JFP 4/26: BCA Military Cuts = SS Shortfall; IDF head: Iran won't build weapon

Just Foreign Policy News, April 26, 2012
BCA Military Cuts = SS Shortfall; IDF head: Iran won't build weapon

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Budget Control Act Military Cuts Will Cover the Social Security Shortfall
If the cuts to military spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act are allowed to stand, over 75 years that would save taxpayers about as much money as the currently projected shortfall in Social Security's finances over the next 75 years. Thus Members of Congress cannot simultaneously claim that maintaining current military spending is affordable while claiming that the Social Security shortfall constitutes a dire fiscal threat, as Robert Greenstein might say.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/social-security-cuts_b_1453329.html

Juan Cole: Top Ten Reasons Israel tried to Censor Bob Simon's Report on Palestinian Christians
Ten reasons Israel's Likud Party would have wanted to censor American television news from reporting on the plight of Palestinian Christians.
http://www.juancole.com/2012/04/top-ten-reasons-israel-tried-to-censor-bob-simons-report-on-palestinian-christians.html

Video: Congressional Briefing: Cholera and the Human Right to Health In Post-Earthquake Haiti, April 18, 2012
In October of 2010, less than ten months after being hit by a devastating earthquake, Haiti experienced a cholera epidemic that quickly spread throughout the small nation. The waterborne disease has now killed at least 7,050 Haitians and sickened over 531,000 others. Meanwhile, nearly half a million earthquake victims remain without adequate housing, and Haitians continue to face one of the most challenging clean water and sanitation situations in the world. As the rainy season sets in, the country is experiencing a new spike in the number of cholera cases, according to the U.S. This Congressional Briefing examined U.S. and international efforts to address what has become the world's worst active cholera epidemic. Panelists discussed what urgent measures are needed to contain the spread of the disease, as well as longer-term proposals for preventing cholera from becoming endemic to Haiti.
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/events/events/cholera-and-the-human-right-to-health-in-post-earthquake-haiti

Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control
The peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting the first International Drone Summit. On Saturday, April 28, we are bringing together human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, journalists and activists for a summit to inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States. Participants will also have the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims.
https://codepink.salsalabs.com/o/424/donate_page/dronesummit

II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The Israeli military chief described the Iranian government as "rational" Wednesday and said he did not believe Iran would build a nuclear bomb, putting distance between himself and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak, the New York Times reports. "I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people," General Gantz said.

2) The White House has given the CIA and the Pentagon broader authority to carry out drone strikes in Yemen, the New York Times reports. The policy shift allows the C.I.A. and the military's Joint Special Operations Command to strike militants in Yemen who may be plotting attacks against the US, but whose identities might not be completely known, an authority that already exists in Pakistan, the Times says. Some diplomats and other government officials are wary that increasing the drone strikes could drag the U.S. into another regional conflict in the Middle East, the Times notes. The new policy does not permit strikes against groups of low-level fighters or weapons depots - so-called "signature strikes" - because of the administration's concern about civilian casualties, the Times says.

[Here the Times is using the phrase "signature strikes" to refer to a narrower category than the Washington Post story that follows. In the NYT story "signature strikes" means "low-level fighters or weapons depots." In the Post story "signature strikes" means the broader category of any strike against a target who is not a named person on a list. It appears that the CIA has been given authority to strike if "pattern" intelligence suggests a "high-level" [Al Qaeda] person is there, without knowing who the person might be, but has not been given permission to strike "militants," as it has enjoyed in Pakistan. Press reports have indicated that such authority in Pakistan has recently been curtailed - JFP]

3) The US has begun launching drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen under new authority approved by President Obama that allows the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials said that Obama approved the use of "signature" strikes this month. Until now, the administration had allowed strikes only against known terrorist leaders who appear on secret CIA and JSOC target lists and whose location can be confirmed. Moving beyond those rules of engagement raises substantial risks for the Obama administration, which has sought to avoid being drawn into a fight between insurgents and Yemen's central government, the Post says. Congressional officials have expressed concern that using signature strikes would raise the likelihood of killing militants who are not involved in plots against the US, angering Yemeni tribes and potentially creating a new crop of al-Qaeda recruits.

4) By going to such great lengths to interfere in a report by CBS News, the government and foreign ministry of Israel are proving the country's policies require constant PR surveillance, writes Mairav Zonszein for +972. [CBS' Bob Simon confronts Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on the Israeli government's attempt to interfere in the story: http://youtu.be/lWH__xgv8qQ; the full 60 minutes segment: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7406228n]

5) The United Methodist Church is taking up a resolution at its General Conference in Tampa to divest from multinational companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, write Michael Berg, Hala Abdelaziz and Sandra Tamari in the Tampa Bay Times. Palestinian Christians have called for divestment to help end the occupation, they note.

6) Fiscal 2013 is the only year that defense spending under Obama will actually be cut from a previous year, writes Walter Pincus in the Washington Post. From fiscal 2013 on, the defense budgets will continue to grow, just not as fast as planned [Obama has proposed that the military budget increase roughly on pace with inflation; previously, an increase in real terms was planned - JFP.] Under the House GOP plan, fiscal 2013 defense spending would be at the same rate as this year, but its future increases would grow at a faster pace than in the president's plan.

Okinawa
7) Japanese media say the announcement of an agreement on the re-organization of U.S. forces on Okinawa has been postponed after three U.S. lawmakers objected, VOA News reports. Senators Webb, McCain and Levin say no deal should be considered final until it has the support of Congress. Plans to build a replacement base for Futenma in Okinawa have met with strong local resistance, VOA notes.

Mexico
8) Two days after declaring it would not investigate bribery allegations tied to Wal-Mart's rapid expansion in Mexico, the Mexican government said it would review permits related to the approval of stores and seek information from U.S. authorities, the New York Times reports. The administration of President Calderón faced calls from lawmakers and good government groups to not let such bribery allegations be taken lightly. But the agency Calderón tapped to investigate does not have a strong track record in rooting out corruption, the Times says.

Dominican Republic
9) The U.S. government is looking into allegations that Dominican sugar growers use child labor and keep workers in slave-like conditions as a possible violation of a trade agreement with the U.S., AP reports. A delegation from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs is in the Dominican Republic to review allegations made by the Rev. Christopher Hartley, a priest and advocate for the rights of Dominican sugar workers. Hartley called the review a "magnificent" first step toward addressing long-standing abuse of the country's sugar workers, who are mostly migrants from Haiti or people of Haitian descent. The priest has alleged that the Dominican sugar industry uses forced labor and trafficked workers. "This investigation is going to demonstrate that not just the Dominican government is negligent but the U.S. as well because it buys 200,000 tons of sugar every year from Dominican growers despite deplorable conditions," Hartley said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won't Build Bomb
Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, April 26, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/middleeast/israeli-army-chief-says-he-believes-iran-wont-build-bomb.html

Jerusalem - The Israeli military chief described the Iranian government as "rational" in interviews published Wednesday and said he did not believe it would build a nuclear bomb, appearing to put some distance between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile," the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


"I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people," General Gantz added. "But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous."

The question of whether the Iranians are rational has been a critical focus of international debate over how to handle Tehran's nuclear program, which the government insists is for civilian purposes. Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly invoked the Holocaust to describe Iranian nuclear capability as an existential threat to Israel, and he told CNN on Tuesday that he would not want to bet "the security of the world on Iran's rational behavior," according to The Associated Press. A "militant Islamic regime," the A.P. quoted him as saying, "can put their ideology before their survival."

In a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech last week, Mr. Netanyahu warned ominously that Iran was "feverishly working to develop atomic weapons," and he told CNN on Tuesday that "the centrifuges are spinning."

General Gantz, a former paratrooper who took the helm of the military last year, rarely gives lengthy public statements like the ones published here on Israel's Memorial Day, a traditional period of national self-reflection.

Several analysts saw his comments as more in line with the views of Israel's military and intelligence establishment, including the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, than with the harder line taken by the government. They were also seen as parallel to the position of his United States counterpart, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"What he said," said George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in an Associated Press article, is "consistent with the views of the U.S. military leadership, the U.S. intelligence community. What's interesting is why he said it out loud."

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli expert who lives in Tel Aviv, told The Guardian newspaper that Mr. Gantz's comments were "a welcome development" that "takes the hysterics out of Israel's public assessment of the Iranian nuclear program."

2) U.S. to Step Up Drone Strikes Inside Yemen
Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 25, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/middleeast/us-to-step-up-drone-strikes-inside-yemen.html

Washington - The White House has given the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon broader authority to carry out drone strikes in Yemen against terrorists who imperil the United States, reflecting rising concerns about the country as a safe haven for Al Qaeda, a senior administration official said Wednesday night.

The policy shift, approved this month, allows the C.I.A. and the military's Joint Special Operations Command to strike militants in Yemen who may be plotting attacks against the United States, but whose identities might not be completely known, an authority that already exists in Pakistan, the official said.

Previously, the United States focused on a list of known leaders of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which many American officials now says poses a bigger immediate threat to the United States than do militants in Pakistan.

"This broadens the aperture slightly" for the C.I.A. and the military command, the official said, noting that any targets must be approved by the White House and top administration officials before the strikes can take place.

The gradual expansion of the drone program in Yemen illustrates a spirited debate within the administration between the C.I.A. and some military counterterrorism officers who want to attack Qaeda fighters and commanders aggressively in Yemen, and some diplomats and other government officials who are wary that increasing the drone strikes could drag the United States into another regional conflict in the Middle East.

The new policy does not permit strikes against groups of low-level fighters or weapons depots - so-called "signature strikes" - because of the administration's concern about civilian casualties, the official said.
[...]

3) White House approves broader Yemen drone campaign
Greg Miller, Washington Post, April 25
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-approves-broader-yemen-drone-campaign/2012/04/25/gIQA82U6hT_story.html

The United States has begun launching drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen under new authority approved by President Obama that allows the CIA and the military to fire even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known, U.S. officials said.

The policy shift marks a significant expansion of the clandestine drone war against an al-Qaeda affiliate that has seized large ­pieces of territory in Yemen and is linked to a series of terrorist plots against the United States.

U.S. officials said that Obama approved the use of "signature" strikes this month and that the killing of an al-Qaeda operative near the border of Yemen's Marib province this week was among the first attacks carried out under the new authority.

The decision to give the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) greater leeway is almost certain to escalate a drone campaign that has accelerated significantly this year, with at least nine strikes in under four months. The number is about equal to the sum of airstrikes all last year.

The expanded authority will allow the CIA and JSOC to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence "signatures" - patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. interests.

Until now, the administration had allowed strikes only against known terrorist leaders who appear on secret CIA and JSOC target lists and whose location can be confirmed.

Moving beyond those rules of engagement raises substantial risks for the Obama administration, which has sought to avoid being drawn into a fight between insurgents and Yemen's central government.

Congressional officials have expressed concern that using signature strikes would raise the likelihood of killing militants who are not involved in plots against the United States, angering Yemeni tribes and potentially creating a new crop of al-Qaeda recruits.

Critics have also challenged the legal grounds for expanding the drone campaign in Yemen. In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Sunday, Bruce Ackerman, a law professor at Yale University, argued that war measures adopted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were not aimed at al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate and don't provide Obama "with authority to respond to these threats without seeking further congressional consent."
[...]
Administration officials stressed that U.S. airstrikes in Yemen will still be under tighter restrictions than they have been in Pakistan. CIA drones flying over Pakistan's tribal belt are allowed to strike groups of armed militants traveling by truck toward the war in Afghanistan, for example, even when there is no indication of the presence of al-Qaeda operatives or a high-value terrorist.

In Yemen, by contrast, signature strikes will only be allowed when there is clear indication of the presence of an al-Qaeda leader or of plotting against targets in the United States or Americans overseas.
[...]

4) Israeli PR machine in frenzy over CBS report on Christians
Mairav Zonszein, +972, Tuesday, April 24 2012
http://972mag.com/cbs-report-on-christians-and-israel-propel-ambassador-oren-to-do-damage-control/43295/

By going to such great lengths to interfere in a report by CBS News simply because it involves Israel, the government and foreign ministry of Israel are proving just how reprehensible the country's policies are – that they require constant PR surveillance.

When the Israeli government and its embassy in Washington discovered that CBS News show 60 Minutes was going to run a segment on the increasing departure of Christians from the West Bank, they felt obligated to step in. With Prime Minister Netanyahu's advice and blessing, Ambassador Michael Oren decided months ago that before the show even aired, he must speak with the network's chairman in order to make sure the report included an Israeli reaction, delaying the report's airing from last Christmas to this last Sunday.

The Ambassador claimed he had information the 60 Minutes story was going to do a "hatchet job" on Israel which, apparently for Israeli leadership and diplomatic officials, means any mention at all of the possible suffering of Christian Palestinians in places like Bethlehem, due to the separation wall towering over their homes, or the myriad other hardships and violations committed by Israel's military occupation.

In this clip from the full 60 Minutes report, Bob Simon tells Ambassador Oren that he has never in all his years of journalism been confronted with such interference in his reporting, before a story even aired.

[clip: http://youtu.be/lWH__xgv8qQ]
[full: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7406228n]

[...]

5) Divestment will help ease Palestinian suffering
Michael Berg, Hala Abdelaziz and Sandra Tamari, Tampa Bay Times, April 25, 2012
http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/divestment-will-help-ease-palestinian-suffering/1226641

[Berg is a Jewish native of St. Louis who bakes bread and does environmental activism. Abdelaziz is a Palestinian-American who lived in the West Bank from 1995-1999. Tamari is a Palestinian-American Quaker who lives outside St. Louis.]

The United Methodist Church is holding its General Conference in Tampa. One of the most important, and unfortunately controversial, resolutions to be taken up is the Palestinians' request for the world community to help them end the 44-year Israeli occupation.

We, a Jewish American, a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian, support the Palestinians in their struggle for justice and freedom. We believe the Methodist Church's proposed resolution to divest from multinational companies profiting from the Israeli occupation will aid in ending Palestinian suffering.

Tragically, the Israeli occupation continues to strangle Palestinian society. Israeli political and religious leaders threaten Palestinians with transfer out of their homeland, enforce the occupation of the West Bank with incredible violence, and continue the naval blockade of Gaza which keeps the people there in dangerous deprivation. In the last 20 years, illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank have increased from 241,500 inhabitants to some 500,000, including East Jerusalem.

Israel's occupation practices impose severe hardships on residents. Palestinians routinely find themselves trapped by barriers and the Israeli separation wall - unable to visit family members, friends, schools, businesses and places of worship. Death, injury or arrest is a distinct possibility, even for nonviolent protesters demonstrating against home demolitions or land confiscation.

Palestinians, long denied freedom through negotiations with the Israeli government, have asked for the world to intervene in a humane and moral way to ensure that equality and justice are honored. Palestinian Christians issued the Kairos Palestine Document, "A Moment of Truth," in 2009 (Read the document in full at http://www.kairospalestine.ps/):

"We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation. … The cruel circumstances in which the Palestinian Church has lived and continues to live have required the Church to clarify her faith and to identify her vocation. … Today, we bear the strength of love rather than that of revenge, a culture of life rather than a culture of death."

The document asks the international community to implement nonviolent tactics, such as divestment, to end the occupation.

Similarly, we urge the Methodist Church to divest from multinational companies that support the Israeli occupation. Divestment is required if we are to press Israel to uphold equality for all people in Israel and Palestine. Such pressure is long overdue and urgently needed for Palestinians. In fact, we believe that pushing for an end to the occupation and equal rights for Palestinians is fully consistent with securing a safer and better region for Jewish Israelis as well.

Forty years ago most of the land in and around Bethlehem was owned and inhabited by Christians. Today, the majority of the land is held, patrolled and settled by Israelis. For thousands of years people traveled freely between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, located just 5 miles away. Now there is a wall separating the two holy cities. Thousands of people are separated from family, friends, work and religious sites on the other side. Under these conditions of occupation, Christians by the thousands are making the painful decision to leave the site of Jesus' birth and make a life elsewhere.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has asserted: "In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of nonviolent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime." This past summer in a Charlotte Observer column he noted "the apartheid perpetrated in the Holy Land" and encouraged "retirement giant" TIAA-CREF "to refuse to profit from oppression of a people, and thus to stand on the side of what is right: a safe, secure and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis."

Likewise, we appeal to the delegates of the Methodist General Conference to vote in favor of divestment from Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard, so long as these companies profit from the mayhem in the Holy Land.

6) House skirmish over defense spending begins
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 25
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/house-skirmish-over-defense-spending-begins/2012/04/25/gIQA5BunhT_story.html

The roller-coaster ride is about to begin for defense spending, and it promises to be long and bumpy.

On Thursday, subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee begin to mark up the fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Bill. This will be the ride up because the Republican-controlled panel has indicated that it will add about $8 billion to the $546 billion set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff supported the BCA, but the president's budget is $3.7 billion above the BCA figure. That's because it includes security spending for agencies other than the Pentagon.

For its core fiscal 2013 budget, the Pentagon produced a new strategic plan as well as proposed reductions next year - $6 billion from this year's spending. It went farther, too: a total of $487 billion over the next 10 years. However, understand that after 2013, those deep cuts are from increases already built in to spending over those years.

Fiscal 2013 is the only year that defense spending under Obama will actually be cut from a previous year. From fiscal 2013 on, the defense budgets will continue to grow, just not as fast as planned.

Under the House GOP plan, fiscal 2013 defense spending would be at the same rate as this year, but its future increases would grow at a faster pace than in the president's plan.

So what types of things do the House Republicans on these Armed Services subcommittees want to increase?

Perhaps we can say the first shot in the budget battle was fired Wednesday, when the subcommittee on military personnel put out what is called "the chairman's mark," the basic plan worked out by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). It will be the basis for discussion and amendments Thursday before Wilson's subcommittee.

One change that Wilson wants to make is to continue the use of 18 Air Force Block 30 RQ-Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft. The president canceled an additional purchase of 24 of the $200 million aircraft and wanted to put the 18 already purchased in storage. The plan was to save some $2.5 billion over five years. The justification was that the older, piloted U-2 airplane does the same job and has better imaging capability.

Since Wilson's panel controls only personnel, his "marked" bill just adds 560 people to the strength of the Air Force "to reflect the corresponding manpower requirements to maintain" the 18 Global Hawks that might be retired. Another House Armed Services panel would have to add the funds to operate and maintain the Global Hawks. A committee spokesman said he was unable to say how much that would cost. But a budget expert estimated that the House plan would require an additional $800 million in fiscal 2013 and $2.4 billion over five years, assuming that the U-2s were retired.

The increase may make it through because it has some bipartisan support. Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the Air Force for agreeing to the Obama plan. He said during a hearing, "I'm worried ... we already bought them and we need to find some way to get some utilization out of them."
[...]

Okinawa
7) Report: Japan, US Postpone Announcement on Okinawa
VOA News, April 25, 2012
http://www.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Report-Japan-US-Postpone-Announcement-on-Military-Realignment-in-Okinawa-148829885.html

Three top U.S. lawmakers are expressing concern about an agreement on the re-organization of U.S. forces on the Japanese island of Okinawa, which they say is imminent.

The lawmakers say in a formal statement that Washington and Tokyo are expected to announce the deal Wednesday, but Japanese media say the announcement has been postponed.

The two countries hope to finalize a long-delayed plan to relocate a strategic American military base to a less crowded part of Okinawa because of local complaints about noise, pollution and crime.

But in their statement Tuesday, U.S. Senators Jim Webb, John McCain and Carl Levin say no deal should be considered final until it has the support of the U.S. Congress. They say they are worried about the costs and strategic implications of the plan.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reports Wednesday that the announcement has been postponed in response to the statement by the U.S. lawmakers, all of whom belong to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But the report quotes a top government official saying details of the deal will likely be released before Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda begins a visit to Washington on Monday.
[...]
In February, Washington and Tokyo agreed to go ahead with the transfer of 8,000 troops from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. But a final decision was not reached on closing the Futenma air base, also on Okinawa.

A joint statement at the time said both countries remain fully committed to replacing the Futenma facility and the relocation of its air base to Camp Schwab, which is also on Okinawa. Futenma is located in a congested urban area of Okinawa and is unpopular with residents because of the added stress it puts on local infrastructure.

But plans to build a replacement base for the Marines in a less congested coastal area have met with strong resistance from environmentalists and other groups.

The U.S. has some 47,000 troops in Japan, mostly on Okinawa.

Mexico
8) In Shift, Mexico to Review Wal-Mart Permits
Randal C. Archibold, New York Times, April 25, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/business/global/wal-marts-permits-to-be-reviewed-by-mexico.html

Mexico City - Two days after declaring it would not investigate bribery allegations tied to Wal-Mart's rapid expansion in Mexico, the Mexican government said Wednesday that it would review permits related to the approval of stores and seek information from American authorities.

The announcement came two days after Mexico's economic ministry said the government had no jurisdiction in the matter because state and local agencies had issued the permits and zoning approvals for the company, now Mexico's largest private retailer and employer.

But the administration of President Felipe Calderón, who has championed business development and in recent years had met frequently with the head of Wal-Mart's Mexico division, faced calls from lawmakers and good government groups to not let such bribery allegations be taken lightly.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Wal-Mart's own investigators had found evidence that Wal-Mart de Mexico had paid millions of dollars in bribes to speed approvals for its stores and then sought to cover up the payments.

The government tapped the office of the Secretary of Public Administration to review any federal permits and paperwork involved in opening the stores. A statement from the agency said it would turn over any evidence of wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities.

The agency, however, does not have a strong track record in rooting out corruption.

In 2009, Mr. Calderon had proposed eliminating the agency, which functions as a watchdog over federal public officials, as part of an austerity plan. Critics of the agency had said it was costly and failed to deliver results, but Congress blocked the move.
[...]

Dominican Republic
9) US to look into reports of Dominican sugar abuses
Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Associated Press, Tuesday, 04.24.12
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/24/2765783/us-to-look-into-reports-of-dominican.html

The U.S. government is looking into allegations that Dominican sugar growers use child labor and keep workers in slave-like conditions as a possible violation of a free trade agreement, officials said Tuesday.

A delegation from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs is in the Caribbean country to review the allegations made by the Rev. Christopher Hartley, a Roman Catholic priest and advocate for the rights of Dominican sugar workers.

The U.S. Embassy said the delegation will review his allegations and determine if there have been any violations of the labor provisions of a trade agreement that was signed in 2004 and eliminated tariffs between the U.S., the Dominican Republic and five countries in Central America.

The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs has 180 days to review and publicly report on the charges.

"The review of the public submission in no way indicates a determination as to the validity or accuracy of the allegations," the embassy statement said.

Hartley, who spent nine years in the Dominican Republic before he was transferred in 2006, called the review a "magnificent" first step toward addressing long-standing abuse of the country's sugar workers, who are mostly migrants from neighboring Haiti or people of Haitian descent.

The priest has alleged that the Dominican sugar industry, dominated by three families, uses forced labor and trafficked workers, allows hazardous working conditions and provides inadequate medical and other benefits. The industry denies the allegations.

"This investigation is going to demonstrate that not just the Dominican government is negligent but the U.S. as well because it buys 200,000 tons of sugar every year from Dominican growers despite deplorable conditions," Hartley said in a phone interview from Madrid.
[...]


-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

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