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JFP 5/28: 18 Senators Back Afghan Withdrawal; Obama letter shows US backed Iran fuel swap
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 28 May 2010 - 6:33pm
Just Foreign Policy News
May 28, 2010
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18 Senators Back Timetable for Afghanistan Withdrawal
Eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold's amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This will spur efforts for a timetable in the House.
President Obama's letter to President Lula
President Obama's April 20 letter to President Lula shows that the deal Lula got was the deal that Obama told him to get: 1200 kgs of LEU out of Iran (more explanation in Friedman piece, immediately below.)
Tom Friedman's Yellow Journalism on Iran
Friedman's appeal for the U.S. to "support democracy" in Iran is really an appeal for war.
Support a Timetable for Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Currently the McGovern bill has 92 cosponsors in the House.
Video: Bush claimed "Best Way to Revitalize the Economy is War"
President Bush told Argentine Prime Minister Kirchner in 2004 that the best way to grow the U.S. economy was by waging war, Kirchner tells Oliver Stone in Stone's new documentary, "South of the Border." The film opens in theaters June 25th.
Video: Rethink Afghanistan: Trillion Dollar War
In addition to marking 1000 dead in Afghanistan (see below), this weekend is the National Priorties Project's trillion-dollar-mark for Iraq and Afghanistan.
1) In a swipe at the US, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan accused critics of a deal brokered with Iran for a nuclear fuel swap of being "envious" of the "diplomatic success" it represented, AFP reports. "Turkey and Brazil are working for peace. Up to now, Iran has met the obligations of its accord with Turkey and Brazil," Brazil's President Lula said, at a joint press conference in Brasilia. The US says the deal is insufficient, partly because the amount of uranium to be handed over is too little, but mainly because Iran insists on enriching part of its remaining stock to 20 percent, AFP says. [But Obama's April 20 letter explicitly endorsed the amount of LEU to be transferred, and said nothing about 20% enrichment - JFP.]
2) AP's tally of US deaths in the war in Afghanistan has reached 1000, AP reports. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed since Obama took office.
3) Afghanistan will pass Vietnam as America's longest war, USA Today reports. The beginning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is often dated to Aug. 7, 1964, when Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. By the time the last U.S. ground combat troops were withdrawn in March 1973, the war had lasted 103 months. On June 7, the Afghanistan war will complete its 104th month.
4) Israel braced for a showdown with a flotilla of vessels carrying hundreds of activists and thousands of tons of supplies headed for Gaza, the New York Times reports. The activists said the boats, which were expected to reach the coast sometime this weekend, were carrying 10,000 tons of cargo including cement, school supplies and medical equipment aimed at easing the hardship in Gaza. A UNDP report published Sunday said three-quarters of the damage caused by Israel's military offensive in Gaza had not yet been repaired. A report by the UN humanitarian coordinator blamed the blockade for "suffocating" the agricultural sector in Gaza and said insufficient food was a problem in more than 60 percent of households.
5) A senior UN official is expected to call on the US to stop CIA drone strikes against people suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda, the New York Times reports. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said he would deliver a report declaring that the "life and death power" of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not secretive and unaccountable intelligence agencies.
6) A new report says 47 percent of US aid to Latin America is going to militaries and police forces, the highest proportion in a decade, EFE reports.
7) New research demonstrates unambiguously that, beginning with the Korean War, disadvantaged communities have suffered a disproportionate share of the nation's wartime casualties, while richer communities have been more insulated from the costs of war, write Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen in the Los Angeles Times. The data suggest that this "casualty gap" between rich and poor communities has reached its widest proportions in the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Citizens informed about the existence of a casualty gap are significantly more likely to oppose ongoing military operations and less willing to support future ones. In evaluating a hypothetical military mission to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program, respondents told about casualty inequalities in the Iraq war said they would tolerate 40% fewer casualties.
8) The same forces who pushed the US into a needless and deadly war with Iraq are now organizing for war with Iran, writes former AIPAC staffer MJ Rosenberg for Media Matters. The administration seems to have been sold a bill of goods that leaves the US with only two choices: sanctions or war. The diplomatic option seems to be off the table, pushed off by pressure from various warhawks, neocons, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies in Congress.
9) The U.S. and Japan said a US air base will remain on Okinawa, the New York Times reports. Okinawans lashed out in protest, accusing Prime Minister Hatoyama of reneging on his pledge to lessen the burden of the US military presence in Okinawa. "This amounts to a betrayal of Okinawans," said Susumu Inamine, mayor of Nago, the city designated to host the relocated base. "In Okinawa, many still want the base moved out of Okinawa, out of Japan," said the governor, Hirokazu Nakaima. The deal also named Tokunoshima, a nearby island, as a possible site for some of the Marines' training exercises, something the island's residents fiercely oppose. "It is a serious matter for the government to ignore the will of the people," said Akira Okubo, the mayor of Isencho, a town on Tokunoshima. Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party and a cabinet minister in Hatoyama's government, was fired after she refused to back the deal. "I cannot betray the people of Okinawa," she said.
10) According to human rights groups in Honduras, there have been 48 documented assassinations of Resistance members since the coup last summer, with 15 coming since the disputed inauguration of President Lobo, on January 28, writes Jeremy Kryt for Huffington Post.
11) The UN urged Colombia to protect its poor from the impact of the country's pending trade agreement with the US, according to Colombia Reports. The UN's Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recommended Colombia consider "revising the intellectual property provisions" of its trade agreement with the US "in order to guarantee protection against a rise in the price of medicines, particularly for those with low incomes."
12) Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus said preventing massacres was key to addressing the problem of displacement, according to Colombia Reports. Juan Manuel Santos said the way to avoid forced displacement was to continue with President Uribe's policy of "democratic security." The nation goes to the polls May 30.
13) A Colombian NGO says Colombia saw the murder of 32 human rights defenders in 2009, according to Colombia Reports.
1) UN rift widens over Brazil-Turkey deal with Iran
Aldo Gamboa, AFP, May 28, 2010
Brasilia - A bitter rift between the world's top powers led by the United States and emerging nations Brazil and Turkey widened Thursday as differences over how to tackle Iran's suspect nuclear program erupted into sharp exchanges.
Turkey accused critics of a deal brokered with Iran last week for a nuclear fuel swap of being "envious" of the "diplomatic success" it represented - in an implicit swipe at the United States.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged "very serious disagreements" with Brazil over its insistence that the deal it helped to draw up be considered before a US push for new UN sanctions against Iran is decided. The row threatens to split the UN Security Council, on which the United States sits as a permanent, veto-wielding member alongside temporary members Brazil and Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in a joint media conference in Brasilia with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, slammed detractors of the May 17 deal they worked out with Tehran. "The countries criticizing this accord are envious. Because Brazil and Turkey brokered and pulled off a diplomatic success that other countries had been negotiating without result for many years," he said.
He stated that Brazil and Turkey had "assumed the responsibility" that went with their seats on the UN Security Council.
Lula urged that the UN nuclear watchdog, which this week received details from Tehran of the Brazil-Turkey proposal, to show "sensitivity in understanding the political moment" represented by the deal and to analyze it accordingly. "Turkey and Brazil are working for peace. Up to now, Iran has met the obligations of its accord with Turkey and Brazil," he stressed.
Their words showed a stubborn refusal to allow the United States to dismiss their deal in its rush to secure a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council.
US officials say they already have the backing of the four other permanent members - allies France and Britain, as well as Iran's investment partners China and Russia - and were confident they would win the nine votes needed on the 15-seat Security Council to impose the sanctions.
Non-permanent members Brazil and Turkey are opposed, along with Lebanon, which has ties to Iran through its Hezbollah militia. Brazil was being especially fierce in fighting to save the Tehran fuel swap deal, both in official declarations and in what appeared to be a leak of a letter from US President Barack Obama to Lula ahead of negotiations over the accord.
The daily Folha de Sao Paulo reported Thursday that Obama had sent a letter to Lula three weeks ago suggesting negotiation points with Tehran and stating that he "would keep a door open to a compromise with Iran." [The letter, as Folha reported, was sent on April 20, not "three weeks ago" but "three weeks before Lula's trip" - JFP.]
The United States and its European allies say the deal is insufficient, partly because the amount of uranium to be handed over is too little, but mainly because Iran insists on enriching part of its remaining stock to 20 percent anyway. [Yet, Obama's letter explicitly endorsed the goal of a transfer of 1200 kilos of LEU and said nothing about 20% enrichment - JFP.]
2) US toll reaches 1,000 deaths in Afghanistan war
Robert H. Reid, Associated Press, May 28, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - More U.S. military deaths in the last 10 months of the Afghan war than in the first five years of the conflict. More boots on the ground than in Iraq.
As the U.S. military death toll in the Afghan conflict reached the 1,000 mark, a fight that has become "Obama's war" now faces its greatest challenge - a high-risk campaign to win over a hostile population in the Taliban's southern heartland.
More casualties are expected when the campaign kicks into high gear this summer. The results may determine the outcome of a nearly nine-year conflict that has become the focus of America's fight against Islamist militancy. The 1,000 U.S. military death occurred in a roadside bombing Friday - just before the Memorial Day weekend when America honors the dead in all its wars.
A NATO statement did not identify or give the nationality of the victim. U.S. spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the trooper was American - the 32nd U.S. war death this month by an Associated Press count.
The AP bases its tally on Defense Department reports of deaths suffered as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Other news organizations count deaths suffered by service members assigned elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In the last 10 months, at least 313 U.S. service members have been killed in the war - more than the 295 who died in the first five years of the conflict. More than 430 of the U.S. dead were killed since Obama took office in January 2009.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has now surpassed the total in Iraq - roughly 94,000 in Afghanistan compared with 92,000 in Iraq. In 2008, the U.S. force in Afghanistan numbered about 30,000.
3) Afghanistan: America's Longest War
Rick Hampson, USA Today, May 27, 2010
[S]oon, Afghanistan will pass Vietnam as America's longest war.
The Vietnam War's length can be measured in many ways. The formal beginning of U.S. involvement often is dated to Aug. 7, 1964, when Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the president a virtual carte blanche to wage war. By the time the last U.S. ground combat troops were withdrawn in March 1973, the war had lasted 103 months.
U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. On June 7, the war will complete its 104th month.
4) Defying Blockade, Cargo and Passenger Vessels Head for Gaza
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, May 27, 2010
Jerusalem - Israel braced Friday for a showdown with a flotilla of nine vessels carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists and thousands of tons of supplies headed for Gaza. It was the most ambitious attempt so far to break Israel's maritime blockade of the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
The flotilla of cargo ships and passenger boats, led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, converged at sea from a number of countries over the last 10 days.
Israel, which says it allows basic supplies into Gaza through points along the land border, denounced the flotilla as a political provocation and has vowed not to let the boats reach Gaza. It has invited the flotilla to land at an Israeli port, Ashdod, instead.
The activists said the boats, which were expected to reach the coast sometime this weekend, were carrying 10,000 tons of cargo including cement, school supplies and medical equipment aimed at easing the hardship in Gaza.
Israel was preparing to intercept the boats and divert them, if necessary, to Ashdod. Large tents and other facilities have been set up at the port to receive the activists, who number up to 800 and include public officials. An Israeli Arab lawmaker was aboard one of the boats. From Ashdod, the activists will either be voluntarily deported or detained. The approaching flotilla has set off a public-relations war regarding the situation in Gaza.
In a sarcastic e-mail message to reporters this week, Israel's Government Press Office recommended a high-end restaurant in Gaza, the Roots Club, attaching the menu and a link to its Web site. "We have been told the beef stroganoff and cream of spinach soup are highly recommended," the office said. The restaurant would, of course, be out of reach for most of Gaza's 1.5 million residents. Israeli military officials put unemployment there at almost 40 percent.
International organizations active in Gaza paint a bleaker picture. A United Nations Development Program report published on Sunday determined that about three-quarters of the damage caused by Israel's military offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9 had not yet been repaired. And a report by the United Nations humanitarian coordinator blamed the blockade for "suffocating" the agricultural sector in Gaza and said that insufficient food was now a problem in more than 60 percent of households.
The Free Gaza Movement has organized at least four aid voyages since the summer of 2008, usually consisting of one or two vessels. The earliest ones were allowed to reach Gaza. Others have been intercepted and forced back, and one, last June, was commandeered by the Israeli Navy and towed to Ashdod.
In other developments, police officers in Jerusalem on Thursday arrested two ultranationalist Israeli activists after they hurled insults at the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as he toured the Old City with his family, a police spokesman said. Angry at what they view as the Obama administration's anti-Israel policies, right-wing activists had been waiting to confront Mr. Emanuel, who was in Israel on a private visit to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his 13-year-old son. One of the arrested ultranationalists, both of them well-known provocateurs, could be heard yelling, "Shame on you, You hate Israel" and "Traitor," according to Agence France-Presse.
5) U.N. Official Set To Ask U.S. To End C.I.A. Drone Strikes
Charlie Savage, New York Times, May 27, 2010
Washington - A senior United Nations official is expected to call on the United States next week to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes against people suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda, complicating the Obama administration's growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan.
Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the "life and death power" of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.
"With the Defense Department you've got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan," he said in an interview. "The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about."
Mr. Alston's views are not legally binding, and his report will not assert that the operation of combat drones by nonmilitary personnel is a war crime, he said. But the mounting international concern over drones comes as the Obama administration legal team has been quietly struggling over how to justify such counterterrorism efforts while obeying the laws of war.
In recent months, top lawyers for the State Department and the Defense Department have tried to square the idea that the C.I.A.'s drone program is lawful with the United States' efforts to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of killing American soldiers in combat, according to interviews and a review of military documents.
Under the laws of war, soldiers in traditional armies cannot be prosecuted and punished for killing enemy forces in battle. The United States has argued that because Qaeda fighters do not obey the requirements laid out in the Geneva Conventions - like wearing uniforms - they are not "privileged combatants" entitled to such battlefield immunity. But C.I.A. drone operators also wear no uniforms.
6) Report slams Obama military approach to LatAm
EFE, May 24
Washington- A new report criticizes the military focus of the Barack Obama government in its relations with Latin America and his "insufficient attention" to human rights in the region.
Waiting for Change, published Monday by the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and the Washington Office on Latin America, concludes that 2009 was a "rough year" for U.S. policy in the hemisphere. "In 2010, 47 percent of the United States' more than $3 billion in aid to Latin America is going to militaries and police forces," Adam Isacson, WOLA senior associate and one of the report's authors, said.
"That's the highest proportion in a decade, and it indicates an unbalanced approach. Add to that a new military-basing agreement signed last October with Colombia, and the main face that most of the region is seeing from the Obama administration is a military one," Isacson said.
One of his co-authors, Latin America Working Group Education Fund Executive Director Lisa Haugaard, said that when it comes to human rights, the Obama administration's policy toward to the region "has been missing in action."
"With the weak, contradictory response to the coup in Honduras, and a stand-by-our-man approach towards allied governments in Mexico and Colombia, the first year has been disappointing," she said.
7) America's 'Casualty Gap'
On Memorial Day we honor the brave men and women in uniform. In doing so, we shouldn't overlook a hidden aspect of war: the socioeconomic inequality in who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.
Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2010
[Kriner is assistant professor of political science at Boston University. Shen is a fellow in the MacArthur Foundation Law & Neuroscience Project. They are the authors of "The Casualty Gap: The Causes and Consequences of American Wartime Inequalities."]
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 5,000 Americans have lost their lives in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - almost 600 of them Californians. This sacrifice, and the sacrifice of all of our brave men and women in uniform, will be honored over the Memorial Day weekend. In honoring their service, we should not overlook a very real though hidden aspect of war: the socioeconomic inequality in who makes the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation.
Over the last six years, we have studied this inequality by collecting and analyzing data on the hometowns of more than 400,000 members of the armed forces who died in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. By integrating these records with census data, we demonstrate unambiguously that, beginning with the Korean War, disadvantaged communities have suffered a disproportionate share of the nation's wartime casualties, while richer communities have been more insulated from the costs of war. Furthermore, the data suggest that this "casualty gap" between rich and poor communities has reached its widest proportions in the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Although the military uses the term "casualty" in reference to both killed and wounded soldiers, following the standard practice in political science our study uses the term casualty to denote deaths.
Nationally, in the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars, communities in the lowest three income deciles suffered 35%, 36% and 38% of the casualties, respectively. Yet communities in the top three income deciles sustained significantly fewer casualties - 25%, 26% and 23% of the casualties, respectively.
More advanced statistical analyses, which account for a variety of other important factors, also offer strong evidence of casualty gaps between communities with different levels of income and education. In Los Angeles, for example, citywide almost 27% of residents hold a college degree. By contrast, in the specific L.A. neighborhoods that have lost a young man or woman in Iraq, less than 12% of residents graduated from college. Similarly, in New York City, the citywide average median family income is nearly $42,000, while the average in neighborhoods that have experienced an Iraq war casualty is $34,000, 19% lower.
What would happen if the nation openly acknowledged the casualty gap? Would citizens rethink questions of war and peace? To find out, we conducted a series of original public opinion survey experiments with nationally representative samples of Americans. We found that citizens informed about the existence of a casualty gap were significantly more likely to oppose ongoing military operations and less willing to support future ones than were their peers who were not informed about casualty inequalities. For example, in evaluating a hypothetical military mission to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program, respondents told about casualty inequalities in the Iraq war said they would tolerate 40% fewer casualties to achieve the mission's goals than would their peers who were not given this information.
8) The Coming Iran War
MJ Rosenberg, Foreign Policy Matters, May 28, 2010
It's happening again. The same forces - with a few new additions and minus a few smart defectors - who pushed the United States into a needless and deadly war with Iraq are now organizing for the next war. This time the target is Iran, which, just like Iraq, is said to be on the verge of creating weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, Iraq did not have WMDs and the Bush administration almost surely knew it. (If Iraq had them, we would no more have attacked Iraq than we now attack North Korea. In fact, the evidence that a country does not have WMDs is our willingness to consider bombing it.) But, no matter, the gang of war profiteers and neocon ideologues were hell bent on war anyway. The supposed WMDs were just a pretense.
This would all be for the history books (and the grieving widows, parents, grandparents, children, partners, sisters and brothers of the fallen Americans) if the same scenario was not being played out today.
Earlier in May, Turkey and Brazil - after months of intense negotiations - persuaded the Iranian regime to accept a deal that would have vastly reduced its ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The Turkish-Brazilian deal was almost identical to the one President Obama and our allies pushed the Iranians to accept back in October.
Only this time, it wasn't good enough. The Obama administration ignored the Turkish-Brazilian breakthrough, saying its goal was crippling sanctions and that it was close to achieving them. Of course, few believe sanctions will have any significant effect other than to punish ordinary Iranians, people who are suffering quite enough under a monstrous regime.
But the administration seems to have been sold a bill of goods that leaves the US with only two choices: sanctions or war. The diplomatic option seems to be off the table, pushed off by pressure from various warhawks, neocons, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies in Congress. (Obama originally favored open-ended diplomacy with no deadline; Netanyahu somehow convinced him that a deadline on diplomacy made sense. It doesn't.)
Even some of the more progressive voices are falling for this false choice largely because the lobby - although clearly struggling as J Street moves into clear ascendancy among young and middle-aged Jews - still manages to intimidate.
9) U.S. and Japan Reach Okinawa Deal
Hiroko Tabuchi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 27, 2010
Tokyo - An American air base in Japan will remain on the southern island of Okinawa, the two allies said in a joint statement on Friday, as they reached an agreement that resolved a lingering diplomatic dispute but could also present new domestic challenges for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
The deal confirmed what Mr. Hatoyama had told outraged Okinawa residents on Sunday, that the United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, long despised by local residents for noise, pollution and safety concerns, would be moved to a less populated area - but not off Okinawa.
The agreement largely follows a 2006 pact that called for moving the base from its current location in the city of Ginowan.
Mr. Hatoyama took power in a historic election last summer with vows to create a more equal relationship with the United States, including a campaign promise to relocate the Futenma base off the island or out of Japan altogether. But he was forced to reconsider as his public approval ratings fell and because Washington demanded that he honor the previous agreement. Fear of North Korea, which may have a small nuclear arsenal and which South Korea has accused of sinking a warship recently, contributed to his decision.
Okinawans immediately lashed out in protest, accusing Mr. Hatoyama of reneging on his pledge to lessen the burden of the United States military presence in Okinawa, home to about half of the 50,000 American military personnel members stationed in Japan under a mutual security pact.
"This amounts to a betrayal of Okinawans," said Susumu Inamine, mayor of Nago, the city designated to host the relocated base. "In Okinawa, many still want the base moved out of Okinawa, out of Japan," said the governor, Hirokazu Nakaima. "There has not been enough discussion."
The deal also named Tokunoshima, a nearby island, as a possible site for some of the Marines' training exercises, something the island's residents fiercely oppose. "It is a serious matter for the government to ignore the will of the people," said Akira Okubo, the mayor of Isencho, a town on Tokunoshima. He said he intended to meet with Mr. Hatoyama as soon as possible to express his "resolute opposition."
The accord also damaged Mr. Hatoyama's ruling coalition government after the leader of a left-leaning coalition partner rejected the deal, forcing the prime minister to relieve her of her post late Friday.
The former ally, Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party and a cabinet minister in Mr. Hatoyama's government, was fired. The Social Democrats were expected to soon discuss whether to stay with Mr. Hatoyama's coalition government. "I was dismissed today," Ms. Fukushima told reporters in Tokyo. "I cannot betray the people of Okinawa," she said.
10) Honduras: Lost or 'Re-founded'?
Jeremy Kryt, Huffington Post, May 26, 2010
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The Honduran Constitution is just 28-years-old, but according to many Honduran citizens, it's already out of date. The current version of the national charter was composed under the close watch of the ruthless military dictator Policarpo Paz Garcia, who - backed by the U.S. military and CIA - conducted a bloody reign of terror against the Honduran people. In 1982, as the national charter was being written, government-sponsored, paramilitary units were roaming the country to suppress all forms of political "dissidence."
Under Garcia, the paramilitary squads were responsible for the torture, kidnapping, and assassination of hundreds of teachers, union leaders, and progressive activists. Experts say the extreme political repression precluded the construction of a participatory constitution - and that problem doesn't seem to have gone away.
"We don't have a democratic process in this country. We have a military process ... We have a very powerful oligarchy that is ruling the country with the army," says internationally renowned human rights expert Dr. Juan Almendares, during an interview. Almendares - who has directed research programs at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and won awards from Oxfam and the Barbara Chester Foundation - also runs a free clinic in the Honduran capital.
Honduras, says Almendares, is now poised on the brink of the first meaningful constitutional reforms in this troubled country's history. Across the land, thousands of Honduran citizens are signing their names to petitions demanding a Constitutional Assembly - and a series of massive, nation-wide demonstrations are planned for June 28, including a peaceful march on the national Congress building in the capital of Tegucigalpa, to present the petitions and demand a national referendum on the issue.
The date of June 28, says Almendares, was chosen because it will mark the one-year anniversary of the military-backed coup that toppled democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya, who currently lives in exile in the Dominican Republic, had attempted to hold a similar, nonbinding referendum on changing the Constitution the same morning he was ousted.
According to human rights groups in Honduras, there have been 48 documented assassinations of Resistance members since the putsch last summer, with 15 coming since the inauguration of much-disputed President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, on January 28. Fifty-one percent of the Honduran electorate boycotted the presidential elections that thrust Lobo into power, and regional heavyweights like Brazil and Argentina still refuse to recognize his administration as legitimate, in part because of the militarized elections, as well as the human rights abuses that have occurred under his watch.
Those abuses have become so flagrant and troubling that even some in Washington have taken notice. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) recently journeyed to Honduras on a fact-finding trip:
"I met with numerous men, women and children - as well as with activist groups - who had suffered serious unconscionable abuses," Representative Schakowsky wrote in an e-mail. "I met with the father of Isis Obed Murillo, who was killed by the military at the airport on July 5th," Schakowsky wrote. "I met with the parents of activists who had fled the country after being harassed by officials. I heard many stories from the people there about arbitrary detentions and about the erosion of security for vulnerable communities."
Schakowsky was so concerned by what she'd seen in Honduras that in March she sent a letter, co-signed by several other high-ranking Representatives, to the U.S. State Department, urging Secretary of State Clinton to take action. But so far, the State Department remains on friendly terms with Lobo. President Obama even went so far as to congratulate Lobo - a wealthy rancher turned politician - for "restoring democratic and constitutional order in Honduras" during a recent phone conversation.
None of this sits well with Representative Schakowsky. "I was - and still am - very concerned by persistent reports of serious human rights violations in Honduras. There are still allegations that activists and opposition leaders are being targeted for harassment and abuse."
11) UN: US trade deal may hurt Colombia's poor
Brett Borkan, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 11:49
The United Nations (UN) on Tuesday urged Colombia to protect its vulnerable populations from the impact of the country's free trade agreements and the ongoing war on drugs, reports Portofolio.
The committee recommended that Colombia "considers revising the intellectual property provisions of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States in order to guarantee protection against a rise in the price of medicines, particularly for those with low incomes."
"The state must protect its poorest sectors from the negative impacts that the free trade agreements can have, such as the issue of the price of medicine," the UN's Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights announced after concluding a meeting about Colombia.
In regards to Colombia's war on drugs, the committee warned that the country's drug fumigation policy could be harmful to food products, the health of residents, and the economic livelihood of peasant farmers whose crops and lands are destroyed. The committee urged the government to ensure transparency in its fight against drugs, and promote alternative economic activities for those that cultivate coca.
The UN committee also denounced continued violence against Colombian trade unionists, and the rape and murder of women and girls by illegal armed groups and the armed forces.
12) Candidate debate focuses on displacement and tax
Kirsten Begg, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 26 MAY 2010 08:38
Forced displacement and taxation were the focus of one of the final debates between Colombian presidential candidates before the nation goes to the polls on Sunday May 30.
In the debate, candidates were asked their views on how to pay reparations to victims of forced displacement, what their policies were on taxation, and cultural policy.
Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus said that massacres were a major cause of forced displacement, and that "it will not be possible to combat displacement without eradicating that word [massacre] from the national repertoire." Mockus proposed the implementation of an alert system, in order to prevent future massacres.
Partido de la U candidate Juan Manuel Santos commented that the way to avoid forced displacement was to continue with and improve Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's policy of "democratic security."
Election front-runners Mockus and Santos clashed in their views on taxation.
Mockus reiterated his previous promise to raise taxes, stating "Taxes are needed or two reasons; firstly, the constitution. We cannot continue to slowly implement the charter's laws; and secondly, if Colombia wants to build a future it needs to invest more in science and technology and not in scraps like at the moment." The former Bogota mayor said the state must be "hard" on the rich, but also "seduce" them into investing more in the private sector.
Santos said that raising income and property taxes would spell the death for the middle class and would stunt economic growth and employment.
13) 32 human rights defenders murdered in 2009
Cameron Sumpter, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 14:58
Colombia saw the murder of 32 human rights defenders in 2009, while a further 142 faced various forms of aggression and oppression, according to a Colombian NGO dedicated to the protection of rights workers, reports Adn.
In its annual report for 2009, the Non-governmental Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders stated that 99 workers were threatened, 17 were the victims of attacks, 15 were arbitrarily arrested, three were wounded, and one was tortured.
Of all the attacks on human rights defenders, 47% were conducted by paramilitary groups, 18% by state institutions, 9% by leftist guerrillas, while 26% of the incidents were by unknown attackers, according to the report.
The total of 174 victims in 2009 was the highest recorded by the NGO since 2003.
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