Category Archives: Latin America

The Making of Leopoldo López

Roberto Lovato writes for Foreign Policy:

The Making of Leopoldo López In the nearly year and a half since street protests rocked Caracas, the U.S. press has been kind to Leopoldo López, the 44-year-old jailed leader of Venezuela’s radical opposition. He has been painted as a combination of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and his distant grand uncle, SimónBolívar, for his magnetic brand of in-your-face politics. Newsweek wrote of his “twinkling chocolate-colored eyes and high cheekbones” and called López a “revolutionary who has it all.” The New York Times published a photo of him, jaw out, fist in the air, in front of a crowd of screaming protesters and gave him a platform on its op-ed page. In New York, when the United Nations met last September, protestors rallied to show support for López, and President Barack Obama listed him among a group of political prisoners from repressive countries such as China and Egypt who “deserve to be free.” López, who has done interviews shirtless, came to embody freedom and democracy for audiences across the globe, with stars from Kevin Spacey to Cher rallying to his cause, while the hashtag #freeleopoldo rocketed across Twitter.

But in Venezuela the picture is far more complicated. López has been in jail since February 2014 on charges of arson, public incitement, and conspiracy related to the first big anti-government protest that year, on Feb. 12, 2014, which left three protesters dead and kicked off weeks of rallies, street blockades, vandalism, and violence. The charges against him, which Amnesty International has called “politically motivated,” could carry a prison sentence of 10 years. Outside the courtroom, the public debate continues to swirl between those who believe López is a freedom fighter facing trumped-up charges and those who believe he is the violent “fascista” the government of President Nicolás Maduro claims.

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Wikileaks Revelations Expose US Tentacles: Interview with Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and U.S. attorney for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. In this interview he breaks down the latest Wikileaks revelations. (The Real News)

NSA’s Top Brazilian Political and Financial Targets Revealed by New WikiLeaks Disclosure

Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda report for The Intercept:

Featured photo - NSA’s Top Brazilian Political and Financial Targets Revealed by New WikiLeaks DisclosureTop secret data from the National Security Agency, shared with The Intercept by WikiLeaks, reveals that the U.S. spy agency targeted the cellphones and other communications devices of more than a dozen top Brazilian political and financial officials, including the country’s president Dilma Rousseff, whose presidential plane’s telephone was on the list. President Rousseff just yesterday returned to Brazil after a trip to the U.S. that included a meeting with President Obama, a visit she had delayed for almost two years in anger over prior revelations of NSA spying on Brazil.

That Rousseff’s personal cell phone was successfully targeted by NSA spying was previously reported in 2013 by Fantastico, a program on the Brazilian television network Globo Rede. That revelation – along with others exposing NSA mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of Brazilians, and the targeting of the country’s state-owned oil company Petrobras and its Ministry of Mines and Energy – caused a major rupture in relations between the two nations. But Rouseff is now suffering from severe domestic weakness as a result of various scandals and a weak economy, and apparently could no longer resist the perceived benefits of a high-profile state visit to Washington.

But these new revelations extend far beyond the prior ones and are likely to reinvigorate tensions. Beyond Rousseff, the new NSA target list includes some of Brazil’s most important political and financial figures, such as the Finance Ministry’s Executive Secretary Nelson Barbosa; Luiz Awazu Pereira da Silva, a top official with Brazil’s Central Bank; Luiz Eduardo Melin de Carvalho e Silva, former Chief of Staff to the Finance Minister; the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s chief of economics and finance, Luis Antônio Balduíno Carneiro; former Foreign Affairs Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado; and Antonio Palocci, who formerly served as both Dilma’s Chief of Staff and Finance Minister under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Most notable about the list, published simultaneously by WikiLeaks, is the predominance of officials responsible for Brazil’s financial and economic matters.’

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The U.S. is bound by treaties to defend a quarter of humanity

Adam Taylor reports for The Washington Post:

The United States is bound by a number of treaties that could, in theory, force it to get involved in a war if an ally is attacked. Consider, for example, the situation in Ukraine, a non-member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. If a NATO ally were to find itself under similar threat from Russia, the U.S. may find itself duty bound to war.

Or alternatively, cast your mind to the South China Sea and its territorial disputes. If China were to engage militarily with the Philippines at some point in the near future, the U.S. may well be expected to step in to protect its ally: Since 1951, the U.S. and the Philippines have had a bilateral agreement for mutual defense.

It goes without saying that war with either Russia or China would be a very big deal – especially if that war is on behalf of a third party. This becomes more startling when you realize that, thanks to various treaties and deals set up since 1945, the U.S. government is legally obligated to defend countries containing 25 percent of the world’s population.’

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Colombia’s ex-intel chief jailed for domestic spying

AFP reports:

Former Colombian Chief of Intelligence Maria del Pilar Hurtado during a trial against her, in Bogota, ColombiaA Colombian former intelligence chief was jailed for 14 years on Thursday for spying on judges, journalists and opposition figures in a high-profile case that stained the legacy of popular ex-president Alvaro Uribe.

The Supreme Court convicted Maria del Pilar Hurtado in February of ordering illegal wiretaps on a former senator, two opposition politicians, the mayor of Bogota and its own judges during Uribe’s presidency from 2002 to 2010.

The sentence was less than the 20 years requested by prosecutors.’

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116 Environmental Defenders Were Murdered Last Year, Mostly in Latin America: Interview with Billy Kyte

‘As we continue to mark Earth Day, we look at a new report that finds killings of environmental activists on the rise, with indigenous communities hardest hit. According to Global Witness, at least 116 environmentalists were killed last year — more than two a week. Three-quarters of the deaths occurred in Central and South America. Just recently, three indigenous Tolupán leaders were gunned down during an anti-mining protest in northern Honduras, which has become the most dangerous country for environmental activists. We speak to Billy Kyte, campaigner for Global Witness and author of their new report, “How Many More?“‘ (Democracy Now!)

Eduardo Galeano Ruptured the Veins of Imperialism in Latin America: Interview with Mark Fried

Mark Fried, a friend, translator and long-time collaborator, discusses the life and works of Eduardo Galeano. (The Real News)

Remembering Eduardo Galeano, Champion of Social Justice and Chronicler of Latin America’s Open Veins

‘One of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers, Eduardo Galeano, died on Monday at age 74 in Montevideo, Uruguay. The Uruguayan novelist and journalist made headlines when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave President Obama a copy of his classic work, “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.” Since its publication in 1971, “Open Veins” has sold more than a million copies worldwide, despite being banned by the military governments in Chile, Argentina and his native country of Uruguay. While in exile after the Uruguayan military junta seized power in a 1973 coup, Galeano began work on his classic trilogy “Memory of Fire,” which rewrites five centuries of North and South American history. He also authored “Soccer in Sun and Shadow,” “Upside Down,” “The Book of Embraces,” “We Say No,” “Voices of Time,” “Mirrors,” “Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History,” among others. Galeano received numerous international prizes, including the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the First Distinguished Citizen of the region by the countries of Mercosur. We look back on Galeano’s life and hear from his Democracy Now! interviews in 2009 and 2013.’ (Democracy Now!)

Britain Used Spy Team to Shape Latin American Public Opinion on Falklands

Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald report for The Intercept:

Faced with mounting international pressure over the Falkland Islands territorial dispute, the British government enlisted its spy service, including a highly secretive unit known for using “dirty tricks,” to covertly launch offensive cyberoperations to prevent Argentina from taking the islands.

A shadowy unit of the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had been preparing a bold, covert plan called “Operation QUITO” since at least 2009. Documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, published in partnership with Argentine news site Todo Notícias, refer to the mission as a “long-running, large scale, pioneering effects operation.”

At the heart of this operation was the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group, known by the acronym JTRIG, a secretive unit that has been involved in spreading misinformation.’

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DoJ Watchdog Report: DEA agents had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels

Sari Horwitz and Carol D. Leonnig report for The Washington Post:

Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by local drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s watchdog.

The report did not specify the country where the parties occurred, but a law enforcement official familiar with the matter identified it as Colombia.

Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in the gatherings — most of which took place at an agent’s “quarters” leased by the U.S. government — admitted to having attended the parties, the report found. The agents, some of whom had top-secret security clearances, received suspensions of two to 10 days.’

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“Nazi hideout” in the jungle: Why the discovery is more fiction than fact

Uki Goñi, author of The Real Odessa, writes for The Guardian:

Nazi coin discovered in Argentina jungle‘[…] In an interview with the Guardian, Schavelzon admitted that evidence linking the Teyú Cuaré ruins to a supposed Nazi safe haven plan is slim.

“There is no documentation, but we found German coins from the war period in the foundations,” he said.

But does a handful of old German coins provide sufficient proof of a secret Nazi hideaway plan in northern Argentina?

“That was just speculation on my part,” Schavelzon said. “The press picked it up and magnified it.”’

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Colombian Report on US Military’s Child Rapes Not Newsworthy to US News Outlets

Adam Johnson reports for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

Telesur: US Military Sexually Abused at Least 54 Colombian Children‘An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries.

The report was part of a broader historical analysis meant to establish the “causes and violence aggravators” of the 50-year-long conflict between the government and rebels that’s presently being negotiated to an end.

[…] Thus far, however, these explosive claims seem to have received zero coverage in the general US press, despite having been reported on Venezuela’s Telesur (3/23/15), the British tabloid Daily Mail (3/24/15) and Russian RT (3/25/15).’

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Chilean accused of murder, torture taught 13 years for Pentagon

Marisa Taylor and Kevin G. Hall reports for McClatchy:

‘A member of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s brutal secret police who’s been accused of murder taught for more than a decade at the Pentagon’s premier university, despite repeated complaints by his colleagues about his past.

Jaime Garcia Covarrubias is charged in criminal court in Santiago with being the mastermind in the execution-style slayings of seven people in 1973, according to court documents. McClatchy also interviewed an accuser who identified Garcia Covarrubias as the person who sexually tortured him.

Despite knowing of the allegations, State and Defense department officials allowed Garcia Covarrubias to retain his visa and continue working at a school affiliated with the National Defense University until last year .’

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State Department Announces New “Long-standing” Policy Against Backing Coups

Is Venezuela Really an “Extraordinary Threat”? Interview with Miguel Tinker Salas

‘Tensions between the United States and Venezuela are increasing after the Obama administration declared Venezuela to be an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” and slapped sanctions on seven top officials for alleged human right violations and corruption. On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro asked the National Assembly for increased power to protect the country’s integrity and sovereignty from what he described as “imperialist aggression.” Relations between the United States and Venezuela have been decaying for the past few months. In December, President Obama signed legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuelan government officials accused of violating protesters’ rights during demonstrations last year when 43 people died, including demonstrators, government supporters and security officials. On February 19, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested for allegedly being involved in a U.S.-backed coup plot. Days later, Venezuela announced it had arrested an unspecified number of Americans for engaging in espionage and recruitment activities. Venezuela also announced a series of measures, including visa requirements for U.S. citizens and restrictions and the downsizing of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. This all comes as Venezuela faces an economic crisis in part because of the plummeting price of oil. We are joined by Miguel Tinker Salas, professor at Pomona College and author of the forthcoming book, “Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.”‘ (Democracy Now!)

Uruguay bids farewell to Jose Mujica, its pauper president

Wyre Davies writes for BBC News:

Uruguay's President Jose Mujica flashes a thumbs up as he and and his wife leave their home on the outskirts of Montevideo in their famous VW Beetle - 2 May 2014[…] Given his past, it’s perhaps understandable why Mr Mujica gives away about 90% of his salary to charity, simply because he “has no need for it”.

A little bit grumpy to begin with, Mr Mujica warms to his task as he describes being perplexed by those who question his lifestyle.

“This world is crazy, crazy! People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me!”

Not afraid to take a swipe at his fellow leaders, he adds: “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life and Italian, Spanish leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring to or copying a rich minority.”‘

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Venezuela says it has detained a U.S. pilot for allegedly taking part in a coup

The women suffering for your Valentine’s Day flowers

Oliver Balch reports for The Guardian:

Female workers cutting flowers in a factory[…] In recent years, Colombia has emerged as the world’s second largest flower exporter, with plane-loads of freshly-cut flowers leaving for the US, UK, Japan and other markets every day. Exports increased by 4.4% between 2013-2014, according to the Cactus Corporation, a Bogotá-based campaign group, which claims the industry’s US$1.3bn (2012) annual sale revenues are being bought at the cost of workers’ rights.

“We’re very preoccupied about the conditions of those who are making these increases in productivity possible”, says Ricardo Zamudio, president of Cactus. “These workers receive the absolute minimum wage of 644,000 pesos a month (£175), which only covers about 40% of their typical monthly outgoings.”

Zamudio highlights health concerns among workers too, many of whom are compelled to work double shifts in the run-up to busy periods such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. According to testimonies collected by Cactus, carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other repetitive strain injuries are commonplace among flower workers, around two-thirds (65%) of whom are women. The Colombian non-profit has also registered cases of exposure to toxic chemicals during fumigation.’

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Mystery Shrouds Prosecutor’s Death In Argentina

Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez‘Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela four times from 1998 through 2012 and was admired and supported by a large majority of that country’s citizens, largely due to his policies that helped the poor. King Abdullah was the dictator and tyrant who ran one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch. My Intercept colleague Murtaza Hussain has an excellent article about this whole spectacle, along with a real obituary, here.’

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21st-century censorship: Governments around the world are using stealthy strategies to manipulate the media

Philip Bennett and Moises Naim report for Columbia Review of Journalism:

Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”

It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.

Illustrating this point is a curious fact: Censorship is flourishing in the information age. In theory, new technologies make it more difficult, and ultimately impossible, for governments to control the flow of information. Some have argued that the birth of the internet foreshadowed the death of censorship. In 1993, John Gilmore, an internet pioneer, told Time, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Today, many governments are routing around the liberating effects of the internet. Like entrepreneurs, they are relying on innovation and imitation. In countries such as Hungary, Ecuador, Turkey, and Kenya, officials are mimicking autocracies like Russia, Iran, or China by redacting critical news and building state media brands. They are also creating more subtle tools to complement the blunt instruments of attacking journalists.

As a result, the internet’s promise of open access to independent and diverse sources of information is a reality mostly for the minority of humanity living in mature democracies.’

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John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy

Abby Martin interviews Author and Activist, John Perkins, discussing the economic impact of the US’ new policy towards Cuba as well as the damage that international free trade agreements do to third world economies.’ (Breaking the Set)

Loggers Assassinating Peru’s Land Defenders: Interview with Kate Horner

Abby Martin interviews Kate Horner, Forest Campaigns Director, about the massacre of four indigenous activists in Peru for standing up for their land, and the trade of illegal logging worldwide.’ (Breaking the Set)

Uruguayan football club rejects Azerbaijan sponsorship over racist terms

Editor’s Note: Advertising for autocrats. Glad to see some football clubs standing up and not allowing themselves to become part of a public relations campaign for a totalitarian ruler and his unpleasant family. Learn more about Azerbaijan and the Aliyev family here.

News.am reports:

‘[…] One of the conditions that the Azeri officials imposed on San Lorenzo was that “there couldn’t be ethnic Armenians” in future executive committees of the club in exchange for a lucrative contract with the club. The issue gained importance in Peñarol since some of the candidates are members of the Armenian community.

The current president of Peñarol seeking for a re-election Juan Pedro Damianisaid that in the event of a similar proposal “we will act the same way as San Lorenzo” and stated that “it strikes me that Atletico Madrid could accept this sponsor.”’

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What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?

Ignacio de los Reyes reports for BBC News:

The salvaged Nazi eagleWorld War Two was never as close to land in South America as on 13 December 1939, when three Royal Navy cruisers challenged Germany’s Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of Uruguay.

A battle still goes on 75 years later.

This time, however, the matter in dispute is not the control of the South Atlantic but rather a controversial four-tonne bronze eagle that could fetch millions of dollars at auction.’

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Child landmine victims rise, overall casualties lowest since 1999

Anastasia Moloney reports for Reuters:

‘Afghanistan has the world’s highest number of children killed or wounded by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, followed by Colombia, according to a leading anti-landmine group.

In its annual Landmine Monitor report, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) said the number of recorded casualties of mines and other explosive remnants of war has decreased to the lowest level since 1999, but child victims have risen.’

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The siege of Julian Assange is a farce

John Pilger writes:

Czu.jpg[…] Ny has never properly explained why she will not come to London, just as the Swedish authorities have never explained why they refuse to give Assange a guarantee that they will not extradite him on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In December 2010, the Independent revealed that the two governments had discussed his onward extradition to the US before the European Arrest Warrant was issued.

Perhaps an explanation is that, contrary to its reputation as a liberal bastion, Sweden has drawn so close to Washington that it has allowed secret CIA “renditions” – including the illegal deportation of refugees. The rendition and subsequent torture of two Egyptian political refugees in 2001 was condemned by the UN Committee against Torture, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; the complicity and duplicity of the Swedish state are documented in successful civil litigation and WikiLeaks cables. In the summer of 2010, Assange had been in Sweden to talk about WikiLeaks revelations of the war in Afghanistan – in which Sweden had forces under US command.

The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up; and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables.’

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A Narrow Victory for President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil: Interview with Michael Fox

Editor’s Note: Michael Fox is a reporter for teleSur English and is co-author of ‘Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-first Century Socialism‘.

The Shadow of the Transnationals: Latin America and the US Techno-Empire

Mateo Pimentel writes for CounterPunch:

‘The notion that history tends to favor the hegemonies that would write it is nothing new. This is especially the case for the United States today. Take US-Latin American international relations, for example: they are indelibly stippled with gunboat diplomacy and seditious coups; even the many perverse trade agreements and subsequent growing poverty belie the neoliberal overtures that America continually makes. Yet, in spite of a most basic realpolitik approach to assessing America’s litany of hegemonic aggression, history is still quick to cite the anarchic nature of international relationships in general, and in doing so, it excuses fratricidal US ‘diplomacy’ throughout Latin America by simply referencing a manifest ‘self-help’ system amongst states.

America, in other words, is not to blame; rather, the anarchy of inter-state relationships is to be understood as a given, and its inherent culpability, understood.

This road, of course, is too easily taken. Though it may explain the what, it does not explain the why apropos general US meddling in Latin America. And while polemical inter-state issues between the US and its closest neighbors are well documented and investigated with some frequency, an “empire for empire’s sake” argument does not suffice as a believable impetus for such aggressive behavior in Latin America—at least, not any more than a phenomenon like self-interest can or does. No. To truly understand these international affairs, one must look beyond hackneyed tautologies. One must weigh the interest that runs the state, the lifeblood of the state’s moneyed organs, the whip that drives the imperial mule. Then, the raison d’être for America’s imposition and coercion in Latin America becomes clear.’

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IAPA: Press Freedom Deteriorating in the Americas

The Associated Press reports:

‘Freedom of expression and the press have sharply deteriorated in the Americas over the last six months due to an increase in censorship and physical attacks on journalists, the Inter American Press Association said Tuesday.

Eleven journalists were killed in attacks “carried out by organized crime, drug traffic hit men and police-style groups on the orders of several governments of the region,” the group said in a statement at the end of its 70th General Assembly.

Journalists suffered violence in almost every country in the region, including Venezuela, where some were attacked by police, and in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru during election coverage. Journalists also experienced violence while reporting on street protests in the U.S. city of Ferguson, Missouri, and the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.’

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