The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

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

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

While the maquiladora export industry is sometimes touted as a symbol of progress and development in underdeveloped countries, the reality for many workers implies otherwise. In Central America, maquilas act as multinational levers to gain profit, but are not a guarantee of a sufficient income for workers.

According to a 2014 report [PDF] published by labor and social organizations, in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – approximately 350,000 [PDF] workers are employed in the maquiladora industry: 80,000 in El Salvador, 150,729 in Guatemala and 120,000 in Honduras.  As Table 1 illustrates, on average, 54 percent [PDF] of these countries’ total exports to the U.S. are produced in the maquiladora industry (42 percent for El Salvador, 55 percent for Guatemala and 65 percent for Honduras).

Table 1

Data from the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel shows that Central America and the Dominican Republic produce around 10 percent of all apparel goods purchased in the U.S., of which 70 percent is produced in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. This means that Central America is behind only China (which produces 36 percent) and Vietnam (which produces 11 percent) in clothing exports to the U.S. Among the largest sectors that Central America exports to the U.S. are cotton knitted T-shirts (23.1 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars) and cotton underwear (24.7 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars).

The apparel export industry in Central America is concentrated in the hands of a few multinationals. Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Gildan Activewear are three of the biggest North American corporations operating in Honduras, employing around 25 percent of maquiladora workers in the country. Fruit of the Loom alone employs approximately 24,000 workers in Honduras and El Salvador. Nike and Adidas also subcontract production to maquiladoras; together they have about 30 outsourcing companies in Honduras alone.

As the following graph shows, the daily minimum wage for workers in maquilas in the Northern Triangle countries represents, on average, 13 percent of the federal minimum wage in the U.S.

Minimum Wage Comparison
Source: Guatemala (www.mintrabajo.gob.gt), Honduras (http://www.trabajo.gob.hn/), El Salvador (http://www.mtps.gob.sv/), U.S. ( http://www.dol.gov).

Minimum wage levels in the maquiladora industry of the Northern Triangle countries are especially low considering the cost of a basket of basic consumer goods. A report [PDF] published by the Maquila Solidarity Network demonstrates the low purchasing power of the minimum wages earned by workers in maquiladoras. On average, these wages are equivalent to only 37 percent of the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods (including services).  

Cost of Monthly Basket of Basic Consumer Goods -Including Services (MBCG) vs. Maquiladora Minimum Wages, 2014 (USD)

MBCG vs Minimum Wage
Source: Maquila Solidarity Network report [PDF], elaborated with data from Central Banks, Ministries of Labor, Statistic National Institutes (Honduras and Guatemala) and DIGESTYC (El Salvador)

Despite the shocking disparity between the minimum wages and the cost of basic necessities, manufacturers and governments in the Northern Triangle have sought greater flexibility from workers in response to rising competition from China and falling demand in the decelerated U.S. economy.  

One of the most important changes that has taken place in the maquiladora industry since the economic crash of 2008 is the fall in minimum wages below those of the non-maquiladora industrial and service sectors. As the following graphs show, the gap between minimum wages in the maquiladora sector and in the non-maquila manufacturing sector, has been widening in the three Central American countries of the Northern Triangle.

Honduras Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.trabajo.gob.hn

El Salvador Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.mtps.gob.sv

Guatemala Daily Minimum Wage
Source: http://www.mintrabajo.gob.gt/

Of the three countries, Honduras shows the greatest difference between maquiladora and non-maquiladora minimum wages. In 2008, the Honduran government approved a 60 percent wage increase for all workers except those in the maquila industry. Since then, the minimum wage in the Honduran maquiladora industry has fallen well below the minimum wages for non-maquila industries.

In El Salvador, the difference between maquila and non-maquila minimum wages has deepened, from a 10 percent difference in 2007, to a 16.3 percent difference in 2014. If this trend continues — with an average yearly growth rate of 4.2 percent for non-maquila workers and 3.1 percent for maquila workers — the latter will be more than 21 percent lower in 2020.  

In Guatemala, there was actually no difference between the minimum wage for EPZ maquila workers and for those in other jobs, but as new wage policies were applied in 2008, this relationship changed; minimum wages in the maquiladora sector are now below the minimum wages in the non-maquila manufacturing sector. The Guatemalan case is the least dramatic, but if the average growth rate of minimum wages in different sectors does not change, minimum wages in maquilas will be 16.5 percent lower than in non-maquila and service sectors.

This suggests that cheap labor may be the greatest competitive advantage for Northern Triangle economies. Such an advantage comes at a cost. The lowering of workers’ wages in the maquiladora industry has become a useful tool by which multinationals can respond to a more sluggish U.S. economy.

There have been various demands for higher minimum wages in the maquiladoras in Central America; even the United Nations has expressed concern. However, governments in Central America have insisted on limiting wage growth in response to demands from manufacturers such as Fruit of the Loom, Gildan, Hanes, Adidas, Nike, and others, despite the costs to workers.

Recently, the U.S. and Central American governments have proposed tackling the migration crisis through the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity”; however as we have described in previous posts, “the plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty.” Instead, the governments insist on pushing down wages further, while largely addressing the issue of migration as a security problem. Instead of raising pay and ensuring good working conditions, the region is being militarized to contain outward migration. How about calling this the “pressure cooker model”?

While the maquiladora export industry is sometimes touted as a symbol of progress and development in underdeveloped countries, the reality for many workers implies otherwise. In Central America, maquilas act as multinational levers to gain profit, but are not a guarantee of a sufficient income for workers.

According to a 2014 report [PDF] published by labor and social organizations, in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – approximately 350,000 [PDF] workers are employed in the maquiladora industry: 80,000 in El Salvador, 150,729 in Guatemala and 120,000 in Honduras.  As Table 1 illustrates, on average, 54 percent [PDF] of these countries’ total exports to the U.S. are produced in the maquiladora industry (42 percent for El Salvador, 55 percent for Guatemala and 65 percent for Honduras).

Table 1

Data from the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel shows that Central America and the Dominican Republic produce around 10 percent of all apparel goods purchased in the U.S., of which 70 percent is produced in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. This means that Central America is behind only China (which produces 36 percent) and Vietnam (which produces 11 percent) in clothing exports to the U.S. Among the largest sectors that Central America exports to the U.S. are cotton knitted T-shirts (23.1 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars) and cotton underwear (24.7 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars).

The apparel export industry in Central America is concentrated in the hands of a few multinationals. Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Gildan Activewear are three of the biggest North American corporations operating in Honduras, employing around 25 percent of maquiladora workers in the country. Fruit of the Loom alone employs approximately 24,000 workers in Honduras and El Salvador. Nike and Adidas also subcontract production to maquiladoras; together they have about 30 outsourcing companies in Honduras alone.

As the following graph shows, the daily minimum wage for workers in maquilas in the Northern Triangle countries represents, on average, 13 percent of the federal minimum wage in the U.S.

Minimum Wage Comparison
Source: Guatemala (www.mintrabajo.gob.gt), Honduras (http://www.trabajo.gob.hn/), El Salvador (http://www.mtps.gob.sv/), U.S. ( http://www.dol.gov).

Minimum wage levels in the maquiladora industry of the Northern Triangle countries are especially low considering the cost of a basket of basic consumer goods. A report [PDF] published by the Maquila Solidarity Network demonstrates the low purchasing power of the minimum wages earned by workers in maquiladoras. On average, these wages are equivalent to only 37 percent of the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods (including services).  

Cost of Monthly Basket of Basic Consumer Goods -Including Services (MBCG) vs. Maquiladora Minimum Wages, 2014 (USD)

MBCG vs Minimum Wage
Source: Maquila Solidarity Network report [PDF], elaborated with data from Central Banks, Ministries of Labor, Statistic National Institutes (Honduras and Guatemala) and DIGESTYC (El Salvador)

Despite the shocking disparity between the minimum wages and the cost of basic necessities, manufacturers and governments in the Northern Triangle have sought greater flexibility from workers in response to rising competition from China and falling demand in the decelerated U.S. economy.  

One of the most important changes that has taken place in the maquiladora industry since the economic crash of 2008 is the fall in minimum wages below those of the non-maquiladora industrial and service sectors. As the following graphs show, the gap between minimum wages in the maquiladora sector and in the non-maquila manufacturing sector, has been widening in the three Central American countries of the Northern Triangle.

Honduras Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.trabajo.gob.hn

El Salvador Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.mtps.gob.sv

Guatemala Daily Minimum Wage
Source: http://www.mintrabajo.gob.gt/

Of the three countries, Honduras shows the greatest difference between maquiladora and non-maquiladora minimum wages. In 2008, the Honduran government approved a 60 percent wage increase for all workers except those in the maquila industry. Since then, the minimum wage in the Honduran maquiladora industry has fallen well below the minimum wages for non-maquila industries.

In El Salvador, the difference between maquila and non-maquila minimum wages has deepened, from a 10 percent difference in 2007, to a 16.3 percent difference in 2014. If this trend continues — with an average yearly growth rate of 4.2 percent for non-maquila workers and 3.1 percent for maquila workers — the latter will be more than 21 percent lower in 2020.  

In Guatemala, there was actually no difference between the minimum wage for EPZ maquila workers and for those in other jobs, but as new wage policies were applied in 2008, this relationship changed; minimum wages in the maquiladora sector are now below the minimum wages in the non-maquila manufacturing sector. The Guatemalan case is the least dramatic, but if the average growth rate of minimum wages in different sectors does not change, minimum wages in maquilas will be 16.5 percent lower than in non-maquila and service sectors.

This suggests that cheap labor may be the greatest competitive advantage for Northern Triangle economies. Such an advantage comes at a cost. The lowering of workers’ wages in the maquiladora industry has become a useful tool by which multinationals can respond to a more sluggish U.S. economy.

There have been various demands for higher minimum wages in the maquiladoras in Central America; even the United Nations has expressed concern. However, governments in Central America have insisted on limiting wage growth in response to demands from manufacturers such as Fruit of the Loom, Gildan, Hanes, Adidas, Nike, and others, despite the costs to workers.

Recently, the U.S. and Central American governments have proposed tackling the migration crisis through the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity”; however as we have described in previous posts, “the plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty.” Instead, the governments insist on pushing down wages further, while largely addressing the issue of migration as a security problem. Instead of raising pay and ensuring good working conditions, the region is being militarized to contain outward migration. How about calling this the “pressure cooker model”?

On January 21, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the beginning of a national program called “Mexico with Decent Work” (México con Trabajo Digno), with the stated mission to “promote the respect, protection and guarantee of human rights for workers in Mexico, as well as to ensure decent work is fully in force.” However, only two months later, as Secretary of Labor Alfonso Navarrete boasted that the program was rescuing people working practically in slave conditions, thousands of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley in the Northeastern state of Baja California went on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the government and multinational corporations.

Negotiations have yet to move forward. The Mexican government seems unable to respond, perhaps because the organized farmworkers are challenging an alliance between multinational corporations, public officials who also have business in the valley, and corporate unionism– a system that protects the interests of employers.

San Quintín Valley is one of Mexico’s largest export regions, employing tens of thousands of farmworkers, many of them first or second generation indigenous migrants [PDF] originally from Southern Mexico. Each year the region generates more than six billion pesos (about $410 million) worth of agricultural products. It is estimated that there are 80 thousand farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley, and yet in the municipality of Ensenada, which encompasses all of San Quintín, there are less than 24 thousand farm workers registered with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). The most important good produced is strawberries, but only a small portion of these are consumed in Mexico. Most are exported to the U.S. market to be sold by fast food chains, or in supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Safeway, or Whole Foods. Around 84 percent of U.S. imports of fresh strawberries come from Mexico, and Baja California leads Mexico’s production and export of strawberries.

Luis Hernández Navarro, Mexican journalist and coordinator of the opinion section of La Jornada, referred to the working conditions this way:

San Quintín’s day farmworkers labour in humiliating conditions on farms that grow produce for export: tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries. In exchange for starvation wages, they work up to 14- hour days without a weekly day of rest, let alone holidays or social security. Foremen sexually abuse the women, and they are forced to take their children to the premises to perform work.

… Many [workers] are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mixtec and Triqui), Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz, who have made San Quintín into another of their communities. Three generations of Oaxacalifornianos live there. They suffer constant police harassment. They rely on a single hospital [run by the] Mexican Social Security Institute [IMSS].

The strike launched by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS) seeks a wage increase from $8.00 to $13.50 per day. The workers also demand their employers follow both their obligations to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system, and the labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields and revocation of contracts with unions affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

As of today, the Mexican government has shown no willingness to engage in any sort of dialogue. First the Baja California government responded with violence, but this failed to break the strike. Then there was a brief period of negotiations with local government representatives that also failed when the officials offered only a 15 percent pay increase, far short of meeting the demands presented by workers.

Although this conflict has received some coverage in the U.S. due to the efforts of the AFL-CIO and the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), too little has been said about the responsibility of BerryMex, “one of Driscoll’s largest suppliers in the region” according to Rachel Luban from In These Times.[1]  Since the conflict began, BerryMex has published six press releases evading responsibility and insisting that they provide good working conditions for their workers. For example:

BerryMex has a long and established history of listening to worker concerns and taking action to provide them with the most comprehensive benefits, attractive earning capacity, and a healthy, safe and productive working environment.

And:

BerryMex provides comprehensive harvest employment opportunities including:

-Offering an average earning opportunity of between $5.00 – $9.00 (USD) per hour, ($75.00 mxp – $135,00 mxp) -and up to $10.00 (USD) ($150.00 mxp) per hour for high performers, resulting in the average weekly earnings of $3 600.00 pesos or $240.00 (USD) to 7,200.00 pesos or $480.00 (USD).

-This is approximately 8x the minimum federal wage and as much as 16x for high performers.

The Los Angeles Times has closely followed this conflict, and the Times’ Richard Marosi reported that BerryMex workers say they do not earn anywhere near the wage announced by the company:

Driscoll’s, in a statement last week, said BerryMex workers can earn $5 to $9 an hour.

That amount is inaccurate, farmworker leaders and several current and former BerryMex workers said. They say that under optimal conditions workers earn no more than $3 an hour, and that after peak harvest periods, pay drops to about half that amount.

One grower from the region, DeWayne Hafen, also questioned the BerryMex wage figures. Most pickers fill about 30 boxes a day during peak harvest periods, earning about $3.50 an hour, he said. The $9 figure, he said, isn’t possible.

On April 4, the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project and FIOB gathered outside Driscoll’s facilities in Oxnard, California in order to show the responsibility that this multinational has in the conflict in San Quintín. FIOB spokesperson Gaspar Rivera told a reporter for La Jornada that BerryMex was one of the companies that had negotiated a wage increase of 15 percent with the corporate unions, ignoring petitions made by the Alliance:

[Rivera] said that the “Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), signed a “security contract” with the agro-businesses of San Quintín, including Driscoll’s company, accepting a wage increase of 15 percent, “on the backs of 80,000 workers and the Alliance,” which represented the workers in the negotiations.

BerryMex not only appears to be dishonest in saying that their employees get paid between $5 and $8 per hour, it also—along with other companies—takes advantage of the corporate union structure known as “sindicatos charros” in Mexico, in order to evade responsibility. Historically linked to the PRI, the CROC, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, and the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers, who are all involved in the recruitment of farmworkers in San Quintín and  function as tools for employers to prevent the free association of workers, and are now being used by companies like Driscoll’s and BerryMex against the AONEMJS.

On Friday, May 9, federal authorities broke the agreement they had made to continue participating in negotiations. The undersecretary of the Mexican government, Luis Miranda, was expected to travel to San Quintín to meet with members of the AONEMJS, but he did not appear. The next day, during a “Global Action for San Quintín,” police violently broke up a protest of the AONEMJS outside the Rancho Seco company. As documented in La Jornada de Baja California, workers report being attacked:

Once he realized the situation, the owner of the farm called the police, who arrived at around 5:00 in the morning and charged at the day laborers who advocated for continuing the strike. Some of them ran towards their homes and were pursued by the police, who entered the homes and hit women and children even as they slept.

When BerryMex issued their first press release on the labor dispute, on March 21, it read, in part: “we strongly condemn the violence and looting from outside third parties which has negatively impacted families and small businesses across the region.” Why doesn’t BerryMex now condemn this police violence against farm workers which has resulted in 70 people injured, seven of them seriously? Why doesn’t BerryMex call for dialogue between the government and the AONEMJS?

This is not the first time that Driscoll’s has tried to evade its responsibilities to the workers who harvest its products; “its carefully crafted image obscures a record of unfair labor practices,” as Marosi reports. Even today, as San Quintín workers strike, farmworkers at the Sakuma Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington—an important supplier of Driscoll’s—have called for a boycott in order to pressure the firm to ensure that farmworkers get better wages, housing and working conditions. The farmworkers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), said, “Almost every year, there has been a labor dispute, some end in firing and evictions, while others have been full on work stoppages with only one in 2004, resulting in minor temporary concessions.” Farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms are calling for an end to what they describe “as wage theft, unfair piece rate agreements and verbal abuse during working hours,” as Leon Kaye wrote in Triple Pundit.

In San Quintín, the Alliance demonstrated its willingness to negotiate by lowering its request for a salary increase from $20 to $13 per day. However, the Mexican government has not reciprocated, proving that it is responsive only to the immediate interests of businesses. If Driscoll’s does not change its attitude toward the conflict in San Quintín, it will be showing that its growth is based on the insecurity and impoverishment of its workers. It would be proof that the company does not respect labor rights, and it would be a demonstration that it finds the corporate structure of Mexican unions extremely useful for its interests. Driscoll’s should take negotiations with the Alliance more seriously.

[1] The Los Angeles Times notes: “About one-quarter of the berries Driscoll’s gets from Baja come from growers other than BerryMex. Driscoll’s declined to provide the names of the other suppliers, which were described as small, locally owned farms.”


Mateo Crossa is an International Program Intern with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

On January 21, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the beginning of a national program called “Mexico with Decent Work” (México con Trabajo Digno), with the stated mission to “promote the respect, protection and guarantee of human rights for workers in Mexico, as well as to ensure decent work is fully in force.” However, only two months later, as Secretary of Labor Alfonso Navarrete boasted that the program was rescuing people working practically in slave conditions, thousands of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley in the Northeastern state of Baja California went on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the government and multinational corporations.

Negotiations have yet to move forward. The Mexican government seems unable to respond, perhaps because the organized farmworkers are challenging an alliance between multinational corporations, public officials who also have business in the valley, and corporate unionism– a system that protects the interests of employers.

San Quintín Valley is one of Mexico’s largest export regions, employing tens of thousands of farmworkers, many of them first or second generation indigenous migrants [PDF] originally from Southern Mexico. Each year the region generates more than six billion pesos (about $410 million) worth of agricultural products. It is estimated that there are 80 thousand farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley, and yet in the municipality of Ensenada, which encompasses all of San Quintín, there are less than 24 thousand farm workers registered with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). The most important good produced is strawberries, but only a small portion of these are consumed in Mexico. Most are exported to the U.S. market to be sold by fast food chains, or in supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Safeway, or Whole Foods. Around 84 percent of U.S. imports of fresh strawberries come from Mexico, and Baja California leads Mexico’s production and export of strawberries.

Luis Hernández Navarro, Mexican journalist and coordinator of the opinion section of La Jornada, referred to the working conditions this way:

San Quintín’s day farmworkers labour in humiliating conditions on farms that grow produce for export: tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries. In exchange for starvation wages, they work up to 14- hour days without a weekly day of rest, let alone holidays or social security. Foremen sexually abuse the women, and they are forced to take their children to the premises to perform work.

… Many [workers] are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mixtec and Triqui), Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz, who have made San Quintín into another of their communities. Three generations of Oaxacalifornianos live there. They suffer constant police harassment. They rely on a single hospital [run by the] Mexican Social Security Institute [IMSS].

The strike launched by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS) seeks a wage increase from $8.00 to $13.50 per day. The workers also demand their employers follow both their obligations to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system, and the labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields and revocation of contracts with unions affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

As of today, the Mexican government has shown no willingness to engage in any sort of dialogue. First the Baja California government responded with violence, but this failed to break the strike. Then there was a brief period of negotiations with local government representatives that also failed when the officials offered only a 15 percent pay increase, far short of meeting the demands presented by workers.

Although this conflict has received some coverage in the U.S. due to the efforts of the AFL-CIO and the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), too little has been said about the responsibility of BerryMex, “one of Driscoll’s largest suppliers in the region” according to Rachel Luban from In These Times.[1]  Since the conflict began, BerryMex has published six press releases evading responsibility and insisting that they provide good working conditions for their workers. For example:

BerryMex has a long and established history of listening to worker concerns and taking action to provide them with the most comprehensive benefits, attractive earning capacity, and a healthy, safe and productive working environment.

And:

BerryMex provides comprehensive harvest employment opportunities including:

-Offering an average earning opportunity of between $5.00 – $9.00 (USD) per hour, ($75.00 mxp – $135,00 mxp) -and up to $10.00 (USD) ($150.00 mxp) per hour for high performers, resulting in the average weekly earnings of $3 600.00 pesos or $240.00 (USD) to 7,200.00 pesos or $480.00 (USD).

-This is approximately 8x the minimum federal wage and as much as 16x for high performers.

The Los Angeles Times has closely followed this conflict, and the Times’ Richard Marosi reported that BerryMex workers say they do not earn anywhere near the wage announced by the company:

Driscoll’s, in a statement last week, said BerryMex workers can earn $5 to $9 an hour.

That amount is inaccurate, farmworker leaders and several current and former BerryMex workers said. They say that under optimal conditions workers earn no more than $3 an hour, and that after peak harvest periods, pay drops to about half that amount.

One grower from the region, DeWayne Hafen, also questioned the BerryMex wage figures. Most pickers fill about 30 boxes a day during peak harvest periods, earning about $3.50 an hour, he said. The $9 figure, he said, isn’t possible.

On April 4, the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project and FIOB gathered outside Driscoll’s facilities in Oxnard, California in order to show the responsibility that this multinational has in the conflict in San Quintín. FIOB spokesperson Gaspar Rivera told a reporter for La Jornada that BerryMex was one of the companies that had negotiated a wage increase of 15 percent with the corporate unions, ignoring petitions made by the Alliance:

[Rivera] said that the “Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), signed a “security contract” with the agro-businesses of San Quintín, including Driscoll’s company, accepting a wage increase of 15 percent, “on the backs of 80,000 workers and the Alliance,” which represented the workers in the negotiations.

BerryMex not only appears to be dishonest in saying that their employees get paid between $5 and $8 per hour, it also—along with other companies—takes advantage of the corporate union structure known as “sindicatos charros” in Mexico, in order to evade responsibility. Historically linked to the PRI, the CROC, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, and the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers, who are all involved in the recruitment of farmworkers in San Quintín and  function as tools for employers to prevent the free association of workers, and are now being used by companies like Driscoll’s and BerryMex against the AONEMJS.

On Friday, May 9, federal authorities broke the agreement they had made to continue participating in negotiations. The undersecretary of the Mexican government, Luis Miranda, was expected to travel to San Quintín to meet with members of the AONEMJS, but he did not appear. The next day, during a “Global Action for San Quintín,” police violently broke up a protest of the AONEMJS outside the Rancho Seco company. As documented in La Jornada de Baja California, workers report being attacked:

Once he realized the situation, the owner of the farm called the police, who arrived at around 5:00 in the morning and charged at the day laborers who advocated for continuing the strike. Some of them ran towards their homes and were pursued by the police, who entered the homes and hit women and children even as they slept.

When BerryMex issued their first press release on the labor dispute, on March 21, it read, in part: “we strongly condemn the violence and looting from outside third parties which has negatively impacted families and small businesses across the region.” Why doesn’t BerryMex now condemn this police violence against farm workers which has resulted in 70 people injured, seven of them seriously? Why doesn’t BerryMex call for dialogue between the government and the AONEMJS?

This is not the first time that Driscoll’s has tried to evade its responsibilities to the workers who harvest its products; “its carefully crafted image obscures a record of unfair labor practices,” as Marosi reports. Even today, as San Quintín workers strike, farmworkers at the Sakuma Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington—an important supplier of Driscoll’s—have called for a boycott in order to pressure the firm to ensure that farmworkers get better wages, housing and working conditions. The farmworkers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), said, “Almost every year, there has been a labor dispute, some end in firing and evictions, while others have been full on work stoppages with only one in 2004, resulting in minor temporary concessions.” Farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms are calling for an end to what they describe “as wage theft, unfair piece rate agreements and verbal abuse during working hours,” as Leon Kaye wrote in Triple Pundit.

In San Quintín, the Alliance demonstrated its willingness to negotiate by lowering its request for a salary increase from $20 to $13 per day. However, the Mexican government has not reciprocated, proving that it is responsive only to the immediate interests of businesses. If Driscoll’s does not change its attitude toward the conflict in San Quintín, it will be showing that its growth is based on the insecurity and impoverishment of its workers. It would be proof that the company does not respect labor rights, and it would be a demonstration that it finds the corporate structure of Mexican unions extremely useful for its interests. Driscoll’s should take negotiations with the Alliance more seriously.

[1] The Los Angeles Times notes: “About one-quarter of the berries Driscoll’s gets from Baja come from growers other than BerryMex. Driscoll’s declined to provide the names of the other suppliers, which were described as small, locally owned farms.”


Mateo Crossa is an International Program Intern with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The Americas Blog’s friend for the week is none other than Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey! Currently under federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, Senator Menendez recently took a break from trashing Venezuela and fighting the administration over its attempts to normalize relations with Cuba and reach a deal with Iran in order to add his voice to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who criticize “Fast Track,” also known as Trade Promotion Authority.

Late last night, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced a Senate Finance Committee hearing with just 12 hours notice. The hearing started off this morning with three Cabinet level officials giving testimony, despite the fact that the “Fast Track” bill had not been published. All three said they had not seen the final text of the bill, which in any event was introduced several hours later, at around 2:30 PM this afternoon.

This rushed timeline and lack of transparency was the focus of a statement published by Menendez and signed by half of the Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee:

With millions of jobs on the line, American workers and manufacturers deserve more than a hastily scheduled hearing without an underlying bill. Congress should undergo a thorough and deliberative committee process for debating trade agreements that account for 40 percent of our world’s GDP. And we should be debating a bill that has seen the light of day and contains strong provisions to protect American workers against illegal trade practices like currency manipulation.

During his time for questions, Senator Menendez rightly pressed the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, on his estimate of the net jobs effect of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here is the exchange, taken from a transcript prepared by CQ Congressional Transcripts:

MENENDEZ:

[…] Ambassador Froman, I asked you at our last hearing on the broad question of trade, how many jobs do you expect to be created — net jobs, I would say, because in every process of trade, there are winners and losers — net jobs to be created in TPP within the first year, the first five years, the first 10 years?

You didn’t give me any figures, and I’m wondering if, at this point, you’re in the position to describe what that would be.

FROMAN:

So when the — the agreement is complete, there’ll be a full economic analysis done.

I think the most authoritative analysis right now is probably the one that comes from the Peterson report — the Peterson Institute that talks about expanding exports when fully implemented by $123 billion a year, adding $77 billion to U.S. GDP and contributing to many more high-paying jobs.

It depends a bit on where you are on the spectrum of full employment. If you’re not at full employment, then it adds jobs. If you are at full employment, then it adds better jobs. And so it’ll bend a little bit…

MENENDEZ:

So — so we don’t have a number on the jobs? You’re talking about just gross?

FROMAN:

What we know is that every billion dollars of exports, additional exports, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs and that those jobs pay on average 18 percent more than non-export-related jobs in the same sector.

MENENDEZ:

And the net — and the loss of jobs?

FROMAN:

Well, we’ve been looking, and we’ve been doing some — some studies state by state or — or in various districts to see, because we have so few tariffs ourselves, so few import-sensitive sectors ourselves, where there — where there might be job loss.

And, you know, with our average tariff of 1.4 percent and with no — no — we don’t use non-tariff measures as a…

MENENDEZ:

So we don’t have an answer on that, exactly?

FROMAN:

We don’t — we don’t — we don’t have have (inaudible).

Of course, this is not the first time an Obama administration official has cited the Peterson Institute’s report. In an earlier instance when Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did try to provide a jobs gain number, the Washington Post Fact Checker gave the administration “Four Pinocchios for their fishy math.” In this case, it seems like Froman wanted to use the same study to answer the same question, but could not actually give a straight answer without overtly repeating the inappropriate calculation.

In any event, the gains from the proposed TPP cited by Froman are completely out of context. When compared to the size of the U.S. economy these gains are very small and, due to the in-equalizing effect of trade on wages, the gains would only go to a small group of people. In fact, a large majority of workers would lose as a result of an agreement like the TPP.

The Americas Blog’s friend for the week is none other than Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey! Currently under federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges, Senator Menendez recently took a break from trashing Venezuela and fighting the administration over its attempts to normalize relations with Cuba and reach a deal with Iran in order to add his voice to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who criticize “Fast Track,” also known as Trade Promotion Authority.

Late last night, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced a Senate Finance Committee hearing with just 12 hours notice. The hearing started off this morning with three Cabinet level officials giving testimony, despite the fact that the “Fast Track” bill had not been published. All three said they had not seen the final text of the bill, which in any event was introduced several hours later, at around 2:30 PM this afternoon.

This rushed timeline and lack of transparency was the focus of a statement published by Menendez and signed by half of the Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee:

With millions of jobs on the line, American workers and manufacturers deserve more than a hastily scheduled hearing without an underlying bill. Congress should undergo a thorough and deliberative committee process for debating trade agreements that account for 40 percent of our world’s GDP. And we should be debating a bill that has seen the light of day and contains strong provisions to protect American workers against illegal trade practices like currency manipulation.

During his time for questions, Senator Menendez rightly pressed the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, on his estimate of the net jobs effect of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here is the exchange, taken from a transcript prepared by CQ Congressional Transcripts:

MENENDEZ:

[…] Ambassador Froman, I asked you at our last hearing on the broad question of trade, how many jobs do you expect to be created — net jobs, I would say, because in every process of trade, there are winners and losers — net jobs to be created in TPP within the first year, the first five years, the first 10 years?

You didn’t give me any figures, and I’m wondering if, at this point, you’re in the position to describe what that would be.

FROMAN:

So when the — the agreement is complete, there’ll be a full economic analysis done.

I think the most authoritative analysis right now is probably the one that comes from the Peterson report — the Peterson Institute that talks about expanding exports when fully implemented by $123 billion a year, adding $77 billion to U.S. GDP and contributing to many more high-paying jobs.

It depends a bit on where you are on the spectrum of full employment. If you’re not at full employment, then it adds jobs. If you are at full employment, then it adds better jobs. And so it’ll bend a little bit…

MENENDEZ:

So — so we don’t have a number on the jobs? You’re talking about just gross?

FROMAN:

What we know is that every billion dollars of exports, additional exports, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs and that those jobs pay on average 18 percent more than non-export-related jobs in the same sector.

MENENDEZ:

And the net — and the loss of jobs?

FROMAN:

Well, we’ve been looking, and we’ve been doing some — some studies state by state or — or in various districts to see, because we have so few tariffs ourselves, so few import-sensitive sectors ourselves, where there — where there might be job loss.

And, you know, with our average tariff of 1.4 percent and with no — no — we don’t use non-tariff measures as a…

MENENDEZ:

So we don’t have an answer on that, exactly?

FROMAN:

We don’t — we don’t — we don’t have have (inaudible).

Of course, this is not the first time an Obama administration official has cited the Peterson Institute’s report. In an earlier instance when Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did try to provide a jobs gain number, the Washington Post Fact Checker gave the administration “Four Pinocchios for their fishy math.” In this case, it seems like Froman wanted to use the same study to answer the same question, but could not actually give a straight answer without overtly repeating the inappropriate calculation.

In any event, the gains from the proposed TPP cited by Froman are completely out of context. When compared to the size of the U.S. economy these gains are very small and, due to the in-equalizing effect of trade on wages, the gains would only go to a small group of people. In fact, a large majority of workers would lose as a result of an agreement like the TPP.

From April 8-11, President Obama will make his first trip south of the U.S. border since February of 2014.  On April 9, he will be in Kingston, Jamaica for meetings with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization made up of 15 Caribbean governments.  Then on April 10 and 11, he will be in Panama City where he’ll participate in the seventh Summit of the Americas alongside the leaders of every independent government in the hemisphere including – for the first time – the Republic of Cuba.   

As we had predicted, the last Summit of the Americas that took place in Cartagena, Colombia in April of 2012 was a stormy affair for Obama, with many Latin American leaders objecting to the U.S.’ refusal to allow Cuba’s participation in the summit and criticizing the U.S. “War on Drugs” (not to mention that little scandal involving Secret Service agents and local prostitutes).  Following Obama’s efforts to begin the normalization of relations with Cuba and the lifting of his veto on Raul Castro’s participation in the Panama summit, many expect the U.S. president to receive a warmer welcome this time around.  But dark clouds have gathered again following the White House’s executive order declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary national security threat” and slapping senior Venezuelan officials with sanctions. 

On April 7, two senior White House officials, Ricardo Zúñiga – National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs – and Ben Rhodes – Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications – provided the press with a briefing on Obama’s trip to Kingston and Panama City.  As a service to our readers, CEPR has the pleasure of offering its own background briefing on some of the key issues that are sure to come up during Obama’s trip, with a few choice contributions from the aforementioned White House briefing.

Let’s start with Jamaica.  On April 9, President Obama will, in the words of Zúñiga, “have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Miller about (…) our strong support for Jamaica’s work to deal with a debt crisis, with a fiscal crisis, and its strong performance in the last two years in working with the IMF and World Bank and others to address that, in support of the prosperity and security of her citizens.”

As luck would have it (well, maybe not just luck), CEPR has just published a paper titled “Partners in Austerity: Jamaica, the U.S. and the IMF.”  The paper, authored by CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, shows that Jamaica’s recent economic performance has been anything but “strong” and that over two years into an IMF-backed economic program, Jamaica has the world’s most austere budget and is plagued by record-high debt (with a debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 140 percent) and low economic growth.  Johnston notes:

[Jamaica’s] economy remains smaller today than it was in 2008. With anemic growth and continued austerity, social indicators have drastically worsened, with poverty doubling since 2007. Unemployment, at 14.2 percent, remains higher today than during the height of the global recession. (…) Without hundreds of millions in financial support from Venezuela [through the Petrocaribe energy agreement] and China the impact of IMF-led austerity would likely be far worse and, ultimately, politically untenable.

The paper argues that, if the U.S. really wants to help Jamaica recover economically, it should encourage multilateral development banks “to work with Jamaica and other creditors to provide meaningful debt relief, freeing up needed resources to invest in the future of the country.”

In Obama’s meeting with CARICOM, he is expected to discuss Vice President Joe Biden’s Caribbean Energy Security Initiative which, Zuñiga explains, is “related to energy security and our shared efforts to promote a more — more diverse, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future for the Caribbean.” 

“Clean” energy, i.e., natural gas (though environmentalists generally reject the “clean” moniker).  For some time now, Vice President Joe Biden and Beltway analysts with close ties to the U.S. energy industry have been touting the virtues of natural gas, specifically U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, for the Caribbean region.  One of the main arguments is that Venezuela’s Petrocaribe cooperation agreement, which provides oil to the region at highly advantageous credit terms, is unsustainable and undesirable due to the political influence that Venezuela has gained in the region.  State Department Cables published by WikiLeaks show that the U.S. aggressively pressured Caribbean and Central American governments not to sign onto Petrocaribe despite the enormous economic benefits of the agreement (as can be seen in countries like Haiti and Jamaica).  Clearly, U.S. efforts to counter Petrocaribe continue to this day. (Look out for the upcoming book The WikiLeaks Files that will include two chapters on these and other Latin America-related cable revelations authored by CEPR staff). 

On to Panama, where Obama will interact with his counterparts from all over Latin America and the Caribbean at the Seventh Summit of the Americas.  According to Zúñiga, Obama will be “focused on moving beyond some of these [sic] past divisiveness within the Americas [and] finding new ways to engage our partners on a basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.”  According to Ben Rhodes, the White House has fully absorbed the lessons from the past: “Having gone through two previous summits, [we] did not think it was constructive for the United States to try to isolate Cuba from the broader community within the Americas.”  Now that Obama has begun normalizing relations with Cuba and stopped barring Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas all that “past divisiveness” (read: past U.S. isolation in the region) will quickly become a distant memory. Right?

Not so fast.  While Obama may be seeking to make peace with Cuba, he has simultaneously taken a much more aggressive stance toward Venezuela. On December 18 of last year, literally one day after announcing his “new course” on Cuba, Obama signed into law a bill mandating targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials despite the opposition of every Latin American country and Venezuelan human rights defenders.  Obama’s support for the sanctions legislation was useful in placating Cuban-American members of Congress; however, as CEPR policy analyst Alex Main noted in The Hill at the time, “allowing legislators stuck in a Cold War mentality to steer U.S. Venezuela policy is dangerous and risks wrecking the good will that the administration’s Cuba detente is generating throughout the region.”

On March 7, the White House decided to go a significant step further and issued an executive order declaring Venezuela “an extraordinary threat” to “national security” and announcing sanctions against Venezuelan officials that went beyond the mandate of the December sanctions legislation.  What motivated Obama to do this?  As CEPR co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a recent U.S. News and World Report op-ed, normalizing “relations with Cuba is generally consistent with the broader strategy of opposition to Venezuela and other left governments that have been elected and re-elected since 1998.” 

Needless to say, Obama’s executive order has caused consternation and outrage throughout the region.  The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (which includes every government in the region except the U.S. and Canada) rejected “the implementation of coercive, unilateral measures contrary to the international law.”  Obama’s Latin America team now appears to be frantically trying to abate the coming storm in Panama. Ben Rhodes “clarified” the administration’s position, explaining, “The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security.”   And Thomas Shannon, senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, has just made an unexpected trip to Caracas to try to smooth the waters with the Venezuelan government before the April 10 summit begins. But it is unlikely that any of this will be enough to keep the issue of the Venezuela sanctions off the table in Panama. 

Also while in Panama, President Obama will “meet with the different Presidents of the SICA (Central American Integration System) grouping of nations.  That’s the Central American nations, where we have a very significant $1 billion security and capacity-building initiative…” (Rhodes).  CEPR’s Alex Main has dissected this billion-dollar aid plan focused on Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in NACLA and The Hill and noted that it would see assistance to police and military institutions rife with corruption and abuses increase significantly despite impunity around human rights violations perpetrated by state security forces.  Economic development assistance would increase by over 400 percent under the plan, but the fact that the White House has indicated that it will be used to bolster the Inter-American Development Bank’s multi-billion dollar Alliance for Prosperity plan in Central America’s Northern Triangle should set off alarm bells:

the “Alliance” plan appears to be largely focused on attracting forms of foreign investment that have arguably made life worse for many Central Americans and had little positive impact on the overall economic situation. These include investments in “strategic sectors” — textile manufacturing, agro-industry and tourism — which all too frequently offer workers poverty-level jobs and provoke the displacement of small farmers and entire communities whose rights and historic claims to land are rarely supported by state authorities.

Finally, it is worth noting that, although Obama is meeting with the CARICOM (Caribbean) group of governments and with the SICA (Central American) group of governments, he is not planning on meeting with the group that has by far the biggest heft in Latin America in terms of population and economic clout: UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations.  This could well be a symptom of the fact that South America today is largely outside of the orbit of influence of the U.S., with the peoples of the continent having elected governments that largely reject U.S.-backed economic policies and foreign policy goals.  UNASUR has called for Obama to rescind his executive order against Venezuela and engage in constructive dialogue with the Venezuelan government.  We’ll soon find out whether Obama is listening.     

From April 8-11, President Obama will make his first trip south of the U.S. border since February of 2014.  On April 9, he will be in Kingston, Jamaica for meetings with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization made up of 15 Caribbean governments.  Then on April 10 and 11, he will be in Panama City where he’ll participate in the seventh Summit of the Americas alongside the leaders of every independent government in the hemisphere including – for the first time – the Republic of Cuba.   

As we had predicted, the last Summit of the Americas that took place in Cartagena, Colombia in April of 2012 was a stormy affair for Obama, with many Latin American leaders objecting to the U.S.’ refusal to allow Cuba’s participation in the summit and criticizing the U.S. “War on Drugs” (not to mention that little scandal involving Secret Service agents and local prostitutes).  Following Obama’s efforts to begin the normalization of relations with Cuba and the lifting of his veto on Raul Castro’s participation in the Panama summit, many expect the U.S. president to receive a warmer welcome this time around.  But dark clouds have gathered again following the White House’s executive order declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary national security threat” and slapping senior Venezuelan officials with sanctions. 

On April 7, two senior White House officials, Ricardo Zúñiga – National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs – and Ben Rhodes – Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications – provided the press with a briefing on Obama’s trip to Kingston and Panama City.  As a service to our readers, CEPR has the pleasure of offering its own background briefing on some of the key issues that are sure to come up during Obama’s trip, with a few choice contributions from the aforementioned White House briefing.

Let’s start with Jamaica.  On April 9, President Obama will, in the words of Zúñiga, “have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Miller about (…) our strong support for Jamaica’s work to deal with a debt crisis, with a fiscal crisis, and its strong performance in the last two years in working with the IMF and World Bank and others to address that, in support of the prosperity and security of her citizens.”

As luck would have it (well, maybe not just luck), CEPR has just published a paper titled “Partners in Austerity: Jamaica, the U.S. and the IMF.”  The paper, authored by CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, shows that Jamaica’s recent economic performance has been anything but “strong” and that over two years into an IMF-backed economic program, Jamaica has the world’s most austere budget and is plagued by record-high debt (with a debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 140 percent) and low economic growth.  Johnston notes:

[Jamaica’s] economy remains smaller today than it was in 2008. With anemic growth and continued austerity, social indicators have drastically worsened, with poverty doubling since 2007. Unemployment, at 14.2 percent, remains higher today than during the height of the global recession. (…) Without hundreds of millions in financial support from Venezuela [through the Petrocaribe energy agreement] and China the impact of IMF-led austerity would likely be far worse and, ultimately, politically untenable.

The paper argues that, if the U.S. really wants to help Jamaica recover economically, it should encourage multilateral development banks “to work with Jamaica and other creditors to provide meaningful debt relief, freeing up needed resources to invest in the future of the country.”

In Obama’s meeting with CARICOM, he is expected to discuss Vice President Joe Biden’s Caribbean Energy Security Initiative which, Zuñiga explains, is “related to energy security and our shared efforts to promote a more — more diverse, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future for the Caribbean.” 

“Clean” energy, i.e., natural gas (though environmentalists generally reject the “clean” moniker).  For some time now, Vice President Joe Biden and Beltway analysts with close ties to the U.S. energy industry have been touting the virtues of natural gas, specifically U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, for the Caribbean region.  One of the main arguments is that Venezuela’s Petrocaribe cooperation agreement, which provides oil to the region at highly advantageous credit terms, is unsustainable and undesirable due to the political influence that Venezuela has gained in the region.  State Department Cables published by WikiLeaks show that the U.S. aggressively pressured Caribbean and Central American governments not to sign onto Petrocaribe despite the enormous economic benefits of the agreement (as can be seen in countries like Haiti and Jamaica).  Clearly, U.S. efforts to counter Petrocaribe continue to this day. (Look out for the upcoming book The WikiLeaks Files that will include two chapters on these and other Latin America-related cable revelations authored by CEPR staff). 

On to Panama, where Obama will interact with his counterparts from all over Latin America and the Caribbean at the Seventh Summit of the Americas.  According to Zúñiga, Obama will be “focused on moving beyond some of these [sic] past divisiveness within the Americas [and] finding new ways to engage our partners on a basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.”  According to Ben Rhodes, the White House has fully absorbed the lessons from the past: “Having gone through two previous summits, [we] did not think it was constructive for the United States to try to isolate Cuba from the broader community within the Americas.”  Now that Obama has begun normalizing relations with Cuba and stopped barring Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas all that “past divisiveness” (read: past U.S. isolation in the region) will quickly become a distant memory. Right?

Not so fast.  While Obama may be seeking to make peace with Cuba, he has simultaneously taken a much more aggressive stance toward Venezuela. On December 18 of last year, literally one day after announcing his “new course” on Cuba, Obama signed into law a bill mandating targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials despite the opposition of every Latin American country and Venezuelan human rights defenders.  Obama’s support for the sanctions legislation was useful in placating Cuban-American members of Congress; however, as CEPR policy analyst Alex Main noted in The Hill at the time, “allowing legislators stuck in a Cold War mentality to steer U.S. Venezuela policy is dangerous and risks wrecking the good will that the administration’s Cuba detente is generating throughout the region.”

On March 7, the White House decided to go a significant step further and issued an executive order declaring Venezuela “an extraordinary threat” to “national security” and announcing sanctions against Venezuelan officials that went beyond the mandate of the December sanctions legislation.  What motivated Obama to do this?  As CEPR co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a recent U.S. News and World Report op-ed, normalizing “relations with Cuba is generally consistent with the broader strategy of opposition to Venezuela and other left governments that have been elected and re-elected since 1998.” 

Needless to say, Obama’s executive order has caused consternation and outrage throughout the region.  The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (which includes every government in the region except the U.S. and Canada) rejected “the implementation of coercive, unilateral measures contrary to the international law.”  Obama’s Latin America team now appears to be frantically trying to abate the coming storm in Panama. Ben Rhodes “clarified” the administration’s position, explaining, “The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security.”   And Thomas Shannon, senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, has just made an unexpected trip to Caracas to try to smooth the waters with the Venezuelan government before the April 10 summit begins. But it is unlikely that any of this will be enough to keep the issue of the Venezuela sanctions off the table in Panama. 

Also while in Panama, President Obama will “meet with the different Presidents of the SICA (Central American Integration System) grouping of nations.  That’s the Central American nations, where we have a very significant $1 billion security and capacity-building initiative…” (Rhodes).  CEPR’s Alex Main has dissected this billion-dollar aid plan focused on Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in NACLA and The Hill and noted that it would see assistance to police and military institutions rife with corruption and abuses increase significantly despite impunity around human rights violations perpetrated by state security forces.  Economic development assistance would increase by over 400 percent under the plan, but the fact that the White House has indicated that it will be used to bolster the Inter-American Development Bank’s multi-billion dollar Alliance for Prosperity plan in Central America’s Northern Triangle should set off alarm bells:

the “Alliance” plan appears to be largely focused on attracting forms of foreign investment that have arguably made life worse for many Central Americans and had little positive impact on the overall economic situation. These include investments in “strategic sectors” — textile manufacturing, agro-industry and tourism — which all too frequently offer workers poverty-level jobs and provoke the displacement of small farmers and entire communities whose rights and historic claims to land are rarely supported by state authorities.

Finally, it is worth noting that, although Obama is meeting with the CARICOM (Caribbean) group of governments and with the SICA (Central American) group of governments, he is not planning on meeting with the group that has by far the biggest heft in Latin America in terms of population and economic clout: UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations.  This could well be a symptom of the fact that South America today is largely outside of the orbit of influence of the U.S., with the peoples of the continent having elected governments that largely reject U.S.-backed economic policies and foreign policy goals.  UNASUR has called for Obama to rescind his executive order against Venezuela and engage in constructive dialogue with the Venezuelan government.  We’ll soon find out whether Obama is listening.     

The kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero has sparked renewed attention to the devastating effects of the U.S.-backed drug war in Mexico. More than six months have passed since the students’ disappearance, and while dozens of police officials and local drug gang members have been arrested, the investigations are marred with allegations of coerced confessions, and investigators are accused of covering up the truth by suppressing information.

Currently, a “caravan” of family members of the victims is traveling around the U.S. to bring attention to the terrible consequences of the war against drugs in Mexico. Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval, spokesperson for the group of parents and a member of the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa Guerrero, said the caravan aims “to shed light on the foreign policy of the United States, specifically the Mérida Initiative and its connection with the socioeconomic conditions and violence in Mexico.”

The Mérida Initiative was negotiated behind closed doors between former presidents George W. Bush of the U.S. and Felipe Calderón of Mexico in March 2007, and was inaugurated in December 2008. The former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Antonio O. Garza, said months before it was approved that it was “the most aggressive undertaking ever to combat Mexican drug cartels.” U.S. funding for judicial processes, forensic services, investigative capacity, and Mexico’s judicial reforms doesn’t seem to have had much impact so far: impunity remains rampant in Mexico, with 98.3 percent of crimes going unpunished. According to a recent U.N. report, Mexican security agents regularly engage in torture. The U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances has also found that the problem of disappearances of civilians at the hands of the police and military is worsened by the government inaction.

I recently discussed these issues, by email, with Jesse Franzblau – a policy analyst who has been researching U.S. foreign policy and human rights in Mexico and Latin America since 2006. Franzblau has carried out research and written articles for the National Security Archive, The Nation, Al Jazeera, NACLA, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Law Review and other outlets. Last year he was nominated, along with Mike Evans of the National Security Archive, and three Mexican journalists Carmen Aristegui, Daniel Lizárraga and Irvin Huerta (all formerly of Mexican news network MVS Noticias), for the 2014 Gabriel García Márquez Award for investigative journalism for their coverage of secret U.S. surveillance programs in Mexico.

****

Q: Can you provide some background on U.S. security assistance, training, and intelligence sharing in Mexico?

The U.S. has maintained a strong presence in Mexico, and has had a deep influence on the country’s political, social and economic affairs. Mexico was strategically important during the Cold War, when the CIA relied on Mexico’s high-level government officials for intelligence, including security chiefs, government ministers, and former presidents of the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] governments, which ruled the country unabated for seven decades straight, until 2000. The CIA maintained contacts with the upper-echelon of the PRI throughout the “Dirty War” period of the 1960s-80s; when three successive presidential administrations orchestrated systematic campaigns of violence against social movements. Intelligence gathering was a high-priority in Mexico for the U.S. during this period, and human rights were not a concern. The U.S. was well-aware that the Mexican government was committing grave human rights violations, but made no effort to publicize the fact to Congress, or elsewhere.

Declassified U.S. documents on watershed events, such as the infamous 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre of student protestors, show that the CIA helped protect Mexico’s ruling party from bearing responsibility for the massacre, delivering a misleading account of the killing back to Washington. The U.S. was also supporting the counterinsurgency campaign waged in Guerrero against the guerrilla movement led by Lucio Cabañas, a teacher from the Ayotzinapa teacher-training normalista school, in the early 1970s, which led to hundreds of enforced disappearances.

U.S. intelligence, mainly FBI and CIA, also worked closely with Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which carried out urban counterinsurgency campaigns that led to enforced disappearances. The DFS became so closely intertwined with drug trafficking in the 70s and 80s that it was disbanded in 1985 following revelations that it was behind the murders of a DEA agent and a Mexican journalist. After the DFS was abolished, some 1,500 unemployed agents found their way into organized crime, and brought [with them] their training in covert activities and brutal counterinsurgency operations.

After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continued to exert significant influence in Mexico under the pretext of fighting drugs, launching new counterdrug and border security programs in the early 1990s. Training for security forces increased, including counterinsurgency military training for special forces units, such as the army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE). Members of the GAFE later defected to provide protection for the Gulf Cartel, and went on to form the notorious Zetas criminal organization, bringing the army’s most sophisticated weaponry and surveillance equipment with them.

This is just some of the background on the roots of the type of criminal organizations that operate in Mexico today that have a history of government training, and deep links to the state.

Q: What has happened in Mexico since the advent of the Mérida Initiative?

Since 2008, the U.S. government has spent nearly $3 billion [PDF] on security aid to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative and through the departments of Defense and Justice. Much of this aid actually goes to contracts with U.S.-based defense firms, who make millions on everything from helicopter training to communications equipment and computer software to night-vision goggles, surveillance aircraft, satellites, etc. Christy Thornton wrote in a New York Times op-ed that this aid comes in addition to the direct sales of arms and other equipment to Mexico authorized by the State Department, which totaled $1.2 billion in 2012 alone. Last year, the figure reached over $1.15 billion in military equipment.  

One of the stated aims of the Mérida programs has been to support Mexico’s intelligence gathering and technology needs to fight the drug war. This support includes providing radar systems, joint-intelligence fusion centers, biometric databases, targeting of high-value cartel leaders, communications technology, etc. Police “professionalization” and training has ballooned, including training courses ranging from police intelligence to a jungle commando course, anti-kidnapping, cyber crimes, and community policing. The DEA conducts sensitive investigative training for federal police officials, having trained over 2,500 federal police officers in 2010 alone.

Training for security forces has skyrocketed. According to the U.S. Embassy, from 1996-2009, the U.S. trained nearly 5,000 military personnel. According to foreign assistance data, from 2010 through 2013, U.S. training reached over 8,000 members of Mexico’s security forces. In 2009, the U.S. Embassy reported internally that the cooperation with Mexico on intelligence and counternarcotics had never been better. In 2010, they noted that U.S. ties with Mexico’s military had never been closer in terms of equipment transfers and training, as well as intelligence sharing.

Q: What are some of the cases where we see U.S. aid going to security units connected to abuses?

Documents with information on the implementation of the Mérida programs contain regular reports on state involvement, complicity, and cover-up of human rights abuses. This includes intelligence authorities, migration authorities, military officials, and police. One document from June 2011 [PDF], for example, reported on a visit of U.S. officials to Tamaulipas in May 2011 to assess training needs for state security forces. The visit came as Mexico’s federal authorities were trying to cover up the discovery of mass graves of victims of recent massacres in the region (the San Fernando Massacres). Even as U.S. officials were reporting on state involvement in the massacres, the embassy recommended further training for Tamaulipas security forces. The same document, from June 2011, discusses migration authorities implicated in kidnappings of migrants. Further down, it reports on the delivery of biometric data equipment to the same agency (the National Migration Institute, or INAMI).

U.S. training programs have at times extended to government agencies in states where drug trafficking organizations were, according to U.S. Embassy accounts [PDF], operating with near total impunity, in the face of “compromised local security forces.” U.S. Embassy and DEA officials, for example, were carrying out training programs for police from Nuevo León as U.S. Consulate officials were reporting that the security apparatus in that state had been compromised, with the governor admitting [PDF] that some state and police officials had been co-opted by the Zetas. The programs continued even while DEA officials reported on the arrests [PDF] of 13 active-duty and retired law enforcement officials in the state of Nuevo León, including directors of the federal police, for providing protection and assistance to drug-trafficking organizations.

In one of the more recent cases, the military battalion responsible for the extrajudicial killing of 22 young people that took place in June in Tlatlaya, Mexico State, had received U.S. training. The CIP Americas Program reported that the State Department confirmed that five individuals from the battalion were trained by U.S. agencies.

Q: What are the types of sources you are using to document U.S. security assistance, organized crime and human rights abuses in Mexico? What do the documents reveal?

The archival orbit of U.S. and Mexico declassified and leaked internal government records provides a wealth of information on the specific types of assistance, training programs, and equipment provided under the pretext of fighting drugs.

The documents include files released in response to requests filed through Mexico’s access-to-information law. For example, last December, I obtained a document [PDF] from Mexico’s attorney general’s office with new information on police connections to the Zetas in the case of the San Fernando massacres, leading to widespread media attention in the Mexican and U.S. press. The release of the document also opened the pathway for disclosure of official records on the June 2014 Tlatlaya killings and attempted cover-up, and army files relating to the Ayotzinapa student disappearances.

The disclosure of such documents has brought about a renewed discussion on state secrecy with respect to human rights atrocities. It also raises questions about the current role of the U.S. in aiding the cover-up of such abuses, as it did during the Dirty War years. As Mexico’s prominent historian and critical writer Sergio Aguayo said after the disclosure of the San Fernando document, the disclosure tells us what we have known for some years; that the U.S. is helping the Mexican government cover up information about grave human rights violations. Indeed, a thorough analysis of internal government files, released through Freedom of Information requests or through leaks, reveals a pattern of abuses and cover-ups, as U.S. reporting on the implementation of the Mérida programs parallels regular reporting on institutional state links to organized crime and abuses. 

Note:

Many of the documents discussed in this interview were released in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research center located at George Washington University. The National Security Archive has worked for years to obtain government files from the U.S. and Mexican government archives on U.S.-Mexico security relations, counterdrug policies, and human rights. For more, see the Mexico Documentation Project and the Migration Declassified Project.

For more on the drug war and human rights abuses in Mexico, consult Centro Prodh, Frayba, Amnesty International, IACHR, CEPR, the U.N. and Human Rights Watch.

The kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero has sparked renewed attention to the devastating effects of the U.S.-backed drug war in Mexico. More than six months have passed since the students’ disappearance, and while dozens of police officials and local drug gang members have been arrested, the investigations are marred with allegations of coerced confessions, and investigators are accused of covering up the truth by suppressing information.

Currently, a “caravan” of family members of the victims is traveling around the U.S. to bring attention to the terrible consequences of the war against drugs in Mexico. Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval, spokesperson for the group of parents and a member of the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa Guerrero, said the caravan aims “to shed light on the foreign policy of the United States, specifically the Mérida Initiative and its connection with the socioeconomic conditions and violence in Mexico.”

The Mérida Initiative was negotiated behind closed doors between former presidents George W. Bush of the U.S. and Felipe Calderón of Mexico in March 2007, and was inaugurated in December 2008. The former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Antonio O. Garza, said months before it was approved that it was “the most aggressive undertaking ever to combat Mexican drug cartels.” U.S. funding for judicial processes, forensic services, investigative capacity, and Mexico’s judicial reforms doesn’t seem to have had much impact so far: impunity remains rampant in Mexico, with 98.3 percent of crimes going unpunished. According to a recent U.N. report, Mexican security agents regularly engage in torture. The U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances has also found that the problem of disappearances of civilians at the hands of the police and military is worsened by the government inaction.

I recently discussed these issues, by email, with Jesse Franzblau – a policy analyst who has been researching U.S. foreign policy and human rights in Mexico and Latin America since 2006. Franzblau has carried out research and written articles for the National Security Archive, The Nation, Al Jazeera, NACLA, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Law Review and other outlets. Last year he was nominated, along with Mike Evans of the National Security Archive, and three Mexican journalists Carmen Aristegui, Daniel Lizárraga and Irvin Huerta (all formerly of Mexican news network MVS Noticias), for the 2014 Gabriel García Márquez Award for investigative journalism for their coverage of secret U.S. surveillance programs in Mexico.

****

Q: Can you provide some background on U.S. security assistance, training, and intelligence sharing in Mexico?

The U.S. has maintained a strong presence in Mexico, and has had a deep influence on the country’s political, social and economic affairs. Mexico was strategically important during the Cold War, when the CIA relied on Mexico’s high-level government officials for intelligence, including security chiefs, government ministers, and former presidents of the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] governments, which ruled the country unabated for seven decades straight, until 2000. The CIA maintained contacts with the upper-echelon of the PRI throughout the “Dirty War” period of the 1960s-80s; when three successive presidential administrations orchestrated systematic campaigns of violence against social movements. Intelligence gathering was a high-priority in Mexico for the U.S. during this period, and human rights were not a concern. The U.S. was well-aware that the Mexican government was committing grave human rights violations, but made no effort to publicize the fact to Congress, or elsewhere.

Declassified U.S. documents on watershed events, such as the infamous 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre of student protestors, show that the CIA helped protect Mexico’s ruling party from bearing responsibility for the massacre, delivering a misleading account of the killing back to Washington. The U.S. was also supporting the counterinsurgency campaign waged in Guerrero against the guerrilla movement led by Lucio Cabañas, a teacher from the Ayotzinapa teacher-training normalista school, in the early 1970s, which led to hundreds of enforced disappearances.

U.S. intelligence, mainly FBI and CIA, also worked closely with Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which carried out urban counterinsurgency campaigns that led to enforced disappearances. The DFS became so closely intertwined with drug trafficking in the 70s and 80s that it was disbanded in 1985 following revelations that it was behind the murders of a DEA agent and a Mexican journalist. After the DFS was abolished, some 1,500 unemployed agents found their way into organized crime, and brought [with them] their training in covert activities and brutal counterinsurgency operations.

After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continued to exert significant influence in Mexico under the pretext of fighting drugs, launching new counterdrug and border security programs in the early 1990s. Training for security forces increased, including counterinsurgency military training for special forces units, such as the army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE). Members of the GAFE later defected to provide protection for the Gulf Cartel, and went on to form the notorious Zetas criminal organization, bringing the army’s most sophisticated weaponry and surveillance equipment with them.

This is just some of the background on the roots of the type of criminal organizations that operate in Mexico today that have a history of government training, and deep links to the state.

Q: What has happened in Mexico since the advent of the Mérida Initiative?

Since 2008, the U.S. government has spent nearly $3 billion [PDF] on security aid to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative and through the departments of Defense and Justice. Much of this aid actually goes to contracts with U.S.-based defense firms, who make millions on everything from helicopter training to communications equipment and computer software to night-vision goggles, surveillance aircraft, satellites, etc. Christy Thornton wrote in a New York Times op-ed that this aid comes in addition to the direct sales of arms and other equipment to Mexico authorized by the State Department, which totaled $1.2 billion in 2012 alone. Last year, the figure reached over $1.15 billion in military equipment.  

One of the stated aims of the Mérida programs has been to support Mexico’s intelligence gathering and technology needs to fight the drug war. This support includes providing radar systems, joint-intelligence fusion centers, biometric databases, targeting of high-value cartel leaders, communications technology, etc. Police “professionalization” and training has ballooned, including training courses ranging from police intelligence to a jungle commando course, anti-kidnapping, cyber crimes, and community policing. The DEA conducts sensitive investigative training for federal police officials, having trained over 2,500 federal police officers in 2010 alone.

Training for security forces has skyrocketed. According to the U.S. Embassy, from 1996-2009, the U.S. trained nearly 5,000 military personnel. According to foreign assistance data, from 2010 through 2013, U.S. training reached over 8,000 members of Mexico’s security forces. In 2009, the U.S. Embassy reported internally that the cooperation with Mexico on intelligence and counternarcotics had never been better. In 2010, they noted that U.S. ties with Mexico’s military had never been closer in terms of equipment transfers and training, as well as intelligence sharing.

Q: What are some of the cases where we see U.S. aid going to security units connected to abuses?

Documents with information on the implementation of the Mérida programs contain regular reports on state involvement, complicity, and cover-up of human rights abuses. This includes intelligence authorities, migration authorities, military officials, and police. One document from June 2011 [PDF], for example, reported on a visit of U.S. officials to Tamaulipas in May 2011 to assess training needs for state security forces. The visit came as Mexico’s federal authorities were trying to cover up the discovery of mass graves of victims of recent massacres in the region (the San Fernando Massacres). Even as U.S. officials were reporting on state involvement in the massacres, the embassy recommended further training for Tamaulipas security forces. The same document, from June 2011, discusses migration authorities implicated in kidnappings of migrants. Further down, it reports on the delivery of biometric data equipment to the same agency (the National Migration Institute, or INAMI).

U.S. training programs have at times extended to government agencies in states where drug trafficking organizations were, according to U.S. Embassy accounts [PDF], operating with near total impunity, in the face of “compromised local security forces.” U.S. Embassy and DEA officials, for example, were carrying out training programs for police from Nuevo León as U.S. Consulate officials were reporting that the security apparatus in that state had been compromised, with the governor admitting [PDF] that some state and police officials had been co-opted by the Zetas. The programs continued even while DEA officials reported on the arrests [PDF] of 13 active-duty and retired law enforcement officials in the state of Nuevo León, including directors of the federal police, for providing protection and assistance to drug-trafficking organizations.

In one of the more recent cases, the military battalion responsible for the extrajudicial killing of 22 young people that took place in June in Tlatlaya, Mexico State, had received U.S. training. The CIP Americas Program reported that the State Department confirmed that five individuals from the battalion were trained by U.S. agencies.

Q: What are the types of sources you are using to document U.S. security assistance, organized crime and human rights abuses in Mexico? What do the documents reveal?

The archival orbit of U.S. and Mexico declassified and leaked internal government records provides a wealth of information on the specific types of assistance, training programs, and equipment provided under the pretext of fighting drugs.

The documents include files released in response to requests filed through Mexico’s access-to-information law. For example, last December, I obtained a document [PDF] from Mexico’s attorney general’s office with new information on police connections to the Zetas in the case of the San Fernando massacres, leading to widespread media attention in the Mexican and U.S. press. The release of the document also opened the pathway for disclosure of official records on the June 2014 Tlatlaya killings and attempted cover-up, and army files relating to the Ayotzinapa student disappearances.

The disclosure of such documents has brought about a renewed discussion on state secrecy with respect to human rights atrocities. It also raises questions about the current role of the U.S. in aiding the cover-up of such abuses, as it did during the Dirty War years. As Mexico’s prominent historian and critical writer Sergio Aguayo said after the disclosure of the San Fernando document, the disclosure tells us what we have known for some years; that the U.S. is helping the Mexican government cover up information about grave human rights violations. Indeed, a thorough analysis of internal government files, released through Freedom of Information requests or through leaks, reveals a pattern of abuses and cover-ups, as U.S. reporting on the implementation of the Mérida programs parallels regular reporting on institutional state links to organized crime and abuses. 

Note:

Many of the documents discussed in this interview were released in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research center located at George Washington University. The National Security Archive has worked for years to obtain government files from the U.S. and Mexican government archives on U.S.-Mexico security relations, counterdrug policies, and human rights. For more, see the Mexico Documentation Project and the Migration Declassified Project.

For more on the drug war and human rights abuses in Mexico, consult Centro Prodh, Frayba, Amnesty International, IACHR, CEPR, the U.N. and Human Rights Watch.

Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.  

A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.

According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.

While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.

So far, the abuse cases documented in last month’s report have been met with impunity, as Colombian prosecutors’ hands are tied by U.S.-Colombian agreements giving the U.S. security forces in Colombia immunity. (Many such instances have been reported previously to be met with similar impunity.) Similarly, in the “sex party” case, some of the 10 DEA agents that admitted to participating received between two and 10 days of suspension but no further discipline. William Brownfield, currently Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was U.S. Ambassador to Colombia at the time, with oversight of the DEA.

Commenting on the IG report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service.’’ However, this isn’t the first time U.S. security forces in Colombia have been linked to such abuses, and the problem is not confined to these “bad apples.” They may take the blame for this particular case, but this is ultimately a systemic problem that must not be covered up.

Sex-crimes and gender-based violence are far from the only abuses perpetrated during the U.S.-led “War on Drugs,” of which Plan Colombia is a part, and represent deeper problems endemic to the U.S.’ heightened military presence in the region. While supporters of Plan Colombia tout its dedication to upholding transparency and security, reports of human rights violations committed by U.S.-trained-and-funded personnel continue to surface. Amnesty International has called the initiative a “failure in every respect,” and several reports show that extrajudicial killings have in fact increased since Plan Colombia went into effect in 2000. In a congressional briefing with CEPR last year, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, Alberto Yepes, noted that between 2000 and 2010 there were 5,763 documented “false positive” extrajudicial civilian killings. This was over the same time period that the U.S. gave $6 billion in military assistance, supplying military advisors and training Colombian troops.

Amid such incriminating evidence of abuses by U.S. personnel and testimony of its flawed training programs, it seems clear that U.S. military and drug war “assistance” should be scaled back– or at the very least reassessed. These revelations should worry policy makers, considering perceptions of such actions condition how U.S. agents are received by other governments. The U.S. has been kicked out of Bolivia for using DEA agents to spy, and DEA agents are under investigation for an incident in which four Afro-indigenous civilians in Honduras were shot and killed from a helicopter, including a 14-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Something is wrong with this picture.

However, not only does the State Department insist that Plan Colombia is a success, but Vice President Joseph Biden’s recently announced foreign assistance plan hopes to export the Plan Colombia model to Central America. As my colleague Alex Main has noted, proposed military assistance to Colombia under the Biden plan would remain at the same levels as in FY 2014, while funding for International Narcotics Control Law Enforcement assistance to Central America would more than double, from $100 million to $205 million. Such an increase seems to ignore the human rights implications foreshadowed by its model.

If the State Department hopes to avoid future sex party scandals and prevent its military from committing any more sex and abuse crimes, it should reevaluate its militarized approach to the drug war and the endemic impunity that this fosters.

Plan Colombia has been on the lips of many U.S. officials lately, who tout the 15-year-old plan as a model to stabilize the country and promote human rights and transparency. This week, two new reports alleged sexual exploitation by U.S. security forces in Colombia, underscoring the detrimental (and hypocritical) role of Plan Colombia and U.S. military and police presence in the region.  

A report [PDF]released Thursday by the U.S. Inspector General (IG) investigating the DEA found that DEA agents stationed in Colombia allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes bankrolled by drug cartels. This follows last month’s even more alarming report, commissioned to inform peace talk negotiations, that revealed sexual abuse of more than 54 young Colombian children at the hands of U.S. security forces between 2003 and 2007.

According to the IG report, Colombian police officers reportedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.” It also states that “the DEA, ATF, and Marshals Service repeatedly failed to report all risky or improper sexual behavior to security personnel at those agencies” and expressed concern at the DEA’s general delay and unwillingness to comply with the investigation.

While the sex party report has garnered a fair amount of media attention, the Colombian report of sexual abuse has gone largely unmentioned. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that, although the claims in have received some international attention, there has been almost no coverage of the claims in the U.S. media.) That report was commissioned by the Colombian government and the FARC in an attempt to determine responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. It reported that U.S. military personnel sexually abused 53 young girls, filmed the assaults, and sold the footage as pornographic material. In another instance, a U.S. sergeant and a security contractor reportedly drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl inside a military base. The alleged rapists, U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz, were later flown safely out of the country, while the girl and her family were forced from their home after receiving threats from “forces loyal to the suspects,” as Colombia Reports described them.

So far, the abuse cases documented in last month’s report have been met with impunity, as Colombian prosecutors’ hands are tied by U.S.-Colombian agreements giving the U.S. security forces in Colombia immunity. (Many such instances have been reported previously to be met with similar impunity.) Similarly, in the “sex party” case, some of the 10 DEA agents that admitted to participating received between two and 10 days of suspension but no further discipline. William Brownfield, currently Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was U.S. Ambassador to Colombia at the time, with oversight of the DEA.

Commenting on the IG report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service.’’ However, this isn’t the first time U.S. security forces in Colombia have been linked to such abuses, and the problem is not confined to these “bad apples.” They may take the blame for this particular case, but this is ultimately a systemic problem that must not be covered up.

Sex-crimes and gender-based violence are far from the only abuses perpetrated during the U.S.-led “War on Drugs,” of which Plan Colombia is a part, and represent deeper problems endemic to the U.S.’ heightened military presence in the region. While supporters of Plan Colombia tout its dedication to upholding transparency and security, reports of human rights violations committed by U.S.-trained-and-funded personnel continue to surface. Amnesty International has called the initiative a “failure in every respect,” and several reports show that extrajudicial killings have in fact increased since Plan Colombia went into effect in 2000. In a congressional briefing with CEPR last year, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, Alberto Yepes, noted that between 2000 and 2010 there were 5,763 documented “false positive” extrajudicial civilian killings. This was over the same time period that the U.S. gave $6 billion in military assistance, supplying military advisors and training Colombian troops.

Amid such incriminating evidence of abuses by U.S. personnel and testimony of its flawed training programs, it seems clear that U.S. military and drug war “assistance” should be scaled back– or at the very least reassessed. These revelations should worry policy makers, considering perceptions of such actions condition how U.S. agents are received by other governments. The U.S. has been kicked out of Bolivia for using DEA agents to spy, and DEA agents are under investigation for an incident in which four Afro-indigenous civilians in Honduras were shot and killed from a helicopter, including a 14-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Something is wrong with this picture.

However, not only does the State Department insist that Plan Colombia is a success, but Vice President Joseph Biden’s recently announced foreign assistance plan hopes to export the Plan Colombia model to Central America. As my colleague Alex Main has noted, proposed military assistance to Colombia under the Biden plan would remain at the same levels as in FY 2014, while funding for International Narcotics Control Law Enforcement assistance to Central America would more than double, from $100 million to $205 million. Such an increase seems to ignore the human rights implications foreshadowed by its model.

If the State Department hopes to avoid future sex party scandals and prevent its military from committing any more sex and abuse crimes, it should reevaluate its militarized approach to the drug war and the endemic impunity that this fosters.

I have sometimes noted that in the current “four legs good, two legs bad” discourse about Venezuela, journalists can write almost anything about the country and no one will question it – so long as it is something negative.  On Saturday, March 13, the Wall Street Journal published this chart on its front page in the print edition, below, and claimed health care spending as a percent of economic output was “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” The chart shows Venezuela’s health care spending at 1.6 percent of GDP.

WSJ Table

The chart and text don’t say it, but they are referring to public (i.e., government) spending on health care, which one can find by looking at the original data from the World Health Organization.  When I read this, I thought, this can’t be true:  The Venezuelan government spends about the same percentage of GDP on health care as Haiti? The lowest of 19 countries in the hemisphere? Less than some of the poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? And these numbers are for 2012, when the economy was booming (5.7 percent real GDP growth), Venezuelan oil was at 103 dollars per barrel, and the government built more than 200,000 homes. They had no money for health care?

This should have set off some alarm bells at the WSJ, if any editors were paying attention. This number is not plausible because it is wrong.  When the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela decided to make health care a priority after getting control over the national oil industry in 2003, it was unable to accomplish very much by going through the health ministry and the public hospitals – running into various bureaucratic and political obstacles. So it created Misión Barrio Adentro, a system of health clinics that served people in both urban and rural areas where many did not previously have access to health care.

The short story is that the numbers used by the WSJ apparently didn’t include most of Venezuela’s health care spending, since it has gone through the misiones. In 2012, the national oil company contributed $5.5 billion for Misión Barrio Adentro.  Also, the government of Venezuela has an actual agreement with Cuba, which provides specifically for the supply medical care through Misión Barrio Adentro in exchange for 98,000 barrels of oil per day, which Venezuela has provided. The value of that oil in 2012 was $3.44 billion. The medical services include not only 40,000 doctors but also medical equipment, medicines, and other health care services.

If we add in these expenses, and use the IMF’s 2012 exchange rate to convert to domestic currency, this adds another 3 percent of GDP to the government’s health care spending.

This would bring Venezuela’s health care spending to 4.6 percent of GDP. In the above chart, that would move Venezuela from 19th to 7th place among the 19 countries shown.  And this figure does not include all of Venezuela’s government health care spending.

(Note: the WSJ article also claims that “the share of state spending on health, at 6%” was also “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” This is also false, for the same reasons discussed above.)

I have sometimes noted that in the current “four legs good, two legs bad” discourse about Venezuela, journalists can write almost anything about the country and no one will question it – so long as it is something negative.  On Saturday, March 13, the Wall Street Journal published this chart on its front page in the print edition, below, and claimed health care spending as a percent of economic output was “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” The chart shows Venezuela’s health care spending at 1.6 percent of GDP.

WSJ Table

The chart and text don’t say it, but they are referring to public (i.e., government) spending on health care, which one can find by looking at the original data from the World Health Organization.  When I read this, I thought, this can’t be true:  The Venezuelan government spends about the same percentage of GDP on health care as Haiti? The lowest of 19 countries in the hemisphere? Less than some of the poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? And these numbers are for 2012, when the economy was booming (5.7 percent real GDP growth), Venezuelan oil was at 103 dollars per barrel, and the government built more than 200,000 homes. They had no money for health care?

This should have set off some alarm bells at the WSJ, if any editors were paying attention. This number is not plausible because it is wrong.  When the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela decided to make health care a priority after getting control over the national oil industry in 2003, it was unable to accomplish very much by going through the health ministry and the public hospitals – running into various bureaucratic and political obstacles. So it created Misión Barrio Adentro, a system of health clinics that served people in both urban and rural areas where many did not previously have access to health care.

The short story is that the numbers used by the WSJ apparently didn’t include most of Venezuela’s health care spending, since it has gone through the misiones. In 2012, the national oil company contributed $5.5 billion for Misión Barrio Adentro.  Also, the government of Venezuela has an actual agreement with Cuba, which provides specifically for the supply medical care through Misión Barrio Adentro in exchange for 98,000 barrels of oil per day, which Venezuela has provided. The value of that oil in 2012 was $3.44 billion. The medical services include not only 40,000 doctors but also medical equipment, medicines, and other health care services.

If we add in these expenses, and use the IMF’s 2012 exchange rate to convert to domestic currency, this adds another 3 percent of GDP to the government’s health care spending.

This would bring Venezuela’s health care spending to 4.6 percent of GDP. In the above chart, that would move Venezuela from 19th to 7th place among the 19 countries shown.  And this figure does not include all of Venezuela’s government health care spending.

(Note: the WSJ article also claims that “the share of state spending on health, at 6%” was also “lower in Venezuela than in all other major economies in Latin America.” This is also false, for the same reasons discussed above.)

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations handed a 78-page submission to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) claiming that the Government of Honduras violated its commitments under the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) Labor Chapter. In response to these claims, DOL published a report that “found evidence of labor law violations in nearly all the cases.” The DOL provided a series of recommendations to address the concerns raised and called for the implementation of a monitoring and action plan.

Although the report included a number of problems that ended up demonstrating labor rights violations in Honduras, some issues were addressed in a way that make the case’s future seem uncertain.

The report was published almost three years after the submission was handed in (March 26, 2012). This is not the first instance in which the DOL has been slow to respond to claims of CAFTA-DR labor violations. In April 2008, the DOL received a submission from the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan workers’ organizations alleging that the Guatemalan government had violated its obligations under the CAFTA-DR to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, DOL issued a report in January 2009 finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala’s labor law enforcement and making specific recommendations for improvement. It also stated that the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) “will reassess the situation within the next six months following publication of this report and determine whether further action is warranted.” However, instead of six months, six years have passed and OTLA has still not announced what it will do. In the case of the new Honduran report, the OTLA assures that within 12 months it will assess whether there has been progress in resolving the labor violations, but is there any chance that this timeline will be respected?

Moreover, the DOL report is incomplete. The submission filed at the DOL by U.S. and Honduran unions shows a clear concern about the National Plan for Employment by the Hour, approved by the Honduran government on November 5, 2010, saying, “it is a special emergency program that, on a temporary basis, promotes hourly employment with the goal of stimulating good jobs, supporting existing jobs and avoiding unemployment and underemployment” The decree allows employers to hire workers by the hour, part time or full time, under short-term contracts or contracts for specific work or services. Under this program, “contracts can be for as short as two hours per day in rural areas or three hours in urban areas.” Labor organizations claimed that this program limits the possibility of union organization, generates labor instability and precarious working conditions and violates the labor code. However, the report does not seem to address these concerns as requested by the submission. Curiously, the report mentions that “to date there have been no formal complaints to the [Government of Honduras] regarding this program.” However, the labor organizations in Honduras claim otherwise. The Women’s Rights Center (CDM), an organization with a long history of struggle for labor rights, conducted research [PDF] from 2011 to 2013 and not only showed that the National Plan for Employment by the Hour violated labor rights, but also that the process to make it legal was irregular:

There is no need for an Hourly Employment Law. The work falling under “hourly employment” is legally regulated since 1974 by Law Decree 121 that regulates the application of the minimum wage; so it is already legal to hire a part-time worker if labor rights and permanent contracts are respected as indicated by the general rule of labor law.

In spite of these facts, the National Plan for Employment by the Hour became law last year, and despite the concern expressed by labor organizations in Honduras, it was entirely overlooked in the report published by the DOL.
 
The DOL report recognizes that some workers in Honduras are getting paid below minimum wage and that this is a problem that must be urgently addressed. However, the submission also mentions that wages in export processing zones are among the lowest in the country: 

In January 2012, the monthly minimum wage for a garment worker in a factory that employs 151 or more was set at 4645.34 lempiras (LPS) (~$244.87) whereas the minimum wage for a worker in a similar size manufacturing firm is 6944.01 LPS (~$366). Additionally, the monthly minimum wage for garment workers located in five designated depressed areas in Honduras who do the same work as other garment workers in the country is only 3463.89 LPS (~$182.60). 

According to a report [PDF] by the Maquila Solidarity Network and groups based in Central America, the monthly cost of the basket of basic consumer goods (including services) was 681 dollars in Honduras in 2012. In other words, the minimum wage in export processing zones only covered approximately one-third of basic monthly expenses. Today, this low purchasing power has hardly budged and real wages in export processing zones in Honduras remain the lowest [PDF] in Central America. 

The DOL Report does not mention this serious shortfall although it is reported in the submission and represents a violation of Conventions 95 and 131 of the International Labor Organization, and Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The submission includes a long list of trade unionists who were murdered, assaulted or threatened from 2009, the year that Honduras experienced a military coup d’état, to 2011. After describing each case, the submission states that “the U.S government should urge the government of Honduras to investigate and prosecute those responsible for threats of acts of violence against trade unionists related to their traditional trade union activities, as well as those involved in pro-democracy activities related to the 2009 coup.” This issue wasn’t addressed in the DOL report either, even though, as the submission states, these attacks are also labor rights violations since “they prevent the victim from exercising the labor rights protected under the trade agreement and have broad chilling effects on the exercise of those rights by other workers.”

Honduras is set to receive more loans and funding from the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other governments and international institutions that wish to promote a new axis of development in this country through new economic and export-oriented zones called ZEDES (Zones for Economic Development and Employment), also known as “charter cities.” However, if the ZEDES projects, which we have described in previous posts, proceed without the submission claims being fully addressed by Honduran authorities, we should not be surprised if labor rights in these new zones will be violated even more systematically and with even greater impunity. To adequately resolve and prevent labor rights abuses, OTLA must work actively with labor organizations that have been monitoring working conditions in Honduras day after day to identify and demand that action be taken against violations. Additionally, government and multilateral funding for private investment schemes should not go forward so long as these violations continue.  

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations handed a 78-page submission to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) claiming that the Government of Honduras violated its commitments under the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) Labor Chapter. In response to these claims, DOL published a report that “found evidence of labor law violations in nearly all the cases.” The DOL provided a series of recommendations to address the concerns raised and called for the implementation of a monitoring and action plan.

Although the report included a number of problems that ended up demonstrating labor rights violations in Honduras, some issues were addressed in a way that make the case’s future seem uncertain.

The report was published almost three years after the submission was handed in (March 26, 2012). This is not the first instance in which the DOL has been slow to respond to claims of CAFTA-DR labor violations. In April 2008, the DOL received a submission from the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan workers’ organizations alleging that the Guatemalan government had violated its obligations under the CAFTA-DR to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, DOL issued a report in January 2009 finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala’s labor law enforcement and making specific recommendations for improvement. It also stated that the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) “will reassess the situation within the next six months following publication of this report and determine whether further action is warranted.” However, instead of six months, six years have passed and OTLA has still not announced what it will do. In the case of the new Honduran report, the OTLA assures that within 12 months it will assess whether there has been progress in resolving the labor violations, but is there any chance that this timeline will be respected?

Moreover, the DOL report is incomplete. The submission filed at the DOL by U.S. and Honduran unions shows a clear concern about the National Plan for Employment by the Hour, approved by the Honduran government on November 5, 2010, saying, “it is a special emergency program that, on a temporary basis, promotes hourly employment with the goal of stimulating good jobs, supporting existing jobs and avoiding unemployment and underemployment” The decree allows employers to hire workers by the hour, part time or full time, under short-term contracts or contracts for specific work or services. Under this program, “contracts can be for as short as two hours per day in rural areas or three hours in urban areas.” Labor organizations claimed that this program limits the possibility of union organization, generates labor instability and precarious working conditions and violates the labor code. However, the report does not seem to address these concerns as requested by the submission. Curiously, the report mentions that “to date there have been no formal complaints to the [Government of Honduras] regarding this program.” However, the labor organizations in Honduras claim otherwise. The Women’s Rights Center (CDM), an organization with a long history of struggle for labor rights, conducted research [PDF] from 2011 to 2013 and not only showed that the National Plan for Employment by the Hour violated labor rights, but also that the process to make it legal was irregular:

There is no need for an Hourly Employment Law. The work falling under “hourly employment” is legally regulated since 1974 by Law Decree 121 that regulates the application of the minimum wage; so it is already legal to hire a part-time worker if labor rights and permanent contracts are respected as indicated by the general rule of labor law.

In spite of these facts, the National Plan for Employment by the Hour became law last year, and despite the concern expressed by labor organizations in Honduras, it was entirely overlooked in the report published by the DOL.
 
The DOL report recognizes that some workers in Honduras are getting paid below minimum wage and that this is a problem that must be urgently addressed. However, the submission also mentions that wages in export processing zones are among the lowest in the country: 

In January 2012, the monthly minimum wage for a garment worker in a factory that employs 151 or more was set at 4645.34 lempiras (LPS) (~$244.87) whereas the minimum wage for a worker in a similar size manufacturing firm is 6944.01 LPS (~$366). Additionally, the monthly minimum wage for garment workers located in five designated depressed areas in Honduras who do the same work as other garment workers in the country is only 3463.89 LPS (~$182.60). 

According to a report [PDF] by the Maquila Solidarity Network and groups based in Central America, the monthly cost of the basket of basic consumer goods (including services) was 681 dollars in Honduras in 2012. In other words, the minimum wage in export processing zones only covered approximately one-third of basic monthly expenses. Today, this low purchasing power has hardly budged and real wages in export processing zones in Honduras remain the lowest [PDF] in Central America. 

The DOL Report does not mention this serious shortfall although it is reported in the submission and represents a violation of Conventions 95 and 131 of the International Labor Organization, and Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The submission includes a long list of trade unionists who were murdered, assaulted or threatened from 2009, the year that Honduras experienced a military coup d’état, to 2011. After describing each case, the submission states that “the U.S government should urge the government of Honduras to investigate and prosecute those responsible for threats of acts of violence against trade unionists related to their traditional trade union activities, as well as those involved in pro-democracy activities related to the 2009 coup.” This issue wasn’t addressed in the DOL report either, even though, as the submission states, these attacks are also labor rights violations since “they prevent the victim from exercising the labor rights protected under the trade agreement and have broad chilling effects on the exercise of those rights by other workers.”

Honduras is set to receive more loans and funding from the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other governments and international institutions that wish to promote a new axis of development in this country through new economic and export-oriented zones called ZEDES (Zones for Economic Development and Employment), also known as “charter cities.” However, if the ZEDES projects, which we have described in previous posts, proceed without the submission claims being fully addressed by Honduran authorities, we should not be surprised if labor rights in these new zones will be violated even more systematically and with even greater impunity. To adequately resolve and prevent labor rights abuses, OTLA must work actively with labor organizations that have been monitoring working conditions in Honduras day after day to identify and demand that action be taken against violations. Additionally, government and multilateral funding for private investment schemes should not go forward so long as these violations continue.  

We will be live blogging the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Venezuela this morning here.

The hearing, “Deepening Political and Economic Crisis in Venezuela: Implications for U.S. Interests and the Western Hemisphere,” will be presided over by Senator Marco Rubio, one of the co-sponsors of sanctions legislation against Venezuela passed last year. The hearing will consist of two panels, with officials from the U.S. State Department and the Treasury followed by representatives of civil society.

Estaremos blogueando en vivo desde acá esta mañana la audiencia de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado de EE.UU. sobre Venezuela.

La audiencia, titulada “La profundización de la crisis política y económica en Venezuela: implicaciones para los intereses de EE.UU. y para el hemisferio occidental”, estará presidida por el Senador Marco Rubio, uno de los copatrocinadores de la ley de sanciones contra Venezuela que fue promulgada el año pasado. La audiencia consistirá de dos paneles, con funcionarios del Departamento de Estado y del Tesoro, luego con representantes de la sociedad civil.
Haga click aquí para acceder a los vínculos de todos los testimonios

Click here for links to PDFs of all testimonies.

[12:43 pm]: Rubio: Can’t ignore the Cuban influence in Venezuela — “an invasion of Cubans” “gives us insight into the true nature of the Cuban government.”

“This hearing is adjourned.”

Rubio: no puede ignorar la influencia de Cuba en Venezuela — “una invasión de cubanos” “nos abre una óptica hacia la verdadera naturaleza del gobierno cubano”.

“Esta audiencia queda diferida”.

[12:40 pm]: Sabatini:  “Partners don’t treat other partners the way that countries like Brazil are treating us.” Poor, abused United States …

Sabatini: “Los socios no tratan a sus socios de la forma en que nos están tratando países como Brasil”. Pobre y abusado Estados Unidos…

[12:39 pm]: Rubio says he would like to see just one country take the U.S. side in criticizing Venezuuela. But is not hopeful that this might happen any time soon.

Rubio dice que le gustaría ver al menos un país que tome la posición de EE.UU. en su crítica hacia Venezuela. Pero no tiene esperanzas de que eso suceda en un futuro cercano.

[12:37 pm]: Rubio say that Venezuela is a security threat not just to the United States, but to the region. Canton, supposedly concerned with human rights, agrees.

Rubio sostiene que Venezuela es una amenaza a la seguridad no sólo de Estados Unidos, sino de la región. Canton, supuestamente preocupado por los derechos humanos, coincide con su afirmación.

[12:31 pm]: Sabatini:  Cuba is a “client state” of Venezuela.

Sabatini: Cuba es un “Estado cliente” de Venezuela.

[12:28 pm]: Farah has lots of “evidence” about Venezuela and FARC from the “magic laptops” received from the Colombian military. (See here.)

Farah posee muchas “pruebas” con relación a Venezuela y las FARC, extraídas de los “laptop mágicos” recibidos del ejército colombiano (ver aquí).

[12:24 pm]: Farah ranting about Argentina, Nisman, Iran, etc. — here is what the Jewish Daily Forward had to say about Nisman and his accusations.

Farah hace una descarga en torno a Argentina, Nisman, Irán, etc. – he aquí lo que el Jewish Daily Forward tuvo que decir acerca de Nisman y sus acusaciones.

[12:19 pm]: Rubio says that opposition has no access to the air waves, but in the 2013 Presidential election, the opposition candidate got at least as much air time as Maduro.

Rubio dice que la oposición no tiene acceso al espectro radioeléctrico, pero durante la elección presidencial del año 2013, el candidato de oposición obtuvo al menos el mismo tiempo de transmisión en los medios que Maduro.

[12:17 pm]: Rubio tries to blame Venezuela for flights from Colombia that pass through Venezuelan air space. Sabatini agrees.

Rubio trata de culpar a Venezuela por los vuelos con origen en Colombia que pasan por espacio aéreo venezolano. Sabatini concuerda.

[12:14 pm]: Rubio asks about the “silence” of the rest of the hemisphere about what is happening in Venezuela — apparently he didn’t see the statements from CELAC, UNASUR, and other regional organizations.

Sabatini says we have gone backwards in the region because of the elevation of the priniciple of national sovereignty.  Makes comparisons to Nazi Germany.

Rubio se pregunta acerca del “silencio” por parte del resto del hemisferio con respecto a lo que sucede en Venezuela – al parecer, no se percató de las declaraciones emitidas por la CELAC y UNASUR, entre otras organizaciones regionales.

Sabatini dice que hemos retrocedido en la región, por causa del auge del principio de soberanía nacional.  Hace comparaciones con la Alemania nazi.

[12:11 pm]: Doug Farah plays to the crazies: “it’s a matter of state policy” that left governments in Latin America are involved with drug cartels, terrorists, Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah …. just waiting for him to say they are financing ISIS. Oh yeah, we can’t forget Russia.

Doug Farah le hace el juego a los ‘rabiosos’: “es un asunto de política de Estado” que los gobiernos de izquierda en América Latina estén involucrados con los carteles de narcotráfico, los terroristas, el programa nuclear de Irán, Hezbollah… esperando a que diga que también financian a ISIS. Por cierto, no podemos olvidar a Rusia.

[12:02 pm]: Sabatini asks why Latin American governments supported sanctions against the militatry coup government in Honduras in 2009, but not against Venezuela. Apparently he does not distinguish between a military coup and an election.

Sabatini se pregunta por qué los gobiernos de América Latina apoyaron las sanciones contra el gobierno militar golpista en Honduras en el año 2009, pero no contra Venezuela. Al parecer, no ve la diferencia entre un golpe militar y una elección.

[12:00 pm]: Sabatini complains about the “sad lack of a regional response” to what is happening in Venezuela.  Of course there has been a huge regional response, against U.S. intervention — just not the kind of response that he wants.

Sabatini se queja de la “triste ausencia de una respuesta regional” a lo que sucede en Venezuela. Por supuesto que ha habido una contundente respuesta regional, contra la intervención de EE.UU. – sólo que no es el tipo de respuesta que él quisiera.

Here’s a little additional background on the second ‘balanced’ panel of witnesses:

-From 1997 to 2005 Christopher Sabatini was director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy, a paragovernmental foundation that receives most of its funding from the U.S. government. Under his tenure, the NED channeled millions of dollars to opposition-aligned organizations, including some that supported the 2002 military coup against the elected government of Venezuela. Following the coup, funds continued to flow to these organizations as they backed efforts to shut down the Venezuelan oil industry in order to try to force President Chavez from office.  

– Santiago Canton was previously the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. During the April 2002 military coup against the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez, Canton sent a letter to a coup official that recognized the authority of the coup government, despite the fact that human rights groups had informed the IACHR early on that a coup had taken place. The Chavez government and human rights defenders strongly criticized Canton’s action. When Canton was replaced as Secretary General of the IACHR in 2012 he blamed his removal on “pressures” from Venezuela and current Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

– For many years now, Douglas Farah has been on the neocon circuit making unsubstantiated claims about Latin America’s left-wing governments – including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua – allegedly supporting international terrorist groups.  Farah, who once made the extraordinary claim that Iran supports Al Qaeda, has lost all credibility outside of Washington, but remains the darling of a handful of ultra-right members of Congress.

A continuación un poco de contexto adicional acerca del segundo panel ‘equilibrado’ de testigos:

-Entre 1997 y 2005 Christopher Sabatini fue director para América Latina y el Caribe del National Endowment for Democracy (NED), una fundación paragubernamental que recibe la mayor parte de sus fondos del gobierno de EE.UU. Bajo su ejercicio, la NED canalizó millones de dólares a organizaciones alineadas con la oposición, incluyendo algunas que apoyaron el golpe militar del año 2002 contra el gobierno electo de Venezuela. Después del golpe, los fondos siguieron fluyendo hacia dichas organizaciones, mientras que respaldaban los esfuerzos orientados a paralizar la industria petrolera venezolana, a modo de tratar de forzar el derrocamiento del Presidente Chávez.  

– Santiago Canton fue anteriormente Secretario Ejecutivo de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Durante el golpe militar de abril 2002, contra el gobierno democráticamente electo de Hugo Chávez, Canton le envió una carta a uno de los oficiales involucrados en el golpe que reconocía la autoridad del gobierno golpista, a pesar de que las organizaciones de derechos humanos le habían informado tempranamente a la CIDH de que se había dado un golpe. El gobierno de Chávez, junto a defensores de derechos humanos, criticaron tajantemente la acción por parte de Canton. Cuando Canton fue sustituido como Secretario General de la CIDH en el año 2012, éste culpó por su deposición a las “presiones” provenientes de Venezuela y del actual Secretario General de la Organización de Estados Americanos, José Miguel Insulza.

– Durante muchos años ya, Douglas Farah ha sido integrante del circuito neoconservador; haciendo acusaciones sin fundamento acerca de los gobiernos de izquierda en Latinoamérica – incluyendo Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia y Nicaragua –, con respecto a su supuesto apoyo a grupos terroristas internacionales.  Farah, quien alguna vez hizo la extraordinaria denuncia de que Irán apoya a Al Qaeda, ha perdido toda su credibilidad fuera de Washington, pero sigue siendo el consentido de un puñado de congresistas de la ultraderecha.

[11:55 am]: Alex Lee stutters in response to Rubio’s ridiculous claims that Cuba controls the Venezuelan government.

Alex Lee tartamudea, en señal de respuesta a las acusaciones ridículas por parte de Rubio, de que Cuba controla al gobierno venezolano.

[11:53 am]: This is pretty funny.  Maro Rubio is getting angry because witness Alex Lee won’t tell him that there is any evidence that Cubans are “assisting the Venezuelan government in repressing its own people.”  “The Cubans are crawling all over the place in Venezuela.”

Esto es bastante humorístico.  Marco Rubio se está enfadando porque el testigo Alex Lee no le indica que existan pruebas de que los cubanos estén “ayudando al gobierno venezolano a reprimir a su propio pueblo”. “Los cubanos están regados por todas partes en Venezuela”.

[11:45 am]: Santiago Canton’s written testimony [PDF] is completely one-sided, presenting detailed criticism of the Venezuelan government while omitting any mention of rights abuses by the opposition. While Canton mentions the 43 people killed during last year’s guarimba protests, for example, he leaves out that more pro-government demonstrators, by-standers, and state officials were killed than opposition protesters. Canton offers background on Leopoldo Lopez, whom he describes as a political prisoner, yet this context leaves out Lopez’s own role in the illegal 2002 coup d’etat against Venezuela’s democratically elected government. Lopez oversaw the violent arrest – followed by a mob beating – of the interior minister at the time, as recorded on video. Likewise, Canton describes Lorent Saleh as a “political prisoner,” ignoring that he had traveled to Colombia to meet with military officers as part of a plot to commit terrorism against the Venezuela, which he openly described in videos he posted online. (While in Colombia, Saleh also spoke at a neo-nazi rally, as Semana and other outlets reported.)

Canton also writes in his testimony that “Globovisión was taken over in 2010 and then sold to pro-government owners in 2013.” This is false: the channel’s owners sold it; it was never “taken over.”

El testimonio escrito [PDF] de Santiago Canton es completamente sesgado,  al presentar una crítica detallada del gobierno venezolano, mientras que omite cualquier mención de los abusos de derechos humanos por parte de la oposición. Por ejemplo, mientras que Canton hace mención de las 43 personas muertas durante las guarimbas del año pasado, deja de lado que hubo más muertes de manifestantes a favor del gobierno, transeúntes y funcionarios del gobierno, que de manifestantes de oposición. Canton presenta los antecedentes de Leopoldo López, a quien describe como un preso político, sin embargo dicho contexto omite el papel del propio López en el golpe de Estado ilegal del año 2002 contra el gobierno democráticamente electo de Venezuela. López supervisó el arresto violento –seguido de una golpiza por parte de la muchedumbre– del entonces Ministro del Interior, lo cual quedó reseñado en video. Del mismo modo, Canton presenta a Lorent Saleh como un “preso político”, pero ignorando el hecho de que viajó a Colombia para reunirse con oficiales militares, como parte de un conspiración para llevar a cabo actividades terroristas  contra Venezuela; lo cual admitió de forma abierta en los videos que subía a internet (mientras que en Colombia, Saleh también habló en concentraciones  neonazi, como lo informó Semana, entre otros medios).

Canton también relata en su testimonio que “Globovisión fue tomada en el 2010 y luego vendida a dueños pro-gobierno en el 2013.” Esto es falso: los dueños del canal lo vendieron; nunca fue “tomado”.

[11:21 am]: Contrasting Colombia starkly reveals the U.S. double-standard on human rights in the region. Among other abuses, Colombia has displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombian civilians and committed thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Cuando se hace un contraste con Colombia, salta a la vista de forma marcada la doble moral de EE.UU. en la región, con respecto a los derechos humanos. Entre otros abusos, Colombia ha desplazado a cientos de miles de civiles colombianos y ha efectuado miles de matanzas extrajudiciales.

[11:02 am]: “Menendez says that he doesn’t “get the sense that the State department has the drive and conviction of these views.” Perhaps it’s because they know the sanctions are counterproductive?

“Menéndez dice que “no tiene la sensación de que el Departamento de Estado tenga el impulso y la convicción de las presentes opiniones”. ¿Tal vez porque sepan que las sanciones son contraproducentes?

[10:50 am]: Senator Boxer asks key questions: What is USG doing about Latin American reaction to the sanctions? Do any Latin American nations support them?

La Senador Boxer hace preguntas clave: ¿Qué está haciendo el gobierno estadounidense con respecto a las reacciones por parte de América Latina a las sanciones? ¿Existen naciones Latinoamericanas que las apoyen?

[10:45 am]: Senator Rubio mentioned “fraud” in Venezuela’s elections, without evidence. Statistical analysis clearly showed that the opposition’s claims of fraud were false. Further, the Chavista coalition received a majority in the municipal elections following those presidential elections, and the opposition did not even claim fraud, since they lost so decisively.

El Senador Rubio hizo referencia al “fraude” en las elecciones venezolanas, sin pruebas. El análisis estadístico mostró de forma clara que los reclamos de fraude por parte de la oposición eran falsos. Además, la coalición chavista obtuvo la mayoría en las elecciones municipales luego de aquella elección presidencial, y la oposición ni siguiera cantó fraude en esa ocasión, dado que perdió de forma tan decisiva.

[10:43 am]: John Smith just cited Obama saying that “fighting corruption is one of the great struggles of all-time.” It’s worth noting that one of authors of the sanctions bill, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is facing impending corruption charges by the Federal government.

John Smith acaba de citar a Obama, diciendo que “la lucha contra la corrupción es una de las luchas más grandes de todos los tiempos”. Vale la pena destacar que uno de los autores del decreto de sanciones, Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), se enfrenta inminentemente a cargos por corrupción, por parte del Gobierno Federal.

[10:41 am]: The U.S. State Department’s Alex Lee is now criticizing the electoral system in Venezuela, apparently without any irony.” (See: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php)

Alex Lee del Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. ahora está criticando al sistema electoral en Venezuela, al parecer sin sombra de ironía”. (Ver: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php

[10:40 am]: President Obama is letting hard-right Florida lawmakers determine his foreign policy to the U.S.  John Smith, Acting Director Of The Office Of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department praised Rubio’s leadership and pointed out that 6 of the 7 sanctioned officials were on the list of officials Rubio released last May.

El Presidente Obama está permitiendo que los legisladores de derecha recalcitrante determinen su política exterior para EE.UU. John Smith, director en funciones de la Oficina de Control de Activos Extranjeros del Departamento del Tesoro alabó el liderazgo de Rubio y destacó que 6 de los 7 funcionarios sancionados estaban en la lista de funcionarios que Rubio difundió el pasado mes de mayo.

[10:20 am]: Rubio says Venezuela “continues to harbor vast elements of the FARC.” Yes, the FARC, which, with Venezuela’s assistance, is in Cuba negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government. The United States just sent a delegate to assist.

Según Rubio, Venezuela “sigue acogiendo a vastos elementos de las FARC”. Sin duda, las FARC que, con el apoyo de Venezuela, están en Cuba, negociando un acuerdo de paz con el gobierno de Colombia. Estado Unidos acaba de enviar un delegado para brindar asistencia.

[10:18 am]
:
The U.S. State Department itself detailed ways in which the U.S. supported the 2002 coup, contrary to Senator Rubio’s remarks. (See http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/venezuelas-election-provides-opportunity-for-washington-to-change-course/#U.S.%20Support%20for%20the%20Coup)

El Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. en sí mismo detalló las formas en que EE.UU. le brindó su apoyo al golpe del año 2002, en contraste con los comentarios por parte del Senador Rubio (Ver: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/venezuelas-election-provides-opportunity-for-washington-to-change-course/#U.S.%20Support%20for%20the%20Coup)

[10:14 am]
:
“Sen Rubio says the sanctions are “not against the people of Venezuela,” but people in Venezuela-including opposition-don’t see it that way.”

El Senador Rubio dice que las sanciones “no son contra el pueblo de Venezuela”, pero la gente en Venezuela -incluso de oposición- no lo ve de ese modo.

[10:12 am]
:
Marco Rubio (R-FL), is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and presiding over the hearing today. It’s worth mentioning that Rubio is widely expected to announce his campaign for presidency in the coming weeks, and today’s event is not unrelated. Ed O’Keefe explains in The Washington Post:

Given Rubio’s Cuban-American roots and south Florida political base, it’s no surprise that he’s an outspoken critic of Raul Castro’s regime in Cuba. But hundreds of thousands of higher- and middle-income Venezuelans have fled in recent years and immigrated to the Miami area, making Maduro’s moves an increasingly local concern for Miami-area lawmakers, including Rubio and Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

O’Keefe concludes that it’s hard to imagine “a more politically beneficial scenario for a potential GOP presidential candidate than the chance to tell primary voters that he’s taken Obama to task for not being tough enough on a socialist leader — in language strong enough to earn the ire of the foreign dictator himself.”

Click here for further evidence of the ongoing “Cubanization” of U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela.

Marco Rubio (R-FL), es el Presidente de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado y preside la audiencia de hoy. Vale la pena destacar que se espera ampliamente que Rubio anunciará su candidatura a la presidencia en las próximas semanas, y que el evento de hoy guarda relación con ello. Ed O’Keefe lo explica en el Washington Post:

En vista de las raíces cubano-americanas de Rubio, y con su base política en Florida del Sur, no sorprende que sea un crítico acérrimo del régimen de Raúl Castro en Cuba. Pero cientos de miles de venezolanos de ingresos medios y altos se han fugado en años recientes e inmigrado a la zona de Miami, haciendo de las movidas de Maduro un tema de interés local creciente para los legisladores con base en Miami, incluyendo a Rubio y a los congresistas republicanos Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart y Carlos Curbelo.

O’Keefe concluye que es difícil imaginar que exista un “escenario político más beneficioso para un potencial candidato presidencial del GOP [partido republicano] que la oportunidad de decirle a los electores primarios que ha retado a Obama por no tomar una posición lo suficientemente firme contra un líder socialista – con lenguaje lo suficientemente fuerte, como para ganarse la ira del dictador extranjero en persona”.

Haga click aquí para más pruebas de la “cubanización” en curso de la política exterior de EE.UU. hacia Venezuela.

[10:10 am]: The presence of Douglas Farah as a witness signals that the committee is not especially interested in facts. Farah has written and testified about supposed links between Venezuela, Iranian weapons, Hezbollah, the FARC and “terrorism” in general, without evidence, for years.

La presencia de  Douglas Farah como un testigo señala que la Comisión no está especialmente interesada en los hechos. Farah ha escrito y dado su testimonio sobre supuestos vínculos entre Venezuela, armamento iraní, Hezbollah, las FARC y el “terrorismo” en general, sin prueba alguna, durante años.

We will be live blogging the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Venezuela this morning here.

The hearing, “Deepening Political and Economic Crisis in Venezuela: Implications for U.S. Interests and the Western Hemisphere,” will be presided over by Senator Marco Rubio, one of the co-sponsors of sanctions legislation against Venezuela passed last year. The hearing will consist of two panels, with officials from the U.S. State Department and the Treasury followed by representatives of civil society.

Estaremos blogueando en vivo desde acá esta mañana la audiencia de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado de EE.UU. sobre Venezuela.

La audiencia, titulada “La profundización de la crisis política y económica en Venezuela: implicaciones para los intereses de EE.UU. y para el hemisferio occidental”, estará presidida por el Senador Marco Rubio, uno de los copatrocinadores de la ley de sanciones contra Venezuela que fue promulgada el año pasado. La audiencia consistirá de dos paneles, con funcionarios del Departamento de Estado y del Tesoro, luego con representantes de la sociedad civil.
Haga click aquí para acceder a los vínculos de todos los testimonios

Click here for links to PDFs of all testimonies.

[12:43 pm]: Rubio: Can’t ignore the Cuban influence in Venezuela — “an invasion of Cubans” “gives us insight into the true nature of the Cuban government.”

“This hearing is adjourned.”

Rubio: no puede ignorar la influencia de Cuba en Venezuela — “una invasión de cubanos” “nos abre una óptica hacia la verdadera naturaleza del gobierno cubano”.

“Esta audiencia queda diferida”.

[12:40 pm]: Sabatini:  “Partners don’t treat other partners the way that countries like Brazil are treating us.” Poor, abused United States …

Sabatini: “Los socios no tratan a sus socios de la forma en que nos están tratando países como Brasil”. Pobre y abusado Estados Unidos…

[12:39 pm]: Rubio says he would like to see just one country take the U.S. side in criticizing Venezuuela. But is not hopeful that this might happen any time soon.

Rubio dice que le gustaría ver al menos un país que tome la posición de EE.UU. en su crítica hacia Venezuela. Pero no tiene esperanzas de que eso suceda en un futuro cercano.

[12:37 pm]: Rubio say that Venezuela is a security threat not just to the United States, but to the region. Canton, supposedly concerned with human rights, agrees.

Rubio sostiene que Venezuela es una amenaza a la seguridad no sólo de Estados Unidos, sino de la región. Canton, supuestamente preocupado por los derechos humanos, coincide con su afirmación.

[12:31 pm]: Sabatini:  Cuba is a “client state” of Venezuela.

Sabatini: Cuba es un “Estado cliente” de Venezuela.

[12:28 pm]: Farah has lots of “evidence” about Venezuela and FARC from the “magic laptops” received from the Colombian military. (See here.)

Farah posee muchas “pruebas” con relación a Venezuela y las FARC, extraídas de los “laptop mágicos” recibidos del ejército colombiano (ver aquí).

[12:24 pm]: Farah ranting about Argentina, Nisman, Iran, etc. — here is what the Jewish Daily Forward had to say about Nisman and his accusations.

Farah hace una descarga en torno a Argentina, Nisman, Irán, etc. – he aquí lo que el Jewish Daily Forward tuvo que decir acerca de Nisman y sus acusaciones.

[12:19 pm]: Rubio says that opposition has no access to the air waves, but in the 2013 Presidential election, the opposition candidate got at least as much air time as Maduro.

Rubio dice que la oposición no tiene acceso al espectro radioeléctrico, pero durante la elección presidencial del año 2013, el candidato de oposición obtuvo al menos el mismo tiempo de transmisión en los medios que Maduro.

[12:17 pm]: Rubio tries to blame Venezuela for flights from Colombia that pass through Venezuelan air space. Sabatini agrees.

Rubio trata de culpar a Venezuela por los vuelos con origen en Colombia que pasan por espacio aéreo venezolano. Sabatini concuerda.

[12:14 pm]: Rubio asks about the “silence” of the rest of the hemisphere about what is happening in Venezuela — apparently he didn’t see the statements from CELAC, UNASUR, and other regional organizations.

Sabatini says we have gone backwards in the region because of the elevation of the priniciple of national sovereignty.  Makes comparisons to Nazi Germany.

Rubio se pregunta acerca del “silencio” por parte del resto del hemisferio con respecto a lo que sucede en Venezuela – al parecer, no se percató de las declaraciones emitidas por la CELAC y UNASUR, entre otras organizaciones regionales.

Sabatini dice que hemos retrocedido en la región, por causa del auge del principio de soberanía nacional.  Hace comparaciones con la Alemania nazi.

[12:11 pm]: Doug Farah plays to the crazies: “it’s a matter of state policy” that left governments in Latin America are involved with drug cartels, terrorists, Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah …. just waiting for him to say they are financing ISIS. Oh yeah, we can’t forget Russia.

Doug Farah le hace el juego a los ‘rabiosos’: “es un asunto de política de Estado” que los gobiernos de izquierda en América Latina estén involucrados con los carteles de narcotráfico, los terroristas, el programa nuclear de Irán, Hezbollah… esperando a que diga que también financian a ISIS. Por cierto, no podemos olvidar a Rusia.

[12:02 pm]: Sabatini asks why Latin American governments supported sanctions against the militatry coup government in Honduras in 2009, but not against Venezuela. Apparently he does not distinguish between a military coup and an election.

Sabatini se pregunta por qué los gobiernos de América Latina apoyaron las sanciones contra el gobierno militar golpista en Honduras en el año 2009, pero no contra Venezuela. Al parecer, no ve la diferencia entre un golpe militar y una elección.

[12:00 pm]: Sabatini complains about the “sad lack of a regional response” to what is happening in Venezuela.  Of course there has been a huge regional response, against U.S. intervention — just not the kind of response that he wants.

Sabatini se queja de la “triste ausencia de una respuesta regional” a lo que sucede en Venezuela. Por supuesto que ha habido una contundente respuesta regional, contra la intervención de EE.UU. – sólo que no es el tipo de respuesta que él quisiera.

Here’s a little additional background on the second ‘balanced’ panel of witnesses:

-From 1997 to 2005 Christopher Sabatini was director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy, a paragovernmental foundation that receives most of its funding from the U.S. government. Under his tenure, the NED channeled millions of dollars to opposition-aligned organizations, including some that supported the 2002 military coup against the elected government of Venezuela. Following the coup, funds continued to flow to these organizations as they backed efforts to shut down the Venezuelan oil industry in order to try to force President Chavez from office.  

– Santiago Canton was previously the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. During the April 2002 military coup against the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez, Canton sent a letter to a coup official that recognized the authority of the coup government, despite the fact that human rights groups had informed the IACHR early on that a coup had taken place. The Chavez government and human rights defenders strongly criticized Canton’s action. When Canton was replaced as Secretary General of the IACHR in 2012 he blamed his removal on “pressures” from Venezuela and current Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

– For many years now, Douglas Farah has been on the neocon circuit making unsubstantiated claims about Latin America’s left-wing governments – including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua – allegedly supporting international terrorist groups.  Farah, who once made the extraordinary claim that Iran supports Al Qaeda, has lost all credibility outside of Washington, but remains the darling of a handful of ultra-right members of Congress.

A continuación un poco de contexto adicional acerca del segundo panel ‘equilibrado’ de testigos:

-Entre 1997 y 2005 Christopher Sabatini fue director para América Latina y el Caribe del National Endowment for Democracy (NED), una fundación paragubernamental que recibe la mayor parte de sus fondos del gobierno de EE.UU. Bajo su ejercicio, la NED canalizó millones de dólares a organizaciones alineadas con la oposición, incluyendo algunas que apoyaron el golpe militar del año 2002 contra el gobierno electo de Venezuela. Después del golpe, los fondos siguieron fluyendo hacia dichas organizaciones, mientras que respaldaban los esfuerzos orientados a paralizar la industria petrolera venezolana, a modo de tratar de forzar el derrocamiento del Presidente Chávez.  

– Santiago Canton fue anteriormente Secretario Ejecutivo de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Durante el golpe militar de abril 2002, contra el gobierno democráticamente electo de Hugo Chávez, Canton le envió una carta a uno de los oficiales involucrados en el golpe que reconocía la autoridad del gobierno golpista, a pesar de que las organizaciones de derechos humanos le habían informado tempranamente a la CIDH de que se había dado un golpe. El gobierno de Chávez, junto a defensores de derechos humanos, criticaron tajantemente la acción por parte de Canton. Cuando Canton fue sustituido como Secretario General de la CIDH en el año 2012, éste culpó por su deposición a las “presiones” provenientes de Venezuela y del actual Secretario General de la Organización de Estados Americanos, José Miguel Insulza.

– Durante muchos años ya, Douglas Farah ha sido integrante del circuito neoconservador; haciendo acusaciones sin fundamento acerca de los gobiernos de izquierda en Latinoamérica – incluyendo Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia y Nicaragua –, con respecto a su supuesto apoyo a grupos terroristas internacionales.  Farah, quien alguna vez hizo la extraordinaria denuncia de que Irán apoya a Al Qaeda, ha perdido toda su credibilidad fuera de Washington, pero sigue siendo el consentido de un puñado de congresistas de la ultraderecha.

[11:55 am]: Alex Lee stutters in response to Rubio’s ridiculous claims that Cuba controls the Venezuelan government.

Alex Lee tartamudea, en señal de respuesta a las acusaciones ridículas por parte de Rubio, de que Cuba controla al gobierno venezolano.

[11:53 am]: This is pretty funny.  Maro Rubio is getting angry because witness Alex Lee won’t tell him that there is any evidence that Cubans are “assisting the Venezuelan government in repressing its own people.”  “The Cubans are crawling all over the place in Venezuela.”

Esto es bastante humorístico.  Marco Rubio se está enfadando porque el testigo Alex Lee no le indica que existan pruebas de que los cubanos estén “ayudando al gobierno venezolano a reprimir a su propio pueblo”. “Los cubanos están regados por todas partes en Venezuela”.

[11:45 am]: Santiago Canton’s written testimony [PDF] is completely one-sided, presenting detailed criticism of the Venezuelan government while omitting any mention of rights abuses by the opposition. While Canton mentions the 43 people killed during last year’s guarimba protests, for example, he leaves out that more pro-government demonstrators, by-standers, and state officials were killed than opposition protesters. Canton offers background on Leopoldo Lopez, whom he describes as a political prisoner, yet this context leaves out Lopez’s own role in the illegal 2002 coup d’etat against Venezuela’s democratically elected government. Lopez oversaw the violent arrest – followed by a mob beating – of the interior minister at the time, as recorded on video. Likewise, Canton describes Lorent Saleh as a “political prisoner,” ignoring that he had traveled to Colombia to meet with military officers as part of a plot to commit terrorism against the Venezuela, which he openly described in videos he posted online. (While in Colombia, Saleh also spoke at a neo-nazi rally, as Semana and other outlets reported.)

Canton also writes in his testimony that “Globovisión was taken over in 2010 and then sold to pro-government owners in 2013.” This is false: the channel’s owners sold it; it was never “taken over.”

El testimonio escrito [PDF] de Santiago Canton es completamente sesgado,  al presentar una crítica detallada del gobierno venezolano, mientras que omite cualquier mención de los abusos de derechos humanos por parte de la oposición. Por ejemplo, mientras que Canton hace mención de las 43 personas muertas durante las guarimbas del año pasado, deja de lado que hubo más muertes de manifestantes a favor del gobierno, transeúntes y funcionarios del gobierno, que de manifestantes de oposición. Canton presenta los antecedentes de Leopoldo López, a quien describe como un preso político, sin embargo dicho contexto omite el papel del propio López en el golpe de Estado ilegal del año 2002 contra el gobierno democráticamente electo de Venezuela. López supervisó el arresto violento –seguido de una golpiza por parte de la muchedumbre– del entonces Ministro del Interior, lo cual quedó reseñado en video. Del mismo modo, Canton presenta a Lorent Saleh como un “preso político”, pero ignorando el hecho de que viajó a Colombia para reunirse con oficiales militares, como parte de un conspiración para llevar a cabo actividades terroristas  contra Venezuela; lo cual admitió de forma abierta en los videos que subía a internet (mientras que en Colombia, Saleh también habló en concentraciones  neonazi, como lo informó Semana, entre otros medios).

Canton también relata en su testimonio que “Globovisión fue tomada en el 2010 y luego vendida a dueños pro-gobierno en el 2013.” Esto es falso: los dueños del canal lo vendieron; nunca fue “tomado”.

[11:21 am]: Contrasting Colombia starkly reveals the U.S. double-standard on human rights in the region. Among other abuses, Colombia has displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombian civilians and committed thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Cuando se hace un contraste con Colombia, salta a la vista de forma marcada la doble moral de EE.UU. en la región, con respecto a los derechos humanos. Entre otros abusos, Colombia ha desplazado a cientos de miles de civiles colombianos y ha efectuado miles de matanzas extrajudiciales.

[11:02 am]: “Menendez says that he doesn’t “get the sense that the State department has the drive and conviction of these views.” Perhaps it’s because they know the sanctions are counterproductive?

“Menéndez dice que “no tiene la sensación de que el Departamento de Estado tenga el impulso y la convicción de las presentes opiniones”. ¿Tal vez porque sepan que las sanciones son contraproducentes?

[10:50 am]: Senator Boxer asks key questions: What is USG doing about Latin American reaction to the sanctions? Do any Latin American nations support them?

La Senador Boxer hace preguntas clave: ¿Qué está haciendo el gobierno estadounidense con respecto a las reacciones por parte de América Latina a las sanciones? ¿Existen naciones Latinoamericanas que las apoyen?

[10:45 am]: Senator Rubio mentioned “fraud” in Venezuela’s elections, without evidence. Statistical analysis clearly showed that the opposition’s claims of fraud were false. Further, the Chavista coalition received a majority in the municipal elections following those presidential elections, and the opposition did not even claim fraud, since they lost so decisively.

El Senador Rubio hizo referencia al “fraude” en las elecciones venezolanas, sin pruebas. El análisis estadístico mostró de forma clara que los reclamos de fraude por parte de la oposición eran falsos. Además, la coalición chavista obtuvo la mayoría en las elecciones municipales luego de aquella elección presidencial, y la oposición ni siguiera cantó fraude en esa ocasión, dado que perdió de forma tan decisiva.

[10:43 am]: John Smith just cited Obama saying that “fighting corruption is one of the great struggles of all-time.” It’s worth noting that one of authors of the sanctions bill, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is facing impending corruption charges by the Federal government.

John Smith acaba de citar a Obama, diciendo que “la lucha contra la corrupción es una de las luchas más grandes de todos los tiempos”. Vale la pena destacar que uno de los autores del decreto de sanciones, Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), se enfrenta inminentemente a cargos por corrupción, por parte del Gobierno Federal.

[10:41 am]: The U.S. State Department’s Alex Lee is now criticizing the electoral system in Venezuela, apparently without any irony.” (See: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php)

Alex Lee del Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. ahora está criticando al sistema electoral en Venezuela, al parecer sin sombra de ironía”. (Ver: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php

[10:40 am]: President Obama is letting hard-right Florida lawmakers determine his foreign policy to the U.S.  John Smith, Acting Director Of The Office Of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department praised Rubio’s leadership and pointed out that 6 of the 7 sanctioned officials were on the list of officials Rubio released last May.

El Presidente Obama está permitiendo que los legisladores de derecha recalcitrante determinen su política exterior para EE.UU. John Smith, director en funciones de la Oficina de Control de Activos Extranjeros del Departamento del Tesoro alabó el liderazgo de Rubio y destacó que 6 de los 7 funcionarios sancionados estaban en la lista de funcionarios que Rubio difundió el pasado mes de mayo.

[10:20 am]: Rubio says Venezuela “continues to harbor vast elements of the FARC.” Yes, the FARC, which, with Venezuela’s assistance, is in Cuba negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government. The United States just sent a delegate to assist.

Según Rubio, Venezuela “sigue acogiendo a vastos elementos de las FARC”. Sin duda, las FARC que, con el apoyo de Venezuela, están en Cuba, negociando un acuerdo de paz con el gobierno de Colombia. Estado Unidos acaba de enviar un delegado para brindar asistencia.

[10:18 am]
:
The U.S. State Department itself detailed ways in which the U.S. supported the 2002 coup, contrary to Senator Rubio’s remarks. (See http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/venezuelas-election-provides-opportunity-for-washington-to-change-course/#U.S.%20Support%20for%20the%20Coup)

El Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. en sí mismo detalló las formas en que EE.UU. le brindó su apoyo al golpe del año 2002, en contraste con los comentarios por parte del Senador Rubio (Ver: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/venezuelas-election-provides-opportunity-for-washington-to-change-course/#U.S.%20Support%20for%20the%20Coup)

[10:14 am]
:
“Sen Rubio says the sanctions are “not against the people of Venezuela,” but people in Venezuela-including opposition-don’t see it that way.”

El Senador Rubio dice que las sanciones “no son contra el pueblo de Venezuela”, pero la gente en Venezuela -incluso de oposición- no lo ve de ese modo.

[10:12 am]
:
Marco Rubio (R-FL), is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and presiding over the hearing today. It’s worth mentioning that Rubio is widely expected to announce his campaign for presidency in the coming weeks, and today’s event is not unrelated. Ed O’Keefe explains in The Washington Post:

Given Rubio’s Cuban-American roots and south Florida political base, it’s no surprise that he’s an outspoken critic of Raul Castro’s regime in Cuba. But hundreds of thousands of higher- and middle-income Venezuelans have fled in recent years and immigrated to the Miami area, making Maduro’s moves an increasingly local concern for Miami-area lawmakers, including Rubio and Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

O’Keefe concludes that it’s hard to imagine “a more politically beneficial scenario for a potential GOP presidential candidate than the chance to tell primary voters that he’s taken Obama to task for not being tough enough on a socialist leader — in language strong enough to earn the ire of the foreign dictator himself.”

Click here for further evidence of the ongoing “Cubanization” of U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela.

Marco Rubio (R-FL), es el Presidente de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado y preside la audiencia de hoy. Vale la pena destacar que se espera ampliamente que Rubio anunciará su candidatura a la presidencia en las próximas semanas, y que el evento de hoy guarda relación con ello. Ed O’Keefe lo explica en el Washington Post:

En vista de las raíces cubano-americanas de Rubio, y con su base política en Florida del Sur, no sorprende que sea un crítico acérrimo del régimen de Raúl Castro en Cuba. Pero cientos de miles de venezolanos de ingresos medios y altos se han fugado en años recientes e inmigrado a la zona de Miami, haciendo de las movidas de Maduro un tema de interés local creciente para los legisladores con base en Miami, incluyendo a Rubio y a los congresistas republicanos Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart y Carlos Curbelo.

O’Keefe concluye que es difícil imaginar que exista un “escenario político más beneficioso para un potencial candidato presidencial del GOP [partido republicano] que la oportunidad de decirle a los electores primarios que ha retado a Obama por no tomar una posición lo suficientemente firme contra un líder socialista – con lenguaje lo suficientemente fuerte, como para ganarse la ira del dictador extranjero en persona”.

Haga click aquí para más pruebas de la “cubanización” en curso de la política exterior de EE.UU. hacia Venezuela.

[10:10 am]: The presence of Douglas Farah as a witness signals that the committee is not especially interested in facts. Farah has written and testified about supposed links between Venezuela, Iranian weapons, Hezbollah, the FARC and “terrorism” in general, without evidence, for years.

La presencia de  Douglas Farah como un testigo señala que la Comisión no está especialmente interesada en los hechos. Farah ha escrito y dado su testimonio sobre supuestos vínculos entre Venezuela, armamento iraní, Hezbollah, las FARC y el “terrorismo” en general, sin prueba alguna, durante años.

In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.

The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:

“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”

The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed.  One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)

Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)

More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies.  As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.

The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.

In a significant change in reporting at The New York Times, the newspaper yesterday became the first major news outlet in the English language media to report on what the rest of the governments in the Western Hemisphere think of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

This is potentially important because this part of the story, which has heretofore been ignored, could begin to change many people’s perceptions of what is behind the problems in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, if other journalists begin to report on it. The Obama administration is more isolated in Latin America than even George W. Bush was, but hardly anyone who depends on the major hemispheric media would know that, because the point of view of governments other than the U.S. is not reported.

The Times article contains this very succinct and eloquent comment on the new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa:

“It ought to be a joke in bad taste that reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by the imperialists,” Mr. Correa wrote. “Can’t they understand that Latin America has changed?”

The last line really sums up the situation: They really don’t understand that Latin America has changed.  One can follow all the foreign policy debates in Washington about Latin America, in the media or in journals such as Foreign Affairs, and there really is almost no acknowledgment of the new reality. In this sense the discussion of hemispheric relations is different from most other areas of U.S. foreign policy, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, even Israel and Palestine – where there is at least some debate that reaches the intelligentsia and the public. (The new Cold War with Russia is perhaps exceptional in the pervasiveness of a sheep-like mentality and uniformity of thinking – as Russia expert Stephen Cohen of Princeton has pointed out reminiscent of the 1950s; but it remains to be seen how long this can last, and even in this robust display of groupthink there is a small smattering of exceptions that break through.)

Latin America really has changed, drastically, and Correa’s view represents the vast majority of governments in the region, even if some are more diplomatic in their expression of it. This can be seen in the strong statements criticizing U.S. actions from regional organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which includes every country in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada; and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). (The Times article mentioned that these two organizations “issued statements expressing concern,” although that was a bit of an understatement.)

More generally, the vast majority of Latin American governments now have a foreign policy independent of Washington, which has never been true before the 21st century; and they are also much more independent of Washington in their economic policies.  As recently as 2002, for example, the U.S. was able to exert a major influence on the economic policy of even the region’s largest economy, Brazil, through the International Monetary Fund.

The White House’s latest move is seen throughout the region as so outrageous and threatening that it will likely be reversed, eventually, under pressure from Latin American governments. That is what happened in April 2013, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to recognize the results of Venezuela’s presidential election, even though there was no doubt about the outcome. At first, Washington was able to get OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, and the right-wing government in Spain, to join in refusing to recognize the result; but then these two allies gave in under pressure, and Kerry was left completely alone, whereupon Washington recognized the results.

Want to search in the archives?

¿Quieres buscar en los archivos?

Click Here Haga clic aquí