and daughter-in-law have faced investigations over a $10 million loan they received to finance a speculative land purchase.

The lack of confidence in Chile’s democratic model was reflected in the latest Latinobarometro survey, an annual study that observes the development of democracy in Latin America. Second only to Brazilians’, Chileans’ confidence in democracy dropped the most dramatically in the region: 11 percentage points since 2015. As of late 2016, public approval of Chile’s legislature is below 10 percent, while Bachelet’s rating has plummeted from a high of 56 percent in April 2014 to a record low of 18 percent in September 2016 (which rose slightly to 24 percent in late October as reported by Adimark surveys).

Criticism of Bachelet’s second term has been vocal from both the right and the left. While conservatives argue that many of her reform projects are too ambitious, the left considers them insufficient. Take education reform: the tax reform passed in 2014 sought to finance the extension of free tuition to the most economically vulnerable sector of students by raising taxes on corporate and capital income. The right argued that this would drive foreign investment out of Chile, while the student movement criticized the reform project for not tackling the fundamental issue of ending the profit motive in Chile’s education system. For the left, Bachelet’s re-election was predicated on the hope of progressively restructuring Chile’s institutions; many think she simply has not done enough.

The 2016 municipal elections were marked by controversy. Servel, which is tasked with overseeing the election and voter registry, instituted limits on the ability of candidates to reach out to voters. Air time for candidates was restricted and financial penalties were put in place to limit the use of campaign propaganda in certain public spaces. Servel’s restrictions, according to some critics, are partly to blame for the lower rates of participation. Then, less than a week before the election, Servel mistakenly reassigned half a million voters to the wrong localities. The government attempted to fix the error while Servel blamed the civil registry. However, days before the election, thousands of voters were still registered in municipalities where they didn’t reside, potentially affecting some of the most contested races. Evidently, reforms designed to improve the electoral system have flaws in both their design and implementation.

Two of the key races used to forecast presidential election outcomes are the cities of Santiago and Providencia, where the right-wing Chile Vamoscoalition won against a fragmented list of left-wing candidates. The victory of Evelyn Matthei, who lost the presidential bid in 2013, and of Felipe Alessandri, is seen by some as a positive sign for former president Sebastian Piñera ? who’s poised to be one of the leading contenders in the 2017 presidential elections.

Though Reuters and The Wall Street Journal are quick to characterize the election outcome as a decisive victory for the right, a closer look at the numbers shows that the two major right-wing parties experienced the largest proportional net losses in voters compared to the municipal elections just four years ago. The UDI, which was at the center of the Pentagate scandal, lost 15 percent of their voter base, while Pinera’s Renovación Nacional (RN) party lost 12 percent. In fact, every major party in the two coalitions, with the exception of the Communist Party, had a net loss in votes based on a comparison of Servel figures from 2012 and 2016. Bachelet’s Socialist Party lost over 160,000 votes (8 percent), the Christian Democratic Party lost over 350,000 votes (11 percent), and former president Ricardo Lagos’ Party for Democracy lost 90,000 votes (6 percent). Independent candidates as a whole were the only other bloc to gain significant support, going from 11 percent to 17 percent of the vote in 2016 as compared to 2012.

The right-wing coalition Chile Vamosnow holds 144 alcaldes (39 percent) while New Majority has 141 (38 percent). For concejales, Chile Vamos has 41 percent of the total council members and New Majority has 47 percent. Given the fact that there was a 65 percent abstention rate and no nominally outstanding win for the right, it’s quite difficult to resolutely declare a victory for either coalition bloc. More importantly, the net loss of actual votes for both the traditional left and right parties should be a cause of concern.

The most surprising outcome of the October 23 vote was Jorge Sharp’s victory in the port city of Valparaiso. A citizens’ primary nominated the then largely unknown figure (outside of university politics and activist circles) by a slim 38 votes, in an effort to break the duopoly of the establishment coalitions. In the three-way race Sharp, a 31-year-old lawyer, beat the right-wing incumbent, and a New Majority-backed candidate with over 50 percent of the votes.

Sharp’s candidacy was backed by a strong grassroots citizens’ movement organized under the name Pacto Urbano de La Matriz. His victory even led The Guardian to declare the fomenting of a “quiet revolution” by Chile’s independents. The other two remarkable gains came from the political blocs respectively led by Gabriel Boric and Giorgio Jackson, two former student activists and ? according to CADEM ? among the most positively assessed members of congress. Jackson’s mostly youth-led political movement, Revolución Democrática, nominated for the first time local candidates and won five concejalrepresentatives with over 60,000 votes. Similarly Boric’s Movimiento Autonomista, a voting bloc that Sharp also belongs to, won over 68,000 votes and 11 representatives. Sharp’s first year in Valparaiso will be closely watched as these independents begin forming a broad front to support candidates in 2017.

History may judge Bachelet’s greatest legacy to be electoral reform legislation passed in early 2016. The law eliminates the binomial model ? an electoral system inherited from the military years that entrenched the party duopoly ? and replaces it with a proportional representation model to be unveiled during the 2017 presidential and congressional elections. New restrictions on campaign finance will also eliminate corporate contributions. The modifications, although they didn’t apply to the 2016 municipal elections, will likely provide an additional boost to independent candidacies.

With these results in mind, the 2017 race is not assured for either coalition. The latest polls asking voters about the upcoming elections illustrate meager interest in all candidates currently positioning themselves to run. Piñera continues to be the leading candidate, but is polling with just 20 percent of the electorate. Alejandro Guillier, an independent “antiestablishment” candidate, has seen the greatest jump in poll numbers in just one month, from 5 percent to 15 percent. If either of the two traditional coalitions ultimately seeks to restore confidence in the democratic system, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to pay closer attention to the few political movements still able to energize disenchanted sectors of the population to organize and actually vote.

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

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

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

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

The economic transformation imposed by the military regime after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende altered the country’s political system. Allende’s model of mass participation and egalitarian politics was replaced with a political style guided by consensus among politicians and by technocratic mediation. The center-left Concertación coalition governed for the majority of the transition to democracy and, to its credit, made important modifications and reforms while maintaining economic growth rates that were among the highest in the hemisphere. Yet the underlying neoliberal development model has gone unchanged, while Chile continues to be listed as the most unequal developed country in the OECD.

Falling confidence in the center-left’s consensus politics, as well as its internal disunity and fragmentation, opened the way in 2010 for the ascendancy of Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s first elected right-wing president. Piñera’s popularity momentarily peaked at 63 percent during the rescue of 33 trapped miners in October 2010, and then dramatically fell to 26 percent after the popular uprisings in August 2011, according to reported surveys. The rise in mass mobilizations, especially the 2011 student protests, reawakened segments of the population that had been affected negatively by the extension of “free market” principles to educationhealth carethe pension system and labor.

In that context, during the 2013 presidential race, the center-left Concertación sought to renovate itself by adopting the demands of popular sectors and by forming a new political platform promising significant reforms. The coalition refashioned itself as the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), by incorporating many of the leading student actors from 2011 and previously excluded leftist and independent parties, such as the Communist Party. In order to understand the high abstention rate and current unpopularity of this new coalition it’s necessary to examine further the economic and political developments of Michelle Bachelet’s second term.

Bachelet was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote. Of the 56 reform measures she promised within the first 100 days in office, 41 were instituted. A series of scandals and a slowing economic growth rate forced Bachelet to scale back the ambitions of her reform projects. Chilean annual GDP growth had averaged 5 percent between 1990 and 2014, but there are signs that the economy has been slowing. With annual growth expected at 1.9 percent in 2016 (down from 2.1 percent in 2015), the fall in demand and price of copper could be partly to blame.

A number of high-profile corruption investigations have also compromised Bachelet’s reform agenda. The uncovering of a web of illegal campaign contributions by business interests tarnished the public perception of Chile’s political class. The “Pentagate” case, as it is known,is smaller in scale than Brazil’s “car wash” scandal; however it has been equally disastrous in damaging the image of nearly all major Chilean political parties. While Bachelet has not been personally implicated in these scandals, her son and daughter-in-law have faced investigations over a $10 million loan they received to finance a speculative land purchase.

The lack of confidence in Chile’s democratic model was reflected in the latest Latinobarometro survey, an annual study that observes the development of democracy in Latin America. Second only to Brazilians’, Chileans’ confidence in democracy dropped the most dramatically in the region: 11 percentage points since 2015. As of late 2016, public approval of Chile’s legislature is below 10 percent, while Bachelet’s rating has plummeted from a high of 56 percent in April 2014 to a record low of 18 percent in September 2016 (which rose slightly to 24 percent in late October as reported by Adimark surveys).

Criticism of Bachelet’s second term has been vocal from both the right and the left. While conservatives argue that many of her reform projects are too ambitious, the left considers them insufficient. Take education reform: the tax reform passed in 2014 sought to finance the extension of free tuition to the most economically vulnerable sector of students by raising taxes on corporate and capital income. The right argued that this would drive foreign investment out of Chile, while the student movement criticized the reform project for not tackling the fundamental issue of ending the profit motive in Chile’s education system. For the left, Bachelet’s re-election was predicated on the hope of progressively restructuring Chile’s institutions; many think she simply has not done enough.

The 2016 municipal elections were marked by controversy. Servel, which is tasked with overseeing the election and voter registry, instituted limits on the ability of candidates to reach out to voters. Air time for candidates was restricted and financial penalties were put in place to limit the use of campaign propaganda in certain public spaces. Servel’s restrictions, according to some critics, are partly to blame for the lower rates of participation. Then, less than a week before the election, Servel mistakenly reassigned half a million voters to the wrong localities. The government attempted to fix the error while Servel blamed the civil registry. However, days before the election, thousands of voters were still registered in municipalities where they didn’t reside, potentially affecting some of the most contested races. Evidently, reforms designed to improve the electoral system have flaws in both their design and implementation.

Two of the key races used to forecast presidential election outcomes are the cities of Santiago and Providencia, where the right-wing Chile Vamoscoalition won against a fragmented list of left-wing candidates. The victory of Evelyn Matthei, who lost the presidential bid in 2013, and of Felipe Alessandri, is seen by some as a positive sign for former president Sebastian Piñera ? who’s poised to be one of the leading contenders in the 2017 presidential elections.

Though Reuters and The Wall Street Journal are quick to characterize the election outcome as a decisive victory for the right, a closer look at the numbers shows that the two major right-wing parties experienced the largest proportional net losses in voters compared to the municipal elections just four years ago. The UDI, which was at the center of the Pentagate scandal, lost 15 percent of their voter base, while Pinera’s Renovación Nacional (RN) party lost 12 percent. In fact, every major party in the two coalitions, with the exception of the Communist Party, had a net loss in votes based on a comparison of Servel figures from 2012 and 2016. Bachelet’s Socialist Party lost over 160,000 votes (8 percent), the Christian Democratic Party lost over 350,000 votes (11 percent), and former president Ricardo Lagos’ Party for Democracy lost 90,000 votes (6 percent). Independent candidates as a whole were the only other bloc to gain significant support, going from 11 percent to 17 percent of the vote in 2016 as compared to 2012.

The right-wing coalition Chile Vamosnow holds 144 alcaldes (39 percent) while New Majority has 141 (38 percent). For concejales, Chile Vamos has 41 percent of the total council members and New Majority has 47 percent. Given the fact that there was a 65 percent abstention rate and no nominally outstanding win for the right, it’s quite difficult to resolutely declare a victory for either coalition bloc. More importantly, the net loss of actual votes for both the traditional left and right parties should be a cause of concern.

The most surprising outcome of the October 23 vote was Jorge Sharp’s victory in the port city of Valparaiso. A citizens’ primary nominated the then largely unknown figure (outside of university politics and activist circles) by a slim 38 votes, in an effort to break the duopoly of the establishment coalitions. In the three-way race Sharp, a 31-year-old lawyer, beat the right-wing incumbent, and a New Majority-backed candidate with over 50 percent of the votes.

Sharp’s candidacy was backed by a strong grassroots citizens’ movement organized under the name Pacto Urbano de La Matriz. His victory even led The Guardian to declare the fomenting of a “quiet revolution” by Chile’s independents. The other two remarkable gains came from the political blocs respectively led by Gabriel Boric and Giorgio Jackson, two former student activists and ? according to CADEM ? among the most positively assessed members of congress. Jackson’s mostly youth-led political movement, Revolución Democrática, nominated for the first time local candidates and won five concejalrepresentatives with over 60,000 votes. Similarly Boric’s Movimiento Autonomista, a voting bloc that Sharp also belongs to, won over 68,000 votes and 11 representatives. Sharp’s first year in Valparaiso will be closely watched as these independents begin forming a broad front to support candidates in 2017.

History may judge Bachelet’s greatest legacy to be electoral reform legislation passed in early 2016. The law eliminates the binomial model ? an electoral system inherited from the military years that entrenched the party duopoly ? and replaces it with a proportional representation model to be unveiled during the 2017 presidential and congressional elections. New restrictions on campaign finance will also eliminate corporate contributions. The modifications, although they didn’t apply to the 2016 municipal elections, will likely provide an additional boost to independent candidacies.

With these results in mind, the 2017 race is not assured for either coalition. The latest polls asking voters about the upcoming elections illustrate meager interest in all candidates currently positioning themselves to run. Piñera continues to be the leading candidate, but is polling with just 20 percent of the electorate. Alejandro Guillier, an independent “antiestablishment” candidate, has seen the greatest jump in poll numbers in just one month, from 5 percent to 15 percent. If either of the two traditional coalitions ultimately seeks to restore confidence in the democratic system, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to pay closer attention to the few political movements still able to energize disenchanted sectors of the population to organize and actually vote.

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

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

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

Early on a Thursday morning in mid-August, I went on a ride-along with a USAID staff member in the Democracy and Governance program. In a chauffeured, new model Chevy Tahoe, I rode to the Comayagüela barrio, about a 20-minute ride outside of downtown Tegucigalpa. When we arrived, my escort rolled down the windows and took off his sunglasses, explaining that this helped people in the neighborhood see and trust them. Comayagüela, he informed me, is the most dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa and we were driving into a territory heavily controlled and monitored by rival gangs, primarily the MS-13 and the Dieciocho (18), both of which originated in Los Angeles and then spread to Central America with the help of the US government’s deportation policies. The outreach center we were going to tour is located at the invisible gang border. That’s why, he told me, USAID and Creative Associates, a private, for-profit development contractor, are trying to build another outreach center on the other side of this neighborhood, so the kids who can’t cross the gang borders still have access to an outreach center.

The outreach center is beautiful, situated on the terrace of a local Catholic church that donated the space for the project. It is clearly a new building the white and blue paint still fresh and glowing in the morning sun. Latin Pop music is playing at dance party volume in the outdoor recreation area where volunteers in yellow Por Mi Barrio t-shirts are milling about, and a few youth in school uniforms are also wandering around. A petite woman walks out to meet us, the director and only paid employee of the outreach center. I am shown all around the shiny building  although I am candidly told by the Creative Associates representative who works directly with the outreach center on programming that it is the only outreach center that looks like this. The other buildings are much more humble he tells me, and most do not have paid staff.

I dutifully nod while the young, overworked directora shows us the recreation room, the classrooms (where children were writing in their “values” workbooks), and the public gym where they have weight machines and hold Zumba classes. The director explains that they’ve established the gym as a way to make money to support the outreach center  people pay for Zumba classes and trainers and instructors volunteer their time to teach them. This structure begs many questions: if this is one of the key strategies by which USAID and the APP programs claim they are supplanting and disrupting violence and gang activity, then why is there not more paid staff, and why is the outreach center not better funded? Where is the $346 million going? But there is no time to ask this question; there are more rooms to see.

My USAID escort and the Creative Associates staffer have repeatedly tried to reassure me, “the center makes such a big difference.” And tell me how great it is for the kids to have a safe place to come and play and learn. Of the latter I have no doubt. Having spent over a decade in Honduras, where it is estimated that 20 percent of the population has experienced severe trauma, I know the value of recreation and safe spaces for young Hondurans, but is this project really reducing violence and crime in the neighborhood?

Once in the room that houses the director’s desk and some paperwork and classroom space where some first-aid and very basic community nursing is taught by yet another volunteer, it is finally time to ask a question. I keep it very simple. I want to know how the center, and USAID and Creative Associates  the agency funding this project and the implementing partner, respectively  are determining the impact of the outreach center on violence and gang activity in the community. Do people get jobs with the training they receive? Is there any monitoring and evaluation (M&E as it is called in development parlance) or reports that show the effects of this outreach center program on violence and crime and gang activity? For example, are centers like this one tracking whether youth return to the street, whether they find employment (which assumes it’s available and in 2014 unemployment for youth under 30 in Honduras was as high as 41 percent), and whether they join or leave gangs?

The director’s eyes go wide and her lips tighten in a grimace, bracing for the potential of another burdensome bureaucratic responsibility to manage alone. Unfazed, my upbeat escort tells me, unequivocally and without a hint of irony that they “do not have monitoring and evaluation,” but that they “hope to have some in the next couple of years or so.” These programs are among the most extensively funded foreign security and development since the war-time era in the region. The State Department, USAID, and other CARSI implementers are under scrutiny to demonstrate efficacy, and not only are there no reports or evidence to date, but there aren’t even mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation. How do they know the programs are working? Without a systematic evaluation there is simply no way to know.

I looked for reports. I found one that the Honduran Youth Alliance (AJH), USAID, and Creative Associates produced in January of 2014. It includes a few quotes from youth who were apparently in the Por Mi Barrio program in La Ceiba at the time, but no program details and no assessments. It is a long brochure with poignant quotes from pre-teens that are intended to pull heartstrings. It also includes the methodology and objectives for implementing the Por Mi Barrio program, which is nice, but it’s not evidence that the programs are working nor does it include evaluation mechanisms.  However, since the initiation of the first Por Mi Barrio outreach center in 2009, there are no data or statistics that show that the Outreach Centers are meeting the objectives of CARSI and APP initiatives.

There is no doubt that there is a strident public relations campaign to make it seem as though the CARSI/USAID program has merit and deserves more funding when there is no evidence (and certainly not publicly available evidence) to support such claims. This should be concerning to US lawmakers and their US constituents, not only because incredible amounts of taxpayer funds are being directed toward Central America, but also because that assistance may be doing more harm than good.

Put simply, there is no data that supports the claims of State Department officials or USAID that the interventions being implemented in Honduras, or in the Northern Triangle in general, are having a positive (or any) effect. Congress should demand rigorous, independent evaluations that demonstrate  with certainty  that these interventions are having a significant impact.

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

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

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

Early on a Thursday morning in mid-August, I went on a ride-along with a USAID staff member in the Democracy and Governance program. In a chauffeured, new model Chevy Tahoe, I rode to the Comayagüela barrio, about a 20-minute ride outside of downtown Tegucigalpa. When we arrived, my escort rolled down the windows and took off his sunglasses, explaining that this helped people in the neighborhood see and trust them. Comayagüela, he informed me, is the most dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa and we were driving into a territory heavily controlled and monitored by rival gangs, primarily the MS-13 and the Dieciocho (18), both of which originated in Los Angeles and then spread to Central America with the help of the US government’s deportation policies. The outreach center we were going to tour is located at the invisible gang border. That’s why, he told me, USAID and Creative Associates, a private, for-profit development contractor, are trying to build another outreach center on the other side of this neighborhood, so the kids who can’t cross the gang borders still have access to an outreach center.

The outreach center is beautiful, situated on the terrace of a local Catholic church that donated the space for the project. It is clearly a new building the white and blue paint still fresh and glowing in the morning sun. Latin Pop music is playing at dance party volume in the outdoor recreation area where volunteers in yellow Por Mi Barrio t-shirts are milling about, and a few youth in school uniforms are also wandering around. A petite woman walks out to meet us, the director and only paid employee of the outreach center. I am shown all around the shiny building  although I am candidly told by the Creative Associates representative who works directly with the outreach center on programming that it is the only outreach center that looks like this. The other buildings are much more humble he tells me, and most do not have paid staff.

I dutifully nod while the young, overworked directora shows us the recreation room, the classrooms (where children were writing in their “values” workbooks), and the public gym where they have weight machines and hold Zumba classes. The director explains that they’ve established the gym as a way to make money to support the outreach center  people pay for Zumba classes and trainers and instructors volunteer their time to teach them. This structure begs many questions: if this is one of the key strategies by which USAID and the APP programs claim they are supplanting and disrupting violence and gang activity, then why is there not more paid staff, and why is the outreach center not better funded? Where is the $346 million going? But there is no time to ask this question; there are more rooms to see.

My USAID escort and the Creative Associates staffer have repeatedly tried to reassure me, “the center makes such a big difference.” And tell me how great it is for the kids to have a safe place to come and play and learn. Of the latter I have no doubt. Having spent over a decade in Honduras, where it is estimated that 20 percent of the population has experienced severe trauma, I know the value of recreation and safe spaces for young Hondurans, but is this project really reducing violence and crime in the neighborhood?

Once in the room that houses the director’s desk and some paperwork and classroom space where some first-aid and very basic community nursing is taught by yet another volunteer, it is finally time to ask a question. I keep it very simple. I want to know how the center, and USAID and Creative Associates  the agency funding this project and the implementing partner, respectively  are determining the impact of the outreach center on violence and gang activity in the community. Do people get jobs with the training they receive? Is there any monitoring and evaluation (M&E as it is called in development parlance) or reports that show the effects of this outreach center program on violence and crime and gang activity? For example, are centers like this one tracking whether youth return to the street, whether they find employment (which assumes it’s available and in 2014 unemployment for youth under 30 in Honduras was as high as 41 percent), and whether they join or leave gangs?

The director’s eyes go wide and her lips tighten in a grimace, bracing for the potential of another burdensome bureaucratic responsibility to manage alone. Unfazed, my upbeat escort tells me, unequivocally and without a hint of irony that they “do not have monitoring and evaluation,” but that they “hope to have some in the next couple of years or so.” These programs are among the most extensively funded foreign security and development since the war-time era in the region. The State Department, USAID, and other CARSI implementers are under scrutiny to demonstrate efficacy, and not only are there no reports or evidence to date, but there aren’t even mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation. How do they know the programs are working? Without a systematic evaluation there is simply no way to know.

I looked for reports. I found one that the Honduran Youth Alliance (AJH), USAID, and Creative Associates produced in January of 2014. It includes a few quotes from youth who were apparently in the Por Mi Barrio program in La Ceiba at the time, but no program details and no assessments. It is a long brochure with poignant quotes from pre-teens that are intended to pull heartstrings. It also includes the methodology and objectives for implementing the Por Mi Barrio program, which is nice, but it’s not evidence that the programs are working nor does it include evaluation mechanisms.  However, since the initiation of the first Por Mi Barrio outreach center in 2009, there are no data or statistics that show that the Outreach Centers are meeting the objectives of CARSI and APP initiatives.

There is no doubt that there is a strident public relations campaign to make it seem as though the CARSI/USAID program has merit and deserves more funding when there is no evidence (and certainly not publicly available evidence) to support such claims. This should be concerning to US lawmakers and their US constituents, not only because incredible amounts of taxpayer funds are being directed toward Central America, but also because that assistance may be doing more harm than good.

Put simply, there is no data that supports the claims of State Department officials or USAID that the interventions being implemented in Honduras, or in the Northern Triangle in general, are having a positive (or any) effect. Congress should demand rigorous, independent evaluations that demonstrate  with certainty  that these interventions are having a significant impact.

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

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

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

Under US appropriations legislation, Congress has tied 75 percent of the tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Honduras (and Guatemala and El Salvador) to State Department-certified compliance with certain conditions, including “investigat[ing] and prosecut[ing] in the civilian justice system members of military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, and ensur[ing] that the military and police are cooperating in such cases.”

Under pressure to show results, the Honduran National Congress swiftly passed a decree on April 8 establishing the Special Commission for the Cleanup and Transformation of the National Police of Honduras (La Comisión Especial para la Depuración y Transformaciòn de la Policia Nacional). President Hernández named three civil society appointees to the four-person commission in addition to the minister of security, retired General Julían Pacheco, as commission president.

Last month, members of the Special Commission — General Julian Pacheco, Omar Rivera of the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) and the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), Jorge Machado (who acted as an alternate and proxy for the controversial anti-LGBT pastor Alberto Solórzano) of Confraternidad Evangelica (Evangelical Fellowship), and Vilma Morales — gave a presentation to a large audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on the commission’s work. While a few academics and organizations like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were present, the State Department, current and former ambassadors and their entourages, and private contractors and security consulting firms were disproportionately represented in the room.

The commission members noted that 272 high-ranking officials in the police force have been investigated and of these, 110 have been dismissed or voluntarily retired. Though these numbers may appear impressive, the 272 officials amount to less than 3 percent of a police force widely believed to be “rotten to the core,” in the words of the late Alfredo Landaverde.

More problematic than the limited scale of this purging process, however, is the lack of prosecution. Though the Special Commission claims to have discovered definitive evidence of police involvement in illicit activities, including existing convictions, illicit accounts, and drug trafficking connections, the Public Ministry has not brought charges against the officers in question. If one of the goals of the commission, as stated by ASJ president and advisor to the Special Commission, Carlos Hernández, is to solve the “problems of impunity and corruption” in the police force, the lack of prosecution is particularly worrisome.

When asked about the judicial processes for officers found to have been involved in criminal activity, Hernández adamantly declared that the Special Commission’s role is limited to dismissing corrupt police, but that they do remit the offending personnel’s files to the Public Ministry so that the prosecutor’s office can investigate and decide whether to bring charges. However, to date, no information has been released regarding whether any dismissed officers have been charged or will face prosecution. Without any clear follow-up mechanism or assurances against impunity (i.e., guarantees of prosecution), the Special Commission’s role is purely administrative and inherently limited in its capacity to achieve its mandate.

The impartiality of the commission members has also been brought into question. During his presentation, Omar Rivera insisted that the Special Commission is nonpartisan and enjoys wide support “from all parties and factions in Honduras.” Both statements are false.

For example, perhaps the most problematic member of the Special Commission is Vilma Morales. Morales, a former Supreme Court justice and National Party stalwart, has found herself presiding over clean-up efforts at the state’s two most controversy-ridden institutions, the social security institute (IHSS) and the police. Implicated in a fraud case during her tenure at state phone company Hondutel and accused of having protected police and military implicated in crimes during her tenure as Supreme Court president, Morales is hardly a paragon of anticorruption. She appears to have been selected based on her favored position within the National Party elite. Morales played a key role in consolidating the coup in 2009, working as a member of coup president Roberto Micheletti’s negotiating team. In a 2009 cable made available through WikiLeaks, the US ambassador to Honduras at the time, Hugo Llorens, described Morales as “one of the June 28 coup’s most outspoken legal defenders,” adding that her “judgement” is “clouded by her partisanship.” This could explain why, as the head of the IHSS oversight commission, she has yet to act on the evidence that IHSS contractors were funneling money to the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and to the National Party in general.

Retired General Julian Pacheco, in addition to being security minister, is the president of the Special Commission. He may be the only commission member with relevant qualifications, but as security minister, it’s to his benefit that the Special Commission appear successful no matter what happens, posing a significant conflict of interest. The commission’s perceived success and verifiable evidence that the police are being effectively sanitized of impunity and corruption are conditions attached to millions of dollars in US funding. The Honduran government and military, and the US State Department all have an interest in making the commission look successful. Yet Pacheco’s exuberant description of police and military activities and the generous US government funding and training made clear that ending corruption and reforming the police are secondary to broader military and security goals.

Unlike other presidential commissions currently investigating the IHSS and the Supreme Court of Justice, among others, the Special Commission on the police has a substantial public relations machine, helped no doubt by Jorge Machado’s experience in marketing and public relations. Following the Special Commission’s visit to DC, its blog declared the trip a resounding success.

On June 29, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced it had charged six Honduran National Police officers involved in drug trafficking. The officers are alleged to have worked with Fabio Lobo, the son of former post-coup president Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Astoundingly, the commission immediately released a press statement applauding its own efforts in firing, suspending, or investigating the six police officers named. Fabio Lobo was arrested in 2015, after introducing DEA sources to Honduran police officers as part of the operation. Lobo plead guilty to drug-trafficking charges in court on May 16, 2016 (just a month after the commission was created). The DEA already had the names and evidence against the officers independent of the commission as a result of their sting operation. In their press release, the commission noted that investigations are pending for three of the named officers (along with the remaining 97 percent of the police force the commission still has to review), and therefore cannot claim credit for these arrests. Moreover, the publicity stunt draws further attention to the fact that for over a year the DEA has known about these individuals, but none of them have been investigated or charged by the public prosecutor in Honduras.

None of these facts seemed to concern the vast majority of the audience at the presentation. In light of a recent State Department press briefing, it is no surprise that State Department representatives were blasé. Grilled about the evidence that military hit squads were involved in the killing of prominent environmental activist Berta Cáceres, spokesperson John Kirby repeatedly claimed that State has no credible evidence of hit squads or other human rights abuses perpetrated by either the Honduran military or police, which the US has been funding and training for decades — this despite that active duty military and two high-ranking retired military officers were arrested in connection with this political assassination.

Yet new legislation (HR 5474) drafted by the office of Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), introduced on June 14, calls for the immediate suspension of security assistance to Honduras until human rights violations by security forces have been fully investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The first 15 articles of the bill list evidence of police and military corruption and involvement in gross human rights violations with impunity, including Cáceres’ murder. If the official stance of the US State Department, with the US government as the primary funder and partner of Honduran security forces, civilian and military, is a variation on “nothing to see here,” then it is hard to imagine how the Special Commission can hope to succeed.

Until a much larger percentage of the police force is investigated and held accountable and individuals are prosecuted for their crimes, it is purely rhetorical (and inaccurate) to say the commission has made significant progress. Moreover, the commission’s purely administrative nature means it is ill-equipped either to address the institutional hurdles critical to effectively reforming the police — namely the ongoing militarization of the police and the US-backed counterinsurgency policing program — or preventing corruption before it happens. There are no mechanisms in place or currently being developed by the Special Commission to prevent police corruption in the future, something that is a predictable result of the strength of drug cartels and organized crime, in the face of poor police pay and lack of enforced institutional safeguards against it. Even if the Special Commission manages to purge a larger percentage of police than past commissions, Honduran citizens are unlikely to feel safer or consider the police “friendly,” as General Pacheco mused during his Wilson Center presentation. Honduran civilians, especially social activists, will continue to be targets, given the ongoing militarization and counterinsurgency orientation of policing and the fact that the Honduran justice system cannot be relied upon.

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

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

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

Under US appropriations legislation, Congress has tied 75 percent of the tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Honduras (and Guatemala and El Salvador) to State Department-certified compliance with certain conditions, including “investigat[ing] and prosecut[ing] in the civilian justice system members of military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, and ensur[ing] that the military and police are cooperating in such cases.”

Under pressure to show results, the Honduran National Congress swiftly passed a decree on April 8 establishing the Special Commission for the Cleanup and Transformation of the National Police of Honduras (La Comisión Especial para la Depuración y Transformaciòn de la Policia Nacional). President Hernández named three civil society appointees to the four-person commission in addition to the minister of security, retired General Julían Pacheco, as commission president.

Last month, members of the Special Commission — General Julian Pacheco, Omar Rivera of the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) and the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), Jorge Machado (who acted as an alternate and proxy for the controversial anti-LGBT pastor Alberto Solórzano) of Confraternidad Evangelica (Evangelical Fellowship), and Vilma Morales — gave a presentation to a large audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on the commission’s work. While a few academics and organizations like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were present, the State Department, current and former ambassadors and their entourages, and private contractors and security consulting firms were disproportionately represented in the room.

The commission members noted that 272 high-ranking officials in the police force have been investigated and of these, 110 have been dismissed or voluntarily retired. Though these numbers may appear impressive, the 272 officials amount to less than 3 percent of a police force widely believed to be “rotten to the core,” in the words of the late Alfredo Landaverde.

More problematic than the limited scale of this purging process, however, is the lack of prosecution. Though the Special Commission claims to have discovered definitive evidence of police involvement in illicit activities, including existing convictions, illicit accounts, and drug trafficking connections, the Public Ministry has not brought charges against the officers in question. If one of the goals of the commission, as stated by ASJ president and advisor to the Special Commission, Carlos Hernández, is to solve the “problems of impunity and corruption” in the police force, the lack of prosecution is particularly worrisome.

When asked about the judicial processes for officers found to have been involved in criminal activity, Hernández adamantly declared that the Special Commission’s role is limited to dismissing corrupt police, but that they do remit the offending personnel’s files to the Public Ministry so that the prosecutor’s office can investigate and decide whether to bring charges. However, to date, no information has been released regarding whether any dismissed officers have been charged or will face prosecution. Without any clear follow-up mechanism or assurances against impunity (i.e., guarantees of prosecution), the Special Commission’s role is purely administrative and inherently limited in its capacity to achieve its mandate.

The impartiality of the commission members has also been brought into question. During his presentation, Omar Rivera insisted that the Special Commission is nonpartisan and enjoys wide support “from all parties and factions in Honduras.” Both statements are false.

For example, perhaps the most problematic member of the Special Commission is Vilma Morales. Morales, a former Supreme Court justice and National Party stalwart, has found herself presiding over clean-up efforts at the state’s two most controversy-ridden institutions, the social security institute (IHSS) and the police. Implicated in a fraud case during her tenure at state phone company Hondutel and accused of having protected police and military implicated in crimes during her tenure as Supreme Court president, Morales is hardly a paragon of anticorruption. She appears to have been selected based on her favored position within the National Party elite. Morales played a key role in consolidating the coup in 2009, working as a member of coup president Roberto Micheletti’s negotiating team. In a 2009 cable made available through WikiLeaks, the US ambassador to Honduras at the time, Hugo Llorens, described Morales as “one of the June 28 coup’s most outspoken legal defenders,” adding that her “judgement” is “clouded by her partisanship.” This could explain why, as the head of the IHSS oversight commission, she has yet to act on the evidence that IHSS contractors were funneling money to the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and to the National Party in general.

Retired General Julian Pacheco, in addition to being security minister, is the president of the Special Commission. He may be the only commission member with relevant qualifications, but as security minister, it’s to his benefit that the Special Commission appear successful no matter what happens, posing a significant conflict of interest. The commission’s perceived success and verifiable evidence that the police are being effectively sanitized of impunity and corruption are conditions attached to millions of dollars in US funding. The Honduran government and military, and the US State Department all have an interest in making the commission look successful. Yet Pacheco’s exuberant description of police and military activities and the generous US government funding and training made clear that ending corruption and reforming the police are secondary to broader military and security goals.

Unlike other presidential commissions currently investigating the IHSS and the Supreme Court of Justice, among others, the Special Commission on the police has a substantial public relations machine, helped no doubt by Jorge Machado’s experience in marketing and public relations. Following the Special Commission’s visit to DC, its blog declared the trip a resounding success.

On June 29, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced it had charged six Honduran National Police officers involved in drug trafficking. The officers are alleged to have worked with Fabio Lobo, the son of former post-coup president Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Astoundingly, the commission immediately released a press statement applauding its own efforts in firing, suspending, or investigating the six police officers named. Fabio Lobo was arrested in 2015, after introducing DEA sources to Honduran police officers as part of the operation. Lobo plead guilty to drug-trafficking charges in court on May 16, 2016 (just a month after the commission was created). The DEA already had the names and evidence against the officers independent of the commission as a result of their sting operation. In their press release, the commission noted that investigations are pending for three of the named officers (along with the remaining 97 percent of the police force the commission still has to review), and therefore cannot claim credit for these arrests. Moreover, the publicity stunt draws further attention to the fact that for over a year the DEA has known about these individuals, but none of them have been investigated or charged by the public prosecutor in Honduras.

None of these facts seemed to concern the vast majority of the audience at the presentation. In light of a recent State Department press briefing, it is no surprise that State Department representatives were blasé. Grilled about the evidence that military hit squads were involved in the killing of prominent environmental activist Berta Cáceres, spokesperson John Kirby repeatedly claimed that State has no credible evidence of hit squads or other human rights abuses perpetrated by either the Honduran military or police, which the US has been funding and training for decades — this despite that active duty military and two high-ranking retired military officers were arrested in connection with this political assassination.

Yet new legislation (HR 5474) drafted by the office of Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), introduced on June 14, calls for the immediate suspension of security assistance to Honduras until human rights violations by security forces have been fully investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The first 15 articles of the bill list evidence of police and military corruption and involvement in gross human rights violations with impunity, including Cáceres’ murder. If the official stance of the US State Department, with the US government as the primary funder and partner of Honduran security forces, civilian and military, is a variation on “nothing to see here,” then it is hard to imagine how the Special Commission can hope to succeed.

Until a much larger percentage of the police force is investigated and held accountable and individuals are prosecuted for their crimes, it is purely rhetorical (and inaccurate) to say the commission has made significant progress. Moreover, the commission’s purely administrative nature means it is ill-equipped either to address the institutional hurdles critical to effectively reforming the police — namely the ongoing militarization of the police and the US-backed counterinsurgency policing program — or preventing corruption before it happens. There are no mechanisms in place or currently being developed by the Special Commission to prevent police corruption in the future, something that is a predictable result of the strength of drug cartels and organized crime, in the face of poor police pay and lack of enforced institutional safeguards against it. Even if the Special Commission manages to purge a larger percentage of police than past commissions, Honduran citizens are unlikely to feel safer or consider the police “friendly,” as General Pacheco mused during his Wilson Center presentation. Honduran civilians, especially social activists, will continue to be targets, given the ongoing militarization and counterinsurgency orientation of policing and the fact that the Honduran justice system cannot be relied upon.

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

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

 

Colombia

Clinton’s take on Plan Colombia, a U.S. program furnishing (predominantly military) aid to Colombia to combat both the FARC and ELN rebels as well as drug cartels, and introduced under her husband’s administration in 2000, adopts a much more favorable tone in the paperback compared to the original. She begins both versions by praising the initiative as a model for Mexico — a highly controversial claim given the sharp rise in extrajudicial killings and the proliferation of paramilitary death squads in Colombia since the program was launched.

The two versions then diverge considerably. In the original, she explains that the program was expanded by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe “with strong support from the Bush Administration” and acknowledges that “new concerns began to arise about human rights abuses, violence against labor organizers, targeted assassinations, and the atrocities of right-wing paramilitary groups.” Seeming to place the blame for these atrocities on the Uribe and Bush governments, she then claims to have “made the choice to continue America’s bipartisan support for Plan Colombia” regardless during her tenure as secretary of state, albeit with an increased emphasis on “governance, education and development.”

By contrast, the paperback makes no acknowledgment of these abuses or even of the fact that the program was widely expanded in the 2000s. Instead, it simply makes the case that the Obama administration decided to build on President Clinton’s efforts to help Colombia overcome its drug-related violence and the FARC insurgency — apparently leading to “an unprecedented measure of security and prosperity” by the time of her visit to Bogotá in 2010.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Also found in the original is a paragraph where Clinton discusses her efforts to encourage other countries in the Americas to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement during a regional conference in El Salvador in June 2009:

So we worked hard to improve and ratify trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and encouraged Canada and the group of countries that became known as the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile — all open-market democracies driving toward a more prosperous future to join negotiations with Asian nations on TPP, the trans-Pacific trade agreement.

Clinton praises Latin America for its high rate of economic growth, which she revealingly claims has produced “more than 50 million new middle-class consumers eager to buy U.S. goods and services.” She also admits that the region’s inequality is “still among the worst in the world” with much of its population “locked in persistent poverty” — even while the TPP that she has advocated strongly for threatens to exacerbate the region’s underdevelopment, just as NAFTA caused the Mexican economy to stagnate.

Last October, however, she publicly reversed her stance on the TPP under pressure from fellow Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Likewise, the entire two-page section on the conference in El Salvador where she expresses her support for the TPP is missing from the paperback.

 

Brazil

In her original account of her efforts to prevent Cuba from being admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2009, Clinton singles out Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a potential mediator who could help “broker a compromise” between the U.S. and the left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Her assessment of Lula, removed from the paperback, is mixed:

As Brazil’s economy grew, so did Lula’s assertiveness in foreign policy. He envisioned Brazil becoming a major world power, and his actions led to both constructive cooperation and some frustrations. For example, in 2004 Lula sent troops to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, where they did an excellent job of providing order and security under difficult conditions. On the other hand, he insisted on working with Turkey to cut a side deal with Iran on its nuclear program that did not meet the international community’s requirements.

It is notable that the “difficult conditions” in Haiti that Clinton refers to was a period of perhaps the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere at the time, following the U.S.-backed coup d’etat against democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Researchers estimate that some 4,000 people were killed for political reasons, and some 35,000 women and girls sexually assaulted. As various human rights investigators, journalists and other eyewitnesses noted at the time, some of the most heinous of these atrocities were carried out by Haiti’s National Police, with U.N. troops often providing support — when they were not engaging them directly. WikiLeaked State Department cables, however, reveal that the State Department saw the U.N. mission as strategically important, in part because it helped to isolate Venezuela from other countries in the region, and because it allowed the U.S. to “manage” Haiti on the cheap.

In contrast to Lula, Clinton heaps praise on Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was recently suspended from office pending impeachment proceedings:

Later I would enjoy working with Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protégée, Chief of Staff, and eventual successor as President. On January 1, 2011, I attended her inauguration on a rainy but festive day in Brasilia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the country’s first woman President drove by in a 1952 Rolls-Royce. She took the oath of office and accepted the traditional green and gold Presidential sash from her mentor, Lula, pledging to continue his work on eradicating poverty and inequality. She also acknowledged the history she was making. “Today, all Brazilian women should feel proud and happy.” Dilma is a formidable leader whom I admire and like.

The paperback version deletes almost all references to Rousseff, mentioning her only once as an alleged target of NSA spying according to Edward Snowden.

 

The Arab Spring

By far the lengthiest deletion in Clinton’s memoirs consists of a ten-page section discussing the Arab Spring in Jordan, Libya and the Persian Gulf region — amounting to almost half of the chapter. Having detailed her administration’s response to the mass demonstrations that had started in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt, then Jordan, then Bahrain and Libya, Clinton openly recognizes the profound contradictions at the heart of the U.S.’ relationship with its Gulf allies:

The United States had developed deep economic and strategic ties to these wealthy, conservative monarchies, even as we made no secret of our concerns about human rights abuses, especially the treatment of women and minorities, and the export of extremist ideology. Every U.S. administration wrestled with the contradictions of our policy towards the Gulf.

And it was appalling that money from the Gulf continued funding extremist madrassas and propaganda all over the world. At the same time, these governments shared many of our top security concerns.

Thanks to these shared “security concerns,” particularly those surrounding al-Qaeda and Iran, her administration strengthened diplomatic ties and sold vast amounts of military equipment to these countries:

The United States sold large amounts of military equipment to the Gulf states, and stationed the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, and maintained troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as key bases in other countries. When I became Secretary I developed personal relationships with Gulf leaders both individually and as a group through the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Clinton continues to reveal that the U.S.’ common interests with its Gulf allies extended well beyond mere security issues and in fact included the objective of regime change in Libya — which led the Obama administration into a self-inflicted dilemma as it weighed the ramifications of condemning the violent repression of protests in Bahrain with the need to build an international coalition, involving a number of Gulf states, to help remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi from power:

Our values and conscience demanded that the United States condemn the violence against civilians we were seeing in Bahrain, full stop. After all, that was the very principle at play in Libya. But if we persisted, the carefully constructed international coalition to stop Qaddafi could collapse at the eleventh hour, and we might fail to prevent a much larger abuse — a full-fledged massacre.

Instead of delving into the complexities of the U.S.’ alliances in the Middle East, the entire discussion is simply deleted, replaced by a pensive reflection on prospects for democracy in Egypt, making no reference to the Gulf region at all. Having been uncharacteristically candid in assessing the U.S.’ response to the Arab Spring, Clinton chose to ignore these obvious inconsistencies — electing instead to proclaim the Obama administration as a champion of democracy and human rights across the Arab world.

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

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

 

Colombia

Clinton’s take on Plan Colombia, a U.S. program furnishing (predominantly military) aid to Colombia to combat both the FARC and ELN rebels as well as drug cartels, and introduced under her husband’s administration in 2000, adopts a much more favorable tone in the paperback compared to the original. She begins both versions by praising the initiative as a model for Mexico — a highly controversial claim given the sharp rise in extrajudicial killings and the proliferation of paramilitary death squads in Colombia since the program was launched.

The two versions then diverge considerably. In the original, she explains that the program was expanded by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe “with strong support from the Bush Administration” and acknowledges that “new concerns began to arise about human rights abuses, violence against labor organizers, targeted assassinations, and the atrocities of right-wing paramilitary groups.” Seeming to place the blame for these atrocities on the Uribe and Bush governments, she then claims to have “made the choice to continue America’s bipartisan support for Plan Colombia” regardless during her tenure as secretary of state, albeit with an increased emphasis on “governance, education and development.”

By contrast, the paperback makes no acknowledgment of these abuses or even of the fact that the program was widely expanded in the 2000s. Instead, it simply makes the case that the Obama administration decided to build on President Clinton’s efforts to help Colombia overcome its drug-related violence and the FARC insurgency — apparently leading to “an unprecedented measure of security and prosperity” by the time of her visit to Bogotá in 2010.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Also found in the original is a paragraph where Clinton discusses her efforts to encourage other countries in the Americas to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement during a regional conference in El Salvador in June 2009:

So we worked hard to improve and ratify trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and encouraged Canada and the group of countries that became known as the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile — all open-market democracies driving toward a more prosperous future to join negotiations with Asian nations on TPP, the trans-Pacific trade agreement.

Clinton praises Latin America for its high rate of economic growth, which she revealingly claims has produced “more than 50 million new middle-class consumers eager to buy U.S. goods and services.” She also admits that the region’s inequality is “still among the worst in the world” with much of its population “locked in persistent poverty” — even while the TPP that she has advocated strongly for threatens to exacerbate the region’s underdevelopment, just as NAFTA caused the Mexican economy to stagnate.

Last October, however, she publicly reversed her stance on the TPP under pressure from fellow Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Likewise, the entire two-page section on the conference in El Salvador where she expresses her support for the TPP is missing from the paperback.

 

Brazil

In her original account of her efforts to prevent Cuba from being admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2009, Clinton singles out Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a potential mediator who could help “broker a compromise” between the U.S. and the left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Her assessment of Lula, removed from the paperback, is mixed:

As Brazil’s economy grew, so did Lula’s assertiveness in foreign policy. He envisioned Brazil becoming a major world power, and his actions led to both constructive cooperation and some frustrations. For example, in 2004 Lula sent troops to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, where they did an excellent job of providing order and security under difficult conditions. On the other hand, he insisted on working with Turkey to cut a side deal with Iran on its nuclear program that did not meet the international community’s requirements.

It is notable that the “difficult conditions” in Haiti that Clinton refers to was a period of perhaps the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere at the time, following the U.S.-backed coup d’etat against democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Researchers estimate that some 4,000 people were killed for political reasons, and some 35,000 women and girls sexually assaulted. As various human rights investigators, journalists and other eyewitnesses noted at the time, some of the most heinous of these atrocities were carried out by Haiti’s National Police, with U.N. troops often providing support — when they were not engaging them directly. WikiLeaked State Department cables, however, reveal that the State Department saw the U.N. mission as strategically important, in part because it helped to isolate Venezuela from other countries in the region, and because it allowed the U.S. to “manage” Haiti on the cheap.

In contrast to Lula, Clinton heaps praise on Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was recently suspended from office pending impeachment proceedings:

Later I would enjoy working with Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protégée, Chief of Staff, and eventual successor as President. On January 1, 2011, I attended her inauguration on a rainy but festive day in Brasilia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the country’s first woman President drove by in a 1952 Rolls-Royce. She took the oath of office and accepted the traditional green and gold Presidential sash from her mentor, Lula, pledging to continue his work on eradicating poverty and inequality. She also acknowledged the history she was making. “Today, all Brazilian women should feel proud and happy.” Dilma is a formidable leader whom I admire and like.

The paperback version deletes almost all references to Rousseff, mentioning her only once as an alleged target of NSA spying according to Edward Snowden.

 

The Arab Spring

By far the lengthiest deletion in Clinton’s memoirs consists of a ten-page section discussing the Arab Spring in Jordan, Libya and the Persian Gulf region — amounting to almost half of the chapter. Having detailed her administration’s response to the mass demonstrations that had started in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt, then Jordan, then Bahrain and Libya, Clinton openly recognizes the profound contradictions at the heart of the U.S.’ relationship with its Gulf allies:

The United States had developed deep economic and strategic ties to these wealthy, conservative monarchies, even as we made no secret of our concerns about human rights abuses, especially the treatment of women and minorities, and the export of extremist ideology. Every U.S. administration wrestled with the contradictions of our policy towards the Gulf.

And it was appalling that money from the Gulf continued funding extremist madrassas and propaganda all over the world. At the same time, these governments shared many of our top security concerns.

Thanks to these shared “security concerns,” particularly those surrounding al-Qaeda and Iran, her administration strengthened diplomatic ties and sold vast amounts of military equipment to these countries:

The United States sold large amounts of military equipment to the Gulf states, and stationed the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, and maintained troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as key bases in other countries. When I became Secretary I developed personal relationships with Gulf leaders both individually and as a group through the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Clinton continues to reveal that the U.S.’ common interests with its Gulf allies extended well beyond mere security issues and in fact included the objective of regime change in Libya — which led the Obama administration into a self-inflicted dilemma as it weighed the ramifications of condemning the violent repression of protests in Bahrain with the need to build an international coalition, involving a number of Gulf states, to help remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi from power:

Our values and conscience demanded that the United States condemn the violence against civilians we were seeing in Bahrain, full stop. After all, that was the very principle at play in Libya. But if we persisted, the carefully constructed international coalition to stop Qaddafi could collapse at the eleventh hour, and we might fail to prevent a much larger abuse — a full-fledged massacre.

Instead of delving into the complexities of the U.S.’ alliances in the Middle East, the entire discussion is simply deleted, replaced by a pensive reflection on prospects for democracy in Egypt, making no reference to the Gulf region at all. Having been uncharacteristically candid in assessing the U.S.’ response to the Arab Spring, Clinton chose to ignore these obvious inconsistencies — electing instead to proclaim the Obama administration as a champion of democracy and human rights across the Arab world.

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

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

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

First, on April 3, the Honduran foreign ministry requested that the MACCIH be involved in the investigation into the murder of the Honduran social leader Berta Cáceres — a proposal quickly rejected by Cáceres’ family given that the MACCIH has neither the mandate nor the capacity to provide effective help with a murder investigation. Instead, Cáceres’ family has consistently asked that the Honduran government allow an independent group of experts, supported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to carry out an investigation of the murder.

Then, on April 6, members of Cáceres’ family and of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH, the indigenous organization co-founded by Cáceres) met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to discuss their concerns regarding the flawed investigation into Cáceres’ assassination. The meeting grew increasingly uncomfortable as Almagro, who has been a major promoter of MACCIH, insisted that Honduras’s new anticorruption mission should be involved in the investigation. Though Cáceres’ family strongly rejected this possibility, Almagro’s office issued a Tweet shortly after the meeting with a picture of the meeting participants together with the announcement that MACCIH would “investigate sources of political/economic corruption in the crime.”

The Cáceres family and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) quickly issuea statement refuting Almagro’s announcement that included a strong quote from Cáceres’ daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres:

This morning we made our desire very clear that we do not want the MACCIH to investigate my mother’s murder, but somehow the opposite has been understood. This concerns me because it creates confusion within a community that is waiting to hear what will happen with regards to this case.

In the days that followed, Almagro backed down and then ended up throwing his support behind the family’s request for an IACHR-backed investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres. But the fact that both the Honduran government and the OAS Secretary General had tried to involve MACCIH in an investigation that had nothing to with the body’s mandate, and had attempted to do so before MACCIH had even come into existence, left a very bad taste in the mouths of Honduran human rights defenders and anticorruption advocates.In their April 28 statement, the Coalition Against Impunity noted:

We believe that the MACCIH does not have the power to intervene in the investigation related to the prosecution of those responsible for this assassination. Consequently, attention should be given to the family and COPINH’s objections, so that the MACCIH does notintervene in these proceedings, because by doing so they impede the request for an international commission under the auspices of the IACHR that would contribute to the clarification of the case.

Again, MACCIH originated as a response to the IHSS corruption scandal and, as the Coalition has stated, its first priority should be ensuring an exhaustive investigation of what has occurred at the IHSS and identifying and prosecuting all those in the government and the National Party implicated in kickback or bribery schemes. Recently, the head of MACCIH, the Peruvian former minister Juan Jiménez Mayor, stated that they will indeed focus first on the IHSS case. He also announced that their team of forensic experts would not be in place until sometime in August, dampening hope of “immediate results.”

Even if the MACCIH team has the best of intentions, which remains to be seen, they will face some very tall hurdles.

For starters, any corruption investigation requires the cooperation and support of the attorney general’s office, which remains firmly under the thumb of President Hernández. Current Attorney General Oscar Chinchilla is a close ally of Hernández and his appointment was hotly contested and considered to be illegal due to glaring procedural violations. Following Chinchilla’s appointment, former supreme court judge Ivis Discua Barrillas declared the ruling party “isn’t interested in Honduras, they just want to protect themselves and have people [in the judiciary] who are allies and permit them to carry out acts of corruption.” Days laterDiscua fled Honduras after receiving a series of death threats.

Unsurprisingly, Chinchilla has only taken very limited action in the IHSS case, and failed to investigate allegations of graft involving National Party officials, despite abundant revelations of the diversion of IHSS funds to National Party accounts through shell companies. Last summer’s anticorruption protests demanded that Chinchilla and President Hernández resign, but neither appear to be going anywhere for the time being.

More generally, impunity in Honduras is more rampant than ever, and the government’s “tough-on-crime” rhetoric doesn’t mask the lack of political will to tackle criminal activity, especially when it potentially involves state agents and/or government allies. There have been various attempts at police reform and judicial reform that have gone nowhere. Now, with Honduran authorities facing unprecedented international pressure, the government is trying hard to give the impression that it’s taking decisive action in the Berta Cáceres assassination case (though the Cáceres family has been denied all access to the investigation as is their right under Honduran law) with the arrest of five suspects, more than two months after the murder. But even in the very doubtful event that the Cáceres murder investigation produces credible results, this doesn’t affect the broader reality:In recent years hundreds of Honduran activists have been murdered, but the authorities consistently fail to investigate these crimes, let alone prosecute those responsible.

Despite the very long odds, the Coalition Against Impunity is committed to trying to make the MACCIH work:

We regret that the MACCIH is an organ with restricted powers, limited to supporting, strengthening, contributing, proposing reforms and actively collaborating with the discredited institutions of the Honduran state that are tasked with preventing, investigating and sanctioning acts of corruption. Despite these limitations, we welcome the fact that these tasks are in the hands of a group of judges, prosecutors, policeand other international specialists who will supervise the work and provide technical support to the judicial institutions.

Beyond the thorough investigation of the IHSS corruption allegations, the Coalition hopes that MACCIH will be involved in the selection and supervision of anticorruption judges (though it laments that the attorney general’s office may be involved in a pre-selection of these judges); that it will investigate the current scandal in the National Police, in which senior officials were allegedly assassinated by other police agents; and that it will seek to weed out corruption within the judiciary.

Finally, the Coalition sees its role going forward as a watchdog of the MACCIH, and hopes to be able to help make it an effective anticorruption body (despite the long odds):

As the Coalition Against Impunity, we declare ourselves watchdogs and reiterate our commitment to society at large to become a space for monitoring, questioning and making demands, publicly noting the actions and omissions of the MACCIH that call into question its theoretical independence, impartiality, and effectiveness, as well as recognizing its successes, when there are some, and making concrete and viable proposals that can be implemented.

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

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

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

First, on April 3, the Honduran foreign ministry requested that the MACCIH be involved in the investigation into the murder of the Honduran social leader Berta Cáceres — a proposal quickly rejected by Cáceres’ family given that the MACCIH has neither the mandate nor the capacity to provide effective help with a murder investigation. Instead, Cáceres’ family has consistently asked that the Honduran government allow an independent group of experts, supported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to carry out an investigation of the murder.

Then, on April 6, members of Cáceres’ family and of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH, the indigenous organization co-founded by Cáceres) met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to discuss their concerns regarding the flawed investigation into Cáceres’ assassination. The meeting grew increasingly uncomfortable as Almagro, who has been a major promoter of MACCIH, insisted that Honduras’s new anticorruption mission should be involved in the investigation. Though Cáceres’ family strongly rejected this possibility, Almagro’s office issued a Tweet shortly after the meeting with a picture of the meeting participants together with the announcement that MACCIH would “investigate sources of political/economic corruption in the crime.”

The Cáceres family and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) quickly issuea statement refuting Almagro’s announcement that included a strong quote from Cáceres’ daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres:

This morning we made our desire very clear that we do not want the MACCIH to investigate my mother’s murder, but somehow the opposite has been understood. This concerns me because it creates confusion within a community that is waiting to hear what will happen with regards to this case.

In the days that followed, Almagro backed down and then ended up throwing his support behind the family’s request for an IACHR-backed investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres. But the fact that both the Honduran government and the OAS Secretary General had tried to involve MACCIH in an investigation that had nothing to with the body’s mandate, and had attempted to do so before MACCIH had even come into existence, left a very bad taste in the mouths of Honduran human rights defenders and anticorruption advocates.In their April 28 statement, the Coalition Against Impunity noted:

We believe that the MACCIH does not have the power to intervene in the investigation related to the prosecution of those responsible for this assassination. Consequently, attention should be given to the family and COPINH’s objections, so that the MACCIH does notintervene in these proceedings, because by doing so they impede the request for an international commission under the auspices of the IACHR that would contribute to the clarification of the case.

Again, MACCIH originated as a response to the IHSS corruption scandal and, as the Coalition has stated, its first priority should be ensuring an exhaustive investigation of what has occurred at the IHSS and identifying and prosecuting all those in the government and the National Party implicated in kickback or bribery schemes. Recently, the head of MACCIH, the Peruvian former minister Juan Jiménez Mayor, stated that they will indeed focus first on the IHSS case. He also announced that their team of forensic experts would not be in place until sometime in August, dampening hope of “immediate results.”

Even if the MACCIH team has the best of intentions, which remains to be seen, they will face some very tall hurdles.

For starters, any corruption investigation requires the cooperation and support of the attorney general’s office, which remains firmly under the thumb of President Hernández. Current Attorney General Oscar Chinchilla is a close ally of Hernández and his appointment was hotly contested and considered to be illegal due to glaring procedural violations. Following Chinchilla’s appointment, former supreme court judge Ivis Discua Barrillas declared the ruling party “isn’t interested in Honduras, they just want to protect themselves and have people [in the judiciary] who are allies and permit them to carry out acts of corruption.” Days laterDiscua fled Honduras after receiving a series of death threats.

Unsurprisingly, Chinchilla has only taken very limited action in the IHSS case, and failed to investigate allegations of graft involving National Party officials, despite abundant revelations of the diversion of IHSS funds to National Party accounts through shell companies. Last summer’s anticorruption protests demanded that Chinchilla and President Hernández resign, but neither appear to be going anywhere for the time being.

More generally, impunity in Honduras is more rampant than ever, and the government’s “tough-on-crime” rhetoric doesn’t mask the lack of political will to tackle criminal activity, especially when it potentially involves state agents and/or government allies. There have been various attempts at police reform and judicial reform that have gone nowhere. Now, with Honduran authorities facing unprecedented international pressure, the government is trying hard to give the impression that it’s taking decisive action in the Berta Cáceres assassination case (though the Cáceres family has been denied all access to the investigation as is their right under Honduran law) with the arrest of five suspects, more than two months after the murder. But even in the very doubtful event that the Cáceres murder investigation produces credible results, this doesn’t affect the broader reality:In recent years hundreds of Honduran activists have been murdered, but the authorities consistently fail to investigate these crimes, let alone prosecute those responsible.

Despite the very long odds, the Coalition Against Impunity is committed to trying to make the MACCIH work:

We regret that the MACCIH is an organ with restricted powers, limited to supporting, strengthening, contributing, proposing reforms and actively collaborating with the discredited institutions of the Honduran state that are tasked with preventing, investigating and sanctioning acts of corruption. Despite these limitations, we welcome the fact that these tasks are in the hands of a group of judges, prosecutors, policeand other international specialists who will supervise the work and provide technical support to the judicial institutions.

Beyond the thorough investigation of the IHSS corruption allegations, the Coalition hopes that MACCIH will be involved in the selection and supervision of anticorruption judges (though it laments that the attorney general’s office may be involved in a pre-selection of these judges); that it will investigate the current scandal in the National Police, in which senior officials were allegedly assassinated by other police agents; and that it will seek to weed out corruption within the judiciary.

Finally, the Coalition sees its role going forward as a watchdog of the MACCIH, and hopes to be able to help make it an effective anticorruption body (despite the long odds):

As the Coalition Against Impunity, we declare ourselves watchdogs and reiterate our commitment to society at large to become a space for monitoring, questioning and making demands, publicly noting the actions and omissions of the MACCIH that call into question its theoretical independence, impartiality, and effectiveness, as well as recognizing its successes, when there are some, and making concrete and viable proposals that can be implemented.

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

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

The result has been a rapid de facto transition toward agroecological and organic methods that has been strongly supported by the Cuban government, including a proliferation of urban and suburban farms that provide some 70 percent of vegetables in major cities such as Havana. Innovations such as organopónicos — urban gardens powered by household waste, manure and crop residues in place of chemical fertilizers, and found in a range of urban environments including rooftops, vacant lots, alleys and backyards — have helped to drastically improve Cuba’s food security. Per capita food production grew by 4.2 percent per year from 1996 to 2005, a considerably higher rate than in any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean, while the costs of organic fertilizer and biological pest control are 98 percent and 89 percent lower than their respective chemical equivalents. Moreover, the dominance of locally grown produce in Cuban cities has also reduced both the environmental and financial costs of transportation in-country and overseas.

The recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, however, could drastically shift the political and economic conditions that spawned and have helped to sustain this unique system of agriculture in Cuba. According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a bilateral agricultural accord signed during President Obama’s trip to Cuba last month will “allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba” (emphasis added). These exchanges will be largely unidirectional, with these U.S. entities providing “nutritional research and guidance,” while “U.S. based market, consumer, nutrition and environmental research findings” will be delivered “to Cuban government and industry officials” in order to “help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food.” Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of agroecology or organic agriculture in this USDA press release, which expresses little interest in bringing Cuban innovations to the U.S., where certified organic crops comprise just 0.7 percent of total cropland.

Most worrying of all, however, are the explicit provisions for U.S. agricultural firms to play a central role in these activities (the USDA defines marketing orders as “initiated by industry”). Revealingly, President Obama was joined on his trip by representatives from the U.S. agricultural industry hoping to persuade Congress to open up “a market worth about $2 billion annually.” USDA projections show poultry, wheat, corn, rice and dairy as among the most profitable agricultural commodities in Cuba. Although U.S. firms have been allowed to export agricultural products to Cuba since 2001, Cuban importers still face financial restrictions that are often prohibitive, as they are not allowed to take out loans through U.S. banks.

The stated objective of the accord is to “help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector.” But questions must be raised as to whether the promotion of U.S. agricultural practices in Cuba will only serve to help U.S. agribusinesses infiltrate the Cuban market, posing two distinct risks to the country’s agroecological and organic farms. One concern is that the promotion of U.S. agricultural methods under the new bilateral accord could entice more farmers to increase their use of imported fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, especially if and when these become more widely available in Cuba, and to specialize in monocultures in order to maximize revenue. The networks that currently exist to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise between small farmers could in turn be weakened, putting the entire Cuban agroecology movement at risk.

The other main risk, especially given the considerable U.S. agribusiness interest in exporting to Cuba, is increased competition from U.S. imports. Despite being partially sheltered from U.S. competition by the trade embargo, agroecological and organic farms already struggle to compete against their conventional counterparts. Aside from the challenges facing Cuban agriculture in general, including labor shortages, red tape and limited access to machinery and irrigation systems, these farms face their own unique obstacles, such as difficulty in obtaining natural inputs like compost, microorganisms and earthworms. Existing government policies create additional hurdles, as the state distributes agrochemicals along with improved seeds for cash crops such as corn, beans and taro, allowing conventional farmers to achieve the same results with less labor input.

The future of agroecology in Cuba rests not only on how U.S.-Cuban relations continue to develop but also on how the Cuban state proceeds with ongoing economic reforms. Cuban farmers who practice agroecological methods by necessity will face a choice between committing to them in principle and returning to using imported agrochemicals to resolve the issue of labor shortages. The Cuban government will face a tricky balancing act between using U.S. agricultural exports to settle the question of food security and protecting its own industries, particularly agroecological and organic farms, from increased competition. Will a pioneering, sustainable food system that emerged from a period of extreme scarcity and hardship survive the transition to an era of relative abundance?

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

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

The result has been a rapid de facto transition toward agroecological and organic methods that has been strongly supported by the Cuban government, including a proliferation of urban and suburban farms that provide some 70 percent of vegetables in major cities such as Havana. Innovations such as organopónicos — urban gardens powered by household waste, manure and crop residues in place of chemical fertilizers, and found in a range of urban environments including rooftops, vacant lots, alleys and backyards — have helped to drastically improve Cuba’s food security. Per capita food production grew by 4.2 percent per year from 1996 to 2005, a considerably higher rate than in any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean, while the costs of organic fertilizer and biological pest control are 98 percent and 89 percent lower than their respective chemical equivalents. Moreover, the dominance of locally grown produce in Cuban cities has also reduced both the environmental and financial costs of transportation in-country and overseas.

The recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, however, could drastically shift the political and economic conditions that spawned and have helped to sustain this unique system of agriculture in Cuba. According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a bilateral agricultural accord signed during President Obama’s trip to Cuba last month will “allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba” (emphasis added). These exchanges will be largely unidirectional, with these U.S. entities providing “nutritional research and guidance,” while “U.S. based market, consumer, nutrition and environmental research findings” will be delivered “to Cuban government and industry officials” in order to “help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food.” Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of agroecology or organic agriculture in this USDA press release, which expresses little interest in bringing Cuban innovations to the U.S., where certified organic crops comprise just 0.7 percent of total cropland.

Most worrying of all, however, are the explicit provisions for U.S. agricultural firms to play a central role in these activities (the USDA defines marketing orders as “initiated by industry”). Revealingly, President Obama was joined on his trip by representatives from the U.S. agricultural industry hoping to persuade Congress to open up “a market worth about $2 billion annually.” USDA projections show poultry, wheat, corn, rice and dairy as among the most profitable agricultural commodities in Cuba. Although U.S. firms have been allowed to export agricultural products to Cuba since 2001, Cuban importers still face financial restrictions that are often prohibitive, as they are not allowed to take out loans through U.S. banks.

The stated objective of the accord is to “help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector.” But questions must be raised as to whether the promotion of U.S. agricultural practices in Cuba will only serve to help U.S. agribusinesses infiltrate the Cuban market, posing two distinct risks to the country’s agroecological and organic farms. One concern is that the promotion of U.S. agricultural methods under the new bilateral accord could entice more farmers to increase their use of imported fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, especially if and when these become more widely available in Cuba, and to specialize in monocultures in order to maximize revenue. The networks that currently exist to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise between small farmers could in turn be weakened, putting the entire Cuban agroecology movement at risk.

The other main risk, especially given the considerable U.S. agribusiness interest in exporting to Cuba, is increased competition from U.S. imports. Despite being partially sheltered from U.S. competition by the trade embargo, agroecological and organic farms already struggle to compete against their conventional counterparts. Aside from the challenges facing Cuban agriculture in general, including labor shortages, red tape and limited access to machinery and irrigation systems, these farms face their own unique obstacles, such as difficulty in obtaining natural inputs like compost, microorganisms and earthworms. Existing government policies create additional hurdles, as the state distributes agrochemicals along with improved seeds for cash crops such as corn, beans and taro, allowing conventional farmers to achieve the same results with less labor input.

The future of agroecology in Cuba rests not only on how U.S.-Cuban relations continue to develop but also on how the Cuban state proceeds with ongoing economic reforms. Cuban farmers who practice agroecological methods by necessity will face a choice between committing to them in principle and returning to using imported agrochemicals to resolve the issue of labor shortages. The Cuban government will face a tricky balancing act between using U.S. agricultural exports to settle the question of food security and protecting its own industries, particularly agroecological and organic farms, from increased competition. Will a pioneering, sustainable food system that emerged from a period of extreme scarcity and hardship survive the transition to an era of relative abundance?

Want to search in the archives?

¿Quieres buscar en los archivos?

Click Here Haga clic aquí