Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Tancredo tanks again

Back before the March elections, I wrote a scathing commentary on a local newspaper story that portrayed the anti-FMLN comments of Rep. Thomas Tancredo (R-CO) as something that should be taken seriously. I actually got into some hot water in official circles here, since as one of my first blog entries, it circulated on the LASA list-serve, eventually landing on someone's desk at the U.S. Embassy. They were worried I might somehow be mis-representing U.S. policy for "publishing" such a criticism.

Well, now poor Tancredo and his hare-brained immigration ideas seem shut out of the Republican platform. And in this post on The New Republic website, we can witness just how far out of the loop -- even in Republican circles -- this guy really is:
Not long after September 11, Tancredo told the editorial board of The Washington Times that if foreign terrorists attacked the United States again and no action had been taken to crack down on immigration at that time, then "blood would be on our hands and on the hands of the president." That prompted a call from Karl Rove, who, Tancredo recalls, told the congressman he was "a traitor to the party, a traitor to the president," and warned him not to "ever darken the doorstep of the White House." (Tancredo's reply? "I said, 'Well, I don't remember the welcome mat ever being out for me, number one, and number two, it's not your house,' but by that time you have to understand we were yelling.")
In failing to get a hearing with the members of the Republican platform committee members -- whose names are being kept secret! -- he said there were two obstacles to immigration reform:
"One, it's the Democratic Party that sees massive immigration, both legal and illegal, as a source of voters. And two, it's the Republican Party that sees massive immigration, both legal and illegal, as a source of cheap labor."
No wonder the guy feels marginalized. Check out this at The American Prospect for further details on the loony (actually, racist would be the term) right that's supporting "Tancredo for President."

RNC talk

New Donkey, a new political blog at the Democratic Leadership Council site, brilliantly summarizes the first night of the Republican National Convention:
There was a kind of rough logic to the McCain and Guiliani [sic] speeches, however. These guys basically disagree with Bush on just about everything other than his decision to invade Iraq. So in order to make the case for his re-election, they had to pretend that's the only issue that really matters. Never mind that about half the delegates they were addressing think abortion or gay marriage is the only issue that matters, while the other half get up in the morning determined to abolish the income tax and destroy the federal government. I'm beginning to think that Bush's main political asset is to serve as the empty vessel for other people's obsessions.
The mispelling of Giuliani notwithstanding, this commentator is worth keeping an eye on.

"Music causes us to think eloquently"--Emerson

This interview with Leila Cobo of Billboard Magazine on All Things Considered yesterday really makes me want to watch the Latin Grammy's on Wednesday night (CBS). What the show doesn't mention is the fact that the venue was shifted to Los Angeles from Miami only three weeks ago over fears of violence against Cuban performers.

Question: What is the largest market for Spanish-language music?

Answer: The U.S.

Reason: In big-market countries like Brazil and Mexico, most of the music is pirated.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Thanks to Paul T. -- I couldn't resist posting.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Honduras and terrorism

You gotta give Honduras some credit. At least they're consistent (or so it appears) on the terrorism front. Just days after going all out to insure that Al Qaeda isn't recruiting on their soil, they also go whole hog (or so it's being portrayed) in search of Posada Carriles, who we now know landed in San Pedro Sula.

To their credit, none of the Central American governments appears willing to let the guy into their country. If history is any guide, that probably means he'll eventually end up in Miami.

Good luck, protesters

By Charles Pugsley Fincher

My favorite conservative

There's a lively profile in the Post today of Kevin Phillips, that former Nixon functionary who says that Dwight Eisenhower is his hero (the general-turned-politician who " who embraced a top marginal tax rate of 90 percent, who warned of the abuses of the military-industrial complex and who -- in Phillips's telling -- had little use for the country club Republican set").

It's a fun, quick read. Phillips' response to the question who he will vote for is a great closer: "I'm hoping that Kerry's a seven on a scale of 10, but I'm afraid maybe he's just a five. But Kerry's running against a zero. So my choice is clear."


The weirdest thing about an article today in the Washington Post about expatriate Americans moving to Central America is not that gringos are "attracted by the cheap land and household help, the sunny climate, the easy flights back to the United States and the improving infrastructure." That makes complete sense.

Rather it is the mention that Tomás Borge -- Sandinista founder -- is now the president of Nicaragua's national tourism commission. This must be a legislative commission, but the article doesn't note that, and makes him sound like the most important tourist official in Nicaragua -- which is probably bad news for that country.

Afterword: Okay, I checked on the Nicaraguan assembly website, and it turns out he is in fact the head of a legislative commission. I guess it's better that he's in tourism than, say, in the Defense and Interior commissions.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Cuban terrorist pardoned in Panama

The headline story in both papers in El Salvador today is the pardoning of four men in Panama, just before President Mireya Moscoso leaves office, for the attempted murder of Castro in 2000. Yesterday, Cuba broke relations with Panama, but the incoming President, Martin Torrijos (son of the late strongman), has already said he will try to restore them.

The most controversial of those pardoned, Luis Posada Carriles, is a Bay of Pigs veteran and admitted terrorist is now in an undisclosed neighboring country (not El Salvador--after President Tony Saca explicitly rejected him), while the other three arrived home "triumphantly" to Miami (they're Cuban-Americans). Here's the Washington Post's rundown on these very bad guys:
Venezuela had sought one of the activists -- Luis Posada Carriles -- because he had escaped from a Venezuelan jail where he had faced charges of planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people. Posada, 74, is not a U.S. citizen, and it is not clear whether he left Panama. Posada has also claimed credit for having planned and directed six Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 other people.

New Times, a Miami newspaper, said U.S. law enforcement records say that Jimenez, 69, helped kidnap Cuba's consul to Mexico in 1977 and killed a consular official, and that Remon, 60, was identified as the triggerman in the slaying of a pro-Castro activist and a Cuban diplomat. Novo, 65, was convicted in the United States in the late 1970s of taking part in the 1976 assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier. He was acquitted on appeal but served four years in prison for lying to a grand jury.
The Post's Glenn Kessler is the only reporter, however, to explicitly note the hypocrisy of U.S. policy pronouncements--or rather, the lack thereof-- on the matter:
Reflecting the political sensitivities of the case, U.S. officials declined to condemn the actions of the four men -- who authorities said had planned to use 33 pounds of explosives to kill Castro -- even though Bush has said the war on global terrorism is his top priority.

However, I think he get's his lead wrong as he tries to link this to Bush's campaign stop in Miami today, calling the pardons "politically fortuitous." It's hard to see how this helps Bush in Florida with Cuban-Americans -- since its the more recent immigrants that are upset with Bush's policies, not the crazy old guard that welcomed these guys home. Sure, this plays right into Bush's get-out-the-base strategy for these elections, but the timing has nothing to do with the U.S. electoral calendar. Over 200 others were pardoned along with these guys.

Kessler does give decent space to a reasonable Administration critic:

"These are bad guys. The absence of a statement says a lot," said Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is the most preposterous violation of what this administration stands for." Sweig said direct White House involvement in the pardons was perhaps unnecessary. She noted that Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), is influential in Cuban American circles, and that there is a complex web of business and personal connections between Panama and the Cuban American exile community. "My gut is this reeks of political and diplomatic cronyism," Sweig said.

Perhaps surprisingly, the arch-conservative El Diario de Hoy makes some strong points in its front-page story. Only EDH seems to remember that Posada Carriles, after busting out of jail in Venezuela in 1985, got hired in El Salvador by CIA operative Felix Rodriguez to help with the arms smuggling operation to the contras in Nicaragua, operating out of Salvador's Ilopango airport. (La Prensa Gráfica doesn't provide this background.)

Of course, all that happened under the evil Christian Democratic government of Duarte, which is perhaps the most salient reason why the government is interested in prosecuting Posada Carriles, for falsification of documents. It was under a Salvadoran passport and the assumed name of Ramon Medina that Posada Carriles made it into Panama to try to carry off the 2000 assassination of Castro.

EDH also claims credit for working with the Miami Herald in 1997 to expose the fact that Posada Carriles had recruited Salvadorans to carry out the 1997 bombings in Cuba, a fact which he admitted in a 1998 interview with the New York Times.

Press roundup: Rights in the Americas

There's quite a bit of coverage that's grabbed my attention today:

  • Chile: Pinochet was stripped of immunity today, but the Herald report expresses some skepticism about whether he'll ever stand trial for his role in Operation Condor, "the military code name for an intelligence-sharing network between Chile and other South American dictatorships in the 1970's that rights groups say aimed to eliminate dissidents throughout the region."(NYT)

  • Argentina: The New York Times has a longer, better story on the new release of an old memo from a meeting between Kissinger and the Argentine foreign minister in 1976, that seems to support the idea that Kissinger gave the green light to Argentina's dirty war. The key passages:
    In the meeting, Admiral Guzzetti complained that his country's "main problem" was terrorism. "It is the first priority of the current government," he said, adding that the government sought, first and foremost, "to ensure the internal security of the country."

    Mr. Kissinger responded: "We are aware you are in a difficult period. It is a curious time, when political, criminal and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation. We understand you must establish authority."

    Later, he said, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you should get back quickly to normal procedures."
    But only the Miami Herald draws the link between this memo, about Operation Condor, and the Pinochet story, which also involves Condor. The Herald also drew out a pithy retort about the implication that the U.S. supported rights violations, from William Rogers, who was also in the Kissinger meeting: "poppycock."

  • Cuba: The Herald publishes a story, originally from the Dallas Morning News, about how life continues to be tough for the six dissidents who were released in June, apparently because they were in poor health. They were part of 75 dissidents, writers and librarians sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years in April 2003.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Kudos to LPG cartoonist

At least once a month, and sometimes more, I post a political cartoon from La Prensa Gráfica on this site. But I suppose I haven't realized just how exceptional they are until now.

Today we learned that the cartoonist, Ricardo Clement (known as Alecus), won the 2004 prize from the Inter-American Press Association for his "splendid cartoons on various political subjects."

You can view the cartoons I've posted here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Romero murderer's driver testifies

Amado Garay testified yesterday in the Modesto, CA, trial against Alvaro Saravia, who allegedly planned the murder of Archbishop Romero together with Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder and revered godfather of the ruling ARENA party in El Salvador. Although Garay had previously testified at a trial in 1987 in El Salvador (the Salvadoran Supreme Court at the time blocked the extradition request to the U.S. for Saravia), this is his first appearance in the U.S., I believe.

This is from a summary provided by the Center for Justice and Accountability, which is prosecuting the case:

Garay was recruited to work as Saravia’s driver by two members of the National Police, Nelson Morales and Nelson Garcia. He often stayed at Saravia’s house because Saravia needed him to arrive at odd hours. On several occasions, Garay drove Morales,Garcia, and other armed men to assassinate people. Sometimes he drove Roberto D’Aubuisson. On one occasion, D’Aubuisson gave Garay his gun to hold when he left the car to go to a meeting. Saravia often said that “the people from the church are the worst enemy.”

On the day of the assassination, as it was getting dark, Garay picked up Saravia at his home and drove to a house with a gate in an upper class neighborhood with two distinctive Marañon trees. Saravia came out of the house with a man. Garay had never
seen him before. He had a beard and spoke Spanish with no accent, like a Salvadoran. Garay saw that the man had a long rifle with a telescopic lens. Saravia told Garay to drive a red Volkswagen with the man as a passenger in the back. Saravia told Garay to follow the man’s instructions about where to go. The man gave Garay driving instructions. A car followed them for their protection.

They came to a church. The shooter said, “I can’t believe I am going to kill a priest.” Garay followed his instructions to drive to the front door of the church, so that both he and the shooter were on the side of the car closest to the door. The shooter said to move forward until he was directly in front of the door. Garay looked into the church. He saw people celebrating mass, kneeling or sitting in the pews, and at the altar he saw a priest. Garay heard the priest talking. The shooter said, “Try to look like you’re fixing something in the car.” So Garay bent down to pretend to work on something. Garay heard a loud shot, and then a lot of screaming. The shooter said, “Calm down, relax, drive slowly to the exit . . . Go slow around and let’s get out of here.”

He drove out the gate and kept driving. He was not familiar with the area and was lost for an hour or more. There was a walkie-talkie in the car, and someone from the other car guided him so that eventually he returned to the house with the Maranon trees. He drove through the gate and the shooter got out of the car. Saravia was waiting. Saravia said, “You killed him. I heard it on the radio.”

Then Saravia, Garay, and Nelson Morales drove to Saravia’s house. Later, Garay drove Saravia to a meeting house in San Salvador. They drove through a big gate and along a long driveway until they came to a building. Roberto D’Aubuisson was there. Saravia went over to D’Aubuisson and said, “Mission accomplished.”

That last bit's the clincher. Write mfeeney@cja.org if you'd like to receive daily updates.

Thinking about asylum

The Miami Herald runs an excerpt from the Inter-American Dialogue's Latin American Advisor twice a week. Here's an excerpt from today about another great idea from the Bush administration:

Border guards acting as judges called a bad idea

Question: The U.S. government this month expanded the authority of border guards to order the immediate deportation of immigrants seeking asylum, with the exception of those from Mexico, Canada, and Cuba. What impact will the policy change have on other potential immigrants from Latin America? Will it prevent deserving refugees from the region from winning political asylum, as some critics fear?

From Tony Smith, a member of the Advisor board and a partner at Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard: This policy is politics at its worst. It does nothing about the underlying problems: natural disasters, political instability and the U.S. economy's need for unskilled workers. Free trips home will not deter job or asylum seekers. It will only prompt more people from the region to turn to the worst, and most dangerous, routes to gain access to the United States. As long as our leaders make believe that the 8-10 million undocumented immigrants are unwanted, the problem just increases. With the AgJobs bill dead and other initiatives stalled, this policy will only make the growing instability in the region worse. It will not be a deterrent either.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Romero assassin suspect on trial today in California

You won't find this in the World section but rather in the local section, and you can only find it in the LA Times (among the major dailies). For the next four days, Alvaro Saravia -- one of the key persons involved in planning the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero -- will go on trial in absentia in California today. Four days of testimony are expected, and given his absence (he disappeared a year ago, after selling cars for a living for many years in the Modesto, Ca.) he is expected to be found guilty.

The UN-sponsored Truth Commission had this to say about the famous Saravia Diary, which was discovered during a May 7, 1980, raid on the San Luis estate in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, in which 12 active and retired military personnel and 12 civilians, including former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, were arrested and formally accused of plotting to overthrow the Government by means of a coup d'état:

The "Saravia Diary" contained various important pieces of information concerning the assassination of Monsignor Romero. It referred to purchases and deliveries of large quantities of arms and ammunition, some of which, based on the ballistic study made by Judge Ramírez Amaya, were of the type used in the assassination. In addition, several names which appeared over and over again in the diary were of people concerning whose involvement in planning, carrying out or covering up the assassination the Commission has already received sufficient evidence. Other details include the name "Amado" - Amado Garay, the driver assigned to drive the assassin - and receipts for petrol purchased for a red vehicle used by former Captain Saravia.
I'll be following the story to see if any new information comes to light.

Quote of the Day

''Here we've got a make-it-up as-you-go-along policy. You can't just change the rules when you face a new policy challenge. That's what the rule of law is all about.''
--attorney Deborah Perlstein of the New York-based Human Rights First, formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "On the eve of the first U.S. war crimes trial in 60 years, human rights groups on an unprecedented visit to this prison camp Monday criticized the legal process being used as fundamentally unfair," reported the Miami Herald.

Monday, August 23, 2004

An admirable advocate for victims of war

I´d never heard of Marla Ruzicka until today's story in the Washington Post, but her efforts are admirable. Going beyond the easy way to do politics on the left -- denounce, decry, in the most self-righteous of tones -- she has become an able advocate for innocent ("collateral") victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the process, she's managed to get $7.5 million for victims in Afghanistan, and $10 million for people in Iraq. The Post story also notes that her efforts also resulted in "a precedent-setting approach that moves beyond the cash payments the military favors. The $10 million is used to rebuild homes and schools, provide medical assistance and make loans."

Why is Al Qaeda recruiting Hondurans?

Last Friday's AP report that Latin American's were on the lookout for Al Qaeda is followed up today by an AP report from Honduras that it had

Honduras tightened security at foreign embassies and declared a national terror alert after receiving information that Al Qaeda was trying to recruit Hondurans to attack embassies of the United States, Britain, Spain, and El Salvador, a government official said yesterday.

The heightened security was instituted Thursday, after Honduras's intelligence services received reports of a plan allegedly targeting those countries' embassies here and abroad, Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said.

"We are facing a state of preventative national alert because our intelligence services report that Al Qaeda foreigners have made offers for Hondurans to carry out sabotage both here and abroad," Alvarez said.

Mr. Álvarez said he believed that the plot was linked to the war in Iraq, but it was unclear why Spain would be a target if that were the case because it pulled its troops out of Iraq earlier this year.

It's also very unclear why Al Qaeda thinks they have such a good applicant pool in Honduras?

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Chávez consolidates power

Most of the major papers seem tired of this story. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe all ran wire stories on the Carter Center/OAS press conference yesterday.

So all the more reason to go straight to Steven Dudley's piece in the Miami Herald today as he looks at what's next for the Chávez government. It's not a pretty picture:

After last Sunday's sweeping victory in a recall referendum, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has more power than ever. He has routed his political opponents; his party controls Congress; his associates run the judiciary and the powerful state oil company, PDVSA.

He has even silenced his favorite foreign target, the United States, and won the praise of governments around the world for overseeing an unprecedented show of democracy -- 10 million people, or 75 percent of the registered voters, waited an average of eight hours to cast their ballots.

Now many are wondering what Chávez will do next to consolidate the "Bolivarian revolution" on behalf of Venezuela's poor that he so boldly launched in 1998. The answer is as complicated as the president himself, and could have far-reaching implications for the country and the region.

For starters, Chávez is proposing a dialogue with opposition politicians and increased social welfare. But analysts predict he will also seek to exert more control over the security forces as well as expand his influence over Latin America. The United States, in turn, may be hard-pressed to slow him down....

But Chávez has also said the government is ready to move to the next phase of his revolution, beyond the literacy "missions" that are some of his government's most successful programs to date.

"The next thing we have to do is address the poverty issue," said William Izarra, a Chávez movement ideologue. "This is what we live for."

Izarra says the government will use what are called "patrols" -- small groups of militants who fan out into poor neighborhoods to expand the social programs.

"This is no longer a top down structure," Izarra explained.

But at the same time as his men talk of power from below, Chávez continues strengthening his hold from above.

One of the president's first priorities in this next phase, says Alberto Garrido, who has written several books on the president, will be centralizing control of the security forces.

Following a coup in April 2002 that ousted him for 48 hours, Chávez has spent the last two years cleansing the armed forces of unfriendly officers. Garrido says it's now the police's turn.

"Remember, the final goal is to have civic-military revolution. It's peaceful, but it's armed," he said, using the term, ''civic-military,'' that Chávez himself has used.

Garrido added that the neighborhood "patrols" that will be spreading Chávez's social agenda will also offer an extra blanket of security for the government.

Maribel Castillo, a leader of the pro-Chávez political party Podemos -- We Can -- said there will also be an effort to consolidate the various pro-Chávez political groups.

"Inside the revolution, the Commander [Chávez] says there's a lot we have to purge," she said. "What we want is a single party."

The "patrols" will also be training people ideologically, educating them about a continent-wide revolution that Chávez advocates. Garrido believes that this is the centerpiece of Chávez's plan....

Some Venezuelans are afraid of where else Chávez's increasing power may lead him. "There's a real danger of totalitarianism," said Teodoro Petkoff, a former leftist Venezuelan guerrilla who is editor of the independent newspaper TalCual. "I'm not going to say that Chávez is a dictator. But obviously there's been a tendency to control Congress, the Supreme Court and the other branches" of government.

What about Chávez?

Marc Cooper and Randy Paul do me the favor of encouraging their readers to look at my recent posts on Venezuela. Marc notes that I'm "agnostic" on Venezuela, which isn't a bad way to describe my thoughts--if that means I don't believe in one side or the other in that highly polarized political environment.

Recent posts have focused on the fraud allegations, and brought to light the beyond-rational craziness of the opposition. But I'm also no fan of Chávez, who strikes me as a demagogue with dubious democratic credentials (as evidenced by his numerous efforts to erase any checks-and-balances in the current political system).

However, although I wouldn't go as far as Marc in favoring a vote for Chávez' recall (if only because the opposition seems equally scary), he does make many valid points in his critique of Chávez and his international leftist supporters, with his usual polemical flair:

And if I were a Venezuelan, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. My vote would be to recall Hugo Chavez.

Let’s be clear: I make no illusions about his opposition. It is led, in great part, by an oil-spoiled oligarchy and by elite right-wing parties. This opposition is also buoyed by Bush administration support. And most likely braced by numerous covert programs, not necessarily excluding the CIA itself.

Further, the traditional Venezuelan political class wallows in corruption and dysfunction, having squandered on itself the vast petroleum-based riches of Venezuela. It was only a matter of time until a populist demagogue would come along to exploit the righteous anger of millions of impoverished Venezuelans. So
I’m fully cognizant of the fact that Hugo Chavez is but a Frankenstein created by a failed political system.

But so what? He’s still a Frankenstein. And the sycophantic little
that Ali and legions of other Chavez groupies including Mark Weisbrot and Richard Gott perform with this thug are truly appalling. American and British leftists find themselves so inorganic to power, so relegated to the margins, so detached from the “masses” they purport to lead and enlighten, that their politics often becomes little but primitive cheerleading for any tin-pot Third World dictator who strikes an anti-American pose. Truly pathetic.

Venezuelan leftists know much better, because they actually have to live in Venezuela under Chavez’s authoritarian and intellectually-insulting rule. The most important and imaginative of the country’s leftist parties, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) and Causa R, stand in firm opposition to Chavez and
along with the country’s central labor federation are supporting his recall. I understand where they’re coming from. Last year I spent a couple of hours in Chavez’ presence during a clumsily arranged “press conference” in Brazil and I found my IQ dropping by the minute. Chavez is but a brutish ego-maniac who blathers on for hours at a time about matters he knows nothing about. Imagine a cheap, cartoonish imitation of Fidel Castro with absolutely not a trace of any of the redeeming qualities one can find in the Cuban lider maximo.

There is no “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela. Instead you find the anti-democratic demagogy of a blow-hard bully who – in the name of “serving the people”—imposes harsh austerity and poco a poco erodes whatever survives of Venezuelan democracy.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Untransparent polling in Venezuela

Al Giordano does a good job critiquing the Penn, Schoen & Berland poll, which perhaps single-handedly (if a poll can be described that way) gave further momentum to the anti-chavista opposition's refusal to believe what everyone else in the world has accepted: that Chávez won.

In another post, he rightly ridicules a rather lame attempt by Michael Barone to defend Penn & company, which was once President Clinton's chief pollster. He also links to a piece by Robert Collier in today's San Francisco Chronicle, that also sheds some light on polling in Venezuela.

Apparently, Penn & company never revealed who funded its effort in Mexico in 2000 (it was later revealed to have been then opposition candidate, now president, Vicente Fox), and similarly we still don't know who actually paid for their poll in Venezuela--an apparent violation of the ethics code of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). Point number one of the "Standards for Minimal Disclosure" of that code states that pollsters should disclose "who sponsored the survey, and who conducted it."

We do know that Súmate volunteers essentially carried it out (another ethics violation by Penn et al., since they didn't disclose this, but also a huge methodological mistake, since Súmate members are not trained pollsters and likely biased). This fact has caused confusion among many reporters, who have attributed the poll to Súmate itself, an issue I noted in my comment on the NYTimes piece yesterday. The problem with this is that Súmate itself came out with a quick count that basically backed up the official results.

I queried Giordano on this today, but he didn't have any answers, and posted my note to see if anyone else does.

The Carter/OAS press conference

As expected, the OAS and Carter Center have ratified the results of the referendum, and you'll be reading about it shortly on the wires or in your Sunday morning papers. I had the (mis) fortune of watching the whole thing on cable here, and will note only a few random points that might not show up in the papers:
  • Jennifer McCoy, for the Carter Center, clarified that they oversaw the random selection of machines to be audited. They compared the actual paper votes with the electronic votes, and found no significant errors. (The Venezuelan government election chief mentioned 0.02% margin of error.)
  • McCoy also said that these machines were actually more reliable than the ones used in her home state of Georgia, in one respect: the machines in Venezuela issued a paper receipt to the voter indicating how that person had just voted. This, of course, was probably why no one was crying wolf during the actual voting.
  • They reiterated several times that OAS/Carter Center, in the presence of the opposition Coordinadora Democrática, had tested the machines prior to the election, and found no problems.
  • In their sampling, they did find a case of two machines at the same voting table which came up with exactly the same figures. But when they checked the paper votes against the electronic vote, they matched up exactly.
  • They said that this was statistically insignificant, and that it seemed these coincidences affected both the opposition and Chavez government alike (as noted in Miami Herald story I linked to yesterday.) However, McCoy said that they were consulting with mathematicians abroad to confirm whether these cases were within the realm of probability.
The press kept asking many of the same questions, and by the end of the press conference, Gaviria almost lost his diplomatic cool and seemed to me to be practically shouting his response to one insistent journalist, who seemed unable to accept the OAS/Carter Center's findings. Gaviria himself did a good job in defending their position, but it seems to me like he'll also be very happy to get on the next plane out of Caracas.

Cuba policy: another self-inflicted wound of the Bush Administration

Carol J. Williams reports today from Cuba for the Los Angeles Times, and finds further evidence that the latest Bush sanctions --which, among other things, limits travel by Cuban-Americans to their motherland only once every three years as of June 30-- are sparking "more improvising than uprising:"
With a household income of $16 from a daughter still living with them, Soler and Rodriguez have been receiving about $200 more each month from their emigre children via Cuban American travelers. With more than 115,000 of them visiting the island nation last year alone, a thriving network has developed to relay cash to needy loved ones around the country, enabling the providers to avoid transfer charges that can amount to 15% of wired remittances....

The couple's children are responding like most relatives in the U.S.: They're searching for ways to get around the restrictions by sending money through third countries and vowing to visit whether the sanctions allow that or not.
But if the sanctions are having little of its intended effects in Cuba, it's great news for Democrats in Florida:
A poll last month of Cuban American voters in four southern Florida counties showed a significant drop in support for President Bush among the community that gave him 82% of its vote four years ago and provided the deciding edge in his razor-thin victory in the state. Only 66% of Florida Cubans now support Bush, according to the poll commissioned by the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Latino voter research group.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Venezuela: Enough is enough

Okay, I've seen enough. The Carter Center and OAS haven't released their final results of the partial voting audit, but I've read enough, and watched enough of the Venezuelan opposition on Globovision to feel that they're probably as crazy as everyone who's spent any time in Venezuela says they are.

Take this quote from a story in the Financial Times, for example:
“Conspiracy theories within the opposition camp are going into overdrive,” said one diplomat in Caracas. “Some have even mentioned the idea of a plot between Carter, Gaviria and the CIA to keep world oil prices down.”

Or this from a New Republic article just out:

Late Monday night, 19 hours after the results in this week's referendum on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez were reported, opposition leader Carlos Hermoso was furiously spinning a conspiracy theory. Despite results endorsed by international observers that showed Chávez winning by a landslide 16 percentage points, Hermoso said that "massive fraud" had been committed by both the election observers and the electronic voting machines used here for the first time. In a complicated yarn, Hermoso claimed that touch-screen voting machines in which people could vote "Yes" to oust Chávez or "No" to keep him were expertly manipulated" by the government. Though there had also been a paper trail recording each voter's choice, Hermoso said the papers had been kidnapped and are now under military custody in a building called the "White Rabbit." But Hermoso warned that hard evidence of such fraud will be "very difficult" to find. As for the stamp of approval offered by election observers like Jimmy Carter, Hermoso argued that such observers were "compromised" by oil companies and the U.S. State Department, which wanted to keep Chávez in power.
Meanwhile, the preliminary comments from the Carter Center on fraud, in this story in the Houston Chronicle, are telling:

The review, conducted by experts from the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States, found exact or nearly matching anti-Chavez vote totals on different machines in 402 stations. But the study also found nearly identical tallies in favor of Chavez in 311 voting places.

While seemingly suspicious, the incidence of parallel counts fell within the range of mathematical probability, a Carter Center official said.

"The main point here is that it affects both sides," said Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center, the organization headed by former President Jimmy Carter that observes elections worldwide. "That indicates a random mathematical effect."

Poor Venezuela.

Getting some perspective on democracy promotion in Venezuela

Rereading recent articles on Venezuela, I came across this bit from an IPS report by Jim Lobe on August 11, basically predicting the administration would have to "grit its teeth and bear" a probable Chavez victory, but otherwise making a useful comparison:

Birns [of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs], for example, noted that Washington may have provided only about four million dollars to opposition sectors, a fraction of the 20 million dollars it devoted to the campaign to get Violeta Chamorro elected president in Nicaragua, a country with only about 15 percent of Venezuela's population, in 1990.

Do the math. Four million is 20% of what the US spent on getting Chamorro elected (where he gets that figure, I don't know) in Nicaragua, a country 15% smaller than Venezuela.

By my calculations, for the two situations to be equivalent, the US would have had to have spent $133 million in Venezuela (instead of the actual $4 million) to match what it spent in Nicaragua, on a per capita basis.

Nitpicking the NYTimes on Venezuela

Juan Forero of the New York Times plays sloppily into the hands of conspiracy theorists on the left, when he erroneous writes in today's paper:

The United States has also provided money to groups like Súmate, which violated elections norms early on Monday by distributing results of a survey of voters leaving the polls that showed Mr. Chávez losing by a wide margin.

Given that Súmate has received money from NED, this smells fishy. The only problem, however, as anyone with access to the internet could tell you, is that it wasn't a Súmate survey. Rather it was a survey, commissioned by we-know-not-whom, but definitely prepared, supervised, publicized and now defended by the U.S. polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, apparently with a bad rep from their polling of the 2000 Mexican elections. Yes, they relied on Súmate activists to carry it out, but it was Penn & company that violated Venezuelan electoral laws by releasing their exit poll 4 1/2 hours before the polls closed last Sunday.

Súmate, in fact, carried out a separate quick count that gave Chávez a victory, and released their results publicly on Monday afternoon, less than a day after the polls closed. Yes, they still are wary of the voting machines, but that's a different story.

Speaking of which, a reporter whom I trust by reputation and experience, Phil Gunson, reporting with Steven Dudley for the Miami Herald, has a story in Friday's paper which doesn't outright dismiss the opposition charges, but seems to find them minimal:
Opposition legislator Nelson Rampersad said the opposition coalition had discovered major anomalies in the tally sheets produced by the touch-screen voting machines.

In 25 percent of the results for the state of Aragua, for example, the number of YES votes produced by at least two machines in one polling station were either identical or nearly identical, Rampersad said, suggesting that voting machines had been tampered with. He showed reporters tally sheets showing the anomalies, but offered no other evidence.

''This is mathematically impossible,'' he asserted. In other cities and states, the Democratic Coordinator claims, the pattern of identical or nearly identical YES votes repeated, reaching 40 percent in the western state of Zulia.
Or maybe they are just being even-handed, since they go on to note the evidence to the contrary:

The OAS and the Carter Center have observed dozens of elections, and the opposition coalition had said before Sunday's vote that it would accept the results if they were validated by those observers.

Since Sunday, the OAS and Carter Center have said their ''quick counts'' -- random and representative samples of voting tallies from polling stations around the country -- matched Electoral Council tallies showing Chávez as the winner. ''Quick counts'' are the most common, respected means by which observers verify elections worldwide.

The Electoral Council also performed an audit of 199 of the 19,800 machines used in Sunday's vote to make sure the paper receipts that voters deposited into ballot boxes matched the results issued by the voting machines.

International observers said the Democratic Coordinator had also inspected the machines before the elections and had agreed to their use.

Maybe a few machines screwed up. Who knows? However, if the opposition "Coordinadora Democratica is alleging quite specific irregularities in a specified set of voting centers," as Caracas Chronicles attests, then it seems even less plausible that, in these limited number of places, the Chávez government would have been able to reverse the 1.5 million vote margin of victory.

The Times get's one thing right, at least (well, actually lots of things--I'm just nitpicking): a Chávez victory is a defeat for the Bush administration, which continues to have no clue as to which way the wind is blowing in Latin America.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Soccer & Politics: Quotes of the Day

"The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it's fantastic, isn't it? It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted." -- George W. Bush, U.S. President

"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. He can find another way to advertise himself." -- Salih Salir, midfielder on the Iraqi Olympic team

"How will he [Bush] meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes." -- Ahmed Manajid, midfielder on the Iraqi Olympic team

"My problems are not with the American people. They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?" -- Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad

All quotes taken from a Sports Illustrated story posted today.

Auditing, Schmauditing

Taking a look at the State Department press briefing today, it seems that they're on the side of those naive liberal organizations, the Carter Center and the OAS, while most reporters asking the questions on Venezuela seem to believe the opposition's account.

When I posted the earlier note by Ter Horst, I hadn't realized that the opposition in Venezuela had already decided to boycott the audit process being supervised by Carter and the OAS. The fairly independent Teodoro Petkoff, in the lead editorial of Tal Cual Digital, says this move by the opposition is "incomprehensible," "suicide," and likens it (in baseball terminology, and Venezuelans love baseball) to a "wild pitch." (Tal Cual costs money to view, but you can see a report in El Universal here.)

Meanwhile, the quite balanced author of the blog, Caracas Chronicles, has some wise observations in an entry today entitled "Realities":

1-It would take a miracle of public relations management for the opposition to win the international public opinion battle around the referendum. As far as 99% of foreigners are concerned, what Carter says, goes. The opposition has never demonstrated any particular gift for public relations abroad - quite the opposite - so one thing is clear: Five years of efforts by the opposition to explain to the world just how brutally nasty, deceitful and dangerous Hugo Chavez is were comprehensively undone on Monday. This is a battle we will not win....

6-If Chavez won cleanly, CNE's refusal to conduct a hot-audit [an audit immediately after the vote, as soon as the polls had closed] has robbed him of the possibility of convincing the entire country that he won cleanly. The country is back to square one in terms of collective schizophrenia. 60% of us live one reality, 40% live another reality. Perversely, each side is convinced that it is the 60% and the other side is the 40%. Each side is convinced the other is engaged in a mind-blowingly complex, dark, evil conspiracy to usurp power. The governability crisis continues. The epistemic gulf drags on. The only thing that's changed is that Chavez will now enjoy much greater international credibility. Fronteras adentro, nothing has changed.

Auditing the vote in Venezuela

I'm waiting on pins and needles to see what the Carter Center and the OAS find in their recount of 150 voting machines in Venezuela. Normally, I would think the OAS --which did a poor job of monitoring the elections here in El Salvador, but at least made sure the computers used to tabulate the vote functioned properly -- would have checked out these new, controversial voting machines before they were used.

But in an op-ed from one of the saner voices of the otherwise fanatical opposition, Enrique Ter Horst raises some plausible issues in the International Herald Tribune yesterday:

The electoral council has stated that the voting machines were audited after the vote, but the council did so in the absence of any opposition representative or any international observer. A cause for even greater concern is the fact that the papers the new machines produced confirming the voter's choice - which the voter had to verify and then drop into a closed box - were not added up and compared with the final numbers these machines produce at the end of the voting process, as the voting-machine manufacturer had suggested.

Evidence of foul play has surfaced. In the town of Valle de la Pascua, where papers were counted at the initiative of those manning the voting center, the Yes vote had been cut by more than 75 percent, and the entire voting material was seized by the national guard shortly after the difference was established.

Three machines in a voting center in the state of Bolivar that has generally voted against Chávez all showed the same 133 votes for the Yes option, and higher numbers for the No option. Two other machines registered 126 Yes votes and much higher votes for the No. The opposition alleges that these machines, which can both send and receive information, were reprogrammed to start adjudicating all votes to the No option after a given number of Yes votes has been registered.

Although the Organization of American States and the Carter Center have called the election free and fair, their quick count justifying this statement was also based only on the numbers provided by the voting machines. The two organizations had brokered an agreement to examine, in the presence of government and opposition representatives, a sample of 150 voting points chosen at random. A comparison of the results printed out by these machines with the papers contained in the corresponding boxes was to be concluded this week. But the opposition now wants all machines and ballot boxes to be examined.

I'd seen these allegations on Venezuelan TV the other night (which we can get on our local cable), and they sounded plausible, and it made sense for the international monitors to take a second look. If the 150 stations were chosen randomly, then they might well give us some perspective on the matter. If no anomalies are found, though, I'm not sure if it would then be worth appeasing the opposition by reviewing every single piece of paper and every single machine -- even though that might be what it takes to get the opposition to back down.

I should also mention that I knew Ter Horst when he was head of the UN mission here in El Salvador in the mid-1990s, and he's a very level-headed guy. So it probably is worth listening to his perspective.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

With troops in Iraq, and virtual threats, is dissent possible?

The third contingent was supposed to leave today, but will be slightly delayed.

A fifth threat has appeared via the internet against El Salvador because of this deployment, this one giving 20 days to withdraw.

Meanwhile, the FMLN continues to oppose the deployment, and a few minutes ago, I saw Shafick Handal sticking to his guns, and proclaiming the right of the Iraqi people to resist the US occupation in Iraq.

More worrisome than a few hundred people protesting this action, however, are the words of various government officials who see the threat as likely national in origin. Here's President Tony Saca, who is --after a fairly auspicious beginning with his mesas de dialogo (but not with the maneuvering around the TSE, about which I'll comment later) -- beginning perhaps to reveal his true colors, and sounding an awful lot like his Northern colleague. I quote (my translation):

When another threat appears on the internet, what the FMLN does is take to the streets to demonstrate and deny their votes for the Anti-terrorist

To me it seems that this is a theme that Salvadorans should pay attention to, because today is when we ought to define which of us are in favor or against
terrorism, and who are in favor.

I have asked for an anti-terrorist law, which is urgent to have in the country for whatever circumstance, and nevertheless the FMLN is resisting giving its votes for this anti-terrorist law.

So, and here it seems to me very strange that, all of a sudden, more threats appear and that the FMLN parades in the streets of San Salvador, creating problems for Salvadorans who are in the United States, because they speak very badly of the U.S.

Here, for example, I'm try to get us a TPS [Temporary Protected Status] for 400,000 Salvadorans and they go around talking bad about the United States there in El Salvador, and the only thing this will do is provoke a loss of TPS for our compatriots, that is, in that case the FMLN will be the ones responsible if that
This is taken from a Radio YSKL broadcast. Just as I suspected, the issue of troops in Iraq may play into a very questionable redefinition of what constitutes patriotism and legitimate dissent in El Salvador.

Venezuela, again

Okay, perhaps there's a very logical reason why Súmate fell in line with the international observers on the Venezuela referendum count. Bernie Aronson mentions it in his column last Saturday in the New York Times:

María Corina Machado, a director of Súmate, a civic group allied with the opposition, is being prosecuted on charges equivalent to treason...

That's one way to keep people in line.

P.S. Perhaps this is just revenge for Machado's having signed the 2002 coup declaration?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Carter/OAS confirm Chavez victory

"We have found the information from the quick count was almost exactly the same as that presented" by the electoral authorities, Mr. Carter said. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has monitored elections in 50 counties. He added that "all Venezuelans should accept the results of the CNE," the electoral body, "unless there is tangible proof that the reports are incorrect."
-- New York Times story posted at 4:27 PM ET this afternoon

So, this statement by Carter and the OAS (Secretary General Gaviria participated in a joint press conference where the above statement was made) should calm the waters that the opposition continues to try to stir up. The Times reports that the main opposition continues to claim there's been a "gigantic fraud," but they're not likely to find a sympathetic ear, anywhere.

Speaking of paranoid fanatics, however, the NED-supported group Sumate also came up with results similar to those of the electoral authorities and international observers.

Which begs the question: were those who claimed NED was out to influence the referendum simply wrong about U.S. intentions?

Saturday, August 14, 2004

New CIA chief was former Latin American field operative

Somehow I missed this story, only to find it rather by chance at a site that's new to me, Latin America Post, an online and print periodical that apparently caters to the U.S. Hispanic community as well as Latin Americans. Even former CIA analysts-turned-critics like Ray McGovern fail to mention this history when they critique the Porter Goss appointment. Or you may have noticed the humorous story that, in an interview with Michael Moore--not a very smart move for a guy who's about to run the U.S. intelligence apparatus--Porter said he "couldn't get a job today with the CIA. I am not qualified."

So take a look at the Latin American Post story, which makes this intriguing comment: "Details of Goss' career remain shrouded by four decades of secrecy. It is among the least-explored decades of any current U.S. politician's past. Neither he nor the CIA have given any but the sketchiest description."

Indeed, as the following notes, given his postings in the 1960s in Mexico, the D.R. and Haiti, there may be good reason to keep his decade-long career a secret:

Goss apparently joined the CIA just out of Yale, wherehe earned a degree in ancient Greek in 1960. He worked in Miami, which was becoming a magnet for Cuban emigres.

Some were recruited by the CIA andtrained for what turned out to be one of the agency's greatest disasters: the 1961 invasion of Cuba that was crushed by Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.

A year later, the world narrowly averted nuclear warduring the Cuban missile crisis involving the UnitedStates and Soviet Union.

During a 2002 interview with The Washington Post, Goss joked that he performed photo interpretation and"small-boat handling," which led to "some very interesting moments in the Florida Straits." He acknowledged he had recruited and run foreign agents.

The Bay of Pigs plan had been inspired partly by asuccessful CIA-backed overthrow of Guatemala's populist government in 1954. That helped set off Guatemala's 34-year civil war, which was growing as Goss worked in the region.

It also sent a then-obscure Argentine wanderer, Ernesto Guevara hurrying to Mexico City. There "Che"met and joined up with Castro's guerrillas as they returned to Cuba in 1956 to start the revolution.

Goss arrived in Mexico City only a very few, if eventful years later.

Haiti - just off of Cuba's eastern tip - was governed by the famously brutal dictator Francois "Papa Doc"Duvalier.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, was torn with political turmoil, a struggle between backers of the populist President Juan Bosch and his conservative foes.

Jittery about the example of nearby Cuba, the United States invaded the island with thousands of troops in1965.

Mexico was both Cuba's closest friend in the Americas and one of the CIA's great playgrounds.

It was the only country in the region to snub Washington's calls to cut ties with Castro's government. But it also allowed CIA operatives towatch flights to and from Cuba, as well as the Soviet and Cuban embassies in the Mexican capital. Cuba at the time had no other embassies in Latin America.

That monitoring allowed U.S. officials to photograph Lee Harvey Oswald entering the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City not long before he assassinated John F.Kennedy.

Cuba, meanwhile, was openly trying to spread revolutions around the hemisphere - with the notable exception of Mexico. U.S. espionage helped track down Guevara's rebel band in Bolivia in 1968. He was captured and killed.

Mexico, meanwhile, was growing turbulent itself.

The government preached a populist, sometimesquasi-socialist politics, but largely cooperated withthe United States and crushed leftist dissent.

A few scattered radicals took up arms and became guerrillas in the cities and mountains in the 1960s. They grew greatly in number after the government's security forces massacred student demonstrators in1968 just before that year's Olympics, causing many Mexicans to give up hope of reforms.

It is not clear if Goss was involved in following that event. He apparently left the region in the late 1960s for London.

During a 1970 trip to Washington from his home inLondon, Goss collapsed in his hotel room, suffering from a mysterious blood infection that affected his heart and kidneys. Goss survived but his career as a field operative was over. He retired from the CIA in 1971.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Third threat issued against El Salvador

As the third contingent of Salvadoran troops prepare to head for Iraq next Tuesday, Reuters reports a third threat--this time from the Islamic Tawhid--has been issued via internet:
If you send troops to Iraq we will not be merciful nor will we refrain from responding and your fate will be hell. We advise the people of El Salvador not to send their sons to Iraq as we only understand the language of rigged cars and blood. This is just one of several simple messages we have sent to countries that have sent troops to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the FMLN continues to protest the move--as the picture above taken outside the Legislative Assembly by Diario Colatino documents--but they'll never have the votes to stop the policy.

Impunity in Mexico

Mexican author Enrique Krauze found something positive to say about the failed genocide indictment against former President Echeverría in a New York Times op-ed two days ago:

Justice denied? Not exactly. Mexico has gained some things along the way: to begin with, the end of presidential immunity. If a former president is indicted, the possibility is established that the former president may be tried, too. The wide publicity that the events received (fruit of the freedom of expression that didn't exist in Mr. Echeverría's day) is another achievement. Anyone who wants to expand the investigation, write books, or make documentaries on the subject can now count on a rich store of information. And the judicial branch has been strengthened, something that is always of the greatest importance, but especially in the current political context, in which the legislative and executive branches still have to find ways to collaborate and respect each other.
Of course, positive thinkers believe that something good can always be gleaned from something not-so-good, so I think the jury's still out on this one.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Salvador gets threat from Iraqi "virtual" terrorists

I've just returned from the August holidays, and catching up on news. Most significantly, there's still an evolving story about Iraq and El Salvador--the only Latin American nation to still have troops in Iraq.

Last Friday, according to Reuters, a hitherto unknown group, the Mohammed Atta Brigades – Al-Qaeda of Jihad, posted a threat on a website:

Dispatching any troops from El Salvador would be a declaration of war against Iraq's Muslim people, prompting us to launch war against you and move the conflict inside El Salvador.
This followed the late July decision by Salvadoran President Tony Saca, ratified (barely) by the legislative assembly, to send a third contingent of troops (some 380) to Iraq. Previously they'd been posted in Najaf, seen of some of the fiercest fighting in recent days, but on this trip they're moving elsewhere.

Today's papers note that another group has joined the fray, the Abu Bakr al Sediq Brigades, which claims to be linked to the group that attacked Madrid last March and which issued a similar warning yesterday against both Salvador and Denmark. Meanwhile, the Mohammed Atta Brigades issued a second threat in response to Saca's defiant pledge to make good on his promise of further troops.

Defense, Interior and the National Civilian Police chiefs held a press conference yesterday and said that everyone should close ranks behind the President, at the same time that they admitted the could not verify that these groups actually existed. Migration authorities said that five Iranians, Iraquis and Saudis were currently in the country, and they were being watched very carefully. One Saudi on an FBI list of suspected terrorists was reportedly spotted this past May in Honduras.

I wonder if all this means we're going to see a Salvadoran version of the Patriot Act sometime soon...?