Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Part II of The New Democrat Foreign Policy Agenda for Latin America:  Multi-Polarism -- A Return to Spheres of Influence


Barack ObamaHugo Chavez

This is the second part of an analysis I am posting of the larger implications of the agenda for American Foreign Policy as developed within the speech of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd in his recent address to the Naval Academy, which I believe, in the absence of clarity from Barack Obama, whose candidacy Dodd has endorsed, can be taken as representative of the new outlook of the Democratic Party for U.S. relations with Latin America.

Let me re-post the quote I excerpted in my previous post, which I took from the Oppenheimer blog on Latin America, though this time I want to underline two key parts of what Dodd says:

". . . Colombia still struggles with the demobilization of paramilitaries, impunity and other human rights violations.

It has made progress towards advancing its citizens’ security and establishing the rule of law.

Colombia has faced a 40-year onslaught waged by powerful terrorist organizations bent on destroying the state.

Thousands of citizens were murdered and kidnapped. In one particularly brazen instance, guerillas linked to the Medellin drug cartel laid siege to the Colombian Palace of Justice for 26 hours, and assassinated eleven Supreme Court Justices.

In light of a violent history, and in light of the complex challenges still facing Colombia, it seems to me our narrow focus on a bilateral trade agreements makes little sense. Bilateral trade with the United States is important, but it’s only one element.

“Free Trade” between Colombia and America is not a panacea—we should stop selling it as such.

President Uribe of Colombia has focused his efforts on engaging the United States, but he needs to apply the same energy engaging his neighbors.

President Uribe needs to spend as much time travelling to Argentina, Brazil and other neighbors as frequently as he travels to Washington.

In doing so, he will be forging deeper political, social and economic relationships.

Latin America’s security, and economic future isn’t just tied to bilateral deals with the United States.

Regional trade and political engagement will far better serve everyone’s interests along with independently negotiated and instituted trade deals with the United States. . . ."

Clearly Dodd is pushing regional integration, though he only barely alludes to the idea in his statement. In the case of Colombia's relations with Argentina and Brazil this means the Mercosur process; the movement toward a "Southern Common Market," a plan for regional integration in which Colombia does participate, in spite of strained relations with many of its Mercosur partners.

I think everyone should immediately stop and recognize the larger implications of this policy decision. Dodd recommends moving away from free trade, moving towards regional integration, leaving Colombia to gravitate to the sphere of regional interest defined by Brazil and Argentina, rather than maintaining U.S. commitments which date back to the negotiation of Plan Colombia during the Clinton presidency and continuing through its implementation during the current administration along with the negotiation of a free trade agreement. With respect to Brazil and Argentina, there are serious problems with the policies they have pursued with regard to their support, at times subtle at others open, for the Bolivarian Left in Latin America. The regimes in both countries are indebted to Hugo Chavez for political aid he has given to them, especially so in the case of Argentina which has benefited from Venezuelan oil and gas subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars. This policy goal would force Colombia into the arms of nations who have been either openly or covertly working to tear the country apart. It is further betrayal of a friendly nation that desperately needs American support for the maintenance of its territorial integrity and democratic way of life.

At the very least Christopher Dodd recommends, and we may assume Barack Obama concurs, that the United States should move away from its fifty plus year commitment to support a world order founded upon a uniform system of collective security that likewise would uphold a common standard for human values and continue world economic expansion. And what will replace it? Well; if we examine Dodd's remarks about using "regional trade" carefully, it appears that he favors an order that divides the world into what Euro-Leftists refer to as "Polar Centers of Regional Power," which is the modern expression of what were long called "Spheres of Influence."

The post-World War II world order embodied in the United Nations was created under a common understanding that the system it was to replace had been defined by regional and/or imperial spheres of influence and that universal standards in security, human expression, and economic life had to be the cornerstones of a new world order that would preserve the peace and humankind's future. The Multi-Polarist Synthesis puts this aside in favor of the recognition of "polar centers of power," the origins of which represent a rejection of the tradition of universalism that has formed the underpinning of world order ever since the inception of the U.N. This is not an evolutionary change in world politics and society; it is a fundamental alteration of world order, and we must explain why developed and developing nations other than the United States urge its adoption.

Though many influential factors can be considered as contributing to the development of a Multi-Polarist world order, I believe the most important influence is basic economics. Many of the world's more developed societies have learned that they cannot sustain economic growth in a truly competitive capitalist environment because they have implemented domestic social policies that have stripped capital of its productivity and which leave them lagging behind in the drive to compete in the new global economy. And there are other nations just outside of this group, which would include China and Russia, who both have a very mixed brand of capitalist development but who still fear the political implications of the acceptance of universal values as a development which would create conflicts with their perceived national interests. Multi-Polarism's true origins, especially in its theoretical formulation, lie with the nations of Western Europe, with France and Germany being the best examples, where expensive domestic social programs have raised the cost of employment for business enterprise to a point where the norms for national unemployment begin at a low of ten percent and usually lie somewhere between there and fifteen percent. These are unreasonably high figures that have the potential for creating genuine domestic unrest and have impelled these nations to foreign policies designed to change the rules of the game, rather than addressing these difficulties within their national political systems.

The solution to the problems of sagging economic growth among the developed societies has been one that seeks to define spheres of interest where they can enjoy the non-competitive advantages of trade exclusion that will permit their domestic economies to function without addressing domestic social spending. And there already have been visible examples which show its debilitating effect upon international order. The scramble among major nations for preferential access to Iraqi oil before the Iraq War, with France's TotalFinaElf being the best/worst example, showed that the concerns of upholding standards of international law were meaningless where national economic interest was in play. But there are also other instances that demonstrate this trend, such as the negotiation of exclusive markets in Africa for European "non genetically-modified" grains. You may remember how some European Union members were prepared to let Zambians starve in 2002 to preserve their market for non-genetically altered foods. The universal standards that were embodied in the original formulation of the U.N. charter and the post-World War II international order it created will be relics of the past if Multi-Polarism becomes the accepted basis for the definition of a new world order and we should expect to see more of the same if the United States endorses it, as the Christopher Dodd speech seems to suggest.

Multi-Polarism is true social imperialism that fits Vladimir Lenin's classical definition of Imperialism much more closely than it does the universal model of the post-Second World War order it is intended to replace. It embodies a new order organized to support the twin goals of limiting economic competition between developed nations in favor of the acquisition of exclusive trade access and sacrificing the level of world economic growth developing societies need in favor of a regulated international system that will preserve the social peace that more advanced societies now enjoy at the expense of their less-developed neighbors elsewhere on the globe.

And Multi-Polarism also portends for a dark future for the causes of freedom and democracy for exactly the reasons one can see in the case of Colombia, where a nation struggling to preserve democracy and human freedom is cast aside and told that it must change its ways to accommodate the interests of other regional powers who have supported its destabilization and the weakening of its free democratic society.

When you hear Barack Obama call for direct talks with Chavez and Castro, or when you read Christopher Dodd calling for a movement away from free trade with Latin America, or when you notice that both refuse to recognize and discuss the threats to democracy and freedom the Bolivarian Left present to the region; you have your vision of the future for American foreign policy if the Multi-Polarist Synthesis is adopted, as the Democrats now urge. It is the only framework within which they will be able to promote a social agenda whose spending levels will strip American capital of the productivity that has made the United States the prosperous nation it has been ever since the end of the second world war. And the causes of preserving and supporting democracy and human freedom will be placed at risk as well.

Read More. . . .

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The New Democrat Foreign Policy Agenda for Latin America, Part I: Sacrifice Colombia, Conceal a Crime Against Humanity


Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd

I have a short excerpt to post from a speech Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd gave recently, which I found on the Oppenheimer Report on Latin America blog. Oppenheimer thinks this talk suggests that Dodd may be "running for Secretary of State," and I think I agree. But I also think that Dodd makes a very subtle presentation of what are in fact some major changes in store for U.S. foreign policy in general, and Latin America in particular in this speech, should the Democrats gain control of the White House. I am going to present this analysis in two parts. In the second one I will discuss the "Multi-Polar" synthesis the Democrats are now pushing and its implications for Latin America. But in this first installment, I want to show how the manipulation of public debate so as to conceal from the American people a terrifying reality the Colombians face every day represents, in the aftermath of the decision to prevent a vote on the Free Trade Agreement in Congress, a very subtle twist of the knife in their backs.

Here is the quote:

". . . Colombia still struggles with the demobilization of paramilitaries, impunity and other human rights violations.

It has made progress towards advancing its citizens’ security and establishing the rule of law.

Colombia has faced a 40-year onslaught waged by powerful terrorist organizations bent on destroying the state.

Thousands of citizens were murdered and kidnapped. In one particularly brazen instance, guerillas linked to the Medellin drug cartel laid siege to the Colombian Palace of Justice for 26 hours, and assassinated eleven Supreme Court Justices.

In light of a violent history, and in light of the complex challenges still facing Colombia, it seems to me our narrow focus on a bilateral trade agreements makes little sense. Bilateral trade with the United States is important, but it’s only one element.

“Free Trade” between Colombia and America is not a panacea—we should stop selling it as such.

President Uribe of Colombia has focused his efforts on engaging the United States, but he needs to apply the same energy engaging his neighbors.

President Uribe needs to spend as much time travelling to Argentina, Brazil and other neighbors as frequently as he travels to Washington.

In doing so, he will be forging deeper political, social and economic relationships.

Latin America’s security, and economic future isn’t just tied to bilateral deals with the United States.

Regional trade and political engagement will far better serve everyone’s interests along with independently negotiated and instituted trade deals with the United States. . . ."

Symbolic Communication Among Democrats:  Prevent a Discussion of the FARC

The first thing I noticed about Dodd's comments on Colombia is that he begins with one of those acts of symbolic communication that sends a signal that is mutually understood among partisan allies present that "the party line" will be developed now. Dodd introduces Colombia with a reference to the difficulties the paramilitaries present for the country and then goes on to associate the paramilitary problem with the larger context of violence in Colombia's recent history, which has the effect of proposing that the paras are Colombia's central difficulty, since he only names one other organization through the remainder of his introduction; the Medellin Cartel, who were effectively destroyed by the early 1990's. And following the usual format for policy speeches, it is after his initial presentation of Colombia's problems that Dodd then proceeds to give his recommendations for a proper American foreign policy he feels would address those difficulties. But let's hold off on examining those recommendations for a moment, since I plan to get to them in a second blog, because first I want to focus on the introduction Dodd gave, because what was not said symbolizes the key piece of information he communicated.

Dodd gets all the way through his discussion of Colombia's problems and goes on to make his recommendations for addressing them without once mentioning by name the two thousand pound elephant sitting in the room; the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- the FARC. Later in the speech, after presenting his suggestions for changes in U.S. policy with respect to Colombia, he does refer to them twice, but those two brief references are made completely outside of his introductory analysis of the important issues for Colombia and U.S. foreign policy; they are instead oblique references to the recent border incident with Ecuador and how the crisis was averted through a Colombian apology given within the context of a joint meeting of Latin American leaders.

Dodd's decision to omit any direct reference to the FARC when he presents his brief analysis cannot be considered an accident. One could argue, as I am sure Dodd would, that he at least tangentially includes them when he mentions "powerful terrorist organizations" who are "bent on destroying" Colombia's government. But if they are so powerful and their goals are so terrible, why can Dodd not call them by name? The answer is that he must maintain that crucial symbolic communication to his fellow partisans that there will be no open discussion of the FARC's assault on Colombia's people and institutions because that will draw attention away from the problem of the paramilitaries and undermine the political justification for killing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Christopher Dodd understands what every other partisan opponent of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement shares in common; that they must prevent public discussion of the FARC's activities in Colombia in order to avoid public scrutiny of their decision to kill the agreement. "Keep the focus on the paramilitaries" is the party line read out from the congressional Commissars as they order the invocation of the symbolism of El Salvador in the 1980's, when government-sponsored paramilitary death squads killed thousands, a situation totally unlike the Colombian paras, who were organized outside of government auspices and really represented a popular response in various locales to the inability of the Colombian government to protect them from the depredations of the FARC and other leftist guerrilla groups. The opponents of the Free Trade Agreement cannot let the FARC become part of the public discussion, which amounts to a decision to at least in part conceal the FARC's activities from the American public. That is a political crime, because the FARC are perpetrating what can truly be called a crime against humanity.

Over the past two decades alone the FARC have killed thousands of innocent Colombians in direct attacks and terrorist bombings. They have kidnapped thousands more, some have been released when ransoms were paid, some killed when negotiating terms were not followed, and over 700 still remain in custody. They have laid waste entire sections of the rural countryside which are now virtually uninhabitable due to the FARC's presence. They have forcibly conscripted thousands of young Colombian boys and girls to serve within their ranks, killing many of those who refuse to do so or who merely demonstrate they cannot be trusted. And they have built a narcotics trafficking empire that earns them hundreds of millions of dollars a year and involves them with drug producing and distribution networks that extend everywhere from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and especially Mexico; all of whom have been named in revelations of the FARC's activities. When you add up the sum total of the human suffering the FARC has inflicted and continues to inflict upon human beings, it becomes difficult to deny the truth -- The FARC are currently committing a crime against humanity that involves mass murder, terrorist attacks, kidnapping, extortion, and widespread narcotics trafficking. By comparison, the paramilitaries, who have their own terrible history that mostly predates this decade, are now within a demobilization process monitored by human rights groups -- something else Dodd omitted from his analysis -- and look nowhere nearly so threatening.

Every day in America we live with spin as a fact of political life. It is something we really cannot avoid. But there must be limits to the extent to which spin can take us. The concealment of a crime against humanity is beyond any acceptable limit and anyone who tries to take a discussion of the FARC off the table acts to conceal the crime. Such actions are crimes in and of themselves.


Read More. . . .

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The U.S. Betrayal of Colombia (Translation Included)


A FARC Commander Examines Kidnapped Colombian Hostages at a FARC Concentration Camp in the Colombian Jungle

This post will be the first of several I will make over the next 10 to 14 days on the subject of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement.  I want to begin with my own clear assertion that I am a strong supporter of the agreement on economic, social, political, and national security grounds.  In direct reference to my interests in supporting democracy and human freedom in this blog, I also want to say that I do not believe there is any other piece of impending legislation before the U.S. Congress which could do more to strengthen these twin causes than this proposed free trade agreement.  And I am convinced that there is nothing our Congress could do this year which would result in greater harm to the causes of democracy and freedom in our hemisphere than to fail to pass it.

Colombia:  A True Friend of the United States

The United States has friendly relations with a number of countries in Latin America, but most of those who we could count as "friends" are not among the largest and most powerful nations in the region.  With the exception of Colombia we could include among those whose governments are amicable towards us; Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Peru.  From there we could proceed to Mexico and Chile, two of the more important nations in Latin America, as somewhat neutral in their relations with the United States and who have cemented close commercial ties with us but who also have outstanding differences on issues such as immigration policy, in the case of Mexico, and a perceived American inattention to the problems of international development, with regard to Chile.  Most of the remainder of Latin America has a very negative disposition to the United States, at least in so far as their current regimes express themselves officially, and at least five of these; Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba, probably can be viewed as "enemies" given the public pronouncements of their leaders.  And sitting just outside of that group we would list Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay; not necessarily identifying them as enemies, but perhaps "unfriendly," since these three seem to have much closer relations with the preceding five and they pursue foreign policies that are frequently at odds with our own in the region.

It is within the larger context of an examination of the geopolitical map of Latin America, coupled with a knowledgeable understanding of what is taking place in Colombia and other nearby nations whose ruling regimes are either already under the control of leftist governments usually referred to as "Populist" in their orientation, or supportive of the thrust of populism, that we can best understand what Colombia's true significance to the United States is and why it is important that we pay close attention to what is transpiring there.

Colombia is a genuine democracy that has a truly open, secure ballot where the vote is exercised free of government intimidation; an autonomous press that practices journalism free from government interference, though like Mexico journalists do face threats from drug gangs and narco-guerrillas; a legal system that operates under the principle of equality before the law when given the chance -- it does on occasion face significant intimidation from drug cartels, but its political independence is such that recent indictments have been returned against the family of the Attorney General and even relatives of President Alvaro Uribe; and a growing economy that has moved steadily towards free market reforms that are producing significant economic growth and prosperity for its people.  But Colombia is also a nation under assault from Venezuelan and Ecuadoran-backed narco-guerrillas who have killed thousands and currently hold over 700 Colombian citizens hostage as kidnap victims, which intimidates the government from acting against them, especially where protection of guerrilla-controlled opium poppy and coca fields are at stake.

Hugo Chavez and FARC Commander Ivan Marquez

The significance of Colombia's choice for democracy can best be understood when contrasted with neighboring Venezuela, the nation the American Left seems to love.  In Venezuela electoral intimidation is a regular fact of life, the inflated numbers of voter rolls speak of fraud, fingerprints are taken and time-stamped at the moment votes are cast electronically, permitting a one-to-one correlation of the two, and by prior agreement election observers are not able to examine all aspects of the voting process nor comment upon them officially, only those which the government permits them to see.  Nor can it be said that Venezuela has a truly free press, especially in the opinion of international press associations who have criticized the Chavez government repeatedly for intimidation and restrictions of press freedoms.  The Venezuelan legal system has deteriorated shamefully since Chavez came to office and political prosecutions are becoming more common everyday.  And the economic disruption of Venezuelan life also has been significant; statistics on poverty are suspect to say the least, supermarket shelves are frequently empty leading to occasional mass protests and even riots, the level of corruption in state-owned enterprises has angered even many of Chavez's former supporters, and in the aftermath of recent electoral setbacks Chavez is now moving to create his own personal militia, with legally-sanctioned authority, such as it is.

Chavez's international ties are also a major concern.  He supports the FARC guerrillas with financial aid, military and logistical support, and the facilitation of their drug smuggling operations, the sum total of which amounts to a direct attempt to overthrow the sovereign government of Colombia and which sustains the FARC in their massive kidnapping and extortion operations as well.  Chavez has funneled financial aid to leftist regimes now in power in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.  He is also sending financial aid to the FMLN in El Salvador, to Peruvian militias now organizing in the southern part of the country, and to various leftist groups in Mexico.  Chavez's disruption of Latin American political life is serious and its long-term implications are dangerous for the interests of the United States.

02/04/08: Hundreds of Thousands of Colombians Demonstrate Against the FARC

But there is one nation in the region whose people have decided to stand against Chavez and with the United States; Colombia.  The Colombian government has been fighting drug cartels since the 1980's and left wing guerrilla groups since the 1960's.  Some of the latter, like the FARC, turned to narcotics trafficking in the 1980's which reinvigorated their operations.  The government has also been battling right-wing paramilitaries (the paras) since the 1990's, most of whom have been successfully demobilized though the process is ongoing and worrisome, but continues to be monitored with the participation of international human rights groups, most prominently the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.  The Colombian people have been suffering through all of this, and it is really only since the administration of current President Alvaro Uribe that genuine progress was made in demobilizing the paras and the FARC has been forced to withdraw from many areas where it once moved with impunity.  But through it all Colombia's democracy has remained intact.

So why would the United States, which has provided aid for Colombia in its fight against all these threats and which has seen some tangible results in the ongoing demobilization of the paramilitaries and a reduction in the geographical reach of the FARC and other narco-guerrillas, not finalize the Free Trade Agreement now before the U.S. Congress?  Colombia has shown clearly that it is our friend, its people look to the democratic free market model for development we have urged for Latin America as their preferred choice, and they have suffered tremendous pain over the past few decades dealing with threats that all have either a direct or indirect origin in the American appetite for illegal drugs, which fuels so much of the conflict.  Colombia has also shown a willingness to act in cooperation with international agencies looking to monitor compliance in settling these difficult problems and progress is reported on a continuing basis.  That answer lies within American domestic politics, which I intend to examine more completely in upcoming blogs.  The question I want to address here is the Colombian reaction to the recent decision to postpone, and possibly kill, consideration of the proposed Free Trade Agreement.

A Colombian View of the U.S. Congress's Decision to Shelve the Free Trade Agreement

I am going to post a translation of a Spanish language blog from the Alambre Politico (Political Wire) blog site of the viewpoint expressed by Jorge Pareja, a Colombian blogger from Medellin.  I am putting this up to give American readers an opportunity to see what I consider to be a more honest examination of the merits of the agreement and an expression of the disappointment Colombians feel for its current non-consideration.  Please keep in mind that Colombia is a nation that has suffered enormous pain over the past twenty-five years and Colombians are acutely aware of the geopolitical stakes of the moment and the implications for their future if the close relationship they desire with the United States cannot be finalized.

I also want to make a couple of comments here.  One; Pareja's reference to Lara Bonilla refers to the 1984 assassination of Colombian Minister for Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who was killed on the orders of Medellin cartel chief Pablo Escobar.  Two; contained within this post are quotations from sources originally published in English.  I have only translated directly from the Spanish of the article and given that there are instances in which quotes have been translated twice, their exact wording may differ from what one would find in the original English.


Translation:  The Color of the Glass

President George Bush described Colombia last January 28th as "a friend of the United States who is confronting violence and terror, and is fighting against narcotics traffickers," and he warned the Congress that "if we do not approve this treaty [Free Trade Agreement -FTA-], we will strengthen those who favor false populism in our hemisphere.  The way in which we must come together, is to approve this treaty and show our neighbors in the region that Democracy brings a better life."  The U.S.-Colombia FTA would be the last of a series of treaties -- negotiated by the Bush administration -- with five countries of Central America, the Dominican Republic, Chile and Peru.

The problem is that already on the 29th of June, 2007, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and other leaders of the Democratic Party had announced their opposition to the FTA with Colombia.  With respect to the treaty they protested:  "There exists a generalized worry in the Congress for the level of violence in Colombia, the impunity, the lack of investigations and judgments, and the role of the paramilitaries . . . we consider that, concrete proofs of sustainable results in Colombia should be included, the members of the Congress will continue working with all the interested parties to reach this objective before considering any FTA.  As a consequence, we cannot support the FTA with Colombia at this moment."

Daniel T. Griswold and Juan Carlos Hidalgo, who carried out a study for the CATO Institute entitled:  "A U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement:  Strengthening Democracy and Progress in Latin America," instruct us in this respect:  "The labor organizations of the United States, especially the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations -- AFL-CIO by its acronym in English -- a key voting bloc of the Democratic Party, made the defeat of the treaty with Colombia one of its main political goals."  Why?

They are manipulating information and for that reason it is serious, according to the comment of the researchers:  "The AFL-CIO cites the number of the 2,245 union members killed in Colombia since 1991 as the central argument against the approval of the free trade agreement.  But the greater part of the killings occurred at the beginning of the period considered, since more than four out of five killings happened before Uribe took office -- the AFL-CIO accepts a nosedive of nearly 90% in killings of union members during Uribe's administration.  Instead of recognizing the merits of Uribe in the drastic decline of the crimes, the AFL-CIO insists on sanctioning the sitting president, and those who elected him, for the failures of previous governments."  "The color of the glass," through which they are able to manipulate statistics in such a way as to reach an objective.  And they are achieving it!

The saying is that everything has "the color of the glass" through which it is viewed.  Today, with the freezing of the FTA in the North American Congress this popular saying is more valid than ever because each one of the players in the process has an extreme opinion on the subject, pitifully they have used Colombia as the first victim of the North American electoral process.  Today we can say that the FTA is dying.  And lamentably Colombia really needs it.

What moves Colombia to look with despair for the approval of the FTA?  With things being as they are, is the United States sending a negative message to Colombia?

Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Editor of the Wall Street Journal's "Americas" column, at the end of 2007 presented us with a revealing interview with Luis Guillermo Plata, Colombia's Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.  In this interview the excellent Colombian Minister instructs us on the Irish model and on how the government's team has outlined this course for Colombia.  Let's take a look:

Luis Guillermo Plata spoke about the transformation of the Irish economy, of how it passed from being "the poor ugly duckling to the beautiful swan of Europe in just two decades," and how a "similar model of growth is just what Colombia needs."

The minister said to Mrs. O'Grady:  ". . . We began traveling to Ireland years ago, because we were looking at those countries in the world that have been successful in attracting direct foreign investment.  What we discovered was that Ireland reduced its corporate taxes from 40% to 12.5% and as a result began attracting investment; it had reduced the advantage of tax evasion and incremented tax collections.  We returned to Colombia and we said "why should we not reduce (our corporate taxes) from 38% to 12.5%?

Mrs. O'Grady continues:  "In a perfect world, he would have obtained a fixed corporate rate.  But he had to arrive at compromises and, in its place, the "singular free enterprise zone" was what he got.  The initiative extends the low tax rate to companies located within the "free zone," usually an industrial park, to any company that fulfills certain investment criteria.  Companies -- excluding those involved in mining and petroleum -- who qualify by fulfilling the minimum investment objectives and commit themselves to fulfilling certain employment goals will then pay a fixed tax of 15% instead of 33%.  Also, they import all raw materials without tariffs and they do not pay the value added tax.  Besides offering these tax advantages, the government is doing "stability contracts" to guarantee that the rules of the game are not going to change with the next president.  They are also working to reduce the regulatory load, since bureaucratic obstacles are one of the most common complaints of foreign investors."

The Minister contributes this important reflection:  "In 2006, American official aid for development, destined to alleviate poverty in the world, was US $23.5 billion and was a waste of money.  That is because development requires economic liberalization, and the leaders of the poor countries have few incentives to disturb the status quo of monopolies and protectionism that placed them in power . . . Colombia appears on this scene with a leader, President Alvaro Uribe, who is prepared to risk political capital to open domestic markets, to trim taxes and to push competition ahead on a track to fast growth in the Irish style."  "The only thing that his government requests of Washington is bilateral commerce," the journalist finishes.

The FTA, Minister Plata asserted, is as important for the growth of Colombia as entrance to the European Union had been for Ireland:  "That is the reason for which the FTA is so important . . . companies that invest in Colombia are looking beyond the domestic market and the recent dispute with Venezuela in which President Hugo Chavez threatened the closing of the border demonstrates the fragility of the Colombian export market.  Around half of Colombian exports at the moment go to Venezuela and Ecuador.  Having access to the American market and duty free imports originating in the U.S.A. are crucial questions for producers."  It cannot be seen more clearly, this is "the color of the glass."  We truly need this treaty.

We return to Daniel T. Griswold and Juan Carlos Hidalgo, the CATO Institute researchers, who with sufficient arguments demonstrated to us the benefits that the United States would obtain with the FTA:  "The Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is designed to strengthen the civil society of Colombia and, at the same time, to generate economic opportunities so that U.S. producers sell their products to 44 million Colombian consumers, who would enjoy an upward mobility and would have a positive view of the United States.  Like other similar treaties the United States already negotiated in the region, this one would demolish barriers to American exports.  More than 80% of U.S. exports to Colombia are of products destined for industry that would become duty free to those consumers if the treaty were promulgated, and the remaining tariffs would be eliminated progressively throughout the next ten years.  For agricultural producers of the United States, the FTA would allow duty free immediate access for high quality beef, cotton, wheat, soybean flour and most fruits and vegetables -- like apples, pears, peaches and cherries -- and many processed foods, like potato chips and crackers.  The treaty would improve the sale of exports of pork, beef, corn, fowl, rice and dairy products."

But the benefits do not end there:  In addition, "The FTA would strengthen protection of investments of American companies who are trying to reach Colombian consumers by means of a direct presence.  The treaty would guarantee the nondiscriminatory rights to U.S. companies in their presentation of bids to obtain contracts with a great variety of ministries, governmental bodies, and regional governments of Colombia, as well as better access for American suppliers of telecommunications services.  This FTA surpasses other bilateral treaties in order to satisfy the ever changing demands of the critics of trade treaties concerning the fulfillment of certain labor and environmental norms within Colombia."

"A study made in December of 2006 by the International Trade Commission of the United States considered that the treaty would increase American exports by 1.1 billion dollars.  Since Colombian exporters already enjoy a virtually duty free access to the market of the United States, a trade treaty would allow the equality of conditions that trade skeptics do not cease demanding . . . Because U.S. tariffs already are low or null for the majority of imports originating in Colombia, the treaty would not have to generate the opposition of local special interests. . . ."

". . . Bilateral trade between Colombia and the United States grew to 15.9 billion dollars in 2006 and is on track to surpass 17 billion in 2007.  This value is similar to the bilateral trade with Chile, another country with whom a FTA exists, and almost double the trade with Peru, which became a trade associate in 2007."  The truth, I think, is that we only can find ourselves in this situation for reasons of squalid political motivations, lamentably they chose us, the country that least deserves this treatment.

Well now, in a zone plagued by populist governments, with a leader who has won a place for himself thanks to an expansionist eagerness patronized with petrodollars, we do not understand how the United States would try to throw away Colombia, which is the only country that has put up a defensive wall against the growth of this socialist and anti-North American fever.  What an unfortunate message this is sending to the region!  With respect to this matter our friends at the CATO Institute pronounce themselves:  "The importance of Colombia has grown in the last few years owing to the ideological battle that we are waging in the Andean region.  With the coming to power of presidents of the populist left in South America, President Uribe represents the closest ally of the United States in Latin America."

Yes, Bush is totally right when he says: [ Colombia is ] "a friend of the United States who faces violence and terror, and fights against narcotics traffickers," that is certain, because a serious North American problem that we have faced bravely is drug trafficking.  It is estimated that 90% of powdered cocaine that is consumed in the United States comes from Colombia.  This represents a multimillion dollar business that illegal armed groups have been exploiting for more than one decade, and we have paid for it with deaths.

Compared with the United States, Colombia has compiled a relatively recent gangster history and we were released into the front lines of the war on narcotics trafficking very rapidly, it could be said from the murder of Minister Lara Bonilla.  Whatever tragedies have followed from that time, however many dead we have put away since then, however many generations of the young have been failed, whatever territorial wars we have had to overcome on account of armed groups fed by drug trafficking, it is all fed on an unbridled consumption in the "developed world."

Each North American who decides to consume drugs does so individually and they are far and away the world's major consumers, but they are imposing this war on us, which did not belong to us, because of "Say's Law," which says "all supply creates its own demand" and which is now in the process of being totally reevaluated, as we are sure that for the consumption of drugs "all demand creates its own supply."  From this point of view: if we managed to defeat drug trafficking and stopped being the world's leading producers, logically the business would be transferred to another country, probably in South America, because it is completely certain that they will continue being the world's major consumers and someone is going to produce drugs for them.

Peru, Mexico, Chile and Central America have free trade agreements with the U.S.A., which means that Colombia is automatically left at a disadvantage with the negation of our agreement.  We asked ourselves: Have they made Peru, Mexico, Chile and Central America more deserving to gain admittance to the FTA?  How many more deaths have these countries suffered in the war on drugs?  What iron positions have they taken in defense of the American people?  Which country, aside from Colombia, has been in the lead in restraining the expansionist plans of Hugo Chavez and his "Socialism of the 21st Century?"  Perhaps they do not realize that we are their last friend in a region of enemies?  Our people are not Bush's allies.  Our people are allies of the American people!  It is sad to see what they have done on the subject of the FTA.  But, President Uribe already made clear that the relationship with the United States would be affected if the FTA is rejected, during a visit to Washington, he said that Colombia will not be part of "a relationship in which the United States is the master and Colombia is the slave."

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, was incisive in saying:  "If the United States gives it back to Colombia, the misfortune that we would suffer would be greater than that which no Latin American dictator could aspire to obtain."  As for me, I totally share the main conclusion of the CATO Institute in the study in question:  "To approve a free trade agreement with Colombia is to support a free market democracy in a region in which liberal values are in danger, it is being a reliable partner in turbulent times.  To reject a free trade agreement with Colombia due to the persistent violence that country suffers would be an irresponsible error of the Congress.  It would imply sacrificing our national interest in a stable hemisphere and prosperous Pacific in favor of ideological interests and partisan shortcomings of perspective."

Jorge Pareja

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Mexico Update 2:  Mexican Senate Threatens Mexico City Governor with Removal if Federal District Security is Ignored


Marcelo Ebrard (PRD), Governor of the Federal District

Today in Mexico City the Senate of the Congress of the Union demanded of Mexico City's Federal District Governor Marcelo Ebrard, who is a member of Lopez Obrador's PRD Party, that he do more to ensure that security on the legislative grounds in the suburb of San Lazaro is maintained or they may act under provisions of the Mexican constitution to remove him from office.

To quote a small translated excerpt from an article at the La Crónica de Hoy (Mexico City) website:

". . . Unanimously and amidst applause - only PAN, PRI, and Ecologist Green party members were present -- the Senate approved a motion in which it also requests guarantees from "the federal authority" of order within the facilities of the Senate. In referring to the head of [the Federal District] Government, the Secretary of Directive Desk read several portions of Article 67 of the Statute of Government of the Federal District during the session, that speak to the powers of the Senate to remove the capital governor. . . ."

The PAN Party President of the Directive Desk, Senator Santiago Creel, denounced "the violence that is manifested in the circle imposed [on the legislative grounds] with the object of preventing the Senate from fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities."

Ebrard's office responded saying that the problems are within the Senate and not outside of it, claiming that the Federal District government had guaranteed their safety.

As for my personal comment, it appears to me that today's action on the part of the Mexican Senate represents a warning to the Federal District government that the national government will not permit a repeat of what happened in the summer of 2006, when then Mexico City Federal District Governor and Lopez Obrador supporter Alejandro Encinas provided protection for a PRD-led protest that shut down the center of the city and sustained Lopez Obrador's threats to the national government. Removing Ebrard would be a serious action, and many within the Mexican Left might take it as a "provocation" leading them to call for mass action, but the lines are being drawn nonetheless. This could become very serious, though the recent record of the PRD's opponents shows that patience has been their modus operandi, given that the PRD has suffered according to all indexes of public opinion, and electoral returns, since their 2006 protest.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mexico Update:  PAN & PRI Legislators Will Hold Legislative Sessions With or Without PRD


The Mexican Chamber of Deputies in Alternative Session Today in Mexico City

As the takeover of the upper and lower chambers of the Mexican Congress by the leftist "Broad Progressive Front" (FAP) continues today, legislators of the PAN (National Action Party), PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), and PVEM (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico) have joined together and decided to hold legislative sessions in alternative chambers on the grounds of the national Congress in the San Lazaro suburb of Mexico City. Their immediate order of business was to grant legislative approval of President Felipe Calderon's upcoming visit to New Orleans later this month to meet with North American leaders. The legislators are also prepared to hold a second alternative session to receive the President of India, Pratibha Devising, if the takeover of the main legislative chambers does not end. The President of the Directive Desk of the Chamber of Deputies, PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) member Ruth Zavaleta, denounced the decision to hold the alternative session in the early morning hours today in a nearby auditorium chamber and evidently was not pleased that the legislators who assembled began without waiting for her to arrive as titular head of the lower chamber.

There have been talks aimed at bringing the takeover to an end, which have focused upon the FAP's insistence that a four month debate on Calderon's energy reform proposal be held before it comes to a vote. The PRI has offered a compromise proposal that would set aside a 50 day period for a debate that primarily would be held in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, which the PAN Party accepted and the FAP rejected. So the takeover of the upper and lower chambers of Mexico's Congress continues, though all official business has not stopped and the prospect that everyone but the FAP may be able to come together legally to do the nation's legislative work without the left participating is growing.

Meanwhile; as if this is not enough, the PRD's problems with resolving the national election of a new party president that was held on March 16 but which is still unresolved, persists as a nation-wide recount continues. And it is very difficult to tell exactly who is winning or if the irregularities are so large that no one can know. Some early reports of the counting results from within the PRD suggested Jesus Ortega, who represents the Nueva Izquierda faction that is most closely aligned with PRD founder and Lopez Obrador critic Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, might be the winner. His primary opponent Alejandro Encinas, the ex-Governor of the Federal District and close ally of Lopez Obrador, may actually have been ahead by a very slight margin in the votes counted, but that is the problem. It has been one month since the national vote, the ballots are still not all counted, and apparently the internal party commission that has the duty of counting them either cannot or will not finish. Today Ortega went before the nation's highest electoral court to demand a non-extendable deadline of 48 hours for the PRD's commission to finish the vote count so that whichever candidate loses will have the option of pursuing a legal challenge to the result, which might suggest that Ortega expects to finish second except that he and others are accusing Encinas of preventing a completion of the vote count. Ortega also released a video on TV showing irregularities in the campaign, including the intervention of Lopez Obrador on behalf of Encinas, something AMLO is forbidden from doing under Mexican electoral law. And Cuauhtemoc Cardenas stated that he believes the election may have to be annulled -- this will mean a second nation-wide vote if it happens -- because of the failure to get the votes counted. Cardenas also commented on the resignation of two very prominent party leaders, Arturo Nuñez and Edmundo Cancino, from the party's electoral commission as demonstrating the unlikelihood of finishing the counting successfully. Nuñez and Cancino's resignations appear to be in response to an Encinas-backed effort to have contested ballots resolved by a PRD committee whose responsibilities lie outside the handling of vote counting, which Ortega believes would be a way to fix the vote in favor of Encinas. The PRD is a very divided party at this moment and about the only thing that seems to be holding it together is its near unanimous opposition to Calderon's energy reform. Were it not for this issue, control over the party may have slipped away from Lopez Obrador altogether.

Whatever else one may think of Mexican politics, it is definitely not boring. Chaotic? Yes; but never boring.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Immiseration as Political Strategy:  "Ungovernability" and the Mexican Left


The Frente Amplio Progresista Seizes the Mexican Senate

The Current Shutdown of the Mexican Congress

As I write, the Mexican Congress is now shut down and unable to conduct normal business owing to the fact that representatives of the Mexican Left, dominated by the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), though organized in coalition with other smaller parties as the Frente Amplio Progresista (Broad Progressive Front) have seized control of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and are holding them in an effort to prevent the consideration of President Felipe Calderon's energy reform proposals designed to improve the Mexican state-owned oil industry through semi-privatization and administrative change. The deputies have vowed not to permit the business of the chamber to resume unless consideration of the reform is either scrapped altogether, which is their true goal, or postponed until August permitting a "national debate" in the meantime, the outlines of which are still vague and uncertain.

Partisan Political Background of the Current Controversy

It has happened before in recent Mexican political history.

Following the disputed presidential election of July, 2006 Mexico's PRD party (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and its allies shut down the nation's capital, Mexico City, for about six weeks, causing a complete disruption of political, economic, and civic life as protest encampments were erected in the city's center in late July and maintained there until mid-September while the PRD's candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador demanded a national hand recount of all 40 million plus ballots cast in the election. Then, immediately following the decision of Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal to name the candidate of the PAN Party (National Action Party), Felipe Calderon, as winner of the presidential election after a partial recount showed no significant reduction in his margin of victory, Lopez Obrador summoned a "Democratic National Convention" to meet in Mexico City in mid-September. This time the goal was to prevent the investiture of Felipe Calderon as President. The convention, whose delegates represented the various leftist Mexican parties, met in Mexico City in mid-September and made the not so surprising decision to name Lopez Obrador as "Legitimate President" of Mexico and to promote continued civil resistance to make it impossible for Calderon to assume office. As the December 1 date of investiture approached, congressional representatives of the PAN Party, anticipating that PRD legislators would seize the rostrum of the Congress as they had done in September to prevent then President Vicente Fox from delivering his annual report to the Mexican people, forcefully took control of the chamber to stop the PRD from making good on Lopez Obrador's threat to prevent a constitutional ceremony from taking place which was a necessary preparation for Calderon's investiture of office. The situation deteriorated into a controlled brawl with the PAN deputies winning in the early rounds owing to their numbers and unanimous action. The resolute actions of the PAN legislators did enable Calderon to assume office on December 1st, though Lopez Obrador and many of his supporters continue to claim that he is the "Legitimate President" of the country and their disruptive political tactics have continued, though at a reduced pace.

Nov. 2006: PAN Deputy Fights to Prevent PRD Deputies from Taking Rostrum

While all the above-mentioned disruption continued in Mexico City, a second and potentially more dangerous leftist mobilization in the southern state of Oaxaca brought the entire region to a standstill and only became related directly to Lopez Obrador's protest after the latter moved to reject the presidential election results. A teachers strike that began in May, 2006 against Oaxacan Governor Ulises Ruiz of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), whose resignation they demanded, transformed itself into a full-fledged shutdown of the capital city of Oaxaca and, as it wore on for months afterwards, of most of the state, with the key event being a botched crackdown on the demonstrators Ruiz attempted in June. The protesters formed a new organization known as APPO, acronym for the "Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca" as it is named in the original Spanish. APPO practically controlled the city of Oaxaca and much of the rest of the state from June through November of 2006. They forcibly seized local radio stations, permitting no competing sources of information from public broadcasts and they intimidated local newspapers. They virtually shut down the state and local governments, whose exercise of public responsibility already had been hindered by the bumbling and violent attempts of Ruiz to attack isolated APPO protesters, which resulted in several deaths. Commerce within the city of Oaxaca and its surrounding areas came to almost a complete standstill, even the tourist income from the Guelaguetza folk festival that is so important to the local economy disappeared when APPO declared a boycott of the event, which they enforced with a blockade of the auditorium where the event was held. After the protest became increasingly violent in late October and information began to surface from Mexican intelligence sources that the Bolivarian Left was bringing Venezuelan support to the aid of the APPO shutdown of the state, President Vicente Fox ordered the Mexican Federal Preventive Police to retake the city, which some 3,000 of its agents did on October 29 using armored cars and tear gas in the face of Molotov cocktails, burning barricades and vehicles, and more. Eventually, many of the protesters were arrested for various crimes and the PRD picked up the defense expenses of APPO leader Flavio Sosa, though he was still convicted and is now serving time in a Mexican jail.

Oct. 2006: Appistas Prepare Molotov Cocktails in Oaxaca

Oct. 2006: Mexican Federal Police Advance in Oaxaca City

Immiseration through Ungovernability

The political crises of the second half of the year 2006 in Mexico resulted in either the radicalization of Mexican leftists who previously had supported the country's political institutions, or they merely made the Mexican Left's true radical nature more visible, depending upon one's individual point of view. But whether we explain the recent radicalism of the Left in Mexico in static or dynamic terms, the real-world results of their protests are undeniable. The Mexican Left uses protest mobilization to promote the "Ungovernability" of the country as a political tactic designed to intimidate its opposition. This is not simply an outside analysis of the process. Mexican leftists use the word themselves, as one APPO leader stated in November, 2006: "The proposal is to demonstrate that there is no governability." In the post-election protests surrounding the shutdown of Mexico City's central business district from late July through September, 2006; businesses in the area suffered substantial losses, their employees went without jobs and income, which forced many to move to lesser-status work, tourism came to a virtual standstill, city services were disrupted, and transport through the city was most adversely affected. During the APPO shutdown of Oaxaca, local businesses also suffered, some of whom had their capital goods destroyed outright because APPO protesters did not find them particularly sympathetic, public buses and private vehicles were destroyed, tourism stopped completely during its most important season for the local economy, schools were closed for months, and the seizure of state and local government offices brought almost all public governance to a halt. "Ungovernability" means exactly what the name implies, that the country -- or state, town, whatever -- will be made "ungovernable," and this is exactly what was achieved.

It is important to note that "Ungovernability" is a form of civil resistance which, while not always passive, nonetheless does not propose terror as a means of achieving leftist ends. But in spite of the fact that leftist bloggers and ideologues in the U.S., Western Europe, and elsewhere have attempted to cast the PRD and APPO protests as continuing the great traditions of passive civil resistance which can be highlighted in the legacies of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., the differences in both methods and goals are more striking than the similarities. The great passive civil resistance movements for Indian independence and the realization of racial equality in the United States were founded upon the application of a method of individual self-sacrifice en masse, as protesters either demonstrated a willingness to surrender their personal liberty or actually gave it up when the police authority of the state took them into custody. The civil resistance of "Ungovernability" is only similar in that it does mobilize protesters en masse, but it seeks to concentrate them in a way that prevents the state from acting to remove them, thus there is no self-sacrifice beyond the inconvenience of attending the protest, and even in some of those cases, such as the specific instance of the manning of the protest encampments in Mexico City in the summer of 2006, demonstrators are paid salaries to keep them on the scene. And the goals are also distinct. In the protest movements Ghandi and King led, the specific outcome desired was the moral conversion of their opponents as the self-evident justification of the protest cause would become increasingly undeniable. "Ungovernability" has no moral goal in mind, its purpose is to make life for others so miserable that they face no other alternative than to act as desired. The passive resistance of Ghandi and King sought the subjective outcome of internal conversion, the civil resistance of "Ungovernability" seeks to force the objective calculation that the costs of opposition are so great in terms of human misery that they are far less preferable than the benefits of accommodation to the protest. As a tactic, "Ungovernability" promotes a strategy of successfully achieving political goals through the Immiseration of the population at large, forcing them to suffer the consequences of opposition.

What the Left in Mexico has decided is that it must be willing to destroy Mexico in order to save it.

The PAN Party's Attempts to Reform Mexico

Ever since Vicente Fox's historic election as President of Mexico in 2000, his PAN Party has attempted to modernize Mexico, but the pace of results has been slow. Fox did get some important financial sector reforms through the Mexican Congress early in his administration and the negative GDP and high inflation rates of the previous decade were reversed and brought under control. But there has been significant resistance to attempts to modernize the various state monopolies, such as those governing oil and public electricity, each of which still operates under antiquated organizational structures that date back to the six decades of rule by the PRI who, in spite of their penchant for using the revolutionary rhetoric of the Left, actually created a corporate state that submerged political tensions through common interest group representation. But giving every interest group a slice of the pie meant that you gave out jobs as political favors in the state-run monopolies and the consequences facing the country today in cost overruns and inefficiency are serious in both the electrical and petroleum sectors of Mexican industry. The need to modernize the oil industry is especially telling, since outright volume of oil production has been decreasing since 2004 and the country's need for access to foreign technical expertise to modernize its energy sector is severe, since nationalized oil reserves form the basis for a significant part of the Mexican federal government's income. But the Mexican Left will not admit of any justification for privatization and, for that reason, it is now determined to disrupt Mexico's political and governmental life in any way possible so as to prevent the adoption and implementation of Felipe Calderon's energy reform proposals.

One must keep in mind that the consequences of a failure to modernize the Mexican petroleum industry are well understood among the Mexican Left. They are in fact an essential part of their calculations. "Immiseration" is a strategy that does not admit of a need to alleviate suffering as an impetus for building political consensus. Rather; it imposes suffering so as to force compliance with a non-negotiable political program.


Some Research Notes:  Between July, 2006 and January, 2007 I concentrated on coverage of the political crises in Mexico arising from the disputed presidential election and the APPO protest within my capacity as a contributor to the News/Activism forum at Free Republic. I translated a large number of news articles from the Mexican press and elsewhere in Latin America from the original Spanish into English and posted them within the forum to expand news coverage beyond the English-only American media. At this first link you will find some 51 news articles covering the post-election controversy I translated for the forum indexed. At this second link you will find some 19 news articles covering the APPO-Oaxacan controversy translations indexed. There are perhaps two or three articles common to both lists. These articles form a significant part of factual information I have cited in my blog and if anyone feels they need a specific reference they may post a comment and I'll try to get to it. And at this third link you will find a full list of all my translations for Free Republic, which include both previous references and contains more than just my translations from Spanish. You will see I have also done some work monitoring Hugo Chavez, the FARC, Evo Morales, and more.

For those of you who read Spanish and are interested in following the Left in Mexico, I strongly recommend Andre Lopez Rivas's Mexico En Peligro Blog, which contains a wonderful archive of Spanish language newspaper and magazine articles posted, along with the occasional comments by the blogger himself. I regard this as a most essential resource, one which I have used extensively in my online research into the Left in Mexico.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

What Happened on April 11, 2002?  Martha Colmenares Gives the Opposition's Version of Events (Translation)


Venezuelan Dissident and Human Rights Activist Martha Colmenares

I am awaiting news of the demonstration today in Caracas that will commemorate the events of the protest march of April 11, 2002 against Hugo Chavez's politicization of the state-owned Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, in which some 19 demonstrators were killed and an additional 150 were wounded when paramilitary and military forces opened fire on them. This sad event, whose official story is only referred to obliquely within the Chavez-controlled Venezuelan government, has become a rallying point for the Venezuelan opposition, which demands a full investigation into what happened and insists that the government's refusal to give them one represents a cover-up of an official order to "shoot to kill" demonstrators for their opposition to Chavez.

Before I get that news, I think it might be useful to post a translation of a statement of one member of the Chavez opposition, Martha Colmenares, which was published on the Diario de América web site on April 4. There is much about Martha Colmenares that is worth knowing. Not only has she done a lot to inform the world outside of Venezuela, and even within it, about what the realities of life under Chavez truly are, she has also done some very notable work on behalf of political prisoners in Venezuela, Cuba, and elsewhere. I'm going to tell her story in more detail when I have time, but for now I simply want to get this translation up for everyone to see the version of the Venezuelan opposition as to what really happened on that terrible day in Venezuelan history.

And just to state my own take on all of this, I am convinced that the informed history we will see after Chavez will bear out the facts as Martha Colmenares presents them.

My personal notes: The "4th of February" coup you will see referenced in Martha Colmenares' statement refers to a February 4, 1992 coup attempt involving Hugo Chavez and other Venezuelan military officers. Also, Pedro Carmona was the interim President of Venezuela for about 36 hours from April 12-13, 2002 during the tumultous events surrounding this story.


Translation: April 11, 2002:  Day of Slaughter in Venezuela


Chavez: ". . . stained with the blood of Venezuelans." The ex-coup participant of the 4th of February [1992], F. Arias Cardenas, said it. In spite of that, years later he was named Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN by Chavez.

April 11, 2002:  Day of Slaughter in Venezuela

I need to do a retrospective of the events of April, 2002, to undo that lie that Chavez usually ends up imposing. It is a fiction of the type that is easier to believe than the reality. For those who do not know democracy as Venezuelans know it, and suffer from it, Hugo Chavez is nothing more than a lying, rustic tropical dictator.

By Martha Colmenares

The alleged coup d'etat in April, 2002 began when the Venezuelan people were provoked to defend the professional model of the industrial oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA.

That provocation consisted of the dismissal of its professional employees, all those who were resisting the politicization of the state-owned oil company, on the Sunday before the massacre. The greater impudence came years later, when in a recent speech before the National Assembly, he recognized provoking the confrontation because it was necessary.

The strategy was that in the foreseeable national reaction, the professionals in the industry would protest, which would identify them, assisting the subsequent purge, or "political cleansing."

On consecutive occasions the Venezuelan government has provoked people (and even institutions!) with insults that they are obstacles to reaching and enjoying the absolute power about which they obsess. Lamentably, the provocation is effective because this way it forces people to act inopportunely, while Chávez is completely prepared to distort and to manipulate the interpretations of events, and thus always wins.

As demonstrators who subscribed [to a common goal], we found ourselves within a march of more than one million two hundred thousand people, in exceptional places, by reason of which we can affirm with the authority of eyewitnesses present, how armed paramilitary groups sympathetic to the government of Hugo Chavez, as well as the military, were slaughtering the demonstrators.

What resulted were 19 dead and hundreds of gravely wounded, while the government impeded people from knowing what was in fact happening, forcing a joint television transmission on national "chains," of a historically insipid address of President Chavez, which left it very clear that he was simply killing time while the slaughter occurred.

The confusion of the day began when the slaughter of the demonstrators was not carried out on the scale which the regime attempted, but that on the contrary, military men of the highest confidence of the President, such as General Rosendo, disobeyed orders to slaughter the demonstrators. The series of facts of that day is so detailed, that its dispassionate chronicle is unbelievable:

At night, the only side that managed to move military tanks to the street was the pro-government side, which was under the control, as would be known much later, of the Minister of Defense, General Jorge Luis Garcia Carneiro, who took a detachment of tanks to protect the seat of government, the Miraflores Palace.

Later around midnight, the day of the 12th, it was also released on national broadcast "chains" before the world, that General Lucas Rincon Romero, was accompanied by the High Command to announce that Chavez had resigned, and they thus said:

"The members of the Military High Command of the National Armed Forces of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela deplore the lamentable events that happened in the capital city yesterday. Facing such facts it has requested, of the President, the resignation from his duties, which he accepted."  (Translator's Note: This is on the 2nd video on this page at

Pay attention that he [Chavez] was never called to make a statement and at that moment enjoyed the sanctuary of an embassy.

Nevertheless, the implosion of the regime was such that the President was negotiating through the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference the delivery of power to the military in rebellion. In rebellion, yes, but in *passive* rebellion refusing to accept the genocidal orders of the regime. Almost immediately, the political facts which followed led to a scramble for power in the high spheres and the resulting unconstitutional decree emanating from Pedro Carmona. What happened was that the same military officers who, with their ascendancy over the armed forces, managed to depose tyranny, doubtlessly gave it back safe and sound to Hugo Chavez.

As you may appreciate, Hugo Chavez was not killed in custody of the military which disobeyed his order to slaughter the demonstrators. He was not tortured, he was not beaten, nothing! He was only under custody, and he was given back the presidency being respected in his physical integrity at every moment.

Most atypical for a supposed coup d'etat ... How I would like Chavez to respect the physical integrity of his political prisoners in the way the supposed coup participants respected his!

A little afterwards, the very same Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), literally filled with Chavistas, which is to say, mediocre jurists who came to the Supreme Court of Venezuela only because they were considered pieces of officialdom, absolved the military who disobeyed [the order to] slaughter from accusations of coup participation.

And fully enjoying absolute power, Chavez successively named his great latecomers Lucas Rincon and Garcia Carneiro as ministers; dismantling the Supreme Court with jurists who were even more mediocre, but more loyal to his regime, dismantling other institutions like the National Electoral Council (CNE).

Also, he purged the armed forces of institutionally experienced officials, he destroyed the Metropolitain Police of Caracas, he jailed the commissioners (Simonovis, Forero, Vivas) and the policemen who defended us at the march, and of course, he began the dismantling of the professional petroleum industry, substituting it with the "red, pink" PDVSA of today.

[What is] very significant, the statements in an interview, as a result of these deeds, on the part of the ex-coup participant of the 4th of February [1992], Francisco Arias Cardenas, who would later become during his years in government, the Ambassador of Venezuela to the UN: "Chavez: a murderer stained with the blood of Venezuelans." (Note: This statement is visible at this page on

The only coup d'etats in the last 40 years of the history of Venezuela have Hugo Chavez as protagonist: the military coups of February and November of 1992 against a legitimately constituted government.


You will also find this article referenced at this page on

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Venezuelan Columnist Teodoro Petkoff on Nationalization

Miguel over at The Devil's Excrement has posted an excellent editorial by Tal Cual (Caracas) columnist Teodoro Petkoff (learn to remember that name if this is the first you've heard it) on the unbelievable levels of public corruption reached in Chavez's nationalization of Electricidad de Caracas.

Check out What is strong is the looting.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

March in Caracas Friday: Remember 11 April 2002

One of the most heartbreaking events of recent Venezuelan history was the "April 11 Massacre" in Caracas on April 11, 2002, in which some 19 protestors marching against Hugo Chavez were killed and about 150 more wounded. It remains a difficult story to tell because Chavez has never permitted an open investigation into the matter, which leaves popular discussion exactly where he wants it -- his version versus our version.

Tomorrow there will be a march in Caracas to commemorate the sad event organized by the "11 Group" (Grupo 11), who have been working to get the story told and charges pressed against whoever is responsible.

I'm translating and posting an announcement of the march now up in at


Translation: 11 Group, For the Victims of April 11th, Crystal Park, this 4/11

The 11 Group, "We Want to Know," this Friday 11 April 2008, will be present in Crystal Park [Parque Cristal], at the Monument of the Fallen, [Monumento de los Caidos] the Great Woods [Los Palos Grandes] at 7 p.m. (after concentrating in Brion Plaza gathered in line at 4 p.m.). One more time, as on every 11th of the month, having [continued for] 1 year and five months, to honor the memory of all those who were killed in that glorious peaceful march that was converted into a massacre the 11th of April, 2002. There were 19 people killed and more than 150 injured by bullets, and at present no one is held either responsible, convicted, or judged, impartially and objectively, for either the dead or the wounded. For this charge we demand justice, the commitment of this group, the day of the 11th, as an emblem of the crimes, political prisoners and politically persecuted since 1999 and against terrorism. It is Forbidden to Forget! . . .

Among the gravely wounded, a dear friend, Malvina Pesate. A bullet hit her cheek destroying the bones of her face, without even having an open investigation to determine the causes of her serious injury, these days thanks to God she has recovered.

After the 11th of April, 2002, a purge unleashed the armed forces from institutionalized officials, it destroyed the Metropolitan Police of Caracas, imprisoning its Commissioners (Simonovis, Forero, Vivas) and the police who had defended us, and of course, began the dismantling of the professional oil industry substituting it with the "red" PDVSA of today and with that, thousands of employees were dismissed.

(After the concentration in Brion Plaza which gathers in line at 4 p.m.)

[The march] will proceed to the floral offering and the traditional minute of silence summoned by the directors and founding members: Luis Semprum, Maria Eugenia Fossi, Irma Gonzalez and whoever signs up. Accompanied by the brave founders, among whom Adela and Antonio Riso, Noel Leal, are our collaborating friends and relatives of some of the victims.

Day: Friday 11 April 2008
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Monumento de los Caídos del 11A, In front of Parque Cristal, Los Palos Grandes

Our Motto: "The Desire of Freedom through Truth." Los Peones Negros

For the 11 Group
Martha Colmenares

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Bolivian Senate President Accuses Hugo Chavez of Interference


Bolivian Senate President Oscar Ortiz in Lima Earlier This Week

For anyone who has not been paying attention, recent events in Bolivia are very troubling. A political, social, and economic meltdown there is the storm that is coming and it already may be too late to stop it. At issue is the proposed new constitution for the country which was both written and voted upon in the Bolivian Constituent Assembly without the full participation of delegates opposed to President Evo Morales and his MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) party, many of whom were prevented from taking their seats for the final votes in the assembly by mobs of MAS supporters, which guaranteed its passage. The document is now scheduled for a nationwide popular referendum on May 4. As a result of their exclusion from the process the opposition, which has coalesced around the Podemos Party, whose strength lies in the more prosperous agricultural and semi-industrialized eastern departments of Beni, Tarija, Pando, and especially Santa Cruz; has moved ahead with its own plans to schedule "autonomy" referendums. The plan now encompasses six departments, the four have been joined by Chuquisaca and Cochabamba. If the referendums pass, as they almost certainly will, their ultimate impact would separate the six departments from the authority of the new constitution, which still may not be approved according to some recent opinion polls. And a particularly dangerous item to note, the threats from Evo Morales's MAS Party to interject itself violently to stop the autonomy votes has been answered with the raising of a militia in the department of Santa Cruz.

MAS supporters violently prevent opposition delegates from voting on constitution

There are efforts underway to bring about a negotiated or mediated settlement. In one; the Catholic Church attempted to initiate a dialogue between the Prefects (Governors) of the departments scheduling autonomy referendums and the Morales government, but even though all sides met with church representatives, the level of mistrust of MAS by the six departments is so great that nothing was accomplished. Now a second effort is being attempted by the governments of Brasil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia to offer their services as mediators. The six Bolivian departments, known by the name "Media Luna" for the crescent shape of their contiguous territory as it appears on a map, have said they will not accept Argentina and Brasil as mediators, because they consider their politics to be too closely-aligned with Evo Morales to trust their good offices. This effort continues however.

Earlier this week the President of the Bolivian Senate, Oscar Ortiz, traveled to Lima, Peru to meet with his Peruvian Senate counterpart where he issued a statement that accused Hugo Chavez of meddling in Bolivian affairs and undermining the integrity of the political process there. A translation of an article from the web site of the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber on Ortiz's statement follows:


Translation: Oscar Ortiz Denounces "Interference" of Venezuela

"All the government is practically under the control and under the direction of the Bolivarian Project of Mr. Hugo Chavez," Ortiz denounced in a press release, during a visit in Lima, where he spoke with the President of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Gonzales Posado, about the political crisis which his country is living through.

The President of the Senate, Oscar Ortiz, of the Social and Democratic Power (Podemos) opposition criticized what he described as the "interference of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, overthrowing and affecting the stability of the Bolivian democratic system."

"All the government is practically under the control and under the direction of the Bolivarian Project of Mr. Hugo Chavez," Ortiz denounced in a press release, during a visit in Lima, where he spoke with the President of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Gonzales Posado, about the political crisis which his country is living through.

"Imagine military airplanes arriving that land without any control over the cargo they unload in the country, and our own President of the Republic distributes checks at the week's end to mayors looking to buy their political affections, and they are checks from the Venezuelan embassy in Bolivia that are signed by the Venezuelan ambassador," he specified.

Ortiz added that these resources which Morales delivers are not subject to any fiscal control, "which causes us immense worry."


If you read Spanish, Bolivia Confidencial has a posting on this issue.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Former FARC Guerrillas Confirm Venezuela's Assistance and Support (Translation Included)


Maria Angelica Correa Interviews Two Former FARC Guerrillas

Ever since the release of the first items from the laptop computers of slain FARC leader Raul Reyes in early March, there has been both a steady stream of information coming into the media about the FARC and its activities as well as a renewed effort among a few dedicated journalists, and especially within the Latin American media, to investigate the story of the FARC's activities. While we are still waiting for the report of the Interpol computer forensics experts that will verify the assertions of the Colombian government that all the information released is authentic, the early indications clearly suggest that the data provided in the Reyes documents is genuine.

It may be important to note that beyond specific details useful to intelligence services and international police agencies in their work, which have already led to the arrest of an international arms dealer in Thailand, the search of a FARC house in Costa Rica used in drug trafficking operations where $480,000 in cash was found, and the seizure of 66 pounds of uranium in a home north of Bogota; most of the information surfacing from the Reyes' computers has verified previous claims of the Colombian government and other informed observers of the international scope of the FARC's operations and support, to wit, that Hugo Chavez has been using the resources of the Venezuelan government to support the guerrilla insurgency against a neighboring state. Therefore; the substantial impact of the Reyes documents is about verification of this fact, not its discovery.

What follows is a translated article excerpt from the original Spanish up at the website (Buenos Aires), in which Venezuelan journalist Maria Angelica Correa interviews two former FARC guerrillas now "demobilized." The information they provide is significant, because it asserts a direct link between Hugo Chavez's government and the FARC guerrillas, including oversight and logistical support for both their kidnapping and drug-smuggling operations.


Translation (Excerpt): Exclusive Testimony of Four Deserters

Regretful Former FARC and ELN Members Reveal How Chavez Supports the Guerrillas

The information found in the computer of fallen guerrilla leader Raul Reyes gave birth to a controversy that turned attention to the bonds between the Venezuelan government and the Colombian insurgency. Although President Hugo Chavez has publicly denied cooperating with the FARC and the ELN, four ex-members of those organizations interviewed by Perfil relate how they operated freely in Venezuelan territory and the way in which they received assistance from the Bolivarian security forces, including preparation of false documents, carrying out kidnappings and drug trafficking.

By Maria Angelica Correa

"I spent seven years among the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), belonging to the Bloque Oriental (Eastern Bloc), I was a militiaman of the Tenth Front. My duties were intelligence, logistical and military operations." The man speaking is one of the hundreds of Colombians who are deserting the guerrillas. To protect his personal security we are calling him "Javier." At his side is "Maria," his wife, who joined this same front of the FARC for a year to follow her husband. "I was assigned to the areas of intelligence, extortions, kidnappings, and the purchase of weapons," she relates.

-The two of you were in Venezuela?

Javier: Yes. From April of 2006 until September of 2007, which is when I was demobilized.

-Does the FARC recruit Venezuelan children to form a part of their ranks?

J: Yes, in the Apure zone. It is a frequent sight to see Venezuelan girls of 15 or 16 years of age carrying a rifle and performing the normal work of all guerrillas.

-Do the two of you have Venezuelan identity papers?

J: Yes, personnel of the National Office of Identification and Foreignership (ONIDEX) sent them to us.

-Did you hand over your Colombian papers?

J: No. What they did was to take my photo, fingerprint, and I signed. They also handed me a Venezuelan passport. This was done in Caracas.

-Do you know of fellow guerrillas who have voted with these identity papers?

J: There are guerrillas who have Colombian and Venezuelan citizenship, and vote in Venezuela.

-Do you know who they voted for?

Maria: In the elections of December of 2006 the order from our command was to vote for Chavez.

J: We were promoting and, practically, submitting to the people that it was necessary and obligatory to vote for Chavez to continue with the revolutionary process that is being carried out in Venezuela.

-Did you have contact with Venezuelan government officials?

J: Yes. More than anyone with the National Guard. Logistically, they gave us a zone where we set up improvised encampments. There is a non-aggression pact [in force] there, of not putting us at odds with them nor them with us.

-What else did they provide?

J: Munitions and weapons.

-Do guerrilla leaders exist who have their bases of operations in Venezuela?

J: Yes, in Barinas and in Elorza.

-Did you have knowledge of meetings of high Venezuelan government officials with guerrilla leaders?

J: More than anyone of the mayors. Also government employees of the township and the government of Barinas.

-The two of you were in Apure. Did you hear any talk there of the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation?

J: Yes, they are also called "the Boliches." They have received military training from the FARC. They are operating in the Apure and Tachira zone.

-At any time did you receive medical attention from the Cubans?

J: Many times. When we would have injuries they moved us to clinics where [the Cubans] worked clandestinely with us in San Cristobal.

-Did you at any time use Venezuelan military uniforms?

J: Yes. Personnel of the National Guard supplied us uniforms from the Regional No. 1 [unit].

-Were the two of you present at the transport of drugs in Venezuela?

J: Many times we would receive the merchandise, cocaine, that came from Cucuta or from Arauca and we transported it up to the ports, where it would leave the country.

-The National Guard was not in the port?

J: The National Guard worked more than anything else in the transport of merchandise up to the arrival site.

-Did the customs bureau know you were guerrillas?

J: Yes, and also that we were escorting the merchandise. They were in charge of depositing it in containers and bringing it up to the departing ships.

-Has the FARC kidnapped Venezuelans?

J: Yes. I have knowledge of this because many times I was involved in communications operations with their families.

-In what conditions did you keep them?

J: The majority were kept tied up with polyester, hands and feet, for 24 hours a day. At meal times, we would release them, and when they needed to go to the latrine, they were also sent with two guards.

-Did you have a relationship with security organs of the Venezuelan state?

J: There were contacts with them, but the company commanders maintained them.

-How did these government employees collaborate with the kidnappings?

J: Often they did the kidnappings and took them to us up at the encampments. They took care of the transport of people and we, as FARC, were in charge of handling the negotiations and the possession of the person, and a percentage was given to them.

-How much?

J: The percentage that we handled was 30%.

-How did you note the difference when the kidnapping was in Colombia and when it was in Venezuela?

M: In the collaboration of the [Venezuelan National] Guard.

J: Because in Colombia we have the Army going about harassing, patrolling, while in Venezuela the zones are secure.

Recognized Journalist

Journalist Maria Angelica Correa, author of this series of interviews, was born in Valencia, Venezuela. She worked with El Nuevo Pais and Revista Zeta and in distinct audio-visual media. In January of 2007 she received an Honorable Mention for the King of Spain's prize for Ibero-American journalism, for an investigation about Giovanny Vazquez de Armas, the main witness to the murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson.

In November of 2004 Anderson was murdered in Caracas. The government accused its adversaries of having planned his death. The Ministry of Justice pressed charges against the journalist Patricia Poleo accusing her, together with three other persons, of being the intellectual author of the crime. Vasquez de Armas gave assurances of having participated in three meetings where the murder was planned.

Correa demonstrated that this witness was a recurring pathological liar. He appeared as a psychiatrist but he had never been to a university and lied saying that he was a member of the third detachment of a known Colombian guerrilla group. Moreover, she verified that he never could have participated in those meetings because on those dates he was detained for fraud.

. . .

You can read more in the original Spanish on the rest of this article, which contains additional information on the recent tensions between Colombia and Venezeula at

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