Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Interview with Francisco Cordero-Gené

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 by JShansky

An interview I did with Francisco Cordero-Gené, of the Friends Peace Center in San José.  Cordero-Gené is the former head advisor to the Costa Rican legislative assembly.  Here he explains his opposition to the authorization of US military involvement in Costa Rica.

http://amigosparalapaz.org/en/node/75

Miedo y sospecha, milicia de EEUU rumbo a Costa Rica

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 by JShansky

Spanish translation of Fear, Suspicion as U.S. Military En Route to Costa Rica

Written by Joseph Shansky

Translated by Robert Cavooris and Janina Pinzón-Suárez

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/en-espatopmenu-81/2607–miedo-y-sospecha-milicia-de-eeuu-rumbo-a-costa-rica

Antiwar Radio- interview

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2010 by JShansky

A short radio interview I did recently, on new militarization in Latin America.

http://antiwar.com/radio/2010/07/23/joseph-shansky/

Fear, Suspicion as US Military En Route to Costa Rica

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 by JShansky

Originally published at Upside Down World

Written by Joseph Shansky
Thursday, 15 July 2010 10:51

Tensions are high in Costa Rica following the announcement of the impending arrival of US military vessels. In the past year alone, a sudden expansion of United States military presence around Latin America has alarmed many in the region. Now it is spreading to the one nation which had previously been known for the absence of any standing permanent army, foreign or national.

After receiving a diplomatic request from the US Embassy, on July 1 the Costa Rican legislative assembly approved a measure to grant unprecedented access to a U.S. military fleet in Costa Rica’s waters. The vessels will arrive for at least six months to assist counter-narcotics operations by Costa Rican authorities. Costa Rica has long been used a stopping point of entry for drugs coming from Colombia and Panama on their way further north.

This type of partnership between the U.S. and Costa Rica is not new. Since 1999, a maritime agreement titled the “Joint Patrol” between the United States and Costa Rica has allowed the U.S. Coast Guard to operate in the waters of Costa Rica for similar purposes. However, this particular agreement goes far beyond previously established boundaries. The Joint Patrol agreement limited U.S. personnel to Coast Guard only, allowing for Costa Rican law enforcement to ride on U.S. ships if they have reason to suspect suspicious activity, and vice versa.

Under the new agreement the ships, which can occupy up to 7,000 Navy personnel and 200 helicopters, will join the Coast Guard and according to the Embassy letter, will “enjoy freedom of movement and the right to carry out activities they consider necessary for the fulfillment of their mission, which includes wearing their uniforms while exercising official functions.”

In other words, immunity from any actions they deem appropriate in the name of policing the waters.

The contract has drawn confusion about the intent of the ships more than anything else, stemming from a general distrust of US action in the region, likely based on recent events like the tacitly-approved military coup in Honduras (and news emerging last week of new plans for another military base there), as well as last year’s controversial accord to establish seven new military bases in Colombia.

The announcement has already provoked a fierce response in Costa Rica. The measure, which can be also renewed after December 31, has drawn sharp criticism from both lawmakers and civilians. Critics say that a massive foreign military landing at their shores not only directly violates that constitution as it stands today, but tears at the moral fabric of a nation which constitutionally abolished its own army in 1949.

In an impassioned address to the assembly during the vote, Parliamentary leader José María Villalta, of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party, argued that apart from legal ramifications, the measure inherently goes against Costa Rican ideals.

“We cannot remain silent,” Villalta said. “The fundamental values of the Costa Rican State are stake, the core values that have distinguished this country- a country of peace, which rejects militarism, where we have a declaration of perpetual neutrality regarding conflicts of war in other countries and now we want to become complicit in a strategy of militarization is taking place in Latin America.”

In an interview with Upside Down World, Francisco Cordero-Gené, who served as former head advisor to the Costa Rican legislative assembly during the past two administrations (prior to that of current President Laura Chinchilla, who has voiced support for the measure) outlined the main legal contentions of those opposed.

“Aside from the dark procedure by which the permit was approved, it clearly provides unlimited access to ports for troops of the Navy Department of Defense, not just law enforcement authorities of the Coast Guard. Therefore, we argue that the reason given for giving the permit has been invalidated. It exceeds the responsibilities of Congress- no basis to authorize this invasion is theirs alone,” said Cordero-Gené.

Indeed, Article 12 of the 1949 Constitution reads: “Military forces may only be organized under a continental agreement or for the national defense; in either case, they shall always be subordinate to the civil power: they may not deliberate or make statements or representations individually or collectively.”

Because of this clause, there have been five legal recourse briefs (recursos de amparo) submitted so far in opposition to the Congressional decision, intended to declare the approval unconstitutional on these grounds.

Organizations such as the Quaker Friends Peace Center, of which Cordero-Gené belongs to, question the motives of the ships which will be dispersed to Costa Rica individually. At a time when there’s been violent labor disputes in Panama recently (due to banana workers protesting new policies that would weaken the position of labor unions, allowing companies to fire or replace striking workers) Cordero-Gené says he wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a connection.

“The lack of a debate in Congress makes one suspect that they will be operating militarily and not necessarily confined to the drug trafficking operations,” said Cordero-Gené. Is it a coincidence that ships arrive as a new port management is being put into practice, eliminating the authority of the state agency JAPDEVA (Port Management Board of the Atlantic Coast Development) and its group of unionized dock workers…and preventing any possibility of strikes, work stoppages and incidents in Limón, such as those in Panama? ”

So far there are no clear answers to these and many other questions, such as why the funds being used for this operation not instead being directed to help train and equip the Costa Rican Coast Guard.

Even the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), widely regarded as the highest non-governmental domestic authority on all U.S. affairs in the area, seems to be left scratching its head.

“Once again, the government has not released a single public statement on this- no one is talking about it,” says Adam Isacson, a senior associate on WOLA’s Regional Security Policy program. “There is certainly a drug problem in the area, but we don’t know whether the 7,000 number (of Marines) being discussed is any bigger than what’s allowed in the 1999 agreement. The increase could be justified, but we simply don’t know at this point.”

Cordero-Gené agrees that drug security is popular issue in Costa Rica, but says that it’s a problem of perception rather than statistical increase in crime.

“The drug problem is not essentially the problem of security; because the assaults and crimes committed are due more to poverty in an increasingly violent culture…It’s obvious that this displacement is a response to the arms race and alliances to neutralize the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA),” he added. “This front is undoubtedly linked to the accusations from both presidents of Colombia (current President Alvaro Uribe and incoming President Juan Manuel Santos) that Hugo Chavez supports the narco-guerrillas.”

Cordero-Gené is not alone in this line of geo-political thinking- these are just a few of the many explanations being floated around opposition circles since the announcement in Costa Rica. For now they remain only theories, but in the context of last year’s US agreements to new military bases and logistical training in countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Peru, many see them as unsurprising and plausible.

Public outrage against the measure is building in Costa Rica. Anti-militarization rallies have already been held in San José. In only a few days since the announcement, a Facebook group titled “¡No a la presencia militar en Costa Rica!” (No military presence in Costa Rica!) has gained over 20,000 supporters. A large demonstration amongst the public sectors is being planned for July 26, when the first of the ships is due to arrive.

Regardless of its stated intent, with so much uncertainty around the vague conditions of the agreement, a foreign military suddenly entering a nation with a proud tradition of peaceful conflict resolution, neutrality and disarmament is leading to far more questions than answers.

Joseph Shansky can be reached at fallow3(at)gmail.com.

The Coup Is Not Over: Marking a Year of Resistance in Honduras

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 by JShansky

Originally published at Upside Down World

Written by Joseph Shansky
Monday, 28 June 2010 09:07

At one point during the military coup in Honduras last year, a US representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) joked that Hondurans were living in a state of “magical realism”, a folkloric literary genre blurring reality and the surreal, often in the historical or political context of Latin America.

He wasn’t far off, despite the bizarre comparison: A democratically-elected president is overthrown by an elite conspiring against him, forced out of the country, the military takes over, the people revolt in massive opposition, while governments across the world refuse to recognize the new regime and withdraw their ambassadors. Only the United States, the most powerful of all countries, remains on the fence, then hops off onto the side of the golpistas (coup-makers) while presenting a straight face of diplomacy.

Yes, the story of how elected president Manuel Zelaya was violently removed from power under the guise of legal proceedings would make great fiction, but sadly remains the true story of the first successful Latin American military coup in decades.
_ _

Honduras burst into the international news last summer when on the morning of June 28th, Hondurans awoke (in more than one sense) to a dismantled government and a military takeover of their country. The Honduran Congress had just issued the trumped-up charge that Zelaya, of the Liberal Party, had violated the law by attempting to assess the interest of the general population in potentially rewriting the outdated Constitution to include new progressive reforms. Hondurans were scheduled to vote that day in a non-binding referendum.

Instead, the president was flown out of the country by military troops operating under the orders of Congressional head Roberto Micheletti (of the same party), who then became de-facto president. The people took to the streets in protest. The police and military, acting under Micheletti’s command, responded with violence, and a saga began which continues to this day, despite a new administration.

It quickly became apparent that many of the leaders of the military establishment which seized Zelaya and spent the past year ensuring that Hondurans lived in perpetual fear, had in fact been trained at the infamous School of the Americas one thread of many leading back north.

Enter the United States, whose intervention in the region is unfortunately not limited to the history books. From the beginning of the coup to the most recent headlines on Honduras, the shadow of the U.S. has loomed large. The US mainstream media is always eager to disregard Latin American social movements demanding autonomy as motivated by the presumably sinister leftist influence of Hugo Chavez and other leaders in the region. Zelaya came into power by no means a radical, but he gradually worked to enact common-sense progressive measures. Some examples: a higher minimum wage, agrarian reform, an idea to convert the US military base in Soto Cano to a civilian airport, a rejection of recent IMF agreements, etc. These changes were seen as a threat by a ruling oligarchy both in Honduras and elsewhere, who viewed their business and economic interests as in jeopardy.

When Zelaya was forced out, Barack Obama verbally wrist-slapped the golpistas, but refrained from using the legal language necessary to trigger more drastic measures against the coup government, such as economic sanctions, freezing assets, or withdrawing his ambassador, as so many other countries did immediately.

The most significant result of all of this is the popular uprising which has been under the threat – and reality – of violence since its inception. June 28, 2009 marked the birth of a truly grassroots movement formed out of the simple premise that the electoral process which brought Zelaya into power by popular support must be respected and defended to its legal end.

Day after day last summer, around the country in both rural and urban zones, Hondurans marched to demand Zelaya’s return and the re-establishment of democratic order. As I participated with the marchers, it was a glorious domino effect to witness – families walking proudly down the road, beckoning others peering cautiously out doors and windows to join the crowds, whose numbers grew exponentially each day.

Meanwhile, the theatre continued and the performances, especially by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy, in particular Ambassador Hugo Llorens, were impeccable.

I had the opportunity to meet with the Ambassador in August 2009, as part of a delegation monitoring human rights. He was sympathetic (“You’re preaching to the converted” and “We condemn the regime, and think that they’re thugs”), but despite several references to the urgency of the situation, he turned out to be a master at extending the “diplomatic process” until it was too late for many. The amount of recorded evidence of illegal abuses directly connected to the Micheletti and Lobo governments is overwhelming. So is the number of hours of tape which has State Department representatives finding new ways to avoid addressing this topic when pressed.

In general, the US continued to disregard the increasingly threatening measures taking place – activists, media, and government figures opposed to the coup were targeted, resulting in account after account of kidnapping, torture, and murder. A February report by the Committee for the Families of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras (COFADEH) lists 40 confirmed Resistance-related deaths, though that number continues to grow since then. In addition, there was an almost-total blackout of the independent media outlets which much of the country relied on to get their news. All of this went on as backdrop to the run-up of new elections. The US eventually brokered an agreement leading to the installation of the Lobo government, by means of approving an election cycle in a climate of fear and intimidation, where press freedom was severely restricted.

As more people went missing, were detained at random, were found in ditches with signs of torture, as horror stories emerged daily, certain individuals and organizations on the front lines became more vulnerable.

In hindsight we can see now just how risky it was – and still is – to be in visible opposition to the golpistas. During the days of street repression, the state violence was uncontrolled, unleashed against groups that always appeared physically united in the streets.

Now, in contrast, the Resistance movement, led by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), simply referred to as the Resistance, has become more physically fragmented, and thus more vulnerable. Now the disappearances and killings are targeted. Those who put their life on the line last year continue to pay the price. Family members of activists are at risk as well. The most brazen acts are still being seen today. All we need to do is look at those who have suffered the most for being at the front lines.

Out of all sectors of the Honduran population, the gay and lesbian community has seen the highest number of victims. Usually they have been connected directly to opposition circles, and the majority of incidents have happened since Pepe Lobo took office in January. The most notorious case remains that of Walter Trochez, a beloved organizer who was captured, escaped, and then killed a week later.

Journalists – Nine have been killed in the country so far this year alone, with the great majority working for news outlets opposed to the coup. The Committee to Protect Journalists has listed Honduras as one of the most dangerous countries in the world in regard to their mission.

Unions – Throughout the coup, the offices of the Honduran Union of Industry Workers of Soft Drinks and Similar Beverages (STIBYS) became shelter for the Resistance and their allies. The union was targeted by armed forces during the coup, and its leaders have been subject to constant assault and persecution. STIBYS president (and former Honduran presidential candidate) Carlos H. Reyes was badly beaten during a protest last year. Earlier this month, the brother-in-law of STIBYS Vice President Porfirio Ponce was killed in an attack when armed men stopped his car at a traffic light, also wounding Ponce’s father and sister.

Farm workers – Outside the cities, agricultural and rural organizations have been under threat as well. There is an almost constant military presence in rural areas where farmers and peasants are fighting for land reform. In the Aguán region, where Zelaya’s efforts to redistribute land were most at stake, tensions have exploded into what has been described as “clashes”, but is in essence a war against the campesinos, in particular the United Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA). Eight campesinos have been killed since December 2009, when workers moved to retake the land they had been stripped of in the chaos of the coup.

While writing this, I receive notice of another campesino killing, a 16 year old boy. Gruesome photos showing his torture are attached. Five others have been arrested. These incidents have become common.

What allows us to receive this tragic news only a few hours after the fact is a dedicated network of support in both the US and around the world. Despite the constant familiar dread of opening bad news emails, it’s been a pleasure to witness such solidarity. Previously isolated organizations, many of whom sent delegations to Honduras or were actively monitoring the coup, have united into what is now formally known as the Honduran Solidarity Network.

The HSN has evolved to a level of professionalism and consistency that would be difficult to maintain for many, involving participants spread over various countries. Member groups hold conference calls weekly, with updates coming directly from FNRP connections. Twice they have pooled funds to publish full-page ads in major Honduran newspapers declaring international support for the Resistance and opposition to the Lobo government.

These actions are increasingly important as the violence in Honduras continues to remain under the radar.
_ _

All causes and effects of the coup are still alive, but President Lobo is now going through the motions to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mission statement that couldn’t be more vague (“to ensure peace, harmony and tranquility for the Honduran people”), and which has no teeth. It is not legally binding and it does not take into consideration accounts by any of the human rights organizations that would clearly offer the most critical perspectives when it comes to investigating these crimes.

In response, six key human rights organizations have come together to create an alternative commission, to be launched on the first anniversary of the coup, and headed by respected figures such as Nobel laureates, writers, and priests. Among other mandates, the “Comisión de la Verdad” will make a point to hear the testimonies of victims, and be in will line with United Nation standards.

Details on both Commissions, including backgrounds of members, can be found here.

To this day, no U.S. State Dept. spokesperson has acknowledged the thousands of human rights violations committed under the Micheletti and Lobo governments. The US continues to maintain the absurd claim that reconciliation has come to the country, recently seen in Hillary Clinton’s efforts to persuade the OAS to re-admit Honduras. And on June 18, Llorens announced that the Honduran government would be receiving $20 million from the US to enhance “security”.

Thankfully not all US politicians have responded this way. Some have been strong allies of the opposition movement. A new letter signed by 27 US Representatives, addressed to Clinton, makes for the strongest wording yet, written to “…express our continuing concern regarding the grievous violations of human rights and the democratic order which commenced with the coup and continue to this day.”

A year old now, the Resistance has grown into a widespread political body. As Los Necios put it, it “has shifted from short-term action to the structures and strategy to take power and change the country”. They imagine a different Honduran society, with an eye to the project Zelaya had begun to take initial measures on- the reformation of the Honduran Constitution, or constituyente.

Zelaya himself, still in exile, recently affirmed his commitment to the project in a letter dated June 11:

“I am a liberal in permanent resistance and I will continue being so, of those that practice their true doctrine, opposed to military dictators and antidemocratic regimes…The homeland in this moment calls us to struggle for unity and for the Constituyente…the suffering of the victims of this crime against humanity, with the loss of lives of our martyrs who condemned the coup d’Etat, cannot be in vain, nor pass into oblivion.“

What happened in Honduras is worth revisiting a year later, if only to understand that despite all rhetoric by both the US and Honduran governments, the coup is not over. June 28 marks the anniversary of the tragedy it brought.

But this date should also be celebrated as the birth of a movement that has united diverse forces from around the country. It offers hope and inspiration for a new Honduras in which the people have a voice over their own destinies- some would say a magical story, becoming more real each day, still being written.

Joseph Shansky was reporting from Honduras during the recent military coup, and can be reached at fallow3(at)gmail.com.

TV interview – “Our World In Depth”

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 by JShansky

Video-

TV interview shot a few months ago, but aired in late June.  Discussing Honduras human rights violations under the Lobo administration, and local actions w/ Minnesota Hands Off Honduras.

http://ourworldindepth.org/archives/309

Stories from Haiti

Posted in Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 by JShansky

Originally published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet

February 08, 2010

Joëlle Vitiello is a professor of French and Francophone studies at Macalester College in St. Paul.  She also studies Haitian literature, and happened to be in Port-au-Prince on January 12, so she was an eyewitness to the earthquake in Haiti.  The Daily Planet interviewed Vitiello about her experiences during the earthquake, the aftermath, and what the future of Haiti now looks like.

DP: First, can you talk about your background and how you got involved in Haiti prior to the earthquake?

JV:  Early in my career I went a conference and met several Haitian writers who were living in Quebec. At the time, there were still some discourses about Quebec being independent.  I started to work on these issues, and discovered that there is a whole new body of literature that no one knew outside of the island.

DP:  And what brought you to Haiti this time?

JV:  This time I was joining a French festival organized with a focus on Haitian literature.  I was going to participate in a TV debate about Haitian writers who had recently passed away.  I was also going to finish research to prepare a course on Haiti and human rights. I had spent the week before in Quebec, and so I took the early flight that day.

DP:  So you arrived on the same day?

JV:  Yes, I arrived on January 12.  I had gotten to the hotel and was just texting to my friend that I arrived safely when it started.  I was on the second floor of the hotel, and at first there was a sound like automatic gunfire or a jackhammer.  Then it was hard to stay up, so I realized it was an earthquake.  I’ve been in earthquakes before so I went to the door and held onto the walls.

DP: Your hotel wasn’t damaged too badly?

JV: The hotel had no damage at all.  It’s one of the few buildings that is built with Italian wood and has a very light structure.  There was some water coming from the floor above, but they repaired it fairly quickly that night.

DP: What about outside?

JV:  Outside, people were running in the streets.  Mostly people were in a hurry to get home to check on their loved ones.  We stayed on the square so there were no high structures around.  It provided a safe space to be, and that’s where thousands of people slept during the first few nights.  People organized very quickly. It was remarkable.  There were a few people injured, so we took them into the hotel.

DP: What did you see on the ground in those first days?

JV:  At the hotel there were teams of doctors, French and American.  One of the American doctors specialized in trauma, so right away they treated the injured. The hotel also took in people who lost their houses, children who were worried and didn’t know where to go.  The first night there I met everyone staying at the hotel.  I don’t know if it was my way of comforting myself or dealing with my anxiety.  I had no idea what had happened out there. We soon learned that the palace had crumbled, and all of the main streets.  The next day we went into town to see if we could find communications, and that’s when we first saw some of the worst sights.

DP: You mentioned solidarity amongst Haitians immediately.

JV: Honestly, I didn’t see anything that was not solidarity.  All the people were comforting children, inquiring constantly about their families.  Without communication it was very hard. Also, this happened in the first week of a carnival season.  During Carnival, there are neighborhood bands that go around singing and having offerings.  So you could hear them going from neighborhood to neighborhood and see them in the hills.  There were also lots of people praying and shouting religious songs and drumming.  All of these indicated people trying to come together as communities.

The first coverage I saw was at the embassy.  They had CNN twenty four hours a day.  So that was a little maddening, to be glued to CNN.  There were also journalists at the hotel.  It was hard for them because they don’t speak French, they can’t communicate.  I suspect it was hard for many journalists to get access to the Haitian government, which may explain what we didn’t hear much about the government right away.

DP: Why do you think the focus was on the negative aspects, such as how prisoners escaped from jail or looting, rather than the resilience?

JV: What was shown on TV did happen, but it was very isolated.  Remember that many people lost their entire families. There was no water, no food, and soon sanitation would become a problem.  They were amazingly patient in the face of adversity, but tempers flare and that’s normal.  It’s unfortunate that’s what the media captured, because I sincerely believe that it doesn’t reflect the experiences of the majority of Haitians.  Haiti has always suffered a negative image because of disease, poverty, and a lack of understanding of the culture.  Those are the familiar images, and they are now what we expect to see.

DP:  You said you’re working on a human rights course now.  Are you going to be incorporating anything from this experience?

JV:  I imagine so.  The earthquake is a natural phenomenon, but it leaves devastation that has nothing natural about it.  The hills are porous because of five hundred years of deforestation, which affects the water supply and the way buildings are constructed. In Haitian literature, very often a natural phenomenon is linked to social injustices.

DP:  What’s important to know as we watch the re-building efforts?

JV:  Journalists need to understand the political geography of the city and the country.  They need to understand the neighborhoods of any city that has been damaged, which neighborhoods are or are not getting aid, and to have a realistic idea of what the Haitian government can do.

The Haitian president is an agronomist, and he said something important- that Haiti needs to produce its own food again.  In Minnesota, we have a responsibility because we have a lot of agribusiness exporting to Haiti.  We affect not only the diet of Haitian people, but also the economy.  We need to let this country get its richness back.  Haitians have a great historical sense of who they are, and are used to an informal economy.  It’s important to trust them and to go at their pace.

-Joe Shansky