Sen. Chris Dodd Meets with Alvaro Garcia Linera
May 30, 2008, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Latin America | Tags: , , , ,

One can hope that Dodd’s words ring true and that the new administration will take a more diplomatic and neighborly policy towards Latin America.  President Evo Morales did not join in the meeting, which is not surprising given that Morales has accused the U.S. of funding the opposition, namely, the media luna autonomy movement, which many Bolivians and Latin Americans see as compromising Bolivia’s territorial integrity.

From the International Herald Tribune:

LA PAZ, Bolivia: A “change is coming” to Washington that will improve U.S. ties with Latin America, Sen. Chris Dodd said in Bolivia on Wednesday.

Dodd, a Connecticut senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, told reporters that if a Democrat wins this year’s presidential election, the United States will “spend more time thinking about our family here in the Americas.”

He met with Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera in La Paz to smooth delicate relations between the two nations, but a statement from his office said he was “disappointed” that President Evo Morales had not taken time to join them.

Bolivia is one of Latin America’s largest recipients of U.S. aid, although Washington has grown wary of its close ties to leftist governments in Venezuela and Cuba. Morales has harshly criticized U.S. policy in the region.

Dodd, who served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 1966-1968, will also visit Argentina and Ecuador. On Friday, he plans to deliver a speech in Spanish before the Andean Parliament, stressing U.S.-Latin American cooperation on security, poverty and energy initiatives, a statement from his office said.

Current U.S. policy in Latin America is too narrowly focused on democracy, trade and drug issues — which are important but alone are “insufficient for bringing about the real change that the hemisphere requires,” the statement said.

Bolivia is the world’s No. 3 producer of cocaine, after Colombia and Peru.

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Food crisis talks set to begin
May 30, 2008, 12:16 am
Filed under: Food | Tags: , ,

The third world is taking a leading role in combating the food crisis. At the forefront is Venezuela and more specifically, President Hugo Chavez, who has blamed the global crisis on the current global economic system. Venezuela has not been immune from the crisis and Chavez has accused opposition forces of hoarding food and blaming the accordant inflation on Chavez.

From the BBC:

Envoys from 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries meet on Friday to discuss the rising cost of food and draw up a united policy for the region.

The talks in Caracas, Venezuela, mark the beginning of a week of meetings on the issue, leading up to a three-day UN food crisis summit in Rome on Tuesday.

According to the World Bank, global food prices have risen by 83% over the past three years.

The lender has announced a package of food grants totalling $1.2bn (£608m).

An influential report on Thursday warned that higher food prices might be here to stay as demand from developing countries and production costs rose.

Prices would fall, but only gradually, the report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said.
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Tough Times for Olmert
May 29, 2008, 3:42 pm
Filed under: Israel | Tags: , , ,

From the International Herald Tribue:

Pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to step down increased Thursday when Tzipi Livni, his foreign minister and a member of the same political party, urged preparations for new elections.

Livni — who until now had kept silent on the high-profile corruption investigation engulfing Olmert — said their party, Kadima, was “at a point in which it must make decisions and prepare for any scenario, including early elections.”

The remarks by Livni, who is a frontrunner to succeed Olmert, seemed to be a political step designed to move Israeli politics into a post-Olmert era.

They came a day after another member of the governing coalition, Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the Labor Party, called on Olmert to step down pending the outcome of the corruption investigation.

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Venezuelan viewers call for return of RCTV
May 28, 2008, 11:46 am
Filed under: Latin America | Tags: , ,

The Canadian Press reports:

Opponents of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez are marching to demand the return of an opposition-sided television station that was booted off public airwaves this week last year.

Many are still upset by Chavez’s decision not to renew the broadcast licence of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, which had been critical of his government.

Chavez replaced the network with a state-run channel that regularly transmits pro-government propaganda.

RCTV now only airs on cable.

Chavez has repeatedly accused RCTV of violating broadcasting laws and inciting a failed coup in 2002.

RCTV executives have denied any wrongdoing.

Several thousand people marched through Venezuela’s capital Sunday, shouting anti-Chavez slogans and demanding that RCTV’s broadcast licence be returned.

Of course, the story is not that simple.  RCTV played a proactive role in the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez.  The dominant discourse within the U.S. press and the Venezuelan opposition is that the move against RCTV demonstrated that Chavez was surely moving towards authoritarianism.   Few press accounts though, mention that Chavez simply did not renew RCTV’s licence to use the public airwaves.  The company, from the beginning, was given the option of moving to cable, something which they originally refused but have now done.

For an alternative perspective, read Patrick McElwee’s article Venezuela and RCTV which was published by CounterPunch in May of last year.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has been the subject of many controversies. His critics often accuse him of laying the groundwork for dictatorship, despite the democratic credentials of his government. Chávez was democratically elected in 1998 and again in 2000 under a new constitution. He then won a recall election in 2004, which was certified by observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Chávez was re-elected last December by 63 percent of voters, a result again certified by international observers including the OAS and the European Union. Chávez has pledged to accelerate policies that have given poor Venezuelans vastly increased access to health care, education, and subsidized food, and in the last three and a half years of political stability, a remarkable 40 percent increase in the economy.

Throughout this process of increasing voter and citizen participation and electoral democracy, the Venezuelan opposition and their allies in the U.S. press have told us that authoritarianism was just around the corner. They now say it has arrived. The immediate focus of their concern is the president’s decision not to renew the broadcast license of a major television network that is openly opposed to the Chávez government. Their free speech concerns have been echoed by Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. On the other hand, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Freedom Commission, ruling out a resolution on the issue, has said the non-renewal has nothing to do with human rights.

Here are the basic facts. Rádio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) is one of the biggest television networks in Venezuela. It airs news and entertainment programs. It is also openly opposed to the government, including by supporting a military coup that briefly ousted Chávez in 2002. During the oil strike of 2002-2003, the station repeatedly called upon its viewers to come out into the street and help topple the government. As part of its continuing political campaign against the government, the station has also used false allegations, sometimes with gruesome and violent imagery, to convince its viewers that the government was responsible for such crimes as murders where there was no evidence of government involvement.

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Communism and Calumny: Arbenz and Allende

In the 21st century, political transitions are often equated with an “opening up” process and the consolidation of democracy. However, such a connotation does not hold in the case of Latin America, where democracies have been violently undermined in favor of dictatorships. In point of fact, it is not accurate to describe such events as transitions, as few of the forces that led to change were organic. Political change in Latin America has historically been more synonymous with ‘regime change’ than with the ballot box. Since the 1823 proclamation by President James Monroe that the United States would protect its interests in Latin America, Uncle Sam has at times openly but more often surreptitiously interfered in the internal affairs of Latin America. While preaching the chorus of democracy, the United States has done everything possible to undermine the institution. Nowhere is this core contradiction of U.S. foreign policy more understood than in barrios of Guatemala City and Santiago de Chile.

There has been no simpler yet deadlier tool in the American arsenal than the trumped-up accusation of communism. The two most pronounced extensions of this Cold War paradigm can be found in the 1954 overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman and the 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens. Both leaders were strong social democrats whose goals were to make their societies more just and equitable. While President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy rejected the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S.’s involvement in Guatemala and Chile was anything but neighborly and perhaps more importantly, led to the Guatemalan Civil War and the repressive rule of Augusto Pinochet.

In 1944, Guatemalan dictator Jorge Ubico was forced to resign in the face of dissatisfaction with his regime. The Junta that replaced Ubico was itself subsequently overthrown because it was unwilling to change the trajectory of Guatemalan politics. Young officers Francisco Arana, Jacobo Arbenz and Guillermo Toriello along with the strong civilian opposition wrestled control away from the multinational corporations and were poised to make Guatemala more than another banana republic, literally. They not only promised democracy, they made it a reality. Between 1944 and 1954, Guatemala experienced, first under intellectual Juan José Arévalo and than under Arbenz, “years of spring in the land of eternal tyranny”. Both “democratic spring” leaders sought to take the chains of dependency off of the Guatemalan people. The most pronounced change came under Arbenz, who was elected in 1951 with a popular mandate of almost 65 percent. Arbenz initiated the Agrarian Reform Law of 1952, which challenged the iniquitous agrarian system first established by the Spanish in 1524. The agrarian redistribution nationalized uncultivated land and gave it to an estimated 100,000 poor Guatemalan families.

Arbenz’s actions were not only seen as a political threat to the United States, but also as a challenge the feudal hegemony of United Fruit Company, than the largest land owner in the country. American foreign policy had changed dramatically with the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as two Cold War warriors emerged to take prominent positions within the new administration. John Foster Dulles replaced the more moderate Dean Acheson as Secretary of State and his older brother, Allen Dulles became the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both men were profoundly anticommunist and used the CIA as an active instrument of foreign policy, by undermining and even overthrowing leftist governments. Their first successful overthrow was against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran, who was accused of being sympathetic to communists and giving too much power to the Tudeh party. In truth, Mossadegh was a strong nationalist and was no more a communist tool of the Soviets than he was a functionary of the British. The United States was unwilling to allow another Mossadegh to rise in Latin America and as historian Stephen Rabe asserts, Secretary of State Dulles sought to expand “the Monroe Doctrine to include outlawing foreign ideologies in the American Republics.”

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Mbeki Will Send Troops to Quell Violence
May 21, 2008, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Africa, Poverty, Racism | Tags: , , , ,

The BBC reports that South Africa President Thabo Mbeki has approved the deployment of the army to quell violence against foreigners. Xenophobic violence has now plagued some of South Africa’s largest cities for more than a week. Thousands of foreigners, mostly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, have fled into refugee shelters since the violence began on May 11 in Alexandra township. Thus are, violence has left more than 20 people dead and is estimated to have driven 30,000 people from their homes. The foreigners are expectantly, as is the case in most cases of anti-immigrant sentiment, being accused of stealing jobs and perpetuating the general chaos that plagues most of the townships.

The announcement from his office came after xenophobic attacks spread outside Johannesburg to the city of Durban.

It is the first time troops are being ordered out onto the streets to quell unrest since the end of apartheid.

The violence, which began last week, has left more than 20 people dead and is estimated to have driven 30,000 people from their homes.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation says many of the people were sheltering in mosques and churches around Johannesburg.

There are believed to be between three and five million foreigners living in South Africa, most of them Zimbabweans fleeing poverty and violence at home.

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South Africa tries to Curb Xenophobic Hysteria
May 20, 2008, 7:16 am
Filed under: Africa, Poverty, Racism, South Africa | Tags: , , ,

BuaNews reports on the xenophobic violence plaguing some of South Africa’s largest cities. Thousands of foreigners, mostly from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, have fled into refugee shelters since the violence began on May 11 in Alexandra township. The foreigners are expectantly being accused of stealing jobs and perpetuating the general chaos that plagues most of the townships. The government is scrambling to curb the rise of violent attacks and President Thabo Mbeki has made a public plea for the violence to end. What is most disturbing about the current spate of xenophobic hysteria is that South Africa hails itself as a bastion of anti-racism.

Bongani Jonas, Chief of Metro Police, said law enforcement agencies have a duty to protect the lives and property of all who reside in this country.

“We have noted with great concern that the perpetrators of these attacks did not hesitate to use live ammunition against unarmed and defenceless people.

“Such acts will be met with the full might of the law”, he said.

President Thabo Mbeki has called for the violent attacks on foreign nationals residing in the country to come to an end.

Anger over unemployment and crime, which has been blamed on foreigners, has resulted in xenophobic violence erupting in the Gauteng province, leaving at least 22 people dead.

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