Archive for the ‘Americas’ Category

A World Bank arbitration panel has ruled in favour of Canadian mining company Pacific Rim in determining that a controversial lawsuit, which the corporation filed against the government of El Salvador after the latter indefinitely suspended the exploitation of a gold mine close to the nation’s capital, may proceed. Preliminary Objections to Pacific Rim’s case had been filed by the Salvadorian government in January, alleging that the lawsuit was erroneous and without legal foundation.

El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, had halted exploration at the El Dorado mine site, located around 40 miles from San Salvador, citing the potential for environmental and social damage. In June, Funes had affirmed that, “El Salvador and my government are not going to support, nor authorise, any mining exploration or exploitation which puts the country’s health at risk and which further deteriorates our environment”[1], however the panel’s ruling puts this position in serious jeopardy.

The case, brought by Pacific Rim subsidy Pac Rim Cayman, has been shrouded in controversy since it was filed in April of 2009, with the government of El Salvador maintaining from the outset that there is no legal basis for arbitration on behalf of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s dispute resolution panel. Upon filing the case, Pacific Rim announced that it would be seeking, “award of damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for its multiple breaches of international and Salvadoran law”[2], and the figure currently being demanded by the Canadian company is $77 million. An estimated 30% of El Salvador’s 6 million people live below the poverty line, and the country’s illiteracy rate currently stands at around 20%.[3]

Pacific Rim has pursued its claim under the terms of the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), to which the United States, the Dominican Republic and five Central American nations, including El Salvador, are signatories. The company’s Pac Rim Cayman subsidiary had been registered in the Cayman Islands, but relocated to the U.S. state of Nevada in 2007 – some three years after a rift had begun to emerge between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador.  CAFTA has no jurisdiction in either Canada, where Pacific Rim is registered, or in the Cayman Islands, but Pac Rim Cayman’s registration in Nevada has allowed it to use the terms of the free trade agreement to bring legal proceedings against El Salvador.

The Salvadorian government presented ICSID with a six-page document outlining what it describes as flagrant violations of World Bank policy last week, after the panel had determined that the case would be allowed to proceed in spite of vociferous objections. The government also charges that Pacific Rim is acting in violation of the 1996 El Salvador Mines Law, which stipulates certain prerequisites for the granting of mining concessions in the country.[4]

Pacific Rim’s President and CEO, Tom Shrake, said that the company was “very pleased” with ICSID’s decision to allow the case to proceed. “This is a positive and crucial step in the CAFTA process for Pac Rim. We are, however, reticent to celebrate as we believe a more productive outcome is possible for both the Salvadoran people and foreign investors. With this phase of the arbitration now completed, we hope to resume a mutually beneficial dialogue with the Government of El Salvador to resolve the impasse on the El Dorado project”, he added.[5]

The Salvadorian National Committee against Mining (Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería), however, decried the ICSID ruling, saying that it sets a “terrible precedent” in terms of national sovereignty and the right of a country “to reject projects that are environmentally or socially unfeasible”.[6] The committee has called on Funes’ government to join forces with groups opposed to the World Bank’s ruling, with activist Manuel Fuentes saying that by allying with such organisations the government can “strengthen its defensive strategy”.

Furthermore, there have been calls from activists in El Salvador for the government to pass legislation prohibiting outright the mining of metals in the country, to withdraw from the Central American Free Trade Agreement with immediate effect, and to rule out the possibility of signing bilateral trade accords with Canada.

Neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements such as CAFTA and its counterpart NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses Canada, Mexico and the United States – have come under intensifying scrutiny in recent years, as many have pointed out that they actively erode national sovereignty and pit member states’ economies against one another in what has been dubbed the “race to the bottom” by some economists.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul remarked of CAFTA in 2005 that, “It is absurd to believe that CAFTA and other trade agreements do not diminish American sovereignty.  When we grant quasi-governmental international bodies the power to make decisions about American trade rules, we lose sovereignty plain and simple… Like the UN, NAFTA, and the WTO, it represents another stone in the foundation of a global government system.  Most Americans already understand they are governed by largely unaccountable forces in Washington, yet now they face having their domestic laws influenced by bureaucrats in Brussels, Zurich, or Mexico City.”[7]

Former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz has also voiced opposition to NAFTA and CAFTA, observing that these agreements have had a detrimental effect on domestic agriculture in signatory states, whose markets have been flooded with cheap produce imported from the United States. In many cases, heavy subsidies offered to U.S. farmers by the federal government mean that U.S.-grown crops are able to undercut domestic produce with disastrous results for those who depend on farming to make a living. The result has been increasing rural poverty in countries such as Mexico, simultaneously fuelling migration from the countryside to the city and immigration from Latin America into the United States.

Speaking about the effects of the NAFTA agreement on Mexico, Stiglitz observes that, “NAFTA, ten years later, did not, I think, produce the benefits that Mexico had hoped for. A fairer agreement could have, but that’s not what they got. One of the key aspects of this was agriculture. The price of corn fell by half. The poorest people in Mexico are corn farmers. So you increased the poverty among the poorest groups in the country. It helps their urban workers, who buy food, but it hurts the some of the poorest. So you have seen this change in the pattern of inequality within Mexico.”[8]

In 1993, then-Vice President-elect Al Gore took part in a televised debate with independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, a passionate opponent of NAFTA, on a special edition of Larry King Live on CNN. It was during this debate that Gore uttered the now infamous line, “this is a good deal for our country”[9].

A 2003 report into the effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy, however, contradicts Mr. Gore in the strongest possible terms. Robert E. Scott’s report, The high price of ‘free’ trade, notes that in the first ten years following the 1993 inception of NAFTA, over 870,000 jobs were lost from the United States, mostly “high-wage positions in manufacturing industries”[10]. In addition, NAFTA “contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened workers’ collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits”.

Scott’s damning report observes that, “no protections were contained in the core of the agreement to maintain labor or environmental standards”, and that NAFTA, “tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors, and against workers and the environment, resulting in a hemispheric “race to the bottom” in wages and environmental quality”.

The report goes on to state that advocates of NAFTA, such as Al Gore and former President George W. Bush, “misrepresent the real effects of trade on the U.S. economy: trade both creates and destroys jobs. Increases in U.S. exports tend to create jobs in this country, but increases in imports tend to reduce jobs because the imports displace goods that otherwise would have been made in the United States by domestic workers.”

The result of nearly two decades of unchecked neoliberal economic policy has been a sharp decline in real wages and living standards in the United States, spurred on by the near-total obliteration of the country’s manufacturing sector as companies seek to maximise profit margins by moving their factories south of the border where land and labour are considerably cheaper. With support for such policies unsurprisingly strong among Washington D.C.’s political elite, this trend shows no sign of relenting in the foreseeable future.

[1] Pacific Rim expresa su satisfacción por victoria en tribunal internacional, http://noticias.terra.es/2010/economia/0804/actualidad/pacific-rim-expresa-su-satisfaccion-por-victoria-en-tribunal-internacional.aspx

[2] Arbitration panel favors Canada miner in dispute with El Salvador, http://www.laprensasa.com/2.0/3/309/796002/America-in-English/Arbitration-panel-favors-Canada-miner-in-dispute-with-El-Salvador.html

[3] The CIA World Factbook – El Salvador, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html

[4] El Salvador busca frenar demanda de Pacific Rim, http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=6374&idArt=5040098

[5] Pac Rim Cayman LLC – ICSID Tribunal Rejects Government of El Salvador’s Preliminary Objection, http://www.allbusiness.com/legal/trial-procedure-decisions-rulings/14892156-1.html

[6] Ambientalistas consideran un “precedente nefasto” la decisión contra El Salvador, http://es.noticias.yahoo.com/9/20100811/tsc-ambientalistas-consideran-un-precede-23e7ce8.html

[7] CAFTA: More Bureaucracy, Less Free Trade, http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst2005/tst060605.htm

[8] Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development, http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/5339.html

[9] NAFTA: Ross Perot and Al Gore Debate 1993, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhwhMXOxHTg

[10] The high price of ‘free’ trade – NAFTA’s failure has cost the United States jobs across the nation, http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/briefingpapers_bp147/

Read Full Post »

The Venezuelan government announced on Saturday that Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran President overthrown in a bloodless military coup last June, will serve as the political leader of the Petrocaribe alliance. Petrocaribe was created by the government of Hugo Chávez in 2005 and allows participating countries, including some of the poorest nations in the Americas, to finance shipments of Venezuelan oil over a period of 17 to 25 years at an interest rate of 1%, paying a small fraction up front[1]. Member states can also finance part of their petroleum imports with export commodities such as rice and bananas, which are sent to Venezuela in part-exchange for market-rate oil.

Zelaya’s appointment was announced by the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolás Maduro, during a conference of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Maduro stated that the decision to appoint Zelaya demonstrates the Venezuelan government’s commitment to “continue supporting the restoration of democracy in Honduras”[2]. Following June’s coup, President Chávez of Venezuela was one of the international community’s most vocal supporters of Zelaya, demanding his immediate reinstatement as an interim government under Roberto Micheletti took control of the poverty-stricken Central American nation.

In elections held in November of last year, Porfirio Lobo was elected Honduran President, with many nations, including Venezuela, refusing to recognise Lobo’s victory, taking place as it did in the shadow of last summer’s coup d’état. Venezuela has indefinitely suspended oil exports to Honduras, but has stated that Caracas would restore relations with Tegucigalpa if the new government permitted Zelaya to return to the political scene in the country[3].

Zelaya, a wealthy landowner in his own right, had begun to institute significant changes which sought to alleviate the plight of the millions of Hondurans living in abject poverty. These included a 60% increase in the minimum wage which provoked criticism and anger on the part of multinational companies operating in the country, who had hitherto benefitted from unchecked access to the labour of the roughly 60% of Honduras’ 8 million inhabitants who live below the poverty line.

U.S. banana-giant Chiquita, formerly The United Fruit Company, which was instrumental in pushing through the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 in response to his drastic land reform policies, was among the more vocal critics of Zelaya’s minimum wage increase, and maintains substantial holdings in Honduras[4].

Honduras is the poorest nation on the mainland of the American continent, with an estimated 75% of the country’s rural population living in poverty[5], and is characterised by “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high un- and underemployment”[6]. President Lobo, educated at the University of Miami, was quick to exonerate those members of the Honduran military who took part in the coup which toppled Manuel Zelaya, confirming that they would not face prosecution for their part in the overthrow and promising to put Honduras “on the path to democracy”, in February of this year[7].

During his inauguration in January, Lobo publicly thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the backing he had received from the government of Barack Obama following his victory at the polls in November 2009, while Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela were among a group of several Latin American nations who boycotted Lobo’s swearing-in and refuse to recognise the Honduran government, considering it illegitimate[8].

The Obama administration is extremely unpopular in much of Latin America, with widespread anger at the decision to place U.S. troops on the ground at several military bases in Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia as part of the United States’ “war on drugs”. Obama’s decision to extend crippling sanctions against Cuba, in spite of having made noises to the effect that relations could thaw between Washington and Havana during his campaign, has also done little to alter the image of his administration in a region which has seen countless U.S. and U.S.-backed military interventions in preceding decades which have left deep physical and emotional scars which endure to the present day.

Honduras had been receiving oil shipments from Venezuela under a Petrocaribe agreement until dispatches were suspended following last June’s coup. Zelaya said of his new role as political head of Petrocaribe, “I am going to accept this nomination and this appointment from President Chávez with a view to strengthening the democratic processes in this continent”. Commenting on the role Chávez played in supporting the ousted President following the coup, Zelaya remarked, “it’s false that Hugo Chávez came looking for me, I went looking for him in order to help Latin America”.

Interviewed after the conclusion of three hours of talks with Zelaya held at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Chávez affirmed that Porfirio Lobo’s electoral victory in Honduras “was no defeat” and that Zelaya is still the “legitimate President of Honduras”.

Tom Kavanagh

[1] Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. – Petrocaribe, http://www.pdvsa.com/index.php?tpl=interface.sp/design/readmenuprinc.tpl.html&newsid_temas=48

[2] Designan a Zelaya como nuevo presidente del Consejo Político de Petrocaribe, http://www.telesurtv.net/noticias/secciones/nota/67940-NN/designan-a-zelaya-como-nuevo-presidente-del-consejo-politico-de-petrocaribe/

[3] Chávez contrata al ex presidente hondureño Zelaya para dirigir Petrocaribe, http://www.cnnmexico.com/mundo/2010/03/06/chavez-contrata-al-ex-presidente-hondureno-zelaya-para-dirigir-petrocaribe

[4] Chiquita in Latin America, http://www.counterpunch.org/kozloff07172009.html

[5] Honduras, http://www.ifad.org/media/success/honduras_2.htm

[6] CIA – The World Factbook – Honduras, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

[7] Presidente de Honduras exonera militar que executou golpe, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/afp/2010/02/25/presidente-de-honduras-exonera-militar-que-executou-golpe.jhtm

[8] Lobo Assumes Presidency as U.S., Latin America Split, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-01-27/lobo-set-for-presidency-as-u-s-latin-america-split-update1-.html

Read Full Post »

A human skull and two large bones owned by the secretive Skull and Bones society based at the prestigious Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut are expected to fetch up to US$20,000 when they go on offer at Christie’s auction house in New York later this month.

Along with this memorabilia, the lot also contains a small black book containing the names of Skull and Bones members or “Bonesmen” up until 1971. The auction house states that the collection of articles “provides a rare glimpse into the society which has been linked to many influential figures and leaders at Yale University and in this country”[1]

The elite society selects 15 members for entry every year from among Yale’s students, and remained exclusively male until 1991. CBS’s 60 Minutes notes that the secret society’s membership list includes “some of the most powerful men of the 20th century… and has included presidents, cabinet officers, spies, Supreme Court justices, captains of industry, and often their sons and lately their daughters”, calling the secret society, “a social and political network like no other.”[2]

Both the former President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival in the 2004 presidential election, Massachusetts senator John F. Kerry are Skull and Bones members, and Bush and Kerry were both asked about their membership during the 2004 campaign by the late Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Russert remarked to Bush “You were both in Skull and Bones, the secret society”, to which Bush retorted “It’s so secret we can’t talk about it”[3], before stammering awkwardly when probed on the significance of the two candidates’ societal connection. Bush selected fellow Skull and Bones member and Nixon-era Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs William Donaldson as head of the Securities & Exchange Commission in early 2003.

When Kerry appeared on the programme a few months earlier, Russert had asked him “You were both members of Skull and Bones the secret society at Yale, what does that tell us?”, with the Democratic candidate replying “Uhh… Not much ‘cause it’s a secret”. Russert continued, “Is there a secret handshake? Is there a secret code?… 322, a secret number?”. Kerry evaded the question, replying, “Ahh there are all kinds of secrets, but one thing is not a secret, I disagree with this president’s direction that he’s taking the country, we can do a better job and I intend to do it.”[4]

Tim Russert fared better than student Andrew Mayer who was dragged to the ground by 6 police officers and tasered for asking Kerry a similar question relating to his Skull and Bones membership in September 2007 at the University of Florida[5]. Mayer was seized upon by police to applause from the audience immediately after he brought up Kerry’s connections to the Yale-based secret society, having already asked Kerry about why he refused to contest the 2004 election result despite evidence of disenfranchisement of black and Latino voters and widespread electoral fraud in several states. Mayer was subsequently arrested, having been tasered as he lay on the ground, surrounded by police officers[6].

Skull and Bones selects its annual intake of 15 members every year from Yale’s student body as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day”. Members meet every Thursday and Sunday evening in their final year of college[7], before becoming patriarchs of the society and lifetime members when they graduate. The headquarters of the society, based on the Yale University campus, are known as The Tomb.

Skull and Bones is, according to Christie’s, “thought by many to be one of the oldest and most prestigious secret societies in the United States”, with its reputation attributable to the names who have been initiated since the society’s foundation in 1832. In addition to George H.W. Bush and son, prominent Democratic politician, banker and businessman W. Averell Harriman, son of railroad tycoon E H Harriman, was a Bonesman, as was former CEO of the H. J. Heinz Company, Henry John Heinz II.

Both of George W. Bush’s grandfathers, George Herbert Walker and Prescott Bush, were also Skull and Bones members, and Prescott is a particularly polemic figure due to his involvement as “director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany”. Prescott Bush was a director of Union Banking Corporation which represented the U.S.-based interests of German industrialist and early Nazi supporter Fritz Thyssen, and continued in this position even after the United States entered the war against Germany[8].

Prescott also worked for Brown Brothers Harriman, the oldest privately owned bank in the United States and the world’s largest private investment bank at the time. He had been an initial partner of BBH along with fellow Skull and Bones member W. Averell Harriman, who served as a Senior Partner of the bank. Brown Brothers Harriman’s assets and assets belonging to other companies held by the bank, including Union Banking Corporation, were seized by the United States government under the Trading with the Enemy Act in late 1942. In December 2003, the Anti Defamation League issued a press release defending Prescott Bush and calling the accusations made against him for his involvement in financing Nazi Germany, “untenable and politically motivated”[9].

Prescott Bush, a vocal supporter of population control groups The American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood, serving as treasurer for the latter, would go on to become a Republican senator, representing the state of Connecticut for over ten years until January 1963. The controversy surrounding the grandfather of Barack Obama’s predecessor is not limited to his extensive Nazi connections, however.

In June 2009 Obama’s government asked the Justice Department to dismiss a lawsuit brought by descendants of famous Native American Apache warrior Geronimo, whose remains were stolen from his tomb in 1918 or 1919, reportedly by a group of Skull and Bones members which included Prescott Bush[10]. Proceedings were filed against President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Peter Geren in their capacity as federal officials in February of 2009. Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society were also named as defendants in the suit.

The descendants of Geronimo, who was buried in Oklahoma in 1909, wish to bury him in his native land – located in the state of New Mexico. The lawsuit alleges violations of a 1990 law designed to protect the right of Native Americans to their family members’ remains. It is alleged that bones stolen from Geronimo’s resting place have been kept in the secret society’s Yale University headquarters. The government of Barack Obama has countered that it has sovereign immunity from prosecution under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

Tom Kavanagh

[1] A SKULL-AND-BONES BALLOT BOX, http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5286778

[2]Skull And Bones – 60 Minutes – CBS, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/02/60minutes/main576332.shtml

[3]Bush Admits Skull and Bones, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiisokDGbfA

[4] John Kerry Admits Skull and Bones Membership, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yOF713wOD4&feature=related

[5] Student hit with Taser at John Kerry speech, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1563486/Student-hit-with-Taser-at-John-Kerry-speech.html

[6]University of Florida student Tasered at Kerry forum,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVa6jn4rpE

[7]The evolution of Tap Night, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/features/2009/04/17/the-evolution-of-tap-night/

[8] How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar

[9] Prescott Bush’s Alleged Nazi “Ties”, http://www.adl.org/Internet_Rumors/prescott.htm

[10] US seeks to stop Geronimo lawsuit, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8112051.stm

Read Full Post »

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad met with Brazilian head of state Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasilia on Monday as the two leaders were poised to sign new agreements boosting trade and cooperation and securing Iran’s burgeoning status within the region. The two nations are expected to sign accords on biotechnology, farming and energy, and may discuss co-operation on the construction of nuclear power facilities. Tehran hopes these agreements can boost bilateral trade between the two nations from $2 billion to $15 billion annually1.

In addition to signing trade deals with the Iranian head of state, Lula reiterated his support for Iran’s nuclear program, saying, “Brazil has a model of nuclear energy development recognised by the United Nations and we know about the controversy surrounding the same development by Iran. Brazil defends Iran’s right to develop uranium for peaceful purposes, just as Brazil has been doing. It is simple. That which we defend for ourselves, we defend for others.”2

Such reciprocity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely to sit well with Washington or Tel Aviv, both of which have been categorical in their opposition to Tehran’s desire to pursue a policy of uranium enrichment, claiming that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies outright that it intends to develop nuclear armanents. The United States has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and Israel is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, although it allows no international inspection of its nuclear facilities and has never publicly acknowledged possessing such arms.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, citing fears that the Persian state is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons behind closed doors. In early November 2009 Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated on Sky News that Israel is “not bluffing” in its threats to “take military action” against what he called “Iran’s contentious nuclear program”3. Ahmadinejad has frequently been misquoted with regards to statements he has made about Israel, with the most notorious example being the wide circulation of reports he had called for the Zionist state to be “wiped off the map” in October 2005. The Iranian President had in fact quoted the late Ayatollah Khomeini, with an accurate translation of his words being, “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”4. Mainstream news outlets immediately reported a skewed translation of Ahmadinejad’s words which has served as evidence of the Iranian President’s desire to attack Israel ever since, with The New York Times and other sources stating that, “Iran’s conservative new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Wednesday that Israel must be “wiped off the map””.5

In July of 2008, Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that at a meeting he attended in then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, the use of false flag operations to provoke a war with Iran was discussed in Cheney’s presence. Hersh reported, “There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.” Hersh says the idea was eventually rejected “because you can’t have Americans killing Americans”6.

As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lula in the Brazilian capital, protests were held in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in what The Guardian labelled a denunciation of the Iranian President’s “record on human rights, homosexuality and Israel”. The Iranian government severely cracked down on domestic dissent this summer and outlawed protests as riots erupted in Tehran following Ahmadinejad’s disputed election victory. Ahmadinejad, who enjoys widespread support among Iran’s poor, has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs.

In October, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafari accused British and American intelligence services of involvement in a suicide bombing targeted against the Revolutionary Guard leadership which killed 42. General Jafari claimed that his security officials had documents linking Britain and the United States to Jundullah, the militant group which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Sunday 18th October7. “Behind this scene are the American and British intelligence apparatus, and there will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them”, said Jafari.

Such suspicions are certainly not without historical precedent. In 1952, following a unanimous vote in the Iranian parliament to nationalise the country’s vast oil reserves under President Mohammed Mossadeq, British intelligence (S.I.S.) launched a covert operation with the C.I.A in order to topple him and protect the interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – now BP. British and American intelligence services staged bombings in Iran targeted against religious leaders which were then blamed on Iranian agents posing as Communists loyal to Mossadeq in an ultimately successful bid to turn the country’s religious establishment against the government8. Mossadeq was then replaced by the Shah whose brutal regime ruled with an iron fist before being deposed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Despite stating publicly that he wishes to “extend a hand” to Iran, in March U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the Persian state which have been in place since 1995, when they were introduced by the administration of Bill Clinton. These sanctions prohibit American companies from investing in or trading with Iran. Obama defended this policy of isolation, stating that, “The actions and policies of the government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing and unusual and extraordinary threat”9.

Ahmadinejad was in Brazil on the first leg of a tour which the Iranian government hopes will strengthen the Persian state’s standing in a continent where it has numerous allies in the form of left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The Iranian President will subsequently make visits to Caracas and La Paz, where he will meet with Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales respectively, both of whom have also voiced support for Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for non-military purposes. Iran has been making steady diplomatic inroads into Latin America in recent years, provoking concern in Washington, which has traditionally regarded the region as its “backyard”.

Tom Kavanagh

1Brazilian protests greet Ahmadinejad at start of South American tour, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/23/ahmadinejad-brazil-protests-iran

2Lula destaca apoio ao Irã no desenvolvimento de urânio para fins pacíficos, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultnot/internacional/2009/11/23/ult1859u1903.jhtm

3Israel threat to attack Iran is not a bluff, deputy FM says, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126394.html

4“Wiped Off The Map” – The Rumor of the Century, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=4527

5Wipe Israel ‘off the map’ Iranian says, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/world/africa/26iht-iran.html

6EXCLUSIVE: To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them,http://thinkprogress.org/2008/07/31/cheney-proposal-for-iran-war/

8New York Times Special Report: The C.I.A. in Iran, http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html

9Obama renews US sanctions on Iran, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7941031.stm

Read Full Post »

  It was announced last night that 6 Chinese nationals landed in the Pacific territory of Palau to settle in their new home. The 6 are part of a total group of 17 Chinese held in Guantanamo bay since 2001.[1]  From the far western, largely Muslim, province of Xinjiang, the men were captured by bounty hunters after reportedly fleeing repression. Initially travelling to Afghanistan, where American sources claim they received terrorist training, they attempted to move into Pakistan when the war began and were handed over to coalition forces.[2]

  Despite being held in the detention centre since 2001, no charges have been passed against the men, and their innocence has been confirmed by various bodies. As early as 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that the men posed no risk to the U.S. and their classification as ‘enemy combatants’ was inaccurate. Five of the men were found to have merely been, ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ and entirely innocent, whilst the other 12 were alleged to have sought weapons to fight the Chinese government.[3] It should be noted that even the charges against these 12 have been denied by all of them and judgements have never been passed against them.

  Although top U.S. officials realised 6 years ago that the men could viably be released, it was not until June of this year that the first of the group left the detention centre. The men testified that they refused a Chinese delegation to Guantanamo Bay which sought to repatriate and imprison them. These claims are borne out by reports from U.S. officials who claimed that to return the men would be to risk their torture or even execution. [4] Instead they have languished in prison, enduring the same standards applied to other suspects including being chained to the floor with shackles.[5]

  The plight of the men had become an embarrassing element to the continuing saga of the controversial camp for a number of years. State Department officials had reportedly begun as early as 2003 to search for an appropriate country willing to receive the men. Events took a more sudden turn in late 2008 when a Washington court ruled that the men should be brought in to the U.S. so they could be formally released on U.S. soil.[6] The release of a party of innocent men, held for 7 years in the nation’s capital was an understandably embarrassing prospect.  The Justice Department of the Bush Administration filed emergency requests overnight to revoke the order, claiming that the court did not have the right to admit aliens.[7] The appeal was granted, ignoring the fact that the Justice Department is the only party with the authority to allow entry for trial.

  In February of this year, the case took a more disappointing turn, when the appeal was heard a Federal Appeals Court. The 3 judge team found in a 2:1 majority that there was, ‘no legal or constitutional authority,’ for the immediate release of the men, even though they were, ‘unlawfully detained.’ That such a legal loophole can be conveniently created, is testament to the desperation of the U.S. authorities to avoid embarrassment to their counterterrorist operations. The men have continued to suffer from a smear campaign in both public and press spheres. Despite official reports confirming their innocence, the government continued to criticize their prospective freedom as a threat to national security.[8] Other flimsy arguments have been contrived including the claim that the re-offending of other released prisoners undermines the Chinese group’s alleged innocence.[9]

  In June 2009 Bermuda’s Prime Minister Ewart Brown agreed to take some of the men temporarily before they could be found a more permanent home.[10] Even for this modest concession, he was forced to stand against the UK government. As a crown dependency, whose foreign policy falls to UK authority, Bermuda was operating unconstitutionally. Especially since the UK had refused entry for the Chinese nationals within Britain.

  The location of Palau as a possible final home for the men seems slightly more hopeful. The territory is one of only a handful of countries around the world which still refuse to recognise China (instead recognizing Taiwan).[11] As such their offer of refuge to the men will give them a political victory, and hopefully an incentive to maintain their safety. This may finally end the embarrassing story for U.S. officials and provide the men with an opportunity to recover their lives.

 Chris Bowles

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/01/uighurs-guantanamo-palau

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/02/18/gitmo.detainees/index.html

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082301362.html

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/01/guantanamo-china

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082301362.html

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/08/court.chinese.muslims/index.html

[9] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/02/18/gitmo.detainees/index.html

[10] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/11/guantanamo-detainees-china-demands-return

[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/01/uighurs-guantanamo-palau

Read Full Post »

The Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has been overthrown and expelled to neighbouring Costa Rica following a bloodless coup staged by the Honduran military on Sunday morning and backed by the country’s supreme court.[1] The overthrow of Zelaya constitutes the first military coup in Central America since the conclusion of the Cold War, and has been met with angry protests in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital.[2]

Protesters defied an overnight curfew imposed by the interim government to register outrage in the wake of the coup, protesting vociferously outside the presidential palace. Some erected barricades around the palace, brandishing sticks and chanting as soldiers in full riot gear looked on from inside the presidential compound. Honduras’ congress has already named Roberto Micheletti, congressional president at the time of the coup, as the country’s president. Micheletti was quick to impose a curfew taking effect on Sunday and Monday night, however hundreds of protesters defied it, burning tyres and vowing to stay in the streets until Zelaya is reinstated.

In response to his ousting, Zelaya declared “I am the president of Honduras. My power will not be taken by a group of soldiers. This is a regression of more than 50 years for the democratic process. I want to return to my country and restore a state of order for the Honduran people”.[3] Zelaya enjoys widespread support among the poor of a country the CIA’s World Factbook describes as “the second poorest country in Central America”, with “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high unemployment”.[4] The country’s annual GDP per capita stands at $4,400, roughly equivalent to Bolivia and Sri Lanka, however this statistic belies entrenched inequality which has existed ever since Spanish colonisation of the territory began in the early sixteenth century.

Zelaya had attempted to dismiss General Romero Vasquez, the head of the country’s armed forces, following a dispute over a referendum proposed by Zelaya that would allow him to seek re-election when his current term expires in 2010. The poll was due to be held on Sunday, and would have permitted Zelaya to remain in office for a subsequent four-year term if approved.

The Honduran supreme court gave approval for the coup, with the military detaining Zelaya in his pyjamas on Sunday morning before forcing him onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. Zelaya has attributed blame for the coup to “rightwing oligarchs”, and the Honduran establishment has indeed backed the military overthrow of the nation’s democratically elected head of state.

Although elected as a conservative in 2006, the Honduran head of state has sought closer alignment with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’s brand of ‘21st century socialism’ in recent years, and the coup received the backing of the pro-U.S. Honduran establishment. The United States’ government, however, was swift to condemn the coup, as was the Organisation of American States and the European Union. President Barack Obama affirmed that, “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference”, stating that Washington only recognised Zelaya is president.

Zelaya had condemned the United States’ refusal to support Cuba’s return to the 34-member Organisation of American States at a meeting of the OAS in Honduras earlier this month. Cuba was banished from the group in 1962 following heavy U.S. pressure on Latin American nations to expel Fidel Castro’s government from the organisation or risk economic reprisals.

Honduras, an impoverished Central American nation of nearly 8 million, was a staunch U.S. ally during the 1980’s, during which time its military government received substantial U.S. aid in order to assist with crushing internal rebellions common to the region during this period. The United States maintains a military base in the country where some 600 troops are stationed, predominantly to assist with “humanitarian and disaster relief operations” according to Reuters[5].

Zelaya has already met with Hugo Chávez and other Latin American heads of state including Bolivian president Evo Morales and Ecuadorian leader Rafael Correa at an emergency summit in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, which began on Sunday. Chávez, who was himself the victim of a U.S.-backed yet eventually abortive coup d’état in 2002, was swift to condemn the overthrow and placed troops at the Venezuelan embassy in Tegucigalpa on high alert. Chávez said Honduran soldiers arrested the Cuban ambassador and left the Venezuelan ambassador on the side of a road having beaten him during Sunday’s coup[6].

Tom Kavanagh

[1] Manuel Zelaya expulsado de Honduras en golpe de Estado, http://www.larepublica.net/app/cms/www/index.php?pk_articulo=26338

[2] Protesters demand return of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/29/manuel-zelaya-honduras-coup-protests

[3] Manuel Zelaya expulsado de Honduras en golpe de Estado, http://www.larepublica.net/app/cms/www/index.php?pk_articulo=26338

[4] Central Intelligence Agency – The World Factbook; Honduras, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/HO.html

[5] Honduras isolated over Zelaya ouster, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE55R24E20090629

[6] Hugo Chávez vows to ‘bring them down’ after seeing Honduran ally ousted in military coup, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/28/honduras-zelaya-coup-chavez

Read Full Post »

The governments of Venezuela and Iran have signed a memorandum of understanding which pledges military cooperation and entails “training and mutual exchange of military experiences”. The accord was signed on Thursday 30th April following a meeting between Iran’s Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed-Najjar and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Brigadier General Mohammad-Najjar affirmed that, “Iran pledges its full support to promote the Venezuelan military’s defense capabilities in the framework of mutual defensive agreements”[1].

There has been increasing collaboration and solidarity between the two nations in previous years; past agreements include cooperation over oil exploration, the construction of low-income housing and assembling tractors and bicycles. Venezuela has been an outspoken defender of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes; the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly threatened Tehran over its nuclear policy, accusing the Persian state of attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile the United States itself has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and Israel is believed to be the only Middle Eastern nation with nuclear weapons, although it refuses to disclose any information regarding its nuclear program. Former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu released classified information about Israel’s development of advanced nuclear weapons to the Sunday Times in 1986, with the newspaper estimating that Israel had more than 100 nuclear warheads and publishing photographs which Vanunu had taken in secret. Israel subsequently prosecuted Vanunu, having first kidnapped him in Rome; convicting him of treason and espionage and sentencing him to 18 years in prison. Vanunu served 12 years of his imprisonment in solitary confinement; longer than any other known prisoner in modern history[2].

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was briefly overthrown by an abortive coup d’état in 2002 before being reinstated just 47 hours later following a massive popular uprising. The United States had been quick to recognise the interim government which replaced Chávez, and members of the Organization of American States (OAS) went on record at the time stating that senior U.S. officials were “not only aware the coup was about to take place, but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success”.[3]

Relations between the United States and Venezuela have been tense since the election of Chávez in 1998, with Washington taking issue with the redistributive policies of the Venezuelan leader who has been keen to ensure that the country’s vast oil wealth is better-distributed among the country’s 28 million inhabitants.

The United States covertly sponsored numerous coups d’état throughout Latin America during the 20th century, overthrowing governments which have threatened its hegemony and commercial interests whenever forceful regime change has been viable. In 1970, a memo sent by then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon just days after the inauguration of the left-wing leader Salvador Allende in Chile urged “regime change” in the South American nation, warning that Allende’s populist policies could serve as a “model” for other regimes and thus prove damaging to U.S. interests[4].

The memo, declassified in 2004, underlines the subversive means the United States uses to pressure governments of weaker nations into conforming to U.S. foreign policy objectives, and the perils which await those who refuse to toe the line.

Chávez has consistently pursued policies which conflict with Washington’s interests. Under an agreement with the Cuban government, Venezuela exports reduced-price oil to the Caribbean nation whilst Cuba furnishes Venezuela with desperately needed medical professionals and expertise.

The United States continues to give refuge to numerous suspected terrorists wanted by Havana on suspicion involvement in attacks against the Cuban state, with the most prominent among them being Cuban-born Venezuelan Luis Posada Carriles. Carriles has himself admitted to taking part in the bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 which claimed 73 lives, and for which he was detained in Venezuela before escaping from prison in 1985.

Carriles has also been implicated in the bombing of hotels in Havana and an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro during a 2000 visit to Panama. Venezuela has repeatedly requested his extradition; calls which have fallen on deaf ears in Washington, leading to observers condemning the United States for its clear display of double standards in the ‘war on terror’[5].

In March, Chávez aroused the attention of the world’s media when he called the recently inaugurated Barack Obama “ignorant”, stating that his U.S. counterpart is uninformed of the “reality of Latin America” and urging him to “read and study”[6]. Obama had condemned Chávez for “exporting terror” and “hindering progress” in Latin America[7], to which the Venezuelan premier responded; “the real obstacle has been the empire that he today presides over, which has exported terrorism for nearly 200 years, has launched atomic bombs on innocent cities, has bombarded, invaded and issued orders to kill whenever they have taken the notion.”

In addition to the South American country’s pact with Iran, Venezuela inaugurated diplomatic relations with Palestine on April 27th. The South American nation severed ties with Israel and expelled its ambassador to Venezuela following the Zionist state’s three-week winter offensive in Gaza which left over 1,400 Palestinians dead and well over 5,000 wounded, causing $1.6 billion worth of damage to Gaza’s economy in the process[8].

Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro stated that, “The people of Palestine can count on our eternal and permanent solidarity with their just and humane cause.” Hugo Chávez has said on record that he believes Israel’s onslaught in the beleaguered Palestinian territory constitutes genocide.

Tom Kavanagh

[1] Iran, Venezuela enter into military alliance, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=93122&sectionid=351020101


[2] Prisoner Support – Mordechai Vanunu, http://www.motherearth.org/prisoner/vanunu.php

[3] Venezuela coup linked to Bush team, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela

[4] Kissinger Document Shows Pre-Emption in Practice, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0205-07.htm

[5] Terrorist Luis Posada Carriles – AND THE DOUBLE STANDARD IN THE U.S. ‘WAR ON TERROR’, http://www.rethinkvenezuela.com/downloads/Posada%20Carriles.htm

[6] Chavez: Obama clueless about reality, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=89370&sectionid=351020704

[7] Venezuela’s Chavez calls Obama “ignoramus”, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE52L19G20090322

[8] ‘Genocide’ brings Palestinian embassy to Venezuela, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=92776&sectionid=351020704

Read Full Post »