JFP News 8/3: Pentagon Wants Weapons Aimed at Iran

Just Foreign Policy News
August 3, 2009


Rep. Grijalva Urges Greater U.S. Pressure on the Coup Regime in Honduras
Rep. Raul Grijalva is circulating a letter to President Obama, calling on him to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders. [The Administration has taken a good first step by canceling the visas of four coup leaders.] Signers of the letter include Reps. McGovern, Conyers, Serrano, Fattah, Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Oberstar, and Kucinich. Urge your Representative to sign the Grijalva letter calling for more U.S. pressure on the coup regime.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/grijalva-letter

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The U.S. Defense Department wants to accelerate by three years the deployment of a 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb, Bloomberg reports. Accelerating the program "is intended to, at the very least, give the president the option of conducting a strike to knock out Iran's main uranium enrichment capabilities," said Ken Katzman, Middle East military expert for the Congressional Research Service.

2) The Obama Administration has classified its answer to Senator Kerry's question of whether it is still U.S. policy that the Secretary of Defense must personally approve airstrikes that are expected to cause 50 or more civilian deaths, writes Tom Hayden in the Boston Globe. Kerry's committee should release the answer.

3) The International Trade Union Confederation says serious human rights violations have been registered in Honduras since the coup. At least eight people have been killed, hundreds have been detained and injured, many others have received threats, and severe restrictions have been placed on freedom of expression, information and movement. The ITUC calls on governments to insist more forcefully on the urgent restitution of Manuel Zelaya; uphold the suspension of all economic and financial aid; and renounce all the measures, decrees and provisions implemented by the de facto government. The ITUC represents 170 million workers in 312 affiliated national organizations from 157 countries.

4) Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister rejected the Obama Administration's urgings for "incremental" steps to Middle East peace and said the core issue was an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the Washington Post reports. In 2002, the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, put forward a peace plan that offered Israel full recognition in exchange for withdrawal to the borders it held before the 1967 war, including giving up East Jerusalem, which Israel had annexed, and a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee issue.

5) The foreign ministers of Spain and Brazil demanded information about Colombia's plans to establish U.S. bases on its territory, a move that some feel raises the risk of a "militarization" of the region, EFE reports.

6) The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about cutting off Iran's imports of gasoline and other refined oil products if it fails to respond to President Obama's offer to negotiate on its nuclear program, the New York Times reports. But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult. It would require the participation of Russia and China. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution cautioned that Iran was so porous it could circumvent an oil cutoff, and that the potential for confrontation would be high. Many experts fear that true enforcement would require patrols off the Iranian coast, and that could lead to confrontations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Israel/Palestine
7) Israeli riot police evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in occupied east Jerusalem, defying international protests over Jewish settlement activity in the area, AFP reportrs. "The eviction of families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations," said a senior US diplomat, who described the events as "provocative."

Afghanistan
8) The Afghan government's ban on opium production is working at best unevenly, AP reports. In areas of the country under Taliban control, opium production is going strong. In government-held areas, it has gone down drastically, but at the cost of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. Farmers say the need to grow opium to feed their children.

Colombia
9) Since the mid 1980s, over 3,800 union leaders and activists have been murdered in Colombia, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reports. Most of these deaths are linked to right-wing paramilitary groups and U.S. corporations based in Colombia. One of the most devastating assaults against trade union activists involved the Coca-Cola Company, which was allegedly complicit in paying for paramilitary executions of several union leaders attempting to organize for workers' rights at its bottling plants in Colombia.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Pentagon, Eyeing Iran, Wants To Rush 30,000-Pound Bomb Program
Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, July 31 http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aMiQmByND.2A

The U.S. Defense Department wants to accelerate by three years the deployment of a 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb, a request that reflects growing unease over nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.

Comptroller Robert Hale, in a formal request to the four congressional defense committees earlier this month, asked permission to shift about $68 million in the Pentagon's budget to this program to ensure the first four bombs could be mounted on stealthy B-2 bombers by July 2010.

Hale, in his July 8 request, said there was "an urgent operational need for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high-threat environments," and top commanders of U.S. forces in Asia and the Middle East "recently identified the need to expedite" the bomb program.

The bomb would be the U.S. military's largest and six times bigger than the 5,000-pound bunker buster that the Air Force now uses to attack deeply buried nuclear, biological or chemical sites.

Accelerating the program "is intended to, at the very least, give the president the option of conducting a strike to knock out Iran's main uranium enrichment capabilities," said Ken Katzman, Middle East military expert for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

President Barack Obama said Iran must respond by late September to an invitation for unconditional talks with the West on ending what's believed to be a nuclear weapons program. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this week in Israel that the offer is not open-ended, and his counterpart, Ehud Barak, warned that Israel is considering all measures if diplomatic efforts fail.
[...]

2) How many civilian deaths are acceptable?
Tom Hayden, Boston Globe, August 2, 2009
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/08/02/how_many_civilian_deaths_are_acceptable/

It was a cryptic Pentagon answer to Senator John Kerry's straightforward question, in notes from the Senate hearing on May 21:

Question. According to The New York Times July 20, 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld personally approved over 50 US airstrikes in Iraq which were expected to kill up to 50 innocent Iraqi civilians each. According to Pentagon policy at the time, any strikes expected to result in 50 or more civilian deaths as unavoidable collateral damage were to be approved personally by the Secretary. The media was informed of this policy in July 2003 when the chief US commander disclosed the sign-off policy. Does that policy continue today in Afghanistan, and, if so, in what form? Do White House or Pentagon officials sign off on bombing runs where civilian casualties are expected to be higher than 50? Which officials?

Answer. (DELETED)

Does the Obama administration, specifically the secretary of defense, know in advance how many innocent civilians are expected to die before bombing raids are approved in Afghanistan and Pakistan? This was the case with Donald Rumsfeld during the bombing of Iraq.

Now the administration insists on keeping the answers secret.
[...]
If the policy continues, does Secretary of Defense Robert Gates personally approve? Is the president in the loop? Do they believe there is an acceptable level of unavoidable civilian casualties, and, if so, what is that level and who sets it?
[...]
That is why the Pentagon's refusal to answer whether the 2003 policy requiring a sign-off for 50 civilian deaths is so significant. The classified answer was in response to a question by Kerry two weeks after the massive casualties from the May 4 air strike. The answer remains classified.
[...]
To move forward, Kerry's committee should release the Pentagon's classified answer and, if necessary, press for further clarification. Congress should see through the Pentagon's conflict of interest.

A congressional inquiry into the covering up of these issues in Iraq and disclosure of whether the intelligence agencies agreed with President Bush's "more or less 30,000" estimate is the place to begin. Establishment of an independent monitoring system is the place to begin again.

3) Serious Human and Trade Union Rights Violations following the Coup in Honduras
International Trade Union Confederation, 31 July 2008
http://www.ituc-csi.org/spip.php?article4136

The ITUC has once again strongly condemned the military coup carried out in Honduras on 28 June with the abduction, overthrow and expulsion from the country of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, as it had along with its regional organisation the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) on 8 July 2009.

The coup has been massively condemned at political and trade union level as well as by the international community, through the UN General Assembly and the Organisation of American States (OAS), which have expressed their condemnation and rejection of the military coup and have unanimously called for a return to constitutional order and respect for the rule of law through the restitution of Manuel Zelaya, the country's legitimate president.
[...]
Serious human rights violations have been registered since the coup. At least eight people have been killed, hundreds have been detained and injured, many others have received threats, and severe restrictions have been placed on freedom of expression, information and movement. Especially hard hit by this political persecution are trade union, social and political leaders, human rights activists, journalists and foreign nationals. The national resistance movement, including campesinos, workers, students, housewives, teachers and street vendors, has been brutally repressed by the army and national police. Some 250 people were detained by the military police in Olancho when demonstrators blocked a road to mark their opposition to the coup government and demand a return to democracy.

With no signs of a prompt return to constitutional rule, the ITUC is calling on the UN, the OAS, the European Union, governments and the international community to take every step necessary to:

Uphold their condemnation of the coup and insist more forcefully on the urgent restitution of Manuel Zelaya, the constitutional president and, hence, a return to democracy in Honduras;

Uphold the suspension of diplomatic relations with the de facto regime as well as all economic and financial aid;

Renounce all the measures, decrees and provisions implemented by the de facto government;
[...]
The ITUC represents 170 million workers in 312 affiliated national organisations from 157 countries.

4) No Incremental Steps To Peace, Saudi Says
Foreign Minister Puts Onus on Israel
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Saturday, August 1, 2009
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/31/AR2009073103764.html

Saudi Arabia praised the Obama administration Friday for its "early and robust focus" on the Middle East while rebuffing its efforts to push Riyadh to take confidence-building steps toward Israel. "Incrementalism and the step-by-step approach has not, and we believe will not, achieve peace," said the visiting Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side. "Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace."

Former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy for Middle East peace, has traveled almost monthly to the region, seeking to coax the Israelis and Palestinians into peace talks while also encouraging Arab states to offer incentives to Israel to take bold steps, such as a freeze on settlement growth in the Palestinian territories.
[...]
Saudi officials have privately been highly critical of the U.S. approach - even rejecting appeals from Obama when he visited Riyadh - but Saud's decision to offer such a public critique, in Washington, raises the stakes for the administration. It could also be a form of public posturing designed to blunt the impact of future concessions by Saudi Arabia.

Saud insisted that Saudi Arabia would not take any incremental steps in relation to Israel, saying the burden was on Israel to make good-faith gestures. "Today, Israel is trying to distract by shifting attention from the core issue - an end to the occupation that began in '67 and the establishment of a Palestinian state - to incidental issues such as academic concerns and civil aviation methods," he said. "This is not the way to peace."

Saud called for defining the final deal "at the outset" and then launching into final-status talks.

In 2002, the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, put forward a peace plan that offered Israel full recognition in exchange for withdrawal to the borders it held before the 1967 war, including giving up East Jerusalem, which Israel had annexed, and a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee issue.

Saudi officials have refused to consider altering the peace initiative to suggest acceptance of land swaps to allow Israel to retain some settlements, though privately they say any peace deal acceptable to the Palestinians would be acceptable to Arabs. Saud appeared to acknowledge that when he said the negotiations should include "final-status issues, borders, Jerusalem, water, refugees and security."
[...]

5) Spain, Brazil Seek Info on Possible U.S. Bases in Colombia
EFE, July 31
http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=340428&CategoryId=14090

Brasilia - The foreign ministers of Spain and Brazil on Thursday demanded information about Colombia's plans to establish U.S. bases on its territory, a move that some feel raises the risk of a "militarization" of the region.

Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos and Brazilian counterpart Celso Amorim expressed their reservations about the effects the military program could have at a press conference within the framework of the Spanish official's visit to Brazil.

The two ministers also called for dialogue between Venezuela and Colombia and agreed to work "to avoid a spiral of misunderstandings" between those two countries.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "froze" relations with Colombia and withdrew his diplomatic personnel after the announcement by the government of Alvaro Uribe about a prospective agreement that would allow the stationing of U.S. military personnel at Colombian bases.

Moratinos said that it is necessary to avoid a "process of militarization in Latin America."

He added that Spain had asked for information from the United States and Colombia regarding what he called a "new situation," although he said that it was a "bilateral question."

"What we have is to work so that there is no spiral of misunderstanding and try to get Venezuela and Colombia to return to having a relationship of respect. We have to rebuild confidence," he said.

Moratinos said that during the meeting he held Wednesday with Chavez in Caracas, the Venezuelan leader expressed his "willingness to (engage in) dialogue."

Amorim said that Brazil "has received some explanations from Colombia" about the bases, but he added that "the presence of troops from countries that do not belong to the region is always of concern" and "should be better explained."
[...]

6) U.S. Weighs Iran Sanctions if Talks Are Rejected
David E. Sanger, New York Times, August 3, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/world/middleeast/03nuke.html

The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama's offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country's imports of gasoline and other refined oil products.

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.

In a visit to Israel last week, Obama's national security adviser, James L. Jones, mentioned the prospect to Israeli officials, they said.

The White House refused Sunday to confirm or deny the contents of Jones's discussions. But other administration officials said that they believed his goal was to reinforce Obama's argument that the Israeli government should stop dropping hints about conducting a military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities if no progress is made this year, and to give the administration time to impose what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calls "crippling sanctions" that might force Iran to negotiate.

The Bush administration considered, and rejected, trying to engineer a cutoff of gasoline to Iran, which produces oil but does not have enough refining capacity to meet its own needs for gasoline.

But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.

Obama has said nothing in public about the possibility since a presidential debate last October with Senator John McCain of Arizona. "If we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need, and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis," Obama said at the time. "That starts putting the squeeze on them."

Now, the White House will not discuss the issue at all. Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser, said the administration would not comment on any of its private discussions with allies. But European diplomats confirm that in recent weeks they have held private talks with administration officials about whether to move toward such a sanction if Iran ignores Obama's deadline to begin talks by the opening of the United Nations session in mid-September.

Assessing how effective such a cutoff might be - even if Russia, China and most of Europe went along - has been complicated by the political turmoil inside Iran.

Some analysts have argued that the action could further destabilize a weakened regime; others say it could be exploited by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to change the subject from the still-challenged presidential election to Iran's confrontation with the West.

"Draconian sanctions did not make sense in 2005 and 2006," said R. Nicholas Burns, who led the Bush administration's Iran strategy as under secretary of state for policy. "But given the new weakness and vulnerability of the Ahmadinejad government, much tougher sanctions make sense now, with one caveat," he said in an interview. Congress, he said, must give Obama complete flexibility to threaten, impose or waive the sanctions, if he has any hope of holding together a coalition of countries.
[...]
But easy passage would not make the sanctions any easier to carry out. As the Bush administration discovered as it pushed through three mild sanctions resolutions at the United Nations, Iran has enormous leverage over companies and countries dependent on its oil production. As Burns warned, "If Americans are the only ones sanctioning, those sanctions will not succeed."

One of the Iran experts who testified last week, Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, cautioned that Iran was so porous it could circumvent an oil cutoff, and that the potential for confrontation would be high. "The Iranians are not terribly good at capitulation," Ms. Maloney said. "This is a regime that tends to believe the best defense is a good offense."

The legislation would impose sanctions on any company that sold or delivered gasoline to Iran, cutting it off from selling to the United States government and seeking to freeze its financing or shipping insurance. But many experts fear that true enforcement would require patrols off the Iranian coast, and that could lead to confrontations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

"The question we have to face," one American diplomat said, "is whether any sanction at this point can really deter them, given how close they are now."

Israel/Palestine
7) Israel evicts Palestinians from Jerusalem homes
Charly Wegman, AFP, Sun Aug 2, 9:07 pm ET
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090803/wl_afp/mideastconflictpalestinianjerusalem_20090803010758

Jerusalem - Club-wielding Israeli riot police evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in occupied east Jerusalem, defying international protests over Jewish settlement activity in the area.

Clashes erupted after police moved in at dawn around the homes in the upmarket Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah following an Israeli court decision ordering the eviction of the 53 Palestinians, including 19 minors. "I was born in this house and so were my children," said Maher Hanoun, whose family was evicted along with the neighbouring Ghawi household. "Now we are on the streets. We have become refugees."

The Supreme Court ordered the evictions following an appeal by the Nahalat Shimon International settler group which claimed Jewish settlers have title deeds for the properties, despite UN and Palestinian denials.

Jerusalem authorities have also given permission for the construction of about 20 homes in Sheikh Jarrah, in defiance of global calls for a halt to all settlement activity in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most sensitive neighbourhoods closest to the so-called Green Line separating east and west Jerusalem, with the fate of the city one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As some settlers carried boxes containing the belongings of the expelled families to a truck, others moved into the houses holding drills, shovels and ladders. Police clashed with protesters and detained around 10 people.

"We are all afraid of being kicked out," said Amal Kassem, a Sheikh Jarrah resident for more than five decades. She said Jewish settlers were holding "fake title deeds" to homes which the Palestinians obtained in line with a deal struck between Jordan and the UN agency for refugees in 1956, when Jordan had jurisdiction over the area.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat expressed outrage. "Israel is once again showing its utter failure to respect international law," he told reporters. "New settlers from abroad are accommodating themselves and their belongings in the Palestinian houses and 19 newly homeless children will have nowhere to sleep."

The evictions also drew strong words from Israel's closest ally, the United States, which in recent months has placed increasing pressure on the Jewish state to halt settlement construction. "The eviction of families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations," said a senior US diplomat, who described the events as "provocative."

"Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot pre-judge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognised by the international community," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
[…]
Afghanistan
8) Tensions Grow in Afghanistan as Villagers Get Rid of Opium, Fall into Poverty
Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press, 10:45 AM PDT, August 2, 2009
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-as-afghanistan-opium-economy,1,7479423.story

Shahran, Afghanistan (AP) - For as long as anyone can remember, there was no need for paper money in this remote corner of the Hindu Kush. The common currency was what grew in everyone's backyard - opium.

When children felt like buying candy, they ran into their father's fields and returned with a few grams of opium folded inside a leaf. Their mothers collected it in plastic bags, trading 18 grams for a meter of fabric or two liters of cooking oil. Even a visit to the barbershop could be settled in opium.

But the economy of this village sputtered to a halt last year when the government began aggressively enforcing a ban on opium production. Villagers were not allowed to plant their only cash crop. Now shops are empty and farmers are in debt, as entire communities spiral into poverty.

Opium is one of the biggest problems facing this troubled country, because it is deeply woven into the fabric of daily life as well as into the economics of insurgency. Afghanistan supplies 93 percent of the world's opium, and it is one of the main sources of funding for the growing Taliban movement.

Yet the government ban on opium is working at best unevenly. In areas of the country under Taliban control, opium production is going strong. In government-held areas such as Shahran, it has gone down drastically, but at the cost of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. Their anger is imperiling government support in one of the few areas of the country that has resisted the Taliban's advance.
[...]
Under intense international pressure, the government redoubled its effort to crack down on opium farmers. By last year, the number of acres planted with poppy had dropped by a fifth, yet the Taliban's finances remained largely untouched. Ninety-eight percent of Afghanistan's opium is now grown in just seven of the country's 34 provinces - all areas under partial or total Taliban control.
[...]
The villagers say they did as the government told them, and planted their fields with wheat, barley, mustard and melons. But these crops need more care than the tough opium poppy, which will bloom with little water or fertilizer.

Most of the wheat fields yielded little because the farmers couldn't afford to fertilize the land. Even where yields were decent, farmers say they could have earned between two and 10 times more by planting the same land with opium. "See this mustard? It can take care of my family for one month," says 25-year-old farmer Abdul Saboor, pulling up a shoot of the green plant and snapping it open with his teeth. "When we planted opium in this same plot, it took care of all our expenses for an entire year."
[...]
Every month, shopkeeper Abdul Ahmed used to bring $20,000 worth of goods to sell in the bazaar. It's been four months since his last truckload, and he has only sold $1,000. Ahmed is one of 40 traders left; there used to be 400. "We open in the morning and go back at night. No money comes in. No one buys anything," says Ahmed. "There is no money left in this village. Opium is the only income we had."

Villagers say desperation is pushing hundreds to immigrate to neighboring Iran, where they work as day laborers. Farmers throughout the region are also sinking deeply into debt. They borrow money to buy staples such as rice and oil, which they used to buy with opium. They also take loans to buy seeds and fertilizer and to rent donkeys to take the wheat to market - an expense opium did not bring because all the local shops accepted it as legal tender.

On a hill flanking the highway in Argu District, a four-hour drive southeast of here, a thin farmer is bent over cutting wheat with a hand-held sickle. Abdul Mahin says he is several hundred dollars in debt to the man who sold him fertilizer. "If we plant two bags of wheat, then we'll have just enough money to buy the seeds to plant another two bags of wheat," says the gray-bearded farmer. "We're going backwards. Of course we're angry at the government."

A small number of farmers in other towns are planting opium despite the ban. Most are seeing their fields destroyed, as government agents intensify patrols.

Farmer Abdulhamid, 55, says he has only rain-fed land, and none of it is irrigated. So he can't grow wheat and barley with much success. Unless the government helps, he says, he will have to plant opium again. "We are getting poorer day by day," says Abdulhamid, in the village of Pengani. "What should I do? Kill my children so that I don't have to feed them?"
[...]

Colombia
9) Colombian Trade Unions: A Target for Intimidation and Assassination
Tara Patel, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, August 3rd, 2009
http://www.coha.org/2009/08/colombian-trade-unions-a-target-for-intimidation-and-assassination/

Luis Adolfo Cardona worked as a forklift operator at an American-owned bottling company that packages 50,000 cases of Coca-Cola's famous fizzy beverages a month. On an unassuming morning, Cardona narrowly escaped death when right-wing paramilitary troops attempted to kill him. Unfortunately, not all labor union activists are so lucky. Isídro Segundo Gil, the gatekeeper and the union's chief negotiator at another Coca-Cola bottling plant in the small, rural town of Carepa, Colombia, was gunned down by a band of paramilitary insurgents on December 5, 1996. After shooting Gil ten times, the armed men sped away from the premises on motorcycles. Not even a few hours had passed before the militants were back. They attempted to kidnap another union leader, who just barely got away, and then set fire to the union's offices later that night. The armed group returned a week later. The workers were then gathered in the cafeteria and given an ultimatum-either quit or be killed.

For most of its modern existence, Colombia has struggled with internal violence, most recently in the form of human rights abuses and brutality against organized trade union groups carried out by paramilitary and insurgent armies. This group in particular has been subjected to a disproportionate amount of violence. In the past twenty years, over 2,000 activists have been gunned down, making labor activists and trade union members likely the most targeted group of civilians in the country.
[...]
Since the mid 1980s when Colombian labor unions began to form, over 3,800 union leaders and activists have been murdered. Most of these deaths are linked to right-wing paramilitary groups and U.S. corporations based in Colombia, and have grave implications for effects in favor of social justice and workers' rights in the country. Violence in Colombia extends far beyond the immediate circle of trade union activists and represents a larger, much more complex problem for Colombia that affects a wide swath of the population. The relentless bloodshed undermines Colombian culture and impinges upon the lives of community leaders, human rights activists, and advocates for social change.

A report by the ILO released in March 2002 indicates that the Colombian government essentially has been non-responsive to the deliberate violations against trade union activists. The government refutes this statement, arguing that the violations of trade union activists' rights are a direct consequence of the armed conflict ravaging the country, and only five to ten percent of the murders actually have resulted from union activities. While the government claims that such killings actually have decreased since light has been shed on the indiscretions, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) reports that in fact, murders have increased by approximately 30 percent during that time period. This represents the discrepancy between various independent organizations, such as the AI and ILO, which have consistently condemned government negligence and the Colombian government's repeated denials. AI, in July 2007, reported that in more than 90 percent of cases, those responsible have not been brought to justice.
[...]
Occidental Petroleum Company, one of the largest American-based energy companies in Colombia, capitalized on their business venture in Colombia when they acquired Caño Limón, Colombia's second largest oil field, in 1983. The oil and gas company quickly set out to create a successful enterprise, hire an effective labor force, and enjoy the subsequent profits. Not a priority for Occidental, however, was a comfortable and safe working environment for its laborers. Often targeted by paramilitary troops due to its lucrative role in the energy industry, Occidental's employees risk their lives simply by showing up to work every day, frequently caught in the war between rebels and the military. In the past, the company's employees have been attacked, kidnapped and even murdered by paramilitary groups. Despite this, Occidental has made it clear to their employees that the company will not protect them with increased security or liberate them by paying ransom in the event that workers are kidnapped.

The social irresponsibility displayed by Occidental Petroleum goes beyond simply ignoring workers' pleas for increased safety on the job site. The energy company specifically employs laborers from distant cities to work in areas that are particularly heavy with paramilitary action, assuming that they are less likely to be informed about the dangers. While Occidental is careful not to divulge their security information to all employees, paramilitary troops have been successful at breaching the corporation's security on multiple occasions. In April 2001, rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN) exploded a car bomb outside of the company's Colombian headquarters in Bogotá, badly damaging the building.

Quite possibly one of the most devastating assaults against trade union activists involved the Coca-Cola Company, which was allegedly complicit in paying for paramilitary executions of several union leaders attempting to organize for workers' rights at its bottling plants in Colombia. As a result, the company faced a recent lawsuit for failing to act against threats from paramilitary death squads, thus allegedly bearing responsibility for the incidents under both U.S. and state law. Refuting this, Coca-Cola claimed to have no connection to the paramilitary squads or to the resulting violence that occurred at the bottling plants. However, Terry Collingsworth, Chief Attorney for the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), states that "there is no question that Coke knew about and directly benefited from the systematic repression of trade union rights at its bottling plants in Colombia, and that the case being pressed by U.S. labor will make the company fully accountable." Coca-Cola denied its participation and shifted blame to two allegedly independently owned Colombian bottling companies, Panamco Colombia and Bebidas y Alimentos de Uraba.
[...]

-
Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

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.

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