JFP 11/17: Progressive Caucus Writes Obama on Afghanistan

Just Foreign Policy News
November 17, 2009


Cong. Progressive Caucus Requests Meeting with Obama on Afghanistan
Today the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, noting support in the CPC for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, opposition to sending more troops, support for redirecting resources from the military to aid, and support for reconciliation in Afghanistan; and requesting a meeting with the President to discuss these concerns. The letter is posted here:
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/407

Trumka: Free Elections Not Possible Now in Honduras

The continued repression of trade unionists by the regime set up in Honduras after a June 28 coup makes it impossible to hold free and fair elections, wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a Nov. 13 letter to Secretary of State Clinton. Trumka called on the U.S. government to oppose national elections in Honduras unless President Zelaya is reinstated.
http://blog.aflcio.org/2009/11/16/trumka-free-elections-not-possible-now-in-honduras/

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested that a "countdown towards Britain's exit from the war in Afghanistan" could start in 2010, the Times of London reports.

2) A new British army field manual says British Army commanders should talk to insurgent leaders with "blood on their hands" in order to hasten the end of the conflict in Afghanistan, the Times of London reports. "There's no point in talking to people who don't have blood on their hands," Major-General Paul Newton said.

3) The US and Japan sharply disagree over the purpose of a "high-level working group" they announced Friday to sort out the future of the Marine air station in Okinawa, the Washington Post reports. President Obama says the working group would focus only on implementing a 2006 agreement to allow the Futenma Marine Corps air station to be relocated on Okinawa. But Prime Minister Hatoyama says the formation of the working group means that Japan will be able to move beyond the language of the 2006 agreement. "If our review is merely aimed at making a decision confirming the agreement, it's meaningless," Hatoyama said. "If we already have an answer, we don't need to hold talks."

4) A UN summit on combating hunger underscored the split between rich and poor countries on the issue, with the industrialized nations balking at concrete targets, the New York Times reports. In negotiations over a draft declaration, richer nations succeeded in removing a goal to end world hunger by 2025 and declined to commit to increasing agricultural aid to nearly 20 percent of all international development aid, where it peaked in 1980 before falling. The summit was prompted by a sharp rise in the price of basic commodities that incited food riots in many countries in 2008, a crisis UN Secretary-General Ban warned could easily be repeated.

5) A single mother may face criminal charges after she skipped her deployment flight to Afghanistan because, she said, no one was available to care for her infant son while she was overseas, AP reports. An Army spokesman said the Army would not deploy a single parent who had nobody to care for his or her child, and that Spc. Alexis Hutchinson would remain in the U.S. while the Army investigated the case. Hutchinson remained confined Monday to the boundaries of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah

Honduras
6) Honduras' congressional president said lawmakers will not decide whether to restore President Zelaya until after upcoming presidential elections, a decision that could undermine international support for the vote, AP reports. Zelaya warned over the weekend that he would not return to the presidency if Congress votes to restore him after the elections, saying doing so would legitimize the June 28 coup.

Puerto Rico
7) A federal agency said Friday it had reversed its conclusion that contamination at a former US Navy training ground in Vieques, Puerto Rico posed no health risks to residents, the New York Times reports. Congress had asked for the earlier conclusion to be reviewed. A lawyer representing Vieques residents said he expected "a comprehensive plan" to address the situation.

Israel/Palestine
8) Israel moved to approve a plan to build 900 more housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, drawing harsh criticism from the US, AP reports. A statement from the White House criticized unilateral steps by Israel "that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations" and said the issue of Jerusalem "must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." US spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes." A Palestinian spokesman said words from the US were not enough. "There should be real American pressure on the Israelis to stop all these acts," the spokesman told AP.

Iran
9) Russia announced that a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Iran would not come online at the end of the year as planned, the New York Times reports. Russia's energy minister said that politics had played no role in delaying the startup of the plant.

Venezuela
10) In an op-ed in The Hill, Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez notes that opposition to a new US military basing agreement with Colombia is widespread in the region and that regional concerns have not been answered. U.S. documents substantiate the fears of neighboring countries that they will be targets of US activities in Colombia.

Colombia
11) Colombia's top electoral body ruled last Thursday that millions of signatures endorsing a referendum on President Uribe's second re-election bid are invalid, the Wall Street Journal reports. Colombia's National Electoral Council said the organization of Uribe supporters that obtained the signatures had spent about six times the legal limit in their campaign to change the constitution.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Gordon Brown: Countdown To Leave Afghanistan Could Start Next Year
Philip Webster, Times of London, November 17, 2009
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6919141.ece

The countdown towards Britain's exit from the war in Afghanistan could start as early as next year, Gordon Brown told a City audience last night.

He announced that a summit of Nato allies in London in January would set a process for transferring to full Afghan control district by district, and "if at all possible set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010".

Although No 10 insisted that it would not be an "exit summit", the inclusion of the 2010 date was clearly designed to assure an increasingly sceptical British public that the Afghan mission was not indefinite. Next year is also election year in Britain.


Mr Brown told the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall, that he had offered London as a venue so that the international community could agree plans "for the support we will provide to Afghanistan during the next phase. I want that conference to chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished," he said.

The Prime Minister is clearly hoping to persuade Nato allies to send more troops and military resources in the short term, to ensure that the mission can be achieved quickly. British troops would be unlikely to start leaving before 2011, to ensure that the district handovers work satisfactorily.
[...]

2) Army Tells Its Soldiers To 'Bribe' The Taleban
Michael Evans, Times of London, November 16, 2009
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/Afghanistan/article6919516.ece

British forces should buy off potential Taleban recruits with "bags of gold", according to a new army field manual published yesterday.

Army commanders should also talk to insurgent leaders with "blood on their hands" in order to hasten the end of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The edicts, which are contained in rewritten counter-insurgency guidelines, will be taught to all new army officers. They mark a strategic rethink after three years in which British and Nato forces have failed to defeat the Taleban. The manual is also a recognition that the Army's previous doctrine for success against insurgents, which was based on the experience in Northern Ireland, is now out of date.

The new instructions came on the day that Gordon Brown went farther than before in setting out Britain's exit strategy from Afghanistan. The Prime Minister stated explicitly last night that he wanted troops to begin handing over districts to Afghan authorities during next year - a general election year in Britain.

Addressing the issue of paying off the locals, the new manual states that army commanders should give away enough money to dissuade them from joining the enemy. The Taleban is known to pay about $10 (£5.95) a day to recruit local fighters.

Major-General Paul Newton said: "The best weapons to counter insurgents don't shoot. In other words, use bags of gold in the short term to change the security dynamics. But you don't just chuck gold at them, this has to be done wisely."

British commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have complained that their access to money on the battlefield - cash rather than literal gold - compares poorly with their US counterparts.
[...]
Mr Brown told the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall in the City last night that a summit of Nato allies would be held in London in January, which could set a timetable for the transfer of security control to the Afghans starting in 2010. Military sources said that the first areas to be involved would probably be in the north and west of Afghanistan - not in Helmand in the south, where British troops are based.

The counter-insurgency field manual also highlights the importance of talking to the enemy. "There's no point in talking to people who don't have blood on their hands," General Newton said, launching the document in London.
[...]

3) Obama, Japanese Premier At Odds Over Air Station Negotiations
Hatoyama says talks, as viewed by U.S., are 'meaningless'
Blaine Harden, Washington Post, Tuesday, November 17, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/16/AR2009111600428.html

Tokyo - The wrestling match between the United States and Japan over the location of the U.S. Marine air station in Okinawa is far from over - despite President Obama's chummy visit here with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The two leaders now warmly address each other as Barack and Yukio. But they sharply disagree over the purpose of a "high-level working group" that they announced Friday to sort out an increasingly heated dispute over the future of the Marine air station, which has become a focus of anger on Okinawa.

That southern island accommodates most of the 36,000 U.S. military personnel based in Japan. Many Okinawans, after decades of living with noisy American aircraft and rambunctious American troops, have come to associate the U.S. military presence with noise, pollution and periodic crime.

Obama explained during his quick visit here that the working group, which includes U.S. Ambassador John V. Roos and the foreign and defense ministers of Japan, would focus only on implementing a 2006 agreement in which Tokyo agreed to allow the Futenma Marine Corps air station to be relocated on Okinawa.

White House officials later insisted this did not mean that the U.S. government would reopen or renegotiate the agreement, which is part of a $26 billion military deal that involves transferring 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The United States is treaty-bound to defend Japan in case of attack.

But Hatoyama does not agree with this narrow interpretation of the working group's authority. On Monday, he said the formation of the working group does, indeed, mean that Japan will be able to move beyond the language of the 2006 agreement.

"If our review is merely aimed at making a decision confirming the agreement, it's meaningless," Hatoyama told reporters in Tokyo. "If we already have an answer, we don't need to hold talks."

Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party of Japan was elected in August with a promise that Japan would be less passive in its relationship with the United States, has said the air station should be moved off Okinawa or even outside Japan.
[...]

4) Disagreement Over Goals at U.N. Meeting on Hunger
Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, November 17, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/world/17food.html

A United Nations summit meeting on combating hunger that opened in Rome on Monday underscored the split between rich and poor countries on the issue, with the industrialized nations balking at concrete targets.

Sixty leaders attended the meeting, but apart from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy there were no leaders from the wealthiest nations. Some of those who attended, including Pope Benedict XVI, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, lashed out at what they called unfair agricultural policies by more developed nations.

In the hard-fought negotiations over a draft declaration from the three-day talks, richer nations succeeded in removing a goal to end world hunger by 2025 and declined to commit to increasing agricultural aid to nearly 20 percent of all international development aid, where it peaked in 1980 before gradually falling.

Instead, the draft declaration restated the United Nations target of halving world hunger by 2015 and said that eradicating hunger should come "at the earliest possible date." Diplomats from wealthier countries argued that creating a deadline for eradicating hunger was unrealistic, according to officials involved in the negotiations. The United Nations estimates that the number of people facing hunger around the world rose to more than one billion this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had hoped the meeting would set an agriculture aid target of $44 billion annually toward helping farmers in poorer countries. To meet demand by 2050, agriculture output needs to grow by 70 percent, the organization said.

The draft declaration instead commits to "substantially increase" agriculture aid. Leaders of industrialized nations meeting in Italy last July agreed to spend more than $22 billion on agriculture aid over the next three years, but not all of that constitutes new aid, and the nations have been slow to figure out how it might be distributed.

The Rome conference was prompted by a sharp rise in the price of basic commodities like rice and wheat that incited food riots in many countries in 2008, a crisis that Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, warned could easily be repeated.
[...]

5) Soldier mom refuses deployment to care for baby
Russ Bynum, Associated Press, Monday, November 16, 2009 9:32 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/16/AR2009111601940.html

Savannah, Ga. - An Army cook and single mom may face criminal charges after she skipped her deployment flight to Afghanistan because, she said, no one was available to care for her infant son while she was overseas.

Spc. Alexis Hutchinson, 21, claims she had no choice but to refuse deployment orders because the only family she had to care for her 10-month-old son - her mother - was overwhelmed by the task, already caring for three other relatives with health problems.

Her civilian attorney, Rai Sue Sussman, said Monday that one of Hutchinson's superiors told her she would have to deploy anyway and place the child in foster care. "For her it was like, 'I couldn't abandon my child,'" Sussman said. "She was really afraid of what would happen, that if she showed up they would send her to Afghanistan anyway and put her son with child protective services."

Hutchinson, who is from Oakland, Calif., remained confined Monday to the boundaries of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, 10 days after military police arrested her for skipping her unit's flight. No charges have been filed, but a spokesman for the Army post said commanders were investigating.

Kevin Larson, a spokesman for Hunter Army Airfield, said he didn't know what Hutchinson was told by her commanders, but he said the Army would not deploy a single parent who had nobody to care for his or her child. "I don't know what transpired and the investigation will get to the bottom of it," Larson said. "If she would have come to the deployment terminal with her child, there's no question she would not have been deployed."

Hutchinson's son, Kamani, was placed into custody overnight with a daycare provider on the Army post after she was arrested and jailed briefly, Larson said. Hutchinson's mother picked up the child a week ago and took him back to her home in California.
[...]
Larson, the Army post spokesman, said officials planned to keep Hutchinson in Georgia as investigators gathered facts about the case. "Spc. Hutchinson's deployment is halted," Larson said. "There will be no deployment while this situation is ongoing."

Honduras
6) Honduran Congress will rule on Zelaya after vote
Freddy Cuevas, Associated Press, Tuesday, November 17, 2009 4:10 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/17/AR2009111702240.html

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Honduran lawmakers will not decide whether to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya until after upcoming presidential elections, the congressional leader said Tuesday, a decision that could undermine international support for the vote.

Congress will meet Dec. 2 - three days after the Nov. 29 election - to decide whether Zelaya should be returned the presidency to finish his constitutional term, which ends in January, congressional president Jose Alfredo Saavedra told local HRN radio station.

Several Latin American countries have warned they will not recognize the outcome of the election unless Zelaya is restored beforehand. But the United States has not ruled out restoring diplomatic ties with a newly elected Honduran government even if Zelaya remains out of power through the vote.

Zelaya warned over the weekend that he would not return to the presidency if Congress votes to restore him after the elections, saying doing so would legitimize the June 28 coup.
[...]
The Honduran crisis has been one of the biggest diplomatic challenges in Latin America for the Obama administration. Washington joined other Western Hemisphere governments in suspending diplomatic ties with Honduras after soldiers flew Zelaya into exile at gunpoint.

Now, Washington could find itself at odds with many Latin American countries if it decides to recognize the election, undermining its efforts to improve relations with the region.
[...]

Puerto Rico
7) Navy's Vieques Training May Be Tied to Health Risks
Mireya Navarro, New York Times, November 14, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/science/earth/14vieques.html

The federal agency that assesses health hazards at sites designated for Superfund environmental cleanups said Friday that it had reversed its conclusion that contamination at a former United States Navy training ground in Puerto Rico posed no health risks to residents.

As a result, it said, it plans to recommend monitoring to determine whether residents of the island of Vieques, the site of decades of live fire and bombing exercises, have been exposed to harmful chemicals and at what levels.

"Much has been learned since we first went to Vieques a decade ago, and we have identified gaps in environmental data that could be important in determining health effects," Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said in a statement posted on the agency's Web site late Friday afternoon. "The gaps we found indicate that we cannot state unequivocally that no health hazards exist in Vieques."

In a finding in 2003, the agency had said that levels of heavy metals and explosive compounds found in Vieques's soil, groundwater, air and fish did not pose a health risk.

The action on Friday is a vindication of the 9,300 residents of the small island off the mainland of northeastern Puerto Rico, who are pursuing claims against the United States government for contamination and illnesses. Puerto Rico's health department has found disproportionately high rates of illnesses like cancer, hypertension and liver disease on the island. In their claims, residents assert that the illnesses are linked to pollutants released in Navy exercises that continued until 2003.
[...]
At the request of Congress, the toxic substances agency said this year said that it would "rigorously" review its 2003 finding that metals and explosive compounds found at Vieques did not pose a health risk. Dr. Frumkin and his staff met with residents in August and held meetings last week in Atlanta with scientists from Puerto Rico whose research contradicted agency conclusions.

"Withdrawing this conclusion sends a strong signal to Washington that there's a health and environmental crisis that's credible," said John Eaves Jr., the lawyer representing the residents in a federal lawsuit. "Based on this action today," he said, "I believe there will be a comprehensive plan to address the crisis in Vieques."

Israel/Palestine
8) Palestinians, US, UK criticize Jerusalem plan
Mark Lavie, Associated Press, Tuesday, November 17, 2009 4:40 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/17/AR2009111701965.html

Jerusalem - Israel moved Tuesday to approve a plan to build 900 more housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in the part of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians, drawing harsh criticism from the United States.

The Jerusalem district planning commission officially deposited the plan, opening it to comments, objections and appeals from the public. Jerusalem city spokesman Gidi Schmerling said final approval was "many months" away.

Palestinians and Britain denounced the plan, but reaction from the U.S. was especially sharp.

A statement from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs criticized unilateral steps by Israel "that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations" and said the issue of Jerusalem "must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." He added, "The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes."

Responding to the White House statement, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said words from Washington are not enough. "There should be real American pressure on the Israelis to stop all these acts," he told The Associated Press. "Such acts prove that Israel does not want peace and does not want to revive the peace process."

Britain also criticized the plan to expand the sprawling neighborhood of Gilo, where about 40,000 Israelis live.

"The Foreign Secretary has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital," a British statement said. "Expanding settlements on occupied land in east Jerusalem makes that deal much harder. So this decision on Gilo is wrong and we oppose it."
[...]

Iran
9) Nuclear Plant Built For Iran Is Delayed, Russia Says
Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, November 17, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/world/europe/17russia.html

Moscow - Russia added a new note of discord to its relations with Iran on Monday, announcing that a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Iran would not come online at the end of the year as planned.

Russia's energy minister said that politics had played no role in delaying the startup of the plant, a focal point in a broader dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions. And although Iran's senior leadership offered no immediate response, hard-line members of its Parliament excoriated the delay, calling Russia "dishonest."

"If we wait another 200 years, the Russians will not complete the plant," said Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash, a member of Parliament, according to Iran's ISNA news agency. "It is naïve to believe that the Russians are cooperating with us."

The startup of the plant, at Bushehr, in southern Iran, has been plagued by delays since Russia took over work on the facility in the mid-1990s, with Russian officials often appearing to use the project as leverage in negotiations with Iran's leaders.

Sergei Shmatko, the Russian energy minister, said Monday that "technical issues" were responsible for the latest postponement. "We expect serious results by the end of the year, but the launch itself will not occur," Mr. Shmatko said at a news conference in Moscow, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. He vowed that the Bushehr plant would be completed, but said that the date would depend on security guarantees at the facility.

Monday's announcement came a day after Russia's president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, expressed frustration with the pace of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Speaking after a meeting in Singapore with President Obama on Sunday, Mr. Medvedev indicated that Russia might support sanctions against Tehran if no agreements were reached soon to address concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions.

Russia's leaders have said they oppose efforts by Iran to build a nuclear weapon, which American officials and some of their allies say is Iran's goal. But Russia's leaders have joined the Iranians in insisting that the Bushehr plant will be for civilian use only.
[...]

Venezuela
10) A step backward for the hemisphere
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, The Hill, 11/11/09 06:22 PM ET
http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/67421-a-step-backward-for-the-hemisphere

[Alvarez is Venezuela's ambassador to the U.S.]

A recently signed agreement allowing the use of seven military bases in Colombia by U.S. soldiers and intelligence officers will have negative consequences in the hemisphere that the U.S. will not be able to avoid. The agreement expands upon a military strategy that by all accounts, even according to U.S. agencies, has failed in its stated objectives and has instead provoked regional instability.

In recent years, the military strategy for dealing with Colombia's internal conflict and illegal-drug problem has produced increasing flows of refugees to neighboring countries, violations of territorial sovereignty, additional legions of armed combatants and an increase in the production and trafficking of illegal drugs. The agreement signed between the U.S. and Colombia will only worsen these problems.

Contrary to what the Colombian government has claimed, concern over the agreement is not limited to a few countries, but rather extends throughout the majority of the region. During a summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, in Spanish) in late August 2009, 11 of the organization's 12 member-states expressed their reservations with the agreement. (The only dissent came from Colombia.) Foreign ministers and defense ministers of the organization's members similarly highlighted their opposition to the deal in a mid-September 2009 meeting.

In none of these summits did the Colombian government agree to offer any guarantees to the region that operations carried out from the bases would not violate the sovereignty of any other country. The conditions of the agreement, made public only after it was signed, explain why neither the Colombian government nor the U.S. government could offer such guarantees.

The agreement vaguely conforms to the principle of non-intervention in the internal matters of other countries, but it does not explicitly prohibit regional intelligence operations or acting preemptively, as President George W. Bush became famous for, in order to safeguard "Colombia's national security." On the latter point, concern has been aggravated by the March 2008 raid by Colombian forces on Ecuadorian territory that set off a regional crisis.

Worse yet, a number of public documents shed light on the agreement's real objectives. In a document presented to the U.S. Congress in May 2009, the Air Force offers an alarming justification for expanding the use of the Palanquero Air Base in Colombia. "Palanquero provides an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America," it says, which are "essential for supporting the U.S. mission in Colombia and throughout the United States Southern Command."

The main revelation of this document is the clear allusion to the political objectives served by the Palanquero base. "Development of this CSL [Cooperative Security Location] provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-U.S. governments ..."

The agreement is vague enough that it does not impose limitations on the possibility of implementing this vision. It also leaves at its discretion the justifications that could be used to violate the sovereignty of other countries.

Rafael Pardo, Colombia's former minister of Defense, outlined in very simple terms why the region has expressed concern with the agreement. It is, he said, "like lending a stranger your balcony so he can spy on the neighbors."

If the U.S. and Colombia are really interested in tackling the complex issue of the production and trafficking of illegal drugs, they should instead support comprehensive and multilateral strategies that consider existing social problems in the region and the characteristics of the drug market, and put additional responsibility on countries that consume the drugs. Simply combining the usual military-based anti-drug strategies with "anti-terror" operations will only worsen the Colombian conflict, extending it further beyond the country's borders. The experience of other countries in the region that have overcome internal conflicts proves that the only solution to the hemisphere's only remaining civil war is political, not military. What the region needs is peace, not more war.

It's a shame that the Obama administration has not more closely considered the region's reaction to this agreement, but even more a shame that it has not heeded the warnings of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senators warned of "the grave implications this agreement will have for the United States, as well as for Colombia's population."
The agreement, which was inherited from the Bush administration, will make it difficult for the Obama administration to foster a new relationship with the region. Of course, it is not too late. President Barack Obama could still break with the militaristic policies of his predecessor that used the pretext of the "war on terror" and "war on drugs" to impose its views on the region.

Instead, President Obama could embrace a serious political agenda that multilaterally addresses the real problems in the region. President Obama would offer an important gesture to the region if he heeded the invitation to meet with UNASUR's member-states and discuss the bases in Colombia.

This agreement may allow the U.S. military to complete some of its regional objectives and it may strengthen the Pentagon's allies in Colombia, at least in the short-term, but it will not contribute to stability or peace in Colombia, much less the region.

Colombia
11) Uribe Re-Election Bid Falters
Jose de Cordoba, Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2009
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125816399974848009.html

Bogota, Colombia - Colombia's top electoral body ruled late Thursday that millions of signatures endorsing a referendum on President Álvaro Uribe's second re-election bid are invalid, dealing a major setback to the president's contentious bid for a third term.

Colombia's National Electoral Council said the organization of Uribe supporters that obtained the signatures had spent about six times the legal limit in their campaign to change the constitution. Voters must approve the change before Mr. Uribe can run in elections scheduled for May.

A spokesman for Mr. Uribe declined to comment. Luis Guillermo Giraldo, who headed the vote-gathering effort, said in a radio interview that the electoral judges had overstepped their mandate and their finding was plagued with "irregularities." He vowed to appeal the decision.

Mr. Uribe is enormously popular in Colombia, mostly because his tough military campaign has beaten back the country's communist guerrillas who a few years ago threatened to overrun the capital of Bogota. But many Colombians, including a good number of influential former Uribe supporters, feel that Mr. Uribe's bid for an unprecedented third term could seriously damage the country's democratic institutions.

For instance, such critics say a third term would allow Mr. Uribe, who has been in power since 2002, to name the majority of the members of the country's constitutional court - which in January is expected to rule on the legality of the proposed referendum.
[...]

-
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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