Monday, 30 August 2010

Crocodile Tears? Covering Crime in Venezuela

by Samuel Grove, 18 August 2010.

The ability of dominant elites to exploit crises and configure them in ways appropriate to their narrow interests is a capitalist staple. The economic crisis was articulated as a stock market crisis meriting a massive transfer of wealth to the financial class. Equally when the elites refer to the safety and security of a country what they really mean is safety and security for investors. Describing the humanitarian crisis in Palestine recently Barack Obama bemoaned the fact that Palestinians were unable ‘to create businesses and engage in trade’. With this in mind it is interesting to observe the current western elite media disquiet regarding crime in Venezuela.


Leader of Death Squads Wins Colombian Election

Source: Global
by James Petras, 27 June 2010

Juan Manuel Santos, notorious Defense Minister in the regime of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe and closely identified with high crimes against humanity “won” the recent Presidential elections in Colombia, June 2010. The major electronic and print media CNN, FOX News, Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the once liberal Financial Times (FT) hailed Santos election, as a great victory for democracy. According to the FT, “Colombia not Venezuela is (the) best model for Latin America” (FT 6/23/2010 p. 8). Citing Santos “overwhelming” margin – he garnered 69% of the vote, the FT claimed he won a “strong mandate” (FT 6/22/2010). In what has to be one of the most flagrant cover-ups in recent history, the media accounts exclude the most egregious facts about the elections and the profoundly authoritarian policies pursued by Santos over the past decade.

The Elections: Guns, Elites and Terror
Elections are a process (not merely an event) in which prior political conditions determine the outcome. During the previous eight years of outgoing President Uribe’s and Defense Minister Santos’ rule, over 2 million, mostly rural poor, were forcibly uprooted and driven from their homes and land and displaced across frontiers into neighboring countries, or to urban slums. The Uribe-Santos regime relied on both the military and the 30,000 member paramilitary death squads to kill and terrorize entire population centers, deemed “sympathetic” to the armed insurgency, affecting several million urban and rural poor. Over 20,000 people were killed, many, according to the major Colombian human rights group, falsely labeled “guerrillas”. Santos as Defense Minister was directly implicated by the Courts in what was called “false positives”. The military randomly rounded up scores of poor urban youth, shot them and claimed a resounding victory over the FARC guerrillas.

Cuba has not forgotten Haiti

Source: Granma
by Leticia Martínez Hernández 

SIX months have passed, but it seems like yesterday when, on that January 12, the faces of this agitated, forgetful world turned toward Haiti, the poorest nation of the American continent. Then the earth was shaking infernally and the international community lamented the tragedy that had befallen the nation of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

The people who breathed their last breath amounted to hundreds of thousands, and one million lost the roofs of their homes in which they spent their nights and sheltered from the sun and showers… Six months after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, more than one million people are still sleeping rough in tents and waking up to despair despite the promised aid from many countries. Six months after the earthquake "the dance of the millions" continues without it materializing, and the gestures of goodbye are becoming commonplace.

The Haitian capital is still an immense refugee camp, with more than 1,300 camps that have become ‘stable residencies’ for those who have lost everything, and every morning they go off to find ways of surviving in a country where options of work, apart from the informal markets, are becoming more and more elusive.

Meanwhile, the rubble remains impassable, the dumps constant fixtures, the rainy season is threatening, illnesses are lying in wait, forests are disappearing and uncertainty is overpowering a nation extremely lacerated after so many years of capitalist exploitation. However, the world has once again turned its back on Haiti. One figure is enough to back up this hypothesis: the country has only received 2% of the close to $10 billion that the international community promised to donate for its reconstruction.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Ecuador Promotes Environmental Conservation

Source: Prensa Latina.
4 August 2010

Ecuador is promoting an audacious program to help protect the environment and raise awareness among other nations to do the same. In this effort, the Ecuadorian government has joined with the United Nations Development Program and offered to renounce oil exploitation in an area where some 846 million barrels of reserve are known to exist.

According to an official note, this move aims to prevent the emission of 407 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, even though the nation could earn some US $7 billion from that oil, which has never been extracted. The Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini oilfields are located in the Yasuni-ITT National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, home to an indigenous population. As international compensation, Ecuador is asking for nations, organizations, and people interested in this plan to preserve the environment to give economic support by contributing to a fund that will be managed by the UNDP.

ELAM: Cuba's Latin American Medical School

Cuba answers the call for doctors 
Source: World Health Organization (WHO)
May 2010

Havana’s Latin American Medical School takes passionate young people from developing countries and sends them home as doctors. It’s all about driving health equity, writes Gail Reed. Now the challenge is to get medical societies to accept them.

Dr Midalys Castilla is animated as she talks about the graduates of Havana’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM) who are serving with Cuban medical teams in post-’quake Haiti. By the end of February, 557 of these ELAM graduates from 27 countries had made their way to Port-au-Prince, swelling the ranks of teams that will staff public health facilities past the emergency phase. “Doctors willing to go where they are most needed for as long as they are needed: this is the reason our school was established,” says Castilla, academic vice-rector and a founder of the institution that was created after another disaster hit the region over a decade ago.

In 1998, hundreds of Cuban doctors were dispatched to the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua after two devastating hurricanes. Their services in remote, underserved communities begged the question of what would happen when they returned home.

Venezuela and Cuba provide free eye surgery for 1 million people

Venezuela Provides More than One Million Free Eye Operations to Latin Americans
by Edward Ellis, 2 Aug 2010
Source: Correo del Orinoco International

The Venezuelan and Cuban health care program which performs free eye surgery for people around Latin America has treated over 1 million patients since 2004, according to data released by the Venezuelan government earlier this month. The social program, known as Mission Miracle, is one of the many agreements signed between Cuba and Venezuela in the area of health care. Completely free of charge, the program provides vision related surgery to low-income individuals who would otherwise not have the financial resources for these operations.

“Providing medical attention is a very important act”, said Noris Villalonga, Coordinator of Mission Miracle in the Venezuelan states of Lara, Yaracuy, and Portuguesa. “I think the value of providing the people with excellent care where there is quality and humanity is immeasurable”.

More than One Million Treated
According to official statistics, the exact number of patients treated by the Mission has reached 1,139,798 with an average of 5,000 operations occuring on a weekly basis in 74 medical centers around Venezuela. “We travel all over our assigned regions to make diagnoses, so that underserved populations receive this attention becuase the costs of eye surgery are very high and there are people that don’t have the resources”, explained Villalonga.

In the first four months of 2010, the Mission has helped 101,112 people recover or repair their vision. The majority of problems treated by the program include pterygium, cataracts, strabismus, retinopathies, glaucoma, myopia, ptosis, and difficulties in the cornea.

Health Care for Humanity
Although the vast majority of surgeries are performed on Venezuelans, residents from other Latin American nations have also benefited from the program. This year, 3,398 operations have been performed on non-Venezuelans. Lida Segura is one of the 5,733 Ecuadorans who has been attended by the mission since 2005.

Segura recently received an operation in the state of Lara and spoke about the difference that it will make in her life. “I’m 82 years old and I haven’t been seeing well for some 4 years now in either of my eyes. When I can see well, I will go out again and for this I am really happy. Now I can already see clearer thanks to the operation”, she said. “This has never happened…None of the earlier presidents cared about us, they only denied us assistance”, indicated Segura, thanking Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the chance to receive the free medical assistance.

Another Ecuadoran patient, Frenda Villasilva, commented on the quality of care and the significance that improved eyesight will have for her. “I have been treated better than in my own home. I’m 65 years old and you can imagine what it means to be able to see well at this age. To have 20-20 vision is to be practically reborn”, she exclaimed.

Residents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay have all benefited from the free operations. Last week, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved a law laying the groundwork for the program to reach the residents of El Salvador. Salvadoran doctors will evaluate eye-related illnesses and select patients who will then receive treatment in Venezuela.

During its initial phase, Mision Milagro was based in Cuba where 204,000 Venezuelans in need of care were sent for surguries. Venezuela is now the site of the operations where Cuban and Venezuelan doctors work side by side. Of the over 900,000 operations that have been carried out in Venezuela, 570,902 have been performed by Cubans and another 368,643 has been performed by Venezuelans.

“I am a doctor and a health promoter”, declared Coordinator Villalonga. “For me it’s a great responsibility that I must assume with dignity. Health cannot be played with. And to be able to receive such a great number of our Latin American brothers and sisters is the most amazing thing because it integrates us more as a region”.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Human rights violations in Honduras continue

Systemic State Sponsored Violations of Human Rights in Honduras


16 August 2010

The Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), reported today that there is state sponsored human rights violations in Honduras.

The statement issued by COFADEH is as follows:

The Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), expressed its concern (and condemnation) to the national and international community over systemic violations of human rights in the country will set precedence for continued state sponsored policy aimed at violating fundamental rights of different sectors of the country for the following reasons:

1: The COFADEH still receives complaints from different parts of the country that describe systemic attacks on leaders, trade unionists, peasants, journalists, youth organizations, members of the National Popular Resistance Front, and defenders of human rights.

2. The criminalization of social protest this week led to the use of repressive force by the state at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), which was not only a violation of the University’s autonomy but endangered the lives of thousands of students, left several seriously injured, poisoned by tear gas, and three students detained. All of this in order to disrupt the demands of union members of the UNAH, SITRAUNAH, which has maintained a hunger strike for over 100 days as a form of resistance.

3. We reiterate our concern for two groups that are subject to repression, teachers and youth, against whom actions are being planned to contain their just demands. Amongst these demands are for student bonds, and the taking to the streets by students from various high schools which has left around 21 students detained, most of them under age and from the institutes Jesús Aguilar Paz and Central Vicente Cáceres, in which police have entered thereby violating the law.

We denounce the constant death threats, persecution, and harassment against organized youth, proving that we are facing death squads, which operate when there is a state policy promoting the violation of human rights.

In regards to teachers, the constant threats to repress them for exercising their right to peacefully protest makes clear the panorama of persecution against the union.

4. We condemn the repressive actions by the National Police in the eastern zone of the country, who captured Juan Chinchilla the 4th of August, a member of the Unified Agrarian Movement of the Aguan (MUCA), illegally detained for 21 hours. The explanation that he was not wearing a seatbelt is an administrative offense.

We also repudiate the actions of the Transit Police in that area against the journalist René Rojas, who was handcuffed, displayed as a criminal in the Santa Rosa de Copan Park and assaulted by a policeman while detained at the police station. A traffic infraction was used as an excuse for detainment in this case as well. Rojas complained to the COFADEH that he has faced police persecution for two months, ever since denouncing the abuses of the Transit Police in that sector.

5. We cannot go without commenting on the situation which is taking place at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), where there are strong pressures that the UNAH no longer be the premier house of knowledge of Honduras, and we also denounce the strong economic interests that are behind this push.

6. Given all the facts that are reported to the COFADEH and through alternative media outlets, the True Commission, an initiative based on a Human Rights platform is preparing its actions not to compete and compare but rather to give the Honduran people one of the rights that continues to be violated: THE RIGHT TO KNOW THE TRUTH.


Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH)

Translated by KGK from COFADEH: existe una política de Estado de violación sistemática a los derechos humanos

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Solidarity Statement: Stop the Threat Against Venezuela Now!

Joint Solidarity Statement:
Stop the Threat Against Venezuela Now!

3 August 2010

We, the undersigned organizations, view with serious concern the possibility of military aggression towards the people of Venezuela by the Colombian Government, which could be supported by the United State of America using its seven military bases recently installed in Colombia.

This matter has arisen from the recent events when the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was accused on 22 July 2010 at the Extraordinary Session of the Organization of American States in Washington by the Colombian Government of promoting, supporting and maintaining a relationship with armed organizations from Colombia, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN). The accusations were only based on images which have never been substantiated or subjected to verification.

These current moves by the right-wing Colombian government are clearly an attempt backed by the US to justify a pre-emptive attack on Venezuela and its people. There has been a pattern of false allegations against Hugo Chavez’s government in recent years as part of US-backed campaign to dismantle the revolutionary process taking place in Venezuela.

Since the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1998 and the beginning of Bolivarian revolutionary process, Venezuela has posed a great challenge to the US imperialist domination in Latin America as well as capitalist establishment in the region. The revolutionary process - with a popular democratic participation in Venezuela carrying the banner of “Socialism in the 21st Century” - has been an inspiration to people around the world seeking alternatives to neoliberal capitalist world order.

Considering the historical interference of the United States in internal matters of other countries and regions, such as in Iran and the Korean Peninsula, we are fearful that the US may exploit the current Venezuela-Colombia crisis as an entry point to carry out military aggression against Venezuela as it has done many times elsewhere in the past. The attack on Venezuela has the aim to crush the revolutionary process taking place in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and to re-enact US imperial doctrine in the region. We are very aware of the potential impact that these negative actions could have on the Venezuelan people and its ongoing revolutionary process and on the international community.

As these apprehensions are very real, we would like to expresses our continuous support to the democratic and peaceful revolutionary process in Venezuela and we would like to extent our solidarity to the people of Venezuela who are striving to build a better world.

We call upon:
-          the Colombian government to stop its constant lies, malicious allegations and threats against Venezuela and engage with Venezuela to resolve the crisis with peaceful diplomatic means in order to rebuild its relations with the rest of the region;
-          the US government to shut down all its military bases and installations in Latin America as well as other parts of the world;
-          all governments with conscience to fully support the Venezuelan government’s insistence on its right to sovereignty and strongly denounce any US-backed military action against the people of Venezuela.
-          all people and organizations that support social justice and genuine democracy to support any solidarity action that may needed to defend Venezuela and the revolution in Venezuela against constant military threats.

Signed by: 

Socialist Alliance

Political Committee of the Poor People's Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD)
Women Mahardhika
Working People’s Association (PRP)

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

New Zealand :
Socialist Worker

Labour Party Pakistan (LPP)
National Trade Union Federation

Party of the Labouring Masses (PLM)
Philippines-Venezuela Solidarity Network
Labor Party (Partido ng Manggagawa)

Rock Around the Blockade (RATB)
The Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG)

[This joint statement is initiated by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), Working People’s Association (PRP), Indonesia and Socialist Alliance, Australia. Any organization wishing to endorse this statement, please contact us at int.psm[at] ]

Cuban Gerardo Hernández Thanks the World for Solidarity

Source: Cuban News Agency.

(acn) Gerardo Hernández, one of the five Cuban antiterrorist fighters imprisoned in the US, sent a thank-you message to all those who supported him and claimed for him to be removed from "the hole" where he was unfairly kept for 13 days. Hernandez sent the message via telephone through the US-based International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

I am dictating these words via telephone, which is why I must be brief and I will not be able to say everything I would have liked. Yesterday afternoon I was removed from "the hole" with the same speed in which I was thrown in. I had been taken there supposedly because I was under investigation. These investigations can take up to three months, sometimes more, but I was there 13 days. As a known Cuban journalist would say; you can draw your own conclusions...

I want to express to all of you my deep gratitude. You know that they were particularly difficult days due to the excessive heat and the lack of air, but you all were my oxygen. I can't find a better way to summarize the enormous importance of your solidarity efforts.

Many thanks to all the compañeras and compañeros from Cuba and around the world who joined their voices to condemn my situation. Thanks to the institutions, organizations and individuals of goodwill that in one way or another worked to bring an end to this injustice.

To our President Raul, that so honors us with his support. To the Cuban National Assembly and its President Ricardo Alarcon, a tireless fighter for the cause of the Five.

To my four brothers, who sent me messages of encouragement, and who have also suffered and lived under constant risk of suffering similar abuses. And of course, to our dear Commander in Chief: Thank you for so much honor! (I don't know if I should say it, but just the privilege of hearing my name in Fidel's voice makes me feel like thanking those who put me in "the hole"...) Thank you Comandante, for the joy of hearing you and seeing you as great as ever!

Thanks to everyone for having demonstrated again the power of solidarity
which, without a doubt, will one day make us free.

The struggle continues!

A big embrace,

Gerardo Hernández Nordelo
US Penitentiary, Victorville, CA
August 3rd, 2010

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Repression and hypocrisy in Chile

Mote in the neighbor’s eye
Source: Granma, 6 August 2010.
by Nidia Diaz.

A well-known and old saying warns, "Don’t marry or set sail on Tuesday the 13th," but it would seem that a large group of Chilean senators do not believe in such superstitions, given that, on July 13, they passed two motions which demonstrate present-day Chile’s unusual position, and both of them directed at pontificating on issues of democracy and human rights.

The first of them calls on President Sebastián Piñeira to demand a "more vigilant attitude" from the international agencies regarding the upcoming elections in Venezuela this September 26, as well as to back what they euphemistically and cynically describe as "the process of democratic consolidation in Honduras." In two words, to recognize the regime of Porfirio Lobo, who inherited the de facto dictatorship of Roberto Micheletti and, of course, to join ranks with the regional and pro-U.S. right in their dirty campaigns against Bolivarian Venezuela.

The Alan Gross Case

Source: CounterPunch
By Saul Landau

Someone, perhaps the protagonist himself, made a mistake -- perhaps an “oversight,” as Washington bureaucrats label their errors. Alan Gross, on a mission for his company (DAI) working for US AID (United States Agency for International Development) solicited a tourist visa to travel to Cuba for the purpose of “promoting democracy,” a euphemism for undermining governments that challenge Washington dictates.

Imagine the 60-year old American posing as a tourist while distributing laptops, cell phones and forbidden satellite phones to Cubans! Gross should have known he would draw the attention of Cuban state security. Or did he think he could innocuously drop-off expensive appliance at private homes, like a Santa Claus who prolonged his gift-giving night? Gross claimed he intended only to help the Cuban Jewish community upgrade its communication technology. Do most religious Jews believe God will talk to them only via satellite phone?
The atheistic Cuban government, of course, would have denied him permission to accomplish this task; so big deal, he lied and wrote “tourist” on his visa application. Not really a lie. He did hope to visit the Tropicana and spend a day at the beach in between satellite phone deliveries.

Gross knew Cuba does not allow satellite phones. A sign at the airport announces this. Satellite phones prevent tapping and could be used for sending coded messages on several frequencies. Their signals will usually bypass local telecoms systems. Oh, these phones can also call in coordinates for air strikes. On the web, Motorola advertises its satellite phones at bargain prices: between $1795 and $5273 – not counting service. In addition, the Cuban state phone company holds a monopoly and doesn’t allow competition. But if Gross wanted Jews to communicate to relatives abroad why not distribute phone cards in hard currency or Cuban-made cell phones with a prepaid long distance options? How did he acquire his merchandise? Could Cuban customs, which x-rays all incoming baggage, have missed these hi-tech phones in his suitcase? Not likely. Did Gross pick them up at the US Interest Section?

In any case, Gross, working for DAI, a company contracted to the US government, Cuba’s primary enemy, falsified his immigration form and failed to register with Cuba as an agent of the US government. In other words, Cuba had him cold on immigration fraud and failing to register. Did he really think he wouldn’t get caught? Did no one in his company or at AID warn him? A Gringo going around Cuba handing out satellite phones to Jews? And there are not that many in Cuba.

Given the facts of prima facie evidence of his lying to Cuban immigration and distributing taboo products, you’d think from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s recent remarks that Cuba had unjustly arrested a gross of innocent Jewish Americans trying to help members of their suffering tribe who already get plenty of communications help from Jewish agencies in several countries.
Clinton appealed to American Jews to rally behind Alan, who “has been held in a Cuban jail for the last seven months without being charged with any crime – because he did not commit any crime. He was in Cuba as a humanitarian and development worker and, in fact, was assisting the small Jewish community in Havana that feels very cut off from the world.” Clinton, speaking at a dinner honoring Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti- Semitism, raised the issue at the behest of his family “I am really making an appeal to the active Jewish community here in our country to join this cause.” (Jerusalem Post, July 15) She probably didn’t have time in her remarks to mention one fact: Gross worked for a company contracted with an agency in her own State Department -- USAID.  (July 13 speech to reception hosted for the Jewish Community)

In late February, I asked three people at Havana’s largest synagogue; none knew an American named Gross. Adela Dworin, who speaks for the Jewish community in Havana, told a CBS correspondent she knew Gross. She said recognized international Jewish organizations had some time ago provided them with legal Internet connections

Alan Gross had previously set up satellite communications systems to circumvent state-controlled channels in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like a bottom fish on the precarious food chain of subverting a foreign government, Gross got caught on a Cuban police hook. Cuba has not yet formally charged him although Cuban officials have said they “suspect him of espionage.”

Adriana Perez is not allowed to visit her husband, political prisoner Gerardo Hernandez, seriously ill in a US jail. She has been denied a visa 10 times in 11 years and even email contact has been denied by the leaders of the 'free world'.

Secretary Clinton, pleading for Gross’ freedom, ignored the case of five admitted Cuban agents serving long sentences in US federal prisons. Like Gross they also failed to register as foreign agents (maximum sentence 18 months); unlike him, they came to Miami to fight terrorism, not to undermine the US government or political system.
The five Cuban agents admitted they didn’t register as foreign agents – their only crime. Yet, the Justice charged them, without evidence, of conspiring to commit espionage and other felonies. The intimidated Miami judge and jury predictably convicted and sentenced them. Gross traveled to Cuba to undermine the Cuban government. 

Different motives, but hell isn’t it time for a swap? Cuba announced it would soon free all its political prisoners -- plus a Gross for five? Judy Gross, his wife, could stand beside the wives of the five Cuban prisoners’ wives demanding: “free our husbands.” Perhaps such an exchange is underway? In a recent video Fidel Castro told a group of visiting clergymen that the Five would be home before the end of the year. If that’s true, both Hillary and Judy Gross would also have reasons to feel good.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

US 'aid' funded mass murder in Colombia

Report Suggests "Correlation" between U.S. Aid and Army Killings
By Helda Martínez
Source: IPS News, 30 Jul 2010.

"There are alarming links between increased reports of extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian army and units that receive U.S. military financing," John Lindsay-Poland, lead author of a two-year study on the question, told IPS. Lindsay-Poland is Research and Advocacy Director for the U.S.-based Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which presented a new report, "Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications", in Bogotá Thursday.

The report, produced in conjunction with the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC), studies the application in Colombia of the so-called Leahy Law, passed in 1996, which bans military assistance to a foreign security force unit if the U.S. State Department has credible evidence that the unit has committed gross human rights violations. The Leahy Law is one of the main U.S. laws designed to protect against the use of U.S. foreign aid to commit human rights abuses.

"If the Leahy Law was fully implemented, assistance would have to be suspended to nearly all fixed army brigades and many mobile brigades in Colombia," Lindsay-Poland said. The report points out that most military training in Colombia is funded by the U.S. Defence Department. Colombia, caught up in an armed conflict for nearly five decades, is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the world, along with Israel, Egypt and Pakistan.

The study reviewed data on more than 3,000 extrajudicial executions reportedly committed by the armed forces in Colombia since 2002 and lists of more than 500 military units assisted by the United States since 2000. "We found that for many military units, reports of extrajudicial executions increased during and after the highest levels of U.S. assistance," Lindsay-Poland said. The results were obtained by comparing the number of reports of such killings in the two years prior to the start of Plan Colombia -- the multibillion-dollar U.S. military aid package -- in 2000 with the number of killings after the launch of that counterinsurgency and anti-drug strategy.

It also found that reports of alleged killings of civilians by the army dropped when assistance was cut. "Whatever correlation may exist between assistance and reported killings, there are clearly other factors contributing to high levels of killings. Yet, while we could not fix the causes of increased reports of killings after increases in U.S. assistance, our findings highlight the need for a thorough investigation into the reasons for this apparent correlation," the authors say. "The U.S. government should respond to the questions raised by the report," Lindsay-Poland said. For example, "why U.S. officials neglect their duties under the Leahy Law, not only in Colombia but in countries like Pakistan, where the situation is very complex."

The U.S. military presence in Colombia dates back to the 1940s, when leftwing guerrillas became active in the country. But it escalated to a new level in 1999 when Plan Colombia was agreed by the governments of then presidents Andrés Pastrana (1998–2002) and Bill Clinton (1993–2001). Plan Colombia was complemented and extended in 2004 by Plan Patriot, signed by President Álvaro Uribe, whose term ends Aug. 7, and former president George W. Bush (2001–2009).

The two plans have undergone radical changes since 2009, according to Lindsay-Poland, when they reached beyond the initial aims of counterinsurgency and counternarcotics, with a view towards strengthening U.S. control in the region. U.S. army Southern Command documents state the importance of establishing a base "with air mobility reach on the South American continent and a capacity for counter-narcotics operations until the year 2025," he said.

Uribe offered the U.S. military the use of seven bases at strategic points in Colombia, including both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the province of Caquetá in the Amazon jungle, and the provinces of Meta, Tolima and Cundinamarca in the centre of the country. Lindsay-Poland and other members of FOR tried to visit the Palanquero base in Cundinamarca, one of the seven, on Wednesday. But "they did not let us in," he said. "They demanded authorisation from the U.S. Embassy. So what kind of autonomy are we talking about here?"

Furthermore, the agreement for U.S. military access to the bases has not been approved by the Colombian Congress, as required by law. As a result, the Constitutional Court ruled the agreement unconstitutional on Jul. 22 and gave Congress one year to approve or reject it. If the legislature ratifies the deal, the Constitutional Court will once again study it, to determine whether or not it is in line with the constitution.

The report presented by FOR and USOC coincided with the start of an investigation of reports of unmarked graves in the La Macarena cemetery, which is next to an army base, according to a Jul. 22 public hearing in that town in the central province of Meta, which was attended by opposition lawmakers and international observers, including European legislators.

At the hearing, witnesses said military helicopters flew in the remains of bodies to La Macarena, 340 km south of Bogotá. Human rights groups say the bodies were those of civilians killed by the army. "This is happening at the end of a government marked by grave human rights violations, which have largely affected the most vulnerable groups in society, and which are reflected in the thousands of 'false positives', as the extrajudicial executions have been popularly known," Alberto Yepes, director of the Observatorio de Derechos Humanos (DIH - Human Rights Observatory), told IPS.

The scandal over the so-called "false positives" -- young civilians killed by the army and passed off as guerrilla casualties in the military's counterinsurgency campaign --broke in the press in September 2008. Although there are no hard statistics on the number of people killed, the report by FOR and USOC puts the number at over 3,000 in the last decade.

A group that calls itself the Madres (mothers) of Soacha, a vast working-class suburb stretching south of Bogotá, has filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the loss of their 16 sons in 2007 and 2008. The young men were recruited with the promise of jobs, but their bodies were found in morgues or mass graves hundreds of kilometres away.

Yepes said the complaint filed by the Madres de Soacha "is a way to pressure the state to modify this kind of behaviour."

While activists and groups mobilise to pressure the armed forces to live up to the constitution, "the United States should assume its responsibility through better oversight, holding (authorities in Colombia) accountable and adopting corrective measures, so the money of U.S. taxpayers does not end up financing killings in Colombia," he said.

Gerardo Hernández released from isolation hole

Source: National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, 03 Aug 2010

Gerardo Hernández, Cuban Five hero, has just been released this morning from isolation after an intense campaign by his attorneys and thousands of supporters around the world, including nearly a thousand emails to the Bureau of Prisons generated by the National Committee's appeal.

Leonard Weinglass, one of Gerardo's attorneys, visited Gerardo this weekend along with fellow attorney Peter Schey. He described this morning to Gloria La Riva of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five the abysmal and cruel conditions that Gerardo was placed in. "Gerardo is in great spirits but he's really suffering. In 100+ degree weather, the air was so stifling that Gerardo was laying on the floor sucking in air from the bottom of the door. He couldn't take his blood pressure medicine as his doctor advised him because the weather was too hot. He couldn't use the shower because it was scalding hot water. He was given dirty bedsheets, and he had to resort to washing them in the toilet."

Weinglass noted that "we sent a five-page letter to the prison containing all the errors that they made in putting him in isolation. The letter outlined their own regulations that they violated."

Moments later this morning, in a new phone call, Weinglass announced "they've just released him to the general population!"

It's thanks to the great efforts of the attorneys and the national and international solidarity movement with the Cuban Five that this punitive and unwarranted prison action against Gerardo has been ended. Thanks to everyone who responded so quickly to this emergency situation. Clearly, the struggle must intensify to free Gerardo and all the Cuban Five from prison. 

One thing you can do right now is to send a letter to Gerardo, letting him know you and all of us are with him in the continuing struggle. Also, if you are not already receiving emails from the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, please click here to add your name to our low-volume list, so that we'll be able to notify you if another emergency arises.

Free the Cuban Five Now! Allow the families' visits!
Grant entry visas to Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva!

What about the Cuban Five political prisoners?

by Murray Andrews, RATB.
29 July 2010.

With the recent release of a number of so-called ‘political prisoners’ in Cuba, reactionaries the world over have seized the opportunity to pounce for the attack. 

Cuba agreed to free 52 so-called ‘dissidents’ under a deal with Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church and Spain. The 52 are part of a group of 75 US-backed mercenaries who were arrested in 2003 and jailed. So far, 20 of these gusanos* have been freed and flown with their families to Spain, including former boxer Ariel Sigler, who arrived in Miami on 29 July. Freedom for the other gusanos may take months.

From the Miami gutter press to the supposedly ‘left’ Guardian, hack journalists everywhere have been eager to write articles praising these criminals as ‘human rights activists’, and to denounce Cuba as the enemy of all ‘free people’. Meanwhile, there has been a conspicuous silence in covering up for the hypocritical abuses of the imperialists, particularly the US, ignoring the plentiful and very real political prisoners in their midst – five of whom were seized for defending their own country against terrorist attacks.

September 2010 marks the twelfth anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban Five. For 12 years  Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez -  have been locked up in the US. They were arrested while monitoring the activities of a number of anti-Cuban terrorist groups, such as Brothers to the Rescue and Alpha 66, in an attempt to prevent further acts of terror against Cuba. Anti-Cuban terrorist gangs have received support from the CIA and FBI, via the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), and more than 3,400 Cubans have been killed since 1959 as a result of terrorist attacks against the island. The Cuban Five were held without bail between arrest and trial for 33 months, and kept in solitary confinement for 17 months. In June 2001, in a hysterical courtroom in Miami, they were accused of a number of serious crimes, and eventually convicted of espionage (spying against a state), conspiracy and a host of associated charges, receiving a total of four life sentences and 75 years in prison.

Over the last 12 years, a bitter struggle has been fought across the world, in the courts, in the UN and on the streets by activists to get justice for the Cuban Five. In some cases there have been notable advances: following a number of appeal proceedings, by 2008 three of the Five had had their sentences reduced, including the life sentences on Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, whilst upholding the convictions on all the Five. In June 2010, Labanino, for ‘exemplary behaviour’ over his 11 long years of imprisonment, was moved from a maximum security to a medium security jail in Georgia. Despite these gains for the Five, the fact remains that they are being held by the US for crimes it knows they did not commit – they are clear political prisoners of the US.

On 10 March 2010, in the context of numerous vile media attacks, Cuba requested that the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) reactivate the case of the Five, which was labelled by a UN Working Group in 2005 as ‘arbitrary’. This was followed two days later by two wives of the Cuban Five meeting with top officials of the HRC to discuss the imprisonment, and the continued refusal of the US to grant visas to allow them to visit their husbands.

In June 2010, fresh evidence came to light which is allowing the defence team for the Five to make a direct challenge: a ‘collateral appeal’. In June members of the US campaign group, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, uncovered information via the Freedom of Information Act that the US government had paid nearly $74,400 to Miami journalists, who wrote a number of articles inflaming public opinion against the Five. The Coordinator Gloria La Riva, said that ‘[t]his is a most blatant and outrageous example of government influence destroying the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal’, and that the payments made to the journalists constitute a violation of federal law, which is meant to ban domestic government propaganda. With this new evidence, the collateral appeal for Gerardo Hernandez was filed on 14 June in a Miami federal district court, the last possible legal recourse for Hernandez in the US legal system. Amongst this new evidence, it also deals with government falsification, handling and concealment of evidence to obstruct justice.

The Cuban Five are heroes both in Cuba and around the world. There can be nothing more hypocritical than the attacks on Cuba by the imperialist countries and their running dogs in the media. We are expected to shed a tear for convicted violent criminals like Orlando Zapata Tamayo, while the Five are hushed away from the public eye? While the Five sit in isolation cells, counting away the 12 years since their ordeal began, terrorists like Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles and Guillermo Novo Sampoll walk and brag freely in the US.

In this period of attacks on Cuba and its socialist example, and in this pivotal point in the case of the Five, we around the world, who tremble with indignation at every injustice, owe it to the Cuban people and their Five heroes to fight tooth and nail against the convictions and the savagery of the imperialists and their hired propagandists.

*A gusano is a worm.

US groups call for trade with Cuba

 As the US looses economic ground and finds its hegemony in Central and Latin America increasingly challenged by Brazil, Canada, Vietnam, China and the EU, sections of the US ruling class are agitating to recover lost ground - under cover of humanitarianism, of course!  To be sure, this 'does not end' the genocidal blockade of Cuba. - RATB.

Trade, travel with Cuba the right policy, right now

By Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)

It isn't every day a coalition of more than 140 organizations including  Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Farm Bureau Federation all agree on a bill before Congress. But, in the case of the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, H.R. 4645, these groups and many more agree this is the right policy at the right time for the people of Cuba and the United States.

For more than 50 years, the United States has maintained a failed policy that does nothing to help the Cuban people and has only hamstrung our own national interests. Now is the time for that to change. Earlier this year, Reps. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) joined me in introducing legislation to expand U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba and to allow U.S. citizens the right to travel freely to Cuba. This legislation has more than 70 co-sponsors and was approved by the House Agriculture Committee last month.

This bill is essential and timely because Cuba relies on agricultural imports for the majority of its food needs. Between 2000 and 2006, these imports almost doubled. U.S. producers can reach Cuban ports in one day or less, compared to the more than 25 days it takes Brazil, whose exports to Cuba have nearly tripled since 2005, and European countries. Exports from Canada and New Zealand have each doubled. It is time we get out of our own way and boost the U.S. economy with new markets for the agricultural products we produce best. A recent Texas A&M University study found we can export more than $350 million in additional commodities, creating more than 6,000 new jobs in the process.Turning away these jobs is irresponsible in today's economy. To be clear, H.R. 4645 does not end the embargo on Cuba; it only facilitates agricultural trade and opens the door for Americans to travel to Cuba. This bill maintains a cash-only policy and does not allow our banks to extend credit to Cuba. Additionally, payments would be made when products reach
Cuban ports and the buyers confirm the cargo. The bill makes our agriculture trade policy toward Cuba more consistent with our practices toward other countries.

The bill's travel provisions will enable producers, exporters and everyday Americans to travel to Cuba just as they do when traveling to any other nation. The Texas A&M study found that agricultural exports to Cuba would be almost $100 million higher if the travel restrictions were lifted compared to only removing finance and trade restrictions. Opening travel will increase the overall economic impact for the entire economy. In 2009, a study by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) estimated U.S. exports to Cuba will increase by as much as $500 million if restrictions on transactions and travel are lifted. Opening travel helps the Cuban people. Americans traveling to Cuba can freely share news, ideas and information without the filter of state-controlled media.

This bill has the strong support of many anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba, including independent journalists, former political prisoners and members of  the Ladies in White. These advocates support this legislation, saying, "We share the opinion that the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society." Opponents of this legislation have tried to change the debate by complaining
about delayed passage of pending free trade agreements. This bill can be passed while the work on free trade agreements continues. We can and must focus on more than one thing if we are going to expand and improve the U.S. economy.

This is in no way a reward for the Castro regime. Increasing our agriculture business with Cuba, increasing American travel to Cuba and exporting our democratic philosophy will no longer allow the Castro brothers to blame America for conditions in their failed regime. We need to end these failed policies. As the Los Angeles Times wrote on July 10, "we need to pass this legislation not because Cuba deserves it or has earned it, but because our own policies have failed to bring about democratic change in more than a half-century." The Cuban people who need our agricultural products and U.S. farmers who have a ready-made market just 90 miles off our coast in Cuba, are being punished by these failed policies.

Rep. Peterson is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.