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Judi Lynn

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Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 147,072

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The Corporate Assault on Latin American Democracy

November 03, 2014

The Latest Phase

The Corporate Assault on Latin American Democracy


Latin America has always been notoriously fertile ground for predatory corporations. For decades, aided by Western-backed governments that were as friendly to them as they were brutal to their own citizens, corporate behemoths made it their mission to suck the region dry – sometimes quite literally. The story of neoliberal plunder in that part of the world, as well as the popular backlash to it among Latin Americans, is hardly a new one. In recent years, though, the ever-aggressive corporate war on Latin American societies has entered a new phase, one in which major battles are being decided on the fourth floor of the World Bank headquarters in Washington, by an obscure and increasingly powerful institution known as the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The first thing you need to know about the ICSID is that it has the authority to make binding decisions that affect entire populations. Most of the time, such decisions are made by small tribunals, typically consisting of just a few people. This secretive institution is part of the ICSID Convention, a multilateral treaty that went into effect in October of 1966, to which 150 countries are currently party. The ICSID Convention “sought to remove major impediments to the free international flows of private investment posed by non-commercial risks and the absence of specialized international methods for investment dispute settlement.” If that sentence creeps you out, well, it should.

The structural and bureaucratic details of the ICSID are boring and involve a lot of corporate-speak. But basically, the ICSID establishes and oversees ostensibly independent tribunals responsible for arbitrating major disputes between private entities and governments. So, for example, when Country X tells Corporation Y that, after further consideration, it wants to change policy and forbid oil drilling in an environmentally vulnerable region, this is where Corporation Y goes to complain. A tribunal is formed and a judgment is eventually made. Both sides in any dispute must agree to the terms laid out, it should be noted, and they each have input in selecting the arbitrators. Nevertheless, with the ICSID’s influence growing along with its caseload, we should consider the wisdom of having these decisions, which often hold major ramifications for both short and long-term environmental health, made via a process from which local residents – the people actually affected by said decisions – are so drastically disconnected.

In recent years, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia have withdrawn from the ICSID Convention, all for similar reasons. These governments cling to the quaint notion that their societies’ resources ought to belong to the people who live there, and they view the ICSID as a way to grease the skids for the continued pillaging of said resources (which is usually accompanied, of course, by environmental degradation). Bolivia withdrew from the ICSID in 2007; in 2009, Ecuador followed suit. Venezuela finalized its withdrawal from the ICSID in 2012 as the Chavez administration was dealing with a number of disputes surrounding its nationalization policies in the 2000s. All of these governments cited concerns about sovereignty and the ICSID’s persistent bias toward corporations and capital (these concerns reflect popular sentiment throughout Latin America). They’ve proposed an alternative system, involving tribunals based in South America, as opposed to Washington, D.C. In any case, a withdrawal from the ICSID is not a shield from claims by private interests, and states like Venezuela and Ecuador are still staring at billions of dollars in potential compensatory payments stemming from a number of cases over the last decade. States cannot simply ignore these judgments, as it would be viewed like a sovereign default, with all the economic risk that entails.

It involves fairly specialized knowledge, and therefore it’s rarely discussed in popular political discourse, but a broader paradigm shift has taken place in this arena in recent years, one that, shockingly enough, favors the rights of transnational corporations. As a recent McClatchy piece on a high-profile dispute between Oceana Gold Corp. and the government of El Salvador put it, “international investment laws are empowering corporations to act against foreign governments that curtail their future profits, “ and the ICSID is the vehicle these corporations are using to ensure that these profits are not threatened.

The widespread suspicion that this game is essentially rigged in favor of powerful private interests is not entirely unfounded. Here is Robert Bisso, the director of Social Watch, an international network of citizens’ organizations, in a speech to the U.N. in May:

… over two thousand bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements signed in the last few decades have created new rights for transnational corporations, including rights that humans don’t have: corporations have acquired the right to settle anywhere they want and bring with them any personnel they decide they need, they are allowed to repatriate profits without restrictions and even to litigate against governments in demand of profits lost because of democratically decided policies, not through local courts but via international arbitration panels shaped to defend business interests and where human rights do not necessarily prevail. ICSID, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, hosted by the World Bank, is an untransparent tribunal that displaces national judiciary and in a way creates its own law by way of ignoring human rights standards and environmental norms, even when they have been ratified as international treaties.


Uribe’s eerie allies: Neo-Nazis and ranchers

Uribe’s eerie allies: Neo-Nazis and ranchers
Nov 3, 2014 posted by Joel Gillin

In his attempts to recover lost political power, former president Alvaro Uribe has been making alliances with the some of the most extreme elements in Colombian politics. While the times of Uribe as a mainstream politician seem long gone, the former president still has formidable support among a large chunk of primarily conservative Colombians.

His newly formed party, the Democratic Center, received 15% of votes for the senate in March, and Uribe’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, nearly beat President Juan Manuel Santos in presidential elections in June. But Uribe’s control over Colombia’s mainstream politics has diminished and the former president has been forced to seek alliances outside of many of the traditional political power centers.

Among those political groups who back the former president politically is a fascistic youth movement with connections to neo-Nazis.

Uribe has also strengthened ties with ranchers infamous for their proximity with the now-defunct right-wing paramilitary organization AUC, as well as criminal elements within the security and intelligence institutions.


Ecuador’s children sick from Colombia crop fumigation: NGO

Ecuador’s children sick from Colombia crop fumigation: NGO
Nov 3, 2014 posted by Victoria McKenzie

Colombia may have violated its agreement with Ecuador to forgo aerial fumigation near its border, according to a report by the Ecuadorean Interagency Committee Against Fumigation, or CIF.

The NGO charged with monitoring environmental conditions along the Colombian border reported that it received several complaints of illness last week, including a community of schoolchildren in San Martin, who have complained of headaches.

In 2008, the Ecuadorian government filed a lawsuit against Colombia to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2008 after the herbicide drifted across the border onto Ecuadorian territory. Ecuador based their complaint on the grounds that “the spraying caused serious damage to people, crops, to animals and to the natural environment.”

In September 2013, the Colombian government acknowledged Ecuador’s complaints and the two sides reach a settlement of $15 million compensation for the damages.

US continues to support aerial fumigation

Colombia is estimated to supply around 90% of the cocaine that makes it to the United States. With the support from multi-billion dollar US aid packages for the war on drugs, Colombia has been practicing aerial crop fumigation for 20 years.

According to Daniel Mejia, the current president of the Colombian government’s special advisory commission on drug policy, the United States government continues to advocate aerial fumigation of coca fields despite clear human rights problems and proof that this eradication method costs exponentially more than attacking drug traffickers.


The Washington Post Needs a Bus – and to Throw Jeff Leen Under It

The Washington Post Needs a Bus – and to Throw Jeff Leen Under It

Leen Burst a Spleen When He Saw “Kill the Messenger” on the Silver Screen

By Al Giordano & Bill Conroy
Special to Narco News

October 20, 2014

“A lot of retired DEA agents, a lot of retired prosecutors, a lot of retired people, they all want to do a book about their exploits. First question I ask them is, ‘Okay, you want to make a lot of money with a book? What do you know about the CIA and drugs? What do you got? Put it on the table. We’ll go make a million dollars. We’ll go to Hollywood! We will be stars!’”

•Jeff Leen, 1997

Back in June of 1997 when Jeff Leen debated Gary Webb at the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in Phoenix, Arizona, he spoke those words, above, that reveal so much about what he thought he’d get out of entering the newspaper business. Make a million dollars. Go to Hollywood. Be a star.

That life plan never worked out for Leen, who now directs the mediocre and forgotten “investigative reporting” unit at the Washington Post.

Leen, at the time of the gathering, was then fifteen years at the same job, a reporter for the Miami Herald, trying to make a name for himself as an alleged expert on the international cocaine trade. But he was stuck at the worst possible place to do so. The Herald is infamous among journalists as the graveyard of foreign policy reporters, because in Miami, they are forced to toe a very narrow ideological line. The newspaper’s advertising base is so dependent on the rabid anti-communist Cuban and Latin American exile business community that it’s long had to be a Johnny One Note on any coverage regarding the rest of the hemisphere. You simply can’t keep a job writing about the Americas at the Herald – what many journos have nicknamed “Oligarch’s Daily” – without pandering to the Miami Mafia. For that reason even many career journalists would prefer to work anywhere else.

And if one was foolish enough to try to use that newspaper as a fulcrum from which to report on cocaine in the eighties and nineties, the biggest story would therefore be untouchable: that the anti-communist paramilitary squads known as the Contras, who were buying weapons to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, were funding their army by shipping planeloads of cocaine to the United States, and that US government agencies were complicit in that venture. That story could never be advanced in the Herald, not even after then-Senator John Kerry’s 1986 committee hearings proved it.


(My emphasis)

On edit, adding paragraph regarding the Miami Herald:

He worked for the Herald, a paper that would never have permitted an expose of anti-communist death squads in Latin America to be featured on its pages. Its advertisers in the Miami Cuban-American chambers of commerce – to whom the guerrillas were heroes – would have gone apoplectic. This was a newspaper whose star columnist, Andres Oppenheimer, authored “Fidel Castro’s Final Hour” in 1989. A quarter century later Fidel is still kicking. But, fantasy or fact, that’s the sort of pandering “journalism” that keeps Miami Herald advertisers writing the checks.

I would imagine any DU'er who has read the Herald, and/or its Spanish version, El Nuevo Herald, got the picture on them long, long ago. It's always great to see your own suspicions, or perceptions confirmed in print, considering the overload of managed "news" we get from corporate media.

Gary Webb and Media Manipulation

Gary Webb and Media Manipulation
November 2, 2014

Many Americans still count on the mainstream media to define reality for them, but too often the MSM spins false narratives that protect the powerful and diminish democracy, as happened in the long-running denial of cocaine trafficking by President Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels, writes Beverly Bandler.

By Beverly Bandler

The sad tale of the mainstream U.S. media’s destruction of journalist Gary Webb for reviving the Contra-cocaine scandal in the 1990s – a story recounted in the movie “Kill the Messenger” – is important not only because of Webb’s tragic demise but because the case goes to the central question of whether the American people are getting information and facts to which we are entitled in a free society, or whether we are being manipulated with half-truths, propaganda and straight-out lies.

What is ironic about the recent patronizing anti-Webb commentary by the Washington Post’s Jeff Leen – claiming that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof” – is that the Post was a prime salesman for the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. And just what “proof” did the Post require for the “extraordinary claim” about Iraq hiding stockpiles of WMD, the chief selling point to the American people? Apparently nothing more than “jingoism,” the beating of war drums and empty assurances from the Bush administration’s neocons.

As journalist Michael Massing pointed out in February 2004 – after the U.S. invasion force failed to find the promised stockpiles – “‘Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper,’ declared a recent headline in The Washington Post.”

But Leen’s commentary in response to “Kill the Messenger” was just the latest example of the mainstream press covering its own tracks for its failure to pursue the Contra-cocaine scandal and for its complicity in destroying Gary Webb.

It’s now clear that the CIA has long been trying to fend off the reality of the Contra-cocaine scandal, often with the help of what a newly released CIA report described as its “productive relations with journalists.”


Paramilitary killing spree was Colombia ‘state policy': Judge

Paramilitary killing spree was Colombia ‘state policy': Judge
Nov 1, 2014 posted by Adriaan Alsema

A Bogota court ruled on Friday that a series of massacres, homicides and forced displacement operations carried out by paramilitaries in the north and northeast of Colombia in the late 1990s was “state policy.”

The condemnation came with a verdict in which the extradited chief of the paramilitaries, Salvatore Mancuso, was sentenced to eight years in prison. the maximum sentence agreed between the state and the paramilitaries in 2005 when signing peace.
As part of his plea bargain with the special Justice and Peace prosecution unit, Mancuso admitted to 402 crimes, including 300 murders of which one was of a 22-month-old girl.

Additionally, the paramilitary chief admitted to having led four massacres, and that under his command more than five thousand civilians were assassinated.

The man who led the AUC between 2004 and 2006 also laid bare how government officials and the military had made up an integrated part of the AUC’s operations.


Archaeologists uncover remains of pre-Columbian village in central Colombia

Archaeologists uncover remains of village in central Colombia
Nov 1, 2014 posted by Adriaan Alsema

Archaeologists have discovered a pre-Columbian town in central Colombia, recovering tons of archaeological evidence of which some dates as far back as 900BC, sponsor EPM said Friday.

The site was initially found when EPM, a public-private energy company, did soil research while planning the construction of an energy network in the municipality of Soacha, just southwest of the capital Bogota.

According to EPM, the archaeological site is the biggest ever found in Colombia, measuring some 4.9 hectares, and allows scientists to understand how now-extinct indigenous tribes lived.

“The relevance of this finding lies in the information contained in the settlement patterns, the architectural and agricultural development of the societies that lived on the central high plans of Colombia and, in general, about demographic aspects in pre-Hispanic times,” archaeologist John Alexander Gonzalez told EPM, that paid for the $7.5 million operation.

The findings have already challenged existing theories on pre-Columbian life as the village shows that tribes living around what is now Bogota kept settlements in tact for hundreds of years in an era called the “Herrera period.” Until now, historians assumed the natives had a more nomadic lifestyle.

More, including photos:

Meet Ibeyi: French-Cuban twins with a musical sixth sense

Meet Ibeyi: French-Cuban twins with a musical sixth sense

The daughters of a famous Cuban percussionist, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz have won attention transforming their fiery relationship into electro-tinged ‘contemporary negro spirituals’

[font size=1]
‘We were screaming at each other just two hours ago’ … Ibeyi, AKA Naomi (left) and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz.
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
Tim Jonze
Thursday 30 October 2014 11.28 EDT

Sometimes Lisa-Kaindé Díaz will be wandering around her apartment, singing to herself, only to find twin sister Naomi singing exactly the same song, at exactly the same part.

“It is not strange to us for that to happen,” she says. Or at least I think Lisa-Kaindé says it – their tendency to complete each other’s sentences, disagree furiously mid-sentence, or just tumble their thoughts over the top of each other’s makes it hard to untangle exactly who is saying what.

“With music, we just look in each other’s eyes, and we know,” adds Naomi (or at least I think it’s Naomi, etc etc).

The 19-year-old French-Cuban sisters are currently putting their musical sixth sense to good use as Ibeyi, adding an electronic edge to their piano and percussion compositions to produce what they describe as “contemporary negro spirituals”. Much of their inspiration comes from Yorùbá tradition, from the chants brought over to Cuba from Nigeria and Benin on slave ships. These songs have always been an integral part of their lives thanks to their mother, who grew up singing them. Ibeyi’s unique combination of the ancient and modern is no doubt what persuaded XL boss Richard Russell to sign them and produce their self-titled debut album.

The sisters’ story is pretty remarkable. Their father was the famous Cuban percussionist Miguel “Angá” Díaz, a conguero who played with the Buena Vista Social Club, among others, before his death in 2006. Asked what musical lessons he gave them, Lisa-Kaindé gestures a “zero” sign: “He would ask if we wanted to do music and we would say, ‘No, we want to go to the beach!’ So he let us do that.”

The girls credit their Venezuelan mother (who also acts as their manager) for really pushing them and inspiring their love of Yorùbá culture. Yet their father’s influence seems undeniable: the day after he died, Naomi picked up her first instrument – the cajón – and began playing.


(Please go to the link and listen to their songs. Wonderful!)

Bringing Books and Seeking Peace in Colombia

Weekend Edition Oct 31-Nov 02, 2014

Bringing Peace to a Beleaguered Country

Bringing Books and Seeking Peace in Colombia


A teacher, two donkeys, and a big pile of books are working to enrich the lives of the children in a small community in Colombia. Luis Soriano hopes in doing so to help bring peace to his violence-prone country.

Since the 1930s, violence has been an inescapable component of Colombian society. From 1948 to 1957, the country went through a civil war known as “La Violencia,” which left over 250,000 dead, the result of old rivalries between people from the Liberal and Conservative parties. These incidents created the framework for the extreme violence in Colombian society today.

As a consequence of waves of violence and political persecution, whole families left their homes to live in bigger cities. They usually ended up living in the most marginal and poor areas, lacking basic health and social services.

In the 1980s, new factors contributed to the perpetuation of the culture of violence in the country. One of the most important was the dissemination of cocaine and the incorporation of youngsters into the drug trade. Other factors were the economic crisis and the proliferation of guerrilla groups whose activities continue today. Colombia thus became one of the most violent countries in the world.

Inevitably, violence has affected all activities of civilian life, such as education. According to some estimates, Colombia now has a 20 percent illiteracy rate, which can be much higher in rural areas affected by violence. In addition, functional illiteracy is also high, due in large measure to the lack of reading materials and libraries in those communities.

In 1997, Luis Soriano, a rural teacher, had what for many was a crazy idea: to bring books to children in La Gloria, the municipal department of Nueva Granada. He had two unusual allies, two donkeys called Alfa and Beto. It is from them that his adventure got his name: He called it “Biblioburro,” or “Donkey’s Library.”


Last of the Crow war chiefs turns 101 in Montana

Last of the Crow war chiefs turns 101 in Montana

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was trained in the old warrior traditions, which he took with him into WWII

October 27, 2014 5:00AM ET
by Mary Hudetz - @marymhudetz

CROW AGENCY, Mont. — The last Crow war chief entered the log-cabin trading post at the edge of the Little Bighorn Battlefield just after noon on a Sunday, supported by his son on his left and a cane held firmly in his right hand.

Often, at tribal events such as powwows, he’ll swing his cane overhead in celebration. But on this October afternoon, with wind sweeping across the stretch of southern Montana that’s home to the Crows, the cane simply supported the centenarian — Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow in English or High Bird, his traditional name, in Crow.

“I was fortunate when I was growing up,” he said, after a lunch of stew, frybread and pie at the trading post’s cafe. “The Crow Indians were still retaining the culture, and they felt it was their duty to teach me to carry on the tribal heritage.”

In turn, he’s made it his duty to document and share it.

On Monday, Medicine Crow — tribal historian, storyteller, decorated World War II veteran, first in his tribe to attain a master’s degree, last to achieve the status of traditional Crow war chief and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — turns 101. As he described in a recent letter to a longtime friend and colleague, “On Oct. 27, I will have seen 101 snows.”

And yet he still feels “young and strong.” The eldest in a tribe of more than 10,000 members whose communities are scattered across nearly 3,600 square miles of plains and mountains, he is perhaps as much beloved for his hold on history as he is for his humor.

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