Saturday, December 25, 2004

Xmas day at a Dallas Starbucks

Doing a little browsing here at Starbucks, and came across this wonderful piece by E.J. Dionne in yesterday's Post, via Ripple of Hope:

The True Values of The Day
By E. J. Dionne Jr.Friday,
December 24, 2004; Page A17

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God -- for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

-- the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

This is supposed to be the year when moral values dominated politics. On the eve of Christmas, let's talk about values.

In any given city this Christmas, homeless people will not be looking forward to opening presents. They will be lucky to have a place to go at all. They will, by Archbishop Romero's radical and demanding definition, be the true participants in Christmas. But it's unlikely that the rest of us will think much about them. Isn't that a question of values?

Unemployed parents who love their children as much as the rest of us love ours won't have the same chance to show them materially the love they feel in their hearts. God willing, their kids will understand. But some kids, watching other kids in the television ads, might wonder: Why can those parents give their kids all that stuff that my parents can't give me? Isn't that a question of values?

In the fall, I got the chance to moderate a post-election panel at Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture in New York. Former senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska noted that on Jan. 1, the quotas protecting what's left of the U.S. textile and apparel industry will end. "Over a 12-month period," he said, "three or four million jobs that are currently paying $8 to $10 an hour are going bye-bye unless those jobs are protected.

"Now, I hazard to guess that most of those individuals will move into the ranks of poverty," Kerrey went on. "They'll move to minimum-wage jobs, which is 20 or 30 percent under poverty today. . . . If it's a young woman who gets pregnant and says, 'I don't have health insurance anymore. I can't -- it's expensive to raise a baby right today' -- that they're more likely to choose an abortion even if Bush appoints anti-Roe v. Wade justices that overturn it, because they're going to make what I consider to be a tragic choice out of economic necessity."

Whatever you think of abortion or, for that matter, free trade, who can argue with Kerrey's central assertion: that the abortion rate is more likely to go up when economic opportunities for the poor are curtailed? (As Mark W. Roche of Notre Dame noted in the New York Times this fall, the abortion rate dropped by 11 percent during the prosperous years of the Clinton presidency.) Shouldn't all who care about abortion be passionately committed to changing the economic circumstances in which women make their choices? Isn't that a question of values?

In many parts of our country, parents who lack health insurance are wondering if they will be around for their children next Christmas. A mother has a lump on her breast and worries about the cost of having it checked out. A father has chronic chest pains but decides that seeing a cardiologist would be too expensive. They ought to get help. Isn't that a question of values?

In Iraq, young men and women serving their country complain of equipment shortages and wonder why their leaders didn't send enough troops in the first place. Could it be that acknowledging the true cost of the Iraqi invasion at the outset might have endangered all those tax cuts -- and might have reduced support for the war? Isn't that a question of values?

Archbishop Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980, because he chose to stand with El Salvador's poor against a repressive regime. "Brothers, you came from our own people," Romero told soldiers in El Salvador's army. "You are killing your own brothers. . . . In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression."

How many among the cardinals and bishops and pastors and preachers and televangelists who now enjoy favor in high places would have the courage to do what Archbishop Romero did? In fairness, how many of the rest of us would? Isn't that a question of values?

A child was born in a manger because there was no room for his family anywhere else. Wasn't that a question of values?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Blogging hiatus

Starting a two-week vacation today--well, sort of, since I'm working on a couple of overdue pieces in the coming week.

Perhaps in the New Year I'll be newly inspired to do further blogging. Meanwhile, check out Tim's El Salvador Blog. He's keeping Salvador-watchers up-to-date in a nonpolemical fashion. Marc Cooper also has regularly good posts related to Latin America, while Randy Paul covers the Southern hemisphere (and the Caribbean) very well.

El Salvador's Legislative Assembly passed CAFTA yesterday, the first CA country to do so. Proof positive that you can always count on the ARENA party to be the absolute first to suck up to the U.S.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Mexico launches OAS candidate

Mexico had previously said it would support a Central American candidate for the OAS post, and now is saying it will propose it's own foreign minister. Last week, former foreign minister of Mexico Jorge Castañeda said that El Salvador worked hand in hand (unsuccessfully) with Colombia and the US to quickly recognize the interim government that overthrew Chávez in 2002. The former foreign minister of Chile kind of confirms that fact in today's La Prensa Gráfica.

The U.S. has been low-key -- but not invisible -- in its support for a Flores candidacy, but things aren't looking so good for them.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Mum's the word

I'm sure we've still not heard the last of this story, but this Newsday story that I missed last week notes that declassified CIA briefs indicate the U.S. knew a coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was brewing in the days prior to the April 2002 coup attempt--and did nothing to warn the Venezuelan government. Of course, surely they weren't caught that much off guard, were they?

Monday, November 29, 2004

About that Quito conference

I'm still not up for much analysis, but check out Jim Lobe's piece on the hemisphere-wide defense minister's meeting a couple of weeks ago in Quito. He notes some worrisome viewpoints from Rumsfeld (human rights shouldn't be a concern in fighting terrorism, the police/military distinction is decreasingly useful), but criticizes US press coverage --or lack thereof-- at the same time. WOLA also has a good memo laying out some of the issues that were at stake.

One thing only a couple of press outlets picked up was how the U.S. didn't actually dominate the meeting, with their security view challenged by Brazil and most of South America. On a similar note, Larry Rohter had an excellent piece in the New York Times quite a few days ago about increasing Chinese economic influence in Latin America, which of course also means decreased U.S. influence.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

On the road

Again, until Dec. 1st. But there are a few things I want to write about, including the hemispheric summit of defense ministers in Quito this past week, so do check back.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The US goes after a bad guy

It's miniscule and probably merely symbolic, but it's somewhat heartening to see this "Wanted" poster from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Alvaro Saravia, who was recently convicted in a California court for his role in the murder of Msgr. Romero. (I blogged about it here.) I received this via email; I wonder how much real-life circulation it's actually received.

Whither U.S. Policy toward Latin America?

You can get The Economist's take on this question over at their website, where they have an article that focuses on, you guessed it, economics. Of all the major weeklies, in fact, The Economist has the greatest amount of Latin American coverage. While many of their articles require a subscription, this one does not. The article concludes by noting the "surprisingly cordial" relations of the Bush administration with the increasingly leftward tilting hemispheric leaders.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Veterans Day in El Salvador

Rumsfeld stopped in El Salvador on his way to a hemispheric conference of defense ministers in Ecuador. On Veterans Day, he laid a wreath at a memorial for U.S. personnel killed during the Salvadoran civil war, including 20 service personnel. And Friday he paid homage to six Salvadoran military for saving the lives of six U.S. employees of the Coalition Provisional Authorities by awarding them with the bronze star. A few points worth mentioning:

  • This is apparently the first time we've heard about this particular episode, as I'm quite sure it wasn't reported at the time. Why? Perhaps because Flores did not want to highlight the combat role (security details in a war zone might be considered that), especially days for the Salvadoran elections. It was always blatantly obvious why "special forces" were sent to Iraq for what was being toted as a humanitarian mission, but this would have made it even more clear.
  • El Diario de Hoy said this was the first time that Bronze Stars had been awarded to any Central American officers. Actually, I did a quick internet search, and find that rarely do foreign troops get this honor. (The U.S. offered bronze stars to Canadian troops that had been accidentally killed by a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan, for example.)
  • La Prensa Grafica reported that troop levels would rise to 200,000 by the end of 2005. Has that been noted yet in the U.S. press?
  • Of course, the headline elsewhere, including an AP story that got wide play, was how Rumseld noted that El Salvador could be a model for Iraq. The LA Times had this quote from Rumsfeld: "When one looks at this country and recognizes the fierce struggle that existed here 20 years ago and the success they've had despite the fact that there was a war raging during the elections, it just proves that the sweep of human history is for freedom. We've seen it in this country, we've seen it in Afghanistan and I believe we'll see it in Iraq."
  • All stories mentioned the continuing request by the U.S. to the Nicaraguan government to destroy some 2000 surface-to-air missiles still in the hands of the Nicaragua military--this after 14 years of conservative government rule. Sounds like there might be some "reserved domains" still among Sandinista higher-ups in the military.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

After the Wars

A 13-part radio series starts this Friday on your local NPR station, produced by Maria Martin and a slew of reporters -- "some of public radio's most talented reporters and their Central American colleagues" with "the most comprehensive coverage of Central America in years," according to their website. The first segment provides historical context, and is produced by NPR veteran Richard Gonzalez. I'm looking forward to hearing this, and hope that it will be available on their website without too much delay.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Haiti: Latin America to the rescue

I haven't been following the situation in Haiti much in recent months, but my interest was piqued by the decision of El Salvador and other Central American countries to send peacekeepers there soon -- this time, of course, under a real UN mandate, unlike Iraq. There's quite a bit of pessimism, however, about the potential success of the Brazil-led mission there, as is noted in an article this week by IPS that's worth reading. One academic observer in Brazil notes that Haiti looks like it might become "the first failure of President Lula's foreign policy", since "the situation is getting worse, and for now there's no solution in sight."

But an editorial in the Jamaica Observer today has a rather different take on the situation, seeing the recent meeting of Latin Americans in Rio de Janeiro this week as a chance for CARICOM to make a comeback. At the same time, it notes that the initiative isn't necessarily going to be to the liking of what they call the Western Troika -- the U.S., France and Canada:
...the countries of the Rio Group plan to send a diplomat to South Africa to meet with Mr Aristide about their plan to rebuild Haiti, ensure security and advance democracy.

Although it has been made clear that Mr Aristide will not be invited to participate directly in the process, this initiative recognises that he remains a powerful and important force in Haiti and the legitimacy of his political movement Lavalas, which Mr Latortue and his supporters have sought to sideline.

Indeed, it flies in the face of the propositions that have been advanced by the Western Troika and re-endorses the logic of the Kingston Accord led by Prime Minister P J Patterson, which had the best potential for political change in Haiti within a constitutional framework.

Caricom proposed a power-sharing arrangement that would have allowed Mr Aristide to serve out his remaining two years as president.

That, ostensibly, was rejected by the formal opposition. The upshot was intensification of unrest in Haiti, increased violence by a force of irregulars and pressure on Mr Aristide by the United States, France and the new Canadians to resign.

Haiti is now perhaps more divided and unstable than before.Mr Latortue has consistently blamed the violence in Haiti on the hidden hand of Mr Aristide and accused South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki of breaking international law for harbouring Mr Aristide.

In that context, it does not seem that any engagement of Mr Aristide by the Latin Americans, whatever the message they carry, will find favour with Latortue. It is also unlikely to sit easy with the Americans. Yet Washington may see Latin American help as broadening the burden of Haiti and a lessening of a distraction while it grapples with Iraq.

For Caricom, the Latin American initiative, in the absence of the fine print, could be a way for the Community to find its way back into Haiti with greater insulation - a kind of new start without the total abandonment of strongly held principles.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thumbing through the Times

I realize I have nothing new to say today, but I am struck by some rather useful insights in the New York Times, especially in the piece by the ever-judicious and historically informed Todd Purdum.

First, he notes Bush strategist Matthew Dowd's comment that "Mr. Bush had become the first incumbent Republican president to win a presidential race with majorities in the House and Senate since Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and the first president of either party since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 to be re-elected while gaining seats in both houses." That's a sobering fact.

Second, he hints at an issue that will make many progressives uncomfortable when he cites former Clinton aide, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL): "Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter got elected because they were comfortable with their faith. What happened was that a part of the electorate came open to what Clinton and Carter had to say on everything else - health care, the environment, whatever - because they were very comfortable that Clinton and Carter did not disdain the way these people lived their lives, but respected them."

Elsewhere, on the editorial pages, we're treated to some great analysis -- still no game plan, however -- from several mainstays:
  • Thomas Friedman says it feels like two different Americas now exist, such that "it felt as if we were rewriting the Constitution, not electing a president."
  • Maureen Dowd is scathing and pessimistic: The president says he's "humbled" and wants to reach out to the whole country. What humbug. The Bushes are always gracious until they don't get their way. If W. didn't reach out after the last election, which he barely grabbed, why would he reach out now that he has what Dick Cheney calls a "broad, nationwide victory"?
  • Garry Wills says that, in America's counter-Enlightenment, we are most closely resembling our putative enemies: "Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists."
I hate to provide proof of anything that Tom Friedman has to say, but when he writes that the election could just as well have been between those who watch Fox News and those who read the New York Times, I guess it's clear which side I come down on.

P.S. The Washington Post has a good story that seeks to explain why Kerry lost Ohio.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

What's next?

Okay, so Rove's base strategy worked. 22% of those who voted yesterday were evangelicals, according to Steve Waldman, the founder of Beliefnet. Youth also turned out in record numbers, but so did everybody else. And Ohio is definitely lost--Kerry is conceding at 1 pm EST.

I've scoured my usual sites, however, and have found a few people who have managed to spell out something other than other utter despair, and I urge you to take a look.
  • Mark Schmitt thinks "that this will be like Nixon's second term, and thus the seeds of a bigger long-term change than could have occurred just by Kerry winning the election."
  • For David Corn, the good news is, paradoxically, that "America is a divided nation. Despite the pundit hand-wringing over this fact, it is a positive thing. Nearly-- nearly--half of the electorate rejected Bush's leadership, his agenda, his priorities, his falsehoods."
  • Marc Cooper has a good critique of what went wrong, but also says "the only succor I cling to is the notion that the President’s punishment for being re-elected is that he will now have to manage the myriad catastophes he has conjured."
  • And Paul Waldman of The Gadflyer notes: "Progressives need to do what conservatives did forty years ago: build a movement. Not a campaign, not an organization, a movement. Stop thinking about whether you can win the next election and start thinking about creating something that will lead to victories for decades. It's long overdue."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Impudent pandering to the Latino vote

Yesterday I posted something about how Bush was losing the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in Florida, and how generally he was doing badly with Hispanics, which could make a huge difference nationwide.

Now I see the Washington Post reports that yesterday the Department of Homeland Security --I'm sorry, but things are really screwed up when it's Homeland Security making that kind of decision -- announced an extension of temporary protected status for Nicaraguans (4,300) and Hondurans (82,000), while they are "favorably disposed" to granting another 18 months to some 300,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. TPS for the former is up in January, while for Salvadorans it expires in March.

The good news is that, as far as I can tell, there's very little coverage (newspaper or wire service, that is) of this fact, importantly not even in the Miami Herald today. Could it be that everyone sees this is a brazen, last-minute electoral ploy for votes? There was a story in Monday's Herald, however, noting that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez was already trumpeting this decision over the weekend.

Too little, too late.

Bush's fatal flaw

Tom Burka, who also was one of the bloggers invited to comment on the elections in today's New York Times, has the final word on why Bush will lose today:

Bush's Inability To Distance Self From Self A Problem, Republicans Worry

President Bush has been utterly unable to distance himself from what critics call "George W. Bush's presidency," enabling opponent John Kerry to blame virtually all four years of it on him, a crucial mistake in a critically important campaign season.

"If Bush had been able to depict the past four years of his presidency as belonging to someone else, it would have dramatically improved his chances for re-election," said Harry Schmetterer, checkers-player-turned-pundit. "Because he did not, the war on Iraq, the record on the environment, the economy, all of that can be laid to rest at George W. Bush's feet."

In this last week, Karl Rove had intended to reveal his "October Surprise" -- an allegation that someone else, probably Bill Clinton, had actually been President during the past four years. Unfortunately, allegations concerning the theft of 380 tons of powerful explosives from Iraq by terrorists distracted the Bush campaign from pursuing that strategem.

In other news, Bush aides feared that the wolves unveiled in a recent anti-Kerry campaign spot did not sufficiently "frighten the living bejesus" out of voters.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Latin Difference

There's evidence that the non-Cuban Hispanic vote -- that would be Mexicans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Colombians and Puerto Ricans among others, many of whom voting for the first time -- will outflank the Cuban-American vote in Florida, making a huge difference for Kerry in places like Miami-Dade county.

Nick Confesore over at the Tapped notes that:
Republicans need to get up to 35 or 40 percent among Hispanics in order to remain competitive in a country that is become less and less white. And Bush was supposed to be the perfect ambassador to Hispanic voters: Bilingual (more or less), pro-immigration, from a border state, anti-nativist, and so forth. He's failed nonetheless.
By the way, for my money, in addition to Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, the American Prospect's Tapped and Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum blog entries are really hot these days.

A nicer map

Professor Sam Wang of Princeton University has been doing meta-analysis:
Below is a meta-analysis directed at the question of who will win the Electoral College. Meta-analysis provides more objectivity and precision than looking at one or a few polls, and in the case of election prediction gives a more accurate current snapshot. The calculations are based on all available recent state polls, which are used to estimate the probability of a Bush/Kerry win, state by state. These are then used to go through all possible combinations of battleground state results. The effects of undecided voters, turnout, and polling bias are calculated using the bias analysis. Here are the full methods.
As you can see, he comes up with virtually the same map as the most optimistic scenario I mentioned yesterday, with two exceptions: he includes Nevada in the Kerry camp, and he gets the colors right! (duh)

His final numbers: Kerry 316, Bush 222.

Oh, and the map is weighted (expanded?) to represent the actual number of electoral college votes.

More encouraging poll analysis

Alan Abramowitz has been saying some very wise and learned things over at Donkey Rising in recent weeks, and his final, pre-election poll analysis is now up. I'm going with it, if only so that I can sleep well tonight:

Final Pre-election Poll Analysis
By Alan Abramowitz

1. The National Polls
In the 12 most recent national polls listed on, among likely voters, Bush is leading in 7 polls, Kerry in 2, and 3 are tied. Average support was 48.2 percent for Bush, 46.7 percent for Kerry, and 0.8 percent for Nader. In the 7 polls that provide results for registered voters, however, Kerry is leading in 4, Bush in 1, and 2 are tied. Average support was 47.0 percent for Kerry, 46.7 percent for Bush, and 0.9 percent for Nader.

Bottom line: Even in the samples of likely voters, Bush is well below the 50 percent mark generally needed by an incumbent. In fact, when Gallup allocates the undecided vote, their likely voter sample goes from a 49-47 Bush lead to a 49-49 tie. In the broader samples of registered voters, Bush is actually trailing in most of the recent polls. With a very high turnout expected tomorrow, the registered voter samples are probably more representative of the actual electorate than the likely voter samples.

2. The Four Major Battleground States

In Florida, there have been 11 polls since October 15. Bush led in 5, Kerry led in 5, and 1 was tied. Average support was 47.5 percent for Bush, 46.5 percent for Kerry, and 1.2 percent for Nader. Turnout in the early voting has been enormous, with a clear advantage for Democrats. Expect a huge turnout tomorrow as well that will put this state in the Kerry column.

In Ohio, there have been 11 polls since October 15. Kerry led in 7, Bush led in 3, and 1 was tied. Average support was 47.2 percent for Bush and 48.3 percent for Kerry. Ralph Nader is not on the ballot. Turnout is going to be enormous and two federal judges ruled this morning that Republican political operatives cannot challenge voters in minority precincts. That was Karl Rove's last gasp in Ohio. The Buckeye state will go Democratic this year and no Republican has ever won a presidential election without carrying Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, there have been 11 polls since October 15. Kerry led in 8, Bush led in 2 and 1 was tied. Average support was 46.8 percent for Bush and 48.7 percent for Kerry. Ralph Nader is not on the ballot. Pennsylvania looks solid for Kerry.

Finally, in Michigan, there have been 5 polls since October 15, including only the most recent release of the Mitchell tracking poll. Kerry led in all 5 polls. Average support was 44.2 percent for Bush, 47.2 percent for Kerry, and 1.0 percent for Nader. Michigan also looks solid for Kerry.

Bottom line: George Bush's situation in all four of these key battleground states is dire. His support is well below 50 percent in all of them and he is currently trailing John Kerry in 3 of the 4. A clean sweep of all four states by John Kerry is a distinct possibility.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Taking out Castro?

Steve Clemons, who writes The Washington Note blog, was on a flight from Europe recently when he talked to a soldier from the 82nd Airborne. He had some strong opinions about what the current sentiment among fellow soldiers -- 75%, he said, want Bush defeated -- but another interesting tidbit of that conversation related to Cuba:

He also shared an interesting anecdote that about a year ago, certain commanders in the 82nd Airborne had been told to prepare for a quick incursion into Cuba. I was stunned.

He said, "Yep, we couldn't believe that on top of everything else, Bush thought he could go take out Castro." The Navy Seals were going to go in and do the dirty work, he said, and the "82nd was going to go in for clean-up." He said that he never heard more about it but that the orders clearly didn't go forward -- but they were prepared for that possibility and told that "Bush just wanted to take out Castro."

Is this believable? Clemons says he'll do a follow-up after digging around a bit. Stay tuned.

My electoral predictions

The above is my worst-case scenario. Kerry loses Florida, New Mexico and Iowa, but keeps Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota--and still wins, 272-266.

Or, if you listen to Tucker Carlson (and John Schmitt), and you think that Kerry is going to take Florida, but possibly not Ohio, you can still envisage a Kerry victory. Carlson sees it at 277-260 for Kerry, which probably assumes that Kerry wins Iowa, but loses Hawaii and New Mexico.

Below is my best-case scenario, and certainly within the realm of possibility: Kerry doesn't lose Florida, New Mexico and Iowa--in which case he wins, 311-227.

If you're still not convinced, go over to Matt Bergman's analysis at Daily Kos. He argues for the best-case scenario, actually. Ruy Texeira over at Donkey Rising had nice things to say about Matt's analysis.

(Make your own maps, or calculate the electoral college vote, at

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Iraq and the numbers game

I've been waiting for someone else to figure out what they think about the new study, published the other day in The Lancet, which "conservatively" estimates that 100,000 civilians have been killed since the U.S. toppled Saddam.

Via Marc Cooper's post yesterday, I see that Fred Kaplan in Slate has, in fact, pretty much demolished the methodology used by the team of public health researchers who rushed to get this article to press before the U.S. elections. Juan Cole is somewhat more benevolent. I also see where the Washington Post story cites a critical comment from Human Rights Watch:
"The methods that they used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting," said Marc E. Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, which investigated the number of civilian deaths that occurred during the invasion. "These numbers seem to be inflated."
Importantly, Cooper writes about a couple of similar episodes of body counting from Latin America:
Horror is horror. No need to exaggerate. I thoroughly reported the 1989 invasion of Panama and know to a moral certainty that a total of about 500 people died in that pointless “war.” And yet, thanks to a lot of endlessly recycled hyperbole the completely unsubstantiated figure of 4,000 has become accepted “fact” by many critics of the war.

Likewise, those of us who resisted and opposed the Pinochet regime in Chile absolutely swore for an entire decade that he had killed upward of 25,000 people. More careful accounting in the mid-80’s determined the real figure was about 3200 – macabre enough in a nation of 11 million people.
No one has yet to come out and publicly revisit the 70,000 figure for El Salvador, but I know that at one point, Doug Farah (UPI/Washington Post) told me that reporters in the late 1980s simply added 5000 a year to previous totals -- which, in the late 1980s, was a very high estimate of annual civilian casualties. And then there's the issue of whether that number includes all civilian casualties, or total war dead, including combatants from both sides.

UPDATE: Significant further discussion taking place over at a second Marc Cooper posting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Collateral damage

A new book is coming out in November -- Democracy and Drugs in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy -- that's touted as the first systematic, region-wide documentation and analysis of the collateral damage caused by the U.S. war on drugs. It's edited by my old friends Coletta Youngers and Eileen Rosin, who codirected the Drugs, Democracy, and Human Rights (DDHR) project at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Here's a look inside:

* The U.S. "War on Drugs": Its Impact on Latin America and the Caribbean—the Editors.
* The U.S. Military in the War on Drugs—A. Isacson.
* U.S. Police Assistance and Drug Control Policies—R. Neild.
* Colombia: A Vicious Circle of Drugs and War—M.C. Ramírez, K. Stanton, and J. Walsh.
* Bolivia: Clear Consequences—K. Ledebur.
* Peru: Drug Control Policy, Human Rights, and Democracy—I. Rojas.
* Ecuador: Untangling the Drug War—F. Rivera Vélez.
* Mexico: The Militarization Trap—L. Freeman and J. L. Sierra.
* The Caribbean: The "Third Border" and the War on Drugs—J. Rodríguez Beruff and G. Cordero.
* The Collateral Damage of the U.S. War on Drugs: Conclusions and Recommendations—Coletta A. Youngers.
* Appendix 1: An Overview of U.S. Laws and Agencies Related to International Drug Control Efforts.
* Appendix 2: Funding and Staffing for DEA Programs in Latin America 1998-2004.
* Appendix 3: List of Abbreviations and Acronyms.

    If the topic interests you, be sure to order now at your favorite bookstore!

    Monday, October 25, 2004

    Outsourcing Diplomacy

    El Salvador makes the front page of the Los Angeles Times today, but that's a dubious distinction in this case. In an article about foreign countries paying lobbyists to push their agendas in Washington, El Salvador gets the lede:
    When the government of El Salvador wanted help extending immigration benefits to its citizens in the U.S., it turned to a new lobbying shop set up by Miami lawyer Alberto Cardenas Jr., a star of the Republican fundraising machine.

    The lobbyists were confident that "a round of consultations and meetings" with Bush administration officials would get El Salvador what it wanted: an additional 18 months of protection and work permits for Salvadorans living in the U.S.

    In less than two weeks, El Salvador got just that.
    So now, in addition to the exorbitant power of money in U.S. domestic politics, we have foreign countries stepping up to the plate:
    Influence magazine, a trade publication for lobbyists, recently reported that lobbying on behalf of foreign governments in Washington was at an all-time high. The magazine cited trade opportunities and Bush's creation of the Millennium Challenge Account in 2002, which gives aid as an incentive for countries to meet certain human rights and economic policy criteria.
    The basic problem here:
    The trend of foreign countries relying on lobbyists who also serve as political fundraisers troubles government watchdog groups. Issues such as trade and immigration drive U.S. foreign policy, they say, and should not be influenced by those with fundraising links to decision makers.
    Can we really expect Democrats to do any differently, should Kerry win?

    Very odd double-standards

    President Bush said Tuesday that he would be "disappointed" if free and fair elections in Iraq led to the seating of an Islamic government, but that the United States would accept the results. "Democracy is democracy," he said. "If that's what people choose, that's what the people choose."

    -- from today's Washington Post

    So, the Bush administration doesn't mind if Iran -- a member of the so-called Axis of Evil -- increases its influence in Iraq through flawed elections.

    After all,"democracy is democracy"--except in tiny El Salvador, where, in a much less flawed electoral process (procedurally, at least) , the U.S. was publicly worried about a potential a victory by the FMLN in presidential elections earlier this year.

    UPDATE, Oct. 25: I guess they don't really have double standards after all. Today's Los Angeles Times reports:

    While publicly stressing the need for Iraqis to control their own destiny, the Bush administration is working behind the scenes to coax its closest Iraqi allies into a coalition that could dominate elections scheduled for January.

    U.S. authorities in Washington and Iraqi politicians confirmed that top White House officials have told leaders of the six major parties that were on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council that it would be in the groups' common interest to present a unified electoral slate....

    One U.S. official in Washington said the administration now believes Iraq needs a "negotiated resolution … a scaled-back democratic process.

    "Between the two conflicting key goals, "I see the arguments for stability now outweighing the calls for democracy," said the official, who declined to be identified. The formation of a unified slate would further entrench the U.S.-allied parties, which are mostly led by longtime exiles with dubious popular support and are still viewed with suspicion by many Iraqi citizens.

    Now that does sound quite a bit more like El Salvador -- circa 1982-84 -- or Nicaragua circa 1990.

    Thursday, October 21, 2004

    The Boston-Guatemala nexus

    "Mark it down. Oct. 20. It will always be the day that Sox citizens were liberated from 8 decades of torment and torture at the hands of the New York Yankees and their fans. Boston Baseball's Bastille Day."
    -- from today's Boston Globe

    and sixty years earlier...

    "The government tried to shut down the press and arrest opposition leaders. But the protests could not be stopped. Finally, on October 20, 1944, discontented military leaders joined armed workers and students to topple the government. Guatemala's 'ten years of spring' had begun."
    --from Paul Kobrak's study on university students organizing and repression in Guatemala

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Cocaine Republics

    I've no time to comment, but it's worth checking out today's piece on NPR by John Burnett on the transformation of Central America's erstwhile "banana republics" into "cocaine republics." It's the first in a three-day series. One thing that bothered me as I listened to the 8-minute story was one of the last quotes from a U.S. military official in Guatemala, about how the region is being destabilized again, that it's come full circle from the wars of the 1980s. Huh?

    To get a deeper grasp on that, you might check out the new report by WOLA, LAWG and CIP -- entitled Blurring the Lines -- on how the "war on terror" guides the U.S. military's mission in Latin America these days.

    And if the Guatemala/drug angle piques your interest, try taking a look at this set of articles on Guatemala and drugs from Frank Smyth, who's been writing about this issue for years.

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    Growing the economy?

    The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has released a report, according to today's La Prensa Gráfica, on the development of a land canal that might stretch between La Unión in the far eastern part of the country north to Puerto Cortés in Honduras. Another 100 kilometers of highway needs to be built on the Honduran side to complete the 371 km stretch between the two ports. Construction on the Cutuco port is set to begin next year, and end by 2007. Unlike the Acajutla port (closer to the Guatemalan border), there are plans for large-scale development projects (including tourism) around this port, which would also be able to receive luxury liners. There's also talk of rail lines along this route, as well as elsewhere within Central America.

    The JICA report estimates that, in the next fifteen years, the commerce generated by this port and the land canal could double El Salvador's GDP.

    This news, along with the weekend news that travelers between Guatemala and El Salvador will no longer have to stop at immigration when crossing the border as of Nov. 15, is heartening for regional trade and development. It remains to be seen how all of this will really play out, however -- i.e., whether there will be sufficient investment capital to make this work. For example, over the past four years, none of the competitive bidding processes for a new ferry between La Unión and Nicaragua have received any takers whatsoever.

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    PBS Frontline/World

    FRONTLINE/WORLD -- Election 2004 from PBS has quite a good general overview story on El Salvador by Joe Rubin. Under the general rubric of "payback," he explores issues of remittances, U.S. policy, and human rights. Written in an engaging first-person voice, it's a good introduction to some of the salient issues.

    George Bush, the Worst Mexican President Ever

    Tom Englehardt has overseen the publishing in English of the work of Mexican political cartoonist "El Fisgón" (aka, Rafael Barajas). Now he's invited him to write about our president, and concludes that "all evidence suggests that George Bush has stolen his ruling style from old-fashioned Mexican politicians:"
    Mexican political culture has very defined features and the President of the United States has absorbed them all: The classical Mexican political boss usually inherits his power from his father. The typical Mexican cacique has a love for guns as well as an inclination toward violence and cruelty; he despises legality and intellectual activity, has a personal history of alcoholism and dissipation, lies systematically, and declares himself a faithful servant of God. (Did we miss anything?)

    According to Mexican tradition, politicians always reach their positions thanks to a fraudulent electoral process and then surround themselves with a clique which uses its power to conduct "business" on a staggering scale while in office. The Florida electoral thievery and Halliburton's Iraq contract are classic examples of Mexican corruption.
    And if you read the New York Times Magazine story today by Ron Suskind, the following comment by El Fisgón will also ring all too true:
    In the Mexican court, dialogues like the following were not uncommon and completely irresistible:

    The President asks: "What time is it?"

    His minister replies: "Whatever time you say, Mister President."

    Our presidents were almighty creatures, the voices of God on Earth. Not to be with them was to be against them. After them came the final flood or the atomic apocalypse.
    Yes, compare the above to the following excerpt from Suskind's piece from a meeting at the White House:
    [Congressman] Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

    "I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush said. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army."

    Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: "Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army." Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

    Bush held to his view. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army."

    The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    Exports to the rescue

    I have mixed feelings about trade and capitalist values, but it's somewhat easier to feel okay about USAID helping small businesses in El Salvador. The Post has a story about a trade show in DC this week:
    ...[there was a] a contingent of 15 Salvadoran companies sponsored by Expro, a $6 million project by the U.S. Agency for International Development that is teaching small-business owners in El Salvador to export their products. The small-business owners said the United States is an attractive market for two reasons: The Salvadoran community in the United States is about 1.5 million strong and growing; also growing is the market for organic and natural foods.

    Expro, which started in July 2003, has already helped about 55 Salvadoran businesses export $4.8 million worth of products to the United States, Japan, Germany and other countries. That's a tiny sliver of El Salvador's total exports of $3.2 billion last year, but the program has helped small businesses reach markets overseas. A few USAID trade specialists live in El Salvador and help guide small-business owners through the maze of regulations so they can begin exporting.

    "The companies come to [trade shows] to get to know a new market, to see what the trends are and to see who the competition is," said Lisa K. Alley, an Expro trade specialist.

    Friday, October 15, 2004

    The "terrorist" label

    If the Salvadoran conflict were still ongoing, yet about to be resolved today, would the State Department permit assistance to help demobilize the FMLN rebels? Probably not, given that the FMLN would likely have been labeled (and rightly so, I might add, from my reading of how the label is defined) as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the State Department.

    So Marcela Sanchez raises a very good point today when she questions the difficulties in using U.S. funds to help demobilize rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia. Human rights groups rightly worry about the lack of prosecution of these guys for past crimes, but I don't recall anyone making such concerns a fundamental reason for questioning the validity of U.S. assistance to demobilize leftist guerrillas or the military (which also committed terrorist acts, but which of course the State Department would never have included in the FTO category) in the Salvadoran context, not to mention rightwing contras in the Nicaraguan case.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Jockeying for the OAS

    UPDATE: Salvadoran President Tony Saca said today that he would respect the decision of Venezuela to say whatever they want about any candidate for the top job at the OAS, but at the same time finds the FMLN's objection to a Paco Flores candidacy as downright "petty" (mezquino):
    ...lo que sí yo no puedo entender es la mezquindad que pueda tener un partido político local en contra de un salvadoreño que pueda tener aspiraciones de llegar a la OEA. Yo como salvadoreño me sentiría orgullosísimo de que un salvadoreño fuera el secretario general de la OEA. Me parece absolutamente mezquino de parte del FMLN.
    I'm surprised he just didn't come right out and say it was treasonous!

    Andres Oppenheimer reviews his favorites to be the OAS chief. Among Central Americans, he only mentions Paco Flores, but also gives him the least chance to get it (50%). He fails to mention that both Honduras and Venezuela are against a Flores candidacy. Flores is criticized at home for his submissiveness to the U.S. (e.g., Iraq), his failure to adhere to regional human rights decisions, and his generally dismissive attitude toward dialogue with the opposition and talking with the press. Flores also has a "cleaner" reputation than most former Central American presidents, but.... ARENA has been in power 15 years straight, meaning that there has been no opposition party to take power who can dig up dirt on the previous administration; and the Salvadoran print media is probably the most consistently and uniformly pro-government in the region, so most corruption scandals rarely if ever surface without the government's blessing.

    Oppenheimer favors former Brazilian president Cardoso (if he wants it) or one of several good Chilean candidates. The Central Americans meet today here in San Salvador to come up with a consensus candidate (or at least agree that their should be a consensus), which Mexico -- and probably Colombia and the U.S. -- has agreed to support.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004

    Talking Trash

    If you follow El Salvador closely, you'll remember that the mayoral re-election (and later presidential candidacy) of Hector Silva was plagued by daily attacks from El Diario de Hoy, principally around the issue of trash collection in greater San Salvador. There were millions missing, they had ties to a Canadian mafia, etc.

    Now, we have Hugo Barrera, the new minister of the environment (and one of ARENA's founders), saying that the trash dump and processing plant in Nejapa that services 10 or so municipalities in this area is great. In fact, Barrera told La Prensa Gráfica, "if there were 12 others like it in the country, there would be no trash problem."

    As for any legal problems with the trash enterprise (known as MIDES), the new adminstrator, former vice-minister of Defense Orlando Zepeda (one of the depurados back in 1992) says everything's hunky-dory. More on this in El Faro this week.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    CAFTA prospects

    Bob Davis surveys the political landscape on trade in the Wall Street Journal, and says the next occupant of the White House will necessarily spend more time on Latin America. Davis is fairly blunt about who Bush has to rely upon to get CAFTA passed, while pessimistic about Kerry's prospects for a revised agreement:

    If the president wins re-election, he will rely on the lobbying power of U.S. retailers and importers to push the deal [CAFTA] through Congress. He also may promise to crack down on Chinese clothing imports as a way to ease textile-industry opposition.

    If Sen. Kerry wins, the equation changes. He says he would renegotiate the pact to improve labor and environmental standards in Central America. That is a reprise of former President Bill Clinton's position on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was negotiated by the first President Bush. In 1993, Mr. Clinton negotiated Nafta labor and environmental side deals and won passage. But Democratic Party support for free trade is much weaker now than it was during Mr. Clinton's first term, so Mr. Kerry may be unable to win enough Democratic lawmakers to compensate for Republican votes he would lose.

    What does seem implausible is an assertion in this same article that "a defeat in Congress for the Central American deal and continued stalemate on a hemispheric trade package would sour relations and give a boost to populist forces in the region who already are dubious about the value of free trade." If CAFTA goes through, it would take years for the benefits to trickle down to the poor. With or without CAFTA, there will be fertile terrain for "populists" for many years to come.

    Looking to El Salvador

    The Associated Press does a story on the lure of Salvadorans to Iraq security details, and the Miami Herald goes with it:

    Many of Iraq's recent victims have been private contractors from poor nations, lured by high wages. But as violence increases in Iraq and nations like Bulgaria and the Philippines urge their citizens to avoid working there, private contractors are looking toward some Latin American countries, where kidnappings are common and war is nothing new....

    ''No one lives forever,'' said Saturnino Hernandez Castilian, 40, the father of four children. "God says how far I am going to get. We may die here, or we may die there. If we survive, we are going to benefit. If we die, our family will be OK.''

    Monday, October 11, 2004

    Wanted: A new OAS S-G

    Just back from a couple of days in Guatemala. Seems like every Central American country wants to lay claim to the now-vacant Secretary General spot at the OAS. Guatemala has a good candidate, Eduardo Stein, but he already has a job--as VP in the Guatemalan government. Nicaragua wants to put up a foreign minister, and finally Saca's hoping to put Paco Flores into the seat.

    But first all of the foreign ministers of Central America have to meet on Thursday and see if they can come up with a single candidate. Of course, Costa Rica leads every country in Central America in all of the corruption surveys (that is, as the least corrupt), so will the rest of the hemisphere take another chance on a Central American candidate from a country somewhat less distinguished?

    Saturday, October 09, 2004

    Note to Amy Sullivan

    Dear Amy,

    Have you ever watched Sunday morning preachers, say maybe some Baptists from Texas? Try taking a look tomorrow. Does their style remind you of anyone? (Hint: He was seen on all television networks last night.)

    You got it--George W. Bush. And you wonder what George W. does on Sunday mornings!

    Yours truly,
    (lapsed Southern Baptist from Fort Worth)

    Friday, October 08, 2004

    Outsourced to Iraq: Prescient Cynicism?

    Back in April, shortly after starting this blog, I wrote about the Salvadoran troops in Iraq, noting
    "who's to say that these guys can't join the outsourced forces of Blackwater and company after their stint in Iraq."
    Well, what seemed logically possible back then has now become reality. For the last several days, El Diario de Hoy has run several stories each day about how hundreds for ex-military and elite cops are being recruited for security duty in Iraq, at a salary of $2500 to $4000 a month. In other words, these guys (and women!) can make more in a month than what it would normally take them a year to bring home.

    I'm on the cusp of a few days offline, so I won't go into much detail now, but journalists would do well to take a look at these stories, which are full of details and human interest angles. I could only be amused by President Saca's warning to these potential recruits that things are really, really dangerous over there, and if they choose to go, they're on their own. Dicho de otra forma, if Salvadoran security guards start getting killed, it's not on him!

    Click here to read Wednesday, Thursday and Friday's stories, but also take a look around the site for these days because other stories might not be linked directly.

    A couple of other relevant blog entries on this subject are here and here.

    Can Paco make a comeback?

    Can Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the new Costa Rican head of the OAS, really hang to his post while everyone in Costa Rica has lined up against him on charges of corruption, including Costa Rica's president (from the same political party as Rodríguez)? Marcela Sánchez writes about this today, saying "the repudiation of Rodriguez has been nearly unanimous in Costa Rica. Pacheco has had a hard time getting the legislature to agree with him on anything, but in this case they are united."

    UPDATE: The answer to the first question is no. Rodríguez resigned today (Friday), although as of 6 pm Eastern Standard Time neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post thought it was important enough an event to grace their websites with the story.

    Oct. 9th UPDATE: The Washington Post does run a story today, but the New York Times doesn't, just an outdated story from earlier in the week on their Americas page.

    Meanwhile, Arturo Cruz speculated the other day that should Rodríguez resign, former Salvadoran President Paco Flores -- who earlier seemed to covet the OAS post, but whose candidacy was outflanked by the Costa Rican -- would be well-placed to sign up for the job, if he wanted to. As soon as news of the corruption scandal surfaced, the cartoonist for La Prensa Gráfica came up with the above.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2004

    Rubbing it in

    I think vice-presidential lies (from the man who thinks he's president already) merit a departure from my recently instituted self-censorhip of things not related to El Salvador (although everything's game given that stellar sales pitch for hunky-dory El Salvador by Cheney last night).

    Cheney said last night that "Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session."

    Well, Dave the pro at Daily Kos bothered to look up who presided over the Senate since 2001, and guess what? Cheney presided over a grand total of two sessions in the past four years.

    Oh, and John Edwards also presided over two sessions.

    Brad Delong thinks this little fib is going to top the Bentsen-Quayle "you're no Jack Kennedy" line in the annals of vice-presidential debates.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    Cheney's Brooksian moment

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here you have it. Wasn't good enough for the presidential debate, but -- by golly -- someone's gotta spread the electoral gospel of "the savior" (El Salvador). From the Washington Post transcript:
    CHENEY: ...There will be democracy in Afghanistan, make no doubt about it. Freedom is the best antidote to terror....

    Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress.

    The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.

    And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.

    The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq.

    No reason to rehash these arguments. But I have to say that it was news to me that 75,000 people were dead by the time of the 1982 elections. (Also, at the time, did the Administration ever admit that a third of the country was under rebel control?) But maybe facts simply aren't the VP's strong suit.

    Like when he said he'd never met Edwards before tonight:

    Hat tip to Daily Kos

    UPDATE: (not, as Cheney said, which actually links to the site of George Soros--try it!) has this and more to say about previous Cheney/Edwards encounters:

    Cheney claimed Edwards has such a poor attendance record in the Senate that he was just meeting Edwards for the first time during the debate, even though Cheney visits the Senate every Tuesday. But the Kerry-Edwards campaign quickly documented at least two instances in which Cheney had met Edwards previously. Edwards escorted Elizabeth Dole when she was sworn in as North Carolina's other senator on January 8, 2003, according to Gannet News Service. Cheney administered the oath.

    Cheney also was present with Edwards at a National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 1, 2001, when a transcript shows Cheney acknowledged Edwards among those at the gathering:

    Cheney: (Feb. 1, 2001): Thank you. Thank you very much. Congressman Watts, Senator Edwards, friends from across America and distinguished visitors to our country from all over the world, Lynne and I are honored to be with you all this morning.

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    Neglecting Latin America

    The Miami Herald sponsored its Americas Conference last week, and there are several articles on the event that are worth checking out.

    Included on its website are excerpts from speeches by Madaleine Albright (who plays up Clinton's policies on Latin America) and Roger Noriega (who defends the Administration's policies); the ever astute former Salvadoran President Paco Flores is mentioned in one article as saying that "democracy is at risk" (no thanks to you, bubba); and former US envoy to El Salvador Pete Romero is cited in another article as saying that Latin America is disillusioned with free trade:

    Free trade was oversold to Latin Americans as the solution to poverty, unemployment and inequality, said Romero, chief executive of consultancy Experior Advisory.

    They think "we have lost touch with the issues that are the most urgent for Latin America," he said. "That is the reason why the century of the Americas that was promised by [President] Bush . . . has fallen off the map."
    Marta Lagos, the head of the polling firm Latinobarómetro, has much to say as well about the decline of Latin opinion of the U.S. in the Bush years:

    Two conflicting arguments are part of the common knowledge about the image of the United States in Latin America. Latin America is signaled as being the U.S.A.'s "back yard" and also as the "best friend"....

    The impact of 9/11 and the Iraq War is striking. In Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina and Nicaragua, the U.S.A. loses more than 20 percentage points in positive opinion. While in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela, it loses between 10 and 20 percentage points. Only in Salvador, Colombia and Panama does it increase between 2 and 7 percentage points. In Ecuador and Peru, it remains the same. Even in Central America it drops from 82 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2004. The net result is devastating for the image of the U.S.A. in Latin America. It has lost face in all but five countries since 9/11.

    Our numbers continue to give evidence of a back yard much more than a best friend.

    Should Christopher Marquis really need to write a whole column wondering why in the first presidential debate -- held in that most Latin American of cities, Miami -- our Southern neighbors merited not even a blip in the discussion of foreign policy?

    Sunday, October 03, 2004

    Uncle Sam's favorite nephew

    Why is El Salvador in Iraq? Catherine Elton finally gets a story into a major U.S. media outlet, the Miami Herald, covering this angle. For readers of this blog, it will be nothing new:

    ''El Salvador suffered a prolonged internal conflict, and thanks to the support of the international community, it achieved a lasting peace,'' President Tony Saca told the United Nations recently as he explained the rationale for the presence of El Salvador's Cuscatlan Batallion in Iraq.

    ''We believe it is time for us to put our experience to the service of other peoples,'' he added.

    But many here say the government's decision to stay in Iraq is really about the ruling party's long-standing, almost obsessive quest to be Uncle Sam's favorite nephew.

    ''Staying on created a contrast with those who left, giving El Salvador the opportunity to prove itself even more faithful to the United States, to be the one country that wouldn't betray it,'' said Luis González, who edits the political journal Proceso.

    But as El Faro (an excellent online newsweekly) noted this past week, I suppose it depends on who you're talking to. They report that, in a September 7th interview for a local paper (i.e., one that was for local consumption), Saca was a bit more direct about why Salvador has troops in Iraq:
    "It is an opportunity to identify ourselves with the friend and ally that has asked us for this identification."

    Friday, October 01, 2004

    The Dalai Lama in El Salvador

    The Dalai Lama was in El Salvador this week, and Wednesday I joined 2,000 others in hearing him at the Hotel Radisson. Without pretending to report on everything that he said, I have here a simple reflection or two on the simple truths he shared. To many, his words may have seemed all too simple; to me, they seemed all too true.

    Toward the end of his two-hour appearance, and in response to a question from the audience, he said to remember that "change is gradual." This doesn't seem so profound out of context, but after listening to him discussing how real change begins from within, I made an important connection.

    Many of us who have been around revolutionary movements in Central America have long since abandoned any real belief in radical, immediate change; politically speaking, we have come to a greater appreciation of the fact that all political change is gradual. If we cannot expect change to happen from one day to the next, then certainly "change" that flows from the barrel of a gun is illusory and impermanent.

    Of course, the Dalai Lama was not referring to political change, or was he? In fact, this belief is the reason that in resisting the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he refuses to advocate violence. Hugh Byrne, who spent twelve years of his life in the solidarity movement (with the last four as national political director of CISPES, which is to say, in solidarity with the FMLN rebels), went through his own personal transformation after seeing the ravages of war. He became a Buddhist, and began to link the personal to the political in his view of change. In the preface his doctoral dissertation-turned-book, El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution, he has these reflections to offer:
    In the years since the war ended, reflecting on its enormous human costs and those of other conflicts, I have come to believe that all war is a war against ourselves; it is an illusion that we are separate from each other. While affirming the justice of the grievances that led to the war, the depth of the oppression, and the courage and sacrifice of so many participants, I have come to see strategies of violence as leading to strategies of counterviolence, which escalate in a spiral of polarization and conflict from which escape becomes ever more difficult. That the weight of moral responsibility is not equally shared does not alter this dynamic.
    While many of us now feel this way, I think we still have a long way to go yet towards rethinking history --our own, as well as that of the people of Central America whose suffering we claimed to share-- in light of this profound truth.

    Not about the debate

    I've been trying to find a Salvador angle on the presidential debates last night, but so far have been unable to come up with one. I guess the Salvadoran success story simply didn't pass debate muster, as Bush's advisers realized that such a reference wouldn't get their man many points.

    As an aside, however, I would note that former Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR), who played such a very positive oversight role during the conflict in El Salvador, and who was the only senator to oppose both the Republican and Democratic resolutions authorizing the use of force in the first Gulf war, and who -- in 30 years in the Senate -- never voted for a single military appropriations, now says he supports President Bush's foray into Iraq, and will now "proudly" cast his vote for him. Why? Because the world changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

    Indeed, it did.

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    Will there be accountability for the disappeared?

    It's looking like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is going to issue a first-ever ruling on on the issue of the forced disappearance of children during the civil war in El Salvador. Despite the Salvadoran government's best and costly efforts, it doesn't look good for their side.

    Maggi (a.k.a. Margaret) Popkin, now director of the Due Process of Law Foundation in Washington, DC, and who wrote the bible on justice reform in El Salvador, filed an amicus curiae brief before the Court, and has also written a short piece on the case before the court. Here are a few excerpts, but read the whole thing (which is only four pages):
    An unprecedented hearing took place in San José, Costa Rica, on September 7 and 8, 2004, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard its first case ever brought against El Salvador. The case involves the disappearance of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano, who were just seven and three years old when last seen by their family. The two girls were found and taken away by soldiers on June 2, 1982, during a major military operation in the department of Chalatenango, which had forced the civilian population to leave their homes and flee to escape capture or death at the hands of advancing troops. Dozens of children were picked up by soldiers in the course of this same military operation….

    Over the past ten years, Salvadoran authorities have shown no willingness to move forward with investigations in the cases of missing children. The legislature has not acted on Pro Busqueda´s proposal to form a national search commission. Although Pro Busqueda´s success in locating other children has shown the likelihood that missing children will be found alive, the Salvadoran government argues that the state has no responsibility in these cases. The government's representative at the Inter-American Court repeated what Salvadoran officials have long proclaimed: the importance of not reopening the wounds of the past. The reality, of course, is that for families of disappeared children, these wounds remain open, as the children's fate remains unknown. A political "reconciliation" between the parties to the conflict cannot be a substitute for the rights of victims and their relatives to truth and justice. Engaging seriously in the effort to find these young people would constitute an affirmative step towards reconciliation and healing the wounds left over from the war. Given the experience of Pro-Busqueda, there is a real likelihood of a happy outcome - finding the young women alive.

    Instead the Salvadoran government used its resources to discredit the victims, suggesting that the sisters never existed and that their mother might have had a pecuniary motivation -- and using a combination of intimidation and promises to persuade a distant relative to testify to that effect….

    Whatever the Court's decision turns out to be, the Salvadoran government should use this experience as an opportunity for learning, both about the role and functioning of the Inter-American system and about how it might contribute to healing and reconciliation by working with survivors and their representatives to discover the truth by determining the fate and whereabouts of the missing children and acknowledging State responsibility. El Salvador committed substantial financial and human resources to defending itself in this case. In the future, its resources could be far more usefully applied to working in conjunction with groups such as Pro Busqueda, so that the survivors of human rights violations could finally discover the truth, seek justice, and obtain reparations, having their rights recognized and upheld in El Salvador.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    More debate on the Iraq/El Salvador parallels

    Longtime Salvador watcher, lawyer and political scientist Bill Barnes has this to add to the debate spawned by David Brooks' NYTimes op-ed two days ago.
    It makes no sense to try to talk about the intersection of elections and insurgency in the abstract or across widely disparate cases.

    As to the 1982 election specifically: here are two relevant footnotes from an article of mine published in Spanish in El Salvador (shorter version published as "Incomplete Democracy in Central America: Polarization and Voter Turnout in Nicaragua and El Salvador," Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, V. 40, #3 (Fall 1998) Prior to 1988, voting was technically mandatory in El Salvador, and registration somewhat less complicated. At least (or particularly) with regard to the 1982 constituent assembly election, it was considered to be dangerous to fail to vote. There was no registration. Soldiers and police would frequently ask to see the identity documents on which certification of having voted was to be stamped, in a context in which the FDR- FMLN had called for a boycott of the election, and death squads linked to the army and the police were killing on the order of 800 people every month for suspected links to the FDR-FMLN. Defense Minister Garcia advised the public that failure to vote would constitute treason, while electoral authorities advised that abstention equaled "support for subversion." Tommie Sue Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Westview, 1995), pp. 156, 159. James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus (London: Verso, 1988), p. 405; Gary Bland, "Assessing the Transition to Democracy," in Joseph Tulchin, ed., Is There a Transition to Democracy in El Salvador? (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992), p. 197.

    I discount the 1982 constitutional convention elections (officially claimed turnout of 1.55 million) because many believe the results to have been fraudulently inflated, and because of the extreme level of fear and duress during this period, likely to have led to coerced voting. See note 25 above. On fraudulent inflation see "Las elecciones de 1982. Realidades detras de las apariencias," Estudios Centroamericanos (May-June 1982), pp. 403-04. Tommie Sue Montgomery reports that U.S. Ambassador Dean Hinton eventually acknowledged the merit of this analysis. Op cit., p. 160. In October 1983 interviews, high-ranking members of both the PDC and ARENA admitted to North American scholar Terry Karl that they had submitted fraudulently inflated figures of voter turnout in the 1982 election. "Imposing Consent? Electoralism vs. Democratization in El Salvador," in Paul Drake and Eduardo Silva, eds., Elections and Democratization in Latin America, 1980-85 (San Diego: University of California Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, 1986), p. 19, note 16.

    More generally, the 1982 election was not part of anything positive, rather it as part of the 1974-83 retreat from meaningful elections in the major urban areas (and continuing disallowance of meaningful competitive political activity in the countryside) and part of the Right's finishing off the driving out of open politics of the real champions of electoral democracy, the center-left, whose last gasp was the short-lived 1979 Junta. An electoral regime became meaningful and began to play a positive role ("sucking the oxygen out of insurgency") only very gradually and against the grain of the policies of the first Reagan administration. Such evolved out of the combination of (1) the work of elements of the Church, and in particular UCA's Social Projection, Martin-Baro's development of IUDOP, his and Ellacuria's appearances on Canal 12, their insistence that their could be no military victory for either side; (2) the impact on U.S. policy of the partnership between Congressional Democrats and the anti-intervention movement in the U.S. and the leverage that gave to the moderate professionals in the State Dept and AID against the eaganauts (the hardcore Reaganauts had always been more interested in Nicaragua than El Salvador and beginning in 1984 they took Nicaragua policy entirely for themselves while leaving Salvador largely to the moderates at State); (3) the Reagan administration's need to compete with and try to outshine the 1984 Nicaraguan election; (4) the unraveling of Iran-Contra, leading to some defanging of the Reagan Doctrine (the Reagan Doctrine, parallel to current Bush/neocons, stood for the pipedream that military defeat of Third World "Communists" would lead automatically to the emergence and success of "democracy"); (5) Oscar Arias' work; (6) the profound delegitimation of the Salvadoran military by its 1989 murder of the UCA's Jesuit leadership, and the Bush administration's bowing to that delegitimation; (7) the shocking of the right by the strength of the FMLN's 1989 offensive; (8) the gradual revival of the center-left in Salvador at the end of the 80s and the gradual recognition by both ARENA and the FMLN that they should accept a growing role for such, the latter made possible (for both ARENA and the FMLN) by the fall of the Soviet bloc (9) the UN's massive and sustained presence and commitment to peace negotiations and processes, and the courageous service of prominent people in various truth and reconciliation commissions, and the Bush administration's willingness to countenance all that and lend some support, including to the purging and reduction of the Salvadoran military and security apparatus. It is impossible to imagine either the first Reagan administration or the similarly deluded current Bush administration behaving in a parallel manner.

    There are no functional equivalents to most of these things at the present moment re Iraq. And of course it took a full ten years (1984 to 1994) in Salvador to get to elections that were beginning to be what passes for free and honest, and elections continued to have low participation for another 10 years. Something that is parallel between the two cases is that in both El Salvador and Iraq, a highly centralized and militarized government had profoundly suppressed civil society, except for religious leaders and groups, who were killed if they became too political, but otherwise allowed to survive and maintain their institutions. But in Salvador the Church/the religious were split only along left/center/right lines, and the most powerful and resourceful institutional presences, UCA and the Archbishop were super-humanly committed to what amounted to center-left, pro-democracy, anti-militaristic positions. In Iraq, religious leaders and groups are much more highly fragmented in much more sectarian ways; neither they nor their cadre having experience with elections or democracy; many are pro-insurgency; and many are only conditionally anti-insurgency (in Salvador the cadre and leaders of Christian Democracy and Liberation Theology had a good deal of experience with elections from the 1960s and 70s). Is there any potential for Sistani to play a role parallel to Ellacuria and Martin-Baro in Salvador?

    Tuesday, September 28, 2004

    Al Qaeda and the gang(s)

    Not my favorite news source, but it's worth mentioning that the Washington Times has a story today about Al Qaeda making contact with Central American gangs, specifically the Mara Salvatrucha. The idea here is that Al Qaeda might use the sophisticated (?) human smuggling operations of Central American gangs to get people into the U.S.

    This single Washington Times author demonstrated access to a remarkable amount of detail from official sources. A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times had five reporters do a similar yet longer story, but failed to even mention the gang angle, focusing more on the porousness of Mexican borders. The LA Times also gave less credence to information about a suspected Al Qaeda operative sited in Honduras in July, the same guy who was portrayed today as a "key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward."

    Salvadoran Defense Minister: Things are getting better in Iraq?

    When Juan Cole wondered how long the Salvadorans would last in Iraq, I had to pipe up and say they'd leave when the U.S. leaves, or when their presence is no longer requested.

    So I'm surprised to see the Minister of Defense in today's La Prensa Gráfica hinting that, because things are getting better every day in Iraq, the third contingent might not even finish out their tour of duty, and we'll just have to wait and see whether a fourth contingent will be necessary. After all, they're having elections there in January, so everything's going to be fine, right?

    Or perhaps he's counting on a November win by Kerry, under whose administration the political capital to be gained by sticking it out will be minimal. (This is doubtful.) Or perhaps he's reading the latest UCA poll, which says that the decision to send troops to Iraq is the single most unpopular move by the new Saca administration (and since elections are around the corner, in 2006, perhaps ARENA's started to figure they should do something.) Or perhaps Saca's defense of Salvadoran troop presence in Iraq before the General Assembly last week was a total flop.

    Your guess is as good as mine.

    The lessons of El Salvador

    It hasn't been 12 hours yet since I first laid eyes on David Brooks' New York Times piece, and I'm already tired of thinking about it. When someone finally decides to write about El Salvador on the op-ed pages of the New York Times (when was the last time that happened, anyway?), we're sure to see old (and new) Salvador hands crawl out of the woodwork to nitpick it to death, and I've had more than a few email exchanges on the subject.

    A couple of noteworthy blogging entries are one by Marc Cooper that just posted, and another by David Adesnik (of Oxblog), posted in the wee hours of the morning. Marc, of course, covered El Salvador from time to time during the war, and was here during the 1982 elections. David was probably about 4 years old at the time of the '82 elections, but his knowledge is nothing to sneer at, since he's working on a Ph.D. dissertation for Oxford on Carter/Reagan-era policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua. (So when he says that Democrats argued this or that, you can rest assured that he probably just read it yesterday.)

    In addition to recounting his own harrowing experiences, Marc makes the argument that Iraq isn't El Salvador:

    The real lesson of Salvador, of course, is quite the opposite of Brook’s thesis. What Salvador teaches us that belligerent U.S. unilateralism failed miserably in trying to stabilize that tiny and suffering nation. In the end, it was a UN-negotiated multi-lateral solution that secured the peace and stopped the bloodshed.
    Adesnik's take is similar to that of Brooks, and says that El Salvador is a useful analogy for Iraq:

    The lesson of El Salvador is that the central government's best strategy for winning the allegiance of "lost" provinces is to demonstrate its commitment to democratic norms in the terrority that it does control.
    To some extent, I'm cherry picking here from their positions (and you should read both lengthy posts in their entirety, if you're interested), but these are pretty much they way they summarize their own arguments.

    A third comment comes from Sam Rosenfeld who says, in an entry for Tapped (the blog for the American Prospect), that Brooks is trying to cleverly reframe the issue:
    Brooks seems to think that the problematical nature of elections in destabilized states is some new, preposterous idea cooked up by those down-on-democracy, Kerry-realist types.... Democracy’s not just a light switch you can flip on when you finally get around to seeing its benefits. And democracy-building isn’t primarily about having the right attitude.
    My own position? I agree with Adesnik "that the democratization of El Salvador facilitated the end of its horrific civil war," but wind up siding with Marc with respect to the lessons for Iraq. The absence of the kind of structural factors in Iraq that so greatly facilitated the end of the war in El Salvador (see my earlier entry) are sufficient cause for skepticism.

    Brooks' facile arguments on El Salvador

    David Brooks of the New York Times picks up on General Abizaid's argument (without any attribution), and says today in reference to the 1982 elections: "As we saw in El Salvador and as Iraqi insurgents understand, elections suck the oxygen from a rebel army."

    It's hard to argue with the latter (at least in theory), but the former is not so self-evident. In El Salvador, the civil war endured another 10 years following those elections, and then only after the U.S.-backed military blundered by killing a bunch of Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in response to a large-scale offensive by the rebels that brought fighting to the nation's capital.

    The negotiated end to the civil war also came to an end only after the end of the Cold War, only after the defeat of the Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua, only after the rise of a more pragmatic Bush (I) administration that pushed for negotations, only after the U.S. Congress leveraged its substantial aid package, and only after the United Nations got involved (and this, only before the UN resources became overstretched elsewhere.)

    So, pray tell, what exactly is it about these circumstances that the Iraqi insurgents supposedly "understand"?

    Monday, September 27, 2004

    El Salvador in the U.S. military imagination (updated)

    Did anyone else catch that reference to El Salvador yesterday by Gen. Abizaid, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, who was interviewed about Iraq on Meet the Press yesterday?
    MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there's a possibility, though, that the elections may occur in just parts of the country and not all of it?

    GEN. ABIZAID: My belief is that elections will occur in the vast majority of the country. I can't predict 100 percent that all areas will be available for complete, free, fair and peaceful elections. I assume that there will be certain areas of the country that will have to be fought over in order to have the elections take place.

    That having been said, if we look at our previous experiences in El Salvador, we know that people who want to vote will vote. We look to our own example that we see taking place right now in Afghanistan. We know that there are certain provinces along the Pakistan-Afghani border that are going to be very, very difficult. We also see that al-Qaeda and Taliban troops and activities are starting to increase in those areas, but we believe that we can deal with those challenges. We believe that we'll set the conditions for successful elections, although they won't be perfect conditions.
    First of all, it's notable that the U.S. military -- like the State Department and the United Nations -- continues to allude to the Salvadoran conflict as one of its great success stories. Of course, the allusion to El Salvador in this case is strange. Presumably he's referring to elections in 1982 and 1984, which were the only ones the FMLN rebels tried to disrupt in any significant way, but even then only in a few places. Of course, the U.S. military was not occupying El Salvador at the time either, as they are in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    So neither in terms of potential disruption (and, hence, the potential for electoral turnout) or security protection, El Salvador simply doesn't compare to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. So why mention El Salvador at all, if the case doesn't really compare? Perhaps it's because there aren't other "successful" cases that the U.S. military can point to in recent years. It says alot when El Salvador is the best you can come up with.

    UPDATE: To see just what election day was like (and I realize we're not there yet in Iraq, but that's what Abizaid alluded to) in El Salvador in 1982, I turned to Raymond Bonner's Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, p. 299:
    There were indeed guerrilla attacks on election day--in Apopa, San Antonio Abad, Zacatecoluca, Usulután. But in total there was one major battle and fewer than a dozen fire fights. "Despite the 'ballots over bullets' news frame, over 85 percent of the 260-300 (reports vary) polling places were opened and peaceful, and two to three percent experienced fighting," wrote a professor [sic] of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Jack Spence, who analyzed all the election coverage in the major newspapers, in the magazines and on the networks.
    In the end, a more memorable parallel between Iraq and El Salvador may turn out to be the covert support for particular candidates. This was less the case in 1982 than in 1984, when the CIA funnelled some $2 million to Duarte -- who won the presidency -- against the candidacy of ARENA's Roberto D'Aubuisson. This week's issue of Time magazine reports that about a secret "finding" issued several months that would have helped specific candidates in the upcoming Iraq elections. Apparently, these plans were "scaled back" after pressure from Congress.

    The logical corollary: The U.S. intervenes not just on behalf of pro-American candidates in foreign elections, it actively intervenes against groups that are antithetical to U.S. interests. In Iraq, the U.S. feels compelled to level the playing field because some parties are clearly getting financial support from Iran. In El Salvador 20 years ago, the U.S. government felt a similar need to level the playing field: they were worried that D'Aubuisson might actually win against Duarte, given the millions that the country's wealthy elite poured into the 1984 presidential elections.

    Hmm. As we know from recent history, yesterday's enemies can easily become today's bedfellows, and vice-versa.