Saturday, February 04, 2006

Colombian IDPs

A high level UNHCR official is currently visiting Colombia and Ecuador to highlight the attention of displaced persons.
The refugee agency is concerned about the living conditions of nearly 250,000 Colombians residing in Ecuador.

The vast majority of Colombia's IDPs end up living in economically depressed areas in and around large cities all around the country, according to UNHCR.

In Altos de Cazucá, the Bogotá suburb that Ms. Feller visited, makeshift housing, high unemployment, and poverty are the norm. Displaced people who fled armed groups are still suffering from their activities. There have been numerous reports of youngsters being murdered in the area by members of irregular armed groups, UNHCR said.

“The challenges are not to be underestimated,” said Ms. Feller. “Physical security, particularly for women, youth and IDPs community leaders is a serious concern.”

After more than 40 years of armed conflict, Colombia counts more than 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the numbers keep increasing, UNHCR said. Preliminary reports from the Government indicate that in 2005 alone there were more than 131,000 new cases of forced displacement, while non-governmental organizations put the figure much higher.


Latin America Most Unequal Region in the World

A United Nations press release noted today that:
With the number of people in poverty and extreme poverty in the area having almost doubled over the last couple of decades, Latin America remains the most unequal region in the world, with high levels of unemployment and with spikes in crime and violence that threaten not only citizens’ lives but hamper the growth of such income sources as tourism and foreign investment.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chavez Elected Legally Just Like Hitler

Democracy Now! reports that:
At a press luncheon, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "You've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He's a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally."

[Headlines for February 3, 2006, Democracy Now!]

The NYTimes on the Overthrow of Aristide

Excerpts from the Times long and revealing article [Walt Bogdanich and Jenny Nordberg, "Democracy Undone: Mixed U.S. Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos," New York Times, January 29, 2006] on the coup that evicted Aristide:
Mr. Curran accused the democracy-building group, the International Republican Institute, of trying to undermine the reconciliation process after disputed 2000 Senate elections threw Haiti into a violent political crisis. The group's leader in Haiti, Stanley Lucas, an avowed Aristide opponent from the Haitian elite, counseled the opposition to stand firm, and not work with Mr. Aristide, as a way to cripple his government and drive him from power, said Mr. Curran, whose account is supported in crucial parts by other diplomats and opposition figures. Many of these people spoke publicly about the events for the first time.

Mr. Curran, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran and a Clinton appointee retained by President Bush, also accused Mr. Lucas of telling the opposition that he, not the ambassador, represented the Bush administration's true intentions.

Records show that Mr. Curran warned his bosses in Washington that Mr. Lucas's behavior was contrary to American policy and "risked us being accused of attempting to destabilize the government." Yet when he asked for tighter controls over the I.R.I. in the summer of 2002, he hit a roadblock after high officials in the State Department and National Security Council expressed support for the pro-democracy group, an American aid official wrote at the time.

The International Republican Institute is one of several prominent nonprofit groups that receive federal funds to help countries develop the mechanisms of democracy, like campaigning and election monitoring. Of all the groups, though, the I.R.I. is closest to the administration. President Bush picked its president, Lorne W. Craner, to run his administration's democracy-building efforts. The institute, which works in more than 60 countries, has seen its federal financing nearly triple in three years, from $26 million in 2003 to $75 million in 2005. Last spring, at an I.R.I. fund-raiser, Mr. Bush called democracy-building "a growth industry."

These groups walk a fine line. Under federal guidelines, they are supposed to nurture democracy in a nonpartisan way, lest they be accused of meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations. But in Haiti, according to diplomats, Mr. Lucas actively worked against President Aristide.

But in a recent interview, Otto J. Reich, who served under Mr. Powell as the State Department's top official on Latin America, said that a subtle shift in policy away from Mr. Aristide had taken place after Mr. Bush became president — as Mr. Curran and others had suspected.

"There was a change in policy that was perhaps not well perceived by some people in the embassy," Mr. Reich said, referring to Mr. Curran. "We wanted to change, to give the Haitians an opportunity to choose a democratic leader," said Mr. Reich, one of a group of newly ascendant policy makers who feared the rise of leftist governments in Latin America.

In Haiti, Mr. Lucas's partisan activities were well known. Evans Paul, a leader of the anti-Aristide movement and now a presidential candidate, said Mr. Lucas's stand against negotiating was "a bit too harsh" even for some in the opposition.

Jean-Max Bellerive, an official in three Haitian administrations, including Mr. Aristide's, added, "He said there was a big plan for Haiti that came from Washington, that Aristide would not finish his mandate." As for the ambassador, Mr. Bellerive said, "he told me that Curran was of no importance, that he did not fit in the big picture."

Micha Gaillard, a former spokesman for the main anti-Aristide coalition, the Democratic Convergence, said Mr. Lucas went so far as to act as its representative in Washington.

With Washington's approval, Mr. Lucas used taxpayer money to fly hundreds of opposition members — but no one from Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party — to a hotel in the Dominican Republic for political training that began in late 2002. Two leaders of the armed rebellion told The Times that they were in the same hotel during some of those meetings, but did not attend.

The I.R.I. said the sessions were held outside Haiti because Lavalas had physically threatened its staff, including Mr. Lucas. But another American democracy-building group, the National Democratic Institute, said it was able to work successfully with Mr. Aristide's party in Haiti.

Mr. Curran left Haiti in August 2003 for a new assignment, and by fall, Mr. Aristide's political opponents had decided there was little point in negotiating. Still, there was one last hope. Mr. Einaudi persuaded some opposition leaders to meet with Mr. Aristide at the home of the new American ambassador, James B. Foley. But while the president was prepared to give up much of his power, Mr. Einaudi said, American officials "pulled the rug out," abruptly canceling the meeting without consulting him.

Several months later, the rebels marched on Port-au-Prince and Mr. Aristide left Haiti on a plane provided by the American government. Since then, Haiti has become even more chaotic, said Marc L. Bazin, an elder statesman of Haitian politics.

President Aristide promised not only to give voice to the poor in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but also to raise the minimum wage and force businesses to pay taxes. He rallied supporters with heated attacks on the United States, a tacit supporter of past dictatorships and a major influence in Haitian affairs since the Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.

"He wasn't going to be beholden to the United States, and so he was going to be trouble," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, a Democratic critic of Bush administration policy on Latin America. "We had interests and ties with some of the very strong financial interests in the country, and Aristide was threatening them." Those interests, mostly in the textile and electronic assembly businesses, sold many of their products cheap to the United States.

Mr. Curran was supposed to have help from the I.R.I., which had been active in Haiti since 1990. Along with the National Democratic Institute, the I.R.I. was formed in the early 1980's after President Ronald Reagan called on Americans to fight totalitarianism.

Its board includes Republican foreign-policy heavyweights and lobbyists, and its chairman is Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, who did not answer requests for an interview. The group's financing comes from the Agency for International Development, as well as the State Department, foundations and corporations like Halliburton and Chevron.

More than its sister group, the International Republican Institute tends to work in countries "it views as being strategically important to U.S. national foreign policy interests," according to a 1999 report by the international development agency.

The I.R.I.'s Republican affiliations did not go unnoticed on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Graffiti condemning the I.R.I. had been showing up for some time, the work of Aristide supporters. "I think they distrusted I.R.I. as an organization because they were affiliated with the Republican Party, and Lavalas just felt the Republican Party was out to get them," said David Adams, a former A.I.D. mission director in Haiti.

The anti-Aristide message had currency around Washington. Mr. Einaudi, the veteran diplomat, recalled attending the I.R.I.'s 2001 fund-raising dinner and being surrounded by a half-dozen Haitian businessmen sounding a common cry: "We were foolish to think that we could do anything with Aristide. That it was impossible to negotiate with him. That it was necessary to get rid of him."

A year later, the I.R.I. created a stir when it issued a press release praising the attempted overthrow of Hugo Chávez, the elected president of Venezuela and a confrontational populist, who, like Mr. Aristide, was seen as a threat by some in Washington. The institute has since told The Times that praising the attempted coup was wrong.

Mr. Gaillard, the former spokesman for the Democratic Convergence, the main anti-Aristide coalition, said he also did not like that Mr. Lucas was acting as the Haitian opposition's representative in Washington. "That really disturbed us, because we didn't know exactly what he was saying," he said.

Mr. Bazin added that Mr. Lucas "was prepared to act aggressively to get Aristide out of power."

Mr. Curran sent his cables to the Bush administration's Latin American policy team, records show. In addition to Mr. Reich, then assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, that group included Elliott L. Abrams, a special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy and human rights, and Daniel W. Fisk, a deputy to Mr. Reich.

These men were veteran fighters against the spread of leftist political ideology in Latin America, beginning with Fidel Castro and Cuba. Mr. Fisk's former boss, Jesse Helms, then a Republican senator from North Carolina, had once called Mr. Aristide a "psychopath," based on a C.I.A. report about his mental condition that turned out to be false.

In the 1980's, Mr. Reich and Mr. Abrams had become ensnared in investigations of Reagan administration activities opposing the socialist government of Nicaragua. The comptroller general determined in 1987 that a public diplomacy office run by the Cuban-born Mr. Reich had "engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities." In 1991, Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress in connection with the Iran-contra affair. He was pardoned by the first President Bush.

Records show that in the summer of 2002, Mr. Curran sought tighter control over the I.R.I. before signing off on a politically delicate program that Mr. Lucas had organized in the Dominican Republic to teach the opposition the art of campaigning.

Washington officials opposed Mr. Curran's request. Not only was there pressure from Congress, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Adams of A.I.D., but "there were senior State/N.S.C. officials who were sympathetic to I.R.I.'s position as well."

In December 2002, the I.R.I. began training Haitian political parties there, at the Hotel Santo Domingo, owned by the Fanjul family, which fled Cuba under Mr. Castro and now runs a giant sugar-cane business.

The training was unusual for more than its location: only Mr. Aristide's opponents, not members of his party, were invited.

Institute officials said this was because the opposition parties were less powerful and needed more help. The goal, Mr. Fauriol said, "was to broaden, if you will, the ability of various actors to participate in the political process."

They also said they were not required to work with Lavalas because its members condoned violence and the institute's workers were threatened, which was why the meetings were held outside Haiti. And they pointed out that no American officials had objected to excluding Lavalas.

There were perhaps a dozen sessions, spread over a year, the institute said. Hundreds of opposition members came.

"The training programs were really run-of-the-mill political party programs," Mr. Fauriol said. To the Dominican ambassador who issued the travelers' visas in Haiti, though, the meetings "clearly conveyed a confrontation, not a dialogue."

"For the opposition, it was interesting to know that the American government, or people from the American government, supported and validated its politics," the former ambassador, Alberto Despradel, said last fall at the Hotel Santo Domingo.

Mr. Bazin, a moderate Aristide opponent, sent representatives to the Hotel Santo Domingo. They came away believing that more was going on than routine political training.

"The report I got from my people was that there were two meetings — open meetings where democracy would be discussed and closed meetings where other things would be discussed, and we are not invited to the other meetings," said Mr. Bazin, who is now running for president as the candidate of a faction of Lavalas.

Mr. Bazin said people who had attended the closed meetings told him that "there are things you don't know" — that Mr. Aristide would ultimately be removed and that he should stop calling for compromise.

It turns out there was another matter, one that federal officials apparently did not know about: two leaders of the armed rebels told The Times they were spending time at the Hotel Santo Domingo while the training was under way.

Guy Philippe, a former police commander who had fled Haiti after two failed coup attempts, said in an interview that he had seen Mr. Lucas at the hotel.

"I was living in the hotel, sleeping in the hotel," Mr. Philippe said. "So I've seen him and his friends and those guys in the opposition, but we didn't talk politics." He said he had not attended any I.R.I. meetings.

Paul Arcelin, an architect of the rebellion, said he, too, had seen Mr. Lucas at the hotel during the training sessions. In an interview there last fall, Mr. Arcelin said, "I used to meet Stanley Lucas here in this hotel, alone, sitting down talking about the future of Haiti." But he said they had not discussed overthrowing Mr. Aristide.

Mr. Lucas said Mr. Arcelin showed up at an I.R.I. meeting and was told to leave. He also disputed Mr. Philippe's account.

Several opposition activists said they wanted nothing to do with the armed rebels. "Participation in our seminars was from a very restricted list of people," Mr. Fauriol said.

The seminars were still under way in September 2003 when the Bush administration sent a new ambassador to Haiti. Mr. Curran wanted to stay longer, Mr. Reich said. But he said Mr. Curran was replaced because "we did not think the ambassador was carrying out the new policy in the way we wanted it carried out."

Over four years, Mr. Einaudi, a former acting secretary general of the Organization of American States, had made some 30 trips to Haiti trying to prevent such a moment. Yet he had failed. Mr. Aristide was finally willing to share power, Mr. Einaudi said, but the opposition, emboldened, felt no need to deal with him.

With time running out, Mr. Einaudi hit upon a new approach — one he hoped would take advantage of the arrival of the new American ambassador, Mr. Foley. Mr. Einaudi invited Mr. Aristide and his opponents to meet at the ambassador's home — a clear signal that the United States wanted negotiations, not regime change.

When members of both sides agreed to come, there was a glimmer of hope, Mr. Einaudi said.

Terence A. Todman, a retired American diplomat who also worked in Haiti for the O.A.S, said: "We knew there would be shouting. But at least they were together."

Then, suddenly, it was over. In a move that stunned Mr. Einaudi, the United States canceled the meeting, killing "what was in fact my last move," he said.

His colleague was more blunt. "That blew it," said Mr. Todman, who like Mr. Einaudi was speaking publicly about the scuttled meeting for the first time. "That was the end of any effort to get them together."

Several months later, the rebels crossed into Haiti and began their final push. There were perhaps 200 in all, many of them former soldiers in the army Mr. Aristide had disbanded years before. Leading the final assault were Mr. Philippe and Louis-Jodel Chamblain.

Rights groups have identified Mr. Chamblain as the leader of death squads when the military ran Haiti after Mr. Aristide's first ouster in 1991. He had twice been convicted in absentia — for his role in a massacre in Gonaïves in 1994 and in connection with the 1993 killing of an Aristide supporter.

As for Mr. Philippe, Mr. Curran said he was suspected of having had ties to drug traffickers before leaving Haiti after a failed coup attempt.

Mr. Philippe, who is now running for president of Haiti, denies any connection to the drug trade, pointing out that he has never been charged with such a crime.

When rebels reached the city of Cap Haitien on Feb. 22, the police chief, Hugues Gabriel, told his 28 officers to flee. "They had machine guns," he said. "We have little handguns with little ammunition."

In Washington, the Bush administration voiced its official policy. "We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people," Secretary of State Powell said.

But when Mr. Aristide asked for international troops, he did not get them.

Mr. Powell said he continued to press for a political settlement to keep Mr. Aristide in office. "We were doing everything we could to support his incumbency," he said in a recent interview. Only in the last days, when Port-au-Prince appeared "on the verge of a serious blood bath," he said, did the United States explore other options. "There comes a point when you have to make a judgment as to whether you should continue to support President Aristide or whether it is better to try another route," he said.

On Feb. 29 — Mr. Philippe's birthday — the United States flew President Aristide to exile in South Africa.

Their activities there had not gone unnoticed by Haitian authorities. Edwin M. Paraison, a former Haitian diplomat in the Dominican Republic, said his government contacted authorities there three times to express concern "about subversive actions that were being planned on the Dominican territory." But, he said, little was done.

American officials said they did not take the rebels terribly seriously. "Our sense was that they were not a large force, not a well-trained force, and not in any way a threat to the stability then in Haiti," said Mr. Foley, the American ambassador at the time. "Now that proved to be otherwise."

Mr. Despradel, the former Dominican ambassador, said American authorities had to have known what the rebels were doing.

"Given the intelligence the United States has in place throughout the Caribbean and their advanced technology that lets them hear a mosquito in outer space — I think Guy Philippe is bigger than that," he said.

At a Senate hearing in 2004, Mr. Noriega was asked if he knew of any ties between Mr. Philippe and the I.R.I. — specifically Mr. Lucas — during the training meetings in the Dominican Republic. He said he did not.

Mr. Philippe tells a different story. In interviews with The Times, he called Mr. Lucas "a good friend" whom he has known much of his life. "He used to be my teacher in Ping-Pong," Mr. Philippe said.

Not only did he say he saw Mr. Lucas during the training at the Hotel Santo Domingo; he said he met with him once or twice in 2000 or 2001, while in exile in Ecuador. "He was working for I.R.I.," Mr. Philippe said. "It was not a planned meeting." They did not discuss politics, he said, adding, "It's like someone I knew when I was young."

Mr. Voltaire, the former minister in the Aristide administration, recalled meeting Mr. Lucas at a diplomatic reception in Lima, Peru, in September 2001. He said Mr. Lucas told him he was headed to Ecuador to meet with a small group of former Haitian policemen who had trained there. Mr. Philippe was known to belong to that group.

Mr. Craner, the I.R.I. president, said Mr. Lucas might have been in a bar in Ecuador when Mr. Philippe was present, though Mr. Lucas could not be sure. Mr. Lucas said, "We dug down deep into scenarios where Guy Philippe was potentially present in the room, even if I could not confirm that." He did acknowledge being in Peru during the time frame cited by Mr. Voltaire.

Assassinations, mob violence, torture and arbitrary arrests have created a "catastrophic" human rights problem, a top United Nations official said in October.

Mr. Latortue's government, set up as an unelected caretaker, dashed any hope of reconciliation when the prime minister praised the rebels as "freedom fighters." Then, Mr. Chamblain, the rebel convicted twice in absentia for his role in political killings, was acquitted of one murder in a retrial that rights groups called a sham. His other conviction was dismissed as well.

At the same time, Mr. Aristide's former prime minister, Yvon Neptune, was jailed for a year without charges, prompting an international outcry. Only after a hunger strike left him near death did the government bring murder-related charges. Another prominent Aristide supporter, the Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, has been repeatedly arrested; Amnesty International calls Father Jean-Juste, who has leukemia, "a prisoner of conscience."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Map of the US Military in South America

Check out this map of US military forces in South America (in Portuguese), brought to my attention by André Deak, "Brazilian Army Study Details North American Military Presence in South America," MRZine, Jan., 02, 06.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Trade in the Americas Updates

AFTA ALERT: "The Bush administration appears to be closing in fast on a new NAFTA-style trade agreement with three countries in South America - Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru," writes Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (1/25). Current negotiations could add Colombia and Ecuador to an agreement which was reached between the U.S. and Peru in December - making an Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA). "The proposed AFTA is a cookie-cutter copy of the same failed NAFTA and CAFTA model - bad news for us and them, but Corporate America will love it," Global Trade Watch writes. They note that Colombia is "a labor-rights-free zone" where over 2,100 labor union activists have been assassinated since 1991. "Such a deal would spell the end of any meaningful leverage against the Colombian government's rampant human rights violations - literally an issue of life or death," the alert says. Global Trade Watch notes that Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo suggested including stronger labor provisions in AFTA, "but this offer was harshly rejected by the Republican congressman in charge of trade policy," Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) and "is not included in the text of the U.S.-Peru deal reached in December that Colombia and Ecuador are being pressured now to join." The Bush administration "is forcing a deal that will allow U.S. companies to relocate jobs to places where unions are suppressed with frequent assassinations-with absolutely no enforceable recourse for beleaguered workers."

Corporate lobbyists have an undue influence on current global trade talks, says a new report by ActionAid International... The report cites examples of "privileged corporate access to, and excessive influence over the WTO policymaking process," and notes 93% of the official external advisors to the US Trade Representative are from corporate lobby groups and multinational companies such as Burger King, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Pfizer. For a copy of the report visit here.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman last week said the administration hopes to move trade agreements negotiated with Oman and Peru through Congress this year despite the crowded legislative calendar, Inside US Trade reports (1/27). Portman said he was hopeful Congress could approve the Peru agreement before July, when a new Peruvian government will take office. He signaled, "it may be safer to act before a new government, which could be left-leaning, comes into office. Portman said that a Peru FTA has "good prospects" for passage, but a Democratic Senate aide says that the Peru FTA will "likely be controversial" because it is "close enough" to the hard-fought CAFTA deal.

The economic situation in Bolivia explains much about that nation's election of Evo Morales as President, writes Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research on (1/21). Weisbrot notes that for nearly 20 years Bolivia implemented the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for privatization and other market-driven economic policies, but those changes "have brought little in the way of economic benefits to the average Bolivian." The country's per capita income is actually lower today than it was 25 years ago, with 63% of Bolivians living below the poverty line. Weisbrot says that Bolivia's slow economic growth during the period of U.S. driven economic policies resulted in the "worst long-term economic failure in modern Latin American history." This difference over economic policy "is the main thing that has set Washington on a collision course with most of Latin America," Weisbrot explains, noting that Morales is now the sixth candidate in the last seven years to win a presidential race in Latin America while campaigning explicitly against free-market "neoliberalism." With help from oil-rich Venezuela, Bolivia may be able to stand up against the IMF. "At some point Washington policymakers and economists will revisit the economic evidence and decide that perhaps some of their policy prescriptions have been wrong," Weisbrot says. "But by that time, Latin America will have long passed them by."

Source: Jim Jontz, Americans for Democratic Action - Trade Bits, January 29, 2006