JFP 6/5: Drone Strikes Targeting People Who Don't Threaten U.S.; 17 on K-C letter
Just Foreign Policy News, June 5, 2012
Drone Strikes Targeting People Who Don't Threaten U.S.; 17 on K-C letter
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
* Action: Urge your Representative to sign the Kucinich-Conyers letter on drone strikes
Seventeen Members of Congress are pressing the Administration to come clean with Congress and the American people about civilian deaths resulting from drone strikes and about so-called "signature strikes" that target unknown people. Urge your Representative to join them.
Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
Current signers of the Congressional letter include: Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Rush Holt, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Maurice Hinchey, Charlie Rangel, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Raul Grijalva, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Lynn Woolsey, Hank Johnson, Luis Gutierrez, Ron Paul, John Lewis.
Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes
It may well be true that drone strikes to kill "high value terrorists" who are known to be planning attacks on Americans are wildly popular. But here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians. Seventeen Members of Congress are raising their voices. Others should join them.
CIVIC, Amnesty International Challenge Admin on Signature Drone Strikes and Civilian Casualties
The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict initiated a letter to the Administration challenging it to be more transparent about its drone strike policy, particularly regarding "signature strikes" and civilian casualties. The letter has been joined by Amnesty International and others.
Just Foreign Policy challenges UN to take responsibility on Haiti cholera crisis
Post and share the Haiti cholera counter:
Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti.
Urge your Representative to sign the Congressional letter to Ambassador Rice
Rep. John Conyers' office is circulating a letter to Ambassador Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti.
Current signers: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer, McDermott, Ellison, Johnson (GA), Gutierrez, Jackson, Deutch, Olver, Moran, Alcee Hastings, Filner, McGovern, Keating, Norton, Farr, Cummings, Woolsey, Fattah, Bass, Sires, Tierney, Hirono.
Ask your Rep to sign.
Sign the petition urging the UN to take responsibility
The petition urges the UN to make an official apology, compensate victims, and take a leadership role in addressing the resulting public health crisis by ensuring implementation of efficient treatment and prevention of the epidemic and by helping Haiti acquire adequate water and sanitation infrastructure to prevent the spread of cholera.
1) The U.S. is targeting drone strikes on Yemenis who are not plotting against the United States, the Washington Post reports. A review of drone strikes in Yemen suggests that the Obama administration has embraced a broader definition of what constitutes a terrorism threat that warrants a lethal response, the Post says.
U.S. officials said that in more than 20 U.S. airstrikes over a span of five months, three "high-value" terrorism targets have been killed, the Post says. A growing number of attacks have been aimed at lower-level figures who are suspected of having links to terrorism operatives but are seen mainly as leaders of factions focused on gaining territory in Yemen's internal struggle. [A U.S. official defended the policy on the grounds that such people might threaten the U.S. in the future, a justification of "preventive" violence that echoes the Bush Administration's justification for the Iraq war - JFP.]
2) Palestinian prisoners in Israel are threatening to relaunch a hunger strike, saying that Israel is reneging on a deal that ended the previous hunger strike, AFP reports. Palestinian prisoners minister Issa Qaraqaa said Israel renewed administrative detention orders for 30 prisoners, in violation of the deal, and doubted whether Israel would allow visits to prisoners from Gaza, as it had promised. An Israeli defense official disputed the claims, saying that only 3 administrative detention orders had been renewed, and that visits from Gaza were being worked out.
3) The fact that Pacific Rim Mining's CAFTA lawsuit against El Salvador was not totally dismissed by the World Bank's dispute settlement mechanism illustrates the danger of allowing corporations to sue countries in foreign tribunals under trade agreements for enforcing their own environmental policies, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club said. The same foreign investor provisions and investor-state private enforcement system are in the trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama that President Barack Obama pushed through Congress in late 2011, they note. The Obama administration is pushing to include the same provisions in the nine-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "free trade" agreement it is now negotiating.
4) A law granting Israeli authorities the power to detain illegal migrants for up to three years came into effect Sunday, Haaretz reports. Anyone helping migrants or providing them with shelter could face prison sentences of between five and 15 years. Human rights organizations say the law contradicts the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Israeli daily Maariv published an interview with Interior Minister Eli Yishai in which he stated that most of the "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man."
5) CEPR Co-Directors Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot called for action by the Federal Reserve to contain the eurozone crisis, noting that the Eurozone crisis could tip the U.S. economy into recession, CEPR reports. Weisbrot and Baker note that the European Central Bank was refusing to intervene to maintain political pressure for the implementation of its policy agenda.
6) New research has revealed that the vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich "consuming" countries – principally across Europe and in the US – rather than war-torn "producing" nations such as Colombia and Mexico, the Guardian reports. According to the study, 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced in Colombia remains within Colombia, while 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries. Financial regulators in the west are reluctant to go after western banks in pursuit of the massive amount of drug money being laundered through their systems, the authors say.
7) A poll by the Netanya Academic College shows Israelis are evenly split on whether or not the government should attack Iran's nuclear facilities, the Jerusalem Post reports. Fifty-two percent oppose a strike on Iran, saying that Israel must pursue all possible diplomatic routes, while 48% were in favor of attacking. Eighteen percent believed Iran would try to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon, while 62.5% said Israel would be able to contend with an Iranian nuclear capability.
8) The DEA has opened an investigation into a DEA drug raid in Honduras where local authorities say four people were killed, AP reports. A DEA official told AP someone fired on law enforcement agents first. Local police chief Ariel Bonilla said in his investigation, he was told the law enforcement agents fired first. He said he found they mistakenly shot at a passenger boat, killing four people and wounding four more.
The DEA official expressed skepticism about who and how many people were killed, saying they had yet to see verified names. But the AP was able to find the names of two of the civilians locals say were killed in a government death registry.
9) Ecuador is launching a full-court press to get the U.S. to renew and extend a trade deal aimed at getting impoverished farmers to cultivate flowers and broccoli instead of coca leaves, The Hill reports. But some powerful U.S. business interests want to punish Ecuador for a $18 billion pollution lawsuit judgment of an Ecuadoran court against Chevron.
1) U.S. drone targets in Yemen raise questions
Greg Miller, Washington Post, June 2
There is little doubt among U.S. intelligence officials that Kaid and Nabil al-Dhahab - brothers who reportedly survived a U.S. airstrike in Yemen on Memorial Day - are associated with the al-Qaeda insurgency in that country. Less clear is the extent to which they are plotting against the United States.
"It's still an open question," a U.S. counterterrorism official said. The siblings were related by marriage to Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda operative killed in September, but they have not been connectedto a major plot. Their focus has been "more local," the official said. But "look at their associations and what that portends."
The quickening pace of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen this year has raised new questions about who is being targeted and why. A review of strikes there so far suggests that the Obama administration has embraced a broader definition of what constitutes a terrorism threat that warrants a lethal response.
In more than 20 U.S. airstrikes over a span of five months, three "high-value" terrorism targets have been killed, U.S. officials said. A growing number of attacks have been aimed at lower-level figures who are suspected of having links to terrorism operatives but are seen mainly as leaders of factions focused on gaining territory in Yemen's internal struggle.
News accounts from inside the country - which vary in their reliability - also suggest that U.S. airstrikes have hit military targets, including a weapons storage facility near Jaar, a city in southern Yemen. In some cases, U.S. strikes appeared to be coordinated with Yemeni military advances on al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa.
Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the campaign said restrictions on targeting have been eased amid concern over al-Qaeda's expansion over the past year. Targets still have to pose a "direct threat" to U.S. interests, said a former high-ranking U.S. counterterrorism official. "But the elasticity of that has grown over time."
The adjustments in the drone campaign carry risks for the Obama administration, which had sought to minimize the number of strikes out of fears of radicalizing local militants and driving them into al-Qaeda's ranks. Growing unrest in Yemen has blurred the boundaries between al-Qaeda cells plotting terrorist attacks and a broader insurgency that operates under the terrorist network's brand.
A White House spokesman said the U.S. mission in Yemen remains narrow.
"We're pursuing a focused counterterrorism campaign in Yemen designed to prevent and deter terrorist plots that directly threaten U.S. interests at home and abroad," said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council. "We have not and will not get involved in a broader counterinsurgency effort."
But other U.S. officials said that the administration's emphasis on threats to interests "abroad" has provided latitude for expanding attacks on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as the Yemen affiliate is known.
In early May, a U.S. attack killed an operative, Fahd al-Quso, tied to the latest AQAP plot to smuggle explosives-laden underwear onto a flight to the United States. But officials said the campaign is now also aimed at wiping out a layer of lower-ranking operatives through strikes that can be justified because of threats they pose to the mix of U.S. Embassy workers, military trainers, intelligence operatives and contractors scattered across Yemen.
One of the U.S. objectives in Yemen has been "identifying who those leaders were in those districts that were al-Qaeda and also in charge of the rebellion," said a former senior U.S. official who was involved in overseeing the campaign before leaving the government. "There was a little liberalization that went on in the kill lists that allowed us to go after them."
The nerve center of those operations is a joint targeting cell on the outskirts of Sanaa, the capital. Inside, teams from Yemen's special forces and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) comb through intelligence to identify targets and coordinate which side should carry out strikes.
The airstrikes in Yemen this year have been split fairly evenly between operations carried out by CIA Predators and those conducted by JSOC using Reapers and other drones as well as conventional aircraft, U.S. officials said.
The CIA had pushed for an expansion of the targeting rules in Yemen, seeking to replicate aspects of its drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan. President Obama recently authorized the agency and JSOC to carry out "signature strikes" that are based on patterns of suspicious behavior, even when the identities of those who would be killed is not clear.
According to the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone activity, there have been 22 strikes so far this year in Yemen, more than in the previous 10 years combined. U.S. officials said the pace has accelerated even though there has not been a proliferation in the number of plots, or evidence of a significantly expanded migration of militants to join AQAP.
But the expansion of the campaign is traced mainly to rising concern over AQAP's territorial expansion. The group and its Ansar al-Sharia wing have seized control of cities including Jaar, potentially providing sanctuary for the planning of terrorist attacks.
The Dhahab brothers are examples of the murky overlap between the regional and transnational factions of AQAP.
Their feud-divided family had seized control of the city of Radda earlier this year. Their sister had been married to Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric and operative who was killed in a CIA drone strike.
They are primarily seen as leaders of an al-Qaeda insurgency in Baydah province, but the U.S. counterterrorism official said there is concern that their roles have grown "possibly beyond that."
2) Palestinian threat to relaunch prisoner hunger strike
AFP, Sun, Jun 3, 2012
Palestinian prisoners in Israel are threatening to relaunch a hunger strike, a Palestinian official said on Sunday, blaming Israel for reneging on a deal that ended a recent one.
"There are still provocations in the prisons, and the prisoners are threatening to resume the strike if the situation remains as it is," Palestinian prisoners minister Issa Qaraqaa said at a press conference in Ramallah.
Some 1,550 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel ended a hunger strike on May 14 in exchange for a package of measures which would allow visits from relatives in Gaza, and the transfer of detainees out of solitary confinement.
Israel also said it would not extend administrative detention orders, unless new evidence emerged. In return, prisoner leaders committed to not engage in militant activity inside jail and to refrain from future hunger strikes.
Administrative detention is a procedure that allows suspects to be held without charge for renewable periods of up to six months.
But Qaraqaa said Israel was not keeping its end of the deal. "Israel has begun to violate the deal it signed with the prisoners, and within ten days after announcing the end of the strike, Israel renewed administrative detention orders for approximately 30 prisoners," Qaraqaa charged. "Israel wants to punish the prisoners for striking with these renewed orders," he said.
Qaraqaa also said he doubted Israel would allow the Gaza visits it had committed to. "So far, we don't know if Israel will even allow families of prisoners from Gaza to visit their imprisoned relatives," he said.
An Israeli defence official who wished to remain unnamed rejected Qaraqaa's claims. "As of the end of last week, three administrative detention orders were renewed," the official told AFP.
Regarding the visits from Gaza, the official said that Israel was indeed working toward enabling visits, but it was a process that "would take some time" as it "involves many different bodies."
3) CAFTA Ruling Continues Corporate Attack on Environmental Protection
Part of Attack on Mining Law Will Proceed at International Tribunal; El Salvador May Pay Millions in Tribunal, Legal Fees Even for Dismissed Claims
Press Release, Public Citizen/Sierra Club, June 02, 2012
Washington, D.C. – A tribunal constituted under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) ruled that Pacific Rim Mining Corp. could proceed with half of its attack on an El Salvadoran mining law strongly supported in that country by the left and right political parties and the Catholic Church. Given the extraordinary facts of this case, the only reasonable outcome should have been total dismissal and that today's outcome is even possible spotlights why the extreme investor rights and their private enforcement in foreign tribunals included in past U.S. "trade" pacts must be ended, Public Citizen and Sierra Club said today.
Legal observers expected the tribunal, constituted under the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), to deny all jurisdiction. Not only is Pacific Rim a Canadian firm, but it failed to complete the permitting process to operate a mine. The tribunal also held that the Canadian firm could not pursue claims under a trade pact between the United States and six Central American countries, but refused to waive millions in tribunal costs and legal fees accrued by El Salvador defending against that aspect of the attack. It permitted Pacific Rim's claims at ICSID under an investment law with provisions similar to CAFTA to continue.
"The fact that corporate attacks on a sovereign country's domestic environmental policy before a foreign tribunal would even be possible – much less cost a country millions when a key element of the attack is dismissed – highlights what is wrong with our 'trade' agreement model," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "These investor rules are an outrageous example of how 'trade' pacts have been stuffed with special-interest terms that empower corporate attacks on basic democratic public interest policymaking at home and abroad."
"The CAFTA attack on mining policy has reignited the debate about trade pacts' threats to the environment and public health, and spotlights why the Obama administration must exclude these extreme investor rights for future trade deals," said Margrete Strand Rangnes, director of Sierra Club's Labor and Trade Program. "Even when a country successfully defends against elements of an attack on its environmental laws, it can face major legal costs. The very existence of this undemocratic mechanism threatens critical environmental and health improvements."
Unfortunately, the long tragedy of the Pacific Rim case is not over. The tribunal found that, thanks to a neoliberal law put in place by El Salvador in 1999, many claims similar to those under CAFTA can continue to be adjudicated in foreign courts, namely at ICSID. That poor countries have been pushed to offshore their very judicial systems – through trade pacts' investor-state enforcement systems and through investment laws like El Salvador's – show that the world needs a fundamental rethink of the way we regulate foreign investment, said Public Citizen and Sierra Club.
The tribunal's conclusion that this Canadian firm could not pursue CAFTA claims is welcome. But that El Salvador could be charged millions for costs related to that aspect of the case is outrageous, given Pacific Rim had no U.S. business activity and established a U.S. corporation only months before launching its CAFTA case. Public Citizen and Sierra Club urge the tribunal to waive these costs, already totaling millions.
Pacific Rim began exploring for gold in El Salvador in 2002 and applied for an "exploitation permit" in December 2004. Its application lacked three of the five required elements, and no permit was issued. A year later, CAFTA went into effect. In December 2007, Pacific Rim reincorporated a Cayman Islands corporate shell (which had formally owned the Salvadoran operations) in Nevada. Shortly thereafter, the company launched the first environmental challenge under CAFTA, using the extremely controversial "investor-state" enforcement procedure. This process allows investors to directly sue signatory governments in foreign tribunals, where they can demand cash compensation for government policies they claim undermine their new CAFTA investor rights. Pacific Rim's attack on El Salvador demanded more than $200 million in compensation, alleging (among other claims) that the failure to automatically issue an exploitation permit was a violation of CAFTA.
The Pacific Rim CAFTA case also spotlights how a U.S. "trade" agreement can be exploited by a multinational mining firm to attack El Salvador's fragile democracy, which emerged from 12 years of civil war, and to undermine the laws enacted by its elected leaders to regulate mining and safeguard the environment. Although Salvadoran civil society has been effective in getting the government to review the potential environmental and social impacts of mining, the government has made no decisions about future mining policy. CAFTA's extreme investor rights now loom over these policy decisions, with the government forced to calculate potential CAFTA liabilities against publicly demanded improvements in environmental policy. Another CAFTA attack on the mining law by U.S. firm Commerce Group was dismissed last year because that firm had not terminated its domestic legal challenge of the law, but the firm has since filed to annul the dismissal.
Increasingly, multinational companies are using trade-agreement investor rights in situations where natural resources and public health are at stake. Of the 137 investment cases pending before ICSID, 59 cases relate to oil, mining or gas projects. The Pacific Rim case also raises much broader concerns about the foreign investor rights provided in U.S. trade agreements. Even assuming that foreign firms meet all laws in effect in another country when setting up operations, a trade agreement should not guarantee that foreign firms are sheltered from or compensated for having to meet new laws that apply to foreign and domestic firms equally that are enacted through normal democratic practices, Public Citizen maintains.
The CAFTA "investor-state" system replicates the controversial mechanism that has been included in almost every U.S. trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By granting multinational corporations expansive new rights to sue governments in foreign tribunals over government actions that they say could undermine their profits, the system provides a powerful tool for corporate attacks on an array of domestic policies. To date under NAFTA-style deals, corporations have extracted more than $350 million in challenges of toxics bans, zoning rules, timber policies and more. There are nearly $12 billion in outstanding claims in the 16 major investor-state cases currently being prosecuted under NAFTA-style deals. None relate to traditional trade concerns, but rather to environmental, public health and transportation policy.
The same foreign investor provisions and investor-state private enforcement system are in the trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama that President Barack Obama pushed through Congress in late 2011. In contrast to CAFTA, the Korea deal involves a country with 270 corporate affiliates in the United States, any of which are now empowered to attack U.S. public interest laws before foreign tribunals, and demand taxpayer compensation for loss of expected future profits.
The Obama administration is pushing to include the same provisions in the nine-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "free trade" agreement it is now negotiating. Australia has expressed opposition to this, and even Obama committed during the 2008 campaign to close off investors' ability to attack public interest laws.
4) Israel enacts law allowing authorities to detain illegal migrants for up to 3 years
Until now, migrants caught by IDF have been transferred to the Saharonim detention facility in the south; Interior Minister says migrants do not recognize that Israel 'belongs to the white man.'
Dana Weiler-Polak, Haaretz, Jun.03, 2012, 2:10 PM
A law granting Israeli authorities the power to detain illegal migrants for up to three years came into effect on Sunday, in the wake of widening public controversy over the influx of African migrants who cross into Israel along its border with Egypt.
The law makes illegal migrants and asylum seekers liable to jail, without trial or deportation, if caught staying in Israel for long periods. In addition, anyone helping migrants or providing them with shelter could face prison sentences of between five and 15 years.
Human rights organizations see the amendment as a harsh step which contradicts the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR). According to the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the law was "born in sin" and is a "dark moment for Israel."
"Instead of acting like all civilized countries and verifying requests for asylum and granting refugee status to those who are eligible, which Israel is obligated to do under the UN convention, the state sees mass imprisonment of thousands of people, women and children, whose only offense was seeking escape from murderous regimes, as a solution to the problem. This solution will not solve a thing as it is neither humane nor effective.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Israeli daily Maariv published an interview with Interior Minister Eli Yishai, in which he stated that most of the "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man."
5) CEPR Co-Directors Call on Federal Reserve to Intervene in Spanish Bond Market
European Central Bank's Inaction Could be Costly to U.S. and World Economy
Press Release, Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 4, 2012
Washington, DC – Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Directors Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot issued the following statement today, calling for action by the U.S. Federal Reserve to contain the eurozone crisis. Weisbrot just returned from Spain, where he observed the impact of the crisis firsthand.
The statement reads:
"The financial crisis in the eurozone, now centered on Spain, is contributing to the slowdown in the U.S. economy and opens the possibility of a worse financial meltdown, of the type that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. This could tip the U.S. economy into recession.
"The European Central Bank (ECB) could put an end to the acute crisis by intervening in the Spanish bond market, as it has done in the past year, thereby stopping financial markets from driving these bond yields to levels at which Spain's debt is seen as unsustainable. But it has so far refused to do so.
"The Financial Times reported yesterday that 'A widespread view within the [ECB's governing] council' is that prior interventions 'simply reduced the incentive for governments to act;' and that 'the ECB also has to judge whether to take pre-emptive steps to prevent the situation spinning out of control at the risk of lowering the pressure for political reform or wait to see how events pan out before responding.'
"The ECB's refusal to act, for political reasons, is reckless and inexcusable. Since the eurozone crisis is affecting unemployment in the United States, and threatens to raise it further, it is within the Fed's mandate to act in this situation.
"Past interventions by the ECB indicate that the amount of intervention would be relatively little. According to press reports, the Fed is currently considering an additional $700 billion of quantitative easing in the United States; the amount necessary for intervention in the Spanish bond market would be a small fraction of this, and possibly have more impact on the U.S. economy. Past actions indicate that private investors would move quickly to buy Spanish bonds on the heels of a central bank intervention. Furthermore, the intervention would come at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer, and the Fed would accumulate foreign assets in its reserve holdings.
"U.S. Treasury rates fell to all-time record lows last week, as fear seized financial markets worldwide. More than $100 billion left Spain in the first quarter of this year – nearly 10 percent of Spain's GDP – and it is likely that capital flight accelerated in April and May. This capital flight worsens the situation of the Spanish banks, as does the fall in the price of Spanish bonds, which are held mostly in Spain. All of this makes the banking and financial crisis worse. The eurozone recession is deepening, and the financial crisis there is affecting many parts of the world economy.
"It is possible that action by the Fed would also cause the ECB to intervene. But in any case, it is within the Fed's mandate and ability to contain this crisis. It should act quickly before there is further damage to the U.S. economy."
6) Western banks 'reaping billions from Colombian cocaine trade'
While cocaine production ravages countries in Central America, consumers in the US and Europe are helping developed economies grow rich from the profits, a study claims
Ed Vulliamy, Guardian.co.uk, Saturday 2 June 2012 14.34 EDT
The vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich "consuming" countries – principally across Europe and in the US – rather than war-torn "producing" nations such as Colombia and Mexico, new research has revealed. And its authors claim that financial regulators in the west are reluctant to go after western banks in pursuit of the massive amount of drug money being laundered through their systems.
The most far-reaching and detailed analysis to date of the drug economy in any country – in this case, Colombia – shows that 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country, while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries.
"The story of who makes the money from Colombian cocaine is a metaphor for the disproportionate burden placed in every way on 'producing' nations like Colombia as a result of the prohibition of drugs," said one of the authors of the study, Alejandro Gaviria, launching its English edition last week.
"Colombian society has suffered to almost no economic advantage from the drugs trade, while huge profits are made by criminal distribution networks in consuming countries, and recycled by banks which operate with nothing like the restrictions that Colombia's own banking system is subject to."
His co-author, Daniel Mejía, added: "The whole system operated by authorities in the consuming nations is based around going after the small guy, the weakest link in the chain, and never the big business or financial systems where the big money is."
The work, by the two economists at University of the Andes in Bogotá, is part of an initiative by the Colombian government to overhaul global drugs policy and focus on money laundering by the big banks in America and Europe, as well as social prevention of drug taking and consideration of options for de-criminalising some or all drugs.
The economists surveyed an entire range of economic, social and political facets of the drug wars that have ravaged Colombia. The conflict has now shifted, with deadly consequences, to Mexico and it is feared will spread imminently to central America. But the most shocking conclusion relates to what the authors call "the microeconomics of cocaine production" in their country.
Gaviria and Mejía estimate that the lowest possible street value (at $100 per gram, about £65) of "net cocaine, after interdiction" produced in Colombia during the year studied (2008) amounts to $300bn. But of that only $7.8bn remained in the country.
"It is a minuscule proportion of GDP," said Mejía, "which can impact disastrously on society and political life, but not on the Colombian economy. The economy for Colombian cocaine is outside Colombia."
Mejía told the Observer: "The way I try to put it is this: prohibition is a transfer of the cost of the drug problem from the consuming to the producing countries."
"If countries like Colombia benefitted economically from the drug trade, there would be a certain sense in it all," said Gaviria. "Instead, we have paid the highest price for someone else's profits – Colombia until recently, and now Mexico.
"I put it to Americans like this – suppose all cocaine consumption in the US disappeared and went to Canada. Would Americans be happy to see the homicide rates in Seattle skyrocket in order to prevent the cocaine and the money going to Canada? That way they start to understand for a moment the cost to Colombia and Mexico."
The mechanisms of laundering drug money were highlighted in the Observer last year after a rare settlement in Miami between US federal authorities and the Wachovia bank, which admitted to transferring $110m of drug money into the US, but failing to properly monitor a staggering $376bn brought into the bank through small exchange houses in Mexico over four years. (Wachovia has since been taken over by Wells Fargo, which has co-operated with the investigation.)
But no one went to jail, and the bank is now in the clear. "Overall, there's great reluctance to go after the big money," said Mejía. "They don't target those parts of the chain where there's a large value added. In Europe and America the money is dispersed – once it reaches the consuming country it goes into the system, in every city and state. They'd rather go after the petty economy, the small people and coca crops in Colombia, even though the economy is tiny."
Colombia's banks, meanwhile, said Mejía, "are subject to rigorous control, to stop laundering of profits that may return to our country. Just to bank $2,000 involves a huge amount of paperwork – and much of this is overseen by Americans."
"In Colombia," said Gaviria, "they ask questions of banks they'd never ask in the US. If they did, it would be against the laws of banking privacy. In the US you have very strong laws on bank secrecy, in Colombia not – though the proportion of laundered money is the other way round. It's kind of hypocrisy, right?"
7) Israelis evenly split on attacking Iran
A new poll by the Netanya Academic College shows 52% of Israeli opposing an Israeli strike on Iran, while 48% support it.
Niv Elis, Jerusalem Post, 06/04/2012 14:18
Israelis are evenly split on whether or not the government should attack Iran's nuclear facilities, a poll by the Netanya Academic College released Monday shows.
Fifty-two percent of those polled oppose a strike on the Islamic Republic, saying that Israel must pursue all possible diplomatic routes, while 48% were in favor of attacking.
Eighteen percent believed Iran would try to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon, while 62.5% said Israel would be able to contend with an Iranian nuclear capability.
8) DEA investigating Honduras drug raid shooting
Martha Mendoza and Alberto Arce, Associated Press, Fri, Jun. 01, 2012
State Department officials say the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has opened an investigation into a drug raid in a remote Central American jungle where local authorities say four people were killed.
"There's an ongoing government investigation by the government of Honduras into this matter. And I'm also aware that there's a separate DEA investigation," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
DEA agents were working side by side with Honduran counterparts in helicopters during a predawn operation May 11 that authorities have said was tracking a cocaine shipment as it was unloaded from a plane and onto a boat. Officials say the boat was near a pier, and beyond that lay a small cluster of homes.
There are various versions about what happened, and details are disputed.
Someone fired on the law enforcement agents first, and Honduran officers returned fire, a DEA official told The Associated Press on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigations are continuing.
Local police chief Ariel Bonilla has said that in his investigation, he was told the law enforcement agents fired first. He said he found they mistakenly shot at a passenger boat, killing four people and wounding four more. The helicopters later landed at a nearby village, where residents say law enforcement agents knocked down doors and handcuffed locals in a search for a drug trafficker.
The DEA official said DEA agents never fired their guns during the entire incident, and expressed skepticism about who and how many people were killed. The official said the DEA had yet to see verified names or information about funerals.
According to family members, doctors at the nearest hospital, local officials and police investigators in Honduras, the victims included two men, Wilmer Lucas Walter, 14; and Enerson Martinez Martinez Henriquez, 21; and two women, Juana Jackson Ambrosio, 28; and Candelaria Pratt Nelson, 48. Ambrosio and Nelson were both pregnant, their relatives said.
The AP saw locations where family members said Walter and Ambrosio were buried and saw their names in a government death registry. Nelson and Henriquez were from a neighboring community and family members said they took the bodies home to be buried.
AP also interviewed three people who said they suffered bullet wounds in the incident. They told AP they were sleeping in a passenger boat and awoke to the noise of helicopters. They said all the drug traffickers got away.
9) Ecuador, Chevron face off over trade deal renewal
Julian Pecquet, The Hill, 06/01/12 12:52 PM ET
Ecuador is launching a full-court press to get the United States to renew and extend a trade deal aimed at getting impoverished farmers to cultivate flowers and broccoli instead of coca leaves.
The push comes as the left-wing government of President Rafael Correa is being accused of violating the terms of the agreement by powerful U.S. business interests upset at Ecuador's $18 billion pollution lawsuit judgment against the Chevron oil company.
The Andean Trade Preference Act was initially enacted in 1991 to help four countries - Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru - fight drug trafficking by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for thousands of rural products. Ecuador is the only country left in the program after Colombia and Peru signed free-trade agreements with the United States and Bolivia lost its preferences after a diplomatic spat.
"We're very concerned the ATPA will expire next year," said Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, Nathalie Cely Suarez. "And we want Americans to hear from the real voices of the people [whose] jobs can be in jeopardy."
Suarez spoke to The Hill following a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies by two government ministers and several business leaders who enjoy the benefits of duty-free access to the U.S. market. She said she'll also be reaching out to Congress in the coming weeks to get her message across.
Ecuadoran exports under ATPA represented 61 percent of total exports to the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, the embassy wrote in comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative last week. The trade deal supports 320,000 Ecuadoran jobs and helps maintain political stability, the embassy wrote, while enhancing counternarcotics cooperation between the two countries.
Ecuador says the agreement creates jobs in the United States as well, but the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents 300 American companies engaged in international trade and investment, is urging the Obama administration to skewer the deal. The council says Ecuador should lose its trade privileges because it has refused to abide by the judgment of an international tribunal convened under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty that ordered Ecuador to prevent enforcement of the judgment against Chevron.
Correa has reportedly called the tribunal's ruling a "monstrosity," and an appellate court said it does not consider itself bound by its ruling.
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