JFP News 8/11: 16 House Dems Call for Increased Pressure on Honduras Coup
Just Foreign Policy News
August 11, 2009
Obama, You Do Have a Button to Reverse the Coup in Honduras
"I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Zelaya," Obama said. But Obama does have a button he has not pressed: canceling U.S. visas of coup leaders, as called for by 16 Democratic Members of Congress.
Letter: 16 Members of Congress call on Obama to take further measures against Honduran coup regime
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1) There were great hopes in Latin America when President Obama was elected, but these hopes have been dashed, writes Mark Weisbrot in the New York Times. The military overthrow of democratically elected President Zelaya of Honduras has become a clear example of Obama's failure in the hemisphere. Last Friday the State Department sent a letter to Senator Lugar that appeared to blame Zelaya for the coup. This letter was all over the Honduran media, which is controlled by the coup government and its supporters, and it strengthened them politically. Obama has said that he "can't push a button and suddenly reinstate Zelaya." But he hasn't pushed the buttons that he has at his disposal, such as freezing the U.S. assets of the coup leaders, or canceling their visas. The Obama administration raised concerns with its decision to increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia; Obama has not reversed the Bush administration's decision to reactivate the U.S. Navy's Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean; Obama has continued the Bush administration's trade sanctions against Bolivia.
2) US officials are expressing renewed interest in a post-election plan for Afghanistan that would establish a chief executive, possibly Ashraf Ghani, to serve beneath President Karzai if he wins a second term next week, the Washington Post reports. [US officials have strenuously claimed that they are not taking sides in the election; this report casts some doubt on these claims, particularly if, as elsewhere reported, this scheme involves the withdrawal of Ghani as a candidate in the first round to help secure a Karzai first-round victory - JFP.] In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah. The U.S.-government-funded poll had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.
3) The U.S. is scaring our Latin American neighbors with its military buildup in Colombia, and ought to reassure them, argues the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The deal with Colombia doesn't look like a mere shift in drug interdiction efforts. The rest of South America isn't afraid of Colombia, it's afraid of the U.S., the LAT says.
4) Secretary of State Clinton unveiled a $17 million plan to fight sexual violence in eastern Congo, the New York Times reports. But John Prendergast said Clinton must address the conflict's root causes, especially the illicit mineral trade in coltan, which is used in laptops and cellphones, as well as illegal dealings in gold and other minerals. "The U.S. should work with the electronics industry to trace audit and certify this trade," Prendergast said.
5) Writing on Huffington Post, Greg Grandin fact-checks coup lobbyist Lanny Davis from their debate on Democracy Now. Contrary to Davis' claims, President Zelaya did indeed accept the Arias proposal, and the State Department did indeed, prior to the coup, criticize the Honduran Supreme Court for corruption and for being controlled by political elites.
6) The coup in Honduras has brought back a lot of Central America's cold war ghosts, but few as polarizing as Billy Joya, a former police captain accused of being the former leader of a death squad, the New York Times reports. Human rights groups consider him Joya of the most ruthless former operatives of US-backed military unit, known as Battalion 316, responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of people suspected of being leftists during the 1980s. Now Joya is a liaison between coup leader Micheletti and the international media.
7) Fewer civilians were killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan last month even though the number of airstrikes increased, AP reports. Western military officials attribute the drop in large part to less powerful and more carefully targeted airstrikes.
8) The Afghan and U.S. governments have launched a new effort to enlist tribal fighters in the war against the Taliban, the Wall Street Journal reports. Earlier this summer, tribal elders in a district of Baghdis province helped broker a cease-fire in which the Taliban pledged to not attack polling centers during the presidential elections and the government agreed to remove its forces from the area.
9) Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says the Obama administration is considering including additional measures to strengthen the labor protections in the Colombia trade agreement before submitting it to Congress, according to Colombia Reports. USTR is seeking public comment until Sept. 15 on whether the Colombian government is taking adequate steps to ensure overall labor rights and protect workers from violence and intimidation, including prosecuting such acts.
10) Latin American presidents from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela asked Colombia to clarify a plan to allow the U.S. military to use Colombian bases, Bloomberg reports. Argentine President Fernandez and Venezuela's Chavez said Colombia's agreement with the U.S. posed a threat to the region's stability. Ecuador's Correa called any U.S. presence a "provocation," while Brazil's Lula said the controversy should be resolved in talks.
1) More of the Same in Latin America
Mark Weisbrot, New York Times, August 12, 2009
There were great hopes in Latin America when President Obama was elected. U.S. standing in the region had reached a low point under George W. Bush, and all of the left governments expressed optimism that Obama would take Washington's policy in a new direction.
These hopes have been dashed. President Obama has continued the Bush policies and in some cases has done worse.
The military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras on June 28 has become a clear example of Obama's failure in the hemisphere. There were signs that something was amiss in Washington when the first statement from the White House failed to even criticize the coup. It was the only such statement from a government to take a neutral position. The U.N. General Assembly and the Organization of American States voted unanimously for "the immediate and unconditional return" of President Zelaya.
Conflicting statements from the White House and State Department emerged over the ensuing days, but last Friday the State Department made clear its "neutrality." In a letter to Senator Richard Lugar, the State Department said that "our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual," and appeared to blame Zelaya for the coup: "President Zelaya's insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal."
This letter was all over the Honduran media, which is controlled by the coup government and its supporters, and it strengthened them politically. Congressional Republicans who have supported the coup immediately claimed victory.
On Monday, President Obama repeated his statement that Zelaya should return. But by then nobody was fooled.
Obama has said that he "can't push a button and suddenly reinstate Zelaya." But he hasn't pushed the buttons that he has at his disposal, such as freezing the U.S. assets of the coup leaders, or canceling their visas. (The State Department cancelled five diplomatic visas of members of the coup government, but they can still enter the United States with a normal visa - so this gesture had no effect).
In addition to its failure in Honduras, the Obama administration raised concerns last week among such leaders as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Michelle Bachelet of Chile with its decision to increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia. Washington apparently did not consult with South American governments - other than Colombia - beforehand. The pretext for the expansion is, as usual, the "war on drugs." But the legislation in Congress that would finance this expansion allows for a much broader role. No wonder South America is suspicious. Obama also has not reversed the Bush administration's decision to reactivate the U.S. Navy's Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean, for the first time since 1950 - a decision that raised concerns in Brazil and other countries.
President Obama has also continued the Bush administration's trade sanctions against Bolivia, which are seen throughout the region as an affront to Bolivia's national sovereignty. And despite President Obama's handshake with President Hugo Chávez, the State Department has maintained about the same level of hostility toward Venezuela as President Bush did in his last year or two.
2) U.S. Officials Looking At Karzai Rival For Key New Post
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Kabul, Aug. 10 - Senior American officials are expressing renewed interest in a post-election plan for Afghanistan that would establish a chief executive to serve beneath President Hamid Karzai if he wins a second term next week, Afghan officials said Monday.
The latest U.S. overtures have focused on Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who is challenging Karzai for the presidency. A campaign aide to Ghani said Monday that both Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and regional envoy Richard C. Holbrooke had made recent visits to explore the idea, a sign that the United States might be interested in an Afghan government with a more technocratic bent.
American officials have grown increasingly disenchanted with Karzai's leadership over the past five years, amid rising Taliban violence, rampant corruption and an ineffective bureaucracy. The idea of a chief executive for Afghanistan has circulated before in recent months, and speculation at one point arose that former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American, was in the running.
Ghani, a former finance minister with a doctorate from Columbia University, has worked for the World Bank and has a reputation as a competent technocrat. His work on Afghanistan's currency and budget during his time as a finance minister has drawn positive reviews, although colleagues have sometimes found him abrasive. As one of the main challengers to Karzai, who is the clear front-runner, Ghani has no plans to drop out of the race before the Aug. 20 election. He has been actively campaigning for president and plans to visit six provinces in the next eight days.
In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.
3) Washington is scaring our Latin American neighbors
The U.S. military buildup in Colombia has rattled nerves regionwide. The reasons and the intent should be clearly explained to the hemisphere's leaders.
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2009
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe set out on a tour of South America last week to reassure his counterparts that the looming U.S. military buildup in his country poses no threat to them. But it's not just Uribe who needs to be soothing and - dare we employ one of President Obama's favorite words - transparent. Washington too should be working hard to quell the fears it has raised in the region.
Details of an agreement giving U.S. personnel access to Colombian military bases are not finalized, but the United States is expected have a significant presence at three air bases and two naval bases, greatly increasing its capability to monitor not only local drug traffickers but neighboring countries.
Whatever goodwill Obama engendered when he went to the Summit of the Americas in April and promised a more respectful approach to the region is rapidly diminishing. The president had begun to make incremental progress, for example, in restoring diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Now nerves are rattled from the Andes to the Strait of Magellan. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called for Obama to meet with South American nations, and Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, says the deal poses "a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation."
It was clear that the United States needed to relocate military personnel who had been deployed in Ecuador but who could not remain after leftist President Rafael Correa refused to renew the U.S. lease on the Manta air base. But the deal with Colombia doesn't look like the mere shift in drug interdiction efforts that Uribe is selling to his neighbors.
Uribe maintains that the purpose of the deal is to help Colombia defeat its leftist guerrillas, who are also the backbone of the country's drug trade. His assurances, however, can go only so far - because the rest of South America isn't afraid of Colombia, it's afraid of the U.S.
4) Clinton Describes Plan to Fight Sexual Violence in Congo
Jeffrey Gettleman and Sharon Otterman, New York Times, August 12, 2009
Goma, Congo - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled a $17 million plan on Tuesday to fight the widespread sexual violence in eastern Congo, a problem she said was "evil in its basest form."
Speaking during an unprecedented visit by an American secretary of state to Goma, in the epicenter of Congo's war-torn east, she said the American government would help train gynecologists, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence and send military engineers to help train Congolese police officers to crack down on rapists.
Eastern Congo has been awash in bloodshed for more than a decade, and it is now going through another horrific period. Recent Congo-Rwanda military operations along the volatile border have provoked revenge attacks and driven more than 500,000 people from their homes. Dozens of villages of have been burned, hundreds of villagers massacred and countless women raped. Since 1998, more than five million people throughout the in Congo are estimated to have died, and hundreds of thousands of women sexually assaulted. Rapes of men have begun to increase as well.
Mrs. Clinton came here, she said, to shine a light on the civilian deaths and endemic sexual violence, and to call on the government of Congo, whose own soldiers have been implicated in many of the abuses, to do a better job of protecting its own people.
Human rights officials describe a certain "Congo fatigue" now creeping in among those trying to solve the conflict there. So many approaches have been tried - a billion-dollar-a-year United Nations peacekeeping mission; extensive disarmament programs; several regional peace treaties; and high-level diplomat visits like this - but nothing seems to work. It is still an intensely predatory conflict, driven by a mix of ethnic, commercial, nationalist and criminal interests.
From the beginning of the war in the mid-1990s, sexual violence has been a persistent expression of the lawlessness and instability. Many hope Mrs. Clinton's visit can help change this. "Congo suffers from a deadly attention deficit disorder," said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group. The fact Mrs. Clinton is here, especially in Goma, "is a major signal that the deadliest war in the world just shot up a few slots in the pecking order."
But Mrs. Clinton, he said, must go beyond the sexual violence issue and the photo opportunities with Congolese's victims to address the conflict's root causes, especially the illicit mineral trade in coltan, which is used in laptops and cellphones, as well as illegal dealings in gold and other minerals. "The U.S. should work with the electronics industry to trace audit and certify this trade, and pressure neighboring states like Rwanda to stop smuggling," Prendergast said. "Like with the blood diamonds that fuel wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola, until the economic driver for conflict is addressed, there is no chance for peace."
Mrs. Clinton spoke about what she called "conflict minerals" and said that the world must do more to keep profits from them "from ending up in the hands of those who fuel the violence."
5) Fact Checking Lanny Davis on Honduras
Greg Grandin, Huffington Post, August 10, 2009
[Grandin is Professor of History at New York University.]
Last Friday, I debated lawyer-turned-lobbyist Lanny Davis, now working for the business backers of the recent Honduran coup, on Democracy Now! It actually wasn't much of a debate - in the way that word means an exchange of ideas - as Davis was fast out of the box, preemptively trying to taint host Amy Goodman and me as "ideologues."
Davis's argument is based on a disingenuous description of the legal and political maneuvers by Zelaya's opponents in the Supreme Court and Congress prior to the coup. He calls these power grabs constitutional.
Never mind that several clear violations of Honduras' constitution were carried out on June 28th, including the detention of president Zelaya by the armed forces (violation of articles 293 and 272), his forced deportation to another country (violation of art. 102) and Congress' decision to destitute the president (this is not within Congress' constitutional attributions).
Through the program, host Amy Goodman demonstrated almost superhuman restraint, professionally refusing to respond to Davis's provocations. His very first lie accused her of an ideological rant, for simply reporting the truth, for saying that Zelaya accepted a proposal to settle the crisis brokered by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. This is demonstrably true - Zelaya has repeatedly indicated a willingness to accept the compromise; Micheletti, on the other hand, is playing for time until November's regularly scheduled presidential elections - yet Davis repeatedly insisted otherwise. My favorite part of the debate took place about a third into the show, when in response to me pointing out that he was carrying out ad hominem attacks, Davis said that I was the one engaging in ad hominem, since I used the word "elite" to describe supporters of the coup. "'Elite' is an ad hominem word," Davis said.
Business Week tells us that Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, where "two-thirds of its 7.8 million citizens live below the poverty line, and unemployment is estimated at 28%. The country has one of Latin America's most unequal distributions of wealth: The poorest 10% of the population receives just 1.2% of the country's wealth, while the richest 10% collect 42%." What would Davis call those in this last, lucky category, if not "elites"? "Friends" perhaps, at least those he doesn't work for.
Below is a list of Davis's major lies, roughly in the order they appear in the transcript of the debate, followed by fact checks.
#1: Lanny Davis: "I do want to say that I appeared on Democracy Now! with the assurance, Amy, that you would be a neutral moderator, yet your opening is an ideological rant that distorts the facts. For example, you said that Zelaya accepted the Arias accords. In fact, Zelaya rejected President Arias's proposal, and the government of Micheletti has announced, and has, in fact, said it would continue to discuss."
Fact Check: This is not true. On July 19, Oscar Arias made the following statement: "The Zelaya delegation fully accepted my proposal, but not that of Don Roberto Micheletti." Zelaya reaffirmed his willingness to accept the Arias plan just a few days ago.
In the face of international condemnation, Micheletti began to backpedal, saying that he would submit the accords to Congress and the Supreme Court. But Micheletti's own backers admit that this is an attempt to buy time until the November elections: "It isn't the conversations that will provide an exit for the people, rather, the elections in November," said one prominent supporter recently. Micheletti himself, on August 1, said he would never allow Zelaya back as president, which is clearly part of the Arias plan.
#2: "By the way, the Congress, 95 percent of the Congress, even if you quarrel with plus or minus ten votes, voted to remove Zelaya."
Fact Check: Also not true. So far twenty-seven of the Honduran Congress' 128 members have publicly stated that they opposed the coup, that is, more than 20% of Congress members. The congressional vote Davis references was not transparent; some members who were suspected of being sympathetic to Zelaya weren't called to session; others were told that congress was adjourned. And even before the vote that Davis touts, Congress also voted to "accept" an obviously fake letter of resignation from Zelaya, dated June 25th - that is, three days before the coup. This was before Davis took his current job, as I'm sure he would have caught that typo.
#3: Davis said that he doesn't "defend what was done [that is, the way in which Zelaya was sent into exile by the military]. He should have been put in jail, as the Supreme Court ordered him. He violated the law."
Fact Check: Not true. Zelaya has only been accused of violating the law. There has been no trial, much less a conviction.
#4: "The Congress overwhelmingly voted to remove him from office, because he violated Article 239 by his referendum."
Fact Check: False. The congressional decree that Lanny Davis here references did not mention article 239 of the Honduran constitution. The invocation of that article was retroactive, with the goal of justifying the military's illegal intervention into civilian politics.
#7: "The Church, every civil institution in Honduras, so we're talking about the judiciary, the Congress, the Church, all of the parties but one, supported his ouster from government."
Fact Check: False. Important sectors of the Catholic Church, including the Bishop of Copán, have denounced the coup, as have many "civil institutions," including the country's three main union confederations and peasant organizations. Even as we debated, the Honduran military was entering national hospitals to put down a strike by health care workers . Last week, the police attacked the National Autonomous University, beating its rector with riot clubs.
#8: Again, regarding Article 239: "The Supreme Court's decision was a review of Zelaya's actions and whether it violated Article 239. That's a fact," Davis said. When I pointed out that the court's ruling did not in fact invoke article 239, Davis said I was "wrong."
Fact Check: I am correct. The Supreme Court's June 25th decision - the one repeatedly touted to justify the coup - makes no mention of Article 239.
#11: "If there have been media organizations shut down by the Micheletti government, which I do not believe is the case . . ."
Fact Check: Perhaps this is not a lie and just an unintentional error. In any case, Davis is wrong. The Miami Herald writes that "the newly installed Honduran government kept several news outlets closed." The respected Honduran Human rights group COFADEH documents various brief closures, blocked broadcasts and military occupations of television and radio outlets.
#12: Davis contested my claim that the U.S. State Department, prior to the coup, criticized the Honduran Supreme Court for corruption and for being controlled by political elites. This charge got Lanny particularly agitated: "I challenge that statement," he said.
Fact Check: The State Department's 2008 human rights report writes: "Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to patronage, corruption, and political influence.... Low wages and lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery, and powerful special interests exercised influence in the outcomes of court proceedings. There are 12 appeals courts, 77 courts of first instance with general jurisdiction, and 330 justice of the peace courts with limited jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice names all lower court judges. The media and various civil society groups continued to express concern that the eight-to-seven split between the National and Liberal parties in the Supreme Court of Justice resulted in politicized rulings and contributed to corruption in public and private institutions."
6) A Cold War Ghost Reappears in Honduras
Ginger Thompson, New York Times, August 8, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The coup here has brought back a lot of Central America's cold war ghosts, but few as polarizing as Billy Joya, a former police captain accused of being the former leader of a death squad.
He didn't sneak quietly back into national politics. He made his reappearance on a popular evening talk show just hours after troops had rousted President Manuel Zelaya out of bed and loaded him onto a plane leaving the country.
Joya's purpose, he said, was to defend the ouster and help calm a public that freed itself from military rule less than three decades ago. Instead, he set off alarms among human rights activists around the world who worried that the worst elements of the Honduran military were taking control. "The name Billy Joya reverberated much more than Micheletti," Joya protested, perhaps a little too strenuously, referring to the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, installed by the military. "Instantly, my image was everywhere."
Joya's conflicting images - a vilified figure who portrays himself as a victim - are as hard to reconcile as his life story. Human rights groups consider him one of the most ruthless former operatives of an American-backed military unit, known as Battalion 316, responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of people suspected of being leftists during the 1980s.
Today, Joya, a 52-year-old husband and father of four, has become a political consultant to some of the most powerful people in the country, including Micheletti during his failed campaign to become president last year. Now that Micheletti has effectively secured that post, Joya has resurfaced again as a liaison of sorts between Micheletti and the international media.
In 1989, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined that the Honduran military was responsible for systematic abuses against government opponents. Still, in the 27 years since this country returned to civilian rule, authorities say, Honduran courts have held only two military officials - Col. Juan Blas Salazar Mesa and Lt. Marco Tulio Regalado - accountable for human rights violations. Only about a dozen other officers ever faced formal charges. And most of those cases, like Joya's, remain unresolved by a judicial system that remains crippled by corruption.
Joya joined the military police, and in 1981 - as the Reagan administration spent tens of millions of dollars to turn this impoverished country into the principal staging area for a covert war against the region's left-wing guerrilla groups - Joya said that he and 12 other Honduran soldiers received six weeks of training in the United States.
He acknowledged that he went on to become a member of Battalion 316. But that's where his version of events diverges from those of his accusers. He has been charged with 27 crimes, including illegal detention, torture and murder.
The most noteworthy case involved the illegal detention and torture of the six university students in April 1982. The students said they were held in a series of secret jails for eight days. During that time, the students testified, they were kept blindfolded and naked, denied food and water, and subjected to beatings and psychological torture.
Among those detained was Milton Jiménez, who later became a lawyer and a member of Zelaya's cabinet. In 1995, Jiménez told The Baltimore Sun that officers from the battalion stood him before a firing squad and threatened to shoot him. "They said they were finishing my grave," he said at the time. "I was convinced I was going to die."
Edmundo Orellana, the former Honduran attorney general who was the first to try to prosecute human rights crimes, said it was "absurd" that Joya remained free. "Billy Joya is proof that civilian rule has been a cruel hoax on the Honduran people," Orellana said. "He shows that ignorance and complicity still reign inside our courts, especially when it comes to the armed forces."
7) Western airstrikes kill fewer Afghan civilians
Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press, Monday, August 10, 2009 7:15 PM
Kabul - Fewer civilians were killed by airstrikes in Afghanistan last month even as U.S. and NATO forces pushed deep into Taliban territory, driving clashes and Western casualties sharply higher.
Western and Afghan officials say the drop appears to be an early indication of success for restrictions on air power imposed in July by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of coalition forces, in an attempt to limit civilian casualties. The U.S. and NATO saw Afghan anger over the deaths as a major impediment to a new counterinsurgency strategy that makes winning over the population a higher priority than killing insurgents.
Six civilians died in airstrikes last month compared to 89 in July 2008, according to an Associated Press count of reports on civilian deaths by witnesses and Afghan officials. None of the reports was the subject of significant dispute by the U.S. and NATO.
A single mishap could send civilian deaths up again this month, dashing Western hopes of any real downward trend. But Afghan civilians and officials say the lower death toll for July mirrors a broader reduction in the accidental bombing of nonmilitary targets.
"When the Taliban are moving in our village, we are scared, but the good thing is there has been no bombing of civilian homes," said Baz Mohammad, a grape farmer from the village of Nilgham in the southern province of Kandahar. "A few months ago there was bombing every day in our district."
Western military officials attribute the drop in large part to less powerful and more carefully targeted airstrikes.
The U.S.-led Western coalition launched more than 40 percent more airstrikes last month than in July 2008, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. But at the same time, many of the strikes appeared to be far less powerful: a tally of the total number of rockets, bombs and cannon shells used in airstrikes dropped 50 percent.
NATO's figures on civilian deaths appear to mirror the AP's. The alliance's new secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, praised the "drastic decline in the number of civilian casualties" last week during his first trip to Afghanistan.
Afghan officials say there has been a change in public opinion around the country. "The people are pleased, they had a lot of concerns in the past about airstrikes. It continued until the new directive by the ISAF," said Musa Zafar, an international humanitarian law investigator with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by the Afghan president.
8) Afghanistan Enlists Tribal Militia Forces
Anand Gopal and Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2009
Kabul - The Afghan and U.S. governments have launched a new effort to enlist tribal fighters from many of the country's most violent provinces in the war against the Taliban, hoping that a tactic first used in Iraq can help turn the tide here as well.
Thousands of armed tribal fighters from 18 Afghan provinces will initially be hired to provide security for elections on Aug. 20, officials from both countries said. If the security is effective, Afghan officials say they will try to give the tribesmen permanent jobs protecting their villages and neighborhoods.
The tribal initiative is being run by a new branch of the Afghan government called the Independent Directorate for the Protection of Highways and Public Property. In coming days, officials from the agency will ask tribal shuras, or councils, in participating provinces to organize armed militias to guard polling places, roads and public gathering spaces.
Officials hope that the militias will provide an additional layer of security to support the new American strategy of trying to better protect Afghan civilians from Taliban violence. Members of the militias will be allowed to use their own AK-47s and other weapons, but they won't receive arms, ammunition or uniforms from the government.
The new initiative doesn't mark the first time U.S. and Afghan officials have tried to enlist the country's tribes in the fight against the Taliban. In a few instances, tribal militias were formed in specific parts of the country but were disbanded after they were deemed ineffective. In some cases, the militias turned to criminal activity or took part in tribal feuds.
Officials from both countries also warn that tribal allegiances can be fleeting. Two years ago, international forces withdrew from the southern town of Musa Qala, leaving it in the hands of a local tribe. The tribe then allowed the Taliban to gain control of the town, forcing Western troops to invade and recapture the area the following year.
Still, tribal leaders have had some successes. Earlier this summer, tribal elders in a district of northwestern Afghanistan's Baghdis province helped broker a cease-fire in which the Taliban pledged to not attack polling centers during the presidential elections and the government agreed to remove its forces from the area. Afghan officials see it as a possible template for other peace deals.
9) US may add new labor measures to Colombia trade deal
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Monday, 10 August 2009 13:36
The Obama administration is considering including additional measures to strengthen the labor protections in the Colombia free trade agreement before submitting it to Congress, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Monday.
Locke said there is no timeline on when the Colombia deal - which has been held over from the last administration along with pacts with South Korea and Panama - will be sent to Congress for passage. But he said President Barack Obama remains committed to addressing lawmakers' concerns about violence against labor unions in Colombia in order to get the FTA approved.
Locke said he wasn't sure if the measures would be made part of the agreement or just added on as addendums, noting that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is heading up the effort to conclude the trade deals.
In addition to conferring with lawmakers, the USTR office has also sought public comment on both the Colombia and South Korean pacts. The comment period for the deals, which began in late July, will last until Sept. 15.
The administration is seeking input on whether the Colombian government is taking adequate steps to ensure overall labor rights and protect workers from violence and intimidation, including prosecuting such acts.
10) Latin Leaders Ask Colombia to Clarify U.S. Accord
Helen Murphy and Matthew Walter, Bloomberg, Aug. 10
Latin American presidents from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela asked Colombia to clarify a plan to allow the U.S. military to use Colombian bases.
Speaking today at a meeting of the Union of South American Nations, known as UNASUR, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez said Colombia's agreement with the U.S. posed a threat to the region's stability. Ecuador's Rafael Correa called any U.S. presence a "provocation," while Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the controversy should be resolved in talks.
"UNASUR could invite the U.S. government to a detailed discussion regarding its relations with South America," Lula said at the meeting in Quito, Ecuador. "This will be resolved through a lot of conversation, much debate, the speaking of truths. People will have to hear things they don't like."
The union of 12 South American nations is trying to resolve growing diplomatic tension between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, while seeking a solution in Honduras after the military helped oust President Manuel Zelaya from office on June 28.
South America faces "unacceptable belligerence," Fernandez said today.
Ecuador last year notified the U.S. that it wouldn't renew its 10-year military lease at the Manta Airfield. The leaders are also in Quito to attend Correa's inauguration to a second four-year term.
Uribe has said the U.S. troops and civilian contractors in the country won't surpass 1,400, the current cap under Plan Colombia, the U.S. program that has provided $6 billion in mostly military aid to the country since 2000.
The Manta accord permitted 475 U.S. troops. The U.S. military also has agreements with Aruba, Curacao, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru, and occupies a base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
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