The new regional bloc of CELAC includes 33 countries, representing more than 500 million inhabitants. At the end of the two days of deliberations, the heads of state adopted the constituent act of CELAC, known as the Declaration of Caracas, an action plan for 2012, the statutes and procedures of the bloc, as well as issuing 18 press releases on various topics.
Speaking about the creation of the new regional bloc, Cuban President Raúl Castro said, "The formation of CELAC, consolidates the concept of a united and sovereign region linked by a common destiny. In strategic terms it offers us the political instrument needed to unite our wills and to resolve differences. Its success will depend on our solidarity with each other." During his speech at the first plenary session the Cuban president affirmed the necessity to end "the imperialist policies that have destroyed nations and massacred thousands of lives."
For his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez affirmed that the creation of CELAC "will be a great centre of regional power for the 21st Century." Referring to the struggles of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean for their sovereignty during the past 200 years, President Chavez stated, "Bolivar convened the Panama convention to create a vast political body, but both the British Empire and the rising Yankee Empire, made it their mission to sabotage the idea, imposing the Monroe Doctrine, America for the Americans and enforcing their will for two centuries. Enough is enough!" Discussing what would become of the OAS with the creation of CELAC, Chavez mentioned that "this entity has become obsolete over the years, used and abused as it has been for favouring first and foremost the United States to the detriment of the other member countries." He then added that, in contrast with the OAS, CELAC includes the laws of each country, from where the importance of advancing toward what the Liberator [Simon Bolivar] called "a vast political body."
Speaking about what the creation of CELAC represents against imperialist domination, President Evo Morales of Bolivia asserted that "we now have a position on how to free ourselves from imperialist domination. This is a profound subject. After more than 500 years of indigenous resistance, and 200 years of independence, we are finally uniting to liberate ourselves." Talking about the policies that CELAC defends, Morales continued saying, "one of the policies of CELAC is the universality of health and education programs as a human right and not as a market for private business."
President of Ecuador Rafael Correa declared that "CELAC is a forum where we can discuss how to resolve our conflicts but not in Washington." The region has to learn to stand on its own. "This is a regional and a continental challenge," he said.
The heads of state also agreed that the next annual meetings of CELAC will be in Chile in 2012 and in Cuba in 2013.
It is worth mentioning that there has been no reaction or press release regarding the creation of CELAC issued by either the U.S. or Canadian governments despite the significance of this development for the Americas.
The creation of CELAC is an anti-imperialist achievement of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean who have suffered so much at the hands of the United States and continue to do so. Canada is also interfering in the affairs of the countries of the Americas in defence of the brutal plunder and exploitation of the mining monopolies and the strategic interests of the U.S. empire. The task of liberation and emancipation of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean remains the historic necessity which the founders of CELAC have acknowledged.
A Union is Born
While much of the world is in crisis and protests are erupting throughout Europe and the United States, Latin American and Caribbean nations are building consensus, advancing social justice and increasing positive cooperation in the region. Social, political and economic transformations have been taking place through democratic processes in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil throughout the past decade, leading to a massive reduction in poverty and income disparity in the region, and a substantial increase in social services, quality of life and direct participation in political process.
One of the major initiatives of progressive Latin American governments this century has been the creation of new regional organizations that promote integration, cooperation and solidarity amongst neighboring nations. Cuba and Venezuela began this process in 2004 with the founding of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), that now includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, St. Vincent's and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda. ALBA was initially launched in response to the U.S. government's failed attempt to impose its Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) throughout the region. Today ALBA is a thriving multilateral organization with member nations that share similar political visions for their countries and for the region, and includes numerous cooperation agreements in economic, social and cultural areas. The fundamental basis of trade amongst ALBA nations is solidarity and mutual benefit. There is no competition, exploitation or attempt to dominate amongst ALBA states. ALBA even counts on its own currency, the SUCRE, which allows for trade between member nations without dependence on the U.S. dollar.
In 2008, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was formally established as a regional body representing South American states. While ALBA is much more consolidated as a unified political voice, UNASUR represents a diversity of political positions, economic models and visions for the region. But UNASUR members share the common goal of working towards regional unity and guaranteeing the resolution of conflicts through peaceful and diplomatic means. UNASUR has already played a key role in peacefully resolving disputes in Bolivia, particularly during an attempted coup against the government of Evo Morales in 2008, and has also successfully moderated a severe conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, leading to the reestablishment of relations in 2010.
Two hundred years ago, South American Independence hero Simon Bolivar, a native of Venezuela, dreamed of building regional unity and creating a "Patria Grande" (Grand Homeland) in Latin America. After achieving independence for Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, and fighting colonialists in several Caribbean nations, Bolivar attempted to turn this dream of Latin American unity into reality. His efforts were sabotaged by powerful interests opposing the creation of a solid regional bloc, and eventually, with the aid of the United States, Bolivar was ousted from his rule in Venezuela and died isolated in Colombia several years later. Meanwhile, the U.S. government had proceeded to implement its Monroe Doctrine, a decree first declared by President James Monroe in 1823 to ensure U.S. domination and control over the newly-freed nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Nearly two hundred years of invasions, interventions, aggressions, coup d'etats and hostilities led by the U.S. government against Latin American nations shadowed the 19th and 20th centuries. By the end of the 20th century, Washington had successfully imposed governments in every Latin American and Caribbean nation that were subordinate to its agenda, with the exception of Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine had been achieved, and the U.S. felt confident in its control over its "backyard".
The unexpected turn at the beginning of the 21st century in Venezuela, formerly one of Washington's most stable and subservient partners, came as a shock to the U.S. Hugo Chavez had been elected President and a Revolution had begun. A coup d'etat attempt in 2002 failed to subvert the advancement of the Bolivarian Revolution and the spread of revolutionary fever throughout the region. Soon Bolivia followed, then Nicaragua and Ecuador. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay elected socialist presidents, two of them former guerrilla fighters. Major changes began to occur throughout the region as the peoples of this vast, diverse and rich continent assumed power and made their voices heard.
Social transformations in Venezuela that gave voice to people's power became exemplary for others in the region, as did President Chavez's defiance of U.S. imperialism. A powerful sentiment of Latin American sovereignty and independence grew stronger, even reaching those with governments aligned with U.S. interests and multinational control.
On December 2-3, 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was born and the overwhelming force of a continent nearly 600 million strong, achieved a 200-year dream of unity. The 33 member nations of CELAC all agree on the unquestionable necessity to build a regional organization that represents their interests, and that excludes the overbearing presence of the U.S. and Canada. While CELAC will take time to consolidate, the exceptional commitment evidenced by the 33 states present at its launching in Caracas, Venezuela, cannot be underestimated.
CELAC will have to overcome attempts to sabotage and neutralize its expansion and endurance, and the threats against it and intents to divide member nations will be numerous and frequent. But the resistance of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean who have resumed this path of unity and independence after nearly two hundred years of imperialist aggression, demonstrates the powerful force that has led this region to become an inspiration for those seeking social justice and true freedom around the world.
Fourth Cuba-CARICOM Summit
Deepening Relations Based on Principle
The Fourth Cuba-CARICOM Summit took place in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on December 8. Cuban President Raúl Castro lead Cuba's delegation in the meeting with the eight member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The Summit was preceded by an official state visit to Trinidad and Tobago the day before. The first such summit was held in 2002 and takes place every three years. CARICOM was created in 1973 with the Chaguaramas Treaty and is comprised of 15 countries: Antigua and Barbuda; the Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Montserrat; Saint Lucia; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Suriname; and Trinidad and Tobago.
During his visit, President Castro emphasized the importance of the historical links between Cuba and the Caribbean nations, namely the decision adopted by Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago on December 8, 1972 to officially recognize and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in defiance of the U.S. imperialists. Since 1962, Cuba had been isolated from most of the other nations in the region on the instructions of the U.S. and its instrument in the region the Organization of American States (OAS). On June 3, 1962, the OAS passed a resolution expelling Cuba. (The U.S. was ultimately rebuffed when this resolution was unanimously and unconditionally overturned exactly 47 years later on June 3, 2009.) December 8 is now marked as Cuba-CARICOM day in celebration of these deepening relations.
President Castro met with President of Trinidad and Tobago George Maxwell Richards and also with Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The Cuban delegation was also comprised of Minister Council Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, and Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment.
At the summit, President Castro emphasized that Cuba will continue fighting alongside all the Caribbean nations to consolidate the friendship and integral nature of their relations. "In such circumstances, the commitments which we have succeeding in building in recent years assume greater relevance, where cooperation and solidarity constitute the pillars of our relations," he said in his opening remarks to the Summit. He reiterated Cuba's willingness to continue collaborating with the countries of the Caribbean Community and to seek ways to expand it and diversify it.
In a news release from the CARICOM Secretariat, Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Chairman of the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government said:
"The signing on 8 December 1972 of the agreement establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba was a bold unprecedented undertaking by the late, President Burnham, and Prime Ministers Barrow, Manley and Williams which sent a statement to the world that these Members of the then Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) considered Cuba an integral and vital part of the Caribbean," he said.
Elaborating on the justness of its stand with Cuba and its consistency with international law, Douglas continued, "Mr. President, as small States with limited resources, it is imperative that we pool our efforts and stand behind common principles in order to advance our objectives. Those principles include adherence to the United Nations Charter and for us, in particular, adherence to the principles of the self-determination of peoples; of non-interference in the internal affairs of States; and of upholding the rule of international law.
"It is in keeping with these principles that CARICOM has remained resolute in its camaraderie with Cuba and in its firm stance of calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo of the Republic of Cuba. CARICOM therefore takes the opportunity of this Summit to again urge the Government of the United States of America to heed the overwhelming call of the members of the United Nations to lift with immediate effect, the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against the Republic of Cuba and its peoples."
Protesting the inability to host the event at the Hilton Hotel in Port-of-Spain due to actions of U.S. authorities, the following special statement was released by the Heads of State and Government of CARICOM and Cuba on December 9:
"We the Heads of State and Government of CARICOM and Cuba gathered for the Fourth CARICOM-Cuba Summit in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago are affronted by the intrusion of the United States against the sovereignty of Trinidad and Tobago. This is a unilateral and unwarranted extra-territorial application of the United States Helms Burton Law which is contrary to the United Nations Charter and to international law. It also flies in the face of the annual overwhelming rejection of this policy by the United Nations General Assembly.
"We reject the intervention of the U.S. authorities which prevented the hosting of the CARICOM-Cuba Summit at the Hilton Hotel. This was one more demonstration of the injustice of the United States embargo and its harmful impact on the daily life of the Cuban people. On this occasion the extra-territorial action could have impacted on the success of the Summit, but thanks to the commitment and solidarity of the Member States of the Caribbean Community we can celebrate an outcome which reinforces the strong fraternal bonds between CARICOM and Cuba."
The Declaration of Port-of-Spain released at the end of Summit points out some of the areas of cooperation being undertaken:
"[T]he cooperation between Cuba and the countries of the Caribbean Community in numerous fields such as health, education, sports and training of human resources, has effectively contributed to the progress towards the achievement of our sustainable development objectives and the greater wellbeing of our peoples. In this regard, [we] express profound appreciation for the Cuban proposal on areas for cooperation with CARICOM in nine specific areas, namely: the creation of a Training Centre for the Treatment of Physical Disabilities to assist physically challenged children and youths; the creation of a Caribbean Regional School of Arts; technical assistance to the Caribbean Regional Information and Translation Institute (CRITI); technical assistance for the recovery of banana crops; technical assistance for the restoration of fishing in Caribbean countries; technical assistance for the treatment and purification of water and the construction of dams; support to the sugar industry mainly in Belize, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago; the construction and repairing of airports, bridges, docks, highways and infrastructure, and regional cooperation to cope with natural disasters [...]"
(Prensa Latina, Granma International, St. Kitts and Nevis Observer)
Former U.S.-Backed Dictator Returns to Face Justice
Massive destruction wrought in December 1989 by U.S. military to remove its dictator General Manuel Noriega.
On December 11, France extradicted former General Manuel Noriega, where he had been jailed for more than a year and a half. In 2010, Noriega was sentenced by France to seven years in prison for money laundering relating to his nefarious undertakings in Panama including drug trafficking.
Noriega's notoriety is inseparable from the dirty wars of the U.S. imperialists which brought so much tragedy on the peoples of the Latin America and the Caribbean. He is said to have been on the CIA payroll to secure U.S. interests in the region from at least 1967. Eventually becoming a liability, he was removed by force during the administration of George Bush Sr. in a December 1989 U.S. military operation. The Central American Human Rights Commission (CODEHUCA) reported a conservative estimate of 2,000-3,000 civilians killed by the U.S. military. It is also reported that upwards of 20,000 were left homeless.
Noriega was sentenced to 20 years in prison, ostensibly to demonstrate U.S. opposition to drug trafficking, serving 17 years before being extradicted to France.
News reports say upon his return to Panama, Noriega will face three separate sentences of 20 years imprisonment for crimes committed under his dictatorship, including the murder of political opponents. Noriega is 77 and agencies also report that Panama allows convicts who are 70 and older to serve their sentences under house arrest.
Chaos in Post-Coup Situation Leads to
One year anniversary of the coup, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 28, 2010. Sign reads: "There can be no peace and reconciliation when those who violated democracy walk free."
Marina Paz and her driver were shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles as they travelled through the capital, Tegucigalpa. The journalist, who had a morning news program, was reported to have received death threats for refusing to pay extortion money. Hours earlier, gunmen had shot at the offices of La Tribuna newspaper, injuring a security guard.
"We are in more danger than ever, because we don't know where the attacks against journalists and media organisations are coming from," La Tribuna's editor, Adan Elvir, told EFE.
His comments were echoed by Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio, himself implicated in white-washing the crimes of the coup regime. "The danger all of us in Honduras are experiencing is intensifying in an important part of society, namely the media, which are suffering threats, attacks and murders," Custodio said.
Government officials, especially those linked to the fight against police corruption linked to drug trafficking, have also been targeted. On December 7, a former anti-drugs adviser Alfredo Landaverde was shot dead in the same area of Tegucigalpa as Marina Paz. Landaverde, who was travelling in a car with his wife, was killed by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike. He had been an outspoken critic of police corruption. Landaverde accused police officers of being behind the murder in 2009 of the country's head of anti-drug trafficking operations, retired Gen Julian Aristides Gonzalez.
According to rights groups, some 17 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2009 when the military helped overthrow then-President Manuel Zelaya. Current President Porfirio Lobo, brought to power in November 2009 in fraudulent elections staged to consolidate the coup, said in response to the the news of Ms Paz's murder, "There is no doubt that we are facing an escalation (in violence) and we have to identify clearly where it is coming from."
To divert attention from his own illegitimate regime and its use of state violence to suppress the people's aspirations to exercise control over their lives and, most importantly, to prepare the grounds for the privatization of police services to private contractors and in this way sanction the impunity of the repression against the people, Lobo pointed the finger at the police. "Given the difficult moments the national police is experiencing, there are some who are taking advantage of the latest upheaval," he said.
In the same vein, last month, dozens of police officers were sacked in an alleged crackdown on corruption and organized crime, EFE reports. The alleged involvement of officers in the high-profile murders of two students in November also increased calls for police reform by which the U.S. strategic Plan Merida, a version of its Plan Columbia, is intended.
According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world: 82 killings per 100,000 people. EFE reports that the response of the Honduran government has been to militarize the country further and increase repression. It has begun deploying troops ostensibly "to help combat criminal gangs and drug traffickers."
Last week the Honduran National Congress passed a law allowing the military to perform police functions, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Maria Otero visited Honduras with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Todd Robinson, to promote security initiatives.
The U.S. is advancing a regional security strategy which apparently is oriented toward the militarization of Central America and the participation of private security contractors in policing, a strategy also being promoted for Central America by the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.
The murder of the Honduran national university rector's son by police officers touched off the biggest crisis in Honduras since the June 28, 2009 military coup. Headline grabbing government shuffles and actions purporting to purge the police have occurred, but the same career officers responsible for creating one of the most corrupt police forces imaginable are still in charge; and the politicians overseeing the process were the key actors in the military coup.
This occurs as the System for Central American Integration, SICA, launches the Central American Regional Security Strategy, an initiative strongly promoted by the U.S. State Department and the IDB which already had placed on the agenda the creation of new police forces in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
In June 2011 Hillary Clinton announced that this year the SICA initiative is expected to manage a budget of a $1 billion dollars with a $300 million donation from the U.S. As it is reported that the IDB alone has 22 loans lined up for the project, it is probable that much of the billion dollars is in loans.
IDB and State Department officials are promoting the Colombian police reform as the model for Central America, while former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe tours the region advocating for 'decentralization' and public-private partnerships in policing, sponsored by the northern Virginia based security contractor Continental Security and Interactive Solutions (CSI).
Apparently the Central America Regional Security Initiative, a program that initially was part of the Merida Initiative, the Mexican version of Plan Colombia, has been folded into the SICA-CARSS. Apparently the SICA initiative is following the Colombian and Mexican models in promoting militarization with the direct participation of US and Colombian military forces and private security contractors.
While the stated objective of the program is to combat the extreme levels of violence in Central America, in Honduras it is already clear that militarization is being focused on areas with significant, historical conflicts over control of land and resources, and given the strength of the LIBRE political party born from the Resistance movement, maintaining political control of the nation is extremely important for those behind the 2009 military coup.
On October 22, 2011 Vargas Castellanos, the son of the Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras was killed, along with a friend, Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez, as they drove home from a birthday party. Vargas Castellanos' mother, Julieta Castellanos, coordinated an investigation into her son's murder through the national university in conjunction with a group of prosecuting attorneys. The investigation found that as the young men drove home National Police officers opened fire on their car, wounding them. The police then executed the two university students.
The results of the investigation were made public on October 27 but police had allowed the four officers responsible for the double murder to escape. The four have not been located but on October 29 a different set of four officers, who reportedly had been called in for back up by the four identified in Castellano's investigation, were arrested.
Julieta Castellanos is a well-known figure close to many in the community of politically influential academics and NGOs figures. Following the June 2009 coup, Castellanos had been criticized by the Resistance movement for allowing the military into the University and participating as a Commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission installed by President Porfirio Lobo and strongly backed by the United States, a commission not recognized by the Resistance movement.
During her visit, Assistant Secretary Otero met with Julieta Castellanos and staff at the national university, who earlier last week had announced they were formulating a proposal for an international commission to oversee the police reform program.
While the killing rocked the nation, unfortunately it was not surprising. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed over the past two years and is currently the world's highest at approximately 85 per 100,000. While Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras share a disturbing high level of violence, Honduras stands out at double Guatemala's current murder rate of 42 per 100,000. The Honduran human rights organization COFAEH reports that they have received 10,000 reports of police abuses, mostly involving crimes, since 2009.
The fact that violence and police corruption are well known and have been ongoing for years does not make the situation any less of a crisis. Hondurans cannot tolerate the excessive levels of violence and are demanding change. However, there is widespread concern that, at worst, the Honduran police "reform" is just one more battle in the struggles between organized crime networks, and at best just one more in a series of ineffectual "reform" initiatives that does not address the underlying problems of impunity and the political decisions that generate impunity.
But it would appear that the measures being implemented are not so much a reaction to the scandal surrounding the recent police killing as "shock doctrine" style implementation of existing plans that are part of a regional strategy.
On November 2 the Internal Affairs unit of the police was disbanded and a new law was passed to expedite professional review of police officers, replacing the Internal Affairs unit formerly charged with investigating police corruption with a new unit, the National Direction for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Career (DIECP).
Sources report that the law was created by government functionaries very close to the US embassy. The measure is similar to a law proposed by former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez after a series of meetings with Janet Napolitano, Director of Homeland Security, and a move reportedly done without consultation with the President, which led to his dismissal in early September. In early November a similar law was passed to allow the President and Congress control of hiring and firing judges.
On November 1, during Carlos David Pineda's funeral, Lobo announced Operation Relampago (Lightening), a series of large scale joint military and police operations in 'hot zones,' an operation Lobo claimed was discussed with President Obama during his October 5, 2011 meeting at the White House.
Operation Relampago was soon followed by calls for the military to take on police functions, and on November 29 the National Congress passed a law temporarily granting the military police functions such as conducting arrests, searches, etc.
Extreme police violence has been ongoing for years. However the Honduran military has also been implicated in egregious acts of violence and corruption, massive stealing of weaponry, implication in moving drug planes and submarines, not to mention the military coup June 28, 2009, and the legacy of the military governments and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the 1980s.
Militarization and new police forces are not just on the table in Honduras. Guatemala's president-elect, former General Otto Perez Molina -- himself implicated in war crimes like genocide and torture from the 1980s and reportedly once a CIA asset -- has announced he will use military special forces in combating drug trafficking. It is widely known that former Guatemalan Special Forces have been constantly implicated as forming part of the infamous Zetas narco-trafficking organization.
In El Salvador, reportedly after years of pressure from the US State Department, President Funes asked for the resignation of a former FMLN commander Manuel Melgar, who had served since June 2009 as Minister of Justice and Security, and replaced him with a former general, the first time since the signing of the peace accords in 1992 that a career military officer has occupied that position. At the time Melgar was named in 2009, State Department officials reportedly argued that Melgar's removal from that position would be a prerequisite to Merida Initiative (now CARSI) funding for El Salvador.
Peace activists hold vigil to demand U.S. military get out of Colombia,
Cartagena, August 3, 2010.
Many analysts reason that Honduras' strategic location for military operations in Central America may have been a strong motivating factor in the 2009 military coup, and a number of US funded anti-narcotics bases have opened over the past couple years. Direct military and security presence of the United States in Honduras is ongoing. US Army Rangers trained the controversial 15th Battalion implicated in death-squad-style killings of campesinos, and there are widespread reports the Rangers have had a direct presence in the Mosquitia.
A November 10 article reports that the US Border Patrol is acting in policing activities in the tense Aguan region in the North Coast. Another article reports that on November 20th US Marines arrived for 2 weeks of training of Honduran military in the Puerto Castilla, Colon.
Another widely reported foreign security presence in Honduras is the Colombian security forces. The first international agreement signed by President Porfirio Lobo was a so-called security cooperation agreement with then Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Since that time there have been frequent reports of the presence of Colombians in security operations.
The objective of militarization appears to be detaining protests, targeting rights defenders with violent repression and consolidating territorial control where there are important economic interests, such as in the Bajo Aguan region and the Mosquitia, where business interests such as palm oil production, hydroelectric dams and petroleum concessions are at odds with the rights of local farmers and indigenous communities.
On December 6, 2011 the Panamanian Minister of Security announced that Panama, the United States and Colombia have signed an agreement to jointly install a regional police training academy. While a civilian academy, the project brings up bad memories of Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone, the original home of the School of the Americas which trained military forces from throughout Latin America many implicated in crimes against humanity.
On November 1, Lobo announced the replacement of four of the top police command positions. Most were shifted between existing high level posts, and the only top ranking officer to remain in his post was the infamous commander Danilo Orellana, well known as the top police commander in de facto President Micheletti's 'crisis room' that managed the 2009 military coup and associated repression, illegally detaining and torturing thousands of Hondurans, actions now being investigated by the International Criminal Court.
On November 2, all 176 members of the Police Precinct 1-6 "La Granja", where Vargas Castellanos' murderers were posted, were ordered to report for professional screening tests. Over half of the unit decided to not show up, while international news sources widely reported that 176 police officers had been arrested, a gross distortion. It was reported in the national press that all of Tegucigalpa's police precincts would be intervened in a similar manner, this has not occurred.
In mid-November the National Council of Internal Security (CONASIN) was given the task of designating the new director of the DIECP and a new Deputy Director of the National Police in charge of police reform. CONASIN is comprised mostly of people deeply implicated in the military coup and in corruption in the justice system, including the Attorney General Luis Rubi, the President of the Supreme Court, Jorge Rivera, Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla and Interior Minister Africo Madrid.
On November 30, Congress approved CONASIN's appointment of Oscar Manuel Arita Aguilar as head of the new DIECP, a strong supporter of the military coup while in his former post as President of the Court of Appeals for the Department of Tegucigalpa and Eduardo Villanueva Sagastume as the new Deputy Director of the Police.
The police reform team's first public statements focused on the need for funding, which they should be well positioned to obtain since Villanueva's previous job was as a consultant to the IDB. In addition, the same day they were installed US Assistant Secretary of State Maria Otero arrived in Honduras with a senior official from State Department's Bureau on International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, the agency charged with administering the Central American Regional Security Initiative [CARSI] funds.
In the beginning of November Julieta Castellanos called for an end to police and military aid, explaining that international support for those extremely corrupt institutions only 'feed the monster.' Just days after Castellanos' call to suspend military and police assistance, the IDB announced it planned to release a $60 million loan to Honduras designated for police assistance. This loan is a bilateral loan. The vast majority of security assistance will filter through to the countries of Central America through the Central America Regional Security Strategy administered by the Central American Integration System, SICA.
SICA has been spearheaded by the US State Department and the IDB that, in April 2011, formed a 'Group of Friends' of the Central America Regional Security Strategy consisting of the US, the IDB, the World Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Organization of American States, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the European Union, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, and the United States.
In June 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a regional security meeting in Guatemala, and pledged $300 million in funding for the initiative this year from the United States, noting that the program would have a total initial budget of $1 billion this year. The US has promoted the creation of a security tax in each of SICA's member states to support the cost of the Strategy and repay loans.
In 2008 then Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere John Negroponte toured Central America accompanied by then Ambassador to Colombia and current Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownsfield in a major diplomatic effort to promote the Merida Initiative, which was launched that year in Mexico, a year the homicide rate almost doubled compared to 2006. But the Merida Initiative never got off the ground in Central America, to the point that in 2010 the US created the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) with its own initial appropriations of $165 million.
It appears that this year CARSI has been folded into SICA's Central American Regional Security Strategy. The Merida Initiative ramped up the 'drug war' or Calderon's war, which Mexican activists claim has cost approximately 40,000 lives since 2006, and in that time frame the murder rate rose 260%.
Since August 2011, former Colombian president Uribe has held a series of conferences around Central America sponsored by the Northern Virginia based Continental Security Interactive Systems (CIS), alternately convoking presidents and mayors. He is promoting the Colombian model of policing, also promoted by the IDB, a program called Secure Departments and Municipalities (DMS). Uribe discusses 'decentralization' and 'public-private partnerships' in policing. What exactly that would mean is not entirely clear, but there has been a strong focus on electronic surveillance through cameras, cellular phones, and satellite technology.
It is ironic that Uribe is promoting an electronic surveillance contracting company when, while in Honduras in November 2010, he met secretly with Panamanian president Martinelli to request asylum for his former head of the Colombian intelligence service, María del Pilar Hurtado. She was being prosecuted for using surveillance technology to spy on human rights defenders, many of those targeted with repression.
Uribe is rumored to be living in Honduras, a convenient base of operations to launch into the private security business in the new market generated by SICA's Central American Regional Security Strategy.
A London School of Economics online article reported that 55% of the $1.3 billion dollars that the US pumped into Plan Colombia over approximately 10 years went to private security contracting companies, the vast majority undoubtedly based in the United States. In a similar way, it is reported that the majority of Merida Initiative funds have not left the United States, where they are awarded to weapons producers and private security contractors.
If the Central American version of Plan Colombia follows suit, we could expect hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for private security companies to work in Central America this year alone.
The use of private security contractors by the State Department, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency has skyrocketed since September 11, 2001.
A two-year Washington Post investigation published in July 2010 showed that just in the CIA one third of all employees, approximately 10,000 people, actually worked for private security contractors. Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained that he has not been able to get a number on how many private contractors work in the Department of Defense.
Blackwater, among the largest and best known government contractors, was founded in 1997 in McLean, Virginia, home of the CIA, the same year that an internal directive limited the possibility of the use of torture by informants on the CIA payroll, and the same year approximately 1,000 CIA informants, at that time reported to be a third of the CIA employees, were purged from their payroll for participation in crimes following controversies that exposed involvement in drug trafficking, torture and murder.
Many known human rights abusers have been involved in the private security industry. Billy Joya, a former member of the 1980s Honduran death squad Batallion 3-16, is reported to own private security companies in Central America, and founded a company in the US in 1997. He was also sighted in the 15th Batallion near Tocoa, Colon in March 2010, a date that coincided with the birth of a death squad reportedly operating out of the 15th Batallion which, to date, has been implicated in close to 50 assassinations.
In September 2011 Joya appeared on the Honduran national news program 'Frente a Frente' with a strange cost benefit analysis of police in Honduras, apparently promoting the argument that the police are expensive and inefficient, the inevitable discourse that proceeds privatization of any state enterprise.
The AUC, Colombian state-sponsored paramilitary forces, deeply implicated in massacres, murder, torture and drug trafficking, have long been connected to private security companies. Chiquita Brands Fruit Company is currently being sued by the surviving families of Colombian unionists murdered by the AUC after Chiquita made payments in 2004 to AUC affiliated private security companies.
There is no doubt that private security contracting companies are a means of facilitating impunity for States and corporations by contracting out repression and other dirty business. Lawsuits forced Blackwater to change its name to Xe and move its headquarters to the United Arab Emerites.
The birth of denationalized mercenary armies, contracted for military and police functions, and involved in heinous crimes, is a real threat to the rule of law on a global scale, and it looks like Honduras and Central America may already be their next big theater of operations.
The measures undertaken thus far demonstrate no real commitment or capacity to achieve effective reform. In reaction, in early November, Julieta Castellanos put out a call to form an international commission to intervene in the police and carry out a reform process. Real reform and international observation is urgent, especially as Honduras enters a volatile yet potentially transformative electoral process while at the mercy of deeply corrupt and violent state institutions controlled by people put in place by a military coup and willing to do anything to retain political control of the nation.
After the 2009 military coup, a proposal surfaced to create an office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras, but few advances have been made in establishing one, and the mandate of a UNHCR office would not be broad enough to encompass the need to oversee a purge of state institutions.
In early 2010 the proposal surfaced to install a Honduran version of the Guatemalan International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), a UN sponsored special unit of the Attorney General's office dedicated to prosecuting organized crime networks. It was unclear where the proposal came from, first announced by President Lobo, but it was later reported to have originated in the hawkish, US dominated United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Human rights organizations were divided, many felt that the extreme degree of corruption in the Honduran Attorney General's office would not allow a CICIG to prosper and would only contribute to public relations efforts to whitewash the coup government. This point was driven home by the dramatic resignation of CICIG's director Carlos Castresana in July of 2010, protesting that the extremely corrupt, newly appointed attorney general had effectively destroyed the CICIG's capacity to function in Guatemala.
Recently President Lobo's spokesperson announced the visit of a United Nations delegation to review security cooperation scheduled for December 11, 2011 relating the visit to a request Lobo made for the installation of an international commission to assist in police reform.
Ironically, as 'security' budgets in the region skyrocket, CICIG, one of the most successful initiatives in the region, has been left without sufficient budget and recently fired a large portion of its staff.
Many Hondurans distrust the United Nations, especially given the terrible example of the "Blue Helmets" peacekeeping force in Haiti, and feel more inclined to look to the newly emerging multilateral forums emerging in South America. UNASUR is planning a first electoral observation mission for the Venezuelan elections next year, though its scope of action thus far seems limited to South America. But on December 2 the inaugural summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a forum of all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, began in Caracas.
There is no doubt that international participation in a police reform process is an extremely delicate issue, especially given that individuals associated with the United States intelligence networks have historically participated in the creation of parallel networks within the police and military forces throughout Latin America. These networks have been key in all kinds of destabilization actions.
The most recent Latin American coup attempt in Ecuador on September 30, 2010 was led by the police. President Correa denies evidence of US participation in the coup attempt, while observing: "When we came into government, our intelligence services, entire units of the Police, depended on the Embassy of the United States, totally depended: investigation costs, salaries, double salaries. We prohibited that these contacts continue. [This occurred] even without the knowledge of the very government of the United States and of the Embassy. You know that the CIA and its agencies act with their own agenda, and that we cannot exclude."
It is not a coincidence that Central America's most effective and respected police force, Nicaragua's, was created without the 'assistance' of the United States.
If Honduras hopes to carry out an effective police reform process it must draw on the experience of its neighbor Nicaragua and countries like Ecuador that have had important and sovereign experiences in police reform, and it is critical any police reform process today be carried out with extreme caution, particularly given the potential role of private security contractors with shady histories in SICA's Regional Security Strategy.
* Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action. Since 1995, Rights Action has been funding and working to eliminate the underlying causes of poverty, environmental destruction, repression, racism and impunity in Guatemala and Honduras, as well as in Chiapas (Mexico) and El Salvador. The Canadian Rights Action Foundation, founded in 1999, is independent from and works in conjunction with Rights Action (USA) that was founded originally in 1983. email@example.com
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