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.

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 https://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: https://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 https://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: https://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.

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot recently appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to discuss Escalating Tensions Between The U.S. And Venezuela. The audio of the show is available here, and a transcript follows.

The Diane Rehm Show
Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 10AM

Thanks for joining us, I am Diane Rehm.

The US and Venezuela have not had full democratic relations since 2008. This week President Obama ordered sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials allegedly linked to human rights violations and corruption.

Here to talk about the escalating friction with Venezuela is Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Michael McCarthy at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Joining us from a studio in Chicago, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, of the Kellogg School of Management; he is also a political columnist with the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

I hope you will join us at 800 433 8850, send in email at wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

And welcome to all of you.

ALL: Thanks for having us, Diane.

DIANE REHM: Good to see you. Michael McCarthy, talk about what prompted the White House to issue the executive order on Monday freezing American assets of seven of the Venezuelan officials.

MICHAEL McCARTHY: It is a great question. The timing of this executive order is very interesting I think. I would like to highlight two preceding events that I think are very important. On February 19 the Venezuelan government through its security forces detained the elected mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, in a highly militarized fashion. And he was jailed on charges of being involved in a coup attempt. And this suggested the Venezuelan government, I think, had crossed a new line in terms of its relationship with the opposition. Subsequently the Venezuelan government decided at the end of a rally held – an anti-imperialist rally – to announce sanctions against the United States in terms of visa restrictions for US officials. I don’t think that the US was willing to let that action stand unchecked in some fashion. So that leads us up to the recent Executive Order on Monday, in which the US has implemented, in effect, a law passed by the Senate last summer, and put into place by the President in December. And this takes us a step further in terms of going beyond visa restrictions and to freezing assets, which the US had not done yet, under the recent legal basis created by the law and by this executive order.

REHM: Why designate Venezuela as a national security threat?

McCARTHY: My understanding is that is the legal basis, and it is necessary for the US government to take the action of freezing assets of Venezuelan government officials for these specific accusations, for these specific problems that they have committed in terms of human rights. For example in 2008 the US government sanctioned three Venezuelan members of the armed forces for their involvement with narco trafficking, with the FARC guerrillas in Colombia. But that action was taken under the authority of a legal declaration made about the US’s relationship with Colombia, with the state of Colombia, in which it said that Colombia presented a national security emergency. And since these Venezuelan armed forces officials had been in cahoots, so to speak, with the FARC guerrillas that this gave them a basis to sanction those Venezuelan officials; for the Colombian state of national emergency. Up to today we have a different situation in which the president has claimed that the political conflict and situation in Venezuela, presents and unusual and extraordinary threat to American national security, and thus it was necessary to make this declaration, according to the administration. I think that the rhetoric is highly inflammatory, we never saw this rhetoric even during the worse relations between the United States and Chavismo, the political movement that is in power in Venezuela now since 1999, and in particular after a coup in 2002 that the Bush administration tacitly supported. So this is a new low in US-Venezuelan relations, but it is important to note that the commercial relationship is still very strong. The United States still receives a lot of petroleum from Venezuela, it is its fourth most important supplier. And Venezuela depends quite a lot on the United States for this export market.

REHM: Michael McCarthy, he is a research fellow at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Turning to you in Chicago, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez how do you feel about the sanctions, do you feel they are important, do you feel they come at the appropriate time?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I feel they are important, they will be very relevant for the discussion going on internally in Venezuela, and I think it will highlight what is happening in Venezuela in the United States, through programs like this. That will call attention to conflicts that have been going on in Venezuela for a very long time. I am a little bit conflicted internally about the actual sanctions themselves. I feel that the US will be on the right side of history, as a result of having spoken out against Chavismo, which in its current state has become significantly more authoritarian than its previous incarnation. President Maduro inherited a system that took certain things for granted, a charismatic front-man, a high popularity rating, and very expensive oil. And in a very short time, he has shown himself to have neither the first two, and he has lost the latter. So he has entered an emergency mode in which there has been a lot more suppression of independent media, you have a lot more political prisoners than you had under Chávez, and you are seeing a darker side of Chavismo, which may have existed under Chávez but was at least not as visible.

REHM: Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, he is a weekly political columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. Mark Weisbrot, you’re opposed to the sanctions, talk about why.

WEISBROT: First I want to say that every government in the hemisphere is against these sanctions. The Community of Latin America and Caribbean Nations [CELAC] put out a statement (that’s every country in the hemisphere except for the United States and Canada) and they said that we reiterate our strong repudiation of unilateral course of measures that are contrary to international law. And that was the last set of sanctions in December that Obama signed into law. So I want to tell your listeners, and I thank you very much for having an honest discussion here because this doesn’t happen, almost ever, in the United States. If you remember the media coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war where most of the country was convinced that Iraq was involved in 9-11 (it wasn’t your fault, I know) but that’s actually, the coverage of Venezuela is worse than that, because there were notable exceptions during that period in the major US media. And there is almost nothing now, it is all kind of, you know, if you read George Orwell, “four legs good, two legs bad,” It is all bad news. So one of the things you are missing right here is this incredible isolation of the United States, for making this ridiculous statement, which, by the way, I haven’t heard a reporter even question them, how is Venezuela an extraordinary national security threat to the United States? What are they doing? A terrorist plot? Are they invading somebody? This is the situation we are facing, you had statement from CELAC and UNASUR immediately after these sanctions; you talk about rhetoric between the US and the Venezuelan government, it is not just the Venezuelan government. Here is the president of Bolivia, he called for an emergency meetings of CELAC and UNASUR against the aggression of the United States and this “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security of Latin America,” okay. And then President Correa of Ecuador, called it a “joke” and “bad taste,” and said this is reminiscent of the darkest days of imperialism, when the United States invaded countries and installed dictatorships. That is how Latin America is looking at it, and I am even going to make a prediction here, which I usually don’t like to do, I think because it is considered so outrageous, in this hemisphere, what the Obama administration just did, that they are going to have to take it back. Just like in April of 2013, when Secretary of State John Kerry was the only foreign minister in the world who refused to recognize the Venezuelan presidential elections, and he had to take it back, because he had no support and the South American countries, which made quite a bit of noise about it.

REHM: So do you believe these charges against the actions of, first, the seven Venezuelans, and then saying that Venezuela has become a national security threat to the US has been totally concocted out of nothing?

WEISBROT: First of all, every government in the hemisphere, every president, every foreign minister, and I’m talking about any of the countries, okay, really just about anybody, they know that this has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. The Colombian military executed civilians, 5,700 between 2000-2010. What did the United States do? They just stepped up military support. In Honduras right now the security forces engage in extrajudicial executions; again the United States is just increasing military and security aid. So nobody believes this has anything to do with human rights.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot, he is co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. A short break, and we will be right back.

REHM: Welcome back. We are talking about the escalating friction between the US and Venezuela that has truly been intensifying for months, and this week the White House declared that Venezuela is a national security threat, and as you have heard, sanctioned seven top officials. Here is a comment from our website: “Venezuela is on the road to become, or more likely is, the next failed state. I don’t know what anyone could have done to prevent it, certainly not anyone in this country, they will have to resolve their own problems themselves.” Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, how do you respond to that comment?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I think it is a great viewpoint to carry, at the same time touching back on one of the things Mark said before the break, I do think there is a human rights component in this. I am a South American, and I do believe there is an element of this that is human rights based. What makes Venezuela a human rights problem, and what makes it a risk, is not so much the death count necessarily, it is the culture of the lack of accountability in government. There is a culture of impunity at work. A couple of weeks ago, a 14 year-old boy was shot through the head for protesting. Yesterday, Roy Chaderton, a high-ranking Venezuelan official, made a joke about how when a bullet goes through an opposition member’s head it travels quickly and sounds hollow. In few countries would that be acceptable, and it speaks to a darkening relationship between the government and the opposition. When you have no independent judiciary, no independent investigative agencies within the state, the state can fail very quickly. Already you have rumors of narco-trafficking being on the rise, and rumors of instability. A failed state in the region is not something that is going to help the US foreign policy, and is not going to help Colombia in policing its border. And it could cause a crisis that could escalate quickly.

REHM: What’s fascinating to me, Michael McCarthy, you said the US and Venezuela continue their economic activity, we continue to get some of the petroleum. How can this go on in the face of that kind of friction?

McCARTHY: Well, money talks. We know that. And so we have a situation where the commercial relationship is so interdependent; it has been for a very long time. I think that the truth of the matter is, the cost for Venezuela of changing the way that it exports its petroleum in terms of its markets, the costs of making that change are very high. Some estimates are that if it were to move petroleum to different markets the shipping costs would cause it to lose about 15 percent of the value of its exports on a daily basis. It is right down the Caribbean, a little over a thousand miles away. It is a very close market to the US, and there are very close cultural ties at the level of human relations, in terms of different people. I want to come back to this issue though of the national security issue, which is raised by the comment. Venezuela is a thorny foreign policy challenge; it is not a security threat to the US. It is true that the broken state of the judicial system, and the really problematic situation with the rule of law, does create the domestic problems that could have a transnational nature, in terms of narco-trafficking in particular. But we haven’t seen these accusations of collaboration with the FARC or collaboration with Iranian funded groups really grow to be very important or to be a direct threat to the United States.

REHM: Therefore you don’t think that the national security threat label should be applied?

McCARTHY: I do not think it is an accurate characterization of the Venezuelan challenge, as it is represented.

REHM: All right, Daniel, I know you wanted to get in.

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Yes, responding to Michael directly, the national security threat language is a piece of legalese that has been used in the last 20 or 30 sanctions that the US has made through this mechanism. So I think we need to be careful in gauging the importance of that. And secondly building on why I think commercial ties have stayed as strong as they have, even as political ties have continued to grow weaker. It bears a strong dependency for Venezuela on dollars, Venezuela can’t really produce anything domestically, 94 percent of its exports are petroleum, which is dollarized. But because labor costs are higher, it is next to Colombia but it imports sugar, coffee, it imports basic grains; and without an ability to import, Venezuela starves very quickly. There is no medicine. So as a result of that you have a situation where Venezuela needs to get its hands on dollars essentially in any way it can, and the easiest way to do that logistically is to keep trade high with the US. Even its Asian partners like China—Venezuela has no Pacific coast. It is less efficient and it costs more.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot, talk about the people in Venezuela, and how they are faring right now.

WEISBROT: I mean it is tough; they had a recession last year. The GDP fell by about 3 percent. The inflation was about 68.5 percent for the year, there are widespread shortages, which you read about in the newspaper every day, of consumer goods. So they are going through a period that is much tougher than they have had for a while. These problems, as they are now, are really about two years old. The economy grew very fast in 2012. And they were doing, if you go back 10-11 years, since the government got control over its own oil industry, which they didn’t have for the first four years, and the opposition controlled it. And used it as they stated publicly to overthrow the government. Since that time they have done pretty well.

REHM: So what happened? What happened to turn the situation, turn the tide for the Venezuelan people and for the economy to contract by 3 percent?

WEISBROT: There wouldn’t be much disagreement with this. I think there are problems in the exchange rate system. You have the two official rates 6.3 and12 Bolivares Fuertes, which is the domestic currency per dollar. And most of the foreign exchange is given away at that price, and that is just not sustainable. It is completely overvalued exchange rate. That is why I think it is fixable. But in terms of the people, 75 percent, according to opposition polls, are still against these sanctions.

REHM: And president Maduro himself denounced president Obama’s decision. He said: “President Barack Obama, representing the US imperialist state, has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it.”

WEISBROT: One other thing you have to keep in mind is this government has won almost every election, almost, 14 out of 15 elections in the last 15 years. That is because the vast majority of people, even today, are much better off than they were before Chávez was elected. The economy actually shrunk for 20 years before this government came in. Inflation was even higher than it is today. That is why you have a very strong, hardcore base, around 35 percent, that is going to vote for this government anyway. And the rest will depend on what happens to the economy.

REHM: So now Maduro is asking for decree powers. Michael?

McCARTHY: It looks as though he is going to ask for decree powers, but one quick point on the economic overview of the Chávez period which began in 1998. Going back in history, Venezuela has seen boom periods before, and it has also seen the bust period kick in. In other words, there was an opportunity to learn from the previous boom and bust cycle, and the Chávez policy makers completely failed to learn the lessons of the boom and bust cycle of the 1970s and 1980s. Venezuela did not save for the rainy days. And while it is correct like Mark is suggesting, that people are better off than they were in the 1990s, it is possible with poverty rising, and the statistics are not in from last year, and the national government’s statistics bureau, that poverty could be increasing again this year. In other words, we could be back in the same position we were in the early 1990s.

REHM: Daniel, does the US want to see the overthrow of President Maduro?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Building quickly on what has been said, it is important to note that oil was at $8 a barrel when Chávez was elected and for most of the time he was president it was much higher than that. You had record prices, so yes, there were a lot of programs that were made for the poor, they weren’t terribly efficient in many cases, and there is a question, an open question, as to if pretty much any Latin American government, even terrible right-wing governments, would have also had social programs with that much easy spending money at hand. But to answer the question you gave me, I think there is an extent to which the region would benefit from having a stable Venezuela. That said, you don’t have as much of a stake from the US perspective, as Maduro seems to think that the US does. Maduro has claimed on 16 separate occasions since coming to power two years ago that there has been a coup against him. That is 16 separate coups. And most academic reports on coups around the world don’t have 16 coup attempts anywhere in that same period. In the African coups, the Middle East, add them all up. The attempts and the successful ones, and it doesn’t reach the number of times that Maduro has claimed that Joe Biden launched a coup against him, that local companies have launched a coup against him.

WEISBROT: He didn’t say that. He didn’t say Joe Biden launched a coup against him. I’m sorry, but this is what is wrong. You can say anything you want about Venezuela in this country, and it doesn’t matter if it is true, so long as it is bad. Biden—he didn’t say that.

REHM: What did he say?

WEISBROT: What he said was ambiguous, and it was misreported in the press. He was referring to a statement that Biden made in the Caribbean, at a meeting of countries, of governments.

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: The meeting was in Washington, for what it is worth.

WEISBROT: Okay, it was in Washington, fine, if that was the meeting where he said it. And he was telling these countries that this government may not be around for very long, so you are getting oil from Venezuela and you should be planning for something else. So Maduro took that as him saying that we wanted to get rid of this government, and that is kind of how he said it. And he didn’t say Biden was launching a coup.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot from the Center of Economic and Policy Research, and you are listening to the Diane Rehm show. So Mark, do you believe that the US wants to see Maduro out of office?

WEISBROT: The whole world knows that. Yes, of course. That is what these sanctions are for: the US government has been trying to get rid of the Venezuelan government for 15 years here. And they were involved in the 2002 coup; this is something that is not reported here. But there is a pile of documents from the US government, including the US State Department, which said that the Bush administration provided training and institution building, and other support to individuals understood to be actively involved in the military coup that ousted the president for 48 hours. Then they stepped up funding to the same people, who by the way are the same leadership now that we are talking about, in Venezuela, and they have continued to do everything they can. Obama himself has tried to change policy a couple of times, there were a couple of times he tried to restore ambassadorial relationships and he was blocked by the extreme right here in Congress – the same people who pushed him to do these sanctions. So you can say he has gone back and forth. Now, Michael mentioned the US was very angry about Venezuela placing visa restrictions on US government officials, who actually are guilty of human rights violations. These are people who have committed war crimes, some from the Bush administration, so that was in retaliation for the US putting restrictions on their government officials, whose connection to any kind of human right violations, is much more tenuous. So that is true, and it is a mafia-like mentality I would say. You know, “We do whatever we want, we are the United States, and if you do the same thing, we are going to get you one way or another, even if it is illegal under international law.”

REHM: Daniel, tell us how strong the opposition is in Venezuela, and how effective has President Maduro been against that opposition?

McCARTHY: Maduro has been very effective against the opposition, and it brings me back to a point that Mark was saying just now, that you can say anything negative in the US about Venezuela as long as it is negative. And that is something that in Venezuela you simply can’t do. I have worked in Venezuela for long periods of time, and I was recently fired from a newspaper along with 30 colleagues, because I was being critical of the government. Companies or NGOs that don’t toe the party line are fired all the time, or they have their assets seized, or their leaders are thrown in jail. So it is easy to sit here and criticize that the US does X and Y, but the fact you are allowed to have that criticism is something that the Venezuelan opposition could sorely use, because right now they are very disorganised and they are very much under siege. And I think the 75 percent of Venezuelans who are against the sanctions, a large part of that is that they are scared that the existence of the sanctions is going to give the government an opportunity to, as Maduro requested formally yesterday, use emergency powers to throw more people in jail, to close down more newspapers, to seize more assets from the private sector.

REHM: So are you arguing that the Obama administration actions are actually hurting the opposition, more than they are hurting the Maduro administration itself?

McCARTHY: In the short-term they are risky; there are a lot of risks that come about with the sanctions. The Venezuelan government has traditionally, and it started with Chávez but it has grown stronger since Maduro took over, blamed the US for a lot of the things that go wrong domestically. And Obama at various times has not been as easy a boogeyman to use as the Bush administration was, because of the Bush administration’s international reputation. As a result you have a situation where anything the US says or does against Venezuela can give ammunition to the government for cracking down.

REHM: We will take a break. When we come back we will open the phones for your comments, and I look forward to speaking with you.

REHM: Welcome back. Mark Weisbrot is here in the studio. He is from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Also Michael McCarthy; he is at American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. On the line with us from Chicago: Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez; he is a weekly political columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. We have an email here, which says, “Mark claims the government has popular legitimacy but if so, why does it need to shut down critical media outlets, why does it jail judges who don’t rule in favour of the government, why are outlets of the state used to promote the election campaign of the ruling party?”

WEISBROT: Well, I don’t want to defend. I don’t defend any government, I voted for Obama twice and I don’t defend the bad things he does either. But I don’t think we should exaggerate either.

REHM: You think we are?

WEISBROT: Daniel says the opposition doesn’t have a voice, I mean just go to the web, go to the major newspapers including, El Nacional, and El Universal, and Ultimas Noticias, there is an enormously critical reporting, probably more than you have in the US. The TV …the Carter Center did a study of the television coverage during the last presidential election in 2013, and if you look at those numbers, the opposition candidate has at least equal and probably more TV time than Maduro did. So there is a voice, and opposition leader María Corina Machado got on television, on the national TV, which would never happen here, and called for the overthrow of the government during the protests.

REHM: Let me ask you this, if in fact you believe that the charges against the Maduro government are being exaggerated, then people are talking about Venezuela in inflated and combative ways, the question is, why?

WEISBROT: That’s easy to answer, Venezuela has been the number one or the number two target for regime change for the past 15 years, and this you can see there is a mountain of evidence. I mean even what Kerry did in 2013 refusing to recognize the results of an election that nobody had any doubts about. The world knew, he got [OAS Secretary General] Insulza, and the right-wing government of Spain to back him, and then they backed off. This has been continuous, they don’t like this government. There is more than 100 years of history of the United States doing this to governments they don’t like. Everybody in this room knows that. Did something change in the last few years? I don’t think so.

REHM: I’m going to open the phones now, first to Miguel, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You are on the air.

CALLER: Good morning to all, it is good to hear such a good discussion. I am a Venezuelan national, I came to this country as a child, and I have since become a US citizen. I have lived most of my life here, except that I have roots there in Venezuela and I go constantly back and forth to see family and friends. The bottom line is, as all these gentlemen are talking about the economic situation, the oil situation, the change of regime, but we are not focusing on the right subject. The right subject is what created all of this? And what Chávez legacy is for Maduro? It is the Raul and Fidel Castro brothers, they have had a tremendous amount of influence, and send tens of thousands of advisors to Ecuador, to Venezuela, to Nicaragua, and to Argentina. And Chávez, with his oil and his power at the time, the oil was at the peak of its price, provided the means for Cuba to allow this penetration in all Latin American countries. Unfortunately the US got hit with September 11, and our focus became the focus of the Middle East. And since we have been focusing on the Middle East, and we have a mess out there, started decades ago, we have not focused on the situation in Venezuela. Venezuela is right now in a state of anarchy, I have a friend who got shot eight times the other day for no reason at all. People are in the streets with weapons. There is no food, there is no oil. Let’s focus on the human factor, and where all this came from, opening relationships with Cuba is the worst thing we can possibly do.

REHM: And Daniel, do you want to come in?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I agree wholeheartedly that the situation of the average Venezuelan is overlooked in the media, and that finding the roots of that is very important. The crime situation in Venezuela has gotten very, very out of control. I have not lived there in a couple of years. But the years before I left I was kidnapped. I have been mugged several times and I don’t know that many people in Venezuela who have not had a similar experience, and when I tell my kidnapping story in the US people are shocked. They probably have not met someone who has been kidnapped before, but in Venezuela, sadly, people are waiting to hear me stop talking so they can share their own kidnapping story, or mugging story, or tell me about their brother who was shot.

REHM: Daniel, why were you kidnapped and how were you freed? Why were you freed?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: It’s a funny story. It was actually my first date with the young lady who is now my wife. We were in a Volkswagen, which was about 5 years old, which is a reasonably okay car. And we were targeted and kidnapped for 9 hours, held for ransom. And luckily we were able to get out of it. But that is sadly a tragically common occurrence in Venezuela today. And on top of the shortages, and on top of the difficulties in not having medicine, and not finding gasoline, I think what makes people really leave, the reason Venezuela is hemorrhaging its middle class, its educated class right now, is because people are scared to be outside, and you can’t put a price on that.

REHM: And to you, Michael McCarthy, with the wealth that was coming in from the oil, the petroleum that Venezuela was selling, what was happening to all the money and why wasn’t it going to the people themselves?

McCARTHY: Arguably there was enough to skim quite a bit off the top and to give to the people, during the high point of the commodities boom between 2006 and up until 2008. Venezuela had enough money for corrupt officials to take their share and for there to be significant distribution in terms of social assistance programs. I would argue that a lot of the social assistance took place through cash assistance programs, which is the trend all throughout Latin America, and I think that is a problem for sustaining some of the progress made. That changed some of the expectations of the living standards of the population and what they had hoped for in their futures, and in terms of creating families. So right now within the Venezuelan population there is a sense of desperation about the future, and a changing sense of hope, as there being a sense of hope before with Chávez, and now it’s a much more gloomy picture going out over the future. On the issue of the media I do want to make a comment, in regard to what Mark said. There have been very significant changes since 2012 when Chávez was alive, and he had his last presidential race against Henrique Capriles in the election. During that race the opposition had a mean to get its voice out to the public via television and radio, much more easily than it does today. And television and radio are the main ways the average Venezuelan receives their news, not via the newspapers. Since 2012 we have seen a visible change in the media landscape in which the government has exerted much more control over the airwaves and I think this is much different situation. In fact, the study Mark cites about the Carter Center, I was a part of the Carter Center in the 2012 election study mission, I think it is the 2012 study…

WEISBROT: No it was 2013; it’s on the web.

McCARTHY: Well, I don’t think the 2013 study revealed the same thing as the 2012 study. That I’m pretty sure of, since I was a member of both study missions.

REHM: I want to go to Los Angeles, California. Antonio, you are on the air.

CALLER: Thank you for having me on. I have been in Venezuela many times, and I speak Spanish. From what I have been able to figure out, until Chávez was elected Venezuela was the kicking boy of the United States. The US bought off all the corrupt presidents, who were paid millions in exchange for giving away the petroleum, which is the country’s patrimony. Venezuela has the largest deposits of petroleum in the world; some of them haven’t been used, though, and that does not come out very often, but there are there, in the Eastern part of the country. The people got nothing at that time, and then since Chávez the people are living much better. The government built 1 million houses for the poor; that doesn’t seem to be something that comes out in the US media. Food is subsidized and much cheaper. The Maduro government had been putting those people who hide the food in jail, the word is acaparadores — I don’t know the word in English. The right-wing has been taking the food and the goods and services away from the stores and hiding them in deposits. So that is why there was scarcity. Chávez’ greatest achievement was the creation of UNASUR, so that other Latin American countries could get out from the yoke of the US influence. Several Latin American countries now have independence and dignity and can deal on an equal level with other countries. People should read the constitution of Venezuela, for example, where it says that housewives get a minimum wage, stipend, for working at home. The people who hate Chávez are the rich, whose illegally owned properties have been expropriated for the common good. In other words, maybe 100 years ago, maybe I am making this up, but it is certainly borne out by history.

REHM: All right, thank you so much for your call. And you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Mark Weisbrot, there was a lot in that call.

WEISBROT: It is mostly true, you have these shortages and the other problems right now. I was there at the height of the protests, and I walked all over Caracas, everywhere, and the protests were confined to some of the richest areas: Alta Mira, Los Palos Grandes. That is where you saw there protests; they were not peaceful. But the rest of the city was fine. The people hardest hit by the shortages, the ones who have to wait in line, they don’t have servants, they don’t have storage space like the upper middle classes do. Those are not the ones who went out into the streets to protest the government. It really is the upper classes, and everybody knows that too.

REHM: What would happen if Maduro was removed from office, Mark?

WEISBROT: I don’t think that is going to happen, and I don’t see how that happens. There would probably be an insurrection to restore him, like when Chávez was removed in 2002.

REHM: Daniel?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Mark raises an important point of the protests being confined to middle and upper class areas. A lot of that has to do with groups called colectivos that are pro-government, that have been armed by the government, and that tend to fill a lot of the community roles in some of the lower income areas. They have very close ties to the government, and there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable voicing negative opinions of the government in areas with a heavy colectivo presence. I think it is tricky to try and assume that all the people at these massive protests in middle class areas, like the middle of downtown, are people who live there. And the second part is that there are ways, even if the United States wants regime change in Venezuela, and I want regime change in Venezuela, there is a democratic way to do it. Maduro is at 22 percent popularity right now, and we haven’t talked about this yet but there are national assembly elections coming up in December. There can be a recall referendum next year. Chávez narrowly avoided a recall referendum right after the general strike, and he was polling much higher than Maduro is today. So I think there are peaceful ways out of this. But confusing self-defense from coups and self-defense from criticism are totally different things. And the government has used the under-siege, coup excuse to try and get rid of any negative feedback or proposals for change. And I think that represents a big problem.

REHM: Michael McCarthy, what do you see as the main differences between Chávez and Maduro?

McCARTHY: Great question. It is part of the reason the US has stepped up its role in this conflict between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Everyone in Venezuela whether they are opposition or supporters, will tell you Maduro is not Chávez. What they mean by that obvious statement, is he lacks the charisma of his predecessor, he is unable to illicit emotional responses with his public discourse, with is rhetoric, and he doesn’t seem to have control over his own cabinet, and over other institutions of the state. There is a real issue with the extent to which he has power, in that sense and the ability to exercise that leadership in a way that generates a sense of respect and symbolic power for the presidency itself. This contributes to the centrifugal forces within Chavismo, to a certain extent. But I don’t think that Maduro is about to fall off tomorrow, or anything like that. His position is certainly in a precarious place, but I don’t think it is about to change in the short term. But I do think the US government realized, or decided, during the Chávez period that a more robust US presence in this political conflict would have been exploited by Chávez much more effectively than Maduro might be able to exploit it currently. Although the sanctions are going to help Maduro in terms of fitting his narrative of being able to claim he is under attack in an international conspiracy fashion.

REHM: Do you agree, Mark?

WEISBROT: Which he is, I mean that is the part that is always left out. They say Maduro is going to use it to say the United States is trying to get rid of his government. Well the United States is trying to get rid of his government; it could hardly be more obvious. So this is the thing the whole world knows, this is why the Obama administration is so isolated, and more than the Bush administration was. You don’t see that from the press. Obama gets really good press, Bush didn’t. So everybody could see it. That’s why you have to look at the government, that is where the media never goes. They don’t ask the foreign ministers. They don’t ask the other presidents: “well, what do you think of this?” Because they know what they would say, they are saying it everyday through these organizations that include every government in the hemisphere, and that doesn’t get reported, that is what is really going on. The US is more isolated that it has ever been in the hemisphere and it is going to remain that way until they change their policy towards Venezuela.

REHM: That has to be the last word. Mark Weisbrot, he is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Michael McCarthy at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. And Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, he is a columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. Thank you all so much.

ALL: Thank you.

REHM: Thanks for listening, I am Diane Rehm.

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot recently appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to discuss Escalating Tensions Between The U.S. And Venezuela. The audio of the show is available here, and a transcript follows.

The Diane Rehm Show
Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 10AM

Thanks for joining us, I am Diane Rehm.

The US and Venezuela have not had full democratic relations since 2008. This week President Obama ordered sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials allegedly linked to human rights violations and corruption.

Here to talk about the escalating friction with Venezuela is Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Michael McCarthy at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Joining us from a studio in Chicago, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, of the Kellogg School of Management; he is also a political columnist with the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

I hope you will join us at 800 433 8850, send in email at wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

And welcome to all of you.

ALL: Thanks for having us, Diane.

DIANE REHM: Good to see you. Michael McCarthy, talk about what prompted the White House to issue the executive order on Monday freezing American assets of seven of the Venezuelan officials.

MICHAEL McCARTHY: It is a great question. The timing of this executive order is very interesting I think. I would like to highlight two preceding events that I think are very important. On February 19 the Venezuelan government through its security forces detained the elected mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, in a highly militarized fashion. And he was jailed on charges of being involved in a coup attempt. And this suggested the Venezuelan government, I think, had crossed a new line in terms of its relationship with the opposition. Subsequently the Venezuelan government decided at the end of a rally held – an anti-imperialist rally – to announce sanctions against the United States in terms of visa restrictions for US officials. I don’t think that the US was willing to let that action stand unchecked in some fashion. So that leads us up to the recent Executive Order on Monday, in which the US has implemented, in effect, a law passed by the Senate last summer, and put into place by the President in December. And this takes us a step further in terms of going beyond visa restrictions and to freezing assets, which the US had not done yet, under the recent legal basis created by the law and by this executive order.

REHM: Why designate Venezuela as a national security threat?

McCARTHY: My understanding is that is the legal basis, and it is necessary for the US government to take the action of freezing assets of Venezuelan government officials for these specific accusations, for these specific problems that they have committed in terms of human rights. For example in 2008 the US government sanctioned three Venezuelan members of the armed forces for their involvement with narco trafficking, with the FARC guerrillas in Colombia. But that action was taken under the authority of a legal declaration made about the US’s relationship with Colombia, with the state of Colombia, in which it said that Colombia presented a national security emergency. And since these Venezuelan armed forces officials had been in cahoots, so to speak, with the FARC guerrillas that this gave them a basis to sanction those Venezuelan officials; for the Colombian state of national emergency. Up to today we have a different situation in which the president has claimed that the political conflict and situation in Venezuela, presents and unusual and extraordinary threat to American national security, and thus it was necessary to make this declaration, according to the administration. I think that the rhetoric is highly inflammatory, we never saw this rhetoric even during the worse relations between the United States and Chavismo, the political movement that is in power in Venezuela now since 1999, and in particular after a coup in 2002 that the Bush administration tacitly supported. So this is a new low in US-Venezuelan relations, but it is important to note that the commercial relationship is still very strong. The United States still receives a lot of petroleum from Venezuela, it is its fourth most important supplier. And Venezuela depends quite a lot on the United States for this export market.

REHM: Michael McCarthy, he is a research fellow at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Turning to you in Chicago, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez how do you feel about the sanctions, do you feel they are important, do you feel they come at the appropriate time?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I feel they are important, they will be very relevant for the discussion going on internally in Venezuela, and I think it will highlight what is happening in Venezuela in the United States, through programs like this. That will call attention to conflicts that have been going on in Venezuela for a very long time. I am a little bit conflicted internally about the actual sanctions themselves. I feel that the US will be on the right side of history, as a result of having spoken out against Chavismo, which in its current state has become significantly more authoritarian than its previous incarnation. President Maduro inherited a system that took certain things for granted, a charismatic front-man, a high popularity rating, and very expensive oil. And in a very short time, he has shown himself to have neither the first two, and he has lost the latter. So he has entered an emergency mode in which there has been a lot more suppression of independent media, you have a lot more political prisoners than you had under Chávez, and you are seeing a darker side of Chavismo, which may have existed under Chávez but was at least not as visible.

REHM: Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, he is a weekly political columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. Mark Weisbrot, you’re opposed to the sanctions, talk about why.

WEISBROT: First I want to say that every government in the hemisphere is against these sanctions. The Community of Latin America and Caribbean Nations [CELAC] put out a statement (that’s every country in the hemisphere except for the United States and Canada) and they said that we reiterate our strong repudiation of unilateral course of measures that are contrary to international law. And that was the last set of sanctions in December that Obama signed into law. So I want to tell your listeners, and I thank you very much for having an honest discussion here because this doesn’t happen, almost ever, in the United States. If you remember the media coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war where most of the country was convinced that Iraq was involved in 9-11 (it wasn’t your fault, I know) but that’s actually, the coverage of Venezuela is worse than that, because there were notable exceptions during that period in the major US media. And there is almost nothing now, it is all kind of, you know, if you read George Orwell, “four legs good, two legs bad,” It is all bad news. So one of the things you are missing right here is this incredible isolation of the United States, for making this ridiculous statement, which, by the way, I haven’t heard a reporter even question them, how is Venezuela an extraordinary national security threat to the United States? What are they doing? A terrorist plot? Are they invading somebody? This is the situation we are facing, you had statement from CELAC and UNASUR immediately after these sanctions; you talk about rhetoric between the US and the Venezuelan government, it is not just the Venezuelan government. Here is the president of Bolivia, he called for an emergency meetings of CELAC and UNASUR against the aggression of the United States and this “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security of Latin America,” okay. And then President Correa of Ecuador, called it a “joke” and “bad taste,” and said this is reminiscent of the darkest days of imperialism, when the United States invaded countries and installed dictatorships. That is how Latin America is looking at it, and I am even going to make a prediction here, which I usually don’t like to do, I think because it is considered so outrageous, in this hemisphere, what the Obama administration just did, that they are going to have to take it back. Just like in April of 2013, when Secretary of State John Kerry was the only foreign minister in the world who refused to recognize the Venezuelan presidential elections, and he had to take it back, because he had no support and the South American countries, which made quite a bit of noise about it.

REHM: So do you believe these charges against the actions of, first, the seven Venezuelans, and then saying that Venezuela has become a national security threat to the US has been totally concocted out of nothing?

WEISBROT: First of all, every government in the hemisphere, every president, every foreign minister, and I’m talking about any of the countries, okay, really just about anybody, they know that this has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. The Colombian military executed civilians, 5,700 between 2000-2010. What did the United States do? They just stepped up military support. In Honduras right now the security forces engage in extrajudicial executions; again the United States is just increasing military and security aid. So nobody believes this has anything to do with human rights.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot, he is co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. A short break, and we will be right back.

REHM: Welcome back. We are talking about the escalating friction between the US and Venezuela that has truly been intensifying for months, and this week the White House declared that Venezuela is a national security threat, and as you have heard, sanctioned seven top officials. Here is a comment from our website: “Venezuela is on the road to become, or more likely is, the next failed state. I don’t know what anyone could have done to prevent it, certainly not anyone in this country, they will have to resolve their own problems themselves.” Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, how do you respond to that comment?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I think it is a great viewpoint to carry, at the same time touching back on one of the things Mark said before the break, I do think there is a human rights component in this. I am a South American, and I do believe there is an element of this that is human rights based. What makes Venezuela a human rights problem, and what makes it a risk, is not so much the death count necessarily, it is the culture of the lack of accountability in government. There is a culture of impunity at work. A couple of weeks ago, a 14 year-old boy was shot through the head for protesting. Yesterday, Roy Chaderton, a high-ranking Venezuelan official, made a joke about how when a bullet goes through an opposition member’s head it travels quickly and sounds hollow. In few countries would that be acceptable, and it speaks to a darkening relationship between the government and the opposition. When you have no independent judiciary, no independent investigative agencies within the state, the state can fail very quickly. Already you have rumors of narco-trafficking being on the rise, and rumors of instability. A failed state in the region is not something that is going to help the US foreign policy, and is not going to help Colombia in policing its border. And it could cause a crisis that could escalate quickly.

REHM: What’s fascinating to me, Michael McCarthy, you said the US and Venezuela continue their economic activity, we continue to get some of the petroleum. How can this go on in the face of that kind of friction?

McCARTHY: Well, money talks. We know that. And so we have a situation where the commercial relationship is so interdependent; it has been for a very long time. I think that the truth of the matter is, the cost for Venezuela of changing the way that it exports its petroleum in terms of its markets, the costs of making that change are very high. Some estimates are that if it were to move petroleum to different markets the shipping costs would cause it to lose about 15 percent of the value of its exports on a daily basis. It is right down the Caribbean, a little over a thousand miles away. It is a very close market to the US, and there are very close cultural ties at the level of human relations, in terms of different people. I want to come back to this issue though of the national security issue, which is raised by the comment. Venezuela is a thorny foreign policy challenge; it is not a security threat to the US. It is true that the broken state of the judicial system, and the really problematic situation with the rule of law, does create the domestic problems that could have a transnational nature, in terms of narco-trafficking in particular. But we haven’t seen these accusations of collaboration with the FARC or collaboration with Iranian funded groups really grow to be very important or to be a direct threat to the United States.

REHM: Therefore you don’t think that the national security threat label should be applied?

McCARTHY: I do not think it is an accurate characterization of the Venezuelan challenge, as it is represented.

REHM: All right, Daniel, I know you wanted to get in.

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Yes, responding to Michael directly, the national security threat language is a piece of legalese that has been used in the last 20 or 30 sanctions that the US has made through this mechanism. So I think we need to be careful in gauging the importance of that. And secondly building on why I think commercial ties have stayed as strong as they have, even as political ties have continued to grow weaker. It bears a strong dependency for Venezuela on dollars, Venezuela can’t really produce anything domestically, 94 percent of its exports are petroleum, which is dollarized. But because labor costs are higher, it is next to Colombia but it imports sugar, coffee, it imports basic grains; and without an ability to import, Venezuela starves very quickly. There is no medicine. So as a result of that you have a situation where Venezuela needs to get its hands on dollars essentially in any way it can, and the easiest way to do that logistically is to keep trade high with the US. Even its Asian partners like China—Venezuela has no Pacific coast. It is less efficient and it costs more.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot, talk about the people in Venezuela, and how they are faring right now.

WEISBROT: I mean it is tough; they had a recession last year. The GDP fell by about 3 percent. The inflation was about 68.5 percent for the year, there are widespread shortages, which you read about in the newspaper every day, of consumer goods. So they are going through a period that is much tougher than they have had for a while. These problems, as they are now, are really about two years old. The economy grew very fast in 2012. And they were doing, if you go back 10-11 years, since the government got control over its own oil industry, which they didn’t have for the first four years, and the opposition controlled it. And used it as they stated publicly to overthrow the government. Since that time they have done pretty well.

REHM: So what happened? What happened to turn the situation, turn the tide for the Venezuelan people and for the economy to contract by 3 percent?

WEISBROT: There wouldn’t be much disagreement with this. I think there are problems in the exchange rate system. You have the two official rates 6.3 and12 Bolivares Fuertes, which is the domestic currency per dollar. And most of the foreign exchange is given away at that price, and that is just not sustainable. It is completely overvalued exchange rate. That is why I think it is fixable. But in terms of the people, 75 percent, according to opposition polls, are still against these sanctions.

REHM: And president Maduro himself denounced president Obama’s decision. He said: “President Barack Obama, representing the US imperialist state, has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it.”

WEISBROT: One other thing you have to keep in mind is this government has won almost every election, almost, 14 out of 15 elections in the last 15 years. That is because the vast majority of people, even today, are much better off than they were before Chávez was elected. The economy actually shrunk for 20 years before this government came in. Inflation was even higher than it is today. That is why you have a very strong, hardcore base, around 35 percent, that is going to vote for this government anyway. And the rest will depend on what happens to the economy.

REHM: So now Maduro is asking for decree powers. Michael?

McCARTHY: It looks as though he is going to ask for decree powers, but one quick point on the economic overview of the Chávez period which began in 1998. Going back in history, Venezuela has seen boom periods before, and it has also seen the bust period kick in. In other words, there was an opportunity to learn from the previous boom and bust cycle, and the Chávez policy makers completely failed to learn the lessons of the boom and bust cycle of the 1970s and 1980s. Venezuela did not save for the rainy days. And while it is correct like Mark is suggesting, that people are better off than they were in the 1990s, it is possible with poverty rising, and the statistics are not in from last year, and the national government’s statistics bureau, that poverty could be increasing again this year. In other words, we could be back in the same position we were in the early 1990s.

REHM: Daniel, does the US want to see the overthrow of President Maduro?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Building quickly on what has been said, it is important to note that oil was at $8 a barrel when Chávez was elected and for most of the time he was president it was much higher than that. You had record prices, so yes, there were a lot of programs that were made for the poor, they weren’t terribly efficient in many cases, and there is a question, an open question, as to if pretty much any Latin American government, even terrible right-wing governments, would have also had social programs with that much easy spending money at hand. But to answer the question you gave me, I think there is an extent to which the region would benefit from having a stable Venezuela. That said, you don’t have as much of a stake from the US perspective, as Maduro seems to think that the US does. Maduro has claimed on 16 separate occasions since coming to power two years ago that there has been a coup against him. That is 16 separate coups. And most academic reports on coups around the world don’t have 16 coup attempts anywhere in that same period. In the African coups, the Middle East, add them all up. The attempts and the successful ones, and it doesn’t reach the number of times that Maduro has claimed that Joe Biden launched a coup against him, that local companies have launched a coup against him.

WEISBROT: He didn’t say that. He didn’t say Joe Biden launched a coup against him. I’m sorry, but this is what is wrong. You can say anything you want about Venezuela in this country, and it doesn’t matter if it is true, so long as it is bad. Biden—he didn’t say that.

REHM: What did he say?

WEISBROT: What he said was ambiguous, and it was misreported in the press. He was referring to a statement that Biden made in the Caribbean, at a meeting of countries, of governments.

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: The meeting was in Washington, for what it is worth.

WEISBROT: Okay, it was in Washington, fine, if that was the meeting where he said it. And he was telling these countries that this government may not be around for very long, so you are getting oil from Venezuela and you should be planning for something else. So Maduro took that as him saying that we wanted to get rid of this government, and that is kind of how he said it. And he didn’t say Biden was launching a coup.

REHM: Mark Weisbrot from the Center of Economic and Policy Research, and you are listening to the Diane Rehm show. So Mark, do you believe that the US wants to see Maduro out of office?

WEISBROT: The whole world knows that. Yes, of course. That is what these sanctions are for: the US government has been trying to get rid of the Venezuelan government for 15 years here. And they were involved in the 2002 coup; this is something that is not reported here. But there is a pile of documents from the US government, including the US State Department, which said that the Bush administration provided training and institution building, and other support to individuals understood to be actively involved in the military coup that ousted the president for 48 hours. Then they stepped up funding to the same people, who by the way are the same leadership now that we are talking about, in Venezuela, and they have continued to do everything they can. Obama himself has tried to change policy a couple of times, there were a couple of times he tried to restore ambassadorial relationships and he was blocked by the extreme right here in Congress – the same people who pushed him to do these sanctions. So you can say he has gone back and forth. Now, Michael mentioned the US was very angry about Venezuela placing visa restrictions on US government officials, who actually are guilty of human rights violations. These are people who have committed war crimes, some from the Bush administration, so that was in retaliation for the US putting restrictions on their government officials, whose connection to any kind of human right violations, is much more tenuous. So that is true, and it is a mafia-like mentality I would say. You know, “We do whatever we want, we are the United States, and if you do the same thing, we are going to get you one way or another, even if it is illegal under international law.”

REHM: Daniel, tell us how strong the opposition is in Venezuela, and how effective has President Maduro been against that opposition?

McCARTHY: Maduro has been very effective against the opposition, and it brings me back to a point that Mark was saying just now, that you can say anything negative in the US about Venezuela as long as it is negative. And that is something that in Venezuela you simply can’t do. I have worked in Venezuela for long periods of time, and I was recently fired from a newspaper along with 30 colleagues, because I was being critical of the government. Companies or NGOs that don’t toe the party line are fired all the time, or they have their assets seized, or their leaders are thrown in jail. So it is easy to sit here and criticize that the US does X and Y, but the fact you are allowed to have that criticism is something that the Venezuelan opposition could sorely use, because right now they are very disorganised and they are very much under siege. And I think the 75 percent of Venezuelans who are against the sanctions, a large part of that is that they are scared that the existence of the sanctions is going to give the government an opportunity to, as Maduro requested formally yesterday, use emergency powers to throw more people in jail, to close down more newspapers, to seize more assets from the private sector.

REHM: So are you arguing that the Obama administration actions are actually hurting the opposition, more than they are hurting the Maduro administration itself?

McCARTHY: In the short-term they are risky; there are a lot of risks that come about with the sanctions. The Venezuelan government has traditionally, and it started with Chávez but it has grown stronger since Maduro took over, blamed the US for a lot of the things that go wrong domestically. And Obama at various times has not been as easy a boogeyman to use as the Bush administration was, because of the Bush administration’s international reputation. As a result you have a situation where anything the US says or does against Venezuela can give ammunition to the government for cracking down.

REHM: We will take a break. When we come back we will open the phones for your comments, and I look forward to speaking with you.

REHM: Welcome back. Mark Weisbrot is here in the studio. He is from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Also Michael McCarthy; he is at American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. On the line with us from Chicago: Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez; he is a weekly political columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. We have an email here, which says, “Mark claims the government has popular legitimacy but if so, why does it need to shut down critical media outlets, why does it jail judges who don’t rule in favour of the government, why are outlets of the state used to promote the election campaign of the ruling party?”

WEISBROT: Well, I don’t want to defend. I don’t defend any government, I voted for Obama twice and I don’t defend the bad things he does either. But I don’t think we should exaggerate either.

REHM: You think we are?

WEISBROT: Daniel says the opposition doesn’t have a voice, I mean just go to the web, go to the major newspapers including, El Nacional, and El Universal, and Ultimas Noticias, there is an enormously critical reporting, probably more than you have in the US. The TV …the Carter Center did a study of the television coverage during the last presidential election in 2013, and if you look at those numbers, the opposition candidate has at least equal and probably more TV time than Maduro did. So there is a voice, and opposition leader María Corina Machado got on television, on the national TV, which would never happen here, and called for the overthrow of the government during the protests.

REHM: Let me ask you this, if in fact you believe that the charges against the Maduro government are being exaggerated, then people are talking about Venezuela in inflated and combative ways, the question is, why?

WEISBROT: That’s easy to answer, Venezuela has been the number one or the number two target for regime change for the past 15 years, and this you can see there is a mountain of evidence. I mean even what Kerry did in 2013 refusing to recognize the results of an election that nobody had any doubts about. The world knew, he got [OAS Secretary General] Insulza, and the right-wing government of Spain to back him, and then they backed off. This has been continuous, they don’t like this government. There is more than 100 years of history of the United States doing this to governments they don’t like. Everybody in this room knows that. Did something change in the last few years? I don’t think so.

REHM: I’m going to open the phones now, first to Miguel, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You are on the air.

CALLER: Good morning to all, it is good to hear such a good discussion. I am a Venezuelan national, I came to this country as a child, and I have since become a US citizen. I have lived most of my life here, except that I have roots there in Venezuela and I go constantly back and forth to see family and friends. The bottom line is, as all these gentlemen are talking about the economic situation, the oil situation, the change of regime, but we are not focusing on the right subject. The right subject is what created all of this? And what Chávez legacy is for Maduro? It is the Raul and Fidel Castro brothers, they have had a tremendous amount of influence, and send tens of thousands of advisors to Ecuador, to Venezuela, to Nicaragua, and to Argentina. And Chávez, with his oil and his power at the time, the oil was at the peak of its price, provided the means for Cuba to allow this penetration in all Latin American countries. Unfortunately the US got hit with September 11, and our focus became the focus of the Middle East. And since we have been focusing on the Middle East, and we have a mess out there, started decades ago, we have not focused on the situation in Venezuela. Venezuela is right now in a state of anarchy, I have a friend who got shot eight times the other day for no reason at all. People are in the streets with weapons. There is no food, there is no oil. Let’s focus on the human factor, and where all this came from, opening relationships with Cuba is the worst thing we can possibly do.

REHM: And Daniel, do you want to come in?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: I agree wholeheartedly that the situation of the average Venezuelan is overlooked in the media, and that finding the roots of that is very important. The crime situation in Venezuela has gotten very, very out of control. I have not lived there in a couple of years. But the years before I left I was kidnapped. I have been mugged several times and I don’t know that many people in Venezuela who have not had a similar experience, and when I tell my kidnapping story in the US people are shocked. They probably have not met someone who has been kidnapped before, but in Venezuela, sadly, people are waiting to hear me stop talking so they can share their own kidnapping story, or mugging story, or tell me about their brother who was shot.

REHM: Daniel, why were you kidnapped and how were you freed? Why were you freed?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: It’s a funny story. It was actually my first date with the young lady who is now my wife. We were in a Volkswagen, which was about 5 years old, which is a reasonably okay car. And we were targeted and kidnapped for 9 hours, held for ransom. And luckily we were able to get out of it. But that is sadly a tragically common occurrence in Venezuela today. And on top of the shortages, and on top of the difficulties in not having medicine, and not finding gasoline, I think what makes people really leave, the reason Venezuela is hemorrhaging its middle class, its educated class right now, is because people are scared to be outside, and you can’t put a price on that.

REHM: And to you, Michael McCarthy, with the wealth that was coming in from the oil, the petroleum that Venezuela was selling, what was happening to all the money and why wasn’t it going to the people themselves?

McCARTHY: Arguably there was enough to skim quite a bit off the top and to give to the people, during the high point of the commodities boom between 2006 and up until 2008. Venezuela had enough money for corrupt officials to take their share and for there to be significant distribution in terms of social assistance programs. I would argue that a lot of the social assistance took place through cash assistance programs, which is the trend all throughout Latin America, and I think that is a problem for sustaining some of the progress made. That changed some of the expectations of the living standards of the population and what they had hoped for in their futures, and in terms of creating families. So right now within the Venezuelan population there is a sense of desperation about the future, and a changing sense of hope, as there being a sense of hope before with Chávez, and now it’s a much more gloomy picture going out over the future. On the issue of the media I do want to make a comment, in regard to what Mark said. There have been very significant changes since 2012 when Chávez was alive, and he had his last presidential race against Henrique Capriles in the election. During that race the opposition had a mean to get its voice out to the public via television and radio, much more easily than it does today. And television and radio are the main ways the average Venezuelan receives their news, not via the newspapers. Since 2012 we have seen a visible change in the media landscape in which the government has exerted much more control over the airwaves and I think this is much different situation. In fact, the study Mark cites about the Carter Center, I was a part of the Carter Center in the 2012 election study mission, I think it is the 2012 study…

WEISBROT: No it was 2013; it’s on the web.

McCARTHY: Well, I don’t think the 2013 study revealed the same thing as the 2012 study. That I’m pretty sure of, since I was a member of both study missions.

REHM: I want to go to Los Angeles, California. Antonio, you are on the air.

CALLER: Thank you for having me on. I have been in Venezuela many times, and I speak Spanish. From what I have been able to figure out, until Chávez was elected Venezuela was the kicking boy of the United States. The US bought off all the corrupt presidents, who were paid millions in exchange for giving away the petroleum, which is the country’s patrimony. Venezuela has the largest deposits of petroleum in the world; some of them haven’t been used, though, and that does not come out very often, but there are there, in the Eastern part of the country. The people got nothing at that time, and then since Chávez the people are living much better. The government built 1 million houses for the poor; that doesn’t seem to be something that comes out in the US media. Food is subsidized and much cheaper. The Maduro government had been putting those people who hide the food in jail, the word is acaparadores — I don’t know the word in English. The right-wing has been taking the food and the goods and services away from the stores and hiding them in deposits. So that is why there was scarcity. Chávez’ greatest achievement was the creation of UNASUR, so that other Latin American countries could get out from the yoke of the US influence. Several Latin American countries now have independence and dignity and can deal on an equal level with other countries. People should read the constitution of Venezuela, for example, where it says that housewives get a minimum wage, stipend, for working at home. The people who hate Chávez are the rich, whose illegally owned properties have been expropriated for the common good. In other words, maybe 100 years ago, maybe I am making this up, but it is certainly borne out by history.

REHM: All right, thank you so much for your call. And you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Mark Weisbrot, there was a lot in that call.

WEISBROT: It is mostly true, you have these shortages and the other problems right now. I was there at the height of the protests, and I walked all over Caracas, everywhere, and the protests were confined to some of the richest areas: Alta Mira, Los Palos Grandes. That is where you saw there protests; they were not peaceful. But the rest of the city was fine. The people hardest hit by the shortages, the ones who have to wait in line, they don’t have servants, they don’t have storage space like the upper middle classes do. Those are not the ones who went out into the streets to protest the government. It really is the upper classes, and everybody knows that too.

REHM: What would happen if Maduro was removed from office, Mark?

WEISBROT: I don’t think that is going to happen, and I don’t see how that happens. There would probably be an insurrection to restore him, like when Chávez was removed in 2002.

REHM: Daniel?

LANSBERG-RODRIGUEZ: Mark raises an important point of the protests being confined to middle and upper class areas. A lot of that has to do with groups called colectivos that are pro-government, that have been armed by the government, and that tend to fill a lot of the community roles in some of the lower income areas. They have very close ties to the government, and there are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable voicing negative opinions of the government in areas with a heavy colectivo presence. I think it is tricky to try and assume that all the people at these massive protests in middle class areas, like the middle of downtown, are people who live there. And the second part is that there are ways, even if the United States wants regime change in Venezuela, and I want regime change in Venezuela, there is a democratic way to do it. Maduro is at 22 percent popularity right now, and we haven’t talked about this yet but there are national assembly elections coming up in December. There can be a recall referendum next year. Chávez narrowly avoided a recall referendum right after the general strike, and he was polling much higher than Maduro is today. So I think there are peaceful ways out of this. But confusing self-defense from coups and self-defense from criticism are totally different things. And the government has used the under-siege, coup excuse to try and get rid of any negative feedback or proposals for change. And I think that represents a big problem.

REHM: Michael McCarthy, what do you see as the main differences between Chávez and Maduro?

McCARTHY: Great question. It is part of the reason the US has stepped up its role in this conflict between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Everyone in Venezuela whether they are opposition or supporters, will tell you Maduro is not Chávez. What they mean by that obvious statement, is he lacks the charisma of his predecessor, he is unable to illicit emotional responses with his public discourse, with is rhetoric, and he doesn’t seem to have control over his own cabinet, and over other institutions of the state. There is a real issue with the extent to which he has power, in that sense and the ability to exercise that leadership in a way that generates a sense of respect and symbolic power for the presidency itself. This contributes to the centrifugal forces within Chavismo, to a certain extent. But I don’t think that Maduro is about to fall off tomorrow, or anything like that. His position is certainly in a precarious place, but I don’t think it is about to change in the short term. But I do think the US government realized, or decided, during the Chávez period that a more robust US presence in this political conflict would have been exploited by Chávez much more effectively than Maduro might be able to exploit it currently. Although the sanctions are going to help Maduro in terms of fitting his narrative of being able to claim he is under attack in an international conspiracy fashion.

REHM: Do you agree, Mark?

WEISBROT: Which he is, I mean that is the part that is always left out. They say Maduro is going to use it to say the United States is trying to get rid of his government. Well the United States is trying to get rid of his government; it could hardly be more obvious. So this is the thing the whole world knows, this is why the Obama administration is so isolated, and more than the Bush administration was. You don’t see that from the press. Obama gets really good press, Bush didn’t. So everybody could see it. That’s why you have to look at the government, that is where the media never goes. They don’t ask the foreign ministers. They don’t ask the other presidents: “well, what do you think of this?” Because they know what they would say, they are saying it everyday through these organizations that include every government in the hemisphere, and that doesn’t get reported, that is what is really going on. The US is more isolated that it has ever been in the hemisphere and it is going to remain that way until they change their policy towards Venezuela.

REHM: That has to be the last word. Mark Weisbrot, he is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Michael McCarthy at the American University’s Center for Latin American Studies. And Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, he is a columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. Thank you all so much.

ALL: Thank you.

REHM: Thanks for listening, I am Diane Rehm.

Woman farmer in Ecuador

(Photo credit: FAO)

Experts have argued for some time that small farms can play an important role in the struggle against climate change and that governments should prioritize strengthening and protecting small and medium-sized farms. Yet small farmers continue to be the victims of land displacement, killings, and other human rights violations, often perpetrated by state security forces, private companies, and paramilitaries, in many parts of Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world. Rural workers face the destruction of their environment and culture, lack access to basic needs, and rarely have a say in the policymaking processes that affect their lives.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), says his organization emphasizes that such “smallholders are among the most effective clients for public funds for dealing with issues around climate change.” Yet a focus on making profits for agribusiness has led to the breakup of Indigenous organizations; increased hunger; environmental destruction; migration from rural areas to cities; and unregulated, unsafe, and low-wage work. As Diego Montón from la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo points out, agribusiness and its transnational companies have transformed food into a commodity at the mercy of financial speculation. Through mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture and General Agreement on Trade in Services [PDF], corporations wield enormous influence over how prices of goods, agricultural models, and trade mechanisms are determined, including the standards for quality, efficiency, and distribution.

The implications for human rights and climate change are dire. Naomi Klein explains in her latest book, This Changes Everything, that it will be necessary to radically change our economic system if we want to effectively tackle climate change.  In this transformation, localized economies and small farmers will be essential. Klein notes how the global export of industrialized agriculture has contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions:

…the trade system, by granting companies like Monsanto and Cargill their regulatory wish list – from unfettered market access to aggressive patent protection to the maintenance of their rich subsidies – has helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world. This, in turn, is a major explanation for why the global food system now accounts for between 19 and 29 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

According to an IFAD 2013 report titled “Smallholders, Food Security, and the Environment,” of the 500 million small farms in the world, 80 percent are managed by smallholders (defined by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as farms of a maximum of 2 hectares). Smallholders provide more than 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa combined, while small farmers in Latin America occupy 35 percent of the total cultivated land. The report concludes:

With their immense collective experience and intimate knowledge of local conditions, smallholders hold many of the practical solutions that can help place agriculture on a more sustainable and equitable footing. To do this, they need help to overcome market failures and other disincentives for sustainable land use, including insecure land tenure, high transaction costs and weak institutional support.

But corporate-led globalization threatens to destroy the potential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods in favor of greater consumption, trade, and investment rules that favor corporations. This particularly hurts smallholders, who struggle with insufficient incomes, malnutrition, and evictions. As the report explains, small farmers are often pushed onto unfertile and increasingly smaller plots of land, and comprise the majority of the world’s undernourished population, as well as those living in absolute poverty.

Small farmers in Latin America, whose sustainable agricultural practices could help mitigate climate change, provide a clear example. In Honduras, campesinos in the Bajo Aguán suffer from forced evictions, harassment, threats, and murders [PDF] by security forces acting in the interests of private companies, such as the Dinant Corporation. From 2008 to 2013, about 128 people, most of them farmers, have been killed in the conflict, according to the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán. Dinant owns an estimated one-fifth of agricultural land in the Aguán region; its owner, Miguel Facussé Barjum, was a strong supporter of the 2009 coup. Other landowners include René Morales and Reynaldo Canales, who have concentrated agricultural activities in palm oil production, leaving subsistence-farming families in a perilous situation. Moreover, about 3,300 male farmers and 700 female farmers face judicial proceedings for land invasion, theft of fruit, and illicit demonstrations. As Food First’s Eric Holt Gimenez commented recently on Huffington Post, “With all the high talk these days of saving the world from hunger, how is it no one steps forward to protect farmers when they are gunned off their land?”

In Paraguay, repression of small farmers is also an ongoing problem. As I pointed out in a recent blog post on the Curuguaty Massacre, the violent land eviction of Marina Cue in June of 2012 led to the deaths of 11 farmers and 6 policemen. Although clearly two parties were involved in the conflict and more farmers than policemen died, only farmers have been subjected to investigation and are currently under house arrest. As in much of Latin America, there are deep land distribution inequalities in Paraguay, with 77 percent of the land controlled by 1 percent of landowners. A 2014 independent investigation carried out by delegates from FIAN International, La Vía Campesina, the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform-Central America, Friends of the Earth International and others examines the massacre and the negligence and failure of the authorities to bring about justice, as well as related extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, death threats and torture. The report concludes:

The Curuguaty massacre is emblematic of a worrisome trend of increasing violence against peasant communities, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders in Paraguay and throughout Latin America. The case also demonstrates the inordinate influence of large landowners and agribusinesses in protecting their interests and tightening their hold on power.

The story repeats itself in many other communities where farmers and rural workers are threatened by mining, oil drilling, palm oil production, or dam projects, as in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador and elsewhere.

Trade agreements such as NAFTA also have impacted small farmers. Under NAFTA, millions of Mexican farmers, competing with subsidized U.S. agricultural products and environmentally damaging production methods, were displaced, as a CEPR report [PDF] explains. The country as a whole did not benefit either, as Mexico instead has experienced “decades of economic failure by almost any economic or social indicator.”

Over the last decade, even though poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced in Latin America, inequality between urban and rural areas is still very high. For example, in 2010 rural poverty was double that of urban poverty and rural extreme poverty was four times higher than urban extreme poverty (which can be attributed in part to the hegemony of big corporations and the lack of minimum wage, social protection, and other labor market institutions in the rural areas). Yet experts and some policymakers are telling us that these rural workers could be some of the most important contributors to the fight against climate change and food insecurity.

Recent developments like last year’s COP20 Summit do not signal a strong and ambitious commitment by governments to do what is necessary to tackle climate change. The policy responses necessary to sustainably and effectively address poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and climate change (all interrelated issues) would require strong intervention by governments, but they could be subject to sanctions through mechanisms under the WTO, NAFTA and other trade regimes that protect the interests of big corporations.

Will these powerful corporations continue to defeat small farmers, some of the most critical agents in the fight against climate change? If global warming is to be limited to the few degrees Celsius threshold that most scientists have proposed to avoid catastrophe, small farmers will need to be empowered and allowed to move agriculture back to more sustainable and earth-friendly practices. This means protecting their rights and rolling back trade and investment regimes that have allowed corporations to run roughshod over them.

Woman farmer in Ecuador

(Photo credit: FAO)

Experts have argued for some time that small farms can play an important role in the struggle against climate change and that governments should prioritize strengthening and protecting small and medium-sized farms. Yet small farmers continue to be the victims of land displacement, killings, and other human rights violations, often perpetrated by state security forces, private companies, and paramilitaries, in many parts of Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world. Rural workers face the destruction of their environment and culture, lack access to basic needs, and rarely have a say in the policymaking processes that affect their lives.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), says his organization emphasizes that such “smallholders are among the most effective clients for public funds for dealing with issues around climate change.” Yet a focus on making profits for agribusiness has led to the breakup of Indigenous organizations; increased hunger; environmental destruction; migration from rural areas to cities; and unregulated, unsafe, and low-wage work. As Diego Montón from la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo points out, agribusiness and its transnational companies have transformed food into a commodity at the mercy of financial speculation. Through mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture and General Agreement on Trade in Services [PDF], corporations wield enormous influence over how prices of goods, agricultural models, and trade mechanisms are determined, including the standards for quality, efficiency, and distribution.

The implications for human rights and climate change are dire. Naomi Klein explains in her latest book, This Changes Everything, that it will be necessary to radically change our economic system if we want to effectively tackle climate change.  In this transformation, localized economies and small farmers will be essential. Klein notes how the global export of industrialized agriculture has contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions:

…the trade system, by granting companies like Monsanto and Cargill their regulatory wish list – from unfettered market access to aggressive patent protection to the maintenance of their rich subsidies – has helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world. This, in turn, is a major explanation for why the global food system now accounts for between 19 and 29 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

According to an IFAD 2013 report titled “Smallholders, Food Security, and the Environment,” of the 500 million small farms in the world, 80 percent are managed by smallholders (defined by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as farms of a maximum of 2 hectares). Smallholders provide more than 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa combined, while small farmers in Latin America occupy 35 percent of the total cultivated land. The report concludes:

With their immense collective experience and intimate knowledge of local conditions, smallholders hold many of the practical solutions that can help place agriculture on a more sustainable and equitable footing. To do this, they need help to overcome market failures and other disincentives for sustainable land use, including insecure land tenure, high transaction costs and weak institutional support.

But corporate-led globalization threatens to destroy the potential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods in favor of greater consumption, trade, and investment rules that favor corporations. This particularly hurts smallholders, who struggle with insufficient incomes, malnutrition, and evictions. As the report explains, small farmers are often pushed onto unfertile and increasingly smaller plots of land, and comprise the majority of the world’s undernourished population, as well as those living in absolute poverty.

Small farmers in Latin America, whose sustainable agricultural practices could help mitigate climate change, provide a clear example. In Honduras, campesinos in the Bajo Aguán suffer from forced evictions, harassment, threats, and murders [PDF] by security forces acting in the interests of private companies, such as the Dinant Corporation. From 2008 to 2013, about 128 people, most of them farmers, have been killed in the conflict, according to the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán. Dinant owns an estimated one-fifth of agricultural land in the Aguán region; its owner, Miguel Facussé Barjum, was a strong supporter of the 2009 coup. Other landowners include René Morales and Reynaldo Canales, who have concentrated agricultural activities in palm oil production, leaving subsistence-farming families in a perilous situation. Moreover, about 3,300 male farmers and 700 female farmers face judicial proceedings for land invasion, theft of fruit, and illicit demonstrations. As Food First’s Eric Holt Gimenez commented recently on Huffington Post, “With all the high talk these days of saving the world from hunger, how is it no one steps forward to protect farmers when they are gunned off their land?”

In Paraguay, repression of small farmers is also an ongoing problem. As I pointed out in a recent blog post on the Curuguaty Massacre, the violent land eviction of Marina Cue in June of 2012 led to the deaths of 11 farmers and 6 policemen. Although clearly two parties were involved in the conflict and more farmers than policemen died, only farmers have been subjected to investigation and are currently under house arrest. As in much of Latin America, there are deep land distribution inequalities in Paraguay, with 77 percent of the land controlled by 1 percent of landowners. A 2014 independent investigation carried out by delegates from FIAN International, La Vía Campesina, the Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform-Central America, Friends of the Earth International and others examines the massacre and the negligence and failure of the authorities to bring about justice, as well as related extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, death threats and torture. The report concludes:

The Curuguaty massacre is emblematic of a worrisome trend of increasing violence against peasant communities, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders in Paraguay and throughout Latin America. The case also demonstrates the inordinate influence of large landowners and agribusinesses in protecting their interests and tightening their hold on power.

The story repeats itself in many other communities where farmers and rural workers are threatened by mining, oil drilling, palm oil production, or dam projects, as in Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador and elsewhere.

Trade agreements such as NAFTA also have impacted small farmers. Under NAFTA, millions of Mexican farmers, competing with subsidized U.S. agricultural products and environmentally damaging production methods, were displaced, as a CEPR report [PDF] explains. The country as a whole did not benefit either, as Mexico instead has experienced “decades of economic failure by almost any economic or social indicator.”

Over the last decade, even though poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced in Latin America, inequality between urban and rural areas is still very high. For example, in 2010 rural poverty was double that of urban poverty and rural extreme poverty was four times higher than urban extreme poverty (which can be attributed in part to the hegemony of big corporations and the lack of minimum wage, social protection, and other labor market institutions in the rural areas). Yet experts and some policymakers are telling us that these rural workers could be some of the most important contributors to the fight against climate change and food insecurity.

Recent developments like last year’s COP20 Summit do not signal a strong and ambitious commitment by governments to do what is necessary to tackle climate change. The policy responses necessary to sustainably and effectively address poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and climate change (all interrelated issues) would require strong intervention by governments, but they could be subject to sanctions through mechanisms under the WTO, NAFTA and other trade regimes that protect the interests of big corporations.

Will these powerful corporations continue to defeat small farmers, some of the most critical agents in the fight against climate change? If global warming is to be limited to the few degrees Celsius threshold that most scientists have proposed to avoid catastrophe, small farmers will need to be empowered and allowed to move agriculture back to more sustainable and earth-friendly practices. This means protecting their rights and rolling back trade and investment regimes that have allowed corporations to run roughshod over them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to search in the archives?

¿Quieres buscar en los archivos?

Click Here Haga clic aquí