Category Archives: Central America

U.S. Ramps Up Border Militarism as Trump Appoints DHS Head General John Kelly to Chief of Staff

Amy Goodman speaks with two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist John Carlos Frey, whose new investigation in partnership with ABC’s “20/20” is titled ‘Life and Death at the Border’. (Democracy Now!)

The Death of Manuel Noriega, and U.S Intervention in Latin America

David A. Graham writes for The Atlantic:

General Manuel Noriega speaks to Panamanian reporters in May 1989.Old soldiers do die, it turns out, but there’s something incongruous about watching ruthless, formerly swashbuckling military dictators end their lives quietly as frail old men in hospital beds.

It happened to Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean strongman, who returned home and died under house arrest in 2006, at 91. Fidel Castro slowly faded from view, becoming even less coherent, before dying at home in November, as his brother slowly rolled back their revolution. And now Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader, has died at 83 following complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. He had been imprisoned in his home country.

Like nearly every Latin American leader of the late 20thcentury, but more intensely than most of them, the three men had complicated histories with the United States, the dominant power in the hemisphere: Pinochet as American ally, Castro as nemesis, and Noriega, ultimately, as both. The tale of American involvement with Noriega, and what came afterward, suggests humbling lessons about U.S. ability to change the course of history in its southern neighbors.

For most of his career, Noriega was an exemplar of a certain kind of American intervention in Latin America: The lawless, vicious leader whom the U.S. cultivated and propped up despite clear and serious flaws. Noriega got involved with the U.S. at a young age, volunteering to inform on leftist students during the Eisenhower administration. He later attend the U.S Army School of the Americas, a training center in Panama that was run by the American military that produced an impressive dishonor roll of despots and murderers across Latin America, as part of a U.S. effort to train domestic resistance to leftist politics in the region. Noriega began receiving payments from the CIA in 1971.

A coup in 1968 brought the military to power in Panama, and Noriega rose to become intelligence chief under General Omar Torrijos, a fellow School of the Americas alumnus who signed the agreement conveying the Panama Canal Zone over from American to Panamanian control. In 1981, Torrijos died in a mysterious plane crash, which an estranged Noriega aide later claimed was Noriega’s doing. By 1983, Noriega effectively controlled Panama.

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Homeland Security Chief: Full Border Wall With Mexico ‘Unlikely’

Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times:

John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said Wednesday that it was doubtful that a wall along the full border with Mexico would ever be built, despite an oft-repeated campaign promise by President Trump.

“It is unlikely that we will build a wall from sea to shining sea,” Mr. Kelly told senators on the Homeland Security Committee.

Instead, Mr. Kelly said, the department will look to build physical barriers — including fencing and concrete walls — in places that make sense. He said that the department was still studying the best places to construct such barriers, and that he could not give an estimate of the cost.

The first bids for prototypes of the border wall were due Tuesday. According to people briefed on the agency’s plan, the first new section of the wall will be built on a short strip of federally owned land in San Diego, where there is already fencing.

Congress has not yet acted on the funding request for the wall, and it faces considerable opposition from Democrats and even some Republicans.

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The Myth of the U.S. Immigration Crisis

Noah Smith reports for Bloomberg:

[…] Illegal immigration to the U.S. ended a decade ago and, according to the Pew Research Center, has been zero or negative since its peak in 2007.

About a million undocumented immigrants left the country in the Great Recession. But even after the end of the recession, illegal immigration didn’t resume.

Why? One reason might be economic — even after growth resumed, there was no return to the mania of the bubble years. Another reason is that Mexicans — both undocumented and otherwise — are flocking back to Mexico. Despite the country’s drug-related violence, it’s starting to look more attractive as a place to live. The economy has improved, and the fertility rate has fallen a lot, meaning that young Mexicans are needed back in Mexico to take over family businesses and take care of aging parents.

A third reason is increased border enforcement. For years, many Americans demanded that the border with Mexico be secured in order to stem illegal immigration. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did exactly that. Obama, especially, stepped up the pace of deportation.

Even if you think there was an illegal immigration problem in the early 2000s, that issue is greatly diminished. If you’re 45 years old now, net illegal immigration stopped back when you were 35.

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Donald Trump Plans to Bypass the Courts to Deport as Many People as Possible

Ryan Devereaux reports for The Intercept:

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos laying out how the agency intends to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders on domestic immigration enforcement. In addition to calling for a massive increase in the number of immigration agents and the deputizing of local and state law enforcement across the country — described in the documents as a “force multiplier”— the memos dramatically expand the range of people who can be deported without seeing a judge.

“I see now what the plan is,” Greg Siskind, a Tennessee-based immigration attorney and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association board of governors, told The Intercept. “Their plan is basically to have everybody thrown out of the country without ever going to court.” Additional immigration attorneys and legal experts who spoke to The Intercept shared Siskind’s concerns, describing various elements of the DHS directives and the executive orders they reflect as “horrifying,” “stunning,” and “inhumane.”

“This is the broadest, most widespread change I have seen in doing this work for more than two decades,” Lee Gelernt, a veteran immigration attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s national Immigrants’ Rights Project, told The Intercept. “After 9/11 we saw some extreme policies, but they were largely confined to particular areas around the relationship between immigration and national security. Here what we’re seeing are those types of policies but also much broader policies just dealing with immigration generally.”

“I expected bad based on Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric,” added David Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney and past president of AILA. “Then when I read the executive order, I expected really bad … but I’m absolutely shocked at the mean-spiritedness of this.”

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As Kelly and Tillerson Visit Mexico, Their Reassurances Differ From Trump’s Stance

Azam Ahmed, Gardiner Harris and Ron Nixon report for The New York Times:

[…] Mr. Trump is certainly not the only American president to clamp down on illegal immigration. His predecessor, Barack Obama, deported record numbers of immigrants, including gang members. But Mr. Trump’s actions and disparaging remarks about Mexico have helped push relations between the two countries to their lowest point in decades.

His steady stream of provocative policies and statements has enraged the Mexican public and left their leaders to consider their own leverage in the event of a meltdown in ties between the two countries, whether on trade, migration or security.

On Thursday, the contradictions between the president and his top staff raised a pressing question: Which version of Washington will come to bear on Mexico in the coming months? Will it be the aggressive approach of the president or the more reassuring stance of Mr. Kelly, who will be assigned to oversee some of the proposals likely to antagonize Mexico the most?

“Let me be very, very clear,” Mr. Kelly said, assuring Mexicans that the rules for deporting people from the United States had not fundamentally changed — another possible contradiction of his boss. “There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations.”

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Are Trump and Mexican President Provoking Conflict to Distract from Low Approval Ratings at Home?

Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, about the cancelled meeting between Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Donald Trump and whether both leaders benefit from the distractions surrounding this and Trump’s executive order regarding the building of a wall along the border. (Democracy Now!)

Fidel Castro: Cuba’s Former Leader and Revolutionary Dead Aged 90

Michael Weissenstein and Peter Orsi report for The Independent:

fidel-castro-salute.jpgFormer President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 US presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90.

With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10.29pm on Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Towards victory, always!”

Mr Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles from Florida was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling US trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to Raul.

He overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, as the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

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Instead of Trump’s Wall, Why Not a Binational Border City?

Tanvi Misra reports for City Lab:

Donald Trump keeps talking about the big, beautiful wall he’s going to erect on the U.S.-Mexican border. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton wants to build bridges—metaphorical ones, that is.

Mexican architect Fernando Romero has taken a more literal approach to Clinton’s proposition. He’s long been a proponent of “building bridges,” and believes that boundaries are obsolete. “With technology, those borders are just becoming symbolic limits,” he recently told Dezeen Magazine. “The reality is that there exists a very strong mutual dependency of economies and trades.” That’s why he has now designed a master plan for a walkable, super-connected metropolis straddling the U.S.-Mexico border.

Back in the early 2000s, Romero’s architecture firm conceptualized a tunnel-like “Bridging Museum” in the Rio Grande Valley, which would act as “both a funnel and a window between the borders.” But his vision for a utopian border city, on display at the London Design Biennale, is much more complex and detailed.

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Obama Admin Paid $1 Billion to Private Prisons to Detain Asylum Seekers

Jaisal Noor speaks to Mark Fleming of the National Immigrant Justice Center about the push to warehouse asylum-seeking women and children in a private facility as a deterrent in violation of U.S. obligations to international law. (The Real News)

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Role in Honduras: Interview with Greg Grandin

Amy Goodman speaks to Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University. His most recent article for The Nation is headlined: Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn’t Learn During His Time in Honduras(Democracy Now!)

In hot Acapulco, too many bodies in morgue’s fridges

AFP reports:

Soldiers stand guard along a street during an operation to help increase security and prevent violence in Acapulco, Mexico, October 27, 2015. Morgue workers lift a dismembered male body dumped on the street of a poor Acapulco neighborhood in broad daylight, then pick up his severed leg and a bag containing his head.

Placing the body parts in the back of a van, they drive away to the Mexican Pacific resort’s only coroner’s office, overflowing with scores of unidentified and unclaimed corpses.

Back inside the morgue’s cold chambers, bodies lie in pairs side by side on shelves meant to hold just one — grim evidence of the drug cartel-related killings swamping the authorities in Mexico’s murder capital.

Officials granted AFP journalists a rare visit last week, when a worker opened a set of refrigerator doors to reveal the bodies inside.

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Panama to identify victims of 1989 U.S. invasion

AFP reports:

The government of Panama on Wednesday launched an independent commission to identify people killed or missing in the 1989 US invasion of the country that brought down dictator Manuel Noriega.

“There can be no reconciliation if the truth is not known,” Panama’s vice president and foreign minister, Isabel De Saint Malo, said.

“Panama is seeking to heal its wounds,” she added, speaking to a gathering of officials, religious leaders, some who lost kin or property in the invasion, and the UN representative to Panama.

There have been insistent calls in Panama for compensation from the US for the deaths and damage wrought in the invasion.

While the Panamanian government has not officially backed those demands, it has for the past two years pressed for a “reconciliation” effort.

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Why Is Nobody Talking About The Clinton Fuelled Crisis in Haiti? Interview with Nikolas Barry-Shaw

Nadia Kanji speaks to Nikolas Barry-Shaw of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti who says Hillary Clinton is to blame for Martelly’s disastrous presidency. (The Real News)

Haiti Bracing for Trouble as Election Panel Delivers Report

AP reports:

Haitians are bracing for trouble as an electoral verification commission delivers the results of a monthlong review of last year’s contested presidential and legislative elections.

The five-member panel, led by a businessman who is a former ambassador to the U.S., was due to give its recommendations to Haiti’s revamped Provisional Electoral Council on Sunday. The commission then is scheduled to hand its report to the interim president at a Monday afternoon ceremony on the grounds of the National Palace.

Government officials would not comment on when the report would be made public.

Commission president Pierre Francois Benoit has said a random sample of 25 percent of the roughly 13,000 tally sheets from polling stations would be audited. In recent days, a team of police officers could be seen at a tabulation center examining thumbprints on ballot sheets.

It’s far from clear whether the verification panel’s findings will provide clarity to last year’s elections or if its recommendations will be accepted by Haiti’s political class.

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Mexican Military Runs Up Body Count in Drug War

Azam Ahmed and Eric Schmitt report for The New York Times:

In the history of modern war, fighters are much more likely to injure their enemies than kill them.

But in Mexico, the opposite is true.

According to the government’s own figures, Mexico’s armed forces are exceptionally efficient killers — stacking up bodies at extraordinary rates.

The Mexican authorities say the nation’s soldiers are simply better trained and more skilled than the cartels they battle.

But experts who study the issue say Mexico’s kill rate is practically unheard-of, arguing that the numbers reveal something more ominous.

“They are summary executions,” said Paul Chevigny, a retired New York University professor who pioneered the study of lethality among armed forces.

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Obama Urged to Stop Funding Honduran Military as Questions Grow over US Role in Berta Caceres’ Death

Amy Goodman speaks to Annie Bird, director of Rights & Ecology, a project of the Center for Political Ecology, after the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently returned from a visit to Tegucigalpa, where he met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to discuss migration and security. Johnson’s visit comes as a growing number of activists in Honduras and in the United States are calling on the United States to stop funding the Honduran military, over accusations that state security forces have been involved in human rights violations, extrajudicial killings—and the murder of internationally renown environmentalist Berta Cáceres. Before her death, Berta and her organization COPINH was long the target of repression by elite Honduran security forces and paramilitary organizations. Earlier this month, four people were arrested in connection with her murder, including Army Major Mariano Díaz Chávez and Edilson Duarte Meza, who is reportedly a retired captain. Press accounts report Díaz Chávez graduated from the prestigious U.S. Ranger-supported Honduran special forces course TESON, raising questions about whether U.S.-trained troops were involved in carrying out Berta’s murder. (Democracy Now!)

As Hillary Clinton Defends Her Role in 2009 Coup, Is U.S. Aid to Honduras Adding “Fuel to the Fire”?

Amy Goodman speaks with Annie Bird about Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state during the 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. “There’s no other way to categorize what happened in 2009 other than a military coup with no legal basis,” Bird says. “The U.S. was not willing to cut off assistance to Honduras, and that is the only reason it was not called a coup, a military coup. At the time, activists like Berta called for the assistance to be cut off, and today her children are calling for it to be cut off, because the U.S. assistance is actually adding fuel to the fire and stoking the economic interests of the people behind the coup.” (Democracy Now!)

How a U.S. President and JP Morgan Made Panama and Turned It Into a Tax Haven

Ed Vulliamy reports for The Guardian:

This goes back a long way. The Panamanian state was originally created to function on behalf of the rich and self-seeking of this world – or rather their antecedents in America – when the 20th century was barely born.

Panama was created by the United States for purely selfish commercial reasons, right on that historical hinge between the imminent demise of Britain as the great global empire, and the rise of the new American imperium.

The writer Ken Silverstein put it with estimable simplicity in an article for Vice magazine two years ago: “In 1903, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt created the country after bullying Colombia into handing over what was then the province of Panama. Roosevelt acted at the behest of various banking groups, among them JP Morgan & Co, which was appointed as the country’s ‘fiscal agent’ in charge of managing $10m in aid that the US had rushed down to the new nation.”

The reason, of course, was to gain access to, and control of, the canal across the Panamanian isthmus that would open in 1914 to connect the world’s two great oceans, and the commerce that sailed them.

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Leaked Report Reveals Unsanitary Conditions At UN Bases During Haitian Cholera Epidemic: Interview with Brian Concannon

Jessica Desvarieux talks to Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who says the United States is actively discouraging countries from holding the UN accountable for bringing cholera to Haiti. (The Real News)

Obama in Cuba: Pro-Torture Pundits Suddenly Concerned With Human Rights

Adam Johnson writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

US President Barack Obama landed in Havana [last] Sunday to great fanfare, both in Cuba and stateside. His visit marks a significant shift of the United States’ approach towards the socialist state, and the possibility of cooperation after decades of hostility. US media generally struck a hopeful tone, with a surprisingly nuanced mix of positive and critical stories about Cuba.

Some Cold War hold-outs in the media just weren’t having it, though, taking the occasion to feign outrage that Obama could visit a country with such a terrible human rights record. While American human-rights hypocrisy is nothing new, a string of Bush-era, pro-torture, pro-Guantánamo pundits expressing indignation at Cuba’s human rights failings was still remarkable.

[…] Human rights are important. Human Rights™, as arbitrary tools of Western propaganda, are dangerous. Not only because they serve to bully unfriendly nations with cheap sloganeering, but they also, in the long run, undermine the otherwise noble and well-intentioned enterprise of establishing international norms.

“The problem with living outside the law,” Truman Capote once quipped, “is that you no longer have its protection.” The same is true for every Bush-era pundit who served as ideological shock troops in one of the more shameful episodes of American history. These talking heads can criticize Cuba’s controlled economy, they can criticize its leadership, they can criticize its immigration policy—but they have no grounding, intellectually or morally, to criticize its human rights record.

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Is Donald Trump’s Border Wall Possible?

Donald Trump trounced his opponents on Super Tuesday, and that brings his wall proposal closer to a reality test. But what details has he really provided, and are they sound? (The Real News)

The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime Is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders

Greg Grandin writes for The Nation:

Berta_Caceres_otu_imgHillary Clinton will be good for women. Ask Berta Cáceres. But you can’t. She’s dead. Gunned down yesterday, March 2, at midnight, in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca, in Honduras.

Cáceres was a vocal and brave indigenous leader, an opponent of the 2009 Honduran coup that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, made possible. In The Nation, Dana Frank and I covered that coup as it unfolded. Later, as Clinton’s emails were released, others, such as Robert Naiman, Mark Weisbrot, and Alex Main, revealed the central role she played in undercutting Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, and undercutting the opposition movement demanding his restoration. In so doing, Clinton allied with the worst sectors of Honduran society.

[…] Since Zelaya’s ouster, there’s been an all-out assault on these decent people—torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute ban on the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country’s land and resources to transnational pillagers. That’s not to mention libertarian fantasies, promoted by billionaires such as PayPal’s Peter Thiel and Milton Friedman’s grandson (can’t make this shit up), of turning the country into some kind of Year-Zero stateless utopia. (Watch this excellent documentary by Jesse Freeston on La Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguán Valley.)

Such is the nature of the “unity government” Clinton helped institutionalize. In her book, Hard Choices, Clinton holds up her Honduran settlement as a proud example of her trademark clear-eyed, “pragmatic” foreign policy approach.

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18 Ex-Military Guatemalan Leaders Arrested for Crimes against Humanity During U.S.-Backed Dirty War: Interview with Allan Nairn

Amy Goodman speask to investigative journalist Allan Nairn about the arrest of 18 ex-military leaders in Guatemalan on charges of committing crimes against humanity during the decades-long, U.S.-backed dirty war against Guatemala’s indigenous communities. (Democracy Now!)

Devils, Deals and the DEA

David Epstein reports for ProPublica:

[…] The arrest of Javier Arellano Félix, the head of the AFO drug cartel, would be hailed by officials in the States as a decisive victory in what may have been the longest active case in the DEA’s history — a rare triumph in the War on Drugs. “We feel like we’ve taken the head off the snake,” the agency’s chief of operations announced. I can’t believe it actually fucking worked, Herrod recalls thinking.

But did it? Dave Herrod is 50 years old now and nearing the end of his career with the DEA. In the time he spent hunting the Arellanos, his hair and goatee went from black to salt-and-pepper to finally just plain salt. He’s proud of the audacity and perseverance it took to bring down the cartel, and he knows he helped prevent murders and kidnappings. But when he looks back, he doesn’t see the clear-cut triumph portrayed in press releases. Instead, he and other agents who worked the case say the experience left them disillusioned. And far from stopping the flow of drugs, taking out the AFO only cleared territory for Joaquín Guzmán Loera — aka “El Chapo” — and his now nearly unstoppable Sinaloa cartel. Guzmán even lent the DEA a hand.

This is the story of the investigation as the agents saw it, including accounts of alleged crimes that were never adjudicated in court. “Drug enforcement as we know it,” Herrod told me, “is not working.”

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Making Money from Misery: Antony Loewenstein on his new book ‘Disaster Capitalism’

Amy Goodman talks to Antony Loewenstein about his new book, ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.’ Lowenstein travelled across the globe examining how companies like G4S, Serco and Halliburton are deploying for-profit private contractors to war zones and building for-profit private detention facilities to warehouse refugees, prisoners and asylum seekers. Loewenstein has also teamed up with filmmaker Thor Neureiter to create a forthcoming documentary that chronicles how international aid and investment has impacted communities in Haiti, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and beyond. (Democracy Now!)

Noam Chomsky on Power and Ideology

This past Saturday, Noam Chomsky spoke in front of a sold-out audience of close to 1,000 people at The New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium in New York City. In a speech titled “On Power and Ideology,” Chomsky discussed George Orwell, the suppression of ideas, the persistence of U.S. exceptionalism, Republican efforts to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. (Democracy Now!)

President Otto Pérez Molina Is Stripped of Immunity in Guatemala

Elisabeth Malkin and Azam Ahmed report for The New York Times:

Guatemala’s Congress voted on Tuesday to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity from prosecution, a unanimous decision that acknowledged the outpouring of citizen demands for an end to entrenched impunity.

The 132-0 vote was the culmination of a tumultuous five months since prosecutors revealed the existence of a customs fraud ring in April, describing how officials received bribes in exchange for discounted tariffs, a scheme that effectively stole millions from the treasury.

As rain fell over Guatemala City, jubilant crowds outside Congress after the vote shouted, “Yes, we could!”

Late on Tuesday, a judge granted a request from prosecutors and ordered Mr. Pérez Molina not to leave the country.

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Al Jazeera interviews Kirsten Weld, a historian of modern Latin America at Harvard University. (Al Jazeera English)

Clinton and the Coup: Amid Protests in Honduras, Ex-President on Hillary’s Role in His 2009 Ouster

‘In Honduras, as many as 25,000 people marched Friday demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The protests come six years after a coup ousted Honduras’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. In an exclusive interview, Zelaya talks about the new protest movement, the fallout from the 2009 coup, and Hillary Clinton’s role in his ouster. “On the one hand, the Obama administration condemned the coup, but on the other hand, they were negotiating with the leaders of the coup,” Zelaya said. “And Secretary Clinton lent herself to that, maintaining that ambiguity of U.S. policy to Honduras, which has resulted in a process of distrust and instability of Latin American governments in relation to U.S. foreign policies.” While the United States publicly supported Zelaya’s return to power, newly released emails show Clinton was attempting to set up a back channel of communication with Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as Honduran president after the coup. In one email, Clinton referenced lobbyist and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis. She wrote, “Can he help me talk w Micheletti?” At the time, Davis was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup. In another email, Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s lead negotiator for the Honduras talks, refers to Manuel Zelaya as a “failed” leader.’ (Democracy Now!)

Will the UN Tackle Impunity for Peacekeepers Who Sexually Abuse Women and Children? Interview with Paula Donovan

Interview from 2nd July with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World. She is part of the Code Blue campaign, which seeks to end the sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations military and non-military peacekeeping personnel. (Democracy Now)