Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Intercept's revelations on U.S. "diplomacy" in Honduras and Brazil (July 8, 2015)

The Intercept has two interesting pieces on U.S. "diplomacy" in Latin America -- one on insights on the 2009 Honduran coup gleaned from Hillary Clinton's recently released private e-mails, and another detailing the relevance of WikiLeaks' new release on the U.S. National Security Agency spying on Brazilian politicians and financial figures.

In 2009, when a military-civilian coup ousted democratically elected president Mel Zelaya most of the region's diplomats sought ways to return him to power and ensure Honduras' democratic continuity.

But Hillary Clinton's e-mails at the time show that she sought back-channel communications with the coup-installed interim president Roberto Micheletti through a lobbyist who had worked as a consultant to a group of Honduran businessmen who had supported the coup.

October elections held that year were widely rejected by regional diplomats, the U.N. and the Carter Center. But an e-mail from Thomas Shannon, the lead State Department negotiator for the Honduras talks lauds the polls and says it "puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position."

The Shannon emails "show what we knew all along: the U.S. wanted the elections to solidify the changes wrought by the coup," said Dan Beeton, international communications director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in The Intercept.

The piece further notes that Clinton had considerable voice in the determination of Honduras as a coup country, which would impact foreign aid to the country. An August 2009 e-mail chain with Harold Koh, then the State Department legal adviser, discussed how to deal with the foreign aid issue, which in Honduras is largely administered through the Millenium Challenge Corporation. The e-mail chain carried the subject line “Honduras Military Coup Decision,” includes an email from Koh noting that Honduras might fall under “specified legal prohibitions on assistance.” Koh wrote that Secretary Clinton, as chair of the MCC board, would have a considerable voice over the determination of Honduras as a coup country. But much of the memo is redacted and Clinton's response is not revealed in the email chain.

The second piece delves into the WikiLeaks information released this weekend on NSA spying in Brazil. The release is timely, coming just after Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited the U.S., a diplomatic mission that was postponed two years ago when the original spying news came out.

Though the Brazilian government said it was old news, The Intercept says these new revelations extend far beyond the prior ones and are likely to reinvigorate tensions. Beyond Rousseff, the new NSA target list includes some of Brazil’s most important political and financial figures, such as the Finance Ministry’s Executive Secretary; a top official with Brazil’s Central Bank; former chief of staff to the finance minister; the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s chief of economics and finance; former foreign affairs minister and ambassador to the U.S.; and Rousseff’s former chief of staff former and former finance minister under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Most notable about the list, according to The Intercept, is the predominance of officials responsible for Brazil's financial and economic matters. The Intercept explains that Brazilians are particularly sensitive to economic espionage by the U.S., both for historical reasons and due to current economic concerns.
Several Brazilian officials expressed anger over the latest revelations. Gilberto Carvalho, former chief of staff to Lula and a top aide to Rousseff, harshly denounced the spying in an interview with The Intercept. He described his reaction as "maximum indignation," declaring it a "violation of Brazilian sovereignty," which the U.S. "does not have the right to do."

News Briefs

  • Two pieces -- on in The Nation and the other at Truthout -- analyze the military ramifications of the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, an agreement between the US and the countries of the "northern triangle" of Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which was launched in early 2015, after the crisis of unaccompanied minors during the summer of 2014. The plan, which would entail $1 billion from the U.S. on top of previously existing aid programs to the three Central American governments, aims to stimulate the region's economy, but also also continues and expands the economic policies enacted through the Central American Free Trade Agreement, argues Jeff Abbot in the Truthout piece. "A key part of the plan is promoting security in the northern triangle, which has high levels of violence. The militaries of Central America, which in the last few years have gained renewed presences in security operations, have taken on another role: guaranteeing the free market." This as Guatemala faces one of the greatest political crises since the end of the internal armed conflict in 1996.
  • On a similar vein, reactionary protests in Latin America generally go against center-left governments, argues Greg Grandin at The Nation. But in Honduras and Guatemala "credible accusations of corruption are spurring mass mobilization truly popular in their class composition. In response, Washington is reacting in its usual manner to such threats: more militarization." The Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity is "really just the next stage in the "security corridor" the United States is building, running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico: a perfect machine of perpetual war."
  • Four countries supporting the Colombian peace process -- Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and Chile -- issued an appeal on yesterday for the "rapid de-escalation of the armed conflict" and for both sides to undertake confidence-building measures, reports EFE.
  • A Honduran TV station owner was gunned down in Taulabe by two men on motorcycles, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. Official figures show that nearly 15 people are murdered a day in Honduras.
  • Government-backed experts have said the former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Rios Montt, 89, is mentally incompetent. A three-judge panel must now decide if a trial set for July 23 will proceed, reports the AP. Prosecutors say Mr. Rios Montt is responsible for the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Indians killed by the army between 1982 and 1983. He was convicted in 2013, but the constitutional court overturned his 80-year sentence and ordered a new trial.
  • Argentina's Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a patient who has required life support for two decades can be allowed to die, renewing debate here over a so-called death with dignity law from 2012 that allows patients, or their relatives, to refuse life support, reports the New York Times.
  • NML Capital and other Argentina bond holdouts are harassing banks that participate in legal debt offerings by the South American nation, said Deutsche Bank AG in a letter to U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan Monday. That harassment has included abusive demands for evidence, press leaks of confidential material and misstatements to a U.S. judge, reports Bloomberg.
  • Chile's lower chamber of Congress approved a measure that would decriminalize marijuana for personal use and cultivation, reports Reuters. The bill, which must pass a second vote in the House and then a Senate vote, would allow the possession of up to 10 grammes (0.35 ounce) of cannabis and the growing of up to six plants.
  • Mexico's national human rights agency urged the army to avoid ambiguous orders, in relation to the execution of over a dozen suspected gang members last year in Tlatlaya (see last Thursday's post and Friday's briefs). Last week, the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez human rights center released a copy of military orders issued to an army squad that killed 22 suspects in June 2014. Investigations later found most of the victims were shot to death after surrendering or while unarmed. The soldiers' orders directed them to "abatir" criminals, a word almost universally understood in Mexico as meaning "kill," though officials later claimed that it can mean other things, such as knock down or humiliate, reports the AP.
  • In the midst of an economic slowdown and recession predictions, Brazil's government announced a to allow companies to reduce wages without resorting to layoffs. Employers will be able to cut the regular hours -- and wages -- of employees by up to 30 percent. The government will use a labor-stimulation fund to make up half of the workers' lost salary, reports Reuters. The measure comes amid budget cuts and changes to social security policies in an attempt to control inflation and protect the country's investment grade rating.
  • BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- launched a development bank yesterday ahead of a summit in Russia, reports the Wall Street Journal. The bank will aim to finance projects in member states and will select its first projects to finance by the end of the year.
  • Venezuela will allow Uruguay to pay off a $400 million energy debt at a 35 percent discount, reports Reuters. During the past decade's oil boom Venezuela sold oil to allied countries in the region on generous financing terms through cooperation agreements, creating billions of dollars in outstanding bills. In the midst of an economic crisis, authorities are scrambling to negotiating deals to write down those debts in exchange for cash up front. The Dominican Republic in January paid $1.93 billion to settle a $4 billion debt that accrued under the Petrocaribe energy cooperation agreement. Separately, Uruguay is set to ink a $300 million deal to ship some 265,000 tonnes of grain, dairy products and poultry to Venezuela, potentially helping ease the country's chronic shortages of consumer staples.
  • Uruguay's Junta Nacional de Drogas released a report on the impact of drug policies on the exercise of human rights around the world, as part of a contribution for the upcoming UNGASS special assembly on the subject. The current international drug control regimen is harmful for human rights, concludes the report. They have deepened health problems, social and cultural vulnerability, increased violence related to drug trafficking and broadened crimes related to arms and people trafficking -- a situation which requires a clear response from the international community. Uruguay suggests incorporating a human rights perspective to international and national drug policies including abolishing the death penalty for drug related offenses, incorporating the concept of proportional punishment, and decriminalization of possession.
  • But Uruguay's landmark marijuana legalization is stagnating, reports the Global Post. The new regulations call on authorities to to hire companies to cultivate its own marijuana, which will then be sold to the public in pharmacies, but there has been no announcement yet regarding who will be carrying out the cultivation process. President Tabaré Vasquez is not a marijuana proponent and there seems to be little progress.
  • The latest in the supposed maritime Cuba bonanza: Carnival, a cruise operator, obtained permission from U.S. authorities to run culturally-themed cruises to Cuba, which could begin next May, reports Reuters.

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