Friday, April 20, 2012

Notes on Some Scandals

The Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia is not so much a scandal as it is a symptom. It is a manifestation of the long history of Yanqui arrogance and hegemony in Latin America. The elite imperialists of the United States have long viewed Central and South American countries as either Marxist enemies that must be ridiculed and punished (Cuba and Venezuela) or complicit and corrupt satellites (Nicaragua, Honduras). President Obama, following in the footsteps of his idol, Ronald Reagan, is busily establishing a coalition of the willing south of the border. He has been quietly building up our military presence in Colombia, site of more labor-related murders than all other nations combined. He is quietly using yet another corrupt regime as a base of operations for the expansion of the War on Terror.

Instead of fighting Al queda and the Taliban, we are in South and Central America to fight a phony War on Narco-Terror. Drugs are just one more excuse to flex American muscle, enrich American corporations and ignore and flout international human rights principles. The Drug Enforcement Administration -- much like the paramilitarized police forces within our own borders -- has been turned into a virtual Army, replete with high tech weaponry left over from Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that the DEA is fighting a virtual war in Honduras, even assassinating members of alleged drug cartels, is not getting a whole lot of attention in El Norte. Charlie Savage of the New York Times did write a brief article on the Terror-Drug Fusion Wars last fall.

As a matter of fact, the corporate media as a whole have glossed over the horrors of life in Colombia and other repressive regimes and as true American government mouthpieces, have concentrated on the socialistic evils of Venezuela and Cuba, whose records on human rights are stellar in comparison. From the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

What leads editors to discuss Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record with less alarm than Venezuela’s flawed but clearly superior record? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between the editors’ views and U.S. strategic thinking. Over the time frame of this study, U.S. officials have highlighted human rights concerns in Venezuela out of opposition to the populist policies of its President Hugo Ch√°vez, which they see as threatening to U.S. interests. At the same time, officials have tried to diminish the gravity of Colombia’s human rights problems in order to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.   
 Curiously, though government-linked Colombian death squads were in the habit of killing journalists, political activists and trade unionists over the entire time span of this study, virtually no editorials questioned the health of Colombia’s democracy, in stark contrast to the editors’ almost obsessive concern about the perilous state of Venezuela’s. Indeed, though President Uribe has been linked with death squads (Washington Post, 4/18/07), and former President Pastrana presided over a government with extensive death squad ties, the editors felt a need to insist time and again that the Colombian leaders were true and dedicated democrats.
The Obama Administration has been falling all over itself trying to justify approving the Colombian trade deal despite that country's horrible history of terrorizing its own people. As long as the government promises to try to cut back a tad on murdering trade unionists, then it's all good. Sound familiar? Just as banks can regulate themselves and factory farms can police their own filth and frackers can be relied upon to curb their polluting greed, Colombia shall be rewarded with no oversight and no penalties for non-compliance:

The Administration is asking worker rights advocates to believe that after over two decades of violence and impunity and other widespread violations that Colombia has now magically turned the corner on the basis of a Labor Action Plan signed in April.
As USLEAP* (US Labor Education in the Americas Project) and others have noted, the Plan has no enforcement measures and pressure for compliance will end as soon as the Colombia FTA is implemented. The Plan, which contains some positive features if fully implemented, must be given time to demonstrate concrete results in reducing violence and ending impunity, let alone addressing other long-standing obstacles to the exercise of basic worker rights. And there is not even a “Plan” to address violence against other human rights defenders or the negative impact that the FTA is expected to have on small farmers, Afro-Colombians and the environment.

Life in Latin American backwaters is cheap. So when Secret Service agents and military personnel hit the brothels and the bars the minute their jackboots touched Cartagena ground, they were simply exercising their rights as occupiers and conquerors. That they should objectify Third World Latina women forced to work as prostitutes to feed themselves and their children should come as no surprise. That they should expect to be secretly serviced for mere pennies should come as no surprise either. The only surprise is that somebody took the women's side for a change and the Americanos were exposed. 

It is of course also no surprise at all that our own politicians and pundits should concentrate on the symptom rather than the disease. The real scandal is a double one: the rushed approval of the Colombian free trade agreement, despite ongoing documented human rights abuses and murders of trade unionists, and President Obama's refusal to back down on his cynical War on Drugs. Corporate profits once again have trumped humanitarianism. Our Democratic president has pledged his allegiance to profits over people.

And how do labor leaders back home feel about this debacle? Well, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO is "deeply disappointed" in President Obama. But not so much that he will withdraw his endorsement for Barry's re-election. And here you thought that this story couldn't get any more disgusting.

* "The U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Chicago that engages a wide range of organizations and individuals in the U.S. and abroad to promote full respect for the rights of workers in Latin America. Founded in 1987 as the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, the organization advocates for fundamental changes to U.S. trade policies, demands corporate responsibility, denounces violence against trade unionists, and conducts worker justice campaigns in the banana, flower, and apparel sectors. USLEAP seeks a global economy in which all workers, abroad and in the U.S., are treated fairly, paid a living wage, and respected by corporations and governments." Its website can be found here.


Kat said...

Thanks for this post. I thought I was going to go crazy. The ONLY thing we've heard in the MSM about the Summit of the Americas has been about the prostitution scandal-- and I'm not talking about our government prostituting itself out to corporate interests.
So, is USLEAP some sort of rebranding of Plan Colombia?

Pearl said...

You have filled me and others in with many details that are more
horrifying than one could imagine but not surprising given the past history of our country's relationship with Columbia and many other South American
countries. It is the new (old) cold war against those who threaten our way of life by their differences while we plunder their resources.

The secret service scandal is a red flag and a distraction to the much larger more serious scandals going on beneath the radar. The wrong people are being punished which is supposed to mollify the moralistic public.

I don't know how you are able to gather so much information available that one rarely reads in the regular media. What a sad world which Obama is doing
nothing about. He has forfeited his chance to accomplish something great when he had the opportunity to do so and many of us who supported his election will not repeat it.

I will continue to enjoy the embarrassment to the various military and secret service personnel as well as their superiors and the administration.
There is little enough to find humor in, however twisted, these days.

Best to you, and thank you for such an informative article.

Karen Garcia said...

Just added a link to USLEAP at the end of the post. Ironically, they're based in Chicago.

Valerie said...

"It is the new (old) cold war against those who threaten our way of life by their differences while we plunder their resources.

The secret service scandal is a red flag and a distraction to the much larger more serious scandals going on beneath the radar. The wrong people are being punished which is supposed to mollify the moralistic public."

Well said, Pearl!

I always feel so sick about what my country is doing in relation to illegal drugs. We have contributed to making countries like Mexico and Columbia unsafe for the people who live there - and we have a lot to answer for.

First, those Americans buying illicit drugs need to understand what they are buying along with a “high” is terror and violence against innocent people. Second, wink-wink, Hollywood is also to blame for glamorising drug use. And Third, our government is even more to blame with this failure of a policy the call the War on Drugs.

I don't know how to think about destructive and addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin being legalised, but I DO know that there is no good reason why marijuana isn't legalised - and taxed. This "gateway drug" crap is just that, crap! Alcohol is the real gateway drug and yet we manage to live peacefully with that! - so why not marijuana? And the great thing about pot is people can grow it in their yards, so no having to sneak out to a bad part of town and enrich some thug. Our prisons are overflowing with petty offenders who have had three strikes. It is ridiculous! Legalise pot and be done with it!

And we need to have a little understanding and look at why people turn to drugs in the first place. For some, as Karen wrote about in her April 11, 2011 post Feel the Pain, they are using Meth to stay awake in order to work two or three jobs. Often people use drugs the same way they use alcohol, to escape their psycho-emotional pain, fear and hopelessness. We need to address THAT! Why is there so little hope in our country anymore?

There isn’t an aspect of this situation that doesn’t fill me with dread and deep sadness.

Kat said...

Thanks Karen! I meant the labor plan of course.
And thanks again for this post.

Denis Neville said...

No mention of Cervezagate? Hillary Clinton drinking a beer and dancing to Cuban music at Cafe Havana in Cartagena, Colombia? 'Swillary' Clinton an embarrassment as Secretary of State?

Re: U.S. phony War on Narco-Terror:

Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail writes that “Latin America has drug-war fatigue [they’ve seen high death tolls fighting cartels tooth and nail with no end in sight] and some of its leaders want to start talk about legalizing drugs.”

“…this is an issue that’s threatening the stability of nations. Some 50,000 have died in Mexico’s drug wars and the violence, corruption and influence of cartels threaten Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and some Caribbean nations, too.”

“Wars against Colombia’s cocaine cartels didn’t stop drugs but shifted power to cartels in Central America. Local governments and police have been corrupted. It is, on a grand scale, like Al Capone’s Chicago in the 1920s, and increasingly leaders think the way to deal with it is to lift Prohibition.

Re: Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record – in which more than 3.7 million Colombians have been forcibly displaced by paramilitaries, guerrillas, and state forces from an estimated 16 million acres of land. Those who have sought restitution have been the victims of repeated violence, threats, and intimidation.

Colombia is trying to fight its drug problem with land reform. FARC, Colombia’s largest insurgent group, which is also involved in narco trafficking, has fought a long and hard for land reform.

No mention in the media (only Cervezagate and Secret Service scandals) of Colombia’s historic Victims and Land Restitution Law. According to Human Rights Watch, this new law will return millions of stolen and abandoned acres of land to Colombians who have been driven from their homes by violence as well as provide financial compensation to victims of human rights violations.

How much of U.S. foreign aid will be directed to this supporting program?

The “serious” money will continue to be devoted to our ongoing phony wars of terror and drugs.

And not a peep from mainstream media. Cervezagate and Secret Service scandals and other diversionary stories are the norm. Bread and circuses for the masses.

Zee said...

“Another possibility is that we could simply legalize the manufacture and use of drugs, tax the hell out of 'em, and thereby wipe out the Mexican drug cartels, a major source of our border security problems. At the same time, we would dramatically reduce our prison costs while creating new jobs in the drug rehab industry, paid for by the tax on drugs. Just a thought Zee, Reality Chex Off Times Square, 6 October 2011

One of the things that does appeal to me about Rocky Anderson and the Justice Party platform is that they plan to treat drug use as a health care problem instead of as a criminal problem.

But I believe that it is past time to go beyond the Justice Party's plan and admit that we have lost the war on drugs—indeed, that that the war on drugs does far more harm than good—and legalize the possession and use of all recreational drugs in this country.

This is not some crazy Libertarian fantasy of mine that people have a right to destroy themselves if they want to, just a hard look at the reality of human nature and the recognition that some small segment of society will always seek freedom from its various devils in alcohol or drugs, legal or otherwise. And a pragmatic way to try to deal with this reality.

Like Valerie, I have problems with even the thought of legalizing the really hard drugs such as methamphetamine.

However, in the end I think that the benefits of doing so outweigh the potential harm.

Grant the government a monopoly on the the production and sale of recreational drugs. In doing so, purity and “safety”—insofar as safety can ever be a factor here—are assured.

Production of recreational drugs is cheap, but charge prices high enough that we can use the profits—the tax, if you will—to fund a massive drug rehabilitation industry for those who finally decide that they want to be free of addiction.

Perhaps, in such a setting, we call also start to deal with the psycho-emotional issues that drive people to resort to drugs in the first place.

The benefits are that we will instantaneously put the drug cartels out of business and perhaps permit the rule of law to return to Mexico and other Latin American countries where the cartels are literally at war with the government.

We will empty out the prisons and fill up the new rehabilitation facilities paid for by the tax on drugs. Drug addiction will become a health care issue, not a crime.

We will reduce property crimes enormously, because addicts will no longer have to steal—or, at least, will have to steal less—to support their habits.

Violent crime, already in decline, will decline further because many homicides are drug-related.

Yes, there will be numerous problems that will still have to be resolved if recreational drugs are legalized, problems that my limited understanding of the problem are unable to foresee.

I am certain that participants in this forum will see numerous holes in my simplistic analysis.

But the “war on drugs” is a violent, 40-year-old failure, so perhaps it's time to try something new.

Zee said...

Totally unrelated to the current thread, have any of you heard about the virus that may shut down hundreds of thousands of computers in July?

I just saw this today so perhaps it's old news to the rest of you, but you may want to have a look at this Associated Press article courtesy of Google:

Jay - Ottawa said...

As I read Karen's report, it seems as though the subject is the death of unions and union organizers, not juicy distractions like cervezagate or secret service-gate.

How can you insure that the pendulum swings back to oligarchic rule and that the pendulum stays put in mid-air steady as a rock, as it has been throughout most of recorded history? Well, subsidize the rich and undermine trade unions. Kill solidarity. Unorganized workers will always be pushovers.

Historically, organized labor has been one of the most effective forces for pulling common people out from under penury and oppression. People who work with their hands know how to stand tough. Lots of them have died fighting, and not in vain. But they can be swarmed and overpowered when fellow citizens pretend to be innocent bystanders and ignore their debt to organized labor.

Saint Reagan and his disciples unleashed their wrecking ball against the air traffic controllers back in 1981. The unions have continued to lose ground ever more rapidly since then. Professional liberals, two-faced politicians and ignorant people let it pass.

Granted, some of labor’s demise has been due to internal rot. But by no means all of it. Most of the damage comes from anti-union legislation and the neutering of governmental agencies like state and national labor departments, which are supposed to protect workers AND THEIR LABOR ORGANIZATIONS. The media lends oligarchy a hand by promulgating anti-union propaganda. Finally, add in dirty tricks going all the way up to contract murder. The totality of these anti-union measures, when not opposed by sizeable portions of the electorate, usually do the trick in no time. And so the unions are crushed generation after generation.

In Columbia, as elsewhere around the world, the oligarchy, unopposed, does whatever it takes to bring down uppity workers. The organizers and strickers are all basically Marxists, right? So, for the sake of commerce and peace, kill them.

Nothing new in South America. Nothing new in labor history. The only thing that’s new here is the name and the face that leads anti-union efforts today in government -- on behalf of the oligarchy. Yesterday, the name heading the charge against labor was Reagan, remember? Guess who in our day is leading the charge for the oligarchy and their money machines, the corporations.

Rose in Michigan said...


Thanks for the heads-up on the potential computer problem. Went there, checked, and got a clean bill of health on both laptops.

As for your suggestions on drugs, I must say that on this issue, as with so many others, despite calling yourself a conservative you sound just like me and other liberals I know. That's a good thing, by the way. We need more civilized discourse among people of differing perspectives. My late first husband was saying exactly what you are, back in the early 60s. (He was from Colombia, by the way. --OK, just think of that as a "fun fact." )

Some activities can be curbed, at least to some extent, by making them illegal -- murder, for example. (Although in Florida and almost two dozen other states we're moving in the direction of legalizing it.)

Other activities cannot be legislated out of existence, no matter how hard governments may try: abortion, for example. Women will have them, even at the risk of their lives. Prostitution is another. As is the use of mood-altering substances, be they alcohol, peyote, THC, LSD or any of the other psychotropic drugs. Best is to acknowledge reality, regulate the activity for health and safety, and tax the proceeds to pay for the necessary infrastructure. Of course, because it makes sense, it will never happen here.

What will happen, it appears, is that before long it will be perfectly acceptable -- and legal -- to shoot someone dead with no adverse consequences, provided you can persuade law enforcement officials that you "felt threatened." So we have, as in the Trayvon Martin case, a crime with a victim -- a dead victim -- essentially decriminalized. Whereas getting high, or perhaps just mellow (say with a joint) which is completely victimless, is a crime punishable by, in some cases, serious prison time.

American society is a combination of Calvinism, Puritanism (those two overlap but have important differences), rugged individualism and worship of the frontier spirit. While extolling personal independence, we're all about punishing those who don't fall in line. Which is why, Sir Zee, sensible ideas like yours will never be accorded a fair hearing in America's halls of power.

More's the pity.

Kat said...

I'm with you on the legalization of all recreational drugs. I just don't see how you end the drug war and diminish the related violence in Latin America if only marijuana is legalized.

Kat said...

off topic here-- Tom Friedman writes the same column again. This time he calls on Francis Fukuyama!(?) OK, this all very par for the course, but it appears they have a commenter that writes the same comment over and over again: NYT Pundit X-- don't you get it? The Republicans won't let our president get anything done!
It's like it is some sick joke.

Valerie said...

You make a good point, Jay - Ottawa. The drug wars have been a convenient excuse for arming Latin American governments to go after corporate enemies (unions) who dare to demand a portion of the wealth resulting from their labour. It is a terrible thing that the working people in Latin American countries like Columbia have to fear the drug cartels, invading, anti-union foreign corporations and their own governments and local police forces - which are more often than not doing the bidding of either the corporations or the drug cartels. It makes you wonder how these courageous people drag themselves to their feet to fight for what is fair and right, day after day.

Valerie said...

Just a note to clarify - I am not saying that we shouldn't legalise drugs like cocaine and heroin - just not sure how that would work considering the destructive nature of addiction to these drugs. My point was mainly that it is absurd that we haven't legalised marijuana.

@Zee - Not sure if you saw it, but I replied to your questions about Rocky Anderson and the Justice Party on the same thread.

Valerie said...

I finally was able to sit down and listen to Chris Hedges on a panel discussing the Occupy Movement and the importance of a committment to non-violence. It is wll worth a listen in case anyone hasn't heard it.

Zee said...

Hi, Valerie--

I share your concerns about how to legalize use and possession of the hard drugs when their effects are so destructive. This is one aspect of my proposal that has yet to be worked out even in my own mind.

However, alcohol can also be hugely destructive, yet only a small segment of society is addicted to and severely damaged by alcohol even though it's legal.

I think that the same would apply to the hard drugs. Even when legal, I suspect (hope?) only a small segment of society will use them. Maybe just that segment that currently does so. I know that if all recreational drugs were legalized tomorrow I still wouldn't suddenly decide that I wanted to stick a needle in my arm and experiment with heroin or cocaine.

The same rules would apply to purchase and use of hard drugs as now apply to alcohol. One would have to be over 18 or 21 depending upon jurisdiction, and it would be seriously illegal to drive “under the influence.” Maybe we make use outside of private residences illegal altogether.

And maybe—here's a completely baseless hope—if a variety of recreational drugs is cheaply available, perhaps the need to use the most destructive drugs might decrease in favor of less destructive ones. I'm speaking from total ignorance here because I don't know why users prefer one drug over another.

But meth seems particularly destructive. As I understand it, meth is popular because it is comparatively cheap by virtue of the fact that it can be made in the good ol' U.S. of A. What if other drugs can offer an equally satisfying “rush” without producing the paranoia and psychoses that meth produces.

Just thinking out loud.

Shifting gears, I did indeed see your final post on the thread “Norky Gets Needled.”

I think that I am going to be sticking with my “Vote the Bastards Out!” plan for 2012, though Mittens is such a lying SOB that I may simply leave the “box” for President unchecked or vote for Rocky Anderson. I know that it won't cut much ice with Progressives in this forum, but Mittens speaks with a forked tongue when it comes to the Second Amendment and I just plain hate(okay, just this once I'll use the word “hate”) liars:

You asked me why I thought Rocky Anderson is “coming after [my] retirement.”

Well, as we have discussed before, I am of the general opinion that taxes on the middle class are going to have to increase if this country is to dig itself out of the fiscal hole that it has dug itself into over the past 30 years or so. There just aren't enough “rich” people around to tax in order to reduce the deficit and start to pay down the national debt.

You may recall that I have volunteered to my local Congresscritter to take a reduction in my Social Security benefits when I reach 65, and to pay higher-than-average Medicare premiums to help with the deficit, in addition to accepting a tax increase. We are in THAT big a hole, and the middle class—lower, middle and upper—are going to have to get used to that fact.

Responsible conservative economists have been trying to make that point for serveral years now, for example, David Stockman and Robert J. Samuelson. So realistically, everyone should be after a piece of my retirement, including Rocky. And maybe yours, too.

But Rocky Anderson may seek to put an even bigger hole in my retirement with his environmental and educational programs (“free” four-year college or equivalent for all), both of which, IMHO, may be hugely expensive. So at least I'd like to see them costed out for their impacts on my financial future and, yes, learn whether or not I'll even be able to put gas in my motorcycle.

Well, I think I've hit my “character limit.” All for now.