Tuesday, July 27, 2004

More on genocide

Another U.S. commentator, Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive, dares to break ranks with the human rights movement's orthodox response to the dismissal of genocide charges in Mexico, in Tuesday's Christian Science Monitor report:
"The decision to base this case on genocide seems to be a very dangerous legal style.  It can be called wildly ambitious or downright irresponsible."

Salvador "reups" for Iraq

This has been in the news here, but finally it took a news release from the Armed Forces Information Service for this to make it to the web:

El Salvador to Continue Iraq Deployment
By Jim GaramoneAmerican Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2004 – El Salvador has "reupped" and will continue its deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, DoD officials said today.

El Salvador has had infantry and special forces personnel in Iraq since August 2003. The unit is part of the Multinational Division Central/South.

El Salvador is actually increasing its commitment. The country is sending 380 soldiers to Iraq, up from 360. "Given the size of the country and the size of the armed forces, this is a significant commitment," said Roger Pardo-Maurer, the deputy assistant defense secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. [This is true--the Philippines, for example, a country 12 times the population of El Salvador, only had had 50 troops there until their pull-out last week.]

El Salvadoran troops first went to Iraq as part of a Central American battalion. Troops from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic were part of the Spanish-led brigade. [But they all left.] The Salvadoran troops provided security in the city of Najaf. "They performed 'shrine security,'" Pardo-Maurer said. [I thought this was supposed to have been a humanitarian mission?]

It was there that they distinguished themselves. In early April, the illegal militia of Muqtada al Sadr attacked a 16-member El Salvadoran squad. The Salvadoran troops fought until they ran out of ammunition and then fought with knives, said Pardo-Maurer. They held on until coalition forces broke through. One soldier was killed and several wounded in the hand-to-hand fighting. "They are very high-quality soldiers," he said. [The war stories grow wilder as the months go on...]

The troops now work with U.S. forces in the area, and will probably stay in the same location for the next deployment. [That's not what the press here has reported--rather that they would move to a safer location.]

Twenty years ago, El Salvador was going through its own version of hell. The country was wrecked by a civil war. El Salvador is now a democracy and has adopted a free trade policy. [Nice to see an implicit admission that democracy and free trade are not exactly the same thing.] The military is under civilian control. "Now the country is an exporter of security," Pardo-Maurer said.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Mexican farce

"The irony is by that charging Echeverría with genocide, he may have ensured impunity.  The justice system in Mexico has a theatrical dimension to it, and the performance of the special prosecutor is increasingly looking like tragedy disguised as farce."

     ---George Vickers, Latin America director at the Open Society Institute in Washington, quoted in today's New York Times, upon learning that a judge threw out the genocide charge against former Mexican President Echeverría.  The charge was thrown out under the argument that it had passed the 30 year statute of limitations, but others noted that the murders also didn't logically qualify as "genocide." Both the Times and the Post noted that analysts were skeptical the charge would stick, but only George (among U.S. commentators) dared to tell it like he saw it. 

Saturday, July 24, 2004

"Genocide" in Mexico?

Josh Marshall has a valid point when he questions the charge of "genocide" by Mexican prosecutors in the case of the former President Luis Echeverría, indicted for the killing of 25-30 student protesters in 1971.

Is this genocide?  Eric Olson of Amnesty International doubts it, but goes on to say that
"This is uncharted territory in Mexico, but I think the prosecutor has taken a bold step," Olson said. "This could help clear up a real tragedy in Mexico's past and lend some credibility to Mexican institutions that are bankrupt of any credibility at this time. And I think there is a glimmer of hope that Mexican prosecutors and judges will do the right thing." 
Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch is quoted in the New York Times --faithfully reflecting the HRW press release from a few days ago--as applauding these indictments for "achieving the unthinkable." 

But if the genocide charge really doesn't apply, how can credibility be restored to the judicial system?  It almost seems like a cynical exercise.  Indeed, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser is quoted in the Washington Post story as seeming to agree that, "if the basis of the prosecution is not firm, it could be the beginning of a horrible time. It could lead to a lot of political revenge."
I'm all for holding anyone and everyone accountable for past abuses, especially elected officials, but it's hard to see how this could amount to anything other than a pyrrhic victory for the human rights movement. 

On further investigation, i.e., reading the latest HRW report on Mexico and the special prosecutor's office, I discovered how complex the issue is.  Turns out that one obstacle to prosecution is that the statute of limitations might apply to these crimes....unless they can be categorized as "crimes against humanity," for which international obligations override any national statutory limitations.  

However, crimes against humanity--the highest charge that HRW even mentioned in its report--is still not the same as genocide.  According to M. Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law and Director of the International Criminal Justice and Weapons Control Center at DePaul University in Chicago: 
To some extent, crimes against humanity overlap with genocide and war crimes. But crimes against humanity are distinguishable from genocide in that they do not require an intent to "destroy in whole or in part," as cited in the 1948 Genocide Convention, but only target a given group and carry out a policy of "widespread or systematic" violations. Crimes against humanity are also distinguishable from war crimes in that they not only apply in the context of war-they apply in times of war and peace.
Another possibility is that, as can happen in the U.S., a judge could see fit to find Echeverría guilty of a lesser charge, should he find that genocide does not apply.  But because of the statute of limitations argument, the only likely lesser charge seems to be that of "crimes against humanity" as defined by international law.

It would be nice to have this clarified, but until then, these are the musings of this non-lawyer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The costs of war

The New York Times reported last Sunday that "10 soldiers age 50 or older have died in the Iraq war,"
some of medical ailments that might have excluded them from earlier conflicts, others under fire in the heat of battle. That is a small percentage of the nearly 900 American service members who have died since the Iraq war began, but it is 10 times the percentage of men in that age group who died in Vietnam. It is nearly as many as those of that age who died in the entire Korean War.
That was sobering news. Then I read David Baum's excellent piece in the New Yorker about the mental health issues of soldiers in Iraq, how the military doesn't entirely want to deal with them, and yet how the Army recently released a new study "which found that roughly sixteen per cent of Iraq veterans suffer from P.T.S.D. or depression; of these, fewer than forty per cent have sought professional help."

So when I stumbled across the news that John Wicks, a 68-year-old psychiatrist, is being deployed to Iraq, I felt both shock, and awe....and respect.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Why Iraq should be more like El Salvador

Former U.S. envoy to El Salvador Pete Romero (actually, he never made to become a full-fledged ambassador here, due to US domestic opposition to his appointment over his negative role in the Jesuit case) writes today in the Miami Herald about how it's too bad El Salvador was not more of a model for the U.S. role in Iraq.  Notably, the UN should have been allowed to take the lead.
He writes that "El Salvador is arguably the most successful peacemaking, peacekeeping and democratic institution-building operation in the history of the United Nations."
Nice thought, but Bill Stanley and I noted a decade ago how and why the UN role in El Salvador was carried out "under the best of circumstances" and would not likely be repeated elsewhere.  But I shouldn't complain.  Romero says all of the right things in criticizing the US administration.  Makes him almost sound like a Democrat, rather than the loyal public servant to Republican administrations that he was throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Get a load of this: audio blogging!

this is an audio post - click to play
This could actually revolutionize blogging, or could it?  Say I'm stuck in the middle of a big demonstration (unlikely), or just witnessed something really amazing (rarely happens), I could use my cell to phone in a quick eyewitness report.  This could be interesting....

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Rethinking groupthink

Barbara Ehrenreich says in her column in the New York Times today that we shouldn't be surprised by the Senate Intelligence Committee's conclusion that "groupthink" -- which she notes is as American as apple pie and prisoner abuse -- was the reason for the war in Iraq:

Our standardized-test-driven schools reward the right answer, not the unsettling question. Our corporate culture prides itself on individualism, but it's the "team player" with the fixed smile who gets to be employee of the month. In our political culture, the most crushing rebuke is to call someone "out of step with the American people." Zip your lips, is the universal message, and get with the program.
After noting the shunning of various whistleblowers related to U.S. foreign policy, she ends by quoting political scientist Fred Alford on the issue:

"We need to understand in this `land of the free and home of the brave' that most people are scared to death. About 50 percent of all whistle-blowers lose their jobs, about half of those lose their homes, and half of those people lose their families."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Sin necesidad de traducción

More news on Bush immigration reticence

In light of Salvadoran President Tony Saca's failure to get movement from Bush on temporary protected status for Salvadorans in the U.S. on Monday, this article today from the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. The administration and the Republican leadership in both houses are reluctant to bring up legislation that would help farm workers establish legal residency.

This is actually good news for the Democrats, handing them a useful issue for Latino voters, and serving up on a silver platter key legislation for any future Democrat in the White House.

My handy-dandy excerpt follows:

The turn of events is surprising given the strong bipartisan support for the measure and the close attention both parties are paying to Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing minority population and a potential rich source of votes in Southwestern swing states this year.

As many as 63 senators -- including 26 Republicans and a dozen committee chairmen -- are sponsors of the bill, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, told a Hispanic audience in Phoenix recently that he would sign the legislation within minutes, if elected president.

But the White House is skittish, fearful that the bill comes too close to granting amnesty to illegal aliens.

...From the United Farm Workers union to the traditionally conservative American Farm Bureau, old adversaries back the compromise. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, derides it as a "Faustian bargain."

...Agriculture interests clearly have a major political stake in some settlement. No other sector of the American economy appears more dependent on guest workers, and Sen. Craig estimates that perhaps 80% of the immigrant farm workers in U.S. fields today are undocumented, illegal aliens.

...Nonetheless, a White House official says the bill goes beyond what the president wants by forgiving those who entered the U.S. illegally.

..."It's a clear signal to me that there's something wrong in the top leadership of the administration about this," says Arturo Rodriguez, president of the Farm Workers union. "If they can't deal with this, how will they deal with anything on immigration?"

"The Hispanic vote could be the decisive vote in this election," New Mexico's Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, said yesterday. "But the Republicans will not succeed in getting the 40% of the Hispanic vote that they want. We're going to keep them at 30-35%. I think you're going to see states with large Hispanic populations like Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida go Democratic."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

US elections put CAFTA, TPS on backburner

Saca got 30 minutes of face time with Bush yesterday, but he left the meeting empty-handed. Not so for Bush, who got a promise of a third contingent of Salvadoran troops for Iraq. Salvador's the only country in Latin America with troops in Iraq.

Saca's team seems to have bumbled in overestimating the potential gains from the visit, since they portrayed the trip as one primarily that of seeking an extension of temporary protected (TPS) status for some 254,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. TPS expires March 9, 2005.

On Sunday, Saca had told Salvadoran reporters that he'd spend 80 percent of his time with Bush discussing TPS. Yet when he spoke with reporters after the meeting, he didn't even mention the subject at first! When pressed, Saca explained that Bush said he'd taken the right decision in 2001 to extend TPS, and that the decision to renew it would come in due time--in other words, after the U.S. presidential elections. When Saca explained this to reporters, the reporter for El Diario de Hoy noted that the reporters all looked at each other as if they hadn't heard correctly.

I've only found two reports in English, one by Reuters and the other by Voice of America. Reuters, along with the Salvadoran press, also notes importantly that Bush told Saca that a vote on CAFTA in the U.S. would also have to wait until after the elections. According to Reuters, "U.S. officials have said before that Congressional approval was unlikely before the November vote, but this is the first time Bush has confirmed [a delay on a CAFTA vote] to a Central American leader." Meanwhile, Central America labor ministers were also in meetings in DC, arguing their case for why their labor ministries do a good job, and thus why CAFTA's a good thing.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Saca's meeting with Bush

AP Spanish | 07/12/2004 | Saca ofrece a Bush un tercer batallón militar para Irak

News just out, but only in Spanish thus far on the wires, on President Tony Saca's meeting with Bush today, in which he says he'll send a third contingent of troops to Iraq in August. This had already been announced here in recent days, and I have alot to say on the matter, but it will have to wait.

NOTE: I'm posting this with a groovy new blogger function on the new google toolbar, which I use in Internet Explorer. When I read a story I like, I simply press the blogger button, and it automatically opens up a new blog entry (albeit in a somewhat minimal format). I'm sure it will come in handy.

Remembering Brando

Gene passed on an obituary for Marlon Brando, and I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with his history of activism. An opponent of the war in Iraq, and of U.S. treatment of Native Americans, he seemed especially active during the 1960s:

In 1963, Brando marched arm in arm with James Baldwin at the March on Washington. He, along with Paul Newman, went down South with the freedom riders to desegregate inter-State bus lines. In defiance of state law, Native Americans protested the denial of treaty rights by fishing the Puyallup River on March 2, 1964. Inspired by the civil rights movement sit-ins, Brando, Episcopal clergyman John Yaryan from San Francisco, and Puyallup tribal leader Bob Satiacum caught salmon in the Puyallup without state permits. The action was called a fish-in and resulted in Brando's arrest. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Brando announced that he was bowing out of the lead role of a major film and would now devote himself to the civil rights movement. Brando said "If the vacuum formed by Dr. King's death isn't filled with concern and understanding and a measure of love, then I think we all are really going to be lost.."
And Harold Meyerson had a nice closing to his eulogy in an online piece for the American Prospect:

America has a long line of artists with whom officialdom has never felt comfortable, of course -- from Theodore Dreiser to Allen Ginsberg, from vaudevillians to rappers -- but it was Brando who brought rage and rebellion, however unfocused, to the center of the culture. States don't honor rage and rebellion, and states that engender rage, as America has under George W. Bush, apparently don't honor the representation of rage, either. That Brando's death went unmarked by power is a testament not to his failings but to his success; not to his failings but to ours.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Intellectual property rights and Iraq

Iraqi merchants sell bootleg DVDs of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" for $3 inside Baghdad's barricaded Green Zone.

This according to a blip in today's Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

CAFTA and our discontents

I've been waiting for Project Syndicate to post in English a column by Georgetown professor Manuel Orozco, who posted a comment on this site after the March elections. Noting that "it is unclear whether the new rules will strengthen or weaken Central American producers," he goes on to provide some basic arguments against CAFTA, and points to the development potential of remittances as being a better alternative. It's finally online, and worth a look. A few excerpts:

Under CAFTA, 80% of US exports will be duty-free as soon as the treaty is ratified, and all tariffs will expire in 15 years. Until recently, the region maintained a trade surplus with the US, but with liberalization, the region will increase imports of more affordable goods, thereby turning the surplus into a deficit....

Moreover, trade in agricultural products will benefit US exporters more than Central American farmers. The US, for example, agreed to sugar imports that equal 1% of the total US market. That figure can grow only to 1.4% over the next 15 years.

At the same time, the agreement eliminates most import tariffs for commodities like rice, yellow corn, or dairy products. This will force small and medium producers to become more competitive, but they must do so on an uneven playing field.

Unlike their counterparts in the US, Central American producers lack access to the capital and technology needed for them to expand and innovate. So, instead of improving their competitiveness, the agreement is likely to increase the number of displaced workers and producers. For a glimpse at the future, look at what has happened to Mexican corn farmers since NAFTA.

Central American textiles were also caught in a CAFTA snag. The US textile lobby insisted that knit fabrics exported north come from Central America. The trouble is that Central America relies on third countries for knit fabrics.

Finally, CAFTA fails to address labor issues in any significant way. The agreement only stresses that labor rights are to be respected, highlighting that a party to the agreement "shall not fail to effectively enforce its labor laws, through a sustained or recurring course of action or inaction, in a manner affecting trade between the Parties." In a region with weak enforcement and few mechanisms for redress, protection restricted to prevailing labor standards amounts to no protection at all.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The U.S.-Salvadoran "partnership"

Salvadoran President Tony Saca will get a sit-down with W. at the White House next Monday. Trade, human rights, and security are on the agenda.

A propósito, two days ago, the Sunday magazine Enfoques of La Prensa Gráfica carried an interview with the U.S. Ambassador, who didn't have all that much to say about the U.S.-Salvadoran relationship, which some characterize as one of subservience. Barclay prefers to say that the two countries are partners, and should be quite proud of the fact that only El Salvador (among the countries of Latin America) has troops with coalition forces in Iraq.

But the most interesting bit for me was learning, in the accompanying article, that the very first diplomatic mission by Salvadorans following their independence from Spain in 1822 was to the U.S. to request annexation. It never happened, of course, in part because they never even reached Washington. Apparently this initiative was meant to forestall pressures to become annexed to Mexico.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Legacies of Rebellion

My old friend Mike Lanchin, who lived many years in Nicaragua and El Salvador, is back now in London at the BBC. He has a new series on the BBC website that takes a fresh look at what happened to the idealism of leftist movements of the 1980s and 90s. Nicaragua's online now, and every week subsequently new reports will be added. The piece on El Salvador is set to go online tomorrow, July 6th. This is how the website introduces the series:

It’s 25 years since Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution catapulted Central America into the headlines. It drew fierce opposition from Washington; but adoration from tens of thousands of sympathisers across the globe. So what has become of the revolutionary zeal that set the region on fire?

In a four-part series, we travel back to the region synonymous with civil war and political strife of the 1980s with Mike Lanchin, a former BBC correspondent who lived in the region for 15 years.

Like many other Europeans and North Americans of his generation he was first drawn to Central America by the spirit and idealism of the young revolutionaries in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

With Mike as our guide, we go on a journey back to meet the key actors and the ordinary players from those heady days.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Oh say can you see....

The New York Times has a fine editorial today, detailing egregious civil liberties abuses by the Bush administration, and reminding us that "the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights specifically because they did not believe that honorable men always do the right thing."

Meanwhile, Michael Moore asks some good questions this July 4th in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

If you are one of those who love what President Bush has done for this country and believe you must blindly follow the president to deserve to fly the flag, you should ask yourself some difficult questions about just how proud you are of the America we now inhabit:

Are you proud that one in six children lives in poverty in America?

Are you proud that 40 million adult Americans are functional illiterates?

Are you proud that the bulk of the jobs being created these days are low- and minimum-wage jobs?

Are you proud of asking your fellow Americans to live on $5.15 an hour?

Are you proud that, according to a National Geographic Society survey, 85% of young adult Americans cannot find Iraq on the map (and 11% cannot find the United States!)?

Are you proud that the rest of the world, which poured out its heart to us after Sept. 11, now looks at us with disdain and disgust?

Are you proud that nearly 3 billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water when we have the resources and technology to remedy this immediately?

Are you proud of the fact that our president sent our soldiers off to a war that had nothing to do with the self-defense of this country?

If these things represent what it means to be an American these days — and I am an American — should I hang my head in shame? No. Instead, I intend to perform what I believe is my patriotic duty. I can't think of a more American thing to do than raise questions — and demand truthful answers — when our leader wants to send our sons and daughters off to die in a war.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Latin America lags behind

That's the title of a story in the international edition of the July 5th Newsweek, about rising popular discontent in Latin America. It's well worth a read. Here are a few choice quotes:

By the end of the 1990s, Latin America accounted for fully 55 percent of total privatization revenues across the developing world, dwarfing the numbers from Southeast Asia. Yet it's now clear that the appearance of rapid change was largely an illusion: trade barriers fell and government-run enterprises were sold, but rather than dispersing the power and capital of the state, the bulk of it was simply transferred, en masse, to a dysfunctional private elite still working in cahoots with a meddling state.

...Most Latin American nations now harbor only a parody of the private sector as a wisely regulated space in which business can flourish and compete. The ratio of the number of initial public offerings to population in Latin America is more than 10 times smaller than the world mean. The ratio of firms to population is about a third lower. Shareholder rights throughout Latin America remain poor. Brazil and Colombia have the world's most highly concentrated ownership of business capital. "This is what happens when you deregulate and privatize, absent the rule of law," says Denise Dresser, a political scientist at Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico, a university in Mexico City. "You just transfer the resources to all the players in the old system."

And so the system doesn't really change or innovate....

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Pentagon and the recruitment of thugs

An article today in the Los Angeles Times by staff writer Ken Silverstein (founder of Counterpunch) sheds new light on two important issues: 1) how the Pentagon continues to do well with their recruitment, despite the negative publicity of the Iraq war; and 2) why certain U.S. military personnel have been caught up in recent abuse scandals.

The answer?

"The Pentagon was warned repeatedly going back a decade that it was accepting military recruits with criminal histories and was too lenient with those already in uniform who exhibited violent or other troubling behavior. Six studies prepared over 10 years by an outside expert at the Pentagon's request found that too little was being done to discipline lawbreakers in uniform or even identify problem recruits."

The story mentions two cases that stand out:

Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., an accused ringleader in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, served in the Gulf War in a Marine reserve unit. He reenlisted in the Army in 2001, joining a reserve unit at a time when allegations of violent behavior had been made against him in two civil court proceedings. His wife alleged in divorce proceedings in 2000 that he beat her, and she obtained three "protection of abuse" orders against him, court records show.

An inmate at a state prison where Graner worked filed a lawsuit against him and other guards in 1999 for allegedly kicking and beating him, according to court records. Graner denied abusing the prisoner. The case was dismissed in 2000 when the man, who by then had been released from prison, failed to appear in court....

David Passaro is accused of beating a detainee in Afghanistan so badly that the man later died. Passaro joined the Army in 1992 and later became a Ranger, after he was fired from the Hartford, Conn., Police Department for allegedly assaulting a man during an off-duty brawl, police and court records show.

At the time of the alleged incident in Afghanistan in 2003, Passaro was working as a civilian contractor for the CIA. The indictment against him charges that he beat an Afghan detainee, Abdul Wali, with his hands, feet and a large flashlight during interrogation June 19 and June 20. Wali died the next day.

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