Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

The passing scene: January 4, 2015

January 4, 2015

Scavengers by Adam Johnson for Granta.

Adam Johnson walked down the stairs of his North Korean tourist hotel because he did not trust the elevator, and discovered that most floors of were unoccupied and scavenged for furnishings in order to keep up appearances on the few floors on which the tourists stayed.  This is one of the glimpses his article provides of the reality of life in North Korea.

Remembering the Russian Orthodox Priest Who Fought the Orthodox Church by Cathy Young for the Daily Beast.

Father Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest who died on Christmas, fought for democracy, Christian values and freedom for all religions against Communist totalitarianism and Putinist corruption.  He was defrocked twice for protesting and exposing the ties of the Russian Orthodox church with the Soviet government.

Religion in Latin America by the Pew Research Center.

Pentecostalism is on the rise in a historically Roman Catholic region.  The worldwide spread of Pentecostalism may be the most significant religious development of our time.

Tayloring Christianity by Matthew Rose for First Things.

A Secular Age? by Patrick J. Dineen for The American Conservative.

Secularism in the USA does not war on religion, the way anti-clericalism has done in France, Mexico and other countries.  American secularists simply want religion to be an individual matter rather than the organizing principle of society.  In a way, American secular liberals are the ultimate Protestants.

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Pushing back against pro-corporate treaties

May 6, 2013

investor.treaty.pushback.conference

Last month representative of 12 Latin American governments met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to talk about what to do about trade treaties that give private business the right to appeal to international tribunals to overturn laws and court decisions for the protection of workers, consumers and the public interest.

Such provisions are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement and of numerous bilateral agreements between the United States and foreign governments.   These treaties not only give them the right to appeal to a tribunal of foreigners to overturn a nation’s laws, but to collect damages for loss of “expected profits.”   Only investors have the right of appeal under these treaties.  Labor unions and citizens groups do not.  As Public Citizen reported:

Many of the other countries present have also faced a taxing litany of investor-state cases in recent years:  Mexico (e.g. losing $170 million in a NAFTA-created tribunal to the same U.S. agribusinesses that, under the same NAFTA, displaced over two million farmers), Argentina (e.g. losing a slew of cases to foreign financial firms for using financial regulations to mitigate the country’s 2001 financial crisis), Guatemala (e.g. losing $13 million to a railroad company that failed to build a railroad because the tribunal thought that the government had failed to fulfill the company’s expectations), etc.

via Eyes on Trade.

These “investor-state” provisions are being used more and more.   Recently a company appealed Quebec’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas to a NAFTA court.   Lone Pine Resources, a company incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, has asked for $250 million to compensate for its time and expense in obtaining necessary permits and approvals for hydrofracking.  Under the treaty, the appeal must go to binding arbitration to a three-person panel of professional arbitrators in a hearing closed to the public.   If Lone Pine wins, this would have grave implications for the ability of New York state or any other North American government to regulate hydrofracking.

Red bar is cases before International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.  Grey bar is other cases.  Source; UNCTAD

ICSID is the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Barack Obama in his 2008 Presidential campaign promised to renegotiate NAFTA so as to give better protections for labor and the public interest, but as President, he did not make even a token effort to do so.   Instead his administration is embarked on negotiations for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and a new agreement with the European Union which would lock in investor rights to appeal national laws.

I don’t think global corporations need the benefit of special protection under international law.   If corporate executives feel their company is treated unfairly by a government, they have the power to simply cease doing business there.  Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch organization quoted reports that there is no evidence that investor-state treaties increase the amount of foreign investment in a country.

As a result of the Guayaquil meeting:

At the end of the day, seven of the governments present signed a declaration to coordinate efforts in seeking to replace the investor-state regime with an alternative investment framework that respects sovereignty, democracy, and public well-being.  They announced the launch of an International Observatory, a intergovernmental commission based in Latin America to audit investor-state tribunals, draft alternative investment agreements, and collaborate in strategies for reform. … …  Representatives from the remaining five governments participated as observers and are now taking the declaration back to their capitals to discuss joining the emerging Latin American coalition.

via Eyes on Trade.

I hope something comes of this.   It is U.S.-based corporations and the corporate-influenced U.S. government that are pushing for unequal trade treaties.  They do not benefit the American people.

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Why was Latin America a rendition-free zone?

March 15, 2013
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

A report by Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based human rights organization, has identified 54 governments that helped in the United States “extraordinary rendition” program.

This involved seizing people thought to be aiding the enemies of the United States, and sending them to secret sites around the world for interrogation, usually involving torture.  Some were interrogation centers operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, some were operated by foreign governments.   The most common destination, according to OSJI, was Syria.

If you think this is a good idea, what would you think about such a program being operated by some other powerful country, such as Russia or China.

It is interesting that both Libya and Syria hosted detention sites.  I bet this made Libya’s Qaddafi and Syria’s Assad think they were in the good graces of the U.S. government.   They must have been surprised when Washington turned on them.

What is especially interesting about the map is that one big region of the world, namely Latin America, had no governments known to have helped with the rendition program.   Greg Grandin, writing in Mother Jones, explained this is because of Latin America’s experience with a previous U.S. “war on terror”.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”

In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other US officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces—the police, military, and paramilitary squads—to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the US greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.

Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The US had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to US organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents—Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega—were victims of this reign of terror.

via Mother Jones.

After the 9/11 attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew to Chile to urge Latin American governments to join in the current “war on terror.”  Leaders in Latin America remembered their history too well to go along.  What, I wonder, will be the legacy of the present policy 20 or 30 years from now?

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Ecuador’s president versus the U.S. embassy

May 23, 2012

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has closed the U.S. base in Ecuador and expelled the U.S. ambassador, while inviting Chinese investment.  According to U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, he is the most popular president in Ecuador’s history.

He survived a 2010 coup attempt.  Interviewed on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program, he told Assange that the United States is the only country in the world not in danger of a military coup because it doesn’t have a U.S. embassy.  He said the U.S. embassy directly paid units of the Ecuadorian national police force, who reported to the U.S. ambassador and not to him.

He said he would welcome a U.S. base in Ecuador provided that Ecuador could establish a military base on Miami.  And he said Ecuador is actively looking for investment by China, Russia and Brazil.  If the United States depends on Chinese financing of its budget and trade deficit, he said, it can’t be wrong for Ecuador to look for Chinese financing.

The most controversial thing he has done is his crackdown on the Ecuadorian press.  When President Correa was elected in 2007, the government only operated on TV station.  His administration seized two TV stations in 2008, and has sued various journalists for defamation of character.  Journalist Emilio Palacio, along with three owners of his newspaper, El Universo, was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $40 million fine early in 2011.  Palacio fled the country and was last reported living in Miami.

This kind of thing is not unique to Ecuador.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez also has cracked down on the right-wing adversarial press in his country.

Correa defended his action to Julian Assange by saying that five of the seven newspapers in Ecuador are controlled by the big banks, and are working to undermine his administration.  They don’t tell the truth, he said; by arrangement, none of them published any of the U.S. embassy cables, revealed by WikiLeaks, that related to Ecuador.

Assange said the media companies in the United States, Britain and other countries are equally corrupt.  The solution, he said, is to break up the big media companies and make it easier for independent voices to publish, not to use the power of government to suppress freedom of the press.  I think he’s right.  I also think he could have been tougher in his interview on this issue.

I watch Assange’s The World Tomorrow because he interviews Interesting people who would never appear on American network television.  Assange is not an adversarial interviewer – more like Charlie Rose than the late Mike Wallace – and I sometimes have to do some follow-up to get the complete picture, as I did with this interview.

Click on Digital Journal for links to previous episodes and a summary of the latest episode.

Click on President versus the media in Ecuador for a critical Al Jazeera report on President Correa’s struggle with the Ecuadorian press.

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