Silencing the Voice of Private Media

By Ryan C Kossler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The fate of Globovision, the last major channel in Venezuela that is critical of President Hugo Chavez, is unknown.

On September 7, Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello announced that an investigation would be initiated into Globovision’s recent alleged unlawful broadcast of a viewer’s text. The message called for a coup and the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  “If you call for a coup, if you call for assassination, assume your responsibility,” Cabello said.

Earlier in the day, Venezuela’s telecommunications commission issued a statement accusing Globovision of airing messages having the implication of calling for violent acts.  The commission also stated that Globovision’s airing of anti government messages sought to “promote public protests, which could generate a climate of tension and nervousness in the population.”

Globovision’s legal advisor Ana Cristina Nunez responded by saying that “We are very careful in attempting to stop people from using Globovision’s screen to make illegal petitions,” and that the channel “would never intentionally broadcast unlawful text messages.”

Opponents to President Chavez see the potential closure of Globovision as another instance of President Chavez trying to silence the media.  “There is a clear strategy to control the flow of information and restrict criticism,” said Carlos Lauria of the New York Committee to Protect Journalists.

President Chavez has denied any accusations that his government is attempting to control the private media for political reasons and has said that Globovision is being investigated only for violations of unlawful broadcasting regulations.

The latest accusations regarding Globovsion’s alleged actions come in the wake of the recent closure of 32 private media outlets and the announcement by Cabello that “there are 29 [radio stations] that will be off the air shortly.”

This is not the first instance that Globovision has clashed with the government and is one example among many in the growing tension between the government and Venezuela’s private media.  On July 17, 2009, Cabello announced that if Globovision did not comply with the laws, its license would be revoked.  This announcement was made shortly after regulators opened five investigations into Globovision’s activities.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Venezuelan Minister: More radio closures coming – 6 September 2009

Miami Herald – Anti-Chavez TV station faces possible shutdown – 7 September 2009

Miami Herald – Venezuela steps up threats against anti-Chavez TV – 17 July 2009

U.S. Upgrades Colombia’s Human Rights Assessment Despite Concerns

By Mario A. Flores
Special Features Editor, Impunity Watch Journal

BOGOTA, Colombia — The United States has quietly made the legal certification this week that Colombia’s human rights record has improved in spite of reports alleging that serious abuses and impunity for illegal activity in the Latin American nation persist.

This certification will allow Colombia to access $32 million that Washington has withheld as part of a $545 million package that the U.S. government is to provide Colombia this fiscal year under the State Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. The funds are meant to fight gangs and drug smugglers.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Colombia has “made significant efforts to increase the security of its people and to promote respect for human rights by its Armed Forces,” which justify the determination that the nation meets the legal certification criteria on human rights and paramilitary groups.

According to Kelly, factors that led to the upgraded finding are reforms and training that have resulted in respect for human rights by most of the Armed Forces coupled with significant advances in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases over the past few years.

Kelly described “several disquieting challenges” where Colombia must still make progress, including allegations of soldiers involved in extrajudicial killings — which the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions described as “systematic”–, illegal surveillance by the government’s security agency, and the ability of the Prosecutor General’s Office to conduct thorough and independent investigations that result in accountability.

The Attorney General’s Office is said to be investigating cases involving more than 1,700 alleged victims in recent years.

Colombian officials insist they are trying to stamp out human rights abuses, but critics say abuses remain widespread in the country, where the government has been battling the left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for years.

Ongoing anti-union violence, with the offenders rarely brought to justice, led the International Trade Union Confederation to say that Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for labor rights activists.

According to Human Rights Watch, there has also been an increased activity of new armed groups linked to paramilitaries. These groups engage in threats, targeted killings, and forced displacement of civilians, very much like the paramilitary groups of old that are supposedly demobilized.

The media and civil society have reported that there has been a recent rise in forced displacement partly as a result of the activities of these new paramilitary groups. Last year, more than 380,000 persons were internally displaced, according to Human Rights Watch.

Maria McFarland, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the U.S. decision was disappointing and that Colombia’s government had responded to abuse allegations only after intense pressure.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – U.S. Upgrades Colombia’s Human Rights Score – 11 September 2009

The Washington Post – US certifies Colombia’s rights record – 11 September 2009

Department of State – Determination and Certification of Colombian Government and Armed Forces with Respect to Human Rights Related Conditions

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Obama Should Press Uribe on Rights – 26 June 2009

Scandal over Alleged Bribe Scheme that may Involve Presidency in Ecuador Lawsuit

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Chevron announced that it obtained recordings of meetings in Ecuador this year that appear to reveal a bribery scheme connected to a $27 billion 16-year-old lawsuit the company has been battling over environmental damage at oil fields it operated in the Amazon forest in Ecuador.

The audio and video recordings reveal a $3 million bribe scheme implicating the judge presiding over the environmental lawsuit currently pending against Chevron, Juan Núñez, and individuals who identify themselves as representatives of the Ecuadorean government and its ruling party, including possibly Pierina Correa, the sister of Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa.

Judge Núñez appears in the video released by Chevron explaining that he plans to rule against the oil giant later in the year or in January at the latest for an award of $27 billion, “more or less.” In that part of the video, the Judge says he will only discuss the verdict, not “the other stuff,” which Chevron contends is a $3 million payoff request. The video later implies that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will benefit from the bribe amount.

Correa, a left-wing economist who rose from obscurity to become Ecuador’s strongest president in recent years, has sided with the plaintiffs in the case, prompting Chevron to lobby Washington to strip Ecuador of American trade preferences. But the Obama administration allowed the preferences to continue as a chance to improve ties with Correa.

The release of the recordings is sure to focus more scrutiny on Correa, who has come under pressure over his clashes with the media and accusations of corruption involving another family member, his brother Fabricio Correa, a prominent businessman.

In one of the recordings made in June, the political operative negotiating the bribe identifies himself as an official in Correa’s political party, and refers to $3 million in bribes to be split equally among the judge, the presidency and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In the same meeting, the operative explains how to approach the president’s sister about the bribe. “Tell Pierina clearly, ‘Madam Pierina, what we came to do beyond anything else is to participate, participate in the remediation. That’s why I want to make you part of this,’” he said.

The recordings, obtained by businessmen using spy watches and pens implanted with bugging devices, are not clear on whether any bribes discussed were actually paid or whether Judge Núñez was even aware of plans to try to bribe him. The tapes are also unclear as to whether the president’s sister was aware of the scheme or had participated in it. Nor is there confirmation that the political operative was in fact in contact with her.

Alexis Mera, a legal adviser to the president, dismissed the recordings as “approaching the level of defamatory libel,” and said Chevron’s was a “terrible legal strategy.”

This is not the first time Correa is plagued by accusations of alleged bribes. Earlier this year, the Colombian military seized a set of three laptops from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which were alleged to contain at least one video with evidence that the guerrilla group may have contributed money to Correa’s first election campaign in 2006.

President Correa has vehemently denied allegations that he received election funds from the Marxist FARC rebels. He has said evidence had been fabricated to destabilize his left-wing government.

For more information, please see:

San Francisco Chronicle – Chevron Ecuador Judge Nunez bribery scandal – implications – 31 August 2009

The New York Times – Chevron Offers Evidence of Bribery Scheme in Ecuador Lawsuit – 31 August 2009

Los Angeles Times – Chevron, Ecuador and a clash of cultures – 29 August 2009

The Wall Street Journal – Report: Chevron seeking probe of judge in Ecuador suit – 1 September 2009

U.S.-Colombia Base Deal Continues to Threaten Peace in Latin America

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BARILOCHE, Argentina — A special televised presidential summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) held in Bariloche on Friday to discuss the use of Colombian military bases by the United States ended in tension and acrimony between leaders and resulted in a vague resolution.

Leaders from the left-leaning countries of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia made clear their intense opposition in heated speeches to Colombia’s decision of allowing the United States to use up to seven Colombian bases to counteract drug trafficking and violence by insurgents.

US Bases in Colombia

Two of the most vocal leaders, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, demanded that Colombia give the group copies of the agreement with the United States.

Correa argued that the accord is a risk to the region’s stability. “You are not going to be able to control the Americans,” said Correa, staring down at Uribe. “This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Apparently bowing to requests from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who leads the region’s rising economic and political power, Chávez refrained from his characteristic personal attacks and instead spoke of his deep mistrust of the President of Colombia and read a long document that he said demonstrated the United States is planning a war on South America.

Uribe insisted at the meeting that Colombia would not cede its sovereignty or even a “millimeter” of its territory to the United States. He said that the military bases would be under Colombian control and that the American soldiers will only combat the narcotics trade and domestic terrorism. He told the leaders that a copy of the 20-point accord with the United States was available on the Internet.

Uribe also went on to accuse Venezuela of giving refuge to top guerrilla commanders, and said that arms “from other countries” have been supplied to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

Although Chávez and his allies have been the most vocal opponents to the base access plan, less polarizing countries like Brazil and Chile are also opposed to the presence of foreign soldiers on the continent. But they also said Colombia’s neighbors should respect its sovereignty.

In a sign of the animosity that pervaded the discussions, Uribe had to be physically led by the country host’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to participate in the traditional end-of-summit photograph with his peers.

The United States was not present at the meeting. Although not a member of the regional organization, it elected not to send an observer. “We and the Colombians have been clear about the nature of the bilateral agreement,” Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “We will continue to reach out to our hemispheric neighbors to explain the agreement.”

The tensions during the seven-hour long meeting eased after the leaders unanimously agreed to a vague resolution that says no foreign military force should be allowed to threaten the sovereignty of a South American nation. The statement does not mention either Colombia or the United States, a result the Colombian press hails as a success.

“The resolution does not name Colombia or the United States but applies to all Unasur countries,” said Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina.

Partly in reaction to the U.S.-Colombia agreement, Venezuela has recently announced a series of military equipment purchases from Russia. And The New York Times reported just over a week ago that Russia will also help Ecuador develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.

Ecuador’s government said the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, would provide “support and assistance” to Ecuador. Russia wants to increase ties with leftist governments in Latin America, a move that has renewed some cold-war-era antagonism with the United States.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – South American Leaders Assail U.S. Access to Colombian Military Bases – 29 August 2009

The New York Times – Leaders Criticize Colombia Over U.S. Military Pact – 28 August 2009

The Washington Post – U.S.-Colombia Deal Prompts Questions – 27 April 2009

The New York Times – Ecuador: Russian Nuclear Energy Aid – 21 August 2009

Argentina Joins Growing Number of Latin American Nations to Decriminalize Small-Scale Drug Use

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — In what is the latest blow to America’s “War on Drugs,” the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that possession of small amounts of marihuana, meant for personal use and that do not represent a threat to someone else, is no longer a crime, making this nation the latest Latin American country to reject punitive policies toward drug use.

The Argentine Court’s unanimous decision, which found unconstitutional the arrest of five youths for possession of three marijuana cigarettes, came only days after Mexico’s Congress voted to end the practice of prosecuting people found to be carrying small amounts of illicit drugs, including marijuana.

Mexico now has one of the world’s most liberal laws for drug users after eliminating jail time for small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamine. The decision has resulted in some friction between Mexico and the United States, considering that Mexico’s northern neighbor contributes millions for the purchase of equipment destined to the fight against the drug cartels.

Argentine legislators vowed to start working immediately on a bill that would modify current drug laws to reflect this week’s Supreme Court decision and expect to submit it to Congressional vote by the end of this year.

If passed, the Argentine law would be part of a growing trend across Latin America to treat drug use as a public health problem and make room in overcrowded prisons for violent traffickers rather than small-time users.

The decriminalization of drug usage in Mexico and Argentina comes at a time when a respected group of former Latin American presidents have been calling for the legalization of marihuana.

Former presidents Fernando Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia led a 17-member group of journalists, academics and others to form the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which concluded earlier this year that the “war on drugs” strategy pursued in the region over the past three decades had been “a failed war, negative and ineffective.”

The study called for an urgent “in-depth revision of current drug policies” in Latin America, including decriminalizing possession of marihuana.

Brazil basically decriminalized drug consumption in 2006 when it eliminated prison sentences for users in favor of treatment and community service but imposes some of the stiffest sentences in the region to drug traffickers.

Peru, the world’s second largest producer of coca leaves and cocaine, allows small-scale possession for individual use. Venezuela is more restrictive albeit small amounts of cocaine and marihuana possession are not a crime but administrative penalties can be imposed. Uruguay is holding presidential elections in October and the legalization of marihuana is expected to be a campaign issue.

However, a large group of nations (Paraguay, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Chile) remains to decide whether to lift penalties in cases of possession of drugs for personal use.

Countries in the region hope that new laws help counteract prison overcrowding, a rise in organized crime and rampant drug violence affecting all levels of society, but in particular the poor and the young.

Argentina has one of the highest per-capita rates of cocaine use in the world and a growing problem with synthetic drugs like Ecstasy. But the use of marijuana is not an especially serious problem in the country.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Latin America Weighs Less Punitive Path to Curb Drug Use – 26 August 2009

The Washington Post – Mexico’s new drug use law worries US police – 26 August 2009

The Washington Post – Argentina decriminalizes small-scale marijuana use – 25 April 2009

La Nacion – América latina, más permisiva con los ´porros´ – 27 April 2009

Venezuelans March against Cuban Indoctrination in Schools Ends with Tear Gas

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas this weekend over a controversial new education law passed last week that critics say it not only strengthens Chavez’s grip over schools and universities but also aims to instill his authoritarian nationalist ideology into the schooling system.

Police forcibly dispersed opponents of President Hugo Chavez’s government as thousands demonstrated both for and against an education law that critics fear will lead to Cuban-style political indoctrination in schools. Some opposition marchers carried placards that read: “I can’t stand your Cuban law.”

The police forces, in full riot gear and backed up by the National Guard, launched several attacks against the protesters. Helicopters hovered overhead as a water cannon drenched protesters and there were unconfirmed reports that dozens of people had been hurt.

The government claims the police used the water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets only when government opponents knocked over a fence marking the end of the authorized route.

Teargasattack

The organizers of the march charge that the police started attacking well before the protesters approached the headquarters of the Chavez-nationalized telecommunications company, CANTV, which the government had set as the end site for the march.

The Minister of Interior and Justice, Tareck El Assaimi, had banned protesters from going on to the National Assembly, as the opposition originally wanted.

Oscar Perez, from the opposition party Alianza Bravo Pueblo claimed El Assaimi was responsible for “violations of human rights.” And National Assembly Deputy Juan Molina, from Podemos, the social democratic party which once backed Chavez but is now against him, denied that protesters had tried to get past the barricades at the final destination point, as the police claimed.

The new education law allows community councils, which are often pro-Chavez, to play a larger role in the operations of schools and universities. It also calls for the education system to be guided by the “Bolivarian doctrine,” a term Chavez uses to describe his socialist government.

Chavez’s previous attempt to reform education in 2002 led to mass protests at that time, eventually culminating in a failed coup attempt against him.

Church and university authorities oppose the new law. The church says it will hinder religious teaching and free the state from its obligation to subsidize private, church-run schools in poor neighborhoods.

“We have to fight for this country and for our children,” said one middle-aged woman shrouded in tear gas at the protest who was interviewed on the independent Globovision television station.

For more information, please see:

The Latin American Herald Tribune – Chávez Government Cracks Down on Venezuela Opposition March – 24 August 2009

Globovision – Dirigentes políticos denunciaron ante el MP la actuación de los cuerpos de seguridad en marcha contra la LOE – 23 August 2009

The Washington Post – Venezuelans march over schools law, police use gas – 22 April 2009

Colombia’s Supreme Court Besieged by Death Threats

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The President of Colombia’s Supreme Court, Augusto Ibañez, said that several justices of the Court received death threats late this week.

The presiding justice of the Criminal Division, Julio Enrique Socha Salamanca, reported that he received a letter containing intimidation and threats to his office. The letter also listed threats against an assistant judge.

Socha Salamanca immediately notified law enforcement and ordered tighter security for each of the judges and their staff.

The authorities disclosed that they had also discovered intimidation schemes against other judges of the Supreme Court, a former peace commissioner and two political leaders.

The Director of the National Police, Oscar Naranjo, confirmed that a number of Supreme Court judges and politicians have been threatened. Naranjo said the police are taking the necessary steps to safeguard the security of those in danger.

The plot involves threats to the lives of chief judge Ibañez, judge Jaime Arrubla Paucar, former peace commissioner Victor G. Ricardo, presidential candidate German Vargas Lleras and one of his staunchest supporters, Senator Rodrigo Lara Restrepo.

The Police are dealing with the threats “with utmost prudence and greatest responsibility, without underestimating them, but without causing panic, verifying all information provided,” Naranjo added. It is not known who sent the threat messages or who is behind intimidation attempts.

Judge Socha said that he planned to meet next week with President Alvaro Uribe to discuss the threats.

Supreme Court justice, Jaime Arrubla, said in an interview that several of his colleagues believed they were being followed.

“We don’t exactly know where they [the threats] come from, we only know that they exist, unfortunately they are intensifying,” Arrubla said. “It appears they want to besiege us.”

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Police confirms threats against Supreme Court judges and politicians – 21 August 2009

The Latin American Herald Tribune – Colombian Police Probe Threats Against Judges, Politicos – 21 April 2009

Colombia Reports –  Supreme Court judges receive death threats – 20 August 2009

Threat of Forced Recruitment by Rebels Has Colombian Indians Fleeing

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that over 100 indigenous families have fled their jungle reserves in Colombia’s southeastern province so far this year, in fear that armed groups will snatch their children for use as soldiers.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is on an aggressive recruitment campaign to replenish their dwindling ranks. The FARC have been weakened by a series of defeats at the hands of government forces in the past two years, prompting record numbers of guerrilla fighters to desert.

The terrorist group, financed largely by drug-trafficking proceeds, has waged a four-decade war against the Colombian army in a bid to take power. Recently, the threat of rebels forcibly taking away children to join their ranks has caused increasing numbers of people to flee their homes.

Local non-governmental organizations believe there are more than 6,000 child soldiers, with an average age of 12, in the FARC’s ranks. The rebels commonly use children as messengers and cooks and to plant landmines.

“There’s a very clear relationship between forced displacement and recruitment of children by illegal armed groups,” said Marie-Hélène Verney, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Colombia.

“We’re particularly concerned about the increase in forced recruitment of minors during the summer holidays when teachers are not in schools and when kids are pretty much left to their own devices,” said Verney.

Last year, more than 400 families fled their homes in the province of Vaupes, a large Amazon outpost which is home to 27 different indigenous groups, because of threats and the fear of having their children recruited by illegal armies, UNHCR said. Human rights organizations worry that the new violence is pushing even deeper into the Indians’ ancient lands.

The apparent stability in some largely pacified cities like the capital, Bogotá, belies the conflict in remote areas, where Indians find themselves at the mercy of armed groups.

Indigenous children, often living in isolated and far-flung jungle regions where rebels tend to have more power because the military’s presence is weak and sporadic, are particularly at risk of being forcibly recruited.

“Our rulers in Bogotá prefer to ignore that an entire section of the country is surviving, just barely, as if we are in the 16th century, when plunder and killing were the norm,” said Víctor Copete, who runs Chocó Pacífico, a foundation addressing the violence in Chocó, one of the nation’s poorest provinces.

Rebels in some guerrilla-controlled areas have been known to knock from door to door demanding that families hand over a son or daughter to fight.

Rebel groups even hold propaganda meetings in schools, public squares and host parties in areas they control, luring children with false promises of adventure, food, and money.

“Some children join illegal armed groups because they’ve been talked into it. For others it’s about getting new shoes — some don’t know what they’re getting themselves into,” Verney said.

A school teacher in one of the indigenous communities told UNHCR, “These children have no real hope and it makes them terribly vulnerable to other options some unscrupulous people may offer them.”

According to the United Nations, Colombia has about four million internal refugees, second in number only to Sudan, with Indians bearing a disproportionate share of the suffering. The Colombian government puts the figure at around 2.7 million displaced people.

Colombia2_600a

Displaced women from the Embera indigenous ethnic group.
Photo by Moises Saman for The New York Times

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Colombian Indians flee threat of forcible recruitment in rebel ranks – UNHCR – 19 August 2009

IPS – COLOMBIA: Killings of Indians Continued During UN Rapporteur’s Visit – 29 July 2009

The New York Times – Wider Drug War Threatens Colombian Indians – 21 April 2009

The Los Angeles Times – Colombia is asked to probe slayings of Indians in Narino state – 11 February 2009

Brazil and U.S. Conspired to Overthrow Democratically Elected Chilean President

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. published declassified White House secret memos showing that Brazil and the United States discussed plans to overthrow or destabilize Chilean President Salvador Allende in a 1971 meeting.

According to the formerly secret documents that reveal a deeper collaboration than previously known between the United States and Brazil, President Nixon discussed with Brazilian military regime-era President Médici a cooperative effort to overthrow the democratically elected Chilean administration.

Nixon, at a meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 9, 1971, said he was willing to offer Brazil the assistance, monetary or otherwise, it might need to rid South America of leftist governments, the White House memorandum of the meeting shows.

The United States and Brazil, Nixon told Médici, “must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends.”

The records released also reveal that Brazil was involved in the Uruguayan election fraud of 1971 with consent from the United States.

Nixon saw Brazil’s military government as a critical partner in the region. “There were many things that Brazil as a South American country could do that the U.S. could not,” Nixon told his Brazilian counterpart, according to the memos.

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives, noted that “a hidden chapter of collaborative intervention to overthrow the government of Chile” was now emerging from the declassified documentation. “Brazil’s archives are the missing link,” he said, calling on President Ignacio Lula da Silva to open Brazil’s military archives on the past. “The full history of intervention in South America in the 1970s cannot be told without access to Brazilian documents.”

Eventually, a CIA-supported coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, toppled the Allende government in Chile in 1973.

The daughter of Salvador Allende requested that Brazil open any secret archives that could shed light on any role it played in the 1973 overthrow of her father’s administration.

“It seems to me Brazil owes an explanation, if not an apology, to Chile in the form of a full historical reckoning of its role in the overthrow of Allende and the advent of Pinochet,” Kornbluh said.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Allende seeks Brazil documents on ’73 Chile coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Chile: Allende’s Daughter Seeks Secret Records About Coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Memos Show Nixon’s Bid to Enlist Brazil in a Coup – 16 August 2009

National Security Archive at George Washington University – Brazil Conspired with U.S. to Overthrow Allende – 16 August 2009

Colombian Government Denies Spying On OAS Human Rights Defenders

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) said this week that it was the target of Colombian intelligence operations.

The IACHR said that it had received documents proving that at least one of its members had been spied on by Colombia’s intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), which answers to the president’s office.

According to the human rights commission, Susana Villarán, a former Peruvian minister who visited Colombia in 2005 as IACHR Commissioner and Rapporteur for Colombia was declared a “target” of intelligence operations by the DAS Special Strategic Intelligence Group known as G3.

In February of this year, the local magazine Semana revealed that the DAS had for years carried out illegal wiretap activities against opposition politicians, human rights defenders, journalists and even Supreme Court judges.

The IACHR expressed “concern” over these intelligence activities and requested information from Colombia on the espionage against people the Commission itself had ordered be protected, while calling for an investigation and punishment of those responsible.

The Commission later expanded its request for information to include all intelligence operations carried out with respect to the IACHR, the destination and use of the reports, and the investigations of the matter carried out by the Office of the General Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney General.

The IACHR says the DAS files it received show that the G3 “was created to monitor activities tied to the litigation of cases at the international level” – cases of serious human rights violations involving the Colombian state that were being considered by the Inter-American human rights system.

The file shows that objective of the operation against the Commissioner and Rapporteur was “to identify the cases being studied by the Rapporteur and the testimony presented by nongovernmental organizations, as well as the lobbying these organizations are doing to pressure for a condemnation of the State.”

The IACHR says these intelligence activities violate Colombia’s commitment to respect the privileges and immunities of representatives of the OAS and to comply in good faith with the aim and purpose of the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties of the inter-American system.

Following the IACHR revelations, the Colombian government issued a press release denying involvement in the alleged spying of the human rights commission.

Colombian authorities condemned the illegal activities of the intelligence organization and stressed its commitment to turn it into a “reliable and transparent” entity.

The Attorney General’s office is pressing charges against several G3 members in connection with the illegal spying scandal. It says that the G3 operated from DAS headquarters although it never appeared on the intelligence service’s organizational chart. Officials claim that the G3 has been dissolved.

For more information, please see:

IPS – COLOMBIA: Spying on Human Rights Defenders – 15 August 2009

Colombia Reports – Government denies involvement in wiretapping IACHR – 14 August 2009

Colombia Reports – IACHR says it was spied on by Colombian intelligence agency – 13 August 2009

Read the Press Release by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – 13 August 2009

Venezuelan Protestors Clash over Education Bill

CARACAS, Venezuela – Scuffles broke outside the Venezuelan parliament building as lawmakers debated a bill that would broaden government control over schools.  Venezuelan police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Thousands of teachers, union leaders, community activists, and militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela gathered near the National Assembly building in support of the law.  In a smaller march led by high profile politicians, opponents of the law demanded that discussions of the law be further postponed.

University and private school authorities fear that the law will allow an increase in government influence on campuses by involving grass-roots community groups, often loyal to President Chavez, in school operations.

One of the contentious parts of the law is that it strengthens the role of the state in education. Article 4 states that is the responsibility of the “Estado Docente” or the Educator State  is to guarantee “education as a universal human right and fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service… governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity, attentiveness, and co-responsibility.”

President Hugo Chavez claims that the bill is based on the ideals espoused by 19th century Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar. Opponents say the changes would amount to indoctrination.

“This law is very dangerous,” said legislator Pastora Medina of the Humanist Front, a former government supporter and a member of the education commission. “It turns schools into centers for community activists and ignores the pedagogical aspect.”

Supporters of the law generally discount the claims that it’s aimed at indoctrinating children and downplay concerns, saying the legislation reflects the government’s efforts to ensure equal opportunities and teach social responsibility. The law, they claim, requires that education be “open to all forms of thinking.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Venezuela passes education, land laws after clashes – 14 August 2009

BBC News- Venezuelan clash over education – 14 August 2009

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Education Law – 14 August 2009

El Universal – Oposición se declara en rebeldía y anuncia acciones contra Ley de Educación – 14 August 2009

Chávez: Winds of War Blow in South America

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — A plan from the Obama administration to deploy troops and station aircraft at seven Colombian military bases aimed at combating drug operations has generated controversy across Latin America, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warning that it could lead to war.

According to the Washington Post, the agreement with Colombia would last ten years and allow for U.S. aircraft to be stationed at up to five Colombian air bases and for U.S. naval vessels to dock at two Colombian ports, one on the Caribbean and the other on the Pacific. Up to 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 private contractors could use the bases.

The President of Venezuela cautioned leaders at the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit held in Ecuador this week that an American military presence in Colombian bases “may result in a war in South America.”

“Winds of war are starting to blow,” warned Chávez, as he added that his country was gearing up because “we are in their sights,” referring to American military forces.

A day before the summit got under way, the Venezuelan Secretary of State, Nicolás Maduro, said that the military bases “are part of a plan to blow up South America, to divide South America once again, and to turn South America into a destabilized region.”

The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who took over Unasur’s leadership from Brazil, kept the issue of the bases out of the summit’s agenda but condemned the Colombia-U.S. deal.

“We have put up with seven years of crop-dusting, we have put up with bombings, we have put up with 300,000 displaced, we have put up with Colombia allowing its southern border to go unprotected and where we have to keep over 10,000 troops and spend millions of dollars for a problem that is not ours,” Correa said. “We have put up with too much, we are honestly tired, truly tired,” he added.

The presidents of Brazil and Chile said they did not like the idea of an expanded American presence in the region but seem to agree that the deal is a Colombian sovereign matter.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had embarked on a three-day South American trip in anticipation of the Quito summit to reassure fellow leaders, including populists such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and moderates such as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet.

Uribe was not intending to attend the Unasur meeting in Quito. Ecuador and Colombia broke off diplomatic relations last year when the Colombian army raided a terrorist camp in Ecuadorian territory that killed a guerrilla chief and twenty-five other people. Bogotá says that documents found at the rebel camp show the guerrilla had at least tried to help finance Rafael Correa’s first presidential campaign.

But at the summit, the Latin American leaders called for a separate meeting in Argentina in late August to confront the issue with Presidents Uribe and Obama.

Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina said such a meeting could help allay disquiet over the plan, which was announced last month. Mrs. Kirchner said the proposal was creating “a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation.”

Uribe accepted to attend the Unasur meeting in Argentina later this month on condition that the illegal weapons trafficking in the region be discussed as well as the “military agreements that Venezuela and Ecuador hold with Russia and China, and those between Venezuela and Iran.”

As of June 19, there were 268 U.S. military personnel in Colombia and 308 civilian contractors.

For more information, please see:

Buenos Aires Herald – Uribe confirms attendance at UNASUR meeting – 13 August 2009

Noticias Cooperativa – Chávez: Soplan vientos de guerra en Sudamérica – 10 August 2009

The New York Times – Ecuador: Area Leaders Voice Worry Over G.I.’s for Colombia – 10 August 2009

The Washington Post – U.S. Plan Raises Ire in Latin America – 08 August 2009

Former Argentinean Commander Sentenced to Prison

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Santiago Omar Riveros, age 86 and former chief of the Argentinean Military Institutes Command, was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses while he commanded the Campo de Mayo military barracks on the outskirts of Buenos Aires during the 1970s.

He is accused of more than 40 crimes against humanity involving victims of the era’s so called desaparecidos or “disappeared.”

Amid the wave of accusations, Omar-Riveros was found guilty of torturing and beating to death 15-year-old Floreal Avellaneda, a member of the Communist Youth Federation, and abducting his mother, Iris. Floreal Avellaneda and his mother were abducted in 1976 by a military squad and tortured to find out the whereabouts of the boy’s father, a Communist Party union leader.

“They applied an electric current to my armpits, breasts, mouth, genitals and did exactly the same to my son,” Iris described her torture experience to the Argentinean court.

Floreal and Isis were first taken to the police station at Villa Martelli and tortured.  Afterwards, they were taken to Campo de Mayo.

Over the court of the trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Floreal was thrown into the River Plate from a plane that departed from Campo de Mayo. In August of 1976, Floreal’s body was found impaled on the shores of Rio de La Plata in the Uruguayan city of Colonia de Sacramento.

The court found the defendants tactics “unacceptable.”  Their main argument was that Floreal’s death was part an accident.

Another former Military Institutes Command intelligence chief, Fernando Verplaetsen, was also sentenced to 25 years in prison in connection with the human rights abuses.  Four other defendants were sentenced to serve between eight to 18 years in prison.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘Dirty war’ general found guilty – 13 August 2009

Yahoo News – Perpetua para Santiago Omar Riveros – 12 August 2009

Yahoo News – Argentine general gets life for rights abuses – 12 August 2009

Telam Noticias – Dan a conocer la sentencia en el juicio por el secuestro y asesinato de Floreal Avellaneda – 12 August 2009

Uruguayan Military Officer Extradited to Argentina

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Brazil’s Supreme Court has approved the extradition to Argentina of retired Uruguayan military officer, Manuel Juan Cordero-Piacentini, wanted for his role in Operation Condor.

Cordero-Piacentini pictured here.  Photo by AFP.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Operation Condor was a covert operation in which the dictatorships of the Southern Cone countries of South America coordinated efforts to kidnap, murder and “disappear” leftists and other dissidents.  In addition to the disappearances, the dictators also shared intelligence information in order to pinpoint target.

An estimated 30,000 people were “disappeared” in Argentina, while an unknown number of people in neighboring Uruguay were held as political prisoners and tortured.

Cordero-Piacentini is wanted by Argentina for the torture, disappearance and killings of leftist Uruguayan activists in 1976 in the “Automotores Orletti” secret detention center in Buenos Aires, Agrentina. At age 70, Cordero-Piacentini has been under house arrest since December 19, 2008 in Brazil.  He has been able to avoid prison and the extradition due to heart surgery which occurred earlier this year.

During hiding, Cordero-Piacentini married a Brazilian woman 32 years ago. After three years at large, the former Uruguayan Army colonel and intelligence officer was arrested in February 2007 in Santana do Livramento, Brazil. Santana do Livramento is just across the border with Uruguay.

The Brazilian Supreme Court said that Argentina requested the extradition of Piacentini-Cordero to Argentina because that is where the crimes took place. Piacentini-Cordero is wanted for his alleged involvement in the disappearance in 1976 of Adalberto Soba Valdemar-Fernandes, who was then only 10 years old. Valdemar-Fernandes has never been found.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News – Brazil court okays Cordero extradition to Argentina – 07 August 2009

IPS News – URUGUAY-ARGENTINA: Hunting the Condor, 28 Years On – 20 May 2009

Uruguay Al Dia – Cordero extraditado a la Argentina – 07 August 2009

Associated Press – Brasil extradita a militar uruguayo retirado – 07 August 2009

Missionaries Murdered for Helping Amazon Indigenous

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru — Peruvian police captured Félix Mejía Ascencios, allegedly one of the leaders of a Shining Path cell in the jungle region known as Upper Huallaga Valley, an area of coca cultivation and cocaine production.

According to the police, Mejía Ascencios, 31, is a high ranking Shining Path guerrilla leader in charge of security for “Comrade Artemio,” the terrorist group’s only remaining top commander who has not been captured or killed.

Very little is known about Comrade Artemio and even his real name is unconfirmed. Although he has appeared in video tapes wearing a ski mask, it is often with an extra piece of cloth sewed on to hide not only his face but also his eyes.

The Shining Path terrorized Peru in the 1980s and has been widely condemned for its brutality, including violence directed at peasants, trade union organizers, elected officials and the general civilian population.

But since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, the Shining Path has only been intermittently active. Remnants of the group now claim to fight in order to force the government to reach a peace treaty with them.

Although authorities believe Comrade Artemio is the current leader of the terrorist group, he claims that he is only the regional commander of the Shining Path for the Huallaga Valley. Officials believe this might be because he takes the imprisoned former leaders, Abimael Guzmán, or his successor, Oscar Ramirez Durand, to be the true leaders of the guerrilla group.

Under Comrade Artemio’s leadership, the remnants of the Shining Path have reinvented themselves as a highly efficient cocaine smuggling operation, working with drug cartels and staging attacks on security forces.

Mejía Ascencios, known as “Comrade Mono” was arrested on Sunday afternoon having a drink at a bar as he provided security for a drug hoard intended for drug dealers.

The suspected guerrilla has an outstanding warrant for his arrest on charges of terrorism. He is accused of taking part in police ambushes, and in selective killings of peasants and authorities.

Subsequent to his arrest, Mejía Ascencios was transferred to Lima for questioning. The police believe he has key information that may lead to the location of Comrade Artemio.

President Alan Garcia said last week that the remaining Shining Path guerrillas “must be exterminated.” Garcia admitted that it will take time and patience but he emphasized that the problem of terrorism is “not even a tenth or a hundredth of what it was in the 80s.”

For more information, please see:

La Republica – Trasladan a Lima al “Camarada Mono” – 11 August 2009

La Republica – Cae la seguridad del “camarada Artemio” – 10 August 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune – Suspected Guerrilla Leader Captured in Peru– 10 August 2009

RPP Noticias – Anuncian captura de integrante de seguridad de camarada ´Artemio´ – 09 August 2009

La Republica – Alan García: Hay que “exterminar” remanentes de Sendero Luminoso – 08 August 2009