Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Questions About our New War

Something very strange and amazing has just happened before our eyes. An open-ended bombing campaign was “authorized “by the vote of 10 countries – including several who intend to partake in the bombing.

This was all done with about 3 hours notice and with no release of the text until it was voting time. There was basically no debate and little discussion. The 5 countries who opposed the plan decided to abstain (including Brazil, India and Germany) declined to speak.

So we have Obama’s first war. Yes, war. Not just a “no fly zone,”as some keep misstating. The world’’s highest body has blessed “all necessary measures…to protect civilians.”

I am all for helping the Libyan people achieve their democratic destiny, but a few questions need to be answered before I can support another US war in the Middle East.

Is our mission to protect civilians, or is it to back a rebel army to change the regime?

Are we really protecting civilians by dropping bombs from airplanes?

Will foreign military intervention really work?

Why has dialogue not been tried?

How do we know we are not going to create the next Afghanistan or Somalia - a failed state.

First off, lets talk about the mission, the goal. It seems to depend who you ask. The UN resolution only talks about protection of civilians. But leaders in the US, UK and France have openly said that Gaddafi “must go.” Certainly that seems to be the goal but whether it’s authorized by the resolution is another question. On the same note, does the Resolution protect only civilians but also rebel fighters? Again, there appears to be a disconnect between what the resolution says and what the US, UK and France are saying.

Second, on civilians., we have to mention a bit of international law. The UN Charter only recognizes only 2 reasons to authorize warfare: when international peace and security is threatened and for self-defense (Article 2(4)). But this vote did not cite either rationale.

What we have in Libya is a pretty classic Civil War, fed by regional/tribal divisions and also religion (Gaddafi is not religious enough). Civilians have certainly paid a price – but it is nothing in scale to the many other Civil Wars in Africa over the last decades – none of which apparently warranted air strikes. Why are Libyan lives worth more than those from the Congo or Sudan?

Third, the internationalization of the Libyan issue has the potential to poison the well, so to speak. Libyan rebels will lose one of their biggest strengths – their independence from foreign powers. Under attack, Libyans are likely to rally around the (current) flag. Therefore, the result may backfire.

Fourth, it is highly worrisome that dialogue and discussion has not even been seriously tried. A proposal to accept international mediation was accepted by Gaddafi more than a week ago – but went nowhere because the rebels refused. They demand regime change and will not accept anything less than a revolution. But since when has a violent rebellion been a legitimate way to achieve power?

Fifth, even if we “win” and kick Gaddafi out, we should know by now that this is not the endgame. We break and country, we own it. While we still don’t really know who we are dealing with, Islamic Fundamentalists certainly form a strand of rebel support. An entire new country would have to be created under a new regime.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Colombia: US Alters Documents Showing True Intentions Behind new Military Bases - Washington alters USAF document to hide intentions behind Colombia accord

By Eva Golinger:

In an explicit attempt to hide Washington's military objectives in South America, a US Air Force document submitted to Congress in May 2009 that provoked deep concerns in the region has been modified and re-published on November 16, 2009. The official US Air Force document, revealed and denounced by this author on November 4, explained the justification for a $46 million request to improve the military installations in one of the seven bases Washington will occupy under the military accord signed on October 30 between Colombia and the United States.

The modified document has eliminated all mention of war and military operations in the region, as well as offensive language directed at Colombia's neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador. Nevertheless, Washington's intentions remain the same.

The original Air Force document dated May 2009 outlined the importance of the military base in Palanquero, Colombia to enable "full spectrum military operations" in South America. The original military document also detailed the necessity of investing $46 million to improve the airfield, ramps and other essential installations on the base, converting it into a Cooperative Security Location (CSL) for US military missions in the region.

Hit the link for the original docments, and what they were altered to read now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Venezuela and Those Blown Up Bridges: More US Hypocrisy

In an attempt to get this blog some more action, I am going to do something I don't usually do, and post a straight rip from a blog I highly respect - Otto's INCA KOLA NEWS:

Another taste of bizarre today as the hypocrisy of US foreign policy towards Venezuela shows up once again. Several newswires are running the story about how Venezuelan troops "blew up two bridges" that connect Venezuela with LittleUSA (a.k.a. Colombia) in the Norte de Santander region this week. Anyone who knows anything about that spot on the planet knows that those bridges are used for two main purposes:

Carrying cheap fuel from Venezuela to Colombia illegally
Carrying cocaine from Colombia to Venezuela (need I mention that's illegal?)

But sure enough, LittleUSA is going to make a protest about the fact that Venezuela wants to protect its borders from Colombia's main source of dollars. Apparently, f*cking up your neighbours via a long term and very large cocaine habit is socially acceptable while watching them protect themselves from you is aggressive behaviour.

This comes on the same day that The USA declares it wants to see Venezuela make more effort against drug runners. The arrogantly entitled 'Voice of America' (hint, 'America' is not a country, it's a double continent) starts off its report thusly:

U.S. anti-drug officials are calling for greater efforts by Venezuela to combat drug traffickers who are using the country to make illegal shipments.
So Venezuela has to make more effort to combat druggies, but when it does there's hell to pay. Go figure.

Again, go check out Otto's wonderful Latin American blog IKN. Don't hold it against him that he is also trying to make some money off gringo's irrational fear and misunderstanding of the region (mining stock).

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

FAO: Venezuela Reduces Malnutrition from 21% to 6%

Venezuelans now consume 2,790 calories daily, more than the number of calories that the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN suggests is the daily requirement, according to National Nutrition Institute (INN) Director Marilyn Di Luca.

Malnutrition has diminished from 21% eleven years ago to 6% currently, owing to the government’s agriculture and food distribution policies, Di Luca said.

She said Venezuela ranks fifth in Latin America for lowest nutritional deficiency amongst children, with Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina ranking higher.

Di Luca said the achievements in nutrition are thanks to social planning. “Currently a plan of harvesting and storage is being carried out... as well, the Ministry of Education’s Bolivarian curriculum is teaching the children to eat the food that is produced here and that links us to our origins. Further, the folks in the Culture Mission [a social program] are in the street linking food and nutrition to socialist values.”

“Also, the government has developed a structural platform with the Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation (CVA) that has a gigantic system of 59 food processing plants,” said Venezuela’s vice minister of food policy, Rafael Coronado.

Government financing of producers has increased from BsF 268 million bolivars in 1998 to BsF 20 billion (US$ 9.3 billion) this year, and harvested areas have increased from 1.6 million hectares in 1998 to 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) this year, according to Vice Minister for Agrarian Economy Richard Canan.

Canan argued that the government has changed its attitude toward production. Where previous governments thought it was cheaper to import food, the current government, through technology transfer, international agreements, and financing, is promoting more local production.

To improve food distribution and control food prices, the state-run company PDVAL (Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Food) sells food at government-regulated prices and supplies thousands of public cafeterias that provide free meals to the most needy.

Since their founding in 2003, the state-run MERCAL markets sell food at subsidized prices to nearly every community nation-wide, sometimes as much as 40% cheaper than the regulated prices.

In addition to the permanent MERCAL markets, the government and local communal councils organise temporary MERCAL food distribution points in central and remote places across the country. Last Saturday, MERCAL had 3,116 tonnes of food for sale at 779 such distribution points.

The FAO representative in Venezuela, Francisco Arias, said Venezuela has closely followed FAO recommendations. “Strengthening the networks like MERCAL, PDVAL and the public cafeterias, but also promoting local food production, is precisely the strategy that FAO has promoted to deal with food insecurity,” he said. (Translation by Venezuelanalysis)

UN: Venezuela and Cuba Excel at Human Development

Below is an algamation of reports from Earth Times and Green Left Weekly.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) revealed that China and Venezuela were the two top gainers in terms of human development since 2007. The UNDP's "Human Development Index" compiles multiple statistics relating to health, education, poverty, women's rights, etc. in order to come up with the most holistic picture of actual human progress (rather than just economic).

Venezuela has been led by President Hugo Chavez for the past decade. Chavez is an outspoken critic of capitalsm and has pursued socialist policies aimed at combatting disease, illiteracy, malnutrition and poverty.

Cuba’s education index is equal highest in the world, along with Australia, Finland, Denmark and New Zealand. Cuba’s education index is 0.993 of a possible score of 1. Its adult literacy rate is 99.8% and school enrolments are 100%. Public expenditure on education in Cuba is 14.2% of total government expenditure. This is higher than Australia (13.3%) and the US (13.7%). Cuba also tops the world in the ratio of female to male enrolment in all levels of school, at 121%.

Cuba’s life expectancy is 78.5 years, the highest along with Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean. It compares favourably with Australia (81.4 years) and the US (79.1 years).

Cuba fares well desptie having a relatively low population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Mexico, with twice the GDP per capita as Cuba, actually has a lower level of human development than Cuba.

Since 2005, Azerbaijan, Cuba and Venezuela have improved their HDI more than any other countries. Venezuela was one of the few countries that significantly bettered its HDI ranking since last year, jumping four places from 62 to 58.

Venezuela has achieved a relatively rapid rise of 5.2% in its HDI between 2000 to 2007, compared to a 4.8% increase in its HDI over the previous 20 years.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Supreme Court: Miami school can ban book on Cuba

How Cuban American Hard-Liners Influence U.S. Policy With Campaign Money

By Nick Sabloff in the Huffington Post:

While U.S. policy toward Cuba has opened up since President Barack Obama took office, a new report from Public Campaign, an organization dedicated to reforming campaign financing, raises the question of whether hard-line Cuban Americans will succeed in stifling further changes in U.S.-Cuba relations through their campaign contributions to members of Congress.

According to the report, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, along with a "network of hard-line Cuban American donors," have made over $10 million in campaign donations since the 2004 election cycle, with 337 federal candidates receiving funds through the PAC.

The report claims that the candidates that received these contributions have "more often than not cast their votes on Cuba policy issues with the hard-liners. " It highlights a group of 18 House members, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, whose voting patterns appeared to have shifted significantly since receiving their first contribution from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. Having once voted consistently in favor of easing relations with Cuba, these members were now more often found to be questioning any such shift, the report concludes. Unsurprisingly, as the power in Washington has shifted, so too has the money. In 2004, 71 percent of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's money went to Republicans; in 2010, the figure is projected to be 76 percent to Democrats.

When it comes to public sentiment toward the U.S.'s relationship with Cuba, the Public Campaign report insists that the hard-liners, in their opposition to repealing such things as the travel ban for Americans, are out of step with where the majority of the country is heading. A poll by Bendixen and Associates conducted in September 2009, which is cited in the report, found that 59 percent of Cuban-Americans favored lifting the travel ban for all Americans. Similarly, a national survey conducted by World Public Opinion in April claimed that 70 percent of Americans were in favor of being allowed to travel to Cuba. A congressional hearing is due to be held on November 19 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the topic of lifting the travel ban to Cuba.

In April, Obama abandoned restrictions on Cuban Americans' ability to travel to the island and send money to relatives, a move described by the New York Times at the time as the "most significant shift in United States policy toward Cuba in decades." Obama also cleared the way for telecommunications companies to pursue licensing agreement in the country. The U.S.'s trade embargo with Cuba, however, remains firmly in place.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cuba: Strange Inconsistencies in Yoani's Account of "Beating"

I wonder how many people in the Western Hemisphere are abused by police officers each year. All the victims of police abuse in the US, Mexico, Dominican republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Jamaica, Venezuela, Brazi, etc. How many of the victims every get a first-hand Reuters and AP article written about the abuse just a few hours after it occurs? How many get any articles in the US at all?

Well if it happens in one country, odds are that US audiences will hear about it. Cuba.

In the most recent case, (12 million hits per month) Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was supposedly the victim of a great crime of state violence today. The story broke on the blogs and then she spoke with the Miami Herald. The Herald piece talks about a true police beating, complete with "karate holds," "judo," "punches," "blows" and "being violently thrown on the street."

The weird thing is that NONE of this police violence was mentioned at all in a Reuters article where she was interviewed right after the Herald piece. There is nothing about a beating or violence at all. The closest detail is that she says her PURSE was "thrown on the street as they drove off." The article, in fact, clearly states that Yoani "had no injuries, she said."

Another critical inconsistency is that she says "there was no time to resist" getting taken in the (presumably) security services car, in the Reuters account. In the Herald piece, she says she resisted and refused to get in the car, and that is when the violence occurred. That and also when she took a piece of paper with information on it from the agents pocket, and put it in her mouth to destroy it.

I certainly can not explain why one account sounds like an episode from a low budget mafia movie and the other sounds rather typical what has happened in Cuba forever - a dissident is not arrested, bus is prevented from attending a particular anti-Government rally or event. In this case, it seems pretty clear that the Yoani seemed to indeed resist the security forces and then play the aggressor, in taking something from the agent's pocket. Whether any true abusive blows were leveled by a Cuban agent, or whether the act of forcing a resistant person into a car and trying to defend a piece of security information in a pocket is all we are talking about, can not be known at this point. Certainly, no State violence against its people can be tolerated.

I certainly hope for the day when security forces in all countries refrain from abuse. I also know that Cuba does not a big problem in this regard, compared to what takes place in other countries in the region.

But Yoani has achieved her goal. She wroter very early on that she wanted "to know where the line was" in Cuban political life. Whether through her sheer celebrity, her moxie and conjones or too many exaggerations (or lies) - she has run across a Cuban line. Maybe it was visiting too many hostile foreign Embassies? Maybe her cooperation with US Government run entities like Radio Marti? Maybe the Miami friends she's met? Predictably, she claims she was told it is her writings. Well, Yoani could certainly test that hypothesis and refrain from foreign embassies and US propaganda organs for a spell, couldn't she?

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Honduras: US Washes its Hands and Blesses Coup

The supposed agreement to reinstate President Zelaya of Honduras is officially dead. The coup government of Micheletti has forsaken the text of the signed agreement, which called for a "unity government" and instead put together a new cabinet of his cronies - with no anti-coup representation.

On the same day, the best indication of the real Obama Administration policy on Honduras was revealed by Republican Senator Jim DeMint. In a overjoyed press release he claimed that the Administration will recognize the elections even if the Honduran Congress refuses to make a decision before the November 29 election. This goes against everything that had been said in the past and against everything every other country in the world has said on this issue.

So it appears the US has tacitly endorsed the coup plotters hopes of dupe and delay. Zelaya will not be restored and elections are to be held on November 29th. Already 2/3 of the Constitutionally required election campaign has been held under repressive conditions (martial law, media closures, thousands of arrests of grass roots leaders, etc) and an illegal Administration. The US position is to bless these elections and pretend that the (boyocotted) November 29th election will wash their hands of this whole mess. They ought to think again.

I've officially had it with this Administration, at least as it related to Latin America. This whole Honduras story has been very instructive of how "soft power" can be even more devious and destructive than hard. The US always professed (against evidence to the contrary) that it needed to have Zelaya instituted. Now we know that was a fallacy. All the US really wanted was for this to all go away, without alienating the region too bad.

The State Department was praised by all official quarters when the initial deal was breached. They are probably thinking they are in the clear even still, with the situation unraveling quickly (and two bombs having gone off in the capital). That is ok. We (the US) won't have to be there to try to solve the lasting problem being created.

Since th pretension of regional cooperation has passed, it is time to pick sides folks. Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua said today that Zelaya's reinstatement is not negotiable. That elections will not be legitimate unless the repression ends and Michelletti gives way to Zelaya. This is the position of every major human rights group in Honduras and the world. The US has regrettably staked out another position. One that would legitimize a coup and set a horrible precedent for the entire world, but the region in particular. US talk about democracy is just that, if we can not get a tin pat country that depends wholly on the US to reinstate a legitimately elected President for just a few more weeks, before his term ends.

Even Time magazine sees trouble brewing.
And it could certainly have negative implications for Obama's credibility in the region if he is perceived to have brokered a deal that allowed a military coup to succeed. Then again, the U.S. President could always shift the blame by pointing out that it was Zelaya that signed the deal.

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