JFP 7/21: No choice but the UN for Palestinians
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July 21, 2011
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Lara Friedman: No choice but the UN for Palestinians
Some Palestinian initiative is almost certain to come before the U.N. in September, writes Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now in Foreign Policy. Whether people think it is a good idea or not, the Palestinians have the right to take their case to the U.N. The U.N. option doesn't represent, as some would suggest, a Palestinian betrayal of the peace process or a rejection of a negotiated resolution to the conflict. Rather, it reflects the almost universally acknowledged loss of credibility of the current negotiating effort. It reveals the Palestinians' understandable conclusion that, as things stand today, negotiations will never end the occupation or deliver statehood.
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1) Imprisoned Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti called for "millions" to take to the streets in support of a Palestinian independence bid this fall, AP reports. Barghouti called on Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as those in other countries to "peacefully march in their millions during the week of voting in the U.N." Palestinians say their first option is [a recommendation for] full recognition from the Security Council. But if the US uses its veto, they would turn to the General Assembly, where they have an assured majority, for nonmember state status.
2) Norway, host of the 1993 Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, said on Monday it was "perfectly legitimate" for Palestinians to take their case for statehood to the United Nations for voting in September, the Jerusalem Post reports. "We will consider very carefully the proposed text that's to be put forward by the Palestinians in the coming weeks," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.
3) The collective tone of Wikileaks cables between Port-au-Prince and Washington from March 2004 to June 2006 show how deeply the U.S. government was involved in Haiti's internal affairs, the Miami Herald reports. "These cables show over and over, the U.S. considered Haiti to be its ward and regardless of whomever is in power, either democratically elected or not, they expect that person to do their bidding," said Alex Dupuy, author of The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti and the International Community. "For the U.S., elections have no meaning other than to create the image that Haiti is democratically run and has a democratic government," Dupuy said.
4) Last month, John Brennan, the White House's top counterterrorism advisor, told reporters that "in the last year 'there hasn't been a single collateral death" from US drone strikes in Pakistan, writes Jonathan Manes for the ACLU. But according to a new report from the UK's award-winning Bureau of Investigative Journalism, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 strikes since August 2010. Among these, the Bureau reports that it has identified, by name, six children killed in drone strikes. US officials continue to stand by the zero-civilian casualties claim. The public has no basis to trust John Brennan's zero-civilian-casualty estimate because the government has refused to disclose what its figures are based on, or even the criteria it uses to distinguish fighters from civilians in CIA drone strikes.
5) The Pentagon is bracing for spending cuts far deeper than what it was expecting just a few weeks ago, the Washington Post reports. Military officials said they are girding for the possibility that they will have to reduce projected spending by as much as $800 billion over the next 12 years. On Monday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a plan that would shrink the Pentagon's planned budgets by $1 trillion over the next decade. Cuts of $1 trillion over 10 years could be absorbed relatively easily, said Gordon Adams, who oversaw national-security budgets for the Clinton White House. A reduction of $1 trillion would represent a much smaller-percentage decline in defense spending than what the Pentagon encountered at the end of the Cold War, when its budget declined by 36 percent between 1985 and 1998, Adams said.
6) President Obama will delay sending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress until lawmakers return from an August recess as a dispute with Republicans over a worker-aid program remains unresolved, Bloomberg reports.
7) Writing in Time Magazine, former CIA officer Robert Baer says the reaction to his speculation that Israel would attack Iran in September has been way overblown. He says he has no inside information to back his interpretation of former Israeli security officials' warnings that Netanyahu is crazy, and notes that it is not necessarily unusual for there to be a "warning order" at the Pentagon to prepare for a conflict with Iran; there are warning orders all the time.
8) The European Union has denounced Israeli plans to build hundreds of new apartments in two Jewish West Bank settlements, VOA News reports. Israel announced Monday that it would soon issue tenders for the construction of 336 apartments in the West Bank settlements of Karnei Shomron and Betar Illit. Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, VOA notes.
9) U.S. diplomatic cables released from Wikileaks make it clearer than ever that foreign troops occupying Haiti for more than seven years have no legitimate reason to be there and that this is a U.S. occupation, writes Mark Weisbrot in Folha de Sao Paulo. Brazil is not an empire like the United States and has no reason to be a junior partner to one, Weisbrot writes. It is long past time for Brazil to get its troops out of Haiti, he concludes.
10) Some Mexicans being arrested in the country's "drug war" are disappearing without a trace, Inter Press Service reports. Other "disappearances" are the result of criminal gangs.
The National Human Rights Commission reported in April that it had received 5,397 reports of people who have gone missing since the start of the Calderón administration, and that nearly 9,000 dead bodies have never been identified. But NGOs say the actual number of victims of forced disappearance could be as high as 18,000.
1) Jailed Palestinian leader asks millions to protest
Aron Heller, Associated Press, July 20, 2011
Ramallah, West Bank - An imprisoned Palestinian uprising leader held by Israel called Wednesday for "millions" of people to take to the streets in support of a Palestinian independence bid this fall - a scenario that Israeli officials warn could spin into a new wave of violence.
With peace talks stalled since 2008, the Palestinians have said they will instead ask the United Nations to recognize their state during the General Assembly session in September.
[Marwan] Barghouti, the most prominent Palestinian prisoner held by Israel and a potential future presidential candidate, dictated the message to his lawyers during a recent visit to his cell, according to his wife Fadwa. It was published in Palestinian newspapers, and a copy was sent to The Associated Press.
He called on Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as those in other countries to "peacefully march in their millions during the week of voting in the U.N."
Barghouti said the sight of protesters waving the black, red, green and white Palestinian flag worldwide would strengthen the Palestinian cause.
Palestinians say their first option is full recognition from the Security Council, but the U.S. is likely to veto that. Then they would turn to the General Assembly, where they have an assured majority, for nonmember state status.
The vote would be largely symbolic, but the Palestinians believe an international endorsement would put heavy pressure on Israel to withdraw from territories claimed by the Palestinians - the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
At a briefing in Ramallah Wednesday, Palestinian U.N. envoy Riad Mansour said the efforts at the U.N. should be seen as part of a step-by-step process toward gaining independence from Israeli occupation. "There are no silver bullets. We know the process of our struggle to independence. We accumulate points on a long journey to achieve independence," he said.
2) Abbas: We'll go to UN General Assembly if US uses veto
On European tour, Palestinian Authority president lays out contingency plan in case Security Council resolution is vetoed.
Khaled Abu Toameh, Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, 07/19/2011 08:56 http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=229998
Palestinians are waiting for confirmation from the United States whether it will use its veto power at the United Nations Security Council this September when the Palestinian Authority is scheduled to request recognition for an independent state, Israel Radio reported Tuesday.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, currently in Norway, said that Palestinians would go to the UN General Assembly if any Security Council member vetoes the state bid.
Abbas echoed statements made by PA negotiator Saeb Erekat earlier this week.
"This is a legal, political and moral right," Erekat said. "If the US uses the veto against our request, we will return to the UN with a request to upgrade the status of the Palestinian state to non-member. Afterward, we will go back to the Security Council once and twice and three times to ask for full membership."
Erekat said that Abbas, who is currently touring a number of EU countries, would ask Norway and Spain to recognize a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines. "President Abbas is determined to go to the UN," said Erekat, who is accompanying Abbas.
Norway, host of the 1993 Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, said on Monday it was "perfectly legitimate" for Palestinians to take their case for statehood to the United Nations for voting in September.
"We will consider very carefully the proposed text that's to be put forward by the Palestinians in the coming weeks," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, with Abbas beside him at a press conference.
"Norway believes it is perfectly legitimate for the Palestinian president to turn to the United Nations with such proposals," Stoere said, adding that continued negotiations with Israel will be required in any case.
3) WikiLeaks cables show US calling shots in Haiti
Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, Jul. 21, 2011
A month before a newly elected Haitian President René Préval was to assume office in 2006, frustrated U.S. officials found themselves in a diplomatic tussle with Haiti's interim government over returning criminals to the country.
Nine months earlier, the U.S. had unofficially halted deportations amid concerns that deportees were behind a wave of kidnappings and violence. With presidential elections over, and the security situation somewhat improved, U.S. officials wanted the program resumed.
Instead of finding the supportive ally it had on countless issues since South Floridian Gerard Latortue was plucked from retirement and installed as prime minister, the U.S. found a resisting partner.
It was one of the few times that Latortue, installed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced from power, attempted to stand up to Haiti's most powerful ally, according to confidential cables obtained by WikiLeaks and shared with McClatchy newspapers.
The collective tone of the cables between Port-au-Prince and Washington during the interim government's two-year rule from March 2004 to June 2006, show how deeply the U.S. government was involved in Haiti's internal affairs. They also illustrate how Latortue relied on the U.S.'s top envoys in Port-au-Prince for counsel and support, even as his government broke promises and commitments, such as on-time presidential and legislative elections, the release of Aristide's former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and the rapid resumption of deportations.
"These cables show over and over, the U.S. considered Haiti to be its ward and regardless of whomever is in power, either democratically elected or not, they expect that person to do their bidding," said Alex Dupuy, author of The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti and the International Community.
The role of the U.S. in Haiti's internal affairs has long been a matter of debate among Haiti watchers and Haitians, who questioned their country's sovereignty after the international community's role in the recently concluded fraud-plagued, controversial presidential and legislative elections. After the Nov. 28 first round, the U.S. government revoked - and eventually returned - visas of Préval loyalists as part of its pressure tactics to get the former president to replace his party's candidate, Jude Célestin, from the runoff in favor of singer Michel Martelly.
Martelly eventually won the presidency. But two months in office, he's struggling to install a prime minister. His selection of Bernard Gousse, a lawyer who served as minister of justice and public security in the interim government, has reignited debate about the Latortue government. The cables show that U.S. and U.N. diplomats were frustrated over Gousse's poor handling of security, and lack of judicial and police reforms.
Dupuy and other Haiti observers say the cables serve as a warning for future Haiti governments. The U.S. will continue to be "an invisible and influential" member of the government of Haiti until the crisis-prone nation gets its political, social and economic acts together.
"For the U.S., elections have no meaning other than to create the image that Haiti is democratically run and has a democratic government. But that doesn't mean that with democracy comes autonomy," Dupuy said. "As long as they think they have someone they can control, they will support them."
One area where the U.S. did not get its way, was in its race against death to get Neptune released before Préval came into office.
Brian Concannon Jr., a human rights lawyer who worked on the Neptune case and that of imprisoned activist Miami priest the Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, said the cables show that the "U.S. concerns were limited to the public relations effects of their deaths in custody, not the fact that their imprisonment was illegal."
Haitian courts later determined that the detentions were without merit. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a similar ruling in Neptune's case.
Concannon said that most of the U.S. frustration surfaced because Latortue's government either failed to follow orders or took actions that risked embarrassing the U.S.
4) Civilian Deaths from CIA Drone Strikes: Zero or Dozens?
Jonathan Manes, ACLU, Jul 19th, 2011
For well over a year now, the ACLU has been urging the government to level with the public about the number of civilians that are being killed in its drone strike/targeted killing operations. The government has been tight-lipped - refusing even to confirm or deny the existence of any records relating to civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes. Last month, however, John Brennan, the White House's top counterterrorism advisor broke this silence, telling reporters that "in the last year 'there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop.'"
Zero civilian casualties - during a period when there were more than 100 CIA drone strikes - sounded almost too good to be true. As it turns out, it was. According to a new report from the UK's award-winning Bureau of Investigative Journalism, released last night, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 strikes since August 2010. Among these, the Bureau reports that it has identified, by name, six children killed in drone strikes. More civilians are likely to have been killed in an additional 15 strikes for which precise information is not available.
In response to queries from the Bureau, a senior official stood by Brennan's zero-civilian casualties claim and insisted that "the most accurate information on counter-terror operations resides with the United States." The trouble is that United States refuses to share its information - even basic information - with the public.
Indeed, it is absurd that senior government officials would claim that there have been no civilian casualties in drone strikes in Pakistan, and at the same time refuse to confirm or deny the existence of civilian casualty data in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act request. This kind of selective disclosure not only deprives the public of basic information about the human cost of the government's actions, but it also undermines the credibility of the government's statements. The public has no basis to trust John Brennan's zero-civilian-casualty estimate because the government has refused to disclose what its figures are based on, or even the criteria it uses to distinguish fighters from civilians in CIA drone strikes.
The public debate on drone strikes is severely hobbled by the government's failure to provide basic information not just about the number of innocent civilians killed, but also about the legal criteria that its uses in conducting targeted drone killings, and the internal accountability measures that are in place to ensure that strikes - especially those conducted by the CIA - comply with the law.
Outside groups like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), and the New America Foundation have done admirable work attempting to fill this void. But it is emphatically the government's obligation to provide an accounting to the public when it uses military force abroad. The government continues to shirk this obligation. And reports like the Bureau's starkly demonstrate that "trust us" just doesn't cut it when it comes to the wisdom and ethics of military action.
5) Pentagon braces for much deeper military spending cuts as part of debt deal
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, July 20
The Pentagon is bracing for spending cuts far deeper than what it was expecting just a few weeks ago, including the possible elimination of an aircraft carrier group and other weapons programs, as an increasing number of lawmakers float proposals for slashing the once-sacrosanct defense budget.
Defense officials have been warning for months that the Pentagon must prepare for a new era of austerity after a long period of growth that has swelled military spending to its highest level, adjusted for inflation, since World War II.
But as lawmakers and the White House move closer to a grand bargain that could reshape the country's fiscal priorities, Pentagon budget planners are scrambling to keep up. Military officials said they are girding for the possibility that they will have to reduce projected spending by as much as $800 billion over the next 12 years.
That's twice the worst-case forecast they confronted as recently as April, when President Obama warned his administration that it might have to cut $400 billion from its national-security budgets over the same time frame.
That has opened the door to internal discussion on whether the Pentagon will have to revisit several high-profile weapons programs that until recently were considered safe.
The Navy, for instance, is feeling pressure to cancel its next-generation ballistic-missile submarine and to reduce its fleet of 11 aircraft carriers. The Air Force is facing renewed doubts about its futuristic long-range bomber. And the Army is worried that it will have to shrink the size of its active-duty force even further; the number of soldiers is already planned to drop from 569,000 to 520,000 over the next five years.
In the past, the Pentagon could count on strong support for ever-rising budgets from Republicans and conservative Democrats. But that has changed rapidly; even some GOP leaders are now calling for once-unthinkable reductions in military spending.
On Monday, for example, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a plan that would shrink the Pentagon's planned budgets by $1 trillion over the next decade. Other Republicans, while not as ready to cut military spending that deeply, say it's more important to avoid tax hikes as they look for solutions to the nation's fiscal ills.
In January, Gates tried again to deflect fiscal pressures by ordering the Pentagon to cut $78 billion in projected spending over five years. But that figure was soon dwarfed by Obama's directive in April to identify $400 billion more in possible cuts over 12 years.
While those may sound like big numbers, some analysts said they represent a reduction in projected spending only and that the Pentagon's budget would actually continue to grow slightly, about at the rate of inflation.
Even cuts of $1 trillion over 10 years could be absorbed relatively easily, said Gordon Adams, who oversaw national-security budgets for the Clinton White House and is now a professor at American University.
While a reduction of $1 trillion would be significant, he said, it would represent a much smaller-percentage decline in defense spending than what the Pentagon encountered at the end of the Cold War, when its budget declined by 36 percent between 1985 and 1998.
6) Free-Trade Agreements Said to Be Delayed by Obama Amid Worker-Aid Dispute
Mark Drajem and Eric Martin, Bloomberg, Jul 20, 2011 4:36 PM CT http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-20/free-trade-agreements-said-to-be-delayed-by-obama-amid-worker-aid-dispute.html
President Barack Obama will delay sending free-trade agreements to Congress until lawmakers return from an August recess as a dispute with Republicans over a worker-aid program remains unresolved, according to people familiar with the decision.
Approval of the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, reached under President George W. Bush, stalled last month after Republicans opposed linking them to an aid program for workers hurt by global competition, called Trade Adjustment Assistance.
7) Former CIA Man: Don't Bet on Israel's Bombing Iran on My Speculation!
Robert Baer, Time Magazine, Thursday, Jul. 21, 2011
[Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer, is TIME.com's intelligence columnist.]
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I wonder what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had first discussed them on talk radio. Having found myself at the center of a bizarre series of stories claiming that Israel is planning to attack Iran in September as a result of some speculative answers to a talk-show host's questions, I think I now know.
Last week, my friend Ian Masters, who hosts the Los Angeles talk-show "Background Briefing", called me up to talk about the Arab spring, and especially what would happen if Israel were to attack Iran. He was struck by the comments of recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan, saying that an increasingly paranoid and isolated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering launching a reckless attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and doing that soon. Would an Israeli strike put a spike in the Arab spring? That was unknowable, I said, but the resulting crisis would certainly give repressive regimes the excuse to crack down a lot harder on the street.
On air, we got into it with Syria, but then quickly moved to Dagan's comments. I noted there have been other recently retired senior Israeli security officials who'd said much the same thing, including the well-respected chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. So far so good, but, as these things go on radio, fact quickly turned to speculation. I offered that Israelis of this stature don't wash dirty laundry in public unless there's a serious problem, and therefore that I doubted that these comments were all part of some grand, calculated bluff to intimidate the Iranians to give up their nuclear program under threat of being bombed.
Warming to the subject, I chattered on about how I'd heard there was a "warning order" at the Pentagon to prepare for a conflict with Iran. I was about to add that that this was not unusual; there are warning orders all the time, and it could have nothing to do with Israeli or anything it was or wasn't planning for Iran. (Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, after all, is accusing Iran of being behind the sharp uptick in deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.) But time was short, and the host needed to finish up for the next guest.
This was a wide-ranging speculative conversation on a local radio station, two like minds kibitzing, as media pundits so often do, with no inside information to back our interpretations of the significance of the flood of former senior Israeli security officials warning that Netanyahu is crazy and likely to do something rash. "If I was forced to bet," I ventured, "I'd say we're going to have some sort of conflict in the next couple of months, unless this is all just a masterful bluff - which I can't believe the Iranians would succumb to - I think the chances of it being a bluff are remote." Not exactly claiming to know any more than any other tea-leaf reader.
And when Masters asked me when I thought this hypothetical attack might hypothetically occur, I blithely suggested September. I was only adding two plus two: a September attack would allow Netanyahu to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and wreck plans for a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood, which is slated for September. I would have added that in the Middle East, two plus two rarely adds up to four. But I was definitely out of time.
When I hung up the phone, I was sure Masters had lost more than a few listeners. After all, what I'd said was a tedious rehash of various media reports. I would have forgotten it altogether were it not for the blogosphere's version of a Pacific hurricane. I don't know where it started, but soon the choice bits of our conversation were being rebroadcast as a danger signal flashing bright red: "Former CIA Official: Israel Will Bomb Iran in September," read the headline in the Huffington Post.
The Huffpo's headline sparked a frenzy in Middle Eastern media outlets ranging from Israel's Jerusalem Post and Haaretz to Hizballah's TV station al-Manar. Their reports implied that I was some sort of unimpeachable authority, talking with the certainly of an insider looped into the plans and intentions of the key decision-makers. And then came the hate mail. One former State Department official wrote that my comments were all the proof he needed to know that I'd "gone rogue." A well-known pundit called me a loose cannon. By Monday, the former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley started tweeting that I didn't know what I was talking about. His tweets also made front-page news in Israel.
Crowley is right about me speculating about things I don't know a lot about. (Isn't that what commentators do more often than not?)
What I am now certain of, however, is that my speculative wandering accidentally kicked a hidden hornets' nest. For all I know, maybe there really is an attack planned for September. Or, more likely, the problem is that it's July, it's hot, and everyone's bored of the Murdoch stuff.
8) EU Denounces Israeli Plans for New Settlement Homes
VOA News, July 20, 2011
The European Union has denounced Israeli plans to build hundreds of new apartments in two Jewish West Bank settlements, saying it is "deeply disappointed" in a move that threatens regional peace efforts.
The EU said Tuesday that such actions run counter to repeated efforts by the international community to achieve a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel announced Monday that it would soon issue tenders for the construction of 336 apartments in the West Bank settlements of Karnei Shomron and Betar Illit.
Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem - areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War - are considered illegal under international law. A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated that contention on Tuesday.
9) Brazil, MINUSTAH, Need a Timetable for Withdrawal from Haiti
Mark Weisbrot, Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), July 21, 2011
U.S. diplomatic cables now released from Wikileaks make it clearer than ever before that foreign troops occupying Haiti for more than seven years have no legitimate reason to be there; that this a U.S. occupation, as much as in Iraq or Afghanistan; that it is part of a decades-long U.S. strategy to deny Haitians the right to democracy and self-determination; and that the Latin American governments supplying troops – including Brazil – are getting tired of participating.
One leaked U.S. document shows how the United States tried to force Haiti to reject $100 million in aid per year – the equivalent of 50 billion reais in Brazil's economy – because it came from Venezuela. Because Haiti's president, Préval, understandably refused to do this, the U.S. government turned against him. As a result, Washington reversed the results of Haiti's first round presidential election in November 2010, to eliminate Préval's favored candidate from the second round. This was done through manipulation of the Organization of American States (OAS), and through open threats to cut off post-earthquake aid to the desperately poor country if they did not accept the change of results. All of this is well-documented.
The UN troops were brought to Haiti to occupy the country after the United States organized the overthrow of Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, for the second time, in 2004. Some 4,000 Haitians were targeted and killed in the aftermath of the coup, and officials of the constitutional government jailed while the UN troops "kept order." Many more would perish after the earthquake because Haiti's public infrastructure was crippled during the four-year international aid cutoff that Washington organized to topple the elected government.
Another leaked document shows how Edmund Mulet, then head of the UN mission (MINUSTAH), worried that Aristide might regain his influence, and recommended that criminal charges be filed against him. Mulet has been openly partisan in interfering in Haiti's politics, and dismissed Haitians who protested the UN mission as "enemies." This is an incredibly arrogant posture considering that Haitians were angry about the mission's bringing cholera to Haiti, which has now infected 380,000 Haitians and killed 5,800. If MINUSTAH were a private entity, it would be facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits and possibly criminal prosecution for its horrific negligence in polluting Haiti's water supply with this deadly bacteria. Ironically, the $850 million dollar annual cost of MINUSTAH is more than nine times what the UN has raised to fight the cholera epidemic.
Brazil is not an empire like the United States and has no reason to be a junior partner to one, especially in such an ugly and brutal venture. It goes against everything that Lula, Dilma, and the Workers' Party stand for. It eviscerates Brazil's potential for moral leadership in the world – which Brazil has shown in many areas, since the historic changes initiated under Lula's administration. It is long past time for Brazil to get its troops out of Haiti.
10) The "Disappeared" - New Face of Mexico's Drug War
Daniela Pastrana, Inter Press Service, Jul 19
Monterrey, Mexico - Chess player Roberto Galván, 33, was detained Jan. 25 by the police in the northeast Mexican state of Nuevo León as he sat on a bench in the central square of General Terán, a town 100 km from Monterrey. No one has seen him since.
The police did not register the arrest, which many people witnessed, and only admitted that they had detained him after Galván's father pressured them. But they said that after he was questioned – although no reason for the questioning has been given – they dropped him off at a bus station.
"The only thing that is clear is that since the Nuevo León traffic police detained him, my son has been missing," the father, who is also named Roberto Galván, told IPS.
Something similar happened to the family of Jeiu Abraham Sepúlveda, 24, who was taken into custody by the municipal police on Nov. 12, 2010 for committing a parking violation on a street in Monterrey, the state's industrial capital.
When his wife called his cell-phone, Sepúlveda said he was being held at a municipal police station and that they would not let him make phone calls. He never answered his phone again.
His family spent three days visiting police stations, until a municipal police chief informed them that federal agents had handed him over to the navy. A video recording confirmed that the day he was arrested, Sepúlveda left the station in handcuffs, escorted by the federal police.
Only then did the police and navy admit that he had been detained. But they claimed he was released later that day, and left in a taxi.
Sepúlveda worked for a construction company, and had a five-month-old daughter.
"Why did they take him to the station instead of giving him a fine?" asks Verónica Sepúlveda, his older sister. "Why wasn't he turned over to the judge? Why was he taken to naval installations? Why did the federal police who took him tell our lawyer a few days later that he was ok? Why isn't there any record of the detention anywhere?
"I feel furious and impotent; if they're supposed to be the ones protecting us, then who do I have to watch out for?" asks his sister, whose main focus in life has become the search for her brother. "They didn't just kidnap him, they kidnapped an entire family. We are a family of eight brothers and sisters, and we only get together now to talk about the same thing," she tells IPS disconsolately.
The issue of forced displacement has been put on the public agenda by the Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity led by writer Javier Sicilia, which is opposed to the militarisation of the fight against the drug cartels declared by conservative President Felipe Calderón shortly after he took office in December 2006.
There are no official figures on this aspect of the spiralling violence in Mexico. The only institution that gives a clue to its scope is the National Human Rights Commission, an independent government body, which reported in April that it had received 5,397 reports of people who have gone missing since the start of the Calderón administration, and that nearly 9,000 dead bodies have never been identified.
But non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say the actual number of victims of forced disappearance could be as high as 18,000.
Many disappearances occur in front of witnesses. Hooded, armed men seize the victims from their homes or on the street. In some of the cases, the missing person has been taken away by the police, the army or the navy.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances stated in a preliminary report published Mar. 31 that more than 3,000 people were possible victims of involuntary disappearance since 2006 in Mexico
The Working Group asked the government to create a database and protocol for the search for missing persons.
An NGOs report to the Working Group states that unlike in the past, the people who go missing these days in Mexico are not social or political activists, but are suspected by government security forces of belonging to criminal organisations, or were caught up in the middle of military or police operations and subsequently disappeared.
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