Sunday, 28 June 2009

Obama's First Coup d'Etat: Honduran President has been Kidnapped: Updates 1, 2, 3

[As of 10:30am, Sunday morning, no statements have been issued by the Washington concerning the military coup in Honduras.]

Obama's First Coup d'Etat: Honduran President has been Kidnapped: Updates 1, 2, 3

June 28th 2009, by Eva Golinger

Caracas, Venezuela - The text message that beeped on my cell phone this morning read "Alert, Zelaya has been kidnapped, coup d'etat underway in Honduras, spread the word." It's a rude awakening for a Sunday morning, especially for the millions of Hondurans that were preparing to exercise their sacred right to vote today for the first time on a consultative referendum concerning the future convening of a constitutional assembly to reform the constitution. Supposedly at the center of the controversary is today's scheduled referendum, which is not a binding vote but merely an opinion poll to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans desire to eventually enter into a process to modify their constitution.

(click here to view entire article)

North American Imperialism and the Extreme Right are Behind Coup in Honduras: Chavez

[The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, manifested his rejection, this Sunday, of the kidnapping of the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, by that nation's military, and said that North American imperialism and the extreme right are behind this act.]

North American Imperialism and the Extreme Right are Behind Coup in Honduras: Chavez

June 28th 2009, by ABN / Tamara Pearson -

This morning military personal kidnapped Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. According to one witness, 200 soldiers arrived at the president's house at 6am this morning, 4 shots were fired and later they left in vehicles towards the air base. The soldiers also took over the government television station, Channel 8, and took it off air. Zelaya is currently speaking live on Telesur TV, from Costa Rica.

In Venezuela, protests are starting in main city plazas and outside the Honduran Embassy. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez spoke on Telesur earlier, with this statement, reported by the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) and translated by

(click here to view entire article; click here to listen to the Telesur interview with Chavez in Spanish)

Monday, 8 June 2009

The Development of Venezuela's Popular Economy, Pt. 1

[Certainly, the Chavez government has broken with the neoliberal agenda of the preceding decades. But has it developed instead a shift toward a participatory and democratic economy as the core of 21st Century Socialism?]

The Development of Venezuela's Popular Economy, Pt. 1

May 21st 2009, by Jan Ullrich –

Part 1: Experiences and LegislationVenezuela has experienced five years of continual economic prosperity. Its gross domestic product almost doubled between 2003 and 2008. Poverty significantly declined, and the shift of the GINI-Coefficient represented a large reduction in inequality [1]. While those macro-economic indicators are recognized by most critics of Venezuela's economic policies, the qualitative economic development of the country is the subject of polemical discussions from different scientific, political, and ideological points of views.

Certainly, the Chavez government has broken with the neoliberal agenda of the preceding decades. But has it developed instead a shift toward a participatory and democratic economy as the core of 21st Century Socialism? The new "Law for the Development of a Popular Economy," which I will refer to as the Popular Economy Law in this article, could be counted as a step toward a participatory and democratic economy, because it promotes the democratization of the relationship between communities and production and consumption. The concrete experiences of "Solidarity Exchange Groups" that were defined in this law and established in ten communities across the country illustrate how the relationships of communities to production and consumption could be re-organized.

(click here to view entire article)

US Policy and Democracy in Latin America: The Latinobarómetro Poll

[Does the US government really craft its policy toward specific regimes based on those regimes' respect for democracy? The general trend is one of US support for the more undemocratic regimes in the region, and US antagonism of varying sorts and degrees toward the more democratic ones.]

US Policy and Democracy in Latin America: The Latinobarómetro Poll

May 29th 2009, by Kevin Young - ZNet

Each fall the Chilean non-profit polling organization Latinobarómetro publishes a detailed Spanish-language report on public opinion in Latin America. The 2008 report, released this past November, offers a broad synoptic view of popular opinion in the seventeen major countries of mainland Latin America plus the Dominican Republic, focusing on Latin American citizens' political opinions and their satisfaction with their governments. Though November's report went entirely unreported in almost all of the world's major media outlets—and only small snippets selectively analyzed by writers at the Economist, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington Times—it constitutes perhaps the most thorough source available of the broad contours of public opinion in Latin America, and thus deserves careful consideration [1].

The poll's results are particularly relevant for those whose government has been the most active foreign power in Latin America, in economic, political, and military terms, for much of the past two centuries. For US citizens the key question should be the extent to which their government is supporting democracy and human rights through its foreign policy; in other words, does the US government really craft its policy toward specific regimes based on those regimes' respect for democracy and citizens' rights, as the rhetoric of policymakers and pundits assures us? Answering this question requires three steps: identifying US friends and enemies in the region; measuring the level of democracy in each of those countries; and determining the extent to which US policy favors the more democratic governments in the region. After identifying the major US friends and antagonists, I examine the recent Latinobarómetro report as well as its 2006 and 2007 predecessors to measure the level of democracy in those countries based on their citizens' own appraisals. The general trend, though not uniformly apparent in all categories, is one of US support for the more undemocratic regimes in the region, and US antagonism of varying sorts and degrees toward the more democratic ones. The final section of this essay ventures an explanation for this pattern, locating it in the history of US policy toward Latin America.

(click here to view entire article)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chavez Talks of CIA Assassination Plot

[Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the US Central Intelligence Agency of conspiring to assassinate him during his planned visit to El Salvador.]

Chavez Talks of CIA Assassination Plot

June 3rd 2009 - Press TV

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the US Central Intelligence Agency of conspiring to assassinate him during his planned visit to El Salvador. Chavez called off a trip to the Latin American state of El Salvador on Monday in order to forestall alleged efforts meant to murder him on the plane. The Venezuelan leader stated that the country's intelligence services hold "very precise information" that incriminates the CIA of the alleged plot.

(click here to view entire article)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Battling Murder in Venezuela's Participatory Republic

[If participatory democracy is to offer an alternative it must rise to the direst of challenges. In Venezuela, where the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution explicitly aims to create a "democratic, participatory and self-reliant" society, yet over 100,000 people were killed in a decade, this challenge is insecurity.]

Battling Murder in Venezuela's Participatory Republic

May 28th 2009, by George Gabriel -

Increasingly, the Left's response to representative institutional frameworks - "participatory democracy" - demands a further empowerment of the people, the antidote to an at times suffocating conglomeration of modern elites. This suffocation gave birth to the Venezuelan Caracazo in 1989, where in response to popular protest against the imposition of neo-liberal reforms the security forces massacred Caracas slum dwellers in their homes. If participatory democracy is to offer an alternative it must rise to the direst of challenges. In Venezuela, where the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution explicitly aims to create a "democratic, participatory and self-reliant" society, yet over 100,000 people were killed in a decade, this challenge is insecurity.

Professor Ross Hastings of Ottawa University identifies three determinants of a person's engagement in criminal activity: personal disposition, personal situation, and lack of fear of the justice system. In Venezuela, with poverty halved since 2003, the stand out cause of homicides must be considered the impunity with which they are carried out. Barely 3% of murders result in a sentence. Yonny Campos, Commissioner of the Caracas-wide Metropolitan Police explains, "they commit homicides, 2,3,15,20, and no one denounces them, no one chases them, no one takes action."

(click here to view entire article)

Monday, 1 June 2009

After The Handshake

[Latin America has welcomed the election of Barack Obama. But how far do the US president’s policies point to a real change in US/Latin American relations? And even if Obama personally wants such a change, does he have the power to deliver?]

After The Handshake

June 2nd 2009, by Grace Livingstone - Red Pepper (June/July 2009)

When Hugo Chávez thrust a book into the hands of a quizzical Barack Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in mid-April, two things happened. The book, Open Veins of Latin America, a classic for Latin America’s left, became an instant best-seller on Amazon. More importantly, commentators began to talk about a new era of US/Latin American relations. Not only had Obama shaken the hand of Venezuela’s left-wing president, a man US TV networks insist on calling a dictator even though he is elected, but Obama also spoke of ‘a new beginning with Cuba’, raising hopes that the 50-year cold war between the US and the Caribbean communist state might at last thaw.

Obama has set a new tone in the relationship between the US and Latin America, a relationship that not only reached a historic low under George Bush, but that for two centuries has been marred by repeated US military intervention, support for dictators (of the unelected, military variety), death-squads and CIA destabilisation campaigns – which may sound like the fodder of conspiracy-obsessed bloggers, but is in fact verified by declassified US documents and congressional reports.

Change: from rhetoric to reality

Latin American governments have cautiously welcomed Obama’s election, hoping it will mark the end of the constant US interference in their nations’ affairs and an end to the blanket imposition of the free market dogma that has failed so dramatically in the region. Obama won applause from Latin American leaders at the recent summit when he pledged to seek ‘an equal partnership’, adding that ‘there is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations’.

A new tone was also evident in his approach to Mexico, which is wracked by drugs-related violence. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have acknowledged that demand for drugs in the west is fuelling the trade, a point frequently made by Latin Americans who dislike the US’s high-handed and frequently militarised approach to the ‘drugs war’. Obama has also tentatively welcomed Cuba’s offer of talks and has removed curbs on Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island. This move actually has very little political cost for Obama because the restrictions, which were introduced by Bush, were unpopular even with right-wing Cuban Americans. Their removal does not change the substance of the trade embargo, which is still in place 49 years after it was imposed by the Eisenhower government. Nevertheless, Obama’s actions have symbolic importance and may lead to a fuller rapprochement with Cuban president Raúl Castro, who is clearly making overtures towards the White House.

This more nuanced approach is in marked contrast to the Bush years, when relations with Latin America reached a nadir. Latin America pulsed with revolt against free market economics, and governments widely considered left-wing were elected across the region – in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the White House was governed by hard-line right-wing ideologues who not only continued to promote the neoliberal economics that had so clearly failed in Latin America, but after 9/11 also began to paint the region as a haven for terrorists, drugs gangs and criminals.

The Bush administration revived memories of the cold war when it supported a short-lived coup against President Chávez in 2002 and meddled in the elections of Nicaragua and Bolivia, trying (unsuccessfully) to prevent left-wing presidents taking power. Bush’s neocons also worked with allies of the old military regime in Haiti to oust an elected president and quietly, while all eyes were on the Middle East, stepped up involvement in the counter-insurgency war in Colombia.

It comes as no surprise then, that Latin Americans have welcomed the election of Obama. But how far do Obama’s policies so far and his rhetoric for the region point to a real change in US/Latin America relations? And even if Obama personally wanted such a change, does he really have the power to deliver?

US foreign policy: who’s the boss?

Since 1823, when US president James Monroe warned European powers to keep out of the hemisphere, the US has regarded Latin America as its ‘sphere of influence’ and a source of commodities, markets and cheap labour. Historically there has been remarkable continuity in US policy towards the region regardless of whether there have been Democrats or Republicans in the White House. All US administrations have favoured stable, pro-capitalist regimes – democracies if possible, dictatorships if necessary.

The US also wants the use of military bases, airstrips, ports and radar systems throughout the hemisphere, so that it can maintain its status as a global superpower and hegemony over its own ‘backyard’. This is particularly important today when the US no longer has the Panama Canal Zone (it left in 1999) and has to lease military bases from friendly governments. The left-wing president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, for example, plans to expel the US from the base in Manta, northern Ecuador, when the lease expires this year. If Obama wants to change some of the US’s most damaging policies in Latin America he will come up against entrenched corporate interests, a powerful state machinery and centuries of cultural assumptions.

Take the case of Colombia. 70 per cent of all US military aid in Latin America is devoted to Colombia, which is home to a still-significant left-wing guerrilla force, the FARC. US forces are heavily involved in the counter-insurgency war, providing air cover and supply lines, as well as radar, satellite and other intelligence assistance. The United States also continues to fund and promote the aerial spraying of herbicides on farms growing coca, which is the basis of cocaine after chemical processing. These herbicides kill food crops as well as coca; they have killed animals, caused human illnesses and may be doing long term damage to the Colombian environment.

Obama’s Colombia policy may change in minor ways. Some congressional Democrats have raised concerns about herbicide use and Obama himself signed letters condemning human rights abuses when he was a senator. Conditions may be imposed on military aid. But the basic war thrust of the policy is unlikely to change because it is being driven by the Pentagon. The commander of the US southern command, General Charles E Wilhelm, identified Colombia as the most ‘threatened nation’ in the region in 2000, because of the strength of the FARC guerrillas. The US poured billions into Plan Colombia, nominally a counter-drugs programme, but one with a clear counter-insurgency aim. Now that the FARC has been weakened, driven out of the cities and pushed back into isolated rural backwaters, the Pentagon wants to go on to ‘finish the job’. The US military establishment is pushing the Colombian elite to hold out for total victory, regardless of how elusive that may be and how much bloodshed it causes.

All US presidents have traditionally deferred to the military on issues of national security – and under George Bush the Pentagon became even more influential, usurping the role of the State Department in shaping foreign policy. So far, Obama has said he will continue the war against the FARC, but if he wanted to pursue a different course in Colombia, and use the guerrillas’ weakness as an opportunity to press for peace, he could feel the weight of the US military and intelligence establishment bear down on him.

Similarly, the Pentagon and intelligence community are pushing for a hawkish policy towards Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Not only do they regard oil as an issue of national security (Venezuela is the US’s fourth largest oil supplier), they are alarmed by Chávez’s ‘destabilising’ influence both in the Americas and the wider third world – in particular, his relationship with Iran and China. A pamphlet published by the US Army War College, entitled Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivarian Socialism and Asymmetric Warfare, warns that ‘Chávez and Venezuela are developing the conceptual and physical capability to challenge the status quo in Latin America and to generate a “Super Insurgency” intended to bring about fundamental political and economic change in the region’. It goes on to caution that ‘inaction [against Chávez] could destroy the democracy, free market economies, and prosperity that has been achieved’. Obama may have shaken Chávez’s hand at the recent summit, but in the short time he has been in office he has also described him as a ‘demagogue’ and accused him of ‘impeding progress in the region’ and ‘exporting terrorist activities’. The policy of trying to isolate Venezuela within the region and divide Chávez from the more moderate left-wing administrations (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina) is likely to continue.

Free trade and the future

A key question is whether the US will continue to promote free trade. US corporations were behind the aggressive push for free trade in the Americas over the past decade because they needed to compete with cheap Chinese imports. Free trade allowed them to produce cheap goods in Mexican and central American maquiladoras (assembly plants), which they could then send back to the US duty free, allowing them to compete with Asian imports in the US domestic market. A related aggressive corporate search for new markets in services – banking, telecoms, water, electricity – was behind the wave of privatisations and deregulation in Latin America in the 1990s.

The right of corporations to influence policy is accepted unquestioningly by all US administrations. Business representatives shape policy both as paid lobbyists and, more effectively, as specialist advisers. Corporations have played a direct role in designing the framework and rules for free trade in the past two decades. Much of the bargaining for World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaties, for example, takes place in closed, private meetings, which are by invitation only. Business groups are invited to informal talks and take part as technical advisers. After the WTO meeting in Seattle, the African delegation and a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries issued a statement complaining of ‘being marginalised and generally excluded on issues of vital importance for our peoples and their future’.

The largest free trade area in the Americas is covered by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which comprises the US, Mexico and Canada. Introduced in 1994, NAFTA has benefited large corporations and landowners in the US and Mexico at the expense of smallholders, small businesses and workers. Manufacturing wages have fallen on both sides of the border and thousands have lost jobs and land. During his election campaign, Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA, but this would bring him into conflict with some of the largest corporations in the US, as well as the pro-business conservative Mexican government, so it remains to be seen whether he will keep his promise.

NAFTA illustrates that the economic models pursued by the US affect all other areas of policy, including migration, security and even drugs. NAFTA allows for free movement of goods and capital, but it does not permit the free movement of people. So when Mexican unemployed migrants cross the border into the US, they are deported back, leaving some to feel they have little choice but to take the dollars of the drugs gangs. Although Obama’s more conciliatory tone in the drugs debate is welcome, his administration will have to face the complex reality that, in Mexico and Colombia, drugs violence is rooted in socio-economic inequalities, and economic policies that increase landlessness and unemployment simply provide more manpower for the armed groups.

Whatever Obama’s real intentions for Latin America, he will be forced to confront the fact that the so-called ‘pink tide’ of governments across the region are bullishly espousing their independence and most economies have diversified so that they are less dependent on the US. Most of the region’s countries have rejected neoliberal dogma and are trying alternative models. Although they will be severely tested by the current economic crisis, the new wave of progressive governments is demanding respect from whoever is in the White House.

Grace Livingstone is the author of 'America’s Backyard: the United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror' (Zed Books, 2009). Click here for more information about the book and how to buy it.