Wednesday, May 28, 2008

LA Times and Colombia

The LA Times followed the lead of many more conservative rags in praising the recent extradition of 14 right-wing paramilitary leaders (called terrorists by US authorities) to the US last week. I expected the Wall Street Journal and House Republicans to praise the deal, but with all major victim and human rights groups criticizing the maneuver, I might have expected a different tone.

For those who haven't been following the story, the 14 militia chiefs were supposedly safe from extradition as long as they respected the 2005 "justice and peace law" that governed the demobilization of the far-right paramilitary groups (responsible for at least 80% of the Civil War violence). The peace law required that victims confront their tormentors and that the leaders tell the truth about their links with the political and military authorities.

The Uribe Government says they extradited the 14 because they were not cooperating with authorities and continuing their operations from jail. However, the latter issue has a simple fix (holding them incommunicado), while the former is blatantly untrue, as the revelations coming from the investigations seemed to come every day for the last couple months. More than 60 lawmakers, nearly all of them pro-Uribe, were under investigation for their ties to the paramilitaries, as part of what has been dubbed the "parapolitics scandal." They include the rightwing president’s cousin and main political ally, Mario Uribe.

The extradition will end the investigations. All motivation for the 14 (and all other paramilitaries) to cooperate are out the window. The US will try them for drug crimes and care little about getting to the bottom of the troubling allegations. Their lawyers will tell them to plead the 5th to the other questions.

Uribe is clearly tired of the mounting and deadly serious allegations against his Party and Government coming out of these folks mouths. Perhaps Mancuso's offer the other day to name all the (other) multinationals who "freely" gave payments to the paramilitaries was the straw that broke the camels back. Uribe and Bush want the trade deal and more Chiquita's would have been the death knell. So, just as Uribe wanted, the paramilitary-political scandal will now end: As the lead investigator Claudia Lopez said, "They've taken away all the witnesses.”

So much for the victims whose bodies are still missing. So much for the bodies without names. So much for the victim's families. So much for truth. So much for Colombian justice. Everyone knows what this is about, Uribe just hopes no one is paying attention. He apparently, is getting his wish, with even the “liberal” LA Times taking him at his word. Here is my letter in response to the editorial.

The Times' editorial board ought to consult with the victims of Colombian paramilitary violence or human rights groups, not Bush Administration talking points, when talking about President Uribe's recent extradition show. Far from demonstrating his Government’s "independence and impartiality,” the extradition of 14 paramilitary leaders to the US only put justice further away for the thousands of families who are demanding answers about their loved ones. It also assured that the dirty secrets that were beginning to come out about the relationship between Uribe-allied politicians and the abuses will never be found. Free from the confines of a peace process that permitted limited jail sentences in exchange for truth telling, the 14 leaders in the US now have no incentive to cooperative with investigations and will go to their grave with their secrets. The reality is that the investigations were getting too close to Uribe and the multinationals and therefore had to be terminated. Extradition did just that, with the added bonus of fooling US editorialists into thinking it was progress.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cuba has world's highest rate 100-year-olds

HAVANA (AFP) — About 1,800 Cubans are over 100 years old, making it the country with the highest rate of centenarians, an expert said Saturday.

Eugenio Selman-Housein, chairman of the 120 Years Club and previously head of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's medical team, also said "life expectancy has gone up to almost 80 years" on the communist-run Caribbean island.

There are "currently about 1,800 Cubans registered as over a century old," he said, according to the National Information Agency.

This figure would make Cuba, which has a total population of 11.2 million, "the country that has the most centenarians per number of inhabitants in the world," Selman-Housein said.

He noted that reaching the grand old age of 100 in good health required motivation, first of all, but also "a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, physical activity, culture and the right atmosphere."

The 120 Years Club, created in 2003, promotes a style of living and eating that will help people live a long and happy life.

Cuba has 16.6 percent senior citizens -- more than 12 percent is considered high -- which represents more than 1.9 million elderly people, official figures show.

The oldest Cuban is a 122-year-old woman who lives in Granma, 760 kilometres (470 miles) southeast of Havana. Her identity has never been disclosed.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Cuba: US Brings Terrorist's Money to "Dissidents"

Cubans protesting US sponsored terrorism march past the US Interests Section in Havana in 2007

It is public knowledge that groups funded by the US Government send cash directly to anti-Government activists in Cuba. We also knew the US Government imports things like computers, radios and fax machines to folks working with US officials as well. But the US always denied directly giving cash directly to Cubans. Things appear to have changed.

Today Cuba held a news conference where it unveiled emails and videos that show the US Interest Section (USIS) Chief, Michael Parmly, has himself acted as a courier of cash to (at least) several high-profile dissidents (Martha Beatrice Roque and Laura Pollan, head of the Damas de Blanco). Not coincidentally, the recipients of the cash were the same folks who chatted with George Bush via video-conference last week. The USIS responded by not conforming or denying the charge but did defend the general practice of assisting Cubans.

The fact that the USIS did not deny the report, accompanied by the Cuban evidence, tells us the story is true. This would be scandalous enough - a secret change in an 11 year old foreign policy that explicitly forbids such direct monetary support. But Cuba is alleging a much more sinister detail. The money appears to have originated from a foundation headed by none other than convicted terrorist Santiago Alvarez - who was given a light sentence 2 years ago for getting caught with grenade launchers, C4 explosives, dynamite, dozens of machine guns, detonators, etc intended (by admission) to use on the Cuban island. Alvarez is also known as chief benefactor for terrorist mastermind Luis Posada Carriles - wanted for a 1976 airline bombing that killed 73 people (as well as many other bombings).

As a Cuban diplomat asked today: "One wonders whether the U.S. government, which has declared the fight against terrorism as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, is aware that its main diplomat in Havana is working with a notorious terrorist."

Surprisingly, the Cuban authorities did not respond with any threats to expel the diplomat (perhaps knowing that Parmly is on his way out anyhow) or arrest the money recipients, but instead requested a thorough investigation and an end to the practice. However, they have also said more information is to follow.

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