A gringo's perspective on Latin American politics, culture and issues.
"I never truckled. I never took of the hat to fashion and held it out for pennies. I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth. I knew it for the truth then and I know it for the truth now!" - Frank Norris
My name: Randy Paul
Saturday, May 31, 2003
A DISAPPOINTING UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
If this year's Champions League Championship Game is a sign that Italian Football is making a comeback in European competition, then I hope it isn't. The Championship Game was, in my experience, the most uninspired finale that I have ever seen. Eight shots on goal in 120 minutes of play.
Also, that UEFA Champions League Theme Song is a little too Wagnerian for me.
OPPENHEIMER ON ARGENTINA AND CASTRO
This must be the week for good columns about Latin America. Andrés Oppenheimer seems willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Argentina's new Foreign Minister, Rafael Bielsa (for you football fans out there, the brother of Argentina's Men's National Team Coach Marcelo Bielsa) about the warm reception they gave Fidel Castro at President Kirchner's inauguration. Bielsa does some obvious backpedaling:
'I was not foreign minister last week,'' Bielsa told me. ``The [ABC] question specifically referred to the executions, and I felt I had neither the position nor the moral authority to make a judgment.''
And what would you say if I asked you in a broader sense whether Cuba respects human rights?
The foreign minister responded that he will make a judgment on that once he examines the previous government's reasons for changing Argentina's vote at the United Nations from a condemnation of Cuba's human rights abuses to an abstention.
Oppenheimer details his concerns about Castro's reception:
First, Argentina -- which is still recovering from the scandalous image of its Congress celebrating the default on its foreign debt two years ago -- did not help itself by allowing Castro to steal the show at Kirchner's inauguration. You cannot applaud a dictator who has just executed people without an open trial, and then go hat in hand asking Washington and Europe to be considered a modern democracy worthy of more comprehension by international financial institutions.
But, more important, a country that has lived through a dictatorship, like Argentina, should be the first to speak out when journalists are given jail sentences of 25 years in prison for things such as possessing a typewriter and criticizing the government.
By walking away from its commitment to human rights, Argentina is paving the way for a return to dark days when people thought there is such a thing as ''good dictators.'' It should know better.
Boy do I agree with every word of that. I am mystified as to why a country that suffered so much under brutal right wing dictators would embrace a brutal left-wing dictator. Have they forgotten their own recent history?
Friday, May 30, 2003
SPEAKING OF MARCELA SANCHEZ . . .
She has a very cogent analysis of what the meaning of the recent agreement between Hugo Chávez and his opponents that I mentioned here. She's fair and judicious to both sides:
With Chavez's political end in sight, the temptation for the opposition will be to denigrate anything and everything that he represents. But such actions risk alienating his supporters and ignore the opposition's own end of the bargain, which in both cases could help Chavez survive or give him an excuse to withdraw from the agreement.
Disillusioned with politicians that ignored their plight for years, millions of Venezuelans turned to Chavez and his promise to end the cruel irony of dirt-poor life in an oil-rich land. On these sentiments alone, Chavez remains popular among the disaffected. Personalizing opposition to him or offering little to the poor directly will cement their commitment to Chavez.
That second paragraph really goes to the heart of how a Hugo Chávez can rise to power. If the opposition thinks that they can revert to the status quo ante Chávez, then they will surely find themselves in the same situation they are in now sooner rather than later.
She doesn't let Chávez off the hook:
Viewed from here, their [those at the bottom of the economic ladder in Venezuela] situation has hardly improved under Chavez. His social vision had merit, yet after more than four years in office, often appearing more concerned with antagonizing his enemies than with governing, he has strayed far from the path of responding to popular needs and discontent.[my emphasis]
Chavez has presided over the worst economic contraction in his nation's history. Last Friday, Venezuela's Central Bank reported a 29 percent drop in the country's gross domestic product during the first quarter of this year. At its worst, Argentina's GDP dropped 20 percent in four years.
This is precisely why Chávez has failed so miserably. In arresting Carlos Fernandez, one of the strike leaders, Chávez sent his police into a restaurant at midnight firing guns in the air and hauling Fernandez off to jail. That's the sort of thing that I would expect from Pinochet or Videla when he led Argentina. Much was made about Chávez's constitution and the rights it extended to various groups, but democracy is best exemplified in its execution, not in its mere words. A just and democratic society enforces its laws in such a way as to inure to the benefit of all its citizens. It certainly seems to me that in that regard both Chávez and the opposition have fallen woefully short.
TAKING APART THE POST'S LATAM COVERAGE
David Adesnik, one of the Oxbloggers has a dead-on post taking the Washington Post to task for their sloppy Latin American coverage.
I do think, however, Marcela Sanchez is a notable exception.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I probably won't be posting today or tomorrow. I have a number of projects I need to do at work and home. Be back Friday.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Never one to hold a grudge, I have to commend this post of Hesiod's regarding the human rights record of Islam Kerimov's regime in Uzbekistan. I had also mentioned Uzbekistan in this post in April.
This certainly seems to vindicate my previous post. If you want to get some unvarnished background on Uzbekistan's human rights record under Kerimov, check out the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports on Uzbekistan.
Flood the zone, get the word out!!!!!
UTTER NONSENSE: THE STORY CONTINUES
The other unsupported meme that I want to address is the one that somehow the left coddles dictators and that the right wingers are the true defenders of human rights. I have addressed this in countless places on this blog, and Kevin Drum fileted that asinine argument here, but the mentality seems to be that if you repeat this nonsense long enough it will become true regardless of the facts.
As Kevin put it so well:
This is tiresome. The only people on the left who have defended Castro are the Gilligan's Island crowd (you know, professors and movie stars), never anyone to my knowledge who is even remotely in the mainstream of liberal thought. Ditto for Stalin and Mao, who were vigorously denounced by Truman, JFK, Johnson, Humphrey, and virtually every other Democrat who occupied a prominent spot in the real world during the Cold War.
If the only examples of an inability to make "moral distinctions" that you can find are radical academics, ditzy movie stars, and student protesters, then what's the point? Sure, go ahead and denounce the "extreme left" for their views if you must, but leave the rest of us liberals out of it, OK?
In addition to the argument that Kevin makes (that you can find some gassy idiot on the fringe of liberal thought to defend someone like Castro), the fact is that these are not the people who are making foreign policy in this country, not now and not historically, unless you count Ronald Reagan. More on him later.
When dictators have been coddled by the US, they have invariably been right-wing dictators. Both major political parties have been involved in this coddling, and the consequences have been far worse than Oliver Stone smoking cigars with Castro.
In 1981, Jeane Kirkpatrick visited Chile and Argentina as the US Ambassador to the UN in the Reagan administration. While in Chile she met with Pinochet, praised his economic policies and expressed the administration's hope to "completely normalize" relations with Chile. During that same visit, she pointedly refused to meet with Jaime Castillo, the head of the Chilean Human Rights Commission and a member of the Christian Democrat Party. Less than a week later Castillo was expelled from Chile for a second time. The torture and disappearances continued. My sources are The Washington Post, August 13, 1981, A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet and Chile Under Pinochet: Recovering the Truth.
In Argentina, Kirkpatrick refused their request to meet with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organization made up of mothers whose children had been disappeared, yet she made time for Junta leader, Jorge Videla and even had a state dinner for him in the US. Videla was subsequently held legally responsible for 84 homicides, 504 illegal deprivations of freedom, 254 applications of torture, 94 aggravated robberies, 180 counts of ideologically falsifying public documents, four usurpations of property, 23 counts of forced labor, one count of extortion, two extortive kidnappings, seven counts of child stealing and seven counts of torture resulting in death. He was eventually pardoned of all charges (except for child stealing) in an amnesty granted by former President Menem. The torture and disappearances continued. My source is A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan visited Asia, including a stop in Indonesia on a trip absurdly dubbed "The Winds of Freedom." He agreed not to make mention of the controversy surrounding President Suharto's vast riches - despite being on the public payroll most of his life - reports of which resulted in the banning of Australian reporters and a New York Times reporter who had reported on Suharto's "business" dealings. One can only imagine that the "Winds of Freedom" blew these reporters right out of Indonesia . . . Reagan also promised not to mention "the even more sensitive subject of East Timor" despite the request for him to do so by more than one hundred members of congress. The torture and murders continued. My source is From the Place of the Dead: The Epic Struggles of Bishop Belo of East Timor.
I could go on and on about this including such glaring examples as this, but I think that the point has been made. When Oliver Stone hobnobs with Castro, he continues to make an ass of himself. When Jeane Kirkpatrick in an official capacity representing the US Government refuses to meet with respected members of the human rights community in Chile and Argentina while meeting and praising those responsible for human rights abuses or when Ronald Reagan kowtows to the notoriously corrupt Suharto, refusing to mention the egregious human rights abuses taking place in a nation that Indonesia has illegally occupied, they lend support tacitly, if not explicitly (in the case of Kirkpatrick in my opinion) to human rights abusers. If those on the right cannot see this distinction, God help them.
Sunday, May 25, 2003
There are a couple of memes circulating in the blog world that are utter nonsense: that "the left" coddles dictators and that human rights NGO's show bias about the issues on which they choose to work. I'll address the second one today and the first tomorrow.
As I have noted here before, I did fairly extensive volunteer work for Amnesty International for a number of years. I did public speaking for them, participated in a local adoption group, helped with new group organizing, did training and served as a liasion between some of the volunteer members and the professional staff. Let me perfectly clear, however: In this post I am speaking about my experiences in the organization, I am not speaking for the organization.
One of the key areas I always covered during the new member orientations was AI's three part mandate:
1.) Immediate release of all prisoners of conscience (i.e., someone who has been jailed for their political beliefs, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc, provided they have not used or advocated violence.
2.) Fair and prompt trials for all prisoners
3.) Abolition of torture and execution in all cases.
Recently, in the comments section of this post in Matthew Yglesias' blog, a poster made the following comments:
AI's website has a permalink to "Israel/Occupied territories". I think that that speaks volumes about their supposed "non-partisanship". To use such charge rhetoric is to clearly give the moral high ground to the Palestinians.
Also, listing the death penalty as a human rights abuse of the United States is at best iffy. That's way, way into the realm of political opinion.
Let me address these issues in reverse order:
Opposition to the death penalty is part of AI's work. This work is not limited to addressing death penalty issues in the US. While one may disagree as to whether or not this is an issue for an organization like AI to address, it is not ipso facto "into the realm of political opinion." There are many on the left who support the death penalty (e.g. Al Gore, Gray Davis, Hillary Clinton) and there are many on the right (e.g. Rupert Murdoch according to a New Yorker profile by Ken Auletta some years ago and former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler).
Regarding the first issue, as I pointed out in the comments section, if you click here you will be taken to the US Department of State's webpage on Near Eastern Affairs. You will note that it says "The West Bank and Gaza Strip are Israeli-occupied, with interim status subject to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations - final status to be determined." Is AI being partisan by regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the same fashion as the US Department of State, arguably Israel's greatest international supporter, or is it just a matter of projecting one's own biases when one is either short of the facts or simply too lazy to look for them?
There is also a tendency by some on the right to presume that there is a zero-sum game going on when NGO's such as AI and Human Rights Watch address allegations of human rights abuses in the US. It is certainly possible for them to do both and they have been. In my opinion, I think that a great deal of the criticism is a matter of projection to a large extent and hysteria to a small extent.
AI, in particular, is a democratic organization. Members are able to vote on issues and submit resolutions for consideration. Perhaps the critics of AI should consider getting involved in the organization and attempting to influence its direction instead of carping from the sidelines.
Saturday, May 24, 2003
AGREEMENT REACHED IN VENEZUELA
I was beginning to wonder if I would write that title heading, but it appears that a deal has been reached in Venezuela for a referendum on Chávez's rule:
The pact, which came unexpectedly after six months of OAS-mediated negotiations and is slated to be signed next week, would end formal talks between the sides. It calls for the creation of a special committee, including envoys from the OAS, Atlanta-based Carter Center and United Nations, to ensure the accord is respected.
Those who have been spending their time trashing Jimmy Carter and the UN must be frustrated now. The real credit here should go to Cesar Gaviria and the OAS. They had been working tirelessly for more than six months and the fact that an agreement appears to have been reached is a testament to their dedication.
I'm sure that this had an impact on the negotiations as well.
Very light blogging until Sunday. I will be back and I thank all of you for passing by and reading. It's much appreciated and I welcome your feedback.
Friday, May 23, 2003
Hesiod has a post here (if links are bloggered look for the post titled "Sweet Home Alabama") that would be silly if it didn't speak to a larger problem which is the subject of this post.
I lived in Alabama for a number of years and still have a great many family members there. I was raised for much of my childhood by my aunt (biological mother's sister) and my late uncle who I still consider to be my parents. My biological father died when I was five (he was from the Ukraine originally) and my mother's side of the family was from the deep South. To a person my immediate family are and were liberal democrats, but if Hesiod is to be believed, hell on Thanksgiving we sit on the front porch waitin' for Pa or Bubba to bring home the possum or raccoon for dinner, that is when we can stop our droolin'.
I wonder if Hesiod knows that William Bradford Huie was from Hartselle, Alabama, about 60 miles from Huntsville. I wonder if Hesiod knows who Huie was . . .
I'm really trying to avoid being flippant, but what Hesiod did in that post was to engage in what may be the most intellectually lazy exercise anyone can engage in: stereotyping. Several years ago when I was living in California attending San Francisco State University, I visited some friends in Berkeley who I knew from a Department of Defense High School we attended in Germany. They were discussing some "rednecks" they had met in Texas. I asked them if they would ever use a stereotypical term to describe an Asian, Latino or Black person. They said of course not. I then asked them if they knew the origin of the term redneck. They said no. I explained to them that it comes from someone who is so poor in the rural south that they must till their own land (or land they are sharecropping) without even the benefit of a hat so that their necks would feel the heat of the brutal southern sun and grow red as a result. I asked them if they felt it was acceptable to stereotype someone because of their poverty. They said they never thought of it that way. I told them that they it was a free country and that they could stereotype to their heart's content. Eventually, however, it puts you on a common footing with people with whom you might not normally associate.
Hesiod was citing a story about an ad for a beer-sipping pig to attract tourists to Decatur, Alabama. He then closed his post with the following:
2000 Presidential election results for Alabama: Bush/Cheney - 941,173; Gore/Lieberman - 692,611.
Congratulations, Hesiod. You just insulted 692,611 Gore-Lieberman voters including my mom, my sisters, my late father, my brothers, both sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law and two nieces. Feel good about that?
Thursday, May 22, 2003
FC PORTO WINS THE UEFA CUP
FC Porto won the UEFA Cup yesterday in Seville, Spain, beating Glasgow Celtic 3-2 in the second fifteen minute period of extra time. I watched my tape of the game today. Meus parabéns!
The winning goal was scored by Derlei and was his second goal of the game, but the star of the game was the naturalized (from Brazil) Portuguese international attacking midfielder, Deco Souza. His playmaking and ball handling skills were most impressive and he picked up assists on two of Porto's goals. Look for him to be a major force for Portugal in the 2004 European Championship.
WILL BRAZIL EMERGE AS THE LEADING NATION IN LATIN AMERICA?
Andrés Oppenheimer makes a compelling argument that Brazil is emerging as THE major player in Latin America:
Brazil, which despite being South America's biggest country used to keep a low diplomatic profile, has become an increasingly active player in regional affairs since 2000, when former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso convened the first summit of South American presidents in Brasilia.
Other Latin American leaders initially saw it as a vanity project by Cardoso, which would most likely die at the end of his term. Instead, da Silva has revitalized the idea of a South American political bloc, in part as a way to negotiate from a position of greater strength with Washington on the planned hemispheric free trade agreement scheduled to start in 2005.
Lula is building upon this:
Since taking office Jan. 1, [President Lula] da Silva has vowed to lead an effort to revitalize the ailing Mercosur free trade group made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay; has created a group of ''friendly countries'' to seek a solution to the Venezuelan crisis; convened a new South American summit later this year, and tried to convene a special meeting to coordinate a joint South American response to the war with Iraq.
Lula is a former owner union leader and despite a lack of much formal education, a skilled and experienced negotiator. He could be quite a handful for Bush when it comes to negotiating the terms of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement.
NOW THAT THAT'S TAKEN CARE OF, MAYBE NOW YOU CAN CONCENTRATE ON THE IMPORTANT THINGS . . .
Miss Venezuela will be participating in the Miss Universe Pageant after all, thanks to the largesse (and possibly Miami bank account) of Gustavo Cisneros, the Venezuelan media mogul. Now that this has been resolved, maybe Mr. Cisneros will concentrate on some of the pressing issues, like, oh poverty in a land so full of natural resources and a society so deeply divided.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH VENEZUELA REPORT
Human Rights Watch has just issued a report on the lack of protection the government of Venezuela is affording journalists:
The 26-page report, Caught in the Crossfire: Freedom of Expression in Venezuela, describes how journalists face physical violence and threats, often by fervent civilian supporters of President Hugo Chávez. Noting the justice system’s failure to identify and punish those responsible for the attacks, the report recommends that the attorney general set up a special panel to investigate the problem.
According to the report:
Human Rights Watch estimates that there were at least 130 assaults and threats of physical harm to journalists and press property between the beginning of 2002 and February 2003. This estimate is based in part on a list of cases compiled by independent Venezuelan media analyst Sergio Dahbar from press reports, eyewitness testimony, and video recordings.
In addition, there is pending legislation concerning radio and television in Venezuela that is of concern:
“The draft law is a recipe for state control of the broadcast media,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. “Its onerous, vaguely-worded restrictions and heavy penalties threaten Venezuela’s broadcast media.”
The draft legislation would impose stringent and detailed controls over radio and television broadcasts, greatly limiting what could be aired during normal viewing hours. Under the guise of protecting children from crude language, sexual situations and violence, it would subject adults to restrictive and puritanical viewing standards. [my emphasis]
One wonders if John Ashcroft might find common cause with this . . .
As I have made consistently clear I am not a supporter of Chávez or the opposition that led the strike. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine why Chávez persists in doing everything possible to alienate his political enemies and confirm their worst fears about him. The corrosive effects of his leadership certainly appear to be creating even greater divisions in Venezuelan society.
KIRCHNER PICKS HIS CABINET
Nestor Kirchner, the president-elect of Argentina has picked his cabinet and it is interesting for its diversity, but this appointment leaves me with mixed emotions:
During his campaign, Mr. Kirchner also promised to crack down on official corruption, which is widely associated in the popular mind with the decade Mr. Menem was in power. Signaling his seriousness about that pledge, he named a 41-year-old lawyer, Gustavo Béliz, to be justice minister. Mr. Béliz is a member of the conservative Roman Catholic group Opus Dei and the author of a book titled "Thou Shalt Not Steal: Is It Possible to Defeat Corruption?"
I'm Roman Catholic, but I'm not a fan of Opus Dei and there are many who are not. It certainly won't be a problem as long as he keeps church and state separate.
DOING BUSINESS IN BRAZIL
Tony Smith has a pretty on target article in the New York Times about avoiding common pitfalls on doing business in Brazil. While my trips haven't really involved business, I think that this is a pretty accurate comment:
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — When Telefónica of Spain took over São Paulo's creaky, state-run telephone monopoly in 1998, it installed millions of phone lines in record time and for a fraction of the price customers once had to pay.
Yet instead of kudos, all the Spanish executives seemed to hear from their Brazilian clients were complaints that the company could not even spell its own logo properly. In Spanish, it might be Telefónica, the Brazilians said, but in Portuguese it should be Telefônica.
A mere question of style? To some, maybe. But popular disapproval of what the news media viewed as orthographic arrogance soon ran so high that Telefónica made a public mea culpa and had the logo reworked to change the accent mark.
"I don't think it was intentional, but it certainly wounded Brazilians' pride," said Newton Campos, a former marketing manager at Telefónica who now represents Instituto de Empresas, a Spanish business school. "There are still many, many people out there who believe we speak Spanish."
I cannot tell you how many people still think that Spanish is spoken in Brazil. It's embarrassing.
Monday, May 19, 2003
LULA SIGNS SOCCER LAWS
President da Silva of Brazil issued a presidential decree (I would imagine similar to an executive order here) holding club administrators criminally responsible for financial irregularities.
In addition, fans' rights are being considered and an effort was made to stymie hooliganism:
[The decree requires] clubs to number their tickets and publish the dates and times of games 15 days in advance. It also creates a special ombudsman to hear fans' complaints, and present them to teams and event organizers. The law also requires stadiums to provide adequate security, bathrooms and transportation to and from the stadium.
Under the new law, fans who have been involved in vandalism or violent behavior within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius of soccer stadiums might be banned from attending future events.
The financial irregularities of some of the top clubs have been an ongoing problem. After the 1998 World Cup, congressional hearings were held, but it appeared that much of the impetus was lost in the afterglow of the WC championship win last year. It's encouraging to see this go through.
MORE DIPLOMATIC BLACK EYES
I am not a fan of Hugo Chávez. I find him to be a demagogue and his history as a military leader leaves me very uneasy, especially given the fact that he once led a coup.
That being said, this is the sort of truly asinine thing that continues to give the US a black eye in Latin America:
During an event Tuesday at the [US] ambassador's residence commemorating Venezuela's free press day, a comedian's routine included a uniformed puppet in the likeness of Chávez. The routine was carried on local television. [This quote is from an article in the Miami Herald in the same article as the notation in the previous post.]
Before anyone accuses Chávez's side of being thin-skinned, here's the criteria that should be considered: would you find it acceptable if the Venezuelan ambassador to the US was having someone over to ridicule President Bush in Washington and on local television? I certainly wouldn't and regardless of how one feels about Chávez, it was entirely out of line for this to be taking place at the US Ambassador's residence.
ONE OF THE MANY REASONS I LOVE BRAZIL
The music is wonderful, the beaches are among the best in the world, the people are warm and friendly, the country is lovely, the climate is out of this world, the soccer players are unquestionably the best in the world, but if you scroll down to the last story on this link, you'll see yet another reason to love Brazil :-)
If you want to read the original article referenced in the story or if you want to put it through a translation bot, the Veja article is here.
Sunday, May 18, 2003
LOTS OF ARTICLES ON NESTOR KIRCHNER
There are a number of articles worht reading about Nestor Kirchner, the President-elect of Argentina. This Reuters article deals with his claims that he can make Argentina self-reliant as he made the state of Santa Cruz (where he was governor) self-reliant. I think his path is fraught with difficulties.
Andrés Oppenheimer, after interviewing Alberto Fernández, Kirchner's right hand man, writes that despite a recent fiery populist speech by Kirchner, he really might not be as populist as he seems and that the speech may have just been an attempt to gain some "street cred" against Menem before he anounced his withdrawal:
Alberto Fernández, Kirchner's right-hand man and the probable head of the Cabinet, told me in a lengthy telephone interview Friday that there should be no doubts: ``Kirchner will not be a populist president. He is essentially a pragmatist with profound moral values.''
Vamos a ver . . .
''You have to understand the context in which that speech was made,'' Fernández said, referring to Kirchner's speech Wednesday. It was hours before Menem's announcement that he would withdraw from the runoff election, the country was anxious over the possibility of a new institutional crisis and Kirchner had to put pressure on Menem to make up his mind, he said.
Larry Rohter in the New York Times writes that in many ways, Kirchner's intentions on a national level are unknown, but
The first signals of Mr. Kirchner's direction will come this week, beginning with the naming of his cabinet, scheduled for tomorrow. The uncertainty will not last much longer than that, because the political chaos of the last 18 months has left those now in power eager to hand off the entire mess as quickly as possible to the fresh, but unfamiliar, new face from Patagonia.
Time will indeed tell.
Saturday, May 17, 2003
BACK TO REALITY
Just in case you thought that Operation Iraqi Freedom signaled a move toward greater concern about human rights throughout the world by the Bush administration, comes this distressing news from Human Rights Watch:
On May 8, Attorney General John Ashcroft filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief for the defense in a civil case alleging that the oil company Unocal was complicit in forced labor and other abuses committed by the Burmese military during the construction of the Yadana gas pipeline. The case, John Doe I, et al. v. Unocal Corporation, et al., was originally filed in 1996 and is currently being reheard by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Justice Department brief went well beyond the scope of the Unocal case, however, and argued for a radical re-interpretation of the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). For over 20 years, courts have held that the ATCA permits victims of serious violations of international law abroad to seek civil damages in U.S. courts against their alleged abusers who are found in the United States. The Justice Department would deny victims the right to sue under the ATCA for abuses committed abroad.
“This is a craven attempt to protect human rights abusers at the expense of victims,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The Bush administration is trying to overturn a longstanding judicial precedent that has been very important in the protection of human rights.”
The ATCA was first used successfully in the area of human rights law in the Filartiga Case in 1980 in which a woman successfully sued a Paraguayan official - who had fled to Brooklyn - responsible for the death of her brother under torture in Paraguay. The HRW alert lists some of the cases that could not have gone forward without the ATCA:
* The 1996-97 Holocaust Litigation cases against Swiss banks, which led to a U.S. government-negotiated settlement to pay Holocaust survivors approximately $1.25 billion. The cases were brought under several laws, including the ATCA.
* Presbyterian Church of Sudan, et al. v. Talisman Energy Inc., a 2001 suit filed in New York federal district court alleging that Talisman Energy was complicit in human rights abuses committed by the government of Sudan in oil-producing areas where Talisman operated. The court denied the company’s motion to dismiss the case on March 19, 2003.
* Raymonde Abrams v. Societe Nationale Des Chemins De Fer Francais, a case filed in 2000 in which Holocaust survivors alleged that the National French Railroad Company deported Jews and others to Nazi death camps. A New York district court dismissed the case on November 7, 2001; it is currently on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.
Now that it's a US oil company (Talisman is Canadian) the Department of Justice - which is not a party in the case - goes out of their way by filing an Amicus brief to weaken this provision of the law, after no other administration since 1980 had made any attempt to do so. Are they that irredeemiably tone deaf to public perception? I'm sure that they would make the argument that it's not about the oil, but justice. Why do I get the feeling that if I were to shake hands with the Attorney General I would want to be sure to count my fingers afterwards?
SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Starbucks is announcing their first stores to be opened in South America, Chile to be specific. I am not opposed to Starbucks categorically. I go there on occasion and generally like their coffee. I just have one small request: stay the hell out of Brazil. Excellent coffee there is very affordable. In Poços de Caldas in January Mércia and I had delicious coffee with four pieces of excellent Brazilian cheese bread (pão de queijo) for about seventy-five cents. I can't imagine what Starbucks would charge.
UNUSUAL CONSEQUENCE OF CHÁVEZ'S FOREIGN EXCHANGE CONTROLS
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez imposed controls on foreign exchange in an effort (one would assume) to keep currency in Venezuela and avoid capital flight. One obviously unanticipated consequence of this is that for the first time in 44 years Venezuela will not have a contestant in the Miss Universe Pageant.
As the article indicates, Venezuela regards this competition very seriously. You can check out how seriously here. One could make the argument that this is like Brazil not qualifying for the World Cup.
Friday, May 16, 2003
MORE ON MENEM'S QUITTING HIS CAMPAIGN
Andrés Oppenheimer makes a compelling argument that Carlos Menem's quitting his campaign may help Menem save face, but will harm Argentina. He outlines three major reasons:
First, it is likely to leave Argentina with a weak government, the last thing the country needs at a time when it is trying to emerge from a 2001 moratorium on its foreign debt, and a crushing political crisis that resulted in five presidents over the past two years. . . .
In withdrawing from the race, Menem has deprived Kirchner of a mandate.
The second reason Menem's resignation damages Argentina is he strengthens outgoing President Duhalde's influence through the widespread patronage system he has created since taking office last year.
Third, Menem's resignation will further taint Argentina's battered image abroad.
Why should Menem care? He's wealthy, has a trophy wife and is about to become a father again at the age of 72. Unlike Enrique Saavedra if the contraction of Argentina's economy continues (it shrunk by 10.9% last year) he can always go to Chile (his wife's country) or join the other wealthy expats somewhere else.
Argentina's new president could do a lot worse than look towards Lula's leadership example to give himself some guidance.
Oppenheimer makes some interesting closing remarks on Menem, although I don't completely agree:
What seems clear is that Menem will go down in history as a man who undertook bold economic reforms, but who had little respect for political institutions.
I wouldn't characterize Menem's efforts as bold, but I would consider them reckless. They sowed the seeds for Argentina's current situation.
IMPUNITY REARS ITS UGLY HEAD IN GUATEMALA - AGAIN
On December 29, 1996 (my 40th birthday, btw), the government of Guatemala and the guerillas involved in a civil war signed a peace treaty ostensibly ending this horribly cruel war which left 200,000 dead and/or disappeared and many more displaced from their homes, families and communities.
The Miami Herald reports on the efforts of the consultative group of donor nations and NGO's to assess the progress or lack of same in Guatemala's peace process. A recent major setback has been the acquittal on appeal of an Army sergeant in the murder of Myrna Mack, an anthropologist who was studying human rights abuses being inflicted upon indigeneous communities in Guatemala.
This comment was very puzzling:
Despite harsh criticism from international organizations and donating countries of the governments performance, Miguel Martínez, the Inter American Development Bank representative who presided over the gathering, did not blame the government for the shortcomings. He said the failure to fully implement the accords is the responsibility of all of Guatemalan society.
These words were not well received by a coalition of civil society organizations that had met with the group.
''We accept that the peace accords are a national commitment, but the fundamental responsibility for the shortcomings in the implementation of the accords lies with the government,'' said Helmer Velásquez of the Cooperative of Civil Society Organizations.
I cannot understand why Martinez would make a comment like that. Clearly the only part of Guatemalan society that has a legal enforcement mechanism is the government. How does he expect other aspects of civil society to do so, especially given the country's history and the recent treatment of human rights defenders? He acknowledges that this recent acquittal smacks of "a Guatemala of yesterday, a Guatemala of impunity.'' Who else does he expect to solve the crippling problem of impunity (which also leads to high levels of corruption as described in this report by Transparency International's Global Corruption Report (Adobe Acrobat reader required)) than the government of Guatemala?
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
MONEY ONLY GETS YOU SO FAR
The UEFA Champion's League Championship Game has been set: an all Northern Italian final with Juventus of Turin against AC Milan.
Juventus beat Real Madrid, arguably the team with the richest roster of talent in the world, literally and figuratively: Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo who among them have won six of the last seven FIFA World Player of the Year awards and have been extraordinarily strong in this competition, having won it nine times. Nevertheless, their defense is aging and it showed in this game. For a long time the phrases "Italy's Serie A" and best league in the world were interchangeable. For the past few years the Spanish Premier League has been dominant, but although it's premature, this may be the start of the resurgence of Serie A in Italy.
MENEM BOWS OUT
A miserable showing in the polls has convinced Carlos Menem to drop out of the race for President of Argentina, clearing the path for Nestor Kirchner to assume the presidency. Menem would have us believe that there is a more nefarious reason for his collapse:
In announcing his exit, Menem sounded bitter and suggested his fiercest political enemy, outgoing President Eduardo Duhalde, had allied with Kirchner to thwart his comeback bid. "The conditions just weren't there for a fair runoff," Menem insisted without elaborating.
I think that the poll numbers were what did it. He just sounds Nixonian in his complaints. According to this article in the Washington Post more than sixty percent of those who were going to vote for Kirchner were doing so only to beat Menem. Ouch!!
Monday, May 12, 2003
CONGRESSIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CAUCUS
There has been a recent trend among the right that somehow the left has been eager to support dictators and human rights abusers, simply because many of us were queasy with the notion of preemptive war against Iraq and were not impressed with this adminstration's arguments for war.
I certainly wouldn't make the argument that the left holds a monopoly on human rights concerns. There are plenty of people in Congress on the Republican side who have been strong and consistent long-time defenders of human rights. Congressman Frank Wolf's credentials on the subject are impeccable. He has consistently called attention to human rights in China, Ethiopia, and along with former democratic representative from Ohio, Tony Hall was probably East Timor's greatest defender in Congress. They were voices in the wilderness during the years when the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration had no qualms about selling arms to Indonesia, arms which were often used against civilians in East Timor. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey - a man with whom I disagree on many issues - deserves praise for his consistent strong voice in support of human rights issues, having been the prime sponsor of the Torture Victims' Relief Reauthorization Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
So when I went to revisit the Congressional Human Rights Caucus webpage to research the names of some other Republican human rights supporters, I decided to do a count of the membership. There is one caveat: the list has obviously not been updated as it refers to members who are no longer in Congress such as Tony Hall, Constance Morella and Earl Hilliard. I believe it reflected the membership during the 106th Congress as John Porter who was a former co-chair of the Caucus left Congress I believe after the 2000 elections. Nevertheless here is a breakdown of the membership: Democrats - 128, Republican - 61, Independent - 1.
I'm not writing this as a gotcha. It is worth noting, however, that nearly 60% of the Democratic House membership belongs and a little more than 25% of the Republican House membership belongs. I would urge anyone who is genuinely interested in human rights issues to see if their representative is on the list and if not, write to them and ask them why: regardless of their or your political affiliation.
SYSTEMATIC RAPES IN MYANMAR
Adding to their list of abonimable atrocities, the military dictatorship in Myanmar is being accused of systemizing rape against women from ethinic minority groups in Burma: the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Tavoyan and the Shans.
Because military units are often stationed near villages for long periods and use local people as forced laborers, the report said, three-fourths of the women interviewed were able to identify their attackers by their battalion number.
The initial allegations were made last year by the Shan Women's Action Network, a private human rights group based on the Thai-Myanmar border, which described rape as a systematic weapon of war.
Its report said it had documented 173 incidents of rape or sexual violence against 625 women and girls committed by soldiers from 52 military battalions between 1992 and 2001.
It's not only the NGO's who are documenting these allegations:
In December, the State Department issued a statement saying that it was "appalled by the reports" and that its own interviews in three separate locations appeared to confirm them.
It said its investigators had talked to 12 women who said they had been gang raped by Burmese soldiers during the past five years.
"All of the victims under 15 appeared severely traumatized by their experiences, were disturbed mentally and spoke in whispers, if at all," the State Department said. "The older women sobbed violently as they recalled horrific incidents of their own rapes, as well as brutal rapes, torture and execution of family members."
Myanmar has been known for most of its existence as Burma, but the military dictatorship known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) which has ruled Burma with an iron fist since 1988 (and changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council, thereby illustrating that a military dictatorship by any other name would be as brutal) changed the name of the country to Myanmar. This is a dictatorship that killed some 10,000 of its own citizens when they were seeking a democratic society in 1988 and ignored the election results in 1990 in which 82% of the voters voted for the National League for Democracy led by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose father was a leader in Burma's movement for independence from the UK after WWII. When the government wanted to encourage tourism starting in 1990, forced labor was used to create the tourist infrastructure.
Given the horrid human rights record, why is there no movement in the White House for "Operation Burma Freedom?"
PROFILE OF NESTOR KIRCHNER
Larry Rohter has a disturbing profile of Nestor Kirchner, the man who will - unless Carlos Menem pulls off the political comeback of all time - be the next president of Argentina. One gets the impression that Kirchner is a dedicated Peronist:
As he campaigns, Mr. Kirchner notes with pride that his province, Santa Cruz, has the lowest unemployment and infant mortality rates in Argentina. True to the Peronist tradition of focusing social programs on the poor, he has also set up an extensive public housing program, which allows families earning as little as $200 a month to buy their own homes with payments of less than $30 a month.
With revenues from oil and gas, Mr. Kirchner has also invested heavily in infrastructure. His government has built a network of modern hospitals with free consultations and medicine for the poor, a deep-water port to attract the fishing industry, airports to encourage tourism and a network of highways, all without plunging Santa Cruz into debt.
That's the good news. Here's some of the bad news:
The strongest criticism has come over the way Mr. Kirchner has managed the revenues flowing from both petroleum production and privatization of the state oil company. That money, more than $500 million, was deposited not in Argentine banks but abroad, first in the United States and then in Luxembourg and Switzerland, raising questions of accountability.
"By law, he has to account for that money, but there has been an absolute lack of transparency," said Roberto Giubetich, an opposition member of the province's legislative assembly. "He has never declared to the appropriate organs of state, for instance, how much money is deposited abroad, in what banks, what interest rates it is earning, or what bonds he has bought or investments have been made."
This may be even more unsettling:
But Mr. Kirchner's opponents here also maintain that he has demonstrated authoritarian leanings in what they describe as his unwillingness to tolerate lawful dissent. Over the past year, they charge, he has urged his followers to use violence to break up peaceful protests, one against a proposed reduction of provincial retirement benefits and others outside the offices and private residences of government officials demanding that they resign.
"Everyone thinks he is the messiah, but it's a clan, a gang, that is in power here," said Manuel León, a retired police officer who is a member of a group protesting the pension reform that was recently dislodged from demonstrating in front of provincial government buildings. "Kirchner has his group of enforcers, and they don't hesitate to beat up even women and children when he incites them to it."
Last year Mr. Kirchner filed a $350,000 slander and personal damages suit against a local lawyer who had criticized the governor's role in privatizing a coal mine. The lawyer, Dino Zaffrani, accused the company managing the mine of pocketing government subsidies while failing to live up to the terms of its contract and says he has evidence of kickbacks paid to Peronist party fixers loyal to Mr. Kirchner.
One can't help but think that just about anyone would be better than Menem, but the best thing for Argentina would be the end of the demagoguery known as Peronism.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
PROBLEMS WITH OLD PROVIDENCE ISLAND
Chances are you might not have heard of this group of islands that is owned by Colombia, is off the coast of Nicaragua and includes Old Providence Island. Like much of the Caribbean Coast of Central America, English is widely spoken on this archipelago.
The Miami Herald has an article about conflicts between the residents of Old Providence Island and officials from the Colombian mainland. Read the article. It certainly seems as if the problems of the mainland are drifting to these islands.
LATIN AMERICA AND THE WAR AGAINST TERROR
Marcela Sanchez has a fine article on why Latin America isn't eagerly embracing the war on terror:
Some liken the situation to two ships passing in the night, both flying a flag for a safer world but heading in different directions. Each is weighted by its own baggage from the past, both reluctant to change course. Yet, ultimately, each needs the other to make port.
Contrary to what some U.S. officials contend, there is no lack of understanding among Latin Americans of how much the world changed on Sept. 11, 2001. What Latin America lacks is the ability to identify completely with an experience that only the United States could have had: becoming in one day, despite its military might and its benevolence as the leader of the free world, as vulnerable as any other nation.
She also echoes a lot of my concerns:
U.S. officials have accused some outside the coalition of weak leadership that preferred to let antiwar and anti-American feelings in their own countries guide their decisions. Sure, polls that showed 80 percent or more popular rejection to the war would have been difficult to ignore by any U.S. or foreign politician. Yet, standing up to a powerful and traditional ally like the United States is not precisely a sign of weakness.
The vision of a region that can finally break from the past and forge a future of unprecedented cooperation is a fine message. The problem could also be the messengers.
To fight new battles, the Bush administration has chosen Cold War veterans whose language and manner suggest the anticommunist passions of the past. Roger Noriega, likely to become soon the first confirmed assistant secretary of state for the region in half a decade, is no exception, though many hope he will adapt to the changing times while others have not.
I have been a frequent critic of the presence in the Bush administration of the presence of Otto Reich, Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte. If the administration is truly interested in fighting this war against terrorism and wants to enlist its allies in the Americas, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider their point of view and convince them that, for example, punishing Chile for opposing the war in Iraq will only breed more resentment and discord. Sooner or later they will have to realize that you cannot strongarm your allies and expect them to embrace your positions. Respect is earned, not imposed.
I thought about writing something about Mother's Day, but Emma has done a better job than I could dream of doing, so read her post and give your mom a hug.
In the post titled "LOTS OF STORIES IN THE MIAMI HERALD", I originally wrote in the section on Cuba : "Elizardo Sánchez's comments also makes a valuable argument against ending the travel ban", when in fact it was my intention to write "Elizardo Sánchez's comments also makes a valuable argument for ending the travel ban." Such are the dangers of proofreading around midnight . . .
Thanks to Todd Morman for pointing this out. The original post has been corrected.
Friday, May 09, 2003
EX-CONTRA FOUND INNOCENT
Scroll down for this story about a former Nicaraguan Contra leader who was found innocent of kidnapping and other charges after breaking into a newspaper and holding people hostage. I love this defense:
The defense argued that newspaper employees were not detained long enough to qualify the action as kidnapping and that people at La Prensa were not in danger because Moreno kept his gun pointed down.
Talk about defining deviancy down!! Where is the outrage among the conservatives?!?!?! :-)
LOTS OF STORIES IN THE MIAMI HERALD
It should certainly come as no surprise that one of the Norteamericano newspapers that consistently produces good coverage of Latin America is the Miami Herald. Today's paper is no exception.
First off is yet another story on drug gangs terrorizing Rio de Janeiro. I don't mean to make light of the problem; it's very distressing and we have family in Rio. This, I think speaks to the heart of the problem:
On Wednesday, two members of an elite police ''shock unit'' partially occupying Morro de Turano offered a reporter a frontline view of Rio's drug war. They insisted that their names not be used. Many of Rio's poorly paid police live in the same slums controlled by traffickers and risk execution if discovered.
On patrol, they dart from one protected position to the next and cover one another like Israeli troops in the disputed territories or U.S. soldiers searching houses in Iraq. They point their guns up, down and around every corner before exposing themselves to hostile gunfire.
The patrolling cops griped incessantly about low pay, long hours and high risks. They also conveyed a sense of desperation.
''My daughter is two years old,'' said one. ``What kind of world awaits her?''
Police in Brazil are notoriously poorly paid, but there are plenty of them. I am certainly no expert on this, but I would think that reducing the overall numbers while retaining the best cops and paying them better would be a good start towards balancing the scales of justice.
Next up is this report abouut Castro whipping up fear among the Cuban population of an imminent US invasion. It certainly comes as no surprise, but Elizardo Sánchez's comments also makes a valuable argument for ending the travel ban:
Another human rights activist, Elizardo Sánchez, said that while those with access to outside news do not believe the government's assertion that military aggression is under way, ``Of course there's an impact, because the population is submitted to a true avalanche of propaganda.''
One would expect that if Americans were visiting there in numbers this would certainly go a long way towards breaking the propaganda stranglehold.
The final fascinating article is about the newly elected President of Paraguay whose aim is to wipe out corruption. As the article notes, he's got a Sisyphean task:
By the government's own estimates, more than 70 cents of every tax dollar it's due is pocketed or goes unpaid. And if Duarte wants to clean up, he'll need to start with his own party. For instance:
• The limousine used by his predecessor, Luis González Macchi, Paraguay's senate-appointed caretaker president, was a BMW luxury sedan stolen from a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary in Brazil.
• Colorado Party stalwart Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb claims to hold the Paraguayan trademark for British American Tobacco's popular Derby brand cigarettes. Dominguez's locally made Derbys are smuggled to Brazil, where they compete against real Derbys, according to lawyers for British American. It has threatened to pull out of Paraguay unless the country stops Dominguez.
He has been rebuffed by Paraguayan commerce officials in his efforts to register a facsimile of a Brazilian tax seal as a legal trademark in Paraguay, according to government officials and press reports. Brazil estimates it loses $1 billion a year to cigarettes smuggled from Paraguay and sold with fake tax seals.
This desperately poor nation has a negative reputation especially in Brazil. The famous Feira de Caruaru in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco near Recife has a section in which cheap, knock-off electronics are sold. It's called "Mercado de Paraguay."
The nation is landlocked and short on natural resources. What I found interesting in the article is that President Duarte has a background similar to Lula:
Duarte was born into a poor family in Colonel Oviedo in the interior of Paraguay. His father, a policeman, died young and left his widow to raise seven children. The new leader was the first member of the family to attend college. Like most poor Paraguayans, he spoke guarani, the native tongue, before speaking Spanish.
''I am not part of the economic or political hierarchy that has ruled this country. We come to break the stranglehold of the elite,'' Duarte said. ``I come from the roots of the heart of Paraguay. I know its suffering in the flesh.''
Most don't believe good intentions and having one's heart in the right place will be enough:
''He's got a tough load. Paraguay is facing multiple problems and a lot that overlap,'' said a U.S. official familiar with Paraguay who asked not to be identified. He offered the new president congratulations and condolences.
Unfortunately, he's probably right.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
Colonia Dignidad a bizarre cult-like retreat in Chile which I wrote about here and has been alleged to have ties to neo-Nazis and the Pinochet dictatorship as well as allegations of pedophilia is back in the news:
Colonia Dignidad's reputation suffered another blow recently when four of its roughly 270 residents defected. The four -- two founding farmers, their daughter and son-in-law -- are cooperating with Chilean prosecutors. In their first interview with a foreign newspaper, they and the investigators charged that torture, sexual abuse, forced labor and repression of their basic liberties took place at the settlement, but they offered few details.
The escapees also said they had seen Pinochet's sharpshooters undergoing training at remote Colonia Dignidad before the Sept. 11, 1973, military coup that toppled the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende.
The escapees, however, said they knew nothing about an American hiker, Boris Weisfeiler, who disappeared 10 miles from the colony in 1985. According to declassified U.S. Embassy documents, an informant said authorities at Colonia Dignidad seized Weisfeiler, a mathematician at Pennsylvania State University, as a suspected ''Jewish spy,'' then questioned and killed him. That allegation has been disputed and remains unproved.
Read the whole article. It will make you livid.
LULA NOMINATES FIRST AFRO-BRAZILIAN SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
Lula has also nominated the first Afro-Brazilian Supreme Court Justice, a man who also came from very humble beginnings.
As the article notes:
With the appointments, Silva will have nominated five of the court's 11 justices, something that should help him win approval for his proposed reforms to the tax, social-security and pension system. Reforms in the past have been challenged on constitutional grounds.
The Supreme Court in these areas was a bit of a bête noire for President Cardoso if my memory serves me correctly. I wonder, however, if Lula is aware of how often Supreme Court Justices in this country have confounded the presidents who appointed them.
LULA IS WASHINGTON'S DARLING?!?
Andrés Oppenheimer's column today shows how Lula continues to confound the knee-jerk reactionaries:
Last week, top U.S. officials at a conference in Washington, D.C., showered praise on Lula, as the Brazilian president is universally known. It was a peculiar show of support for a man who started his inauguration day Jan. 1 having breakfast with Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez and who finished the day hosting a private dinner for President Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Treasury Secretary John Snow, speaking on April 28 at the Council of the Americas conference in Washington, went out of his way to praise Lula's economic policies. Since taking office, Lula has moved aggressively to reduce budget deficits, impose fiscal discipline and create an independent Central Bank, he said.
Snow, who had just returned from a visit to Brazil, said that ''you can't help but be with somebody like President Lula'' without ``coming away deeply encouraged.''
Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the same meeting that ''the election of President Lula in Brazil is a powerful example of voters using the democratic process in search of better lives.'' He added, ``It is important for the hemisphere that this experiment in reform through democracy succeeds to be an example for the entire region and the entire world.''
Even the International Monetary Fund, which until last year was the favorite target of Lula's criticism, came out to praise him. At a journalists' conference organized by Florida International University in Miami, IMF Latin America director Anoop Singh said Friday that he could only applaud Brazil's efforts to combine antipoverty plans with stern fiscal responsibility.
He also seems to be aware the best way to achieve progress is by not casting blame:
In a little-noticed statement, Lula was quoted by Brazil's newsweekly Veja last week as saying, ``I'm fed up with Latin American presidents who blame the disgraces of the Third World on [U.S.] imperialism. That's stupid.''
They're very fickle there, Lula. If you have any doubts just ask Vicente Fox or Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps instead of going to the ranch in Crawford, you can invite President Bush to Caétes, your hometown in Pernambuco and maybe to São Paulo where you were a shoeshine boy and peanut seller. Perhaps even he would be humbled by how far you have come. You certainly weren't the son of a president.
TED BARLOW'S BACK AND THE STRAWMEN ARE IN TROUBLE
Welcome back Ted! Ted Barlow deftly filets Glenn Reynolds' strawman that I mentioned here and Kevin Drum mentioned here.
Read Ted's post. I can only salute his skill and mastery with the keyboard.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
There's a report that a mobile germ warfare lab has been found in Iraq.
I wonder if before the war started the Bush administration knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or that they had been moved. Here's why I'm suspicious:
1.) Shortly after the "Niger uranium letters" were proven to be phony, the focus shifted from WMD's to liberating Iraq.
2.) All talk afterwards seemed to dwell largely on vague talk about "disarming" and "we'll find them [WMD's]."
3.) Every potential locating of WMD's is greeted with fanfare and when it turns out to be false, the news is hushed up.
It will be interesting to see if this latest find actually turns up something (remember, a n empty factory in and of itself is not WMD's) and if not, how the media plays the story. Kevin Drum has a good recap.
THE END OF MENEM?
Well, one can only hope! In any event, it appears that Menem is about to become ex-Presidente assado if the polls in Argentina are any indication:
A poll by the Equis pollsters released Wednesday gave Kirchner 58.5 percent support compared with 21.7 percent for Menem. The survey of 3,110 people in 12 cities had a margin of error of 1.7 percent.
The poll showed more than 50 percent of potential voters were driven by casting anti-Menem votes, evidence of Menem's biggest challenge: combating the feeling among many Argentines that his previous administrations were the root cause of the country's worst economic crisis in history.
Nestor Kirchner, his opponent, meanwhile is already appearing presidential:
Meanwhile, Kirchner was moving to take his campaign beyond Argentina's borders.
Later Wednesday, Kirchner traveled to neighboring Brazil to meet with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. The candidate was then to fly on to Santiago, Chile, on Thursday for a meeting with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
I am not really comfortable with the fact that Kirchner is a Peronist, but Menem in my mind is not the way out of its present situation for Argentina.
KEVIN DRUM ON TENNESSEE W[H]INE
Kevin Drum has a good post about Glenn Reynolds persistent whining about "human rights organizations" which Reynolds follows with a couple of typically unsubstantiated slurs. God forbid a law professor should substantiate his claims with some evidence . . .
In any event, Kevin takes good care of Glenn's charges (it's like fish in a barrel, right Kevin), but it brings up a larger issue that I see among a number of conservatives both as bloggers and as commentators: the notion that there is a zero sum game in addressing rights abuses. This is nonsense. If Glenn and his cadre want to make libelous allegations that human rights organizations are reporting on human rights abuses in Guantanamo in order to pump money in from donors, then he should back it up with some proof. If he wants to assume that because they are reporting on Guantanamo that they aren't reporting on the areas that concern him, he's free to say so. It's not a fact, however, but an opinion. We all know the old saying about opinions . . .
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Busy past couple of days. I hope to resume posting again tomorrow.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
LOUSY LUCK WITH MY FOOTBALL TEAMS
As I posted here, I'm a big fan of what I call the real football, but I had a lousy year this year. It appears with the exception of PSV Eindhoven, none of the teams I pull for will win their titles, although Deportivo La Coruña may yet win La Liga in Spain, especially after Mallorca's 5-1 drubbing of Real Madrid yesterday.
After seeing them play a couple of times, I've decided to add FC Porto of Portugal to my list, a city of fine wines and fine football.
By the way, if you need a time waster, you can do no better than this one from Roberto Baggio's webpage. Have fun!
Not a lot of Latin American news and I'm a little desanimado today, but I would urge you to read these articles by Andrés Oppenheimer and Marcela Sanchez on the continuing disconnects between the Bush adminstration and our nearest neighbors, with one group of exceptions as Sanchez notes:
Those Latin American leaders outside the select seven (Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) that Powell publicly recognized Monday "for their courageous stand for what is right, what is necessary and what is just," have another chance.
They have a new opportunity to show the kind of leadership they lacked before the Iraq war, when, U.S. officials say, they let popular opinion in their countries dictate their opposition to the conflict.
How dare they do what their citizens want!
A friend loaned me a DVD, but did not tell me that her copy was pirated and it certainly looks that way to me. Even though the box said that it was a DTS Digital video, in fact it wasn't, just a measly Digital 2.0 and digital solely because of the fiber optic cable I had going from my receiver to the DVD player. There were no extras and the experience just left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. I couldn't even watch it and just gave it back to her.
She said that she got it for $10, and in terms of quality, I'm still trying to figure out what the advantage is. She got a grotesquely inferior product for about half of the price of the legitimate product, while supporting an activity that has ties to organized crime. Thanks, but I'll stick with the legitimate ones. I know what I'm getting and if I get a defective product, I can take it back to the store where I bought it.
Speaking of DVD's, by the way, the DVD for Standing in the Shadows of Motown is well worth the money, packed full of extras and a fine DTS soundtrack. The price is terrific, I got it for $13.99 in its first week, but I have seen it at other stores for $17.99. Don't miss it.
Saturday, May 03, 2003
FIFA AGREES IN PRINCIPLE TO EXPANSION
FIFA has agreed in principle to expanding the World Cup format to 36 teams, but
"only on condition that a schedule is made that will preserve the sporting spirit of the event and that the framework of the calendar is viable and acceptable."
according to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. This move to increase the number of participants came in response to two factors:
1.) That the defending champion is not guaranteed a spot, but the host country is, resulting in the supreme irony that after the World Cup Championship Game last year, Germany the loser and the host of the 2006 games was guaranteed a spot in 2006, while Brazil, the champion, was not.
2.) The guarantee of a spot for the Oceania Federation, which is dominated by Australia and New Zealand, thus eliminating a potential spot for the South American Federation.
This move was started by CONMEBOL, the South American Federation who were peeved by the elimination of the playoff that could have given them a fifth spot (won by Uruguay over Australia in the last World Cup). As should come as a surprise to no one, I think CONMEBOL has a legitimate beef. Bear this in mind, however: there have been 17 World Cups. Nine have been won by CONMEBOL countries (Brazil 5, Argentina 2, Uruguay 2) and eight have been by UEFA countries (Germany 3, Italy 3, England 1, France 1), yet nearly half of the slots in the WC go to UEFA countries. While as a percentage of the available competitors, UEFA has a disadvantage over CONMEBOL, (UEFA consists of 51 participants while CONMEBOL has 10), but UEFA does include such stalwarts as the Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan (which is squarely in Asia) and the United Kingdom has a place for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Does anyone really think that Andorra, San Marino and Liechtenstein are really going to make it through the qualifying rounds to the finals? There are 15 spots for UEFA competitors and as things stand right now, only four for CONMEBOL. They deserve at least five.
One of the pleasures of having CNNFN on your cable system is getting the CNN International feed on the weekends. There was an excellent report by Nic Robertson on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I wanted to avoid engaging in the kind of "gotcha" writing about the wmd's, but this report brings up a couple of important issues:
Since the toppling of Saddam's regime, more has been learned about intelligence gathering in Iraq.
The Iraqi National Congress revealed that Mohammad Mohsen Zubaidi -- the self- appointed mayor of Baghdad now in U.S. custody, accused by Iraqis of receiving looted funds -- was one of the INC's top intelligence-gathering officials in Iraq. The INC has close ties to the Pentagon.
"The problem isn't that the INC was dishonest, per se. What it is, is that they were willing to believe anything bad about Saddam Hussein that could help their cause of regime change," said [David] Albright, the former U.N. [weapons] inspector.
"And I think the Pentagon, particularly the hard-liners, suspended their analytical judgment in order to adopt some of these points of view and information."
Can you say incestuous amplification?
There is a larger and graver concern:
Albright says the failure to find WMD so far raises larger concerns.
"One of the questions about whether the U.S. government or officials lied is if the U.S. believed its own story, that there were so many weapons of mass destruction, you would expect them to be completely panicked right now, because they are not protected, and they could go easily missing and get into the hands of terrorists," he said.
"And yet they're not panicked. So you do have to start to wonder whether the ... people who believed these stories, really were the American people and not the U.S. government." [my emphasis]
THE IMPORTANT QUESTION
In the comments section of this post by Kevin Drum, "Jane Galt" (aka Megan McArdle) makes the following comment:
Punishing France and Germany obviously carries the risk of further souring relations and causing us to not get things we want down the line. However, it's extremely simplistic to say that this is the only cost/benefit. Not punishing them increases the risk that in the future, France and Germany will decide to oppose us again. There is a long history of sticks, as well as carrots, in diplomacy, though they've fallen out of fashion since the 1950's, particularly in what shreds remain of the Democratic foreign policy establishment. There is a coherent argument to be made that in this case, the first risk outweighs the second, but it is not, as you make out, a random vindictive decision cut loose from considerations of advancing American interest.
Punishing France and Germany also increases the risk that they will decide to oppose us again. The important question "Ms. Galt" is this: Does exacting a vindictive revenge upon sovereign nations who have helped you in the war against terror, but who dare to disagree with you on the war in Iraq make your citizens or the world safer? Especially when your own Department of State refers to France and Germany as nations that have "provided outstanding military, judicial, and law-enforcement support to the war against terrorism [France]" and "an active and critically important participant in the global Coalition against terrorism [Germany]?"
Here's another question "Ms. Galt" should ask herself: If someone punishes you for not doing something that you don't want to do and that the overwhelming majority of your citizens oppose, why would you feel inclined to do something that this person asks you to do in the future?
Kudos to the proprietors of A Flag Without Signs (Una Bandiera Senza Segni) and The Scope for knowing enough US History to know about the Haymarket Strike to respond correctly to the previous entry.
The author of A Flag Without Signs made a good point regarding much use of the phrase "most bizarre" to describe the type of American exceptionalism that I alluded to in the previous post. Perhaps the term ironic would be more appropriate, but as I wrote him, what may be more ironic than Labor Day not being observed on May 1 in the US despite the fact that it's based on attempts in the US to bring about an eight hour workday, might be the fact that jazz is much more popular outside the US than within.
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Today is Labor Day for virtually every country in the western world except the USA. This is probably the most bizarre example of American exceptionalism. Why? This is Labor Day because of something that happened in the USA. If you know what it is e-mail me. I'll provide the answer tomorrow. I'll give you a hint: think about Chicago in the 19th Century.
P.S. The Cold War is over.
US DEPARTMENT OF STATE TERRORISM REPORT
The US Department of State released its massive terrorism report (the PDF file is a whopping 40 megabytes; fortunately it's available in html form here)
As Kevin Drum noted, France comes in for high praise. Kevin's understating things: Here's what the report said about France:
France has provided outstanding military, judicial, and law-enforcement support to the war against terrorism. France made a significant military contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, including some 4,200 military personnel supporting operations in Afghanistan. The Charles de Gaulle carrier battle group flew more than 2,000 air reconnaissance, strike, and electronic warfare missions over Afghanistan. France provided close air support to US and Coalition forces during Operation Anaconda.
French investigators cooperated in a joint investigation with the FBI of Richard Reid, the would-be “shoe bomber.” In the 30-day period after Reid’s arrest in December 2001, the FBI and the Paris Criminal Brigade maintained often twice-daily contact with US authorities and provided information that proved critical to building the criminal case against Reid. French authorities have continued aggressively to pursue leads related to the Reid case.
The French Government reached a compromise agreement with the United States to provide evidence gathered in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, despite domestic criticism.
The French judiciary continued to pursue domestic terrorism cases vigorously. A French court in October convicted and sentenced two Islamist terrorists to life in prison for their roles in a series of bombings of the Paris subway in 1995 that killed eight persons and wounded more than 200. In October, the Justice Ministry decided to add a fifth investigative magistrate to its specialized team of antiterrorist judges.
In November, French authorities arrested Slimane Khalfaoui, who is likely associated with the Meliani cell, a group of five individuals arrested in December 2000 and April 2001 for allegedly planning to attack the cathedral square in Strasbourg, France. Khalfaoui also is suspected of ties to Ahmad Ressam—the Algerian arrested in December 1999 at the US-Canadian border in an alleged plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport—and Rabah Kadri, an Islamic radical arrested in the United Kingdom for a plot to attack the London subway.
France continued to cooperate with Spain in dismantling Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Basque terrorist organization. In November, both countries signed a protocol granting Spanish counterterrorism officials enhanced access to French information obtained from arrested ETA members. In September, two principal ETA leaders, Juan Antonio Olarra and Ainhoa Mugica Goni, were arrested in a joint operation in Bordeaux. Olarra was linked to at least nine murders.
In October, France requested that the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions Committee add two North African terrorist groups operating in France—the Tunisian Combatant Group and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group—to its consolidated list of individuals and entities associated with Usama Bin Ladin, al-Qaida, and the Taliban. The United States subsequently blocked the groups’ assets under Executive Order 13224. Despite its generally cooperative stance against terrorism, France opposes listing Hizballah as a terrorist organization. France designates terrorist groups in concert with the EU. The EU has designated the “terrorist wing” of HAMAS but not the group as a whole, citing its political and social role in Lebanon.
France has become a party to 11 of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.
Terrorists attacked French interests or citizens several times in 2002. In April, two French citizens were killed in a suicide attack against a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. In May, a suicide bomber exploded a vehicle alongside a bus in Karachi, killing 14 persons, including 11 French engineers. Terrorists also attacked the Limburg, a French supertanker, off the coast of Yemen in October. The attack resulted in one casualty and caused an oil spill of 90,000 barrels into the Gulf of Aden. Four French nationals were killed and seven wounded in the bombing of a Bali nightclub in October. The Corsican National Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a string of nonlethal bombings in Paris and Marseilles in early May. There were multiple, nonlethal, unclaimed bombings on Corsica in November.
Germany also comes in for high praise:
Germany is an active and critically important participant in the global Coalition against terrorism. The country’s efforts have made a valuable contribution to fighting terrorists inside and outside of German territory.
Several German citizens were killed in terrorist attacks in 2002. In April, 14 German tourists died in a suicide attack against a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Six German citizens were killed in the bombing of a Bali nightclub in October. During 2002, Germany played an important role in both Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the UN’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Germany’s contribution to OEF included 100 special-forces soldiers; 50 troops manning nuclear, biological, and chemical detection units in Kuwait; and approximately 1,800 personnel in a naval task force off the Horn of Africa. Germany reinforced ISAF’s capabilities with approximately 1,300 troops, and German troop levels will increase to approximately 2,500 in connection with the undertaking by Germany and the Netherlands in December to assume leadership of ISAF in February 2003.
Germany has taken a lead role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction through humanitarian and development assistance. German personnel helped train and equip a new Afghan police force, and Germany contributed 10 million Euros to the force.
German law-enforcement officials arrested several suspected terrorists. In October, authorities arrested Abdelghani Mzoudi for allegedly supporting the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks. Mounir el Motassadeq, a Moroccan national who was arrested in November 2001 for his alleged membership in the Hamburg cell, went on trial, and it was continuing at year's end. (El Motassadeq was convicted early in 2003.) Five reported members of the al-Qaida–linked al-Tawhid organization were arrested in April and were awaiting indictment. German police thwarted a possible terrorist attack when they arrested a Turkish male and an American female suspected of attempting to bomb the US military base in Heidelberg.
In April, a trial opened in Frankfurt against four Algerians and a Moroccan accused of planning an attack on the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2000. Some of the defendants claim that their intention was to bomb an empty Jewish synagogue but not kill anyone.
After lengthy negotiations, Germany agreed in November to provide the US Government with [President Bush and Secretary Powell walk past honor guards in Berlin (AP copyrighted photo)] evidence in the US trial of French national Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in August 2001 and is suspected of involvement with the 11 September hijackings.
Germany continued to take action against Caliphate State—a radical Turkish Islamic group based in Cologne—which was outlawed in December 2001. In September 2002, German authorities banned another 16 groups linked to Caliphate State and raided the homes and offices of suspected affiliates.
Germany has adopted antiterrorism reforms that should further its ability to fight terrorism. The reforms include bolstering the ability of intelligence officials and police to identify and pursue suspected terrorists, screening visa applicants for terrorists, improving border security, and allowing armed air marshals on German aircraft. Germany broadened its legal code to permit prosecutions of terrorists based outside of the country. Germany also modified its law on associations to remove the “religious privilege” clause, which had allowed extremist organizations to operate freely as religious organizations. The Government has used its new legislation, particularly the strengthened law on associations, to ban violence-prone extremist organizations.
Strong data-privacy protections and high evidentiary standards mean that terrorist investigations may take several months before arrests can be made, although administrative measures under the law of associations can be used to hamper the activities of extremist groups. Strong German opposition to the US death penalty has complicated efforts to forge a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States, but negotiations are continuing.
Germany is a party to 10 of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.
Germany has frozen 30 bank accounts associated with terrorist groups valued at about $95,000.
In 2002, Germany was chosen to chair the international Financial Action Task Force, which coordinates multilateral efforts on countering terrorist financing and money laundering.
No mention in the report of those coalition of the willing stalwarts Micronesia and Palau . . .
CHOICEPOINT, PART II
Here's my translation of this article:
Price List for Latin American Citizens
by Robson Pereira
Seventy million dollars. That's the value of a contract signed between the US Department of Justice and ChoicePoint, Inc. (www.choicepoint.com). In exchange for this loot, the company has pledged to hand over a mountain of information about the lives of billions of people and businesses in various parts of the world, including Brazil, but leaving it outside the United States, probably to avoid legal problems.
The contract itself, to be perfectly clear is not under discussion, because we already have so many problems here with contractors and the contracted. The concern expressed last week in this space (see www.estado.com.br/tecnologia) and expounded upon now is the fact that without our knowledge or consent, we Brazilians have become a party in this contract. What is curious and even more discomforting: the price list.
It looks like the list on a peaceful suburban barbershop. Beard, hair and mustache. On the side of each service, a rate, based on what the customer needs. The differences between ChoicePoint and our barbers, however, are many, and start with the implied threat. We know what the barbers do, but I think we ought to be concerned with what the other is capable of doing.
The other emblematic difference is the fact that this price list for this first and apparently unique company to act on the shaky world market for personal information is not put on just any wall. It’s a question of it being annexed to contract 02-F-0464, the one that has an “original value” of US$67 million as mentioned above that's sitting in a briefcase at the US Department of Justice.
It's impossible to be indifferent in front of the enigmatic definition of the prices.
For example, for personal data for each Argentine citizen, ChoicePoint charges the US government US$30. For the Colombians, they're charged three times the value (US$90), almost the same price charged for the complete records of owners of big businesses with headquarters in São Paulo (US$100), including among other information, data for the national ID card, together with inverted commas, accent marks and parentheses taken out of the original.
The description of the services is ample and generous. Just the same, it's not clear what the expression “Brazil Telephone-Other” mean, a service for which ChoicePoint charges a trifling US$15. All the data for Brazilians is turned over in a bilingual report (Portuguese and English), but the price for translation is included in all of the rates.
On the pricelist there's another apparent contradiction. A copy of the driver's license for a Mexican costs US$20, the same price charged for the vehicle ownership history. However, for the complete identification for private planes in Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala or Honduras, the ChoicePoint analysts only charge US$10. For this price (individual, to be sure), the company will undertake to hand over everything about all airplanes registered in the name of Brazilians, including the complete identification of the real owners besides the significant details not explicitly listed in the contract.
Where can you obtain all this and why does this service cost half the rate charged for a driver's license? I didn’t have the slightest idea, nor could I come up with an idea. Parts of the contract such as the price list and other relevant information is available on the website for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.epic.org).
Finally, please excuse me. Last week I wrote the website address ChoicePoint with an “s” instead of a “c” and because of this the readers who attempted to access this site received a response that the address didn't exist. 46 of these readers had an opportunity to forgive me in response to e-mails I received. For all the others, I'm making this apology now.