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JFP 10/25: pro-US Iraqis want US troops to leave; Unesco poised to admit Palestine
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 25 October 2011 - 11:09am
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October 25, 2011
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1) Iraqis have given the U.S. military an unequivocal message: Go home, the Los Angeles Times reports. Leading politicians from Sunni and Kurdish blocs who once welcomed the US presence now also agree that the U.S. must leave. The largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc headed by Iyad Allawi has gone on record against extending the stay of U.S. troops beyond the end of the year. Omar Jubbori, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, said Washington would be better off supporting Iraq through economic and "other channels, rather than a military presence, about which Iraqi public opinion is clear."
2) Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, says a US multimillion-dollar program to train police forces - could become a "bottomless pit" for US taxpayer funding, the Washington Post reports. Bowen's report found that the State Department is spending just 12 percent of money allocated for the program on advising Iraqi police officials, with the "vast preponderance" of funds going toward the security, transportation and medical support of the 115 police advisers hired for the program, and accuses State Department officials of withholding critical budgetary and operational information.
3) A vote on Palestinian membership in Unesco is coming as early as this week, the New York Times reports. The agency's general assembly meets in Paris starting Tuesday; the 193 member countries are scheduled to vote on Palestinian membership during the two-week meeting and are expected to approve it. Membership in the World Heritage Convention could list key sites currently under Israeli occupation as Palestinian. The US has threatened to cut off US funding for Unesco if it approves full Palestinian membership. Only this month, the US made separate voluntary contributions to Unesco programs for education and clean water; Washington praises its work on behalf of universal literacy, gender equality and disaster preparedness, the Times notes.
4) Ennahda, moderate Islamic party, led elections for a constitutional assembly in Tunisia with 40% of the vote and began talks to form a unity government with a coalition of liberal parties, the New York Times reports. Previous electoral victories for Islamists in Palestine and Algeria have led to crackdowns, the Times notes. "This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy," said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
5) Human rights groups say thousands of prisoners of war in Libya have languished for weeks without charges and have faced abuse and even torture, the Washington Post reports. Under international law, fighters in a civil war are supposed to be freed once the conflict ends, unless they have committed crimes such as attacking civilians, the Post notes. If they are detained for an extended period, "they need to be brought before a judge," said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch. Abrahams said Libyan leaders good in their public statements, but "The problem and question is their ability to implement them on the ground."
6) The US is scaling back diplomatic, economic and cultural programs once deemed vital to steadying Iraq, the New York Times reports. Plans for consulates in Kirkuk and Mosul have been shelved. The State Department's more extensive plans were drawn up at a time when military officials were pushing to keep up to 20,000 soldiers in Iraq next year, the Times notes. Former US Ambassador Christopher Hill said the scaling back was natural given that Congress and the American people weren't interested anymore; "an invasion is never a very good basis for forming an alliance," Hill said.
7) Analysts say Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely to ignore a non-binding UN Security Council resolution asking him to quit, feeding fears of an all-out civil war, AFP reports. The analysts say the US and Saudi Arabia have not gotten serious about pressuring Saleh to quit.
8) Delivering the economic goods for the majority and ignoring US and IMF pressure has returned Cristina Fernandez to power with 54 percent of the vote, AP reports. Since 2003, Argentina has grown faster than any other nation in the world save China and India. The Kirchners cut inequality in half by nearly tripling social spending in real terms, economist Mark Weisbrot said.
9) Wikileaks cables reveal that the US has known since 2004 that biofuels magnate Miguel Facussé is a cocaine importer, writes Dana Frank in The Nation. Facussé's guards, whom human rights groups accuse of killing campesinos in Aguán Valley land disputes, work closely with the Honduran military and police, which receive generous funding from the US to fight the war on drugs in the region. Europeans appear to be concerned about human rights abuses connected with biofuels production in the region, but the US does not seem to be concerned.
1) Iraq eager to see U.S. troops leave
Though some Iraqis fear that the withdrawal could lead to greater instability, others seem to think a quick U.S. departure is most preferable.
Raheem Salman and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2011
Baghdad and Beirut - More than 1 million Americans have served in Iraq, and almost 4,500 lost their lives there. Now the Iraqis have given the U.S. military an unequivocal message: Go home.
Eight years after U.S. troops overthrew Saddam Hussein, there is little enthusiasm among people on the street for a sustained U.S. presence.
And although some Iraqis undoubtedly fear that the U.S. withdrawal could lead to greater instability, others - notably the lawmakers elected after the U.S.-enabled democratic transition - appear to think that a quick U.S. departure is about the best thing that could happen.
In the United States, the debate over Iraq focuses on the possibility of greater insecurity once U.S. troops leave. Advocates of sustaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq argue that even a limited number of troops could act as a counterweight against Iran's growing influence in the country in the wake of Hussein - who was an implacable foe of the Islamic Republic - and since the emergence of a Shiite-dominated government with close ties to Tehran.
In Iraq, however, many associate the U.S. presence with instability, violence and suspect motives in a conflict that is believed to have cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives. These critics view U.S. troops as a lightning rod for militia attacks.
A representative of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shiite-led ruling coalition said Iraqis were "thankful" for the role of the U.S. and other nations in ousting Hussein, but another official added that the Americans "put the country on the brink of civil war."
"They were part of the reason behind the ethnic and sectarian tension," said Saad Muttalbi.
The Shiites have long been cool to U.S. troops in Iraq. But leading politicians from Sunni and Kurdish blocs who once welcomed the American presence now also agree that the U.S. must leave.
The largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc headed by Iyad Allawi has gone on record against extending the stay of U.S. troops beyond the end of the year. Omar Jubbori, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, said Washington would be better off supporting Iraq through economic and "other channels, rather than a military presence, about which Iraqi public opinion is clear."
Even lawmakers from Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. forces were warmly received in 2003, no longer seem enthusiastic about American boots on the ground. "An American presence is not a condition to solve our problems," said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Kurdish coalition. "They've been here for years, and there are still problems in Iraq."
2) State Department's police training program in Iraq lacks planning, report says
Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post, October 23
A key piece of America's enduring presence in Iraq - a multimillion-dollar program to train police forces - could become a "bottomless pit" for taxpayer funding if officials fail to adequately assess the needs of Iraqi security forces and obtain assurances from Iraqi officials about the program's future, according to a new federal watchdog report.
Since 2003, the United States has spent about $8 billion to train, staff and equip Iraqi police forces. With the U.S. military preparing to leave Iraq at the end of December, responsibility for the police training program transferred to the State Department this month. The department has requested $887 million to continue operating the program this fiscal year.
But a government report set for release Monday found that the department is spending just 12 percent of money allocated for the program on advising Iraqi police officials, with the "vast preponderance" of funds going toward the security, transportation and medical support of the 115 police advisers hired for the program. When U.S. troops leave, thousands of private security guards are expected to provide protection for the thousands of diplomats and contractors set to stay behind. For security reasons, the State Department has declined to specify the cost and size of its anticipated security needs.
In the report, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., head of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, accuses State Department officials of withholding critical budgetary and operational information, which he said prevented his team from completing a full audit of the police program.
3) Palestinian Bid for Full Unesco Membership Imperils American Financing
Steven Erlanger, New York Times, October 23, 2011
Paris - The Palestinian bid for full membership in Unesco - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - has put both Washington and the organization into an urgent bind.
United States legislation dating back more than 15 years mandates a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts the Palestinians as a full member. Unesco depends on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, about $70 million a year.
Neither the Obama administration nor Unesco wants the cutoff to happen, and diplomats are desperately negotiating with Congress, the Palestinians and other Unesco member states to find a resolution that will preserve the agency's budget. But with a vote on membership coming as early as this week, time is running out.
Unesco, perhaps most famous for designating world heritage sites, is a major global development agency whose missions include promoting literacy, science, clean water and education, including sex education and equal treatment for girls and young women. To some degree, a senior American official said, Unesco helps promote Western values under an international umbrella in places where an American one might be resented or misunderstood.
That is one reason, the official said, that the United States rejoined the organization under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Unesco membership "is in the core security interests of the United States," the agency's director general, Irina Bokova, said in an interview here. "I think the United States should take a very careful look at this legislation, in their own interests. I don't believe it's in the U.S. interest to disengage from the U.N. system as a whole."
The irony is that the Obama administration agrees and has been a strong supporter of Ms. Bokova. But lawyers at the State Department see no way around the laws, which date from 1990 and 1994 and provide no possibility of a presidential waiver.
Despite American objections, Unesco's 58-nation executive board approved the Palestinian application this month. The agency's general assembly meets here starting Tuesday; the 193 member countries are scheduled to vote on Palestinian membership during the two-week meeting and are expected to approve it.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first American secretary of state to visit Unesco, coming this year to support an initiative on education for girls and young women, and Ms. Bokova emphasizes that since 9/11, Unesco has run its largest education project in Afghanistan, opening literacy centers for civilians as well as Afghan police officers. It cooperates on teacher training with American companies like Microsoft, she said, and has organized training for Tunisian and Egyptian journalists since the Arab Spring revolts.
Only this month, the United States made separate voluntary contributions to Unesco programs for education and clean water; Washington praises its work on behalf of universal literacy, gender equality and disaster preparedness.
If the United States withdrew its financing, it would still retain a seat at the agency for another two years, but even then its influence would be weakened.
"In a world where soft power is so important, the United States is counterproductively compromising its position in a forum that really matters," said Ronald Koven, who monitors Unesco for the World Press Freedom Committee, an American nongovernmental organization.
Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the United Nations Foundation, which supports the organization's goals, said that "what's maddening is that this is not your grandfather's Unesco - it is better managed, more efficient and U.S. leadership in Unesco has made it a better organization."
There have been discussions about inviting the Palestinians, longtime nonstate observers at Unesco, to sign three major conventions - including the World Heritage Convention, which could list key sites currently under Israeli control as Palestinian - as a nonstate signatory, the way the European Union has done. Such a move would give the Palestinians some of the advantages they seek in joining Unesco without full membership.
An Arab ambassador, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was also discussion of approving full membership for the Palestinians but delaying it for six months, although that would not prevent a cutoff of American money. There is also talk that other Arab states could make up the shortfall in the Unesco budget.
But Arab representatives say that it will be very difficult for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to compromise. Any "package deal" short of membership, one of them said, "would look like bribery."
4) Moderate Islamist Party Heads Toward Victory in Tunisia
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York, October 24, 2011
Tunis - Tunisia's moderate Islamist political party emerged Monday as the acknowledged leader in elections for a constitutional assembly and began talks to form a unity government with a coalition of liberals in a rare alliance that party leaders hailed as an inclusive model for countries emerging from the tumult of the Arab Spring.
By Monday afternoon, Tunisian liberal parties said they were entering discussions to form a government led by their Islamist rival, Ennahda, after it swept to a plurality of about 40 percent in preliminary vote tallies. The acceptance of the results by rivals signaled the beginning of a partnership seldom seen in the Arab world, where Islamists' few opportunities for victories at the voting booth have sometimes led to harsh crackdown or civil war.
In neighboring Algeria, an electoral victory by Islamists 20 years ago set off a military coup and a decade of bloodshed, and in the Palestinian territories, the sweep to victory of Hamas in 2006 elections led to a showdown with the West, a split in the government and armed conflict in Gaza.
Tunisia's was the first election of the Arab Spring, held to form an assembly that will govern while it writes a constitution, 10 months after the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Islamists cheered the results as a harbinger of their ascent after revolts across the region. Islamists in Egypt are poised for big victories in parliamentary elections next month and their counterparts in Libya are playing dominant roles in its post-Qaddafi transition.
"This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy," said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. "We are as democratic as any country."
5) Prisoners in Libya languish without charge
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, October 22
Misurata, Libya - Nearly 7,000 prisoners of war are packed into dingy, makeshift jails around Libya, where they have languished for weeks without charges and have faced abuse and even torture, according to human rights groups and interviews with the detainees.
The prisoners will pose an early test of the new government's ability to rein in powerful militias and break from the cruel legacy of Moammar Gaddafi, who was killed Thursday. Human rights groups have warned that the former dictator's death - which occurred in captivity after he was punched and kicked by swarming revolutionaries - could constitute a war crime.
Many of Libya's makeshift prisons are run by local militia groups scarred by the eight-month war and angry at the prisoners, who include Gaddafi fighters and supporters. The new government that is to be named in the next few weeks - after a planned declaration of Libya's liberation Sunday - will have to deal with both the militias and a crippled national justice system.
Mona Rishmawi, a senior U.N. human rights official, said after visiting Libya this month that up to 7,000 prisoners were being held with no judicial process. "This is, of course, a recipe for abuse," she told reporters.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented numerous cases of ill treatment of detainees. Dark-skinned Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans, the human rights groups say, have been especially vulnerable to beatings and torture by electric shock. Many Libyans suspect those with darker skin of being African mercenaries or of otherwise supporting Gaddafi.
"Right now, you have hundreds of local armed groups that are taking law into their own hands in their own neighborhoods," said Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch.
He said a researcher for his organization was recently in a Misurata prison about midnight and witnessed four wounded detainees from Tawergha - a former Gaddafi stronghold - being forced to move around on their knees in a courtyard, with their hands behind their heads. According to Abrahams, a guard told the researcher: "We do this every day. It is sport before they go to bed. They committed rape."
Human Rights Watch has found evidence of two prisoners dying from beatings they received in detention, he said.
Several prisoners in Misurata said in interviews that they had been beaten after being detained.
Under international law, fighters in a civil war are supposed to be freed once the conflict ends, unless they have committed crimes such as attacking civilians.
"That means Gaddafi's soldiers can be held while a determination is made as to whether they committed war crimes or other offenses," Abrahams said. But if they are detained for an extended period, "they need to be brought before a judge."
Revolutionary leaders in Misurata said they were trying to improve conditions in the prisons but had little money and guidance from the central government. Food, blankets, mattresses and other goods are donated by local residents or international groups, they said.
In one sign of the revolutionaries' good intentions, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders has been allowed to open clinics in two makeshift prisons in Misurata to treat the war-wounded. Its physicians said food and water in the prisons seemed adequate.
The national government has condemned prisoner abuse. "We joined the revolution to end such mistreatment, not to see it continue in any form," Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told Human Rights Watch in late September.
Abrahams said the Libyan leaders "have been spot on with their public statements. The problem and question is their ability to implement them on the ground."
6) U.S. Scales Back Diplomacy In Iraq Amid Fiscal And Security Concerns
Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, October 22, 2011
Baghdad - Beyond the final withdrawal of troops that President Obama announced Friday, America's fiscal troubles are dictating a drastic scaling back of plans for diplomatic, economic and cultural programs once deemed vital to steadying Iraq, building a long-term alliance and prying the country from Iran's tightening embrace.
As recently as this summer, the State Department had planned to establish a 700-person consulate in the still-restive northern city of Mosul. And as recently as the spring, the United States was moving ahead with plans for a consulate in the ethnically divided and potentially explosive city of Kirkuk.
Those plans have now been shelved or indefinitely postponed, and pleas from some Iraqi leaders to open diplomatic offices in the Shiite-dominated south, where Iran wields outsize influence, were summarily rejected.
Taken together, the shrinking of the United States' military and diplomatic ambitions underscores the reality that a post-America Iraq is taking shape more rapidly and completely than many Iraqis and Americans had envisioned. That has heartened many Iraqis and Americans, weary of more than eight years of war and occupation, but left others fearful.
American officials emphasize that they still plan a major increase in diplomatic and cultural programs - the building blocks of so-called soft power - scattering branch offices across the country in the largest diplomatic mission since the Marshall Plan.
But the expansion of a diplomatic presence will be much smaller than imagined, a victim not only of budgetary constraints but also of a growing awareness that the decision to withdraw American soldiers makes it much harder for diplomats to safely do their work. The State Department's more extensive plans were drawn up at a time when military officials were pushing to keep up to 20,000 soldiers in Iraq next year.
Christopher R. Hill, a former United States ambassador to Iraq, worries that even a less-expansive presence might be risky. "I and many other people have concerns of the sustainability of keeping so many diplomats in so many far-flung places," he said. "If you don't have freedom of movement, you do go back to the question of whether it is worth the outlay of the budget and risk and personnel for keeping these people there."
The discussions over the last year about America's future role in Iraq, both within the United States government and between the two countries, have laid bare the diminishing ability of the United States to shape outcomes in Iraq, as well as a relative lack of interest in a Congress consumed by domestic issues.
"I guess very thoughtful people believe there should be some residual presence in Iraq," said Mr. Hill, who now runs the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. "But there are many Americans who don't want to hear the word 'Iraq' and are not really behind a continued presence."
Given that, Mr. Hill said, "I'm not surprised there is downward gravity about what we really want to see there."
The plans for Mosul were among those that fell victim not only to anticipated budgetary constraints, but also to the reality that the military was pulling out. Without American soldiers in the mix, the State Department realized that the vast majority of the 700-person staff would have to be contract security guards. Officials concluded that the cost of security outweighed the benefit of having a small number of diplomats and program officers in the field.
Mr. Hill, the former ambassador, expressed similar misgivings about whether any amount of continued intervention could create the strong ally the United States hoped would be the legacy of a war that took so many American and Iraqi lives and strained America's coffers. "We can say it is an ally," Mr. Hill said, "but an invasion is never a very good basis for forming an alliance."
7) Yemen President Saleh 'Likely to Fight, Not Quit'
Wissam Keyrouz , AFP, October 24, 2011
Defiant Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely to ignore a non-binding UN Security Council resolution asking him to quit, feeding fears of an all-out civil war, analysts say. The resolution, unanimously agreed by the council's 15 members on Friday, strongly condemned deadly government attacks on demonstrators and backed a Gulf-brokered plan under which Saleh would end his 33 years in power.
Saleh has repeatedly stalled the Gulf initiative, aimed at ending months of protests, under which he will step down 30 days after it is signed in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
"I do not think the president will sign the Gulf plan" as a result of the UN Security Council Resolution 2014, said head of the Yemeni Centre for Future Studies, Fares Saqaf. "Most likely he will opt for a scorched earth policy," he said.
Confrontations between Saleh's forces and armed opponents have intensified in the past weeks, raising fears that Saleh's continued refusal to resign will push the deeply tribal country to an all-out civil war.
"The UN resolution and the current level of regional and international pressures are not likely to change the situation in Yemen," says analyst Abdulwahab Badrakhan. "The Americans and the Saudis have still not put Saleh under direct pressure" to cede power, he said.
Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director for the Brookings Doha Centre, agrees that the United States and Yemen's neighbour, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, want "Yemen's regime reformed rather than changed." The UN resolution is "the product of a US-Saudi strategy to push Saleh out of power while keeping his regime (intact)," says the analyst.
8) Keys to Argentine president's landslide victory
Michael Warren, Associated Press, October 24, 2011
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Argentina's vice president-elect is a hoodie-wearing, Harley-riding rock 'n roll guitarist who plays up the pace of the country's prosperity in every financial summit he attends as economy minister.
President Cristina Fernandez chose Amado Boudou as her running mate not just because of his youthful appeal, a key factor now that she's a 58-year-old widow limited to a second term in office. Boudou also was a key player in several unorthodox decisions, such as nationalizing the pensions and using foreign reserves to pay down debt, that enabled her to spread the country's wealth among the poor and working classes.
And this, in turn, helps explain how Fernandez came to be re-elected Sunday with perhaps the widest victory margin in Argentine history, and 54 percent of the vote.
How did she and Boudou do this, in a world where leading economies are slowing and smaller countries are swallowing unpopular austerity measures in exchange for financial lifelines?
Since Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner moved into the presidential palace in 2003, they presided over one of the longest periods of economic growth in the country's history - growing twice as fast in real terms as the economic powerhouse of Brazil, and faster than any other nation in the world save China and India, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The Kirchners also cut the wealth gap - the difference in income between the 95th and 5th percentile - nearly in half by nearly tripling social spending in real terms, economist Mark Weisbrot said.
They rebuilt Argentina's industrial capacity after the 2001 economic collapse, creating jobs, lowering poverty and putting disposable income into many more pockets. They did it by either trying to mask or ignore the high inflation their spending encouraged, preferring to keep the economy moving. As a result, shops are open, business is thriving, and people are buying new cars and televisions like never before.
While Boudou pursued the youth vote, the government was able to use funds generated by his decisions for "social inclusion," increasing pensions, child welfare and the minimum wage by about 25 percent last month to keep up with price increases.
Fernandez even expanded the $3 billion family support program she created by presidential decree so that poor mothers get cash starting early in their pregnancies.
All this has had a huge social impact: Among other things, public school classrooms are packed with children who would otherwise be working or on the streets.
They were able to do this, fundamentally, by rejecting the kind of orthodox economic advice that has made the "Occupy" marchers so indignant worldwide.
Boudou has insisted to the Club of Paris, a group of lender nations including the U.S. to whom Argentina still owes more than $6.5 billion, that the government would accept no conditions in exchange for a new payment plan, even as the same lenders force austerity measures on Greece and other suffering economies.
"When a society expresses itself and decides in free and democratic elections to adopt a decision, this decision must be respected," Fernandez warned in her victory speech Sunday night, referring to those who would return Argentina to its 1990s model of neoliberal conservatism.
It was Boudou who suggested to the Kirchners before becoming economy minister that they should renationalize the pension funds that had been privatized in the 1990s, a decade when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had encouraged Argentina to take on impossible debts, leading to its world-record 2001 default. The private funds were forcing Argentine taxpayers to foot 60 percent of miserly minimal pensions, even as the funds took profits out of the country.
Fernandez took Boudou's advice and in 2008, signed a law seizing $23 billion in private pension funds. This infuriated some investors, invited no end of attacks by the news media and made her even more of a pariah among financial analysts. But it also created a vast credit pool from which to invest in projects "made in Argentina," and provided an alternative to foreign debt, which they couldn't assume without conceding to an independent examination of Argentina's official inflation numbers. That, in turn, would have surely increased pressure for budget cuts, leading to a voter backlash.
9) WikiLeaks Honduras: US Linked to Brutal Businessman
Dana Frank, The Nation, October 21, 2011
Since 2009, beneath the radar of the international media, the coup government ruling Honduras has been collaborating with wealthy landowners in a violent crackdown on small farmers struggling for land rights in the Aguán Valley in the northeastern region of the country. More than forty-six campesinos have been killed or disappeared. Human rights groups charge that many of the killings have been perpetrated by the private army of security guards employed by Miguel Facussé, a biofuels magnate. Facussé's guards work closely with the Honduran military and police, which receive generous funding from the United States to fight the war on drugs in the region.
New Wikileaks cables now reveal that the US embassy in Honduras-and therefore the State Department-has known since 2004 that Miguel Facussé is a cocaine importer. US "drug war" funds and training, in other words, are being used to support a known drug trafficker's war against campesinos.
Miguel Facussé Barjum, in the embassy's words, is "the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country," one of the country's "political heavyweights." The New York Times recently described him as "the octogenarian patriarch of one of the handful of families controlling much of Honduras' economy." Facussé's nephew, Carlos Flores Facussé, served as president of Honduras from 1998 to 2002. Miguel Facussé's Dinant corporation is a major producer of palm oil, snack foods, and other agricultural products. He was one of the key supporters of the military coup that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009.
Miguel Facussé's power base lies in the lower Aguán Valley, where campesinos originally settled in the 1970s as part of an agrarian reform strategy by the Honduran government, which encouraged hundreds of successful campesino cooperatives and collectives in the region. Beginning in 1992, though, new neoliberal governments began promoting the transfer of their lands to wealthy elites, who were quick to take advantage of state support to intimidate and coerce campesinos into selling, and in some cases to acquire land through outright fraud. Facussé, the biggest beneficiary by far of these state policies, now claims at least 22,000 acres in the lower Aguán, at least one-fifth of the entire area, much of which he has planted in African palms for an expanding biofuel empire.
Campesino living standards in the region, meanwhile, have eroded dramatically. In December 2009 thousands of organized campesinos began staging collective recuperations of lands in the lower Aguán that they argue were stolen from them, or else legally promised to them by the government through previous agreements or edicts.
The campesinos' efforts have been met with swift and brutal retaliation. According to Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), the independent, highly respected human rights group, at least forty-four have been killed, at least sixteen this past summer alone. The victims include leaders of groups such as the Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos de Aguán (MUCA), which is involved in land occupations, but also members of stable communities that have been in place for decades, such as Guadalupe Carney, Rigores or Prieta, whose residents believed they had secure title to their holdings. According to a recent statement by Human Rights Watch calling for investigation, no one has been arrested or prosecuted for any of these murders.
Many of these killings and related attacks have been attributed to Miguel Facussé's private security guards, as well those of his associates. Known locally as sicarios or hired assassins, they wear either plainclothes or Grupo Dinant uniforms and are reported to number between 200 and 300. Facussé himself admits that on November 15, 2010, his guards shot and killed five campesinos from the MUCA at the El Tumbador community. A July 2011 report from a joint fact-finding mission from the World Council of Churches, Foodfirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) International, and other international groups on the killings of campesinos in the Aguán, states: "In all cases, according to witnesses and members of the peasant movements, the security guards working for Miguel Facussé and René Morales are seen to be the primary actors," including in the deaths of three MUCA members on August 17, 2010.
Alleged assassinations and armed attacks by Facussé's guards continue. On October 5, Facussé's security guards allegedly shot at and gravely injured two MUCA members at the San Isidro campesino community, according to FIAN. On October 11 at La Aurora, FIAN and other human rights groups report, at least six security guards on lands claimed by Facussé's Dinant Corporation, together with police and military forces, shot and killed Santos Serfino Zelaya Ruiz, 33, and opened fire on fifteen women spreading salt, who hid for hours afterwards in the palm trees.
On January 8, 2011, opposition activist and journalist Juan Chinchilla was kidnapped in the Aguán Valley, tortured and interrogated. He escaped after two days and reported in an interview that his captors "almost all wore uniforms of the military, police and private guards of Miguel Facussé."
Human rights groups worldwide have denounced Facussé's attacks on Honduran campesinos. On April 8, the German development bank DEG (Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungselleschaft mbH), cancelled a $20 million loan to Dinant after investigating the situation. A week later EDF, a major French energy corporation, announced it was canceling plans to buy carbon credits from Dinant.
In the past two years since the coup US funding for the Honduran military and police has escalated dramatically. The US has allocated $45 million in new funds for military construction, including expansion and improvement of the jointly operated Soto Cano Air Force Base at Palmerola (supplied now with US drones) and has opened three new military bases. Police and military funding, almost $10 million for 2011, rose dramatically in June with $40 million more under the new $200 million Central American Regional Security Initiative, supposedly to combat drug trafficking in Central America-which is, indeed, rampant, dangerous and growing in Honduras under Lobo's post-coup government, especially in the Aguán.
Honduran military operations in the lower Aguán valley, including joint operations with Facussé's guards, benefit from these funds, as well as special training. This summer seventy members of Honduras' Fifteenth Batallion received a special thirty-three-day training course from the US Rangers. According to the Honduras Solidarity Network, members of the Xatruch Special Forces group in the Aguán Valley, in a September meeting, "confirmed that they had received training from the United States military in special operations, which include sniper and anti-terrorism training." Eyewitnesses informed Rights Action they saw US Rangers also training Facussé's security guards.
Most recently, on October 6 members of Operation Xatruch II captured, detained without charges, and tortured Walter Nelin Sabillón Yanos, a MUCA member, FIAN reports. Sabillón testified to FIAN that while he was in detention at the Tocoa police station, authorities beat him, repeatedly placed a hood on his head, and three times applied electric shock to his hands, abdomen and mouth while interrogating him about the campesino movement.
On September 17 I called the Tocoa police station to inquire about the condition of more than thirty campesinos that had been rounded up and were being detained. "Tell her they've killed all the campesinos," the official laughed, and then hung up. A colleague who called immediately afterward was told the detainees were being treated "like dogs." "Are they being tortured?" she asked. "I hope so," the official replied.
Now cables released by Wikileaks on September 30 suddenly shed light on the US military and State Department's role in the Aguán Valley conflict and in Honduras more broadly. A March 19, 2004, cable from the US embassy in Tegucigalpa, entitled "Drug Plane Burned on Prominent Honduran's Property," reports that "a known drug trafficking flight with a 1,000 kilo cocaine shipment from Colombia…successfully landed March 14 on the private property of Miguel Facusse." According to the cable's author, Ambassador Larry Palmer, sources informed police that "its cargo was off-loaded onto a convoy of vehicles that was guarded by about 30 heavily armed men." The plane was seen burned and its wreckage then buried by a "bulldozer/front-end loader." Palmer writes that "Facusse's property is heavily guarded and the prospect that individuals were able to access the property and, without authorization, use the airstrip is questionable." One source "claimed that Facusse was present on the property at the time of the incident."
Ambassador Palmer also reported that "this incident marks the third time in the last fifteen months that drug traffickers have been linked to this property owned by Mr. Facusse." In a subsequent cable on March 31, 2004, Palmer noted the confiscation by Honduran authorities of "approximately 700 kilos of cocaine" and conveyed the belief that the drugs may have come from the burned plane on Facussé's property.
How does this all add up, then? First, the US embassy met at least twice with a known, prominent drug trafficker. Second, it was aware that he was a backer of the coup and met with him as it was playing out, as if he were merely a "prominent businessman."
Third, most importantly, the United States is funding and training Honduran military and police that are conducting joint operations with the security guards of a known drug trafficker, to violently repress a campesino movement on behalf of Facusse's dubious claims to vast swathes of the Aguán Valley, in order to support his African palm biofuels empire.
Current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo was in Washington, DC, the first week in October, trumpeting his commitment to defending human rights and fighting drug wars-with President Obama's full blessing. In reality, both are providing cover and support for a war against impoverished campesinos, to promote the economic interests of Honduras' richest and most powerful man.
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