Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Honduras: US Silence on Human Rights Violations is Deafening

Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy in Honduras, 21 September 2009.

I can't say it any better than Mark Weisbrot did in the Guardian today:

Now that Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras, the coup government – after first denying that he was there – has unleashed a wave of repression to prevent people from gathering support for their elected president.

This is how US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described the first phase of this new repression Monday night in a press conference: "I think that the government imposed a curfew, we just learned, to try to get people off the streets so that there couldn't be unforeseen developments."

But the developments that this dictatorship is trying to repress are very much foreseen. A completely peaceful crowd of thousands surrounded the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya has taken refuge, to greet their president. The military then used the curfew as an excuse to tear-gas, beat and arrest the crowd until there was nothing left. There are reports of scores wounded and three dead. The dictatorship has cut off electricity and water to the embassy and cut electricity to what little is left of the independent media, as well as some neighbourhoods.
The strategy for dealing with them has been to try to render them powerless – through thousands of arrests, beatings and even some selective killings. This has been documented, reported and denounced by major human rights organisations throughout the world: Amnesty International, the Centre for Justice and International Law, Human Rights Watch, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and others.

One important actor, the only major country to maintain an ambassador in Honduras throughout the dictatorship, has maintained a deafening silence about this repression: the US government. The Obama administration has not uttered one word about the massive human rights violations in Honduras.

This silence by itself tells you all you need to know about what this administration has really been trying to accomplish in the nearly three months since the Honduran military squelched democracy. The Obama team understands exactly how the coup government is maintaining its grip on power through violence and repression. And Barack Obama, along with his secretary of state, has shown no intention of undermining this strategy.

In fact, Zelaya has been to Washington six times since he was overthrown, but not once did he get a meeting with Obama. Why is that? Most likely because Obama does not want to send the "wrong" signal to the dictatorship, ie that the lip service that he has paid to Zelaya's restoration should be taken seriously.

These signals are important, because the Honduran dictatorship is digging in its heels on the bet that they don't have to take any pressure from Washington seriously. They have billions of dollars of assets in the US, which could be frozen or seized. But the dictatorship, for now, trusts that the Obama team is not going to do anything to hurt their allies.

Luz Mejias, the head of the Organisation of American States' Inter-American Human Rights Commission, had a different view of the dictatorship's curfew from that of Hillary Clinton. She called it "a clear violation of human rights and legal norms" and said that those who ordered these measures should be charged under international criminal law.

What possible excuse can the military have for breaking up this peaceful gathering, or can Clinton have for supporting the army's violence? There was no way that this crowd was a threat to the Brazilian embassy – quite the contrary. If anything it was protecting the embassy. That is one reason why the military attacked the crowd.

On 11 August, 16 members of the US Congress sent a letter to Obama urging him to "publicly denounce the use of violence and repression of peaceful protesters, the murder of peaceful political organisers and all forms of censorship and intimidation directed at media outlets." They are still waiting for an answer.
What a horrible, ugly message the Obama administration is sending to the democracies of Latin America, and to people who aspire to democracy everywhere.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ecuador: The Chevron Dirty Tricks Tactic

Those of you good people aware of the way Chiquita skirted its responsibility for poisoning thousands of banana workers in Nicaragua had to be waiting for Chevron to attempt a similar feat. Well here we have it. Complete with spy cameras hidden in shirt pocket pens and a full blown PR website with carefully edited videos and all.

For those not paying attention, in play is a hugely important $27 Billion lawsuit pitting the Amazon communities of Ecuador against oil giant Chevron (was Texaco) for their wanton destruction of the land, water and native peoples when they were pumping oil there. Simply put, the communities want their land restored and their victims compensated. There is a very long and interesting history, parts of which can be found here - and in this 60 minutes broadcast.

The allegations from Chevron are that 1) the Ecuadorean Judge in the case was being bribed for one million dollars, 2) that he was under the control of the Government of Ecuador, 3) that he had therefore already improperly made up his mind as to the verdict and the amount of the award, and 4) that the Ecuadorean President's political party and sister were parties to the bribe.

In response, Chevron has already said that they will no pay up if they lose the case, as they were widely expected to. It will be up to the United States to enforce the decision, as Chevron has no assets in Ecudor. This will be a real test for the Obama Administration. Uphold the rule of law or cave into PR spy games manufactured by one of the most obscene instances of overseas pollution ever recorded.

Hidden from the story at present are the people making the bribe soliciting their money all around Ecuador. That is an American named Wayne Hansen (who either has a water and soil remediation company - or is a consultant) and his ex Chevron worker Ecuadorean connection Diego Borja. Chevron claims it had nothing to do with the hidden cameras and set-ups, but will not allow the two to be made available for interviews to explain the absurdity of the story.

We are apparently meant to believe that those attempting to bribe officials like to video their deals for their own reasons. And that they just turned them into Chevron because they felt it was all so morally wrong. And now they have been ferried to the US with "relocation expenses and other interim support." Are you kidding me? Who does not what is going on here?

For those just getting on board, Chevron has tried to make charges of "political manipulation" and judicial misconduct stick ever since the election of President Correa - exploiting his mark as a Chavez-esque socialist (I mean what else do you need to know about the place?) They forget to tell you that the trial should not even be in Ecuador, except that Chevron's lawyers thought they'd have a better chance there. Chevron was quite used to running Ecuador with its wealthy political clients, before the indigenous people (and socialists) assumed their democratic place in the institutions of that region.

Thankfully some news outlets have made clear that there is no evidence the Judge ever knew about a bribe, much less had accepted one. There is similarly no evidence that the Ecuadorean authorities knew anything about this proposed bribe. There is only the apparent bluster of a supposed official of the ruling Allianza Pais party.

Photos courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak, who traveled to Ecuador to document the physical and emotional reality of those affected by pollution and their struggle for justice.

Let us have some more fun. Let's dissect this carefully crafted "news release" by Chevron. It is noteworthy that they are actually more circumspect than the media has been already about the actual charges against the judge and Government. Lawyers know they can not get too far from reality. But they get close.

After describing the people involved, Chevron jumps to the first meeting, where they say:

Judge Núñez stated that the government of Ecuador, not the plaintiffs, would receive the funds earmarked for remediation produced by the judgment against Chevron.

I guess this is meant to be some kind of revelation or reminder of the sinister hand of the Government of Ecuador, who quite obviously, will have to be responsible for regulating and assigning remediation work, according to the Court decision of course. Did Chevron really think they would be given the contracts to pay themselves for cleaning up their mess?? So they could profit off their earlier profits? Are they serious? Subsequently, at the next meeting:

Judge Núñez answered a series of questions about the case from the (US) businessmen, who was seeking assurances that the court proceedings would generate business (for him). Novoa (a Govt. lawyer) stated that “we (the State) have the political power” to direct remediation contracts and stressed the judge “is generating the work through the ruling.”

What they leave out is the next line by Noboa, who says "What more can I tell you, I
can’t tell you how the ruling will come out because for that you have to go
through a process and you have to work out an entire draft... In other words, you, Sir, you have to wait for there to be a ruling.

NOVOA: There’s no way to—

Judge Nuñez: Look, Sir, the ruling will be issued. It will be issued. The ruling, there will be one. The ruling, there will be one. But I repeat, I as a judge, Sir, as to telling you or not telling you whether your company will do the remediation, I can’t say."

Next, Chevron's press release reports nefariously that:
Judge Núñez confirmed that he would be issuing a ruling, the appeal would be a formality and the government would be handling the funds associated with remediation contracts”.

Well yes, of course there would be a ruling coming down soon. Everyone knows that. But no, the Judge does not just dismiss the inevitable appeal as "a formality." He explains the appeal procedure - the legal deadlines, the location of the trial, etc. He issues no judgment on the appeal of course - as he does not decide any appeal.

UPDATE: The Amazon Defense Coalition has accused Chevron of using Nixon-style "dirty tricks" in an attempt to corrupt the court proceedings. They say:

After carefully reviewing the videos and transcripts of the videos released by Chevron, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Chevron's hidden cameras produced "not even a scintilla of evidence" that the judge was involved in bribes, "made no sense" about how contracts would be awarded and raised questions about Chevron's own involvement in the bribery scheme perpetrated by an Ecuadorian Chevron contractor and an American businessman.

"There is clear evidence from the videos that individuals associated with Chevron were trying to bribe Ecuadorian government officials to undermine the trial process so the company can avoid paying a judgment," Fajardo said.; "Corruption of the trial process by Chevron has become a pattern which we believe extends to the highest levels of the company and which may constitute a violation of criminal laws both in Ecuador and the United States," he added.