SOMALIA: WHERE FUN IS FORBIDDEN

from IRIN

NAIROBI—Living in a war-torn city is hard enough for Mogadishu’s youngsters, but even those few opportunities for entertainment they used to enjoy have now been banned. Listening to music, watching football or films can earn one up to 30 lashes from the enforcers who patrol neighborhoods checking for “un-Islamic” behavior.

“We cannot watch our favourite teams, go to a movie or do anything that young people our age do,” said Loyaan Lugacade, 17, who lives in an area controlled by the militant Al-Shabab group.

The Hisbul Islam insurgent group on April 3 issued an edict claiming that playing music was un-Islamic, forcing 14 of the city’s 16 broadcasters to replace jingles with recorded gunfire, croaking frogs and crowing cockerels.

Its announcement was nothing new to Lugacade and his friends. “For six months fun was forbidden to us. Now the rest of the city is joining us,” he told IRIN.

Lugacade said the only time they could watch a football match or a film was clandestinely, at friends’ houses in areas not controlled by the insurgents.

“If you are caught you get lashed up to 30 times,” he said.

Faradheere A’day, 18, wants to watch his favourite football team, Arsenal, but not in his neighbourhood, which is controlled by insurgents, who consider it un-Islamic.

“Imagine being denied doing the most harmless things in the world! I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone. I just want to play and watch football.”

A’day was caught watching a film with friends and had to flee the enforcers to avoid being caned. “I have seen people who got lashed and it is not a pretty sight, so I run,” he told IRIN.

There is not much entertainment for young people in the war-torn city, aside from films and sport. The two Islamist groups have been fighting government troops, who are supported by African Union peacekeepers, in and around Mogadishu, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“Movies and football used to be the only avenue of fun available to them. Now that is closed. Having fun in this town is illegal,” said a local journalist.

He said the insurgents were not winning many converts among the youth with their decrees. “I don’t think many of the youth will be lining up to join them.”

A’day said he and his friends gathered in their neighbourhoods to talk about “things like football or movies. At least talking is not forbidden – for now anyway.”

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This story first appeared April 27 on the Integrated Regional Integration Networks (IRIN), a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

From our Daily Report:

Somalia: more insurgent amputations
World War 4 Report, Oct. 12, 2009

Somalia: Islamists attack traditional dance ceremony
World War 4 Report, July 1, 2008

See also:

SOMALIA: THE NEW RESISTANCE
Successor Factions to the Islamic Courts Union
by Osman Yusuf, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, April 2007

SOMALIA CASE THREATENS WAR CRIMINALS WORLDWIDE
US Supreme Court to Rule on Sovereign Immunity
by Paul Wolf, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, January 2010

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingSOMALIA: WHERE FUN IS FORBIDDEN 

THE MEXICAN HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY GAP

by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur

Mexico and the border are once again big news. Stories fill the press about Michele Obama and Hilary Clinton traveling south of the border to show their support for an embattled government. Report after report comes in about the latest atrocities in the so-called narco-war. Journalists rush to the border to check on the “spill-over” violence which, contrary to the assertions of Arizona Senator John McCain and others who contend the US southern border is “out of control,” has yet to materialize in a systematic way.

If my 6th grade geography lessons serve me, it would appear the violence McCain refers to is on the other side of the border line in a country called Mexico. Indeed, given the level of violence in places like Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa, it is quite noteworthy how El Paso and other places on the US side of the border are actually far less violent than many communities in the interior of the US. Is anyone proposing to send troops to Albuquerque or Oakland?

For the scary border, though, narratives are constructed, framed and then massaged into the popular consciousness. In this way, policies are shaped, sold to the public and charged to the deficit-wracked public till.

Lately, a story which has received wide exposure is the Associated Press’ piece about Chapo Guzmán gaining the upper-hand over the Juárez Cartel in the battle over Ciudad Juárez. Although the story was based on an anonymous source, it was picked up by numerous news outlets and repeated as fact in recent days.

Since the story is shrouded in secrecy, it is almost impossible to judge whether or not it is accurate. How many times have Mexican and US authorities proclaimed the death of the Tijuana cartel?

Like Tijuana, however, events on the ground strongly suggest the violence in Ciudad Juárez is far from over. Scores of people have been killed in the city this month alone, including 14 just yesterday, and nobody really knows when or if the slaughter will subside.

Last week, NPR correspondent Ted Robbins reported on the US Border Patrol training Mexican police in Nogales. The report covered a vital issue and raised key questions, but it lacked historical depth. Robbins did not mention how US military, FBI, state and local police departments and other law enforcement agencies have long trained Mexican cops—in the thousands. This has been going on for decades.

The specific skills imparted include interview/interrogation techniques, hostage taking negotiations, crime scene investigations and counterterrorism.

A good follow-up piece might examine how many of the nearly 3,400 complaints filed against Mexican soldiers with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission since 2007 involve personnel trained by the US. A new story might look out how many of the 15,000 ex-soldiers detained during the so-called drug war, according to Mexican Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan, were trained by the US.

Will the latest round of training produce better behaved graduates?

All over the US airwaves and press these days, Tucson author Charles Bowden is a big source for Ciudad Juárez and Mexico news. Bowden provides valuable insights to a largely oblivious US public about the systemic roots and socio-economic context of the crisis raging south of the border—but he also makes some curious statements that deserve further scrutiny and comment.

For example, while speaking on Pacifica Radio this month, Bowden claimed it was difficult to find cocaine in Juarez in 1995, “because the cartels kept a lid on it.” Really? Anyone who knows the city might conclude that Bowden had arrived during a particularly bad dry spell. Cocaine has been readily available in Ciudad Juárez for decades, drug war notwithstanding.

Bowden is also quoted as saying that when he arrived in Ciudad Juárez back in the 1990s he thought he had landed in hell, but later realized it was the border city’s “Golden Age,” considering today’s slaughterhouse. Given Bowden’s experience, one must assume he was being facetious.

For scores of young women who were systematically kidnapped, raped and murdered during the 1990s, the era was anything but the Golden Age. Nor was it the Golden Age for hundreds of families which, to this day, do not know what happened to relatives, both men and women, whisked away by armed commandos only never to be seen again.

Such episodes, and the government failure to curb them, helped set the stage for the current mayhem.

Prone to the melodramatic, Bowden keeps repeating that “Ciudad Juárez is dying.” His declaration grabs the attention of radio listeners or television viewers, but is it true?

While observers will agree that Ciudad Juárez has been battered, bludgeoned and bloodied, it is quite another thing to say the city is dying. Juarenses are a tough lot, and many people are hunkering down and doing all they can to survive in and improve a place call they home.

I am thinking of the residents of Villas de Salvarcar, scene of the gruesome youth massacre last January, who are organizing a new community library, kitchen and music center for children. I am thinking of the annual Christmas Posada for the children of Lomas de Poleo. I am thinking of the young people who stood on the streets on a recent day collecting for the Red Cross. I am thinking of the young actor with the “Love Juárez” t-shirt who told director Miguel Sabido he wanted his city back.

From the numerous Juarenses who have fled to neighboring El Paso but are sticking close to home, one can observe how many people are making a long-term wager on the home base. And despite the exodus, more than one million people remain in the city.

This is not to pick on Bowden, whose contributions are duly noted, or other reporters for that matter. It’s just a reminder that is imperative for all journalists, the writer included, to scratch beyond the surface, dig into history and thoroughly probe the underbelly of the beast, so to speak.

—-

This story first appeared April 21 on Frontera NorteSur

Resources:

AP Exclusive: Sinaloa cartel wins Juarez turf war
Associated Press, April 10, 2010

Charles Bowden on “Murder City”
Democracy Now!, April 14

From our Daily Report:

Ciudad Juárez prepares monument to femicide victims
World War 4 Report, Jan. 31, 2010

Amnesty International cites Mexico on Lomas de Poleo land conflict
World War 4 Report, Dec. 13, 2009

See also:

PLAN JUAREZ
Echoes of Chiapas on Mexico’s Northern Border
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, March 2010

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTHE MEXICAN HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY GAP 

IGNORING THE GRASSROOTS IN LATIN AMERICA

Powerful Popular Movements Invisible to Mainstream—and “Progressive”—Media

by David L. Wilson, World War 4 Report

During several days in early August 2009, thousands of Haitian workers walked off their jobs at assembly plants near the airport in northern Port-au-Prince and marched into the center of the city to demand an increase in the national minimum wage. Supported by public university students—who back in June had added the wage increase to their own list of demands—the strikers tied up traffic, surrounded government offices, tore down United Nations flags, and threw rocks at vehicles of the 9,000-member UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a military force which has occupied Haiti since 2004. At one point the vehicle carrying US embassy chargé d’affaires Thomas Tighe was damaged, although the embassy insisted he hadn’t been a target of the protests.

These dramatic protests barely got a mention in the US corporate media. This is not surprising: US opinion makers want us to believe that the workers, mostly young women who stitch garments for big US and Canadian apparel companies, are grateful for the chance to work at backbreaking jobs for starvation wages (they were calling for a raise to $5 a day). In fact, just as the workers were protesting, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, now the UN special envoy for Haiti, was pushing a plan to expand Haiti’s assembly plant sector. Thousands of wildcat strikers marching on the capital clearly had no place in the corporate narrative.

What is more surprising is the apparent silence of the progressive US media about the protests. Important alternative sources like The Nation, In These Times, Alternet, and “Democracy Now!” seemed to have nothing to say on the subject.

Waiting for the New York Times
Unfortunately, this fits a pattern. Our independent media tend to ignore grassroots struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean until something happens that gets them covered by NPR or the New York Times.

For years a vibrant movement was growing in Honduras, bringing together labor organizing with struggles for the environment, for the indigenous and Garífuna peoples, for women’s rights and LGBT rights. Most progressives in the United States didn’t know about this movement until the Honduran oligarchy tried to crush it with a military coup last June. Our independent media paid little attention to the cocalero (coca growers) movement in Bolivia before its leader, Evo Morales, was elected president in 2005, or to indigenous struggles in the remote Mexican state of Chiapas before the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) seized control of San Cristóbal de las Casas on January 1, 1994.

Part of the problem, of course, is just budgetary. Leftist publications simply can’t afford to maintain bureaus throughout the hemisphere. But this is less of a problem than it was 20 years ago. Many of the region’s grassroots movements are now on line. We can often get news feeds, photos, and videos direct from the organizations themselves; there are even internet news services like Adital and the Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales that specialize in covering developments from the grassroots movements.

The real reason for the lack of coverage, in my opinion, is that the US left retains a middle-class view of what’s newsworthy. Like the mainstream media, we tend to overlook the concerns and activities of “ordinary” people so that we can focus on the people with guns or government offices. This weakens us significantly—and not just in our coverage of Latin America.

Reaching Our Own Grassroots
For one thing, this orientation cuts us off from much of our potential audience. We complain that US workers show little understanding of Latin American developments, and even less interest. But what they get from the mainstream media is often just demonization of individuals like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. On the left we frequently try to compensate by focusing on the same individuals, but presenting them in a more favorable light (and sometimes treating them as virtual demigods). Is it any wonder that working people here think of news from the hemisphere as a wonkish abstraction with no relation to their own lives?

But in fact, working people in the United States are very concerned about hemispheric affairs. Think of outsourcing and immigration; these are bread-and-butter issues for people who work for a living. The problem is that the way people think about these issues is shaped by a corporate media presentation designed to turn US workers against their counterparts to the south. Progressives should be leading the struggle against this. We should be showing people that Honduran and Haitian workers don’t actually want to work for low wages and take away our manufacturing jobs—US-trained cops and UN “peacekeepers” tear-gas them when they demand higher wages. We should be explaining that Mexicans aren’t “flooding into” our country or “invading” it—they are being forced out of their own country by the same US banks and corporations that brought us the Great Recession.

Above all, we should be informing people here about the many grassroots struggles that they can identify with: about family farmers being driven off their land because they can’t compete with subsidized US agribusiness; about parents and students fighting cutbacks in education and services; about the olvidados, the forgotten people, fighting for housing, for medical services, for decent pensions, for equal pay, for freedom from discrimination.

Solidarity Among the Forgotten
If we were really doing our job, the olvidados of the United States would be out in the streets demonstrating when they see Honduran and Haitian workers being attacked by soldiers, or when they see 44,000 Mexican electrical workers suddenly thrown off their jobs.

And solidarity can go two ways. Working people here need to know about the militant and imaginative ways working people in other countries fight back, about the mass hunger strikes, the land occupations, the “liberations” of toll highways that Latin American activists routinely use to resist budget cuts, layoffs, and corporate seizures of personal or communal property. Methods of struggle can be globalized too, after all. The sit-in by 200 laid-off workers at the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago in December 2008 was inspirational for many US labor activists. What most people didn’t realize was that the workers were largely from Mexico and Central America, where workers have repeatedly occupied factories to protest illegal plant closings.

Right now the grassroots movement in Haiti is finally getting some of the coverage it should have gotten last summer, mostly as a result of January’s massive earthquake. But it’s not clear how long the interest in Haitian movements will last.

In 1972 a major earthquake in Managua exposed the corruption of the Somoza family dictatorship and hastened a revolution that toppled the government seven years later. The failure of the Mexican government to respond to the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City forced residents to organize themselves and led to the growth of the powerful urban movements we see in Mexico now. A similar process already seems to be under way among earthquake survivors in the encampments in Port-au-Prince. Will we hear about it?

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David L. Wilson is co-author, with Jane Guskin, of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, July 2007) and co-editor of Weekly News Update on the Americas.

Resources:

Why They Hate Immigrant Workers, and Why We Love Them
by David L. Wilson, MRZine, January 2009

Raising Up Another Haiti
by Beverly Bell
Common Dreams, May 2, 2010

Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales

Adital

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: electrical workers plan hunger strike
World War 4 Report, April 13, 2010

Haiti: more strikes hit maquilas
World War 4 Report, Aug. 26, 2009

Haiti: maquila workers march for wage hike
World War 4 Report, Aug. 12, 2009

Honduras: coup regime says FARC funds Zelaya backers
World War 4 Report, July 30, 2009

Bogotá claims FARC link to Ecuador’s Correa
World War 4 Report, July 18, 2009

Evo: Bolivia won’t “kneel down” to US on drug war
World War 4 Report, Oct. 18, 2008

Chicago: workers occupy factory
World War 4 Report, Dec. 8, 2008

See also:

HONDURAS: IT’S NOT ABOUT ZELAYA
by David L. Wilson, MRZine
World War 4 Report, July 2009

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Special to World War 4 Report, May 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingIGNORING THE GRASSROOTS IN LATIN AMERICA 

HONDURAS AND THE POLITICAL USES OF THE DRUG WAR

by Nikolas Kozloff and Bill Weinberg, NACLA News

Charges of complicity in narco-trafficking make for useful propaganda in Latin American political conflicts. Illegal drugs are such a major part of the region’s economies—right up there with oil, tourism, and legal agro-exports like coffee, beef, and bananas—that allegations of narco-corruption against anyone in the region’s power elite are never hard to find. But which charges stick against which leaders in the US media appears to have more to do with politics than fact.

The latest example of this double standard took place in 2009, following the ouster of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. The Los Angeles Times reported in July that Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa and a prominent supporter of the coup, had urged the country’s attorney general to produce drug trafficking evidence against Zelaya. “My son,” the archbishop was reported as saying, “we need that proof. It’s the only thing that will help us now.”

After the June 28 coup, the de facto government launched a vigorous PR campaign against Zelaya, accusing him of being involved in drug trafficking. The campaign began with a formal request to Interpol for an international arrest warrant on Zelaya and many of his officials. In addition to the usual charges of supposed constitutional violations, the request said the Zelaya administration had been involved in drug trafficking. Interpol declined to issue the warrant, citing sovereign immunity, and did not address the allegations. Still, linking Zelaya to drugs remained a prominent feature of the coup regime’s propaganda during its seven-month reign.

The coup-installed foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, said the government had proof that Venezuelan planes loaded with cocaine and cash had landed in Honduras with the Zelaya government’s knowledge. “Every night, three or four Venezuelan-registered planes land without the permission of appropriate authorities and bring thousands of pounds…and packages of money that are the fruit of drug trafficking,” Ortez told CNN en Español. “We have proof of all of this. Neighboring governments have it. The DEA has it.” Picking up on this, Micheletti later remarked in July that “during our short period of being in power, no small plane has landed in the country loaded with drugs, which used to happen frequently.”

Later that month, however, a cocaine-laden plane crashed on a highway in northern Honduras, the second such accident involving a drug-transporting plane since the coup. In October, the de facto government’s head of national counter-narcotics, Julián Arístides González, admitted that the number of planes smuggling cocaine through Honduras had surged since the coup. In the foregoing month alone, Arístides said, authorities had found 10 planes abandoned on runways and remote highways, compared with just four all the previous year. “These are the facts. The flights have intensified,” Arístides said. But, perhaps making a virtue of necessity, he blamed the uptick on Washington’s suspension of Drug War aid in the wake of the coup.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told the Associated Press it could neither confirm nor deny that it was investigating the matter. The US State Department declared that official corruption in Honduras “continues to be an impediment to effective law enforcement, and there are press reports of drug trafficking and associated criminal activity among current and former government and military officials.”

Adding fuel to the fire, TV network Telemundo reported that Zelaya government officials could have been linked to Venezuelan and Colombian drug traffickers. The report fingered Héctor Zelaya, the president’s own son, as a possible mafioso. Seizing on the reports, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, met with DEA officials to discuss drug trafficking in Honduras. “Obtaining an assessment from DEA about the situation on the ground is of increasing importance in light of recent developments in Honduras and reports of possible Zelaya drug ties,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Honduran de facto authorities even claimed that Colombia’s FARC guerilla organization was financing Zelaya supporters. The National Police said in late July that they seized a book and receipts allegedly showing payments of between $2,500 and $100,000 from the FARC to Zelaya officials to “spend in El Paraiso,” the region on the Nicaraguan border where followers of Zelaya were then gathering in wait for the ousted president’s return. Given the FARC’s disarray in the face of the Colombian government’s US-backed offensive, this seems highly improbable. Nonetheless, the Honduran attorney general’s office opened an investigation into whether Zelaya had funded demonstrations in support of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez with FARC-supplied drug money.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 10, columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady cited a 2005 letter purportedly intercepted by Colombian authorities from the late FARC chief Raúl Reyes to another commander listing “political contacts.” One was apparently the Honduran Democratic Unification (UD) party—which, while not Zelaya’s party, was a key voice demanding his return. So not only was this evidence pretty far removed from Zelaya, but it meant little more than that Reyes sought to propagandize the UD—even assuming the letter is real.

Decriminalization: Zelaya’s Kiss of Death?
The campaign to portray Zelaya as a drug trafficker partly rested on twisting his real position on drug policy, which evolved considerably during his time in power. In November 2008, during a regional meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Tegucigalpa, Zelaya declared his support for decriminalizing drug consumption and shifting the emphasis of anti-drug policy from interdiction to prevention. “Instead of pursuing drug traffickers,” Zelaya said, stunning the drug war stalwarts in the Honduran government, “societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand.” The president went a step further the next month, when he sent President-elect Obama a letter complaining of US “interventionism” under cover of the drug war.

“The legitimate fight against drug trafficking…should not be used as an excuse to carry out interventionist activities in other countries,” he wrote, adding that it should also “not be divorced from a vigorous policy of controlling distribution and consumer demand in all countries, as well as money laundering, which operates through financial circuits and involves networks within developed countries.”

Rodolfo Zelaya, the head of a Honduran congressional commission on drug trafficking (no apparent relation to the president), told participants at the meeting that he was “confused and stunned” by the president’s new drug position. After all, this was a president who came to power on a hardline, pro-drug-war ticket.

Yet Manuel Zelaya’s new enlightened position on drugs may better reflect a growing regional consensus against the militarized approach to addressing drug trafficking. Even such conservative figures as Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón and ex-president Ernesto Zedillo have joined a growing chorus of Latin American officials who have criticized the militarized, supply-side approach to drug trafficking as both ineffective and destructive.

Nonetheless, Zelaya’s new position put him in league with other countries, especially Bolivia and Venezuela, that were no longer willing to play by Washington’s rules. Moreover, the Bush administration may have been taken aback by the Honduran’s desire to convert the US airbase at Soto Cano into a civilian airport. The base is used for Pentagon drug surveillance flights, and had housed thousands of US troops in the 1980s.

With alarm bells going off within the Bush administration, outgoing US ambassador to Honduras Charles Ford fired a warning shot across Zelaya’s bow, charging that a large portion of remittances sent by US-based Hondurans back to their home country were the product of illicit drug trafficking. Speaking to local TV media, Ford declared that 30% of the remissions were the product of money laundering. Ford was joined in his criticism by his French counterpart in Honduras Laurent Dominati, who remarked that the Central American nation was in danger of becoming a “narco-state.”

Ford’s remarks caused a diplomatic firestorm, with the Honduran foreign ministry shooting back that the ambassador’s comments were unacceptable. Having caused a diplomatic row, Ford left Tegucigalpa after three years of ambassadorial duty. And what was Ford’s next job? He served as diplomatic attaché for the US Southern Command in Miami, charged with prosecuting the Drug War in Latin America. In an interview with the Honduran daily La Prensa, Ford warned that “big people” from the Mexican, Guatemalan, and Colombian cartels had arrived in Honduras in recent years. It was up to the United States and its Latin American allies, Ford added, to counteract such influence through joint efforts such as the Merida Initiative—the multi-billion-dollar Drug War aid package for Mexico and Central America.

Zelaya himself signed on to the Merida Initiative, which includes millions in military aid. In an effort to tone down tensions, he met with new US ambassador Hugo Llorens to shore up the Merida plan. Zelaya was still critical of US drug policy, however, and declared that Washington was not doing enough to help Honduras counteract violence and the cartels. Worse, Zelaya charged that the United States was the “chief cause” of drug smuggling in Latin America and the Caribbean. Ford had been “belligerent,” Zelaya affirmed, simply because Honduras pursued diplomatic relations with Caracas, Havana, and Managua. Although Honduras received US aid, Zelaya said, this did not make his country a “vassal” of its northern benefactor.

Nostalgia for the ’80s?
To those who follow US–Latin American relations, there is a sense of déjà vu to all this. Let’s go back to the Reagan administration’s Contra war against Nicaragua some 25 years ago. In the mid 1980s, Washington launched a propaganda campaign similarly attempting to link the Sandinista government to drug trafficking.

In 1984, the CIA, which was training the Contras at the time in an effort to overthrow the Sandinistas, installed a hidden camera in the C-130 cargo plane of Barry Seal, a convicted drug runner–turned-informant. Seal then snapped an out-of-focus photo of himself with a top Sandinista official, who was likely a US spy, and a Colombian drug trafficker unloading bags of cocaine at an airstrip in Nicaragua. Oliver North, then of the National Security Agency, was intimately involved in the affair and coordinated efforts with the CIA. When the photo of Seal in Nicaragua was leaked to the press, all the major papers ran sensational articles about Sandinista drug-running. The Reagan administration used the incident for maximum PR effect, with the president displaying Seal’s photo in a nationally televised speech in March 1986.

Washington also employed a propaganda campaign in this era against Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. In an effort to justify invasion, the US sensationalized Noriega’s links to drug trafficking. Yet throughout the 1980s, the CIA collaborated with Noriega and Colombia’s Medellín Cartel to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. “Privatized” CIA assets maintained Honduran and Costa Rican airstrips as transfer points for coke going north and guns coming south for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Officially derided as “conspiracy theory,” this fact has been abundantly documented since the so-called Contragate scandal broke in 1986.

In July 1989, just months before the United States invaded Panama, five key US figures associated with the Contragate scandal—North, Maj. Gen. Ricard Secord, former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, former Ambassador Lewis Tambs, and former local CIA station chief Joe Fernández—were barred from returning to the territory of US ally Costa Rica after a special commission of the country’s congress concluded that the Contra resupply network they had established on the Nicaraguan border doubled as a cocaine-smuggling operation.

After the scandal, Noriega became more useful as a scapegoat than a client. On Christmas 1989, the United States invaded Panama and installed the client regime of Guillermo Endara. President Endara was also ensconced with the cartels. As an attorney he had represented companies run by Carlos Eleta, a Panamanian business tycoon arrested in Georgia that April for conspiring to import more than half a ton of cocaine each month into the Untied States. (The indictment would be dropped after the invasion.) His vice president, Guillermo “Billy” Ford, was a co-founder and part owner of the Dadeland Bank in Miami, named in federal court testimony in the US as a repository for Medellín Cartel money.

These rather salient facts went down the Orwellian Memory Hole as the media portrayed a one-sided US victory over a corrupt narco-regime in the Christmas 1989 invasion of Panama.

Drug Charges Against US Allies Don’t Stick
A decade later, when fiery Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela, the US-led Drug War once again became the topic du jour. A fierce critic of US militarization in neighboring Colombia, Chávez prohibited Pentagon over-flights of Venezuelan airspace and ceased cooperating with the DEA, accusing the agency of drug running and espionage.

The Bush administration fired back, accusing the Chávez government of having “failed demonstrably” to halt the flow of drugs through Venezuela. When Chávez allied with Bolivia after the rise of the leftist former coca-growers leader Evo Morales in 2005, Washington once again went on the offensive. US officials were dismayed by Morales’ coca policy, which sought to increase the amount of coca that could be legally grown for traditional and medicinal purposes and asked farmers to voluntarily tear up their plantings above half an acre. The policy, which promised to crack down on cocaine, abandoned previous efforts of government-forced eradication of coca plants. The US State Department lambasted Bolivia for supposedly backsliding in the counter-narcotics effort.

For some contrast, let’s look at the situation in the closest US ally in South America—Colombia, where President Alvaro Uribe now hopes to open the country to permanent US military bases to police the rest of the continent against drug trafficking. Somehow, evidence of Uribe’s ties to the cartels doesn’t seem to stick.

In 2004, a single New York Times story noted the emergence of a 1991 report from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) naming Uribe as a high-level operative of the Medellín Cartel. The DIA report was released under the US Freedom of Information Act to a DC-based research group, the National Security Archives. The report asserts that Uribe, then a senator from the department of Antioquia, was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels.” It named him as a “close personal friend” of cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, and claimed he helped Escobar secure his seat as an auxiliary congressman.

Both Uribe and the US State Department denied the charge. But the National Security Archives’ Michael Evans said: “We now know that the DIA, either through its own reporting or through liaison with another investigative agency, had information indicating that Álvaro Uribe was one of Colombia’s top drug-trafficking figures.”

Washington portrays Uribe as a key ally in the war on drugs and terrorism, boasting that his administration has extradited 150 accused traffickers to the US, more than twice the number extradited in his predecessor’s four-year term. But there have been persistent claims that as chief of Colombia’s civil aviation authority in the late 1980s, Uribe protected drug flights. When he was governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997, paramilitary activity exploded in the department.

Another study in contrast is provided by Peru—second to Colombia as a US ally and anti-drug aid recipient in South America. According to the latest report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca cultivation fell in Colombia last year (after several years of growth) but rose 6% in Bolivia and 4.5% in Peru. Yet, the two countries are treated entirely differently. While the US has entered into a free trade agreement with Peru, it has just cut trade preferences with Bolivia—a move that could cost thousands of jobs in the country’s export industries—on the grounds the government of Evo Morales is not doing enough to combat coca cultivation.

Who Ran Honduran “Narco State”—Zelaya or Micheletti?
Some reports emerged indicating that de facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti may have been himself tied to traffickers. The Havana-based website Cuba Debate sports a scanned version of what purports to be an undated document from the Honduran Defense Ministy that names one “Roberto Michelleti Bain” (with an evident mis-spelling) on a list of several Honduran nationals with international drug trafficking connections. His “connection” is named as the Calí Cartel and his area of operations is named as Yoro. In the ’80s, when the Calí Cartel was at its peak of power, Micheletti was a member of the local council in Yoro department, in the north of the country near the Caribbean coast. He would later successfully run for congress from Yoro.

Jean Guy Allard, the author of the article, did not answer e-mails to clarify where he acquired the document implicating Micheletti in drug trafficking. This did not stop others from the left-leaning nations of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) from repeating the accusations. In August, José Vicente Rangel, who has served in various high level posts within the Chávez government, made reference to the Cuban report on Venezuelan TV.

ALBA leaders said the drug spin about Zelaya was, in fact, all backwards: It is the CIA, the Pentagon, the Southern Command and drug smugglers who were really behind the coup in Honduras. Rafael Correa has voiced similar concerns—the Ecuadoran president said he had “intelligence studies showing that after Zelaya, the next destabilization effort would be me.”

“Honduras was not an isolated occurrence,” Correa said. “A de facto government which is so crude and insulting could not maintain itself without external assistance and it gets this help from powerful groups in the US and the Latin American oligarchy.”

Correa has denounced a supposed domestic and international media campaign designed to destabilize his country and link him with FARC guerrillas in Colombia. In a video which surfaced in Colombia, a FARC leader named Jorge Briceño says that his organization helped to finance Correa’s presidential campaign in 2006. Correa believes the video is part of a right-wing strategy to destabilize progressive governments in the region.

Correa rejected the claims as “clownish talk,” “idiocies” and “barbarities” (cantinfladas, tonterías and barbaridades). But he said he would appoint a commission to investigate whether any member of his campaign received “even 20 centavos from any extremist group.”

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A shorter version of this story appeared April 20 on the website of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). Visit his website to see more of his work. Bill Weinberg is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000). He is the editor of World War 4 Report.

Resources:

Micheletti, vinculado al cartel de Cali, en una lista de narcos del ministerio de la Defensa
CubaDebate, July 17, 2009

From our Daily Report:

Honduras: OAS annual report cites rights violations
World War 4 Report, April 20, 2010

Honduras: cocaine flights surge in wake of coup
World War 4 Report, Oct. 15, 2009

Honduras: coup regime says FARC funds Zelaya backers
World War 4 Report, July 30, 2009

Bogotá claims FARC link to Ecuador’s Correa
World War 4 Report, July 18, 2009

Evo: Bolivia won’t “kneel down” to US on drug war
World War 4 Report, Oct. 18, 2008

See also:

HONDURAS: THE BANANA CONNECTION —AGAIN
by Nikolas Kozloff, Señor Chichero
World War 4 Report, August-September 2009

FAREWELL, GARY WEBB
The “Dark Alliance” Imbroglio and the Dark End of an Embattled Journalist
by Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, January 2005

COLOMBIA: URIBE FINGERED AS DRUG-TRAFFICKER
by Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, September 2004

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, May 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingHONDURAS AND THE POLITICAL USES OF THE DRUG WAR 
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