JFP News, 6/1: NGOs Fight "Blank Check" for IMF
Just Foreign Policy News
June 1, 2009
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1) A broad coalition of civil society groups, as well as some lawmakers, is fighting a "blank check" from the U.S. to expand funding for the International Monetary Fund, Inter Press Service reports. Typically, the IMF requires recipient countries to reduce their budget deficits and increase interest rates, both of which can produce the opposite effect of the economic stimulus the funds are meant to provide. As a result, countries have been forced to cut essential social programs, like unemployment insurance. A Congressional letter from Rep. Waters calls for Congress to attach conditions on the IMF: ensuring that the IMF's new loans are stimulatory and not contractionary; using IMF gold sales to finance at least five billion dollars in debt relief and/or grants; and requiring parliamentary approval in the recipient countries before loans are extended. The letter has more than 33 signatures.
2) The Senate owes more than a pro forma confirmation of Gen. McChrystal as the next US commander in Afghanistan, writes the New York Times in an editorial. McChrystal, who goes before the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, was commander of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations teams in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2008. Special Operations forces have been repeatedly linked to abusive interrogations. The Times says McChrystal has a responsibility to illuminate what went wrong, what if anything was done to stop these horrors, and what he intends to do to ensure that they are not repeated under his command in Afghanistan.
3) Red Cross officials described a grim humanitarian picture for Pakistanis who stayed in Swat through the government's offensive, the New York Times reports. "There is no running water, no electricity and food is scarce," a Red Cross official told AP. "There is no fuel left for generators, and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning. Phone lines are down, so people have been cut off from the outside world and are anxious for contact with relatives who fled the area."
4) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected Obama's demand for a freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction, but his government's move to dismantle some squatter camps set off a rampage by Jewish settlers against Palestinians, AP reports. Obama has demanded Israel halt all settlement construction, including expansion to accommodate what Israel calls "natural growth" of settlements. Stone-throwing settlers ambushed a minivan carrying Palestinian laborers to Israel; six Palestinians were hurt. Settlers torched a wooded hilltop near Nablus and set trees and Palestinian agricultural land on fire near the village of Hawara.
5) The US has insisted that Iran would never be allowed to develop the capability to enrich uranium, notes Graham Allison of the Kennedy School in the Washington Post. But at this point we must recognize the irreversible bottom line: Iran has demonstrably mastered the capability to manufacture and operate centrifuges to enrich uranium. Its knowledge of how to enrich uranium cannot be erased. There is no realistic future in which Iran will not be "nuclear enrichment capable." Every option available at this point requires living with an Iran that knows how to enrich uranium. Continued denial of this truth is self-delusion. More important than how many centrifuges Iran continues operating is how transparent it will be about all of its nuclear activities. The best hope for defining a meaningful red line is to enshrine the Iranian supreme leader's affirmations that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons in an international agreement with Russia and China.
6) A think tank led by Iran's former top nuclear negotiator accused President Ahmadinejad of distorting facts about the country's nuclear program to depict himself as a hero, AP reports. The Center for Strategic Researchsaid Ahmadinejad has attempted to downplay the role of his predecessors in developing Iran's nuclear program, which was started in the 1980s under former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the president's leading election challenger. The think tank noted that President Khatami reversed the freeze on enrichment before Ahmadinejad took office in response to international demands to permanently suspend the nuclear program.
7) U.S. officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, the Wall Street Journal reports. Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
8) The Pashtun refugee influx to Karachi from the government's offensive has inflamed ethnic tensions in the city, the Wall Street Journal reports. Clashes between the rapidly growing Pashtun population and Karachi's majority community killed dozens of people in recent weeks. "We are not considered Pakistani citizens here," said one longtime Pashtun resident of Karachi. Karachi's Pashtun leaders laugh off their rivals' accusations of Taliban sympathies: one Pashtun leader proudly notes that he drinks alcohol and hasn't been to a mosque for months.
9) When Pakistan's army drove the Taliban back from the village of Sultanwas, it also reduced houses, mosques and shops to rubble, AP reports. "The Taliban never hurt the poor people, but the government has destroyed everything," said one resident. "They are treating us like the enemy."
10) Cuba has agreed to restart talks with the US on immigration and has signaled willingness to cooperate on issues including terrorism, drug trafficking and mail service, the Washington Post reports. The news was announced as Secretary of State Clinton began a trip to Latin America, where she is expected to face pressure to take further steps to ease U.S. policy.
11) USAID funds through Plan Colombia appear to have put drug-war dollars into the hands of paramilitary narco-traffickers, in possible violation of federal law, The Nation reports. "Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money," says Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro. "The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers."
1) NGOs Oppose Nearly 100-Billion-Dollar Pledge to IMF
Danielle Kurtzleben, Inter Press Service, May 29
A broad coalition of civil society groups, as well as some U.S. lawmakers, is fighting what they call a "blank cheque" from the U.S. to expand funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On May 22, the Senate passed a 91.3 billion-dollar-wartime spending bill that included 108 billion dollars for the Washington-based Fund. The bill will now have to be reconciled in a conference committee between the Senate and the House of Representatives whose own version omitted any IMF funding.
Opponents of the funding are concerned about the conditions the IMF usually imposes upon low-income countries when they accept these funds, conditions which, according to many NGOs, actually do more harm than good, particularly for the most vulnerable sectors of the recipients' populations.
Typically, the IMF requires recipient countries to reduce their budget deficits and increase interest rates, both of which can produce the opposite effect of the economic stimulus the funds are meant to provide. As a result, countries have been forced to cut essential social programmes, like unemployment insurance and other safety-net mechanisms.
"It makes no sense to provide money intended to support global stimulus spending to the IMF when the IMF is demanding developing countries employ recessionary policies," says Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action, a non-profit organisation that advocates, among other things, change in what it considers to be harmful IMF and World Bank practices. "The point of giving these crisis loans is to help countries avert those kind of contractionary policies, not to demand them as a condition on the loans," according to Weissman. "So the conditionality undermines the logical purposes of giving the loans."
Still, there is a push in Congress to amend the bill so that the requested funds can be used to ensure that more vulnerable groups in low-income countries will benefit. Rep. Maxine Waters of California has circulated a letter opposing the funding and currently has over 33 signatures from fellow House members.
The letter calls for Congress to attach its own conditions to Washington's commitment to provide the funding committed to the IMF: ensuring that the IMF's new loans are stimulatory and not contractionary; using some of the planned IMF gold sales to finance the rescue packages for at least five billion dollars in debt relief and/or grants to the poorest countries; requiring parliamentary approval in the recipient countries before loans are extended; and boosting the transparency of the borrowing countries' dialogue with the IMF so as to better inform local publics about the conditions under which the loans are to be extended. Above all, the letter requests that U.S. leadership work "to ensure that the [IMF] becomes more transparent and accountable to all member countries, including the poorest."
In recent months, the IMF has been touting policy changes to more efficiently supply assistance to needy countries with only a minimum of conditions. What conditions it would apply, IMF officials promised in March, would be to help any loan-seeking country "to overcome the problems that led it to seek financial aid in the first place."
The IMF has introduced the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), a new facility that has fewer restrictions on it. However, only select countries that meet certain conditions – for example, eligible countries must have low inflation, "the absence of bank solvency problems," and minimal public debt - can qualify for FCL, according to the activists.
They complained that the IMF's executive board, which is dominated by the western powers, may also be guided by political or strategic considerations. Paradoxically, this means that the countries most in need of freer funding may be the least likely to qualify for them. The IMF has so far approved Mexico, Colombia, and Poland for FCL loans.
JoAnn Carter, executive director of RESULTS, an advocacy group concerned with ending hunger, called the FCL and other IMF lending policy changes "more rhetoric than reality." She said that since the IMF implemented reform of its lending restrictions, "There still have been very austere conditions imposed upon some of these countries."
Asia Russell, international policy director of Health GAP, a group that works for broader provision of AIDS and HIV medicines worldwide, concurred: "The proof is really in the pudding. Despite declarations from [IMF] headquarters in Washington, the same sort of policies are being used – contractionary policies, slashing deficits."
2) Questions For General McChrystal
Editorial, New York Times, June 1, 2009
The Senate owes the American people more than a pro forma confirmation of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, President Obama's choice to be the next United States military commander in Afghanistan.
General McChrystal, who goes before the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, built an impressive reputation as commander of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations teams in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2008. Highly trained and motivated task forces under his command captured Saddam Hussein and called in the air strikes that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Successes like these could help turn the tide in Afghanistan.
But there are other, more disturbing aspects of that record that the Senate also must consider. Special Operations task forces operated in secret, outside the normal military chain of command and with minimal legal accountability, especially during the years Donald Rumsfeld ran the Pentagon. General McChrystal's command substantially overlaps this troubled period.
In 2004, for example, a Special Operations unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former torture centers near Baghdad into its own secret interrogation cell, where detainees were subjected to a range of physical and psychological abuses.
This was not an isolated incident. In 2006, The Times reported on field outposts set up by Special Operations units in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk where detainees were stripped naked and subjected to simulated drowning.
At least 34 Special Operations soldiers were eventually disciplined by the Pentagon for these abusive interrogations. Many more cases had to be dropped because the specific interrogator could not be conclusively identified or because crucial computer records were lost.
While there is no suggestion that General McChrystal was personally involved in any misconduct, he has a clear responsibility to illuminate what went wrong, what if anything was done to stop these horrors, and what he intends to do to ensure that they are not repeated under his command in Afghanistan.
3) Pakistan Marches On In Bastion Of Taliban
Sabrina Tavernise and Irfan Ashraf, New York Times, June 1, 2009
Islamabad - Fighting broke out late Saturday between militants and the Pakistani military in South Waziristan, a stronghold region for the Taliban and Al Qaeda that the government has said will be the next front in its offensive, a Pakistani military spokesman said.
For the past month, the military has been pressing an offensive against Taliban militants who had taken over the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, the capital. On Sunday, a day after the military reported that it had taken the valley's biggest city, Mingora, from the Taliban, Pakistani officials said the campaign could be over in a matter of days.
But the areas have been largely off limits to reporters, and it has been impossible to corroborate assertions by the military, which have been overly optimistic in the past. The International Committee of the Red Cross gained access to the area for the first time on Saturday, when it evacuated three severely wounded people from a hospital in Mingora, which had been closed for weeks. Red Cross officials described a grim humanitarian picture for those who stayed in Swat through the fighting.
"There is no running water, no electricity and food is scarce," one of those officials, Daniel O'Malley, told The Associated Press. "There is no fuel left for generators, and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning. Phone lines are down, so people have been cut off from the outside world and are anxious for contact with relatives who fled the area."
The campaign has displaced about three million people, and refugees coming out of Swat during the lifting of a curfew on Sunday said that many people remained stuck in the valley without food, water and electricity.
4) Netanyahu rejects US calls for settlement freeze
Amy Teibel, Associated Press, Monday, June 1, 2009 12:03 PM
Havat Gilad, West Bank - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected President Barack Obama's demand for a freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction, but his government's move to dismantle some squatter camps set off a rampage by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
It was a violent reminder that Netanyahu is caught between his own hard-line supporters and Israel's vital relationship with Washington. So far, Netanyahu has appeared sympathetic to the settlers, but protests over his limited West Bank policy spread as far as Jerusalem.
On Monday, Netanyahu briefed the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about his recent meeting with Obama. The American president and his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction, including expansion to accommodate what Israel calls "natural growth" of settlements.
Netanyahu said Israel cannot "freeze life" in settlements, according to a participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. Netanyahu was quoted as saying that "there are reasonable requests and unreasonable requests."
At the same time, in an apparent gesture to Obama, Netanyahu's government has begun dismantling small settler outposts built without formal government authorization. But even that limited step has triggered settler violence. Settlers have vowed to retaliate with attacks on Palestinians after removal even the tiniest enclave - a tactic known as "price tag."
Before dawn, near the Kedumim settlement, stone-throwing settlers ambushed a minivan carrying Palestinian laborers to Israel, the workers said. Six of the 15 Palestinians on board were hurt, including Yahye Sadah, 44, who was hit in the head and said he needed six stitches. Police said settlers threw rocks and burned tires and then fled. Police said no arrests were made.
A few hours later, settlers torched a wooded hilltop near Nablus and set trees and Palestinian agricultural land on fire near the village of Hawara, residents said. Romel Sweiti, a local resident, said about 50 teenage settler girls gathered on a main road and blocked traffic as Israeli paramilitary police stood in the background.
Toward nightfall, about 20 young Jewish extremists briefly blocked the highway into Jerusalem, burning tires and a garbage bin, causing a huge rush hour traffic jam. Police dragged the struggling youths away, arresting four.
Nearly 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements among 2.4 million Palestinians. Another 180,000 live in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas - captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - as parts of a future independent state.
In recent years, settlers have set up dozens of squatter camps, or outposts, that lack formal government approval, but often received funding and support from government agencies. Israel has failed to keep a promise to the U.S., first made in 2003, to dismantle about two dozen outposts.
The U.S. considers the settlements an obstacle to peace but has done little on the issue, a policy that appears to be changing under Obama.
5) A New Red Line For Iran
Graham Allison, Washington Post, Monday, June 1, 2009
[Allison is at Harvard's Kennedy School.]
The Iranian nuclear challenge was transformed on President George W. Bush's watch. Events in Iran have advanced faster than the policy community's thinking about the problem. The brute fact is that Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: It has lost its nuclear virginity.
Over the past eight years, the United States has insisted that Iran would never be allowed to develop the capability to enrich uranium, as that could be used to build a nuclear bomb. Three unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions demanded that Iran "suspend all enrichment-related activities." That was a worthy aim. Technically, mastery of enrichment is the brightest red line short of nuclear weapons. Israelis have called it the "point of no return."
At this point, however, we must recognize the irreversible bottom line: Iran has demonstrably mastered the capability to manufacture and operate centrifuges to enrich uranium. The February report of the International Atomic Energy Agency documents the details: Iran is operating 4,000 centrifuges and has already produced more than a ton of low-enriched uranium - an amount sufficient, after further enrichment, to make its first nuclear bomb.
First, the long-held American objective to prevent Iran from acquiring the technical know-how to enrich uranium has been overtaken by events. While it was an appropriate goal at the time, Iran has acquired this capability. Its knowledge of how to enrich uranium cannot be erased. There is no realistic future in which Iran will not be "nuclear enrichment capable," that is, have the know-how to replicate its current enrichment facility at Natanz - either overtly or covertly.
The bottom line for American policy is that the menu of feasible options has shrunk. Every option available at this point requires living with an Iran that knows how to enrich uranium. Continued denial of this truth is self-delusion.
The central policy question becomes: What combination of arrangements, inside and outside Iran, has the best chance of persuading it to stop short of a nuclear bomb? More important than how many centrifuges Iran continues operating at Natanz is how transparent it will be about all of its nuclear activities, including the manufacture of centrifuges. Maximizing the likelihood that covert enrichment will be discovered is the best way to minimize the likelihood that it will be pursued. The best hope for defining a meaningful red line is to enshrine the Iranian supreme leader's affirmations that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons in a solemn international agreement that commits Russia and China to join the United States in specific, devastating penalties for violation of that pledge.
The Obama administration cannot restore Iran's nuclear innocence. Its challenge is to prevent the birth of the next nuclear-weapons state.
6) Think tank accuses Ahmadinejad of distorting facts
Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, Saturday, May 30, 2009 10:15 AM
Tehran - A moderate think tank led by Iran's former top nuclear negotiator accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of distorting facts about the country's nuclear program to depict himself as a hero and improve his chances in the upcoming election. It is rare for an Iranian think tank to criticize the president in such a direct manner, indicating the high stakes ahead of the June 12 election.
Ahmadinejad faces a tough battle against reformists who have criticized him for spending too much time slamming the West instead of improving Iran's faltering economy. The president has attempted to deflect the blame by playing up Iran's nuclear achievements during his time in office.
But the Center for Strategic Research, led by former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, said Ahmadinejad has attempted to downplay the role of his predecessors in developing Iran's nuclear program, which was started in the 1980s under former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the president's leading election challenger.
It also accused Ahmadinejad of exaggerating his role in standing up to the West over a 2003 deal his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, reached with three European countries to temporarily suspend Iran's uranium enrichment program.
Ahmadinejad has called the deal, which was negotiated by Rowhani, "disgraceful" and said he restored Iran's dignity by resuming the country's enrichment program after he took office in 2005. But the think tank noted that Khatami actually reversed the freeze shortly before Ahmadinejad took office in response to international demands to permanently suspend the nuclear program.
7) Taliban's Foreign Support Vexes U.S.
Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2009
U.S. officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, potentially hindering the Obama administration's strategy to rehabilitate Afghanistan by stopping the country's drug trade.
Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.
"You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business," he said. "It's a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level."
The Taliban have depended in part on foreign support for decades. In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said some Afghan militants could draw on "external funding channels" created in the 1980s for wealthy Muslims - with U.S. support - to funnel money to Islamic fighters battling the Soviet military. "It wouldn't surprise me if those channels have remained open," he said.
Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan - where sympathy for the group is widespread in the country's Pashtun community - and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pakistani Ambassador Hussein Haqqani said his government had frozen hundreds of bank accounts tied to the Taliban and other extremist groups and said the effort is a "work in progress."
A senior Saudi official here said his government regularly arrested citizens suspected of funneling money to armed groups such as the Taliban but questioned the extent of the practice. The official said Saudi charities are barred from sending money outside the country. "If the Americans have actionable intelligence on Saudis who are supporting the Taliban, they should provide us the intelligence, and we will act on it," he said.
8) Refugee Crisis Inflames Ethnic Strife In Pakistan
Influx of Pashtuns to Karachi Sparks Clashes With Majority Muhajirs; Fears of a 'Growing Talibanization' of City
Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2009
Karachi - Umar Habib Buneri, a longtime resident of Karachi, had harsh words of advice for his younger brother Abdulhamid, who fled Pakistan's troubled Northwest this month with two dozen relatives for the relative safety of this giant metropolis. Like almost all of the nearly two million refugees escaping the latest round of fighting between the Pakistani army and the Taliban, the Buneris are ethnic Pashtuns.
"We are not considered Pakistani citizens here," Umar Habib told his brother. "There is discrimination against Pashtuns in Karachi."
The refugee influx to Karachi has inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries that have simmered in Pakistan's biggest city for years. Clashes between the rapidly growing Pashtun population and Karachi's majority community killed dozens of people in recent weeks.
Now, armed factions backing the two groups are locked in a bloody contest to control this sprawling city, home to 18 million people and much of the country's industry, banking and trade.
Karachi's dominant ethnic group, the muhajirs, are themselves refugees: They're Urdu-speaking Muslims whose families fled India following the subcontinent's partition in 1947. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, is overwhelmingly a muhajir political party. Backed by a militia, the MQM had run the city virtually unchallenged - until the Pashtuns began gaining power.
The muhajir-led MQM bills its conflict with the Pashtun-backed ANP as part of an overdue offensive against the Taliban and radical Islam. This month, the MQM briefly threatened to pull out of the government unless the army moved against the ANP to stamp out what it calls the "growing Talibanization" of the city. "If you see the Taliban here in Karachi, they don't look like the ones in the Northwest," says Karachi Mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal, an MQM member. "They're clean-shaven, wearing a shirt and pants, and holding an ANP flag."
The Pashtun influx also is provoking resentment among ethnic Sindhis, the region's indigenous ethnic group. This week, Sindhi nationalist parties staged protest strikes in Karachi, shutting down parts of the city as they called for a ban on new refugees.
Karachi's Pashtun leaders laugh off their rivals' accusations of Taliban sympathies. Muhammad Amin Khattak, ANP's provincial secretary-general, proudly notes that he drinks alcohol and hasn't been to a mosque for months. "The people who are coming into Karachi, they are the ones who are suffering from the Taliban," he says. "The Taliban have no place to hide here."
The conflict escalated a few miles away, in the Zarina Colony neighborhood, on the sunny afternoon of April 29. A hail of bullets from a Pashtun neighborhood up on the craggy hill killed two muhajir party activists and injured a number of others participating in a funeral procession.
As news of the attack spread, gunfights broke out all over the city. Militants from both parties attacked buses carrying passengers of rival ethnic groups, and set vehicles and shops on fire. Thirty-four were reported killed that day alone, and dozens were injured. A tenuous peace was restored when Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, gave orders to shoot at armed militias on sight.
9) Residents seethe as Pakistan army destroys homes
Chris Brummitt, Associated Press, Thursday, May 28, 2009 10:33 PM
Sultanwas, Pakistan - When Pakistan's army drove the Taliban back from this small northwestern village, it also destroyed much of everything else here. F-16 fighter jets, military helicopters, tanks and artillery reduced houses, mosques and shops to rubble, strewn with children's shoes, shattered TV sets and perfume bottles.
Commanders say the force was necessary in an operation they claim killed 80 militants. But returning residents do not believe this: Although a burned-out army tank at the entrance to Sultanwas indicates the Taliban fought back, villagers say most fighters fled into the mountains.
Beyond any doubt is their fury at authorities for wrecking their homes - the sort of backlash the army doesn't want as it tries to win the support of the people for its month-old offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest frontier region near the border with Afghanistan.
"The Taliban never hurt the poor people, but the government has destroyed everything," Sher Wali Khan told the first reporting team to reach the village of about 1,000 homes. "They are treating us like the enemy," he said as he collected shredded copies of a Quran from the ruins of a mosque, one of three that were damaged, possibly beyond repair.
The anger in this village is an echo of recent years, when previous army offensives against the Taliban in the northwestern frontier area caused widespread civilian casualties and damage to homes. The military's heavy-handed approach here shows it may still be more equipped to fight conventional war with India than guerrilla warfare in the shadows of mountain villages and towns, where militants use civilians as cover.
10) In Turnaround, Cuba Agrees to Talks With US
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Monday, June 1, 2009
San Salvador - Cuba has agreed to restart talks with the United States on immigration and has signaled its willingness to cooperate on issues including terrorism, drug trafficking and even mail service, a sign that the island's communist government is warming to President Obama's call for a new relationship after decades of tension, U.S. officials said Sunday.
The breakthrough was announced as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a three-day trip to Latin America, where she is expected to face pressure to take further steps to ease the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba.
Clinton said Sunday night that she was "very pleased" with the developments and hoped they would be well received by other Latin American countries. "We've made more progress in four months than has been made in a number of years," she said, "and we need to work together to continue that kind of progress, keeping in mind the legitimate aspirations and the human rights of the people of Cuba."
Obama has promised a "new beginning" with Cuba, and his overtures have included lifting restrictions on visits by Cuban Americans to the island and allowing U.S. telecommunications firms to operate there. But the administration has moved cautiously, mindful of domestic political repercussions. Obama and Clinton have said the United States will not lift its economic embargo until President Raúl Castro's government makes democratic reforms.
The announcement of the talks could take the edge off what was shaping up as a battle over Cuba at a regional meeting of foreign ministers that Clinton is scheduled to attend Tuesday in Honduras. The ministers have been considering readmitting Cuba into the Organization of American States, the main forum for political cooperation in the hemisphere, for the first time since 1962.
The United States has resisted readmitting Cuba, arguing it would violate the OAS charter on democratic principles. But the idea has widespread support in Latin America, where the U.S. embargo is seen as an anachronism and a symbol of Washington's historical dominance in the region. The issue of Cuba's participation in the OAS has put the U.S. government on the spot, especially after Obama pledged at a regional summit in Trinidad and Tobago in April that he would seek "an equal partnership" with Latin American leaders rather than dictating to them.
Cuba offered its olive branch to Washington on Saturday, when the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, Jorge Bolaños, formally accepted the U.S. offer to restart talks on legal immigration that were halted in 2003 by the Bush administration, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The talks are not expected to change significantly the number of Cubans who legally immigrate each year to the United States - about 20,000, the official said. But they will be the highest-level contacts between the two governments, and they could lead to dialogue on other topics. The Obama administration is interested in the discussions in part because of the growing problem of Cubans trying to enter illegally, the official said.
Bolaños also expressed interest in an earlier U.S. proposal to work on resuming direct mail service between the countries, which has not existed for decades, the official said. In addition, the Cuban government suggested talks on fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, and on working with the United States on disaster preparation, the official said. The countries currently cooperate informally to catch drug smugglers.
11) The Dark Side of Plan Colombia
Is Plan Colombia subsidizing narco-traffickers to cultivate biofuels on stolen lands?
Teo Ballvé, The Nation, May 27, 2009 [June 15, 2009 print edition]
On May 14 Colombia's attorney general quietly posted notice on his office's website of a public hearing that will decide the fate of Coproagrosur, a palm oil cooperative based in the town of Simití in the northern province of Bolívar. A confessed drug-trafficking paramilitary chief known as Macaco had turned over to the government the cooperative's assets, which he claims to own, as part of a victim reparations program.
Macaco, whose real name is Carlos Mario Jiménez, was one of the bloodiest paramilitary commanders in Colombia's long-running civil war and has confessed to the murder of 4,000 civilians. He and his cohorts are also largely responsible for forcing 4.3 million Colombians into internal refugee status, the largest internally displaced population in the world after Sudan's. In May 2008, Macaco was extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and "narco-terrorism" charges. He is awaiting trial in a jail cell in Washington, DC.
Macaco turned himself in to authorities in late 2005 as part of a government amnesty program that requires paramilitary commanders to surrender their ill-gotten assets-including lands obtained through violent displacement. Macaco offered up Coproagrosur as part of the deal.
But the attorney general's notice made no mention that Coproagrosur had received a grant in 2004 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). That grant-paid for through Plan Colombia, the multibillion-dollar US aid package aimed at fighting the drug trade-appears to have put drug-war dollars into the hands of a notorious paramilitary narco-trafficker, in possible violation of federal law. Colombia's paramilitaries are on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. USAID's due diligence process "did not fail," according to an official response from the US embassy there, because Macaco was not officially listed among Coproagrosur's owners.
Since 2002 Plan Colombia has authorized about $75 million a year for "alternative development" programs like palm oil production. These programs provide funds for agribusiness partnerships with campesinos in order to wean them from cultivating illicit crops like coca, which can be used to make cocaine. These projects are concentrated in parts of northern Colombia that were ground zero for the mass displacement of campesinos.
USAID officials say the projects provide an alternative to drug-related violence for a battle-scarred country. They insist that the agency screens vigilantly for illegal activity and has not rewarded cultivators of stolen lands. But a study of USAID internal documents, corporate filings and press reports raises questions about the agency's vetting of applicants, in particular its ability to detect their links to narco-paramilitaries, violent crimes and illegal land seizures.
In addition to the $161,000 granted to Coproagrosur, USAID also awarded $650,000 to Gradesa, a palm company with two accused paramilitary-linked narco-traffickers on its board of directors. A third palm company, Urapalma, also accused of links with paramilitaries, nearly won approval for a grant before its application stalled because of missing paperwork. Critics say such grants defeat the antidrug mission of Plan Colombia.
"Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money," says Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, an outspoken critic of the palm industry. "The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers."
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