Al Giordano's Comments
September 16, 2014
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In Memoriam: Gary Webb (1955-2004)
President announces that he will be unwavering with his principles
Quito (Pichincha) – The president, Rafael Correa, who stands against a seditious attempt by some members of the National Police against the democratic and constitutional regime lead by the president, announced that despite attempts to attack the government and even him as a person, he would be unwavering with his principles.
“I'm not going to back down, if you want to come here and look for me, shoot me and the Republic will move forward, kill me, but as Pablo Neruda said, 'You can cut all the flowers but you cannot stop the Spring from coming,'” he told Radio Pública.
From the Police Hospital, where he came after being attacked during a visit to Quito Regiment # 1—after being hit by a tear gas canister—the president expressed his profound rejection of the actions taken by a sector of the police who hope to destabilize the regime based on their opposition to the vetoes announced to the Public Service Act.
According to the President, this attempt at destabilization is the result of a strategy that has been brewing for quite some time. A barrage of messages and misinformation have been given to the National Police, which today has been realized through violent actions from a conspiracy attempt.
“A while ago they came looking for a coup, because they can't win at the polls and there are compañerosof ours who do not understand that this is part of a political mission,” he said, in relation to the serious possibility of a “muerte cruzada”* with the National Congress.
He announced that he would return to Carondelet Palace when the security conditions allowed, as there is a possibility that the hospital was affected by this morning's actions.
*The constitutionally-granted power of the president to dissolve Congress and hold pending immediate elections, when there is a deadlocked Congress.
Be a Part of the Team that Keeps Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism Going Strong
By Al Giordano
Publisher, Narco News
For the past five years Benjamin Melançon – graduate of the 2004 School of Authentic Journalism – has done a heroic job managing the The Fund for Authentic Journalism, the 501c3 nonprofit organization registered in Massachusetts that supports the work of journalists at Narco News and its j-school.
Ben and his family and friends have picked up the mail, deposited the checks, kept the books, issued grants and payments, sent out hundreds of DVDs, books and other gifts and thank you notes to its donors, and for five years they’ve done it as volunteers.
Understandably, five years is a long term for such unpaid service and Ben finds himself increasingly busy with his own web development and organizing work, and has indicated a wish to retire from the position in the coming months.
Because The Fund is registered in the state of Massachusetts, that is where it must be administrated. We have many readers, supporters and friends in the Bay State from the Berkshires to Boston, from the Merrimack Valley to Southeastern Mass. And so the Fund has asked us to help seek someone already familiar with this project and its work who can spend a few hours a week as a volunteer taking over the management of the Fund.
The Fund for Authentic Journalism, founded by readers of Narco News, has a mission of getting a maximum amount of the funds that it raises directly to the work of authentic journalists. For that reason it has not rented an office nor paid staff. It can’t offer money to its next administrator, just the satisfaction of being part of an international team that is about to enter its eleventh year breaking the information blockade across the hemisphere and changing the history of journalism… and perhaps some invitations to very interesting events and the chance to meet and collaborate with talents of conscience across América and the world.
Here is the job description:
- Check the PO Box once a week (more during three or four fund appeal seasons each year). The Fund’s address – currently in Natick – can be changed to anywhere in Massachusetts. The administrator should be someone who is around most of the year and who has local help for any times when he or she is traveling.
- Keep good books of donations received (date, amount, name, address and email of donor) and of all expenditures made.
- Deposit the checks in a timely manner to the (Massachusetts) bank account of The Fund. Currently, this account is with a bank in the Natick area. Again, The Fund can change banks for the convenience of its administrator.
- Participate in periodic conference calls with The Fund’s board of directors.
- Send out “thank you” notes to those who send donations by mail.
- Issue wire transfers, PayPal payments and grants and fees by mail to journalists and vendors. (Because of the safety issues involved in the work of many journalists supported by The Fund, at times wire transfers must be made on a single day’s notice.)
- Work with The Fund’s treasurer each year as he prepares and files The Fund’s state and federal tax statements, to make sure he has the accurate information of receipts and expenditures.
- At times The Fund offers gifts to donors (DVDs, books, etcetera). The administrator takes care of shipping them to the recipients.
- Be in regular contact and available daily via email and phone to Narco News’ publisher and some other journalists supported by The Fund.
Although the work really involves just a few hours a week – sometimes not even that, depending on the season – it is work that has to be done regularly and punctually for the entire year to assure that the work of The Fund and the journalists and projects it supports comply with their missions.
It is a very important and much appreciated role in this international network. That’s why the administrator is also invited to participate in The School of Authentic Journalism in Latin America and is invited to periodic fundraising events in the United States.
If, reading this job description, you think you might be the right person at the right time in the right place (Massachusetts), please send an email to email@example.com introducing yourself.
If you know individuals already involved in The Fund or Narco News or The School of Authentic Journalism please let us know who, because The Fund’s strong preference is to find someone already “in the family,” known and trusted to us to play this vitally important role on the team. Please include your telephone number, address, and explain why you would be willing to do this job as a volunteer and whether you think you can meet each of the requirements of the job description above.
Thank you, in advance, for your generous spirit of volunteerism and commitment to the goals of The Fund for Authentic Journalism and the projects it supports (including ours). We believe that an old or new friend is out there who can do this job with all of us, and hopefully, that friend is you.
By Al Giordano
General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, who appeared on stage this week with Honduran coup “president” Roberto Michiletti, and who ordered the kidnapping and forced deportation of P resident Manuel Zelaya last Sunday, was charged with grand auto theft in 1993, Narco News has learned.
On February 2, 1993, the front page of the Tegucigalpa daily El Heraldo included this headline: “Eleven Members of the Gang of 13 Go to Prison”:
“Eleven individuals arrested for their alleged participation in the theft of 200 luxury automobiles… were sent to prison yesterday… (including) Colonel Wilfredo Leva Caborrea and Major Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, accused as alleged participants…”
(Narco News makes the document available for download by press and public here, including two interior pages of the newspaper that report on the case, each mentioning the then-major, now commander of the military coup in Honduras.)
The newspaper report further stated:
“…Major Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, connected to the theft of luxury cars in the ‘Gang of 13,’ will be imprisoned in the Central Penitentiary (PC, in its Spanish initials).”
Prior to his criminal acts, Vásquez attended the US School of the Americas in 1976 and 1984, when the school was located in Panama, but he did not graduate.
It was the same Honduran Congress that endorsed, after the fact, last Sunday’s military coup, and named Roberto Micheletti as the country's "president," that promoted this common car thief as head of the Armed Forces.
Memo to the General: Objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear...
By Al Giordano
Community Radio “Es Lo de Menos” was the first to report that the Fourth Infantry Battalion has rebelled from the military coup regime in Honduras. The radio station adds that “it seems” (“al parecer,” in the original Spanish) that the Tenth Infantry Battalion has also broken from the coup.
Rafael Alegria, leader of Via Campesina, the country’s largest social organization, one that has successfully blockaded the nation’s highways before to force government concessions, tells Alba TV:
“The popular resistance is rising up throughout the country. All the highways in the country are blockaded…. The Fourth Infantry Battallion… is no longer following the orders of Roberto Micheletti.”
Angel Alvarado of Honduras’ Popular Union Bloc tells Radio Mundial:
"Two infantry battalions of the Honduran Army have risen up against the illegitimate government of Roberto Micheletti in Honduras. They are the Fourth Infantry Battalion in the city of Tela and the Tenth Infantry Battalion in La Ceiba (the second largest city in Honduras), both located in the state of Atlántida."
(You can see Tela and La Ceiba on the map, above, along the country's northern coast.)
Meanwhile, defenders of the violent coup d’Etat now have to eat the fact that their favored regime has extended its wave of terror to the press corps, censoring all independent media in the country, including CNN and Telesur. Reuters reports:
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras has shut down television and radio stations since an army coup over the weekend, in a media blackout than has drawn condemnation from an international press freedom group.
Shortly after the Honduran military seized President Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica on Sunday, soldiers stormed a popular radio station and cut off local broadcasts of international television networks CNN en Espanol and Venezuelan-based Telesur, which is sponsored by leftist governments in South America.
A pro-Zelaya channel also was shut down.
The few television and radio stations still operating on Monday played tropical music or aired soap operas and cooking shows.
At the White House this afternoon, US President Obama reiterated his government’s non-recognition of the coup regime. According to the White House pool report by David Jackson of USA Today (obtained by Narco News via email):
Obama criticized the Honduras coup as "not legal," and said it would set a "terrible precedent" for the region. "We do not want to go back to a dark past," he said. "We always want to stand with democracy."
If Rafael Alegría - a serious man who gets serious results - says that the highways of the country are successfully blockaded, I tend to believe him. He likewise is not one to spread rumors about the Fourth Infantry Battalion without having solid information.
It seemed inevitable that once the cat is got of the bag regarding the total international rejection of the coup d'etat that military divisions would revolt and point their tanks in the opposite direction: toward the coup plotters above them. We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of a short-lived coup in Honduras.
Keep refreshing the front page of Narco News for more updates, sure to shortly come.
Update: TeleSur TV is reporting that its correspondents in Honduras, as well as those of Associated Press, have been arrested by the coup regime.
Update II: Here is a fuller text of US President Obama's statement at the aforementioned press conference:
President Zelaya was democratically elected. He had not yet completed his term. We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there. In that, we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States.
I think it's -- it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.
The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America.
We don't want to go back to a dark past. The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies. But over the last several years, I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don't always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable toward the United States. And that is a tradition that we want to continue.
So we are very clear about the fact that President Zelaya is the democratically elected president. And we will work with the regional organizations, like OAS, and with other international institutions to see if we can resolve this in a peaceful way.
(Bold text for emphasis.)
After some missteps and awkward exchanges through the media by Presidents Obama of the US and Chávez of Venezuela (and functionaries that work for each) in recent weeks, the new administration in Washington today made its first official policy statement on relations between the two countries.
During a State Department press briefing this morning in Washington by Acting Department Spokesman Robert Wood, he fielded the first question on Latin American relations in two weeks of these daily briefings. From the State Department transcript:
QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government concerned about this election, this referendum on -- in Venezuela on the 15th of February, and Chavez trying to stay in power?
MR. WOOD: Look, that's an internal matter with regard to Venezuela, and I don't have anything more to say on that.
This newly-stated respect for Venezuela's internal governance marks a clear break from previous US policy that regularly sought to meddle in the country's democratic affairs.
By Al Giordano
Mexican federal police invade Oaxaca in November 2006 (Photo D.R. John Gibler).
Felipe Calderon - with the ill-gotten title of "president" of Mexico - will meet with US president elect Obama on Monday in Washington DC. A press release from the Obama transition team announced:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - President-elect Barack Obama will meet with Mexico's President Felipe Calderón on Monday, January 12. The meeting will be in Washington, DC at the Mexican Cultural Institute. There is a long-standing tradition, since 1980, of U.S. presidents meeting with the Mexican president prior to being sworn in to underscore the important relationship between the United States and Mexico. This meeting is in keeping with that tradition.
Calderon will meet with outgoing President Bush the next day. "Calderon will also meet congressional leaders and economic experts, according to Calderon's press office in Mexico City."
The first thing that needs to be understood - even though the US media rarely if ever acknowledges it - is that in the point of view of tens of millions of Mexican citizens, Calderon lacks legitimacy as president.
I'm among the journalists and investigators that have documented - including with a 22-page cover story for New Left Review - what unquestionably was a massive electoral fraud that put Calderon in the executive seat in 2006. That wasn't merely a Florida 2000 situation of warring over a few hundred disputed votes. Mexican election authorities added to Calderon's tally or subtracted from his rival's more than 1.5 million artificial votes to rob the presidency from the popular will. This remains an open wound throughout this country of 100 million people and explains an important psychological underpinning of Calderon's inability to bring public security, economic health or democratic rule to Mexico.
The second thing that Obama and his team need to realize is that the US funded "Plan Mexico" (aka "the Merida Initiative") not only isn't working to reduce prohibition-related crime, corruption and violence, but, to the contrary, is increasing the harm done by all three. The Mexican state's supposed "crackdown" on drug trafficking didn't reduce the supply or demand for illicit drugs, but did end in 5,830 murders in 2008, more than double the 2,700 executions in 2007.
It's a very simple mathematical equation: the more money that the US gives the Calderon regime to wage a "drug war," the more deaths and other harms will plague the Mexican people. And those harms, as always, will displace more from their homes and send more crossing the border into the US. It's that simple. Anything else that could be said about the disastrous "Plan Mexico" would be mere elaboration on that point (although we'll keep elaborating and reporting the consequences, for sure).
The third thing the President-elect and his advisors need to understand is that after claiming neutrality in the US presidential election in July 2008, during the September 2008 Republican National Convention Calderon picked sides and trumpeted John McCain over Obama for president, a bizarre incident in breaking diplomatic protocol and one that demonstrates Calderon's famous lack of political savvy and smarts.
Obama probably doesn't care that Calderon praised his rival, but he should care that the Mexican head of state was inept enough to do so at a moment when most world leaders had correctly bet that Obama would win the election. It's a perfect example of what makes Calderon an unreliable and undesirable ally.
As McCain had nominated Governor Palin as vice presidential candidate, Calderon went on national talk radio in Mexico City. Here's the September 1 report from Mexico's largest daily, El Universal, translated to English:
Barely two months from the US presidential elections, president Felipe Calderon evaluated the advantages of the Democratic and Republican candidates, while warning of a possible "return to protectionism" by Mexico's neighbor to the north...
The Mexican president, in an interview on Radio Formula, said that while Democratic candidate Barack Obama enjoys important support from the Mexican community in the United States, it's Republican John McCain that better understands the reality of Mexico...
"I know that candidate Obama has great support from the Mexican and Mexican-American community, and hopefully the agenda he's proposed in immigration reform will be complied with this time... but at the same time I know that Mr. McCain understand the Mexican reality better," he said.
Calderon also expressed his worry about some references during the US campaign to modifying the North American Free Trade Agreement that Canada, the US and Mexico have shared since 1994.
"I'm worried that protectionism has returned in the United States, that canceling or modifying NAFTA is spoken of openly," he said.
Although McCain has defended the benefits of NAFTA, Obama has at times suggested the need to adjust the treaty.
This led the English-language Guadalajara Reporter to editorialize:
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon violated the unspoken, carefully tended tradition that calls for the United States and Mexico to remain neutral regarding each other's presidential elections.
In early September, Calderon made public remarks favoring John McCain over Barack Obama. On the surface, there seemed no reason for this breach of long standing political courtesy between the two neighbors...
Given that a meeting with the Mexican leader has been tradition through four previous presidents-elect, the laudable but Quixotic campaign by the mega-popular Mexican blog El Sendero del Peje (kind of the Daily Kos of Mexico and a real player on the national stage) is unlikely to dissuade Obama from showing up at the meeting. But it's very much worth informing North Americans of the kinds of passionate pro-democracy opinion that detest Calderon throughout Mexico.
The writers are correct in this statement (translated to English):
The meeting set to last between an hour and 90 minutes won't resolve absolutely any of the bilateral problems between Mexico and the United States. The only thing it can accomplish is that Calderon appears in the photo with Obama. Nothing more.
Scroll down that link, through the Spanish part, and read the suggested email to Obama in English. Here's an excerpt:
Now, you may remember vicepresident Al Gore did not want to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, another right-wing latinamerican president. Uribe is pretty much the same as Calderon. Why do you want to meet with him, then? Aren't you aware that in doing so you are merely helping HIM to try to legitimize his electoral fraud? Because, quite frankly, you are not getting anything out of this meeting. Calderon just wants to take a picture with you.
The Sendero del Peje campaign has an entertaining graphic image for that campaign with Obama holding his famous Blackberry wireless device that translates:
Write to Obama before they take away his Blackberry
Felipe Calderon wants his photo taken with Obama next Monday so he can be seen as legitimate. Everyone, send Obama emails to alert him about the kind of non-entity with which he is going to meet before the Secret Service takes away his Blackberry.
To meet or not to meet is largely a symbolic matter (and it's encouraging that the Obama transition sought to remind that the meeting is a matter of tradition, not a special initiative by the incoming president). The first real test of Obama's policy toward Mexico will come shortly after his January 20 inauguration when he appoints the next US Ambassador to succeed Texan Republican businessman-politician-millionaire Tony Garza to the helm of the Embassy on Reforma Avenue.
During his Friday press conference to announce the appointment of Leon Panetta as CIA director, a reporter asked Obama what kind of people he will be appointing to ambassadorial posts. ABC News' Jake Tapper misunderstood the question and the answer shared the questioner's false premise as if it's only a choice between a career State Department lifer or a big political donor:
The Democrat admitted that there would inevitably be some donors who end up being assigned ambassador posts. "There probably will be some," he said. "It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven't come through the ranks of the civil service."
But the president-elect said that his general inclination is to have civil service "wherever possible" serve in these posts.
"We have outstanding public servants, and I've spoken with secretary of state designee, Hillary Clinton, about the importance of rejuvenating the State Department. I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for the long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded."
Within his first year in office, former President Clinton appointed five $100,000-plus fundraisers to ambassadorships. More than two dozen of President Bush's $100,000-plus fund-raisers were appointed to ambassadorships.
Both kinds of potential ambassadors - a big money donor or a career civil servant - would be the wrong kinds of picks for US-Mexican relations in 2009. Garza fits the first category and has basically dedicated his time to greasing the trade wheels on behalf of big business, utterly absent on matters of democracy and human rights. His predecessor, Clinton-appointed Jeffrey Davidow, fit the second description (his State Department resume goes back to the 1973 US-backed coup d'etat in Santiago de Chile) and was the worst US ambassador in decades, dedicated to bolstering the most corrupt Mexican officials during his tenure.
What Obama needs in the Mexico City embassy is a high profile political figure - perhaps a former or current member of Congress - with a proven record championing human rights. (Someone like a Panetta or a Robert White, Jimmy Carter's ambassador to El Salvador who in the waning weeks prior to Ronald Reagan's inauguration exposed the assassination of four Catholic nuns in that country. Standing over the ditch they were thrown into, White reportedly said "this time, the bastards aren't going to get away with it.')
The human rights crisis in Mexico already surpasses that in El Salvador in 1980, and on a much larger scale.
In the months after the September 2006 certification of Calderon's fraudulent election, state violence against journalists and social movements has escalated vertiginously.
In October of that year New York cameraman Brad Will was assassinated in Oaxaca. The last images he filmed were of his killers shooting at him. They were members of police forces and the government in plain clothes. But under Calderon's watch, they haven't been prosecuted and instead the journalist's friends have astonishingly been charged with the crime.
In November of that year, federal police stormed into Oaxaca with a orgy of violence rounding up hundreds of dissidents and flying them to a far-away prison in the Northern Mexico state of Nayarit.
Month in, month out, the Calderon regime has since escalated the use of police and military forces to crush peaceful social movements, increasingly with the use of equipment and training funded by Washington through "Plan Mexico."
With the appointment of the next US ambassador, citizens on both sides of the border will get the first view of whether Obama's pledge to change US foreign policy to reflect its highest democratic ideals will apply to the giant country across the southern US border, or whether like Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush before him, US policy will turn a blind eye to abuses that lead to gargantuan problems on both sides of the border.
In sum, what is desperately needed is a new ambassador that, first, will prioritize monitoring the grave human rights crisis in Mexico and who will remind the Calderon regime - privately and when necessary through public statements - that cleaning up its act is the prerequisite to further US financial support. Second, it has to be somebody with a pre-existing public profile, who can command media attention and experienced to take the flak when Mexico's corrupt regime attempts counter-attack.
DemConWatch - which was the go-to source of the best info on delegate counts heading into last year's Democratic National Convention - has started a project to track ambassadorial appointments.
Starting in a couple of weeks, that chart will begin to fill up with names.
We'll be watching, too.
By Al Giordano
Imagine if elections for all 50 state governors in the United States were held on a single election day and 74 percent of those seats (or 37 out of 50 governorships) went to one political party's candidates. Imagine also that the victorious party's candidates had won 52.5 percent of all votes to just 41 percent for the opposition (the technical definition of an electoral landslide is a victory of ten percentage points or more).
If a New York Times reporter - or any reporter - then wrote the story of the election results and called it a "stinging defeat" for the victorious party, wouldn't he be laughed off of his beat?
Yet that's what happened today in the pages of the New York Times, only the story was about Sunday's state and regional elections not in the US, but, rather, in Venezuela.
The reporter, Simon Romero, led his story in the morning paper with these words:
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chávez's supporters suffered a stinging defeat in several state and municipal races on Sunday...
Here are the actual results:
Pro-Chávez candidates from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, in its Spanish initials) won in 17 of 23 contests.
And here's a handy map, with the red areas showing the states where pro-Chávez governors won, and the six blue areas won by rival candidates:
Later in the report, Romero noted that the opposition governs now in states containing only one-third of the Venezuelan populace, but forwards a spin along the lines of last spring's Democratic primary contests in the United States, claiming that that it won the states that matter, while the states where the other two-thirds of the population live apparently do not:
"These victories came in the economic and political centers of the country," said Luis Vicente León, director of Datánalisis, a polling firm here. "They represent the most important symbols in terms of cities and population."
Only in the very last paragraph of Romero's report - titled "Venezuelan Opposition Gains in Vote" - does Romero disclose: "In all, pro-Chávez candidates won 17 of the 22 states up for grabs, though some of the victories were in relatively small states in terms of population."
Virtually all other major media reported the story more factually than the Timesman Romero.
The Guardian of London: "Chavez party dominates in Venezuela regional elections."
The Christian Science Monitor: "Venezuela vote emboldens Chávez."
Even Juan Forero - Romero's predecessor as NY Times simulator-in-chief in South America, who now writes for the Washington Post - had to admit it, much as it may have hurt him to type it: "Chávez's Allies Win Big, but Opposition Secures Key Posts."
In a follow-up story later in the day, Associated Press gave hard numbers that show an eleven point victory by the sum total of pro-Chavez candidates over opposition candidates nationwide:
Chavez's gubernatorial candidates together won 52.5 percent of the popular vote on Sunday, while their leading opponents came away with 41.1 percent, according to preliminary tallies with more than 95 percent of ballots counted.
Among major United States media, only the Bloomberg wire agency shared Romero's enthusiasm for the losing side in such a stunning defeat: "Venezuela Opposition Candidates Win Caracas, 3 States."
And while Romero makes a big deal over an opposition candidate winning the mayoralty of the Caracas Municipal District, he fails to disclose that the pro-Chavez candidate won in its largest municipality, Libertador, by more than ten points. That's the borough that contains two-thirds (2,085,488) of the entire Caracas population (3,174,034), according to the 2007 census.
Perhaps the story wasn't so much that Romero got it boneheadedly wrong, but, rather, that the rest of the US media mostly got it right. It wasn't too many years ago that, frankly, most US media outlets offered Romero-type anti-Chávez spin on all stories involving Venezuela. But the rise of Internet journalism has kicked their asses enough times that they know they can't get away with it as before. So, in a way, it's heartening that the Timesman is so isolated today in serving up such distortions as news.
Romero was not totally alone today in his nostalgia for the days when the international press corps routinely lied about events in Venezuela. Phil Gunson - the disgraced British pseudo-reporter caught by this publication years ago not disclosing his conflicts of interest in reporting from the country - filed an identical spin as that of Romero in the Independent of London.
But what are these guys to do when the rest of the international press corps has finally gotten the memo: That there are free and fair elections in Venezuela, and that as in any other democracy on earth, it doesn't constitute a big story when opposition parties win maybe a quarter of the contests.
Yet even after an entire day to check his math, Romero filed a second story - titled as "analysis" - to dig his hole even deeper, in which he calls yesterday's landslide victory by the Chávez forces a "second blow" after last December's narrow defeat of Constitutional Amendments proposed by Chávez.
The man has either an idiot for an editor at the New York Times, or one that encourages such dishonesty. Or perhaps Mr. Romero thought that after reporting on the United States over the past year, this watchdog wouldn't come back to keep an eye on the US press corps in Latin America?
Here's the most interesting piece of data from Sunday's elections in Venezuela: On Sunday, the Chávez coalition won 1.3 million more votes than it had been able to garner in the December 2007 referendum, and the opposition received 300,000 fewer votes than it had gained eleven months ago. These facts demonstrate a consolidation and growth of Chávez's support over the past year, hardly a "second blow," as much as Romero might wish you to believe otherwise.
By Al Giordano
Eleven years ago, on December 22, 1997, paramilitary troops in earshot of a federal military base massacred 45 unarmed civilians - mostly women and children - as they prayed in a Church in the Mexican town of Acteal. The gunmen - every major human rights and media organization now agrees - sliced open the bellies of the pregnant women and shot the 45 Tzotzil-speaking farmers and their children at point blank range. The victims were members of a pacifist Catholic organization known as Las Abejas ("The Bees").
Bill Clinton was the president of the United States, Madeleine Albright his Secretary of State, and the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere was Jeffrey Davidow, a State Department lifer with the dubious record of having been political officer at the US Embassy in Chile during the September 1973 US-backed coup d'etat there.
For more than a week prior to the massacre, non-governmental organizations in Chiapas, Mexico, had warned the US State Department of the impending atrocity. But the deal had already been struck with the Mexican regime that in exchange for its acquiescence to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the US would turn a blind eye to all matters of human rights in Mexican territory.
The story of Acteal is not an isolated incident nor aberration. I reported on it then and have reported too many hundreds of such stories since from Mexico and across this hemisphere. I would be happy to answer anybody's questions about it and the details of US complicity in a strategy of terror against peaceful social movements in Mexico and elsewhere that, I'm sure many will agree, has been the policy of the administration of the forty-third president George W. Bush but, as some will be reluctant to accept, was also the policy of the Clinton 42, Bush 41 and Reagan 40 administrations before it.
For some, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, it does not matter or pinch their consciences what happens to subsistence level indigenous farmers in a small town in Mexico. (Nor do they want to look at the direct consequences to their own communities when millions of Mexicans over the past 14 years have streamed over the border to the United States to escape from the economic and political harms that have inflicted them since the enactment of NAFTA.) So let me please tell you another story that should hit anyone of the most minimal conscience a bit closer to home...
Nine years and many more atrocities after the Acteal massacre, on June 14 of 2006, in the next-door state of Oaxaca, Mexico, that state's despot governor Ulises Ruiz attacked a peaceful encampment of thousands of striking schoolteachers and their supporters. He sent 3,000 police in at dawn, as the protesters slept, with bullets, nightsticks and teargas canisters shot from the ground and dropped from a helicopter. It was only the latest incident in a violent and repressive chain. Only this time, the public, armed with nothing but sticks and stones and strength in numbers, regrouped and chased the police out of the city. They established their own government by popular assembly, set up locally-organized and volunteer-staffed barricades in each neighborhood, and the governor's security forces were unable to enter - although they had tried on multiple occasions - for five months after that. This publication published a book about those five months: The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, by Nancy Davies (2007, Narco News Books).
A 36-year-old Indymedia reporter by the name of Brad Will, whom I had known from my organizing days in New York, went to Oaxaca in early October 2006 to videotape the story. Responding to him via email, I had suggested that the situation had grown very dangerous - especially for any reporter not already familiar with the territory and the players on all sides - and recommended that he not go. Still, as was his prerogative, he went. On October 27, 2006, he filmed gunmen loyal to the despot governor - some of them members of police forces, but not in uniform - attacking one of the blockades and shooting their guns directly at him. He died with his camera in his hand. You can see Brad's final footage, here:
The case of Brad, a constituent from 2001 until his death of New York's Junior United States Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York), continues to provide a lurid example of the consequences of a violent and undemocratic Mexican regime and the bipartisan US policy that protects that government at all costs as long as it tows the line on trade, drug policy, and other matters.
Brad's family and friends have sought justice now for two years, but the gunmen captured on video continue to walk free, while, in an unbelievable (except that we must believe it) perversion of justice, the state recently charged - without any evidence at all - some of the protesters Brad had befriended as a journalist sympathetic to their cause with his assassination.
Some members of the New York Congressional delegation - like US Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) - have taken up the cause of seeking justice in that case.
But multiple and sustained efforts by Friends of Brad Will in New York to convince Senator Clinton to use her international bully-pulpit to help bring justice and closure to the case have gone unanswered.
A month ago, on October 22, some of them sat in front of Senator Clinton's New York office, at 780 Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan, and fasted to appeal for her assistance to her late constituent, his family and friends.
According to one report, Senator Clinton was physically present in the office on at least one of those days, but avoided responding to or speaking with those fasting out in front, much less writing the letters and making the public statements to bring justice to the case that any authentic advocate of human rights would do, especially if it involved a constituent.
There are those who claim that Senator Clinton is a "champion" of human rights, based on a solitary speech she gave in September of 1995 to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, China, because her most quoted soundbite from that speech was "women's rights are human rights."
Nobody - certainly not this correspondent - takes issue with that truth: Women's rights are human rights, as are men's rights, children's rights, minority rights, and everybody else's. But if a politician doesn't have a basic understanding of what human rights are to begin with, and has shrunk from the duty to defend them time and time again even when they have hit close to home, that politician is not going to be able and ready to extend them to any gender or demographic.
In Latin America, as everywhere, the doctrine of Human Rights, begun in the Carter administration but left to atrophy by all administrations since, walks hand in hand with any pro-democracy agenda. When human rights are deprived as part and parcel of state terror campaigns against peaceful dissidents, labor, environmental and other community organizers, the chilling effect on all free speech and freedom of association makes democracy impossible.
And that's a big part of the story in Mexico for as long as the living can remember. The same goes for Colombia and other lands, where Democratic and Republican presidents - beginning with Clinton and continued under Bush - chose multi-billion dollar US military intervention (known as "Plan Colombia") and pushed for pro-corporate trade agreements over defense of human rights. Such policies have only emboldened the state terror campaigns in both countries and led to human tragedy after human tragedy.
Undeterred by the abject failure of "Plan Colombia" to improve human rights and democracy in that country (but probably spurred on by how it has given that country's despot, President Alvaro Uribe, the tools to repress the peaceful dissidents and movements that oppose him), the Bush administration proposed, and Congress approved, "Plan Mexico" last year which is already funding a kind of Colombianization of the country next-door to the United States.
Those policies have also damaged Americans at home as companies have closed their factories in the United States and moved them to Mexico and elsewhere where the state terror campaigns keep unions from organizing and citizens from speaking out against the pollution they cause to the natural environment.
And you might say that, "the next Secretary of State will have to follow the policies of the next president." In an ideal world, that would be true. But so much happens, day in, day out, in so many lands... so many daily attacks on dissidents, community organizers, and others who dare speak and act to improve their lives... that no US president could possibly micro-manage the situation and take preemptive action on each pending atrocity from the Oval Office. That's what a State Department is for: to handle the constant communications that are necessary with other governments.
And if - as the mass media seems to agree right now - US President-elect Barack Obama is about to install someone as the next Secretary of State who has shown zero understanding of, much less passion and action for, human rights in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere (except in isolated cases where the same mass media has turned a particular case into an international cause celébre), we're going to see more of the same terrible story happen over and over again.
If you can't get somebody to act to defend human rights when she's your own local elected representative, do you really believe that such a person would begin to do so if she suddenly represented the entire country before the world?
I write these words in memory of my late good friend and labor lawyer Carlos Sánchez López (1954-2003), of Juchitán, Oaxaca, assassinated on the night of his daughter's fifteenth birthday, in August of 2003, who lived and died so that someday a change might truly come.
Please distribute widely.
Narco News to hold 8th Anniversary Benefit Party to support The Fund for Authentic Journalism this Friday, April 25th, 2008 from 6 – 9PM at Waid's Haitian Lounge, 1212 Jefferson Street in Seattle, Washington.
For reservations: http://www.authenticjournalism.org
The text of the press release appears below the jump, plus a downloadable copy you can print out.
April 20, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE