The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

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

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, reported that the Worker’s Party of Dilma Rousseff is considering supporting a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would allow for new elections to be held later this year, no matter how the impeachment proceedings shake out.

And how did Temer respond? By calling the proposal for new elections a coup!

To sum up: Temer doesn’t think what is currently happening is a coup, partially because so much of the population supports it. But virtually nobody wants Temer to simply take over as an unelected president and a majority of people prefer new elections. But, according to Temer, new elections would be the real coup. Let it sink in.

H/T Glenn Greenwald.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, reported that the Worker’s Party of Dilma Rousseff is considering supporting a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would allow for new elections to be held later this year, no matter how the impeachment proceedings shake out.

And how did Temer respond? By calling the proposal for new elections a coup!

To sum up: Temer doesn’t think what is currently happening is a coup, partially because so much of the population supports it. But virtually nobody wants Temer to simply take over as an unelected president and a majority of people prefer new elections. But, according to Temer, new elections would be the real coup. Let it sink in.

H/T Glenn Greenwald.

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

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

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

Singer and his allies set up a lobbying group, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA). They brought on big Washington names like former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben and Nancy Soderberg, a high ranking official under Bill Clinton. Since 2008, ATFA has spent more than $8 million on lobbyists, according to disclosure records. (This includes former Rep. Connie Mack, for whom Singer’s firm was a top campaign contributor. Mack was one of Argentina’s harshest critics in the U.S. House of Representatives and he quickly signed up to lobby for ATFA after losing his Senate run.)

ATFA took out full page ads in the Washington Post and other newspapers around the world denouncing former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as corrupt and a supporter of terrorism. Lobbyists wrote op-eds trashing the country (without disclosing their financial interests). They even had an Argentine naval vessel seized in Ghana to try and secure repayment.

ATFA found a friend in New York Judge Griesa, who made an unprecedented ruling that Argentina could not pay the bondholders to whom it had been making regular payments, unless it also paid the vultures. This essentially locked the country out of the global credit markets, wreaking much economic havoc that contributed to the current downturn in Argentina. 

In 2014, Singer brought on Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, to try and negotiate with the Fernandez government. That relationship ended quickly however, as Fernandez denounced a five-point plan drafted by Albright to undermine and destabilize her government if she didn’t agree to terms with the vultures.

So yeah, there was a bit of bad blood between Singer and the previous government. Not surprising that he’s happy to see a new face in the Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the White House).

But here’s when TIME’s decision to let Singer write a couple of paragraphs on Macri gets even more absurd. Because when Macri was recently elected president of Argentina, he immediately went about settling the long-standing debt impasse with the vultures.

Just this week, Argentina returned to the international bond market, raising some $16 billion. Most of it will go to repay the vulture funds, including Singer’s.  TIME included a short disclaimer at the end of Singer’s piece, saying that he “has been involved in debt negotiations with the Argentine government for several years.” Well, that’s putting it mildly, to say the least.

Singer’s hedge fund is about to get paid $2.28 billion from the new Argentine government. That’s almost four times the principal amount on the bonds. And even that understates the profit that Singer is making as a result of Macri’s election. Earlier court filings showed that Singer’s firm purchased Argentine bonds for just over 20 cents on the dollar.

TIME’s list should stand as a signal of important contributions to leadership; not as a thank you note from one man who did much to damage Argentina’s economy, to the one who filled his pockets with billions in profit.

It’s like having Macri’s public relations firm do his profile. That happens all the time, but at least they usually have to put someone else’s name on it.

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

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

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

Singer and his allies set up a lobbying group, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA). They brought on big Washington names like former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben and Nancy Soderberg, a high ranking official under Bill Clinton. Since 2008, ATFA has spent more than $8 million on lobbyists, according to disclosure records. (This includes former Rep. Connie Mack, for whom Singer’s firm was a top campaign contributor. Mack was one of Argentina’s harshest critics in the U.S. House of Representatives and he quickly signed up to lobby for ATFA after losing his Senate run.)

ATFA took out full page ads in the Washington Post and other newspapers around the world denouncing former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as corrupt and a supporter of terrorism. Lobbyists wrote op-eds trashing the country (without disclosing their financial interests). They even had an Argentine naval vessel seized in Ghana to try and secure repayment.

ATFA found a friend in New York Judge Griesa, who made an unprecedented ruling that Argentina could not pay the bondholders to whom it had been making regular payments, unless it also paid the vultures. This essentially locked the country out of the global credit markets, wreaking much economic havoc that contributed to the current downturn in Argentina. 

In 2014, Singer brought on Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, to try and negotiate with the Fernandez government. That relationship ended quickly however, as Fernandez denounced a five-point plan drafted by Albright to undermine and destabilize her government if she didn’t agree to terms with the vultures.

So yeah, there was a bit of bad blood between Singer and the previous government. Not surprising that he’s happy to see a new face in the Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the White House).

But here’s when TIME’s decision to let Singer write a couple of paragraphs on Macri gets even more absurd. Because when Macri was recently elected president of Argentina, he immediately went about settling the long-standing debt impasse with the vultures.

Just this week, Argentina returned to the international bond market, raising some $16 billion. Most of it will go to repay the vulture funds, including Singer’s.  TIME included a short disclaimer at the end of Singer’s piece, saying that he “has been involved in debt negotiations with the Argentine government for several years.” Well, that’s putting it mildly, to say the least.

Singer’s hedge fund is about to get paid $2.28 billion from the new Argentine government. That’s almost four times the principal amount on the bonds. And even that understates the profit that Singer is making as a result of Macri’s election. Earlier court filings showed that Singer’s firm purchased Argentine bonds for just over 20 cents on the dollar.

TIME’s list should stand as a signal of important contributions to leadership; not as a thank you note from one man who did much to damage Argentina’s economy, to the one who filled his pockets with billions in profit.

It’s like having Macri’s public relations firm do his profile. That happens all the time, but at least they usually have to put someone else’s name on it.

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

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

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, human rights defenders discussed the disturbing pattern of violence and repression in Honduras targeting social activists. The congressional briefing, “The U.S. Policy Response to Violence and Repression Against Human Rights Defenders in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service. Speakers included Tomás Gómez Membreño, General Coordinator of COPINH; Alejando Tercero, LGBT activist with the Rainbow Collective (Colectivo Arcoiris); Bertha Oliva, Executive Director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); and Víctor Fernández, COPINH Attorney and Coordinator of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).

The panelists discussed the current climate in Honduras from the perspective of different communities of human rights activists and highlighted what reforms to U.S.-Honduras policy are needed to curb rights abuses and to support the work of human rights advocates and civil society more broadly.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below, with the four panelists’ comments in untranslated Spanish and the panel moderated in English.

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

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

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, human rights defenders discussed the disturbing pattern of violence and repression in Honduras targeting social activists. The congressional briefing, “The U.S. Policy Response to Violence and Repression Against Human Rights Defenders in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service. Speakers included Tomás Gómez Membreño, General Coordinator of COPINH; Alejando Tercero, LGBT activist with the Rainbow Collective (Colectivo Arcoiris); Bertha Oliva, Executive Director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); and Víctor Fernández, COPINH Attorney and Coordinator of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).

The panelists discussed the current climate in Honduras from the perspective of different communities of human rights activists and highlighted what reforms to U.S.-Honduras policy are needed to curb rights abuses and to support the work of human rights advocates and civil society more broadly.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below, with the four panelists’ comments in untranslated Spanish and the panel moderated in English.

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

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

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

Recent polls show Fujimori with a slightly greater share of the vote since Guzmán was excluded a month ago, with her support having grown to 37 percent. But in a highly polarized election, she also faces immense public opposition for the same reason that her support stands strong: her father’s legacy. Jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress to grant himself unlimited powers in a “self-coup” in 1992, unleashed military death squads that massacred civilians on the pretext of anti-terrorism, and was eventually removed from office following a major corruption scandal in 2000. He was handed a 25-year prison sentence in 2009 for multiple human rights abuses, bribery and several other charges. Keiko served as first lady under her father from 1994 until his ousting in 2000 and, despite pledging to avoid his autocratic tendencies, remains openly loyal to his political legacy.

Little surprise, then, that some 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Lima on Tuesday to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the elder Fujimori’s self-coup and to march against his daughter’s candidacy. The electoral board’s incongruous decision to exclude Guzmán and Acuña but to keep Fujimori has not helped her association with her father’s corrupt and anti-democratic practices – especially given that there was as much evidence against her as there had been against Acuña.

The Panama Papers have dealt the latest potential blow to Fujimori’s campaign efforts. Although Fujimori herself has not been named in the papers, the appearance of two of her major campaign contributors in the leaked documents has called the legitimacy of her campaign funding into question. Sil Yok Lee, a major Peruvian financier of Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party, has been revealed as the representative of two offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands, appointed through Mossack Fonseca by another shell company based in Niue in the South Pacific.

The leaks also implicate Jorge Javier Yoshiyama Sasaki, the nephew of Jaime Yoshiyama Tanaka, who served as a minister under the elder Fujimori. Together with his wife Joon Lim Lee Park, Yoshiyama contributed $111,000 to Keiko Fujimori’s 2011 and 2016 campaigns. According to the documents from Mossack Fonseca, a shell company in Seychelles had appointed him in 2010 as the legal representative of another entity based in the British Virgin Islands but with operations in Peru. Mossack Fonseca granted the Seychellois company, and hence Yoshiyama himself, near total control over operations in Peru.

But whether the Panama Papers will ultimately hurt Fujimori more than her opponents remains to be seen, particularly as Kuczynski is also not only implicated but appears in the leaks in his own name. Among the leaked documents is a letter of recommendation written by Kuczynski in 2006, when he served as Prime Minister, on behalf of Francisco Pardo Mesones, a former director of the Peruvian central bank. Pardo used the letter to open bank accounts in Panama for an offshore firm that served as an intermediary on behalf of a private German firm. The arrangement, worth some 60 million euros in contracts, was designed to obscure the fact that Pardo’s German client was producing passports for the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, which it feared would negatively affect its reputation.

Both Fujimori and Kuczynski have downplayed the leaks. Fujimori has declined to comment, while Kuczynski has distanced himself from Pardo, arguing that he was unaware that his letter of recommendation would be used for commercial purposes, before making another press statement questioning the authenticity of the leaked letter. But after the controversy around the electoral board’s dubious rulings, the Panama Papers only serve to reinforce a growing public perception of the leading candidates as dishonest and corrupt and of the Peruvian elections as heavily rigged. With nearly half the electorate still undecided and a runoff vote almost guaranteed, the revelations could yet prove decisive in determining who Fujimori faces in June and, by extension, whether either Kuczynski or Mendoza can beat her to the presidency.

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

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

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

Recent polls show Fujimori with a slightly greater share of the vote since Guzmán was excluded a month ago, with her support having grown to 37 percent. But in a highly polarized election, she also faces immense public opposition for the same reason that her support stands strong: her father’s legacy. Jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress to grant himself unlimited powers in a “self-coup” in 1992, unleashed military death squads that massacred civilians on the pretext of anti-terrorism, and was eventually removed from office following a major corruption scandal in 2000. He was handed a 25-year prison sentence in 2009 for multiple human rights abuses, bribery and several other charges. Keiko served as first lady under her father from 1994 until his ousting in 2000 and, despite pledging to avoid his autocratic tendencies, remains openly loyal to his political legacy.

Little surprise, then, that some 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Lima on Tuesday to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the elder Fujimori’s self-coup and to march against his daughter’s candidacy. The electoral board’s incongruous decision to exclude Guzmán and Acuña but to keep Fujimori has not helped her association with her father’s corrupt and anti-democratic practices – especially given that there was as much evidence against her as there had been against Acuña.

The Panama Papers have dealt the latest potential blow to Fujimori’s campaign efforts. Although Fujimori herself has not been named in the papers, the appearance of two of her major campaign contributors in the leaked documents has called the legitimacy of her campaign funding into question. Sil Yok Lee, a major Peruvian financier of Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party, has been revealed as the representative of two offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands, appointed through Mossack Fonseca by another shell company based in Niue in the South Pacific.

The leaks also implicate Jorge Javier Yoshiyama Sasaki, the nephew of Jaime Yoshiyama Tanaka, who served as a minister under the elder Fujimori. Together with his wife Joon Lim Lee Park, Yoshiyama contributed $111,000 to Keiko Fujimori’s 2011 and 2016 campaigns. According to the documents from Mossack Fonseca, a shell company in Seychelles had appointed him in 2010 as the legal representative of another entity based in the British Virgin Islands but with operations in Peru. Mossack Fonseca granted the Seychellois company, and hence Yoshiyama himself, near total control over operations in Peru.

But whether the Panama Papers will ultimately hurt Fujimori more than her opponents remains to be seen, particularly as Kuczynski is also not only implicated but appears in the leaks in his own name. Among the leaked documents is a letter of recommendation written by Kuczynski in 2006, when he served as Prime Minister, on behalf of Francisco Pardo Mesones, a former director of the Peruvian central bank. Pardo used the letter to open bank accounts in Panama for an offshore firm that served as an intermediary on behalf of a private German firm. The arrangement, worth some 60 million euros in contracts, was designed to obscure the fact that Pardo’s German client was producing passports for the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, which it feared would negatively affect its reputation.

Both Fujimori and Kuczynski have downplayed the leaks. Fujimori has declined to comment, while Kuczynski has distanced himself from Pardo, arguing that he was unaware that his letter of recommendation would be used for commercial purposes, before making another press statement questioning the authenticity of the leaked letter. But after the controversy around the electoral board’s dubious rulings, the Panama Papers only serve to reinforce a growing public perception of the leading candidates as dishonest and corrupt and of the Peruvian elections as heavily rigged. With nearly half the electorate still undecided and a runoff vote almost guaranteed, the revelations could yet prove decisive in determining who Fujimori faces in June and, by extension, whether either Kuczynski or Mendoza can beat her to the presidency.

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

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

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

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres, gave an overview of the events leading up to and following her mother’s assassination. Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights, talked about COPINH’s work and what has led to the repression by both state and private security forces. Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), talked about the importance of an independent investigation. Annie Bird, a human rights activist and Director of Rights and Ecology who has long worked closely with Cáceres and COPINH, provided context behind the megaprojects that are at the root of many of the security concerns in Honduras.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks are in untranslated Spanish). The following are summaries and excerpts from the panelists’ remarks (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks have been translated).

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Zúñiga Cáceres opened by saying:

My mother fought for the rights of indigenous people, their right to their land, and the defense of their culture. She fought for life because she loved life. That’s the reason — for her life, her history, her legacy — that drives me and drives us to continue this and to live this, despite the pain.

She explained that, between 2013 and 2016, her mother had received 33 threats related to her fight against the DESA company’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, none of which were investigated by Honduran authorities. Berta received threats the week before her assassination and urged her children to leave the country for their safety. Zúñiga Cáceres shared:

My mother’s last words to me were that if I heard that something had happened to her, that I shouldn’t be afraid. […] So with all of this, with her bravery, and in spite of everything, in spite of her high profile — she won the Goldman Prize in 2015, she visited the Pope, she was internationally recognized for her work — and even so she was assassinated. This shows that they can assassinate any of us in Honduras.

Due to her work, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had requested precautionary measures for Cáceres since 2009, which the Honduran government only began to partially implement starting in 2013. However, these measures were insufficient, explained Zúñiga Cáceres:

She asked for private security, but they didn’t give it to her because they said it was excessive for her situation. She asked for cameras and they gave her two, but they didn’t even work because when it came time to investigate her assassination, they didn’t record. They gave her police — escorts for when she traveled long distances — and the police were the same that DESA had. […] These were the insufficient, inefficient security measures that the state provided her. And that’s why today I have to be here talking about my mother’s assassination.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the family has yet to be given access to information regarding the investigation and was denied the right to ask for an expert to be present at the autopsy. She also expressed concern for Gustavo Castro Soto, the only witness to the assassination:

[Gustavo] has been subjected to psychological torture because they left him in the same bloody clothes for 24 hours, they didn’t let him sleep, they haven’t let him return to his country or see anybody, including us. He hasn’t received psychological attention. They even made him travel long distances from my town to the capital several times. So we are worried about the health of the witness. Aside from being a witness, we value his life, because he also fights for life.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the murder investigation was originally focused on a hypothetical internal conflict within COPINH, ignoring the multiple threats Cáceres had received. The minister of security initially said it was a crime of passion.

So we see the unwillingness the state of Honduras has had in giving us access to and allowing us to participate in the investigation. Because of our distrust, we have asked for a trustworthy independent commission of experts that can investigate and find something out, in order to have some justice in the midst of all of this pain and loss, which is a loss to humanity as well.

The family and COPINH were granted precautionary measures by the IAHCR and personally presented a security plan to the minister of security and minister of governance. Their requests included private security, cameras, a panic button, police escorts for long-distance travel, and an end to the Agua Zarca project, the source of threats against Cáceres, COPINH, and the community. They have yet to receive a response. Likewise, they have not received a response to their request to meet with the president and the attorney general. Additionally, the person making official statements about the case is the chancellor, in charge of foreign affairs, who updates the international community, not the family.

Zúñiga Cáceres closed by stating:

It’s important that it is clear that they are still coming after us, still harassing us, still intimidating us, and that the state of Honduras has done absolutely nothing to protect us, in the same way that they did nothing to protect my mother’s life, who was a caregiver to the world. Today, we have one fewer person protecting life. The world lost Berta Cáceres, and that has to hurt everybody.

Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH, and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights

Sánchez explained that repression of indigenous people and of Honduran social movements has increased since the 2009 coup d’état. In 2010, the Honduran Congress issued concessions for development on rivers, lands for mining, and privatized forests. They did so without a previous free and informed consultation with indigenous communities, violating ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and resulting in illegal and illegitimate acquisitions of land.

COPINH is currently working on 49 of these projects in Lenca territories, Sánchez said, including their fight against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which began in 2013 and is an example of “development for companies, not for communities.” COPINH has filed complaints against all of these projects, but the Honduran government has not followed-up on the cases nor given a response. Their work has resulted in death threats against Cáceres and other community leaders.

Additionally, Sánchez said the Lenca communities face increased militarization, with police and military forces protecting the interests of companies, not the community, even resulting in deaths. “The state of Honduras lacks the political will to help us or to pay attention to our demands as an organization. Instead, they criminalize us.”

Sánchez explained:

In Honduras, to assassinate or to kill someone, especially if [the killer] is a soldier or police officer, for them it’s a privilege. For soldiers who assassinate human rights defenders, it’s a privilege, they don’t even punish them. That’s another reason why we are here today, so that all of you that live here know that the U.S. also gives a lot of financial support to Honduras for security and strengthening the military. In other words, all the money that has been given for that, there in Honduras it’s converted into repression, it’s converted into assassinations.

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, CEJIL

Krsticevic explained that violence and impunity are the norm in Honduras. The threats against Cáceres provided ample warning, and the family and COPINH did what they could, but the local authorities did not protect her. “We don’t want it to be business as usual. We want the deaths of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous leaders to stop here,” she said.

The investigation has been very problematic, Krsticevic said: The crime scene was not secured, there is concern over how Cáceres’ body was moved, the sole witness has been harassed, the lawyer and the family have not had access to the investigation as guaranteed under Honduran law, they didn’t allow a forensic doctor to be present at the autopsy, and they are investigating the assassination as an internal fight within COPINH despite the many documented threats.

“Given the broader context of impunity and the specific problems that are happening with the case of Berta, we think we need something different in order to secure truth and justice and the protection of the family members of Berta and others in COPINH,” Krsticevic said. She explained that several ideas have been floated, including the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, which is backed by the OAS) or the new Honduran office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but these “do not have the powers that are needed to pursue a thorough investigation. They cannot actively participate within the criminal process.”

Instead, she continued:

We are asking, and the family members are asking, for a group of experts to be involved and actively participate in the investigation of Berta’s murder. We are thinking of and proposing a group that is similar to what the Mexican government and the family members of the students that disappeared in Ayotzinapa asked from the IAHCR. […] We want something similar for Honduras: a group of international experts that have the credibility, the expertise that is necessary to pursue a reasonable, thorough investigation. What we want is nothing but the truth and nothing but justice.

Annie Bird, Director, Rights and Ecology

Bird explained that, in the 1990s, COPINH worked to successfully pressure the Honduran government to ratify ILO Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention). But, at the same time, “the international community, the multilateral development banks and USAID, and other development policymakers were advancing changes in land administration policy, which fundamentally undercut any ability to defend the land rights and the rights that were enshrined in ILO 169.”

Bird said that in the early 1990s the system of ejidos — the traditional communal system of land tenure — was changed, giving power to municipal governments to create private land titles and resulting in extreme conflict and many indigenous communities losing land due to theft and the laundering of land titles. This is the case of the land surrounding the Agua Zarca dam: The municipal government extended land titles to people who did not have a right to that land.

For example, when Berta was accused of land usurpation, because of these illegal land titles that had been extended by the municipal government, at the same time COPINH denounced those property owners as having illegally usurped the land. But COPINH’s denouncements were not investigated, whereas there was a forceful criminalization of the land rights defenders.

These changes in the land system, Bird said, coupled with corruption and lack of access to justice have resulted in conflict and violence. This has been further aggravated by massive concessions of hydroelectric and mineral rights and the use of paramilitaries and the military to enforce control of land.

Bird emphasized the need to reexamine land policies that have fueled violence and led to the assassinations of Cáceres, Nelson García, and others, as well as multilateral development banks that fund companies that use paramilitaries to control their land. “This is not in the mandate of these banks; the mandate is to end poverty. But instead it’s fueling violence and fueling poverty.”

Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy, American Jewish World Service

Gerson summarized the panelists’ concerns and demands:

I think what’s really obvious from all of the presenters is that the Honduran government has shown neither the willingness nor [the] capacity to bring justice, in these cases or in general. And there really are four demands that I want people here to walk away [with]. I think it’s clear that they’re not listening to the voices of indigenous communities in Honduras; they’re certainly not listening to the family of Berta Cáceres, and that’s why we need to add our voices and the voice of the U.S. government to make the Honduran government listen. So really there are four key demands.

One is that there is an independent investigation based on the Mexican model, with the Inter-American Commission hopefully playing a key role as really the only international organization that has the capacity, the expertise, and the mandate to do so. In addition to that is the access of the family to propose these independent experts and to have the access that they should have under Honduran law.

There is the question of protection, that we need to fully fund. The Honduran government needs to fully fund the security plan for the family and the witness, allowing Gustavo to leave, to go back to Mexico. His life is in danger in Honduras right now. He has done his duty in giving his statement and he should be allowed to leave.

Obviously there are questions also of U.S. policy and U.S. aid. The U.S does give security and military aid to Honduras and I think that needs to be questioned, and my organization believes it needs to be suspended, as do about 250 other organizations that signed the letter on this that many of you have seen. In light of these recent human rights abuses I think that there also should be a full review of all bilateral aid to Honduras to see: Is it really responding to the needs or is it, as Annie said, promoting some of these policies that are leading to these deaths?

And the last [demand] really is related to that, which is we really do need to do our part in the U.S. to ensure that we are not funding these projects or supporting them in any way, both in our context as the U.S. government as an aid donor, but also in the multilateral context.

Question and answer session

Even if there is third party pressure, what are the chances of the Honduran government allowing access to the investigation?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the Honduran government should allow access, but they will need to be pressured because there’s currently no political will to do so.

Krsticevic expressed that political will is constructed over time and they are still hopeful that the Honduran government will do the right thing. She noted that the Mexican government agreed to the group of independent experts and designated over a million dollars to fund the investigation. She stressed again the necessity of an independent investigation in Honduras.

Bird said that the Honduran government has shown no political will to investigate the assassinations of other land rights activists or to reform the justice system. She emphasized the responsibility of the international community to pressure the Honduran government to reform its justice system:

We cannot continue to separate development from justice. There will never be development; there will never be an end to poverty when the justice systems do not work. Any land tenancy reform or administration process that we’re promoting will be fundamentally flawed if the justice system is not functional. And so it’s absolutely important that the Honduran government — and not just the government, but the business community here — that [if] they do not allow the international community to help them fix what is the most broken system in the continent, then they cannot continue to receive international investment. That’s the message that needs to be heard.

What can the international community, specifically the U.S., do to try to correct the issues with Honduran security forces?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the first step is to clean up the corrupt security forces, though this is further complicated by the fact that the state is also corrupt. She said that the police and military should leave the indigenous territories, where they are doing more harm than good:

We take care of ourselves. We respect our rights and we have a worldview relating to justice. And what they’re doing now, by positioning themselves within our territories, is attacking us. That’s why we don’t want the police and soldiers to come [to our territory]. They are the ones affecting us. We, as an indigenous community, have our ways of ensuring justice and security within our territories. We don’t need outsiders coming in, as they have always done, to tell us how to do things.

She continued that the police and soldiers are also a threat to women in the community:

As women, the police are a danger to us. I’m not saying this because they told me about it, I am telling you because I am a woman and I live in Honduras. We experience harassment walking down the street, by the police themselves. […] We are afraid of the police and soldiers.

She argued that what would help would be to cut off U.S. aid to security forces, which she characterized as “a lack of respect” by the U.S. by funding human rights violations.

Sánchez added:

One of the things that we also think is important is for the international community to demand that the [Honduran] government punish the people responsible for the assassinations, especially the police and soldiers that have assassinated environmental human rights defenders. Because they aren’t being punished, they’re free and they haven’t been imprisoned or prosecuted.

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

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

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

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres, gave an overview of the events leading up to and following her mother’s assassination. Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights, talked about COPINH’s work and what has led to the repression by both state and private security forces. Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), talked about the importance of an independent investigation. Annie Bird, a human rights activist and Director of Rights and Ecology who has long worked closely with Cáceres and COPINH, provided context behind the megaprojects that are at the root of many of the security concerns in Honduras.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks are in untranslated Spanish). The following are summaries and excerpts from the panelists’ remarks (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks have been translated).

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Zúñiga Cáceres opened by saying:

My mother fought for the rights of indigenous people, their right to their land, and the defense of their culture. She fought for life because she loved life. That’s the reason — for her life, her history, her legacy — that drives me and drives us to continue this and to live this, despite the pain.

She explained that, between 2013 and 2016, her mother had received 33 threats related to her fight against the DESA company’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, none of which were investigated by Honduran authorities. Berta received threats the week before her assassination and urged her children to leave the country for their safety. Zúñiga Cáceres shared:

My mother’s last words to me were that if I heard that something had happened to her, that I shouldn’t be afraid. […] So with all of this, with her bravery, and in spite of everything, in spite of her high profile — she won the Goldman Prize in 2015, she visited the Pope, she was internationally recognized for her work — and even so she was assassinated. This shows that they can assassinate any of us in Honduras.

Due to her work, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had requested precautionary measures for Cáceres since 2009, which the Honduran government only began to partially implement starting in 2013. However, these measures were insufficient, explained Zúñiga Cáceres:

She asked for private security, but they didn’t give it to her because they said it was excessive for her situation. She asked for cameras and they gave her two, but they didn’t even work because when it came time to investigate her assassination, they didn’t record. They gave her police — escorts for when she traveled long distances — and the police were the same that DESA had. […] These were the insufficient, inefficient security measures that the state provided her. And that’s why today I have to be here talking about my mother’s assassination.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the family has yet to be given access to information regarding the investigation and was denied the right to ask for an expert to be present at the autopsy. She also expressed concern for Gustavo Castro Soto, the only witness to the assassination:

[Gustavo] has been subjected to psychological torture because they left him in the same bloody clothes for 24 hours, they didn’t let him sleep, they haven’t let him return to his country or see anybody, including us. He hasn’t received psychological attention. They even made him travel long distances from my town to the capital several times. So we are worried about the health of the witness. Aside from being a witness, we value his life, because he also fights for life.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the murder investigation was originally focused on a hypothetical internal conflict within COPINH, ignoring the multiple threats Cáceres had received. The minister of security initially said it was a crime of passion.

So we see the unwillingness the state of Honduras has had in giving us access to and allowing us to participate in the investigation. Because of our distrust, we have asked for a trustworthy independent commission of experts that can investigate and find something out, in order to have some justice in the midst of all of this pain and loss, which is a loss to humanity as well.

The family and COPINH were granted precautionary measures by the IAHCR and personally presented a security plan to the minister of security and minister of governance. Their requests included private security, cameras, a panic button, police escorts for long-distance travel, and an end to the Agua Zarca project, the source of threats against Cáceres, COPINH, and the community. They have yet to receive a response. Likewise, they have not received a response to their request to meet with the president and the attorney general. Additionally, the person making official statements about the case is the chancellor, in charge of foreign affairs, who updates the international community, not the family.

Zúñiga Cáceres closed by stating:

It’s important that it is clear that they are still coming after us, still harassing us, still intimidating us, and that the state of Honduras has done absolutely nothing to protect us, in the same way that they did nothing to protect my mother’s life, who was a caregiver to the world. Today, we have one fewer person protecting life. The world lost Berta Cáceres, and that has to hurt everybody.

Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH, and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights

Sánchez explained that repression of indigenous people and of Honduran social movements has increased since the 2009 coup d’état. In 2010, the Honduran Congress issued concessions for development on rivers, lands for mining, and privatized forests. They did so without a previous free and informed consultation with indigenous communities, violating ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and resulting in illegal and illegitimate acquisitions of land.

COPINH is currently working on 49 of these projects in Lenca territories, Sánchez said, including their fight against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which began in 2013 and is an example of “development for companies, not for communities.” COPINH has filed complaints against all of these projects, but the Honduran government has not followed-up on the cases nor given a response. Their work has resulted in death threats against Cáceres and other community leaders.

Additionally, Sánchez said the Lenca communities face increased militarization, with police and military forces protecting the interests of companies, not the community, even resulting in deaths. “The state of Honduras lacks the political will to help us or to pay attention to our demands as an organization. Instead, they criminalize us.”

Sánchez explained:

In Honduras, to assassinate or to kill someone, especially if [the killer] is a soldier or police officer, for them it’s a privilege. For soldiers who assassinate human rights defenders, it’s a privilege, they don’t even punish them. That’s another reason why we are here today, so that all of you that live here know that the U.S. also gives a lot of financial support to Honduras for security and strengthening the military. In other words, all the money that has been given for that, there in Honduras it’s converted into repression, it’s converted into assassinations.

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, CEJIL

Krsticevic explained that violence and impunity are the norm in Honduras. The threats against Cáceres provided ample warning, and the family and COPINH did what they could, but the local authorities did not protect her. “We don’t want it to be business as usual. We want the deaths of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous leaders to stop here,” she said.

The investigation has been very problematic, Krsticevic said: The crime scene was not secured, there is concern over how Cáceres’ body was moved, the sole witness has been harassed, the lawyer and the family have not had access to the investigation as guaranteed under Honduran law, they didn’t allow a forensic doctor to be present at the autopsy, and they are investigating the assassination as an internal fight within COPINH despite the many documented threats.

“Given the broader context of impunity and the specific problems that are happening with the case of Berta, we think we need something different in order to secure truth and justice and the protection of the family members of Berta and others in COPINH,” Krsticevic said. She explained that several ideas have been floated, including the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, which is backed by the OAS) or the new Honduran office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but these “do not have the powers that are needed to pursue a thorough investigation. They cannot actively participate within the criminal process.”

Instead, she continued:

We are asking, and the family members are asking, for a group of experts to be involved and actively participate in the investigation of Berta’s murder. We are thinking of and proposing a group that is similar to what the Mexican government and the family members of the students that disappeared in Ayotzinapa asked from the IAHCR. […] We want something similar for Honduras: a group of international experts that have the credibility, the expertise that is necessary to pursue a reasonable, thorough investigation. What we want is nothing but the truth and nothing but justice.

Annie Bird, Director, Rights and Ecology

Bird explained that, in the 1990s, COPINH worked to successfully pressure the Honduran government to ratify ILO Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention). But, at the same time, “the international community, the multilateral development banks and USAID, and other development policymakers were advancing changes in land administration policy, which fundamentally undercut any ability to defend the land rights and the rights that were enshrined in ILO 169.”

Bird said that in the early 1990s the system of ejidos — the traditional communal system of land tenure — was changed, giving power to municipal governments to create private land titles and resulting in extreme conflict and many indigenous communities losing land due to theft and the laundering of land titles. This is the case of the land surrounding the Agua Zarca dam: The municipal government extended land titles to people who did not have a right to that land.

For example, when Berta was accused of land usurpation, because of these illegal land titles that had been extended by the municipal government, at the same time COPINH denounced those property owners as having illegally usurped the land. But COPINH’s denouncements were not investigated, whereas there was a forceful criminalization of the land rights defenders.

These changes in the land system, Bird said, coupled with corruption and lack of access to justice have resulted in conflict and violence. This has been further aggravated by massive concessions of hydroelectric and mineral rights and the use of paramilitaries and the military to enforce control of land.

Bird emphasized the need to reexamine land policies that have fueled violence and led to the assassinations of Cáceres, Nelson García, and others, as well as multilateral development banks that fund companies that use paramilitaries to control their land. “This is not in the mandate of these banks; the mandate is to end poverty. But instead it’s fueling violence and fueling poverty.”

Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy, American Jewish World Service

Gerson summarized the panelists’ concerns and demands:

I think what’s really obvious from all of the presenters is that the Honduran government has shown neither the willingness nor [the] capacity to bring justice, in these cases or in general. And there really are four demands that I want people here to walk away [with]. I think it’s clear that they’re not listening to the voices of indigenous communities in Honduras; they’re certainly not listening to the family of Berta Cáceres, and that’s why we need to add our voices and the voice of the U.S. government to make the Honduran government listen. So really there are four key demands.

One is that there is an independent investigation based on the Mexican model, with the Inter-American Commission hopefully playing a key role as really the only international organization that has the capacity, the expertise, and the mandate to do so. In addition to that is the access of the family to propose these independent experts and to have the access that they should have under Honduran law.

There is the question of protection, that we need to fully fund. The Honduran government needs to fully fund the security plan for the family and the witness, allowing Gustavo to leave, to go back to Mexico. His life is in danger in Honduras right now. He has done his duty in giving his statement and he should be allowed to leave.

Obviously there are questions also of U.S. policy and U.S. aid. The U.S does give security and military aid to Honduras and I think that needs to be questioned, and my organization believes it needs to be suspended, as do about 250 other organizations that signed the letter on this that many of you have seen. In light of these recent human rights abuses I think that there also should be a full review of all bilateral aid to Honduras to see: Is it really responding to the needs or is it, as Annie said, promoting some of these policies that are leading to these deaths?

And the last [demand] really is related to that, which is we really do need to do our part in the U.S. to ensure that we are not funding these projects or supporting them in any way, both in our context as the U.S. government as an aid donor, but also in the multilateral context.

Question and answer session

Even if there is third party pressure, what are the chances of the Honduran government allowing access to the investigation?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the Honduran government should allow access, but they will need to be pressured because there’s currently no political will to do so.

Krsticevic expressed that political will is constructed over time and they are still hopeful that the Honduran government will do the right thing. She noted that the Mexican government agreed to the group of independent experts and designated over a million dollars to fund the investigation. She stressed again the necessity of an independent investigation in Honduras.

Bird said that the Honduran government has shown no political will to investigate the assassinations of other land rights activists or to reform the justice system. She emphasized the responsibility of the international community to pressure the Honduran government to reform its justice system:

We cannot continue to separate development from justice. There will never be development; there will never be an end to poverty when the justice systems do not work. Any land tenancy reform or administration process that we’re promoting will be fundamentally flawed if the justice system is not functional. And so it’s absolutely important that the Honduran government — and not just the government, but the business community here — that [if] they do not allow the international community to help them fix what is the most broken system in the continent, then they cannot continue to receive international investment. That’s the message that needs to be heard.

What can the international community, specifically the U.S., do to try to correct the issues with Honduran security forces?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the first step is to clean up the corrupt security forces, though this is further complicated by the fact that the state is also corrupt. She said that the police and military should leave the indigenous territories, where they are doing more harm than good:

We take care of ourselves. We respect our rights and we have a worldview relating to justice. And what they’re doing now, by positioning themselves within our territories, is attacking us. That’s why we don’t want the police and soldiers to come [to our territory]. They are the ones affecting us. We, as an indigenous community, have our ways of ensuring justice and security within our territories. We don’t need outsiders coming in, as they have always done, to tell us how to do things.

She continued that the police and soldiers are also a threat to women in the community:

As women, the police are a danger to us. I’m not saying this because they told me about it, I am telling you because I am a woman and I live in Honduras. We experience harassment walking down the street, by the police themselves. […] We are afraid of the police and soldiers.

She argued that what would help would be to cut off U.S. aid to security forces, which she characterized as “a lack of respect” by the U.S. by funding human rights violations.

Sánchez added:

One of the things that we also think is important is for the international community to demand that the [Honduran] government punish the people responsible for the assassinations, especially the police and soldiers that have assassinated environmental human rights defenders. Because they aren’t being punished, they’re free and they haven’t been imprisoned or prosecuted.

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

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

The coup regime and its U.S.-backed successors have been accused on multiple occasions of complicity in targeted assassinations and other forms of political violence. Cáceres’ family members believe the Honduran government is manipulating the investigation into her assassination for political ends, while the sole witness, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, has been prevented from leaving the country and, according to his lawyer, fears he may be framed for the crime.

In this video, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot discusses presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s record on Honduras and contrasts it with the positions taken by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

 

Watch the video here.

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

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

The coup regime and its U.S.-backed successors have been accused on multiple occasions of complicity in targeted assassinations and other forms of political violence. Cáceres’ family members believe the Honduran government is manipulating the investigation into her assassination for political ends, while the sole witness, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, has been prevented from leaving the country and, according to his lawyer, fears he may be framed for the crime.

In this video, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot discusses presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s record on Honduras and contrasts it with the positions taken by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

 

Watch the video here.

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

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

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

Questions must be asked as to whether, having been kept out of office by the PT’s electoral successes since 2003, the opposition and its mostly elite and upper-middle-class supporters have now turned to other means in their latest attempt to recapture the presidency.

And as Villaça points out, the Brazilian news media’s predictable failure to meet any standard of objectivity regarding Rousseff and the PT has manifested itself yet again. The following graphs from independent media critics Manchetômetro are particularly illustrative. The first shows predominantly negative print coverage of Rousseff week after week, while the second demonstrates a consistent tendency among the print media to present the PT through a much more critical lens than any of the other major parties.

Print media balance to Mar 19

“Balance in print publications. In this graph we have the number of favorable, neutral and unfavorable articles relating to Dilma Rousseff over the last 12 weeks.”

Print media against PT to Mar 19
“Negative coverage: print publications. In this graph we have the number of articles with an unfavorable view of each political party over the last 12 weeks.”

As we found during the 2014 elections, the Brazilian media’s open hostility to the PT, Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is nothing new: A clear and persistent bias against the PT and its candidates dates back as far as the 1990s, when then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the center-right PSDB received much more favorable coverage than Lula or Rousseff.

Writing on March 7, Villaça makes his case:

Those of you that have been following me for a while know that I often write about the need for serenity in politics. I have said countless times that It is not acceptable to treat political opponents as enemies. I have pointed out that violence undermines the political debate.

This posture has always come naturally and effortlessly to me. But unfortunately, in the last few days, I have to force myself to keep my cool. If the events of Thursday and Friday [March 3 and 4] achieved anything, it was to radicalize even those who took pride in their moderation.

On Thursday [March 3], a plea-bargaining statement, not yet approved by the Supreme Court (and even if it were, it should be confidential) was leaked to the news magazine Isto É. While the alleged informant refused to confirm it, the Attorney-General, who was supposed to take the statement, was even more emphatic: he denied its existence. This has not prevented Globo network and its accomplices from transforming the so-called statement into a massive headline scoop. If the informant, Senator Delcídio Amaral, was previously portrayed as unscrupulous, all of the sudden his word became law –no more evidence was required. Delcídio has said it, and that was that. Until, of course, he refused to confirm the statement, and was, once again, summarily ignored.

Around 2am on Friday, the editor of the news magazine Época (linked to Globo), who has long ceased to even pretend to have any journalistic objectivity, tweeted twice about an operation from the Federal Police that would take place hours later. An operation that should be confidential, but that was leaked to the press ten days ago (as blogger Eduardo Guimarães had warned a week before). Before the Federal Police arrived at Lula’s home, a Globo helicopter flew over it, and Folha reporters were waiting at the door. Yet the LAWYERS of the former president had not been notified.

But the worst abuse was yet to come: Lula was subjected to the humiliation of being detained for questioning, even though he had not been previously summoned to testify. The abuse was so egregious that two Supreme Court Justices (one of them a critic of the left) have condemned the action.  Respected jurists and even (gasp) a founder of the opposition party PSDB, Bresser Pereira, have also condemned it.

The abuse, of course, was ignored by Globo and its cronies. The Jornal National has even extended its broadcasting for half an hour to celebrate the operation. When the Workers’ Party headquarters was attacked in Belo Horizonte on Saturday, Globo labelled it a protest, when it was clearly an act of violence. When similar events happened in another state capital, the channel actually INTERVIEWED the “demonstrators.”

Read the rest here.

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

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

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

Questions must be asked as to whether, having been kept out of office by the PT’s electoral successes since 2003, the opposition and its mostly elite and upper-middle-class supporters have now turned to other means in their latest attempt to recapture the presidency.

And as Villaça points out, the Brazilian news media’s predictable failure to meet any standard of objectivity regarding Rousseff and the PT has manifested itself yet again. The following graphs from independent media critics Manchetômetro are particularly illustrative. The first shows predominantly negative print coverage of Rousseff week after week, while the second demonstrates a consistent tendency among the print media to present the PT through a much more critical lens than any of the other major parties.

Print media balance to Mar 19

“Balance in print publications. In this graph we have the number of favorable, neutral and unfavorable articles relating to Dilma Rousseff over the last 12 weeks.”

Print media against PT to Mar 19
“Negative coverage: print publications. In this graph we have the number of articles with an unfavorable view of each political party over the last 12 weeks.”

As we found during the 2014 elections, the Brazilian media’s open hostility to the PT, Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is nothing new: A clear and persistent bias against the PT and its candidates dates back as far as the 1990s, when then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the center-right PSDB received much more favorable coverage than Lula or Rousseff.

Writing on March 7, Villaça makes his case:

Those of you that have been following me for a while know that I often write about the need for serenity in politics. I have said countless times that It is not acceptable to treat political opponents as enemies. I have pointed out that violence undermines the political debate.

This posture has always come naturally and effortlessly to me. But unfortunately, in the last few days, I have to force myself to keep my cool. If the events of Thursday and Friday [March 3 and 4] achieved anything, it was to radicalize even those who took pride in their moderation.

On Thursday [March 3], a plea-bargaining statement, not yet approved by the Supreme Court (and even if it were, it should be confidential) was leaked to the news magazine Isto É. While the alleged informant refused to confirm it, the Attorney-General, who was supposed to take the statement, was even more emphatic: he denied its existence. This has not prevented Globo network and its accomplices from transforming the so-called statement into a massive headline scoop. If the informant, Senator Delcídio Amaral, was previously portrayed as unscrupulous, all of the sudden his word became law –no more evidence was required. Delcídio has said it, and that was that. Until, of course, he refused to confirm the statement, and was, once again, summarily ignored.

Around 2am on Friday, the editor of the news magazine Época (linked to Globo), who has long ceased to even pretend to have any journalistic objectivity, tweeted twice about an operation from the Federal Police that would take place hours later. An operation that should be confidential, but that was leaked to the press ten days ago (as blogger Eduardo Guimarães had warned a week before). Before the Federal Police arrived at Lula’s home, a Globo helicopter flew over it, and Folha reporters were waiting at the door. Yet the LAWYERS of the former president had not been notified.

But the worst abuse was yet to come: Lula was subjected to the humiliation of being detained for questioning, even though he had not been previously summoned to testify. The abuse was so egregious that two Supreme Court Justices (one of them a critic of the left) have condemned the action.  Respected jurists and even (gasp) a founder of the opposition party PSDB, Bresser Pereira, have also condemned it.

The abuse, of course, was ignored by Globo and its cronies. The Jornal National has even extended its broadcasting for half an hour to celebrate the operation. When the Workers’ Party headquarters was attacked in Belo Horizonte on Saturday, Globo labelled it a protest, when it was clearly an act of violence. When similar events happened in another state capital, the channel actually INTERVIEWED the “demonstrators.”

Read the rest here.

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

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

Despite having already settled with 93 percent of its creditors through two debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010, paying them 30 percent of the face value of the debt, Argentina still faced Singer’s group of vulture funds, who had no intention of settling under those terms. This week’s settlement will see the country pay out $4.65 billion, amounting to 75 percent of principal and interest, to Singer and company.

The vulture funds’ victory is the predictable outcome of a prolonged campaign aimed at extracting every dollar out of Argentina by all available means. Elliott Management used a Ghanaian court order to detain an Argentine navy ship in Ghana for 10 weeks in 2012. It has also channeled funds into American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), a lobby group pushing for the full repayment of Argentine debts. Part of ATFA’s efforts include an international smear campaign against the Argentine government, which it has accused of antisemitism, ties to drug traffickers and covering up Iranian involvement in the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires in 1994. ATFA has spent more than $7 million on these campaigns since 2007.

Singer then turned to a New York court, scoring a major victory when Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina could not make payments to the 93 percent of bondholders who had accepted restructuring until it had paid the 7 percent of holdouts in full. Argentina could afford to pay off both parties under the agreed terms. However, if it repaid Singer’s group in full, bondholders who accepted the restructuring would also demand to be repaid in full. That could end up costing the nation some $120 billion – which it could not possibly afford.

As we have documented, Argentina’s original default in 2002 was a necessary step in order for its economy to recover. Despite having limited access to international financial markets, Argentina was able to deviate from the IMF’s neoliberal remedies and instead drastically increase social spending to stimulate the economy, with impressive results: it emerged from economic depression within three months and returned to pre-2001 GDP levels within three years, such was its rate of growth. Those who accepted the restructuring in 2005 were given extra payouts when GDP growth exceeded a certain threshold, meaning the economic recovery allowed bondholders to obtain a nice profit.

Faced with default despite being willing and able to continue servicing its debt, Argentina’s only option was to defy the court order. Although the state had deposited $539 million with the Bank of New York to repay the holders of the restructured bonds, these funds were being held hostage by Singer and his affiliates, with the blessing of Judge Griesa. But these creditors had never lent Argentina money in the first place. Instead, they had simply bought Argentine bonds from their previous holders at sharply discounted rates for the sole purpose of speculation and litigation, exploiting an economically distressed country to reap massive financial returns – the very definition of a vulture fund.

This latest settlement sets a worrying precedent: in return for their ruthless persistence, the vulture funds are being rewarded with gains of up to 900 percent on principal investment – without even accounting for interest, which amounts to 101 percent per year, multiplied by 10 years. The real return is likely even higher, as Argentine debt was in many cases bought for mere cents on the dollar. Using a combination of court cases, relentless lobbying and smear campaigns, the investors have firmly established that mobilizing all available legal and financial resources over a prolonged period is enough to guarantee a handsome windfall, especially with the accumulation of interest. Following Singer’s example, emboldened investors will now have little reason to accept restructuring when perseverance, it appears, will earn them the returns that they want.

It seems hardly a coincidence, then, that Marco Rubio, the recipient of $124,420 from Elliott Management over five years leading up to 2014, has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit the previous Argentine government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. While questioning Noah Mamet, now ambassador to Argentina, he launched a scathing indictment of Fernández’s administration in which he openly disputed its democratic institutions and whether it truly constituted an “ally” of the United States. Last May, he introduced a Senate resolution that notably took issue with “Iran’s terrorist network in Argentina, the United States, and all of the Western Hemisphere” while – apparently without irony – accusing President Fernández of inventing  “imaginary conspiracies” at the same time.

With Fernández now gone, and her right-wing successor Macri wasting no time in agreeing to terms with Elliott Management, Rubio’s mission in Argentina appears accomplished.

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

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

Despite having already settled with 93 percent of its creditors through two debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010, paying them 30 percent of the face value of the debt, Argentina still faced Singer’s group of vulture funds, who had no intention of settling under those terms. This week’s settlement will see the country pay out $4.65 billion, amounting to 75 percent of principal and interest, to Singer and company.

The vulture funds’ victory is the predictable outcome of a prolonged campaign aimed at extracting every dollar out of Argentina by all available means. Elliott Management used a Ghanaian court order to detain an Argentine navy ship in Ghana for 10 weeks in 2012. It has also channeled funds into American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), a lobby group pushing for the full repayment of Argentine debts. Part of ATFA’s efforts include an international smear campaign against the Argentine government, which it has accused of antisemitism, ties to drug traffickers and covering up Iranian involvement in the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires in 1994. ATFA has spent more than $7 million on these campaigns since 2007.

Singer then turned to a New York court, scoring a major victory when Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina could not make payments to the 93 percent of bondholders who had accepted restructuring until it had paid the 7 percent of holdouts in full. Argentina could afford to pay off both parties under the agreed terms. However, if it repaid Singer’s group in full, bondholders who accepted the restructuring would also demand to be repaid in full. That could end up costing the nation some $120 billion – which it could not possibly afford.

As we have documented, Argentina’s original default in 2002 was a necessary step in order for its economy to recover. Despite having limited access to international financial markets, Argentina was able to deviate from the IMF’s neoliberal remedies and instead drastically increase social spending to stimulate the economy, with impressive results: it emerged from economic depression within three months and returned to pre-2001 GDP levels within three years, such was its rate of growth. Those who accepted the restructuring in 2005 were given extra payouts when GDP growth exceeded a certain threshold, meaning the economic recovery allowed bondholders to obtain a nice profit.

Faced with default despite being willing and able to continue servicing its debt, Argentina’s only option was to defy the court order. Although the state had deposited $539 million with the Bank of New York to repay the holders of the restructured bonds, these funds were being held hostage by Singer and his affiliates, with the blessing of Judge Griesa. But these creditors had never lent Argentina money in the first place. Instead, they had simply bought Argentine bonds from their previous holders at sharply discounted rates for the sole purpose of speculation and litigation, exploiting an economically distressed country to reap massive financial returns – the very definition of a vulture fund.

This latest settlement sets a worrying precedent: in return for their ruthless persistence, the vulture funds are being rewarded with gains of up to 900 percent on principal investment – without even accounting for interest, which amounts to 101 percent per year, multiplied by 10 years. The real return is likely even higher, as Argentine debt was in many cases bought for mere cents on the dollar. Using a combination of court cases, relentless lobbying and smear campaigns, the investors have firmly established that mobilizing all available legal and financial resources over a prolonged period is enough to guarantee a handsome windfall, especially with the accumulation of interest. Following Singer’s example, emboldened investors will now have little reason to accept restructuring when perseverance, it appears, will earn them the returns that they want.

It seems hardly a coincidence, then, that Marco Rubio, the recipient of $124,420 from Elliott Management over five years leading up to 2014, has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit the previous Argentine government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. While questioning Noah Mamet, now ambassador to Argentina, he launched a scathing indictment of Fernández’s administration in which he openly disputed its democratic institutions and whether it truly constituted an “ally” of the United States. Last May, he introduced a Senate resolution that notably took issue with “Iran’s terrorist network in Argentina, the United States, and all of the Western Hemisphere” while – apparently without irony – accusing President Fernández of inventing  “imaginary conspiracies” at the same time.

With Fernández now gone, and her right-wing successor Macri wasting no time in agreeing to terms with Elliott Management, Rubio’s mission in Argentina appears accomplished.

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, the extreme levels of corruption and violent crime in Honduras are matched by appalling rates of impunity. The northeastern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula has the highest homicide rate in the world and dozens of journalists, lawyers, and activists have been killed in recent years. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that impunity for these and other crimes “ranges between 95 and 98 percent.” The country’s security forces are widely recognized to be deeply infiltrated by organized crime groups and involved in extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The country’s judiciary is considered to be weak and is largely controlled by the ruling National Party, which illegally replaced top judges with allies in late 2012.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that the Honduran administration has shown no interest in taking real measures to reform its security forces or the country’s corrupt judiciary. A widely respected independent police reform commission was dissolved by the ruling party in January of 2013, and none of its proposals were taken into account. Under increasing international pressure, the Hernández government has repeatedly announced its own police reform, which appears to mostly involve a partial administrative reshuffling of Honduras’ law enforcement institutions.

Despite all these problems, the U.S. government has continued to throw its support behind Hernández, and sources indicate that they back the MACCIH proposal as well, despite the overwhelming opposition of Honduran human rights advocates. Many of the groups that oppose the MACCIH and support a CICIH are part of the Coalition Against Impunity, which includes the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Judges for Democracy, the Center for Women’s Rights (Centro de Derechos de Mujeres — CDM), the Committee for the Relatives of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso, the Freedom of Speech Committee (C-LIBRE), Team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación — ERIC), the National Network for Honduran Women Human Rights Defenders, and many others.

In a November statement the Coalition argued that a MACCIH would:

[be] limited in its ability to attack corruption and impunity in the country. Its main purpose is to supervise and give technical support to the Public Ministry and the Justice System through the support of a group of ex-prosecutors and international jurists; preparing a diagnosis of the current situation of justice in Honduras; accompanying the implementation of the Interamerican Convention against Corruption; and the creation of a justice observatory.

And

[lack] an effective mandate to strongly and decidedly attack the scandalous corruption that is corroding the public institutions of Honduras, not to mention the tremendous limitations — that have been laid out — to attack impunity and dismantle criminal structures that function parallel to the state apparatus.

The Coalition also notes that the MACCIH proposal has been developed without consultation of, or input from civil society groups other than those that have close relations with the ruling National Party.

The statement explains:

Instead of a MACCIH, the Coalition Against Impunity, together with other organizations, advocates for a mechanism like the CICIG, underscoring the importance of a similar mandate and the transfer of experience that we could use in our country. We demand an International Commission Against Impunity, with a mandate that includes the following:

  -Political independence and financial autonomy to avoid any interference or limitation of its actions.

  -Capacity to investigate and gather evidence of criminal acts and illegal structures that function in the state apparatus. These should be provided to the Public Ministry to strengthen its prosecution abilities.

 -The capacity for criminal prosecution together with the Public Ministry in emblematic cases of corruption, impunity, or extreme human rights violations.

 -Building capacity of the Public Ministry and Judicial apparatus.

 -Development of proposals to support the necessary reforms in the Honduran judicial system.  

The marked weaknesses of the institutions in the Honduran judicial system currently demand the installation of an independent International Commission with a high level of technical and legal capacity to contribute to an efficient and committed struggle against corruption and impunity.

Some U.S. analysts have argued that a CICIG-like entity wouldn’t be able to quickly address Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity.

The reality is that there are no quick fixes for Honduras, and simply painting over the country’s problems with ineffective measures will not improve the situation. And, as the Coalition Against Impunity has pointed out, a CICIH, rather than starting completely from scratch, would be able to benefit from a “transfer of experience” from the CICIG.

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, the extreme levels of corruption and violent crime in Honduras are matched by appalling rates of impunity. The northeastern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula has the highest homicide rate in the world and dozens of journalists, lawyers, and activists have been killed in recent years. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that impunity for these and other crimes “ranges between 95 and 98 percent.” The country’s security forces are widely recognized to be deeply infiltrated by organized crime groups and involved in extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The country’s judiciary is considered to be weak and is largely controlled by the ruling National Party, which illegally replaced top judges with allies in late 2012.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that the Honduran administration has shown no interest in taking real measures to reform its security forces or the country’s corrupt judiciary. A widely respected independent police reform commission was dissolved by the ruling party in January of 2013, and none of its proposals were taken into account. Under increasing international pressure, the Hernández government has repeatedly announced its own police reform, which appears to mostly involve a partial administrative reshuffling of Honduras’ law enforcement institutions.

Despite all these problems, the U.S. government has continued to throw its support behind Hernández, and sources indicate that they back the MACCIH proposal as well, despite the overwhelming opposition of Honduran human rights advocates. Many of the groups that oppose the MACCIH and support a CICIH are part of the Coalition Against Impunity, which includes the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Judges for Democracy, the Center for Women’s Rights (Centro de Derechos de Mujeres — CDM), the Committee for the Relatives of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso, the Freedom of Speech Committee (C-LIBRE), Team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación — ERIC), the National Network for Honduran Women Human Rights Defenders, and many others.

In a November statement the Coalition argued that a MACCIH would:

[be] limited in its ability to attack corruption and impunity in the country. Its main purpose is to supervise and give technical support to the Public Ministry and the Justice System through the support of a group of ex-prosecutors and international jurists; preparing a diagnosis of the current situation of justice in Honduras; accompanying the implementation of the Interamerican Convention against Corruption; and the creation of a justice observatory.

And

[lack] an effective mandate to strongly and decidedly attack the scandalous corruption that is corroding the public institutions of Honduras, not to mention the tremendous limitations — that have been laid out — to attack impunity and dismantle criminal structures that function parallel to the state apparatus.

The Coalition also notes that the MACCIH proposal has been developed without consultation of, or input from civil society groups other than those that have close relations with the ruling National Party.

The statement explains:

Instead of a MACCIH, the Coalition Against Impunity, together with other organizations, advocates for a mechanism like the CICIG, underscoring the importance of a similar mandate and the transfer of experience that we could use in our country. We demand an International Commission Against Impunity, with a mandate that includes the following:

  -Political independence and financial autonomy to avoid any interference or limitation of its actions.

  -Capacity to investigate and gather evidence of criminal acts and illegal structures that function in the state apparatus. These should be provided to the Public Ministry to strengthen its prosecution abilities.

 -The capacity for criminal prosecution together with the Public Ministry in emblematic cases of corruption, impunity, or extreme human rights violations.

 -Building capacity of the Public Ministry and Judicial apparatus.

 -Development of proposals to support the necessary reforms in the Honduran judicial system.  

The marked weaknesses of the institutions in the Honduran judicial system currently demand the installation of an independent International Commission with a high level of technical and legal capacity to contribute to an efficient and committed struggle against corruption and impunity.

Some U.S. analysts have argued that a CICIG-like entity wouldn’t be able to quickly address Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity.

The reality is that there are no quick fixes for Honduras, and simply painting over the country’s problems with ineffective measures will not improve the situation. And, as the Coalition Against Impunity has pointed out, a CICIH, rather than starting completely from scratch, would be able to benefit from a “transfer of experience” from the CICIG.

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