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.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Worshipping Che

"Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"

Che Guevara may be the most popular icon ever to come out of Latin America, yet these words -- cited by Paul Berman in a review in Slate -- are nowhere to be found in the new movie, "The Motorcycle Diaries," about Che's vagabond adventures through Latin American in 1951-52. Berman also has this to say about the movie's romanticized depiction of Che:

Yet the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death—precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America's Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie's many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water—all of which is rendered beautiful and alluring by a sensual backdrop of grays and browns and greens, and the lovely gaunt cheeks of one actor after another, and the violent Andean landscapes.
A friend who spent some time in Chile a couple of years ago reported seeing t-shirts with an image of Che on one side, Osama Bin Laden on the other. I didn't see that here in El Salvador, but similar attitudes prevailed among hotheaded university students who celebrated the destruction of 9/11.

As long it continues to follow the tired old cliché -- "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" -- why should anyone be hopeful about that (dominant) strain of the Latin American left?

Dissecting the gang issue in Central America

The New York Times' Ginger Thompson -- with reporting from Dan Alder (with whom I shared office space in the early 1990s, when he was with UPI and I with Americas Watch) -- has a 4600-word piece today on gangs in Central America .

It's one of the best and most thorough pieces I've seen on the transnational phenomenon of gangs. Although it focuses largely on Honduras, it describes the issue in a comprehensive and engaging way. These few grafs serve as a primer on the subject:

They are gang members, known here as "maras," after a species of swarming ants. Indeed, over the last decade gangs have spread like a scourge across Central America, Mexico and the United States, setting off a catastrophic crime wave that has turned dirt-poor neighborhoods into combat zones and an equally virulent crackdown that has left thousands of gang members dead, in hiding, in jail or heading to the United States.

The authorities estimate there are 70,000 to 100,000 gang members across Central America and Mexico. In the last decade, gangs have killed thousands of people, sowing new fear in a region still struggling to overcome civil wars that ended just a decade ago. Gangs have replaced guerrillas as public enemy No. 1.

The presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have called the gangs as big a threat to national security as terrorism is to the United States. They have revived old counterinsurgency strategies and adopted zero-tolerance laws known as Mano Dura, which loosely translates as "firm hand," that bypass basic rules of due process and allow them to send young men to prison for nothing more than a gang tattoo.

Instead of offering reassurance, official campaigns inflame public fear. And in the last year, human rights investigators have begun to report alarming increases in the numbers of young men killed by the police and vigilantes.

Winning in Iraq, "even if it looks like losing"

Michael Hirsh is a senior editor at Newsweek, and has a sober piece in the Outlook section of the Washington Post. These are just a few lines of the last few grafs, which gives you the general idea:

But no matter who wins the U.S. elections in November, there is no foreseeable endgame in Iraq that does not include many more American casualties over the next several years....

In the interim, a U.S. withdrawal would almost certainly lead to civil war, turning Iraq into a failed state and a haven for Islamic jihadists....

What does "winning" mean in Iraq? For U.S. troops, it means just surviving....

Confronting reality in Iraq, and reducing expectations, also means backing whatever sources of stability we can find, even if they are anti-American.... Washington must swallow the likelihood that Iraq will enter some drawn-out Islamic phase before it ever turns into a secular democratic model.

For the Americans who went to war in Iraq hoping for historic change, those options are pretty much all that's left on the table. That is what "winning" in Iraq will look like for years to come. It's the best we can do right now, even if it looks like losing.

Blogging for dollars

Matthew Klam writes about the blogosphere in the New York Times Magazine today, noting how this electoral cycle has essentially given blogs a new role. He profiles top bloggers Josh Marshall, Ann-Marie Cox (Wonkette), and Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos)--all of whom now make a living off of blogging, and whose blogs get hundreds of thousands of hits a day.

As I noted months ago, Markos is half-Salvadoran (on his mother's side), and he spent ages 3-9 in El Salvador. This story notes that he left the country in the 1980s after "rebel soldiers" circulated a photo of him and his brother, apparently a signal to his parents to leave unless they wanted something to happen to their children.

There's also a clue here as to why I'm not so successful as a blogger, why I fall into the category of "hardly read," among the estimated 2 million blogs currently in existence:
Left-wing politics are thriving on blogs the way Rush Limbaugh has dominated talk radio, and in the last six months, the angrier, nastier partisan blogs have been growing the fastest.
That may be true, but I'm not sure that's the best way to understand the success of someone like Josh Marshall. How about: articulate, historically informed, focused, and open to critical debate (i.e., willing to admit human errors).

After writing this, I saw a reference by Kos to a blog entry by Elizabeth Edwards (wife of John) on the official Kerry-Edwards blog, who in turn references another blogger about blogging:
The blogs sound like the people I choose as friends: smart, informed, funny, curious, and imperfect.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Dictators and disasters

Democracies are less likely to go to war with each other (conventional political theory these days informs us), but what we're missing is a theory about how dictatorships are better able to cope with natural disasters.

That seems to be the case with Cuba. This Los Angeles Times editorial (Michael Kinsley?) says Cuba has an "impressive" record on disaster prevention, and that perhaps other Caribbean countries can learn some lessons from its experience.

It's hard to figure out just how other countries might emulate the social controls of Cuba, however, unless they're proposing a John Ashcroft-type authoritarian figure be put in charge of emergencies.

Venezuela update

The anti-Chavez opposition (to be described in that way, since they define themselves negatively, not in terms of what they stand for) began to fall apart this week, as this report in the BBC indicates.

Meanwhile, the Center for Economic and Policy Research does what they do well (which is to say that I rarely see eye to eye with Mark Weisbrodt in his political commentary on Venezuela) and rips apart Hausmann and Rigobon's Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote.

U.S. vs. Iraqi insurgents on civilian casualties

"Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis — most of them civilians — as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder...

Iraqi officials said the statistics proved that U.S. airstrikes intended for insurgents also were killing large numbers of innocent civilians. Some say these casualties are undermining popular acceptance of the American-backed interim government.

That suggests that more aggressive U.S. military operations, which the Bush administration has said are being planned to clear the way for nationwide elections scheduled for January, could backfire and strengthen the insurgency."

Read more of this Knight-Ridder piece by Nancy Youssef.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Farenheit 9/11 survives censors in El Salvador

This afternoon, La Prensa Gráfica posted a note at 3:30 pm on its website, announcing that "Farenheit 9/11" would, in fact, be permitted to be shown here in El Salvador.

The paper notes that one Carlos Urrutia, of the Dirección de Espectáculos Públicos, Radio y Televisión, was called into to review the film and make sure it was palatable for Salvadoran eyes. LPG said that, according to various people they consulted, this kind of review is very "exceptional" and, according to the law, is designed to protect the mental health of Salvadorans.

Elmer Menjívar, a film critic for LPG said that "in recent years, obvious censorship has been for sexual or religious issues"--never for political ones.

Why you should read Kevin Drum

Drum, along with Josh Marshall, is one of the best reads on the web. He writes the blog for the Washington Monthly. Here's some great lines from earlier today, where he worries that Bush living in fantasyland, while increasingly running out of options:
And Thursday's press conference was just scary. It's no longer clear if George Bush is merely a cynical, calculating politician — which would be bad enough — or if he actually believes all the happy talk about Iraq that his speechwriters produce for him. Increasingly, though, it seems like the latter: he genuinely doesn't have a clue about what's going on. What's more, his staff is keeping him in a sort of Nixonian bubble, afraid to tell him the truth and afraid to take any positive action for fear that it might affect the election.

So things will just get worse, since no one is willing to admit the truth and no one is willing to propose serious action to keep things from deteriorating further — at least not until after November 2nd. But by then it will be too late. And when the Iraqi elections fail, what happens then?

What's Plan E?

Getting real on Iraq

The Washington Post editorial page has little to say today about Iraq, but the Times comes in with an editorial and three op-eds, by Bob Herbert, Noah Feldman (on why elections should be postponed, which both Bush and Allawi don't want to admit) and, of course, the always-must-read Paul Krugman.

But don't forget to check out that other paper -- the Los Angeles Times -- where Juan Cole asks "What would the United States look like if it were in Iraq's current situation?" and then proceeds to spin out that hypothetical scenario.

And Hadi Semati, a professor of political science at Tehran University who is currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, has this ominous opening paragraph in his op-ed on how Bush's Iraqi adventure has backfired:
The Bush administration hoped that regime change in Iraq would stimulate democratic change throughout the Middle East but, in fact, the opposite is taking place.

Progressives on Iraq

Frank Smyth, who has “embedded” with leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, Iraq, and Rwanda--yet is nobody's fool, has written a piece of Foreign Policy in Focus entitled, Who Are the Progressives in Iraq? The Left, the Right, and the Islamists. Frank covered the 1991 uprisings against Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was later captured and held for two weeks inside Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. This is a good short piece that serves as a rejoinder to the likes of Naomi Klein, who recently argued for a rather benevolent view of Muqtada al-Sadr in The Nation. Doug Ireland also likes this piece. Frank's reporting can be found at

Here are some key grafs:

...all of the organized groups among the Iraqi resistance are reactionary forces of one kind or another. The resistance around and between the cities of Falluja, Tikrit, and Baghdad in the so-called “Sunni triangle” is led by ex-Ba’athists who aspire to return the old minority-based dictatorship to power. As Juan Cole points out, Nasir A`if al-Ani, the Sunni delegate to the Iraqi National Council from the Iraqi Islamic Party, does not even recognize the Shi’a people as a majority in Iraq. (Not even the most recalcitrant Afrikaners in apartheid South Africa pretended that blacks were a minority.)

Others like The Nation’s Naomi Klein, meanwhile, seem to have naively fallen for the al-Mahdi militia that recently fought U.S. Marines in Najaf. The al-Mahdi militia is a loosely organized Shiite opposition group led by Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a young man who inherited his role after his father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam. Lacking either the maturity or training of a senior cleric, al-Sadr has tried to lure supporters from more-respected Shiite clerics by promoting militant enforcement of the most fundamental tenets of Shiite Islam, including the explicit repression of gays and women.

The third sizable element of resistance inside Iraq is composed of foreign Islamist members of al-Qaida, who, like both the Saudi royal family and Osama bin Laden, practice an even more extreme version of Islam, Wahaabism. This group’s recent victims may include two kidnapped Italian women who work for the Italian group A Bridge to Baghdad, which, like U.S. anti-war groups working in Iraq, is explicitly opposed to the U.S. occupation. The American anti-war group, Iraq Occupation Watch, seems to believe that members of the Iraqi resistance may be holding them, pointing out on its website that the abductors should recognize that the Italian women are anti-war activists. On the other hand, Democracy Now's Jeremy Scahill and The Nation's Naomi Klein have written in The Guardian that a Western intelligence-backed group may be behind the abductions, suggesting that the CIA or others seized the two women to try to discredit the Iraqi opposition.

The Iraqis favored by the Bush administration may be secular, but they are hardly more admirable people. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is an ex-Ba’athist who left the Ba’ath Party in the mid-1970s. Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald, reported that Allawi personally executed (with a handgun) six Iraqis in a Baghdad police station right before he became prime minister, though no proof of this crime has yet been forthcoming. Prime Minister Allawi’s democracy credentials are also not impressive. He has already banned the Qatar-based satellite TV network, al-Jazeera, and has imposed certain forms of martial law.

Neither the resistance groups cheered on by many on the American left nor the governing parties championed by the American right seem to reflect the views and aspirations of most Iraqi people, who seem to be hoping for the rise of groups independent of both Saddam’s reign and the increasingly dictatorial Allawi government. Possibilities include moderate Shiite groups and secular leftist ones, through whose leadership most Iraqis hope to find a way to empower themselves for the first time in their history.

Unfortunately, mainstream Iraqis seem to have been all but forgotten by both the American left and right. Iraqis must be valued for who they are, not as pawns in some partisan political agenda. Such chauvinism might be expected of “America-first” right-wingers, but such a position is hardly defensible for any conscientious progressive. It’s no wonder instead of seeing Iraq’s highly complex and, indeed, contradictory political reality, so many American leftists have chosen instead to cling to the comfort that comes from simple sloganeering.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

More on "Innocent Voices"

A review has now come out on the new feature-length film on El Salvador, "Innocent Voices," and it is very encouraging. The review is from Reuters/Hollywood Reporter, but I'm not sure how long it will be online, so I'll print most of it here.

By Kirk Honeycutt
TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Luis Mandoki returns to his native Spanish and Latin American themes for the first time since his debut Mexican feature in 1987 with "Innocent Voices," a poignant yet harrowing account of children, and in particular one rambunctious boy, during the Salvadoran civil war.

You immediately sense Mandoki's profound affinity for this subject and its characters, a passion not always evident in his routine Hollywood movies.

"Innocent Voices" is a riveting tale of survival and how even war cannot diminish a child's indomitable spirit. The film should find highly appreciative audiences in specialty venues in North America and Europe as well as in cinemas throughout Latin America.

First-time screenwriter Oscar Torres has drawn on his own incredible experiences as a child trying to grow up in El Salvador during the civil war of the '80s. A father abandons his poor family at the outbreak of war to go to the U.S., leaving Chava (Carlos Padilla) as the "man of the house." A naturally happy kid, Chava lives in a rude shack with his sister, younger brother and hard-working mom (fast-rising Chilean actress Leonor Varela). The army is already "recruiting" 12-year-old boys, pulling them at gunpoint from classrooms at the local school. Chava is 11, meaning he has one year left.

Their village lies between the capital and the guerrilla forces, making it a constant battleground. Many nights, the frightened family hits the floor or ducks behind upturned mattresses to escape bullets that pound through the cardboard walls. During daytime, Chava stake his claim to normalcy by attending class, falling in love with a pretty classmate, playing games with his pals along with the village idiot (Gustavo Munoz) and getting a job on a bus to help out with expenses.

His uncle (Jose Maria Yazpik), who fights for the guerillas, has given him a transistor radio so he can listen to the forbidden guerrilla broadcasts and especially its banned musical anthem. He witnesses the soldiers' harassment of the local priest (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) and their abduction of young girls to satisfy their lust.

The war finally forces the family to move in with their grandmother (Ofelia Medina), but even here they are not safe. Soldiers raid the village to kidnap more children to become soldiers. The boys learn to hide on the corrugated tin roofs of the houses.

Pedilla, who has acted in telenovelas, has an expressive face and superb acting ability that allows him to carry the film. (He is in virtually every scene.) His spirit makes this an uplifting film rather than a huge downer.

His Chava is a resilient child, clearly unafraid of death yet deadly afraid of being recruited to kill. Varela's mother is resilient too only as an adult, fear rules her life as her family is exposed to constant danger.

Mandoki and his accomplished cinematographer, Juan Ruiz Anchia, resist the temptation to make a gritty film about warfare; instead they shoot the lush jungle, town and the villages in delicate, pleasing colors, creating a dramatic contrast between the carnage taking place and the land's great beauty.

"Innocent Voices" accomplishes this: It shows warfare from a child's perspective as well as from an omniscient observer's point of view as the camera sweeps up above villages and into trees to show us rain pelting the shantytown and soldiers industriously going about their murderous business. It is at once intimate and epic.

The film was shot in Mexico with a top-notch crew, which along with Andre Abujamra's Latin-flavored musical score gives "Innocent Voices" a persuasive sense of the hell that was rural El Salvador of 20 years ago.

Post misses the story on gangs

I guess I should pay more attention when the Washington Post comes to town. Last week, Mary Jordan wrote about gang violence in El Salvador, in the aftermath of a bloody prison riot in August.

To me, it's pretty much the same-old-same story, and adds nothing new. However, the Post should have been better in one respect. About the anti-gang laws, she wrote this:
Governments across the region have adopted popular get-tough measures against gangs, including laws that make it easy for police to detain people with telltale tattoos. Critics said such methods, some of which have been ruled unconstitutional, had not stopped the gangs, but rather forced them to disperse to rural areas and to other countries.
The problem is --and I can't believe that even the government minister she interviewed failed to mention this, or perhaps they did-- that Jordan fails to note the first and most important accomplishment of the Saca administration, namely, the consensual process in which a new anti-gang law was developed in June and July, with the participation of all political parties and key civil society groups. This is something not to be frowned upon -- or ignored -- and sets a tone for a different way of governing. No one is currently criticizing the law, for that reason. FESPAD's criticisms are quite outdated. It wouldn't have required much effort to figure this out.

UPDATE: After talking to someone, a couple of additional notes. First, the process by which a new law was written in July apparently wasn't exactly done by "consensus," since votes were taken. It probably couldn't have been done otherwise. Second, I understand a new "mesa" that was set up to discuss the penitenciary system--in light of the recent uprising and other problems-- is not really a roundtable discussion, but rather a series of bilateral meetings with different sectors. The possible conclusion to be drawn from the implementation of this new mechanism is that the government may have felt that they didn't get everything they wanted in the previous process, and that a new system -- one in which they could exercise greater control -- should be tried.

Nevertheless, all agree that the process instituted by Saca was a qualitative step forward from the previous governing posture of President Flores.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

That's right, E.J.

"...there is only one reason the story about Bush's choices during the Vietnam years persists. It's because the president won't give detailed answers to the direct questions posed by the Times story and other responsible media organizations, including the Boston Globe. Their questions never depended on the discredited CBS documents.

Bush could end this story now so we could get to the real issues of 2004. It would require only that the president take an hour or so with reporters to make clear what he did and did not do in the Guard. He may have had good reasons for ducking that physical exam. Surely he can explain the gaps in his service and tell us honestly whether any pull was used to get him into the Guard....

I'm as weary as you are that our politics veer away from what matters -- Iraq, terrorism, health care, jobs -- and get sidetracked into personal issues manufactured by political consultants and ideological zealots. But the Bush campaign has made clear it wants this election to focus on character and leadership. If character is the issue, the president's life, past and present, matters just as much as John Kerry's.

Dan Rather has answered his critics. Now it is Bush's turn."

--E.J. Dionne, in his Washington Post column today

Democratic authoritarianism (?) in Venezuela

Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald admittedly has it in for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Nevertheless, many of his criticisms are undeniably on the mark.

In his latest column, he warns about the dangers of an "elected dictatorship" in Venezuela. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn't. He takes on a recent legislative initiative in Venezuela to change the Venezuelan constitution (oh, written by a Constituent Assembly almost entirely dominated by Chavez supporters back in 1999, by the way).

On the heels of the Bolivarian movement's recent referendum success, some want to take out the line which limits any president to two six-year terms. That's a fairly standard practice in almost all democratic nations, for reasons that don't need restating. Here's the story; be forewarned.
Last week, amid still-to-be-proved opposition charges that he stole the Aug. 15 vote, an influential pro-Chávez legislator in Congress announced a push for an amendment of the Venezuelan Constitution that would allow Chávez to be reelected ad infinitum, much like Cuba's president-for-life Fidel Castro.

Chávez, who has said he wants to remain in power until 2021, has remained noncommittal about the constitutional amendment, saying it's something to be decided "later on."

The constitutional changes proposed by pro-Chávez legislator Luis Velásquez Alvaray and endorsed by Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement leader William Lara would change Article 230 of the constitution, which states that the president serves a term of six years and "can be reelected immediately for a new term, only for one time." The text would be modified to eliminate the words "and only for one time."

As reported by the Caracas daily El Nacional, the explanatory section of the bill says that it's the sovereign right of the people "to be able to extend [the president's term] for the consecutive periods it deems convenient or necessary for the interests of the country. No law, and much less one of constitutional rank, can put obstacles to such exercise of sovereignty."

The proposed constitutional amendment comes after two Chávez-backed legislative proposals that are likely to be passed by Congress shortly: a new press law putting restrictions on what private television networks can say, and a separate national police law that would create a national police force, thus stripping opposition mayors from running their cities' police forces.

Earlier this year, Chávez already took what may be the most dangerous step toward an
"elected dictatorship": He expanded the Supreme Court from 20 to 32 members, stacking it with his loyalists. Now, a solidly pro-Chávez Supreme Court will be the ultimate judge on issues such as Chávez's reelection and press censorship.

Government critics say Chávez is behind the bill to amend the constitution. But Chávez-backed National Assembly President Francisco Ameliach took distance from the project late last week, suggesting that the pro-Chávez camp is, at least in public, divided over the issue.

On Friday, I called the man who probably knows Chávez best: Luís Miquilena, his former mentor, campaign chief and interior minister. Miquilena, who quit in 2002 as the undisputed No. 2 in the Chávez government, told me from his home in Caracas the 1999 Constitution drafted by Chávez and Miquilena "is becoming a nuisance to Chávez."

Miquilena, a former Communist Party leader who took Chávez under his wing after the 1992 coup attempt, says Chávez may not have ordered his congressman to draft the bill, but he is giving him his tacit approval.

"It's a trial balloon, aimed at creating the necessary climate for a third reelection," Miquilena said. "A move like that needs a lot of lobbying, and Chávez is probably letting this proposal float to see how it goes, and act accordingly."

Monday, September 20, 2004

NYT gets the Guard issue back on track

Finally, it's good to see something that focuses on the real issues here. This article in today's Times feels fairly definitive--not that we didn't already know these things:

When questions arose about Mr. Bush's Guard service, the White House asked a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Albert C. Lloyd Jr., to review his record. In a memorandum released by the White House in February, Mr. Lloyd wrote that from May 1973 through May 1974, Mr. Bush accumulated 35 training points and 15 points for being a Guard member "for a total of 56 points.'' It is not clear how Mr. Lloyd came up with 56, instead of 50. Another military document released by the White House indicates that Mr. Bush had earned only 38 points from May 1973 until his discharge that October.

A retired Army colonel, Gerald A. Lechliter, who has prepared an extensive analysis of Mr. Bush's National Guard record, described Mr. Lloyd's memorandum as "seemingly an attempt to whitewash Bush's record." Mr. Lloyd declined comment last week.

Mr. Lechliter, who describes himself as a political independent, also said that Mr. Bush was not entitled to 20 credits he received from Nov. 13, 1972,until July 19, 1973, because the service was being made up improperly.

Mr. Lechliter also said that Mr. Bush should not have been paid for these sessions. "That would appear to be a fraud," he said in an interview last week.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Elections: what, again already?

Ugh. Three elections in four years: 2003, 2004, and 2006.

ARENA wants to win back a majority of deputies in the March 2006 elections--18 months away. As the second largest party in the country, the only way they can govern is in alliance with the officially slimy PCN party. They gave the PCN a seat on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which may end up eventually being reversed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

So they're already getting the campaign going, even considering primaries--at least in the larger cities. Up until now, only the FMLN has considered primaries--and, well, their primary for the presidential candidate turns out to have been rigged.

To his credit, President Tony Saca disposed of his presidential prerogatives, and chose to use private and party vehicles for a number of public meetings yesterday. "We should get close to the people, without using state resources."

That will be quite something if he can keep ARENA to that pledge, but I wouldn't start betting on it just yet. One thing is the high-profile image of the country's president; another is that of the hundreds of municipal and executive branch employees who end up becoming political party operatives during campaign season.

Courtesy of the New Yorker

Feature film on the Salvadoran war at the Toronto Film Festival

"Voces Inocentes" (Innocent Voices) is a new feature film that I think we'll all soon hear much more about. It just premiered last week at the Toronto Film Festival, and it's done by the Hollywood director Luis Mandoki ("White Palace" and "When a Man Loves a Woman"), who returned to his native Mexico to produce the film.

The film festival website has this description:

From the opening shots of soldiers’ boots in the mud to its penultimate scene of a young boy’s face as he contemplates the charred ruins of his former home, Innocent Voices is an unflinching look at the shattering effects of war on children who live directly in the line of fire. Yet it is also an unforgettable coming-of-age story in which one young boy manages to find the courage to keep his spirit alive in the midst of the terrible conflict ravaging his country.

Weakened by two years of fighting, the army of El Salvador has been forced to replenish its ranks with the nation’s young sons, most of whom are kidnapped in sudden and terrifying village raids. Eleven-year-old Chava watches as his friends are taken from his town, the last outpost on the way to the capital, but his feelings of powerlessness are altered one day when his Uncle Beto visits. On leave from guerrilla fighting, the charismatic uncle gives Chava a transistor radio and tells him to tune in to an underground station that plays forbidden protest songs, songs that slowly fill the boy with hope and a desire to fight against the odds. Innocent Voices treats an important and rarely explored subject – war recounted primarily from a child’s perspective – with an adept lyricism.

Mandoki has crafted a narrative rich in symbolism, most notably in the image of the “cardboard” houses themselves: as rain pours down on the flimsy shantytown in which Chava lives and buckets collect leaks from the corrugated iron roofs, we are reminded of the seemingly futile efforts of the most powerless people to stop the onslaught. Yet Chava’s actions at a pivotal moment serve as a powerful testament to the triumph of hope and faith, even in seemingly impossible situations.

In the end, Innocent Voices is a resounding celebration of the small acts of resistance performed by ordinary citizens, no matter their age.
I haven't seen the film reviewed yet, but 13 viewers in Toronto have unanimously given it a five-star, "awesome" rating.

The human side of democracy promotion in Iraq

Elizabeth Rubin has a gripping portrait in the New York Times Magazine today of Fern Holland, the 33-year-old idealistic lawyer from Oklahoma who was, along with Bob Zangas, the first civilian employee of the Coalition Provisional Authority to be killed in Iraq.

One cannot help but admire Holland. But at the same time, Rubin is able to paint a vivid portrait of the contradictory --and ultimately flawed-- efforts to impose certain ideas about women's rights on Iraqi society. There are so many revealing stories in this piece -- at the end, for example, we learn that she became very disillusioned with her own work -- that you simply have to read the whole thing.

I reported back in April 8th about Holland's Iraqi assistant, who was killed in the same incident, and about the U.S. contractor's total avoidance of any compensatory claims for her death.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Advocate for children in Central America fired

Ever since I can remember -- which is to say, ever since I got involved in human rights work -- Bruce Harris has been around advocating for the rights of children in Central America. Harris, a U.K. citizen, was awarded the Order of the British Empire medal in 2000 for his work.

Now comes news from the BBC that he's been fired: "Covenant House has dismissed Mr Harris because he recently paid a 19-year-old Honduran boy for sexual favours in a Tegucigalpa motel." The boy had been a resident in one of their shelters.

Harris' comment: "Sheltering behind a lie has never been my way, so I assume, as I always have done, responsibility for my acts, correct or incorrect." Apparently Honduran prosecutors are investigating, and he is cooperating.

Venezuela referendum issue settled, probably

That is, of course, unless you're the Venezuelan opposition, in which case you'll never be satisfied.

Yesterday, the Carter Center released its response to the Hausmann/Rigobon study, that threw doubts on the results of the Venezuelan referendum. For Caracas Chronicles, one of the more rational voices of the opposition, this seems to settle the case. He doesn't even open up a discussion post. Here's the key points excerpted from the report, and taken from his blog:

Report on an Analysis of the Representativeness of the Second Audit Sample, and the Correlation between Petition Signers and the Yes Vote in the Aug. 15, 2004 Presidential Recall Referendum in Venezuela

This study was conducted by The Carter Center and confirmed by the OAS in response to a written request from Sumate presented to The Carter Center Sept. 7, 2004. Sumate asked that The Carter Center evaluate a study performed by Professors Ricardo Hausmann and Roberto Rigobon.

The Hausmann/Rigobon study states the second audit conducted Aug. 18-20 and observed by The Carter Center and the OAS was based on a sample that was not random and representative of the universe of all voting centers using voting machines in the Aug. 15, 2004, recall referendum. The study further indicates that the correlation coefficient (elasticity) for the correlation between the signers and the YES votes for the sample was 10 percent higher than that for the universe. The Hausmann/Rigobon study came to these conclusions through an analysis of the exit poll data, petition signers data, and electoral results data provided by Sumate.

1 Objectives of the Carter Center Study

1. Determine the correlation between the number of signers of the presidential recall petition and the electoral results of the Aug. 15 recall referendum.
2. Compare the characteristics of the universe of voting machine results with those of the sample for the 2nd audit performed Aug. 18.
3. Determine the universe from which the sample generation program used Aug. 18 was drawn. [...]5


The sample drawing program used Aug. 18 to generate the 2nd audit sample generated a random sample from the universe of all mesas (voting stations) with automated voting machines. The sample was not drawn from a group of pre-selected mesas. This sample accurately represents different properties of the universe, including the accuracy of the machines, the total YES and NO votes and the correlation between the YES votes and signer turnout.

There is a high correlation between the number of YES votes per voting center and the number of signers of the presidential recall request per voting center; the places where more signatures were collected also are the places where more YES votes were cast. There is no anomaly in the characteristics of the YES votes when compared to the presumed intention of the signers to recall the president.

The second audit showed a high accuracy of the voting machines with discrepancies of less than 0.1 percent. The sample was analyzed, and it does not have different properties than the universe. The sample generation program was analyzed as part of the 2nd audit process and again in this study. Both studies showed that the sample does not operate on a subset of the universe, thus hiding or masquerading some of the properties of the universe. Consequently the results of the 2nd audit accurately confirm the electoral results of Aug. 15.

Download a PDF of the full report

Friday, September 17, 2004

Without Doubt Osama Would Like Bush and Cheney Reelected

That's the conclusion of former Counsel to President Richard Nixon, John Dean, in a typically provocative commentary for Findlaw. Of Bush-Cheney, he says: "If anyone ought to be accused of having a pre-9/11 mind-set, it is they. Their tactics might have worked well in the Civil War, but they are failing in the fight against modern terrorists groups."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

How hard is it to get an "honorable discharge"?

John Benson over at TNR Online has a good list of people who've been honorably discharged, but this one's my favorite:
John Allen Muhammad, convicted last November for his participation in the D.C. sniper shootings, served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978-1985, where he faced two summary courts-martial. In 1983, he was charged with striking an officer, stealing a tape measure, and going AWOL. Sentenced to seven days in the brig, he received an honorable discharge in 1985.
The point being that an "honorable discharge" is not itself proof that one has served "honorably."

The auctioning off of America

GeorgeWBuy is a new blog, started up by Campaign Money Watch, that's going to discuss the role of money in U.S. politics. Written by Micah Sifry and David Donnelly. This is their blurb:

Dick Cheney said the economy is fine because people make money on eBay. But it is the Bush White House that's auctioning off policy to the highest bidder.
Take a look!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

¡Viva la Independencia!

183 years of independence from Spain being celebrated today, so the entire isthmus has the day off. Here I'm going to hear the beat of drums as schoolchildren everywhere parade through the streets.

In Mexico, according to an AP report, Fox has managed to build some unity among his many bitter critics, as he gathers Mexicans far and wide to all sing their 150-year-old national anthem together:
A campaign, sponsored by a nonprofit media council and endorsed by the government, has called on Mexicans - no matter where they are - to stop what they are doing and sing the national anthem's famous first words: "Mexicans, at the cry of battle prepare your swords and bridle; and let the earth tremble at its center at the roar of the cannon."

Dire assessments for Haiti

A couple of prognostications from people related to the Inter-American Dialogue, Haiti, in the Miami Herald today. Could it ever have been otherwise?

Stability of Haiti rests in international community's hands

Answer from Dan Erikson, director for Caribbean projects at the Inter-American Dialogue: It is becoming increasingly clear that the international community is struggling to translate its promises of manpower, money and commitment into a reality for Haiti. Without a greater commitment of troops, the so-called ''illegitimate actors'' that preside over much of Haiti are almost certainly here to stay. Sadly, however, the security shortcomings are likely to be replicated soon in the economic arena. Last July, the international community promised Haiti an eye-popping $1.3 billion in foreign aid. It is not clear that the interim government and other Haitian agencies have the capacity to absorb and utilize that money effectively. As a result, the aid flow is likely to proceed slowly, thereby undermining the Haitian government while allowing the armed groups and criminals to further solidify their power base. In the meantime, many ordinary Haitians are forced to scrape by on less than $2 a day.

From Diego Arria, a member of the Advisor board and director of the Columbus Group: The truth is that the U.N. and the United States have helped to shield the failings of the Latin American countries to assume, effectively and honestly, their collective responsibilities within the inter-American system. Haiti, after all, is in the Caribbean, not on some faraway continent. Even though Haiti is part of the Americas, the general impression in the region is that its problems are, and should essentially be, of concern only to the United States. The fact that Haiti is a black republic and also the poorest member of our community has everything to do with it.

Afghanistan and Iraq dilemmas

Anne E. Brodsky, associate professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, writes in The Gadflyer about the screwed up priorities of the U.S. in Afghanistan, and sadly notes in conclusion that "In 2003 Iraq received $26 billion in reconstruction aid while Afghanistan, larger and more populous and with a fraction of Iraq's wealth and infrastructure, received less than $1 billion:"
In 2003 Iraq received $26 billion in reconstruction aid while Afghanistan, larger and more populous and with a fraction of Iraq's wealth and infrastructure, received less than $1 billion. Meanwhile, the 2003 opium crop brought an estimated $2.3 billion, accounting for roughly 95 percent of the heroin sold on the streets of Europe. And the Bush administration admits that the 2004 crop is expected to be 50 percent to 100 percent higher than last year's.

All of this illegitimate wealth only serves to further enrich criminal elements, from the warlords who control the countryside to suspected Al Qaeda remnants rumored to be funding future operations with this uncontrolled wealth. Taken together it is an alarming picture of a country spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, the American political calendar ensures that we will hear predominately heartwarming stories of how children's toys better Afghan lives.

By playing leapfrog with Afghanistan, the Bush Administration jeopardizes the safety and health of poor Afghans who will suffer if their country once again becomes hostage to narco-terrorists, warlords, and unlawful rulers. Humanitarian concerns aside, the policies also threaten to destabilize the country in ways that, as we've seen, lead to tragic consequences for the rest of the world, too. When your playmate is a country teetering on the edge of a chasm, leapfrog is the most dangerous game of all.
Elsewhere, as Matthew Yglesias notes, Rick Barton is portraying the US approach to Afghanistan in a more favorable light. (Barton, former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and a founder of USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, is co-director of the CSIS Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PCR) Project.)

Yglesias attended a CSIS forum yesterday and reports that Barton suggests the US adopt the "Kabul model" for Iraq. Yglesias understands that to be:
Be happy that Basra and the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa are calm and semi-safe and keep it that way. Focus resources on getting Baghdad -- where a huge proportion of the population lives -- up to that standard. More or less let things drift elsewhere and start worrying about that if and when Baghdad is under control.
Meanwhile, Barton did have an intelligent comment about the situation in Iraq: "I don't think you can flatten cities and then hope to gain popular support."

Old dictators die hard

It's amazing how easily people remember the likes of 20th century Nicaraguan strongman Anastasio Somoza, and continue to invoke his unholy name alongside currently despicable characters.

Today in his column, Bob Kagan takes the Bush administration to task for failing to criticize Putin in Russia, charging that "Putin is imposing dictatorship the old-fashioned way, in the manner of a Ferdinand Marcos, an Anastasio Somoza or a Park Chung Hee." The Washington Post editorializes in a similar fashion, but credits Kerry with saying the right thing.

In his personal blog, David Corn notes that Putin wants to refashion the Russian political system such that Putin "would appoint all the governors in the country and Russians could only vote for parties, not specific candidates, in parliamentary elections. The net result: Putin would have the political system of Russia under his thumb; his foes would be shut out. Putin calls this "managed democracy." It's more akin to czarism."

It's also akin to the kind of system that El Salvador has, but which legislators will be earnestly debating and revising in the coming weeks.

Just for fun, also read his charging the Bushies with having "double-standards" (always nice when conservatives do us the favor):

Failure to take sides with democratic forces in Russia will cast doubt on Bush's commitment to worldwide democracy. A White House official commented to the New York Times that Putin's actions are "a domestic matter for the Russian people." Really? If so, then the same holds for all other peoples whose rights are taken away by tyrants. If the Bush administration holds to that line, then those hostile to democracy in the Middle East will point to the glaring U.S. double standard; those who favor democracy in the Middle East will be discredited. That will be a severe blow to what Bush regards as a central element of his war on terrorism.
Second, in listening to Marc Cooper's interview of Peter Kornbluh on RadioNation the other day, regarding Pinochet's secret bank accounts, Kornbluh noted that Pinochet has now lost his previously "clean" (in terms of corruption) reputation, to join the ranks of Somoza. Also notable on this subject is Ariel Dorfman's New York Times op-ed on September 11th -- also the date of the 31st anniversary of the overthrow of the democratically elected Salvador Allende.

(Admittedly, the Somoza reference is my lame excuse for trying to bring Central America into the spotlight of current affairs.)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

How long will it take?

...for the White House to take Costa Rica off its list of "coalition" partners supporting the war in Iraq? A formal diplomatic request was given several days ago, after Costa Rica's constitutional court said they couldn't support a war that was not authorized by the United Nations.

As of Saturday, at least, Costa Rica was still up on the White House site, despite the fact that the AP story --which ran just about everywhere -- mentioned this little detail as early as Thursday.

As readers of this blog know full well, El Salvador is actually the only Latin American country with troops in Iraq, so why the heck is Costa Rica considered part of the coalition? Again, according to AP:
Controversy over the issue erupted when local newspapers noted that the White House had listed Costa Rica as a member of the coalition "that has already begun military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."

The White House page in question reads "Forty-nine countries are publicly committed to the Coalition, including ... Costa Rica."

Dated Feb. 4, 2004, the Web page continues: "Contributions from Coalition member nations range from: direct military participation, logistical and intelligence support, specialized chemical/biological response teams, over-flight rights, humanitarian and reconstruction aid, to political support."
The Bush administration really is desperate to have something it can call a "coalition," isn't it? Check it out for yourself here: White House's Iraq coalition web site.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"You couldn't design a better counter-insurgent"

From the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal, there's this article profiling Sgt. John McCary, a Vassar graduate working in Iraq for the Army as a specialist in "human intelligence." I'm not sure I've seen any reporting like this before, the kind that gives one a good sense of the kind of in-the-field interrogations which the war in Iraq apparently requires. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are a few key excerpts:
Learning to Lie

In the field, Sgt. McCary learned other critical skills. One was the ability to lie. "If you are not a Muslim brother in this culture you are nothing, so I had to construct an entirely new working persona," he says. Though he has no Arab heritage, he tells Iraqis his mother is Lebanese. He sprinkles every conversation with asides such as "Praise be to God." When a local says he is afraid to talk because the mujahedeen will kill him, Sgt. McCary recites a phrase commonly used in Iraq: "A good Muslim fears only one person." Then the sergeant points to the sky. As part of the ritual, the other person says, "Allah."

Sgt. McCary spotted a boy of about 11, standing lookout in front of what he thought might be the minister's house. He wanted to get a picture of the boy for his records. But the boy was adamant he didn't want his photograph taken by the Americans.

"Don't be such a girl," Sgt. McCary teased the boy, telling him they were just in town taking a survey of the local power and water facilities. Another counterintelligence soldier crouched down next to the boy, pretending he was posing for a souvenir snapshot to send back home.

"Wow, we are definitely going to hell," Sgt. McCary said in English, as he snapped the picture.
The battalion's unwritten policy is to interrogate the oldest male on the scene. In this case it was the sobbing boy. Sgt. McCary grabbed the child by the wrist and led him into the dark house off the courtyard. When his mother tried to follow, Sgt. McCary yelled at her to stay away.

Outside the mother began crying, in English, "Mister. Baby. Mister. Baby."

Rapid-Fire Questions

Inside the house, Sgt. McCary fired questions at the terrified boy. Once the boy realized Sgt. McCary wasn't going to hurt him, he told different stories; that he didn't know any of the men they were looking for, or that the men had all moved away. So Sgt. McCary took off his helmet, leaned in close and began to yell in an effort to unsettle him.

Using a photo that he pulled off the wall, Sgt. McCary got the boy to identify the men he was looking for. He scribbled a name over each face.

Then the sergeant took the picture next door, hoping to get the names confirmed with a second source. The place had no roof or furniture. The floor was covered with dirt and the morning's breakfast. Sgt. McCary led the oldest male present, a boy of about 6 years old, aside and showed him the picture.

A few minutes later, the soldiers heard a loud thud. It was the first of four roadside bombs that would explode in Khalidiya that day. Soldiers crouched behind walls for protection. The second boy and his mother confirmed the names Sgt. McCary got at the first house.

Sgt. McCary and the rest of the platoon piled back into the Humvees. The mission was a success of sorts. Sgt. McCary now knew what the suspected insurgents looked like. But it was exhausting. "The fact that I have to terrify a kid ... to get the truth is b—s---," he said. "Morally it is questionable. But you've got to go with what you've got."

September 11th

In high school, I played bassoon with a rock band called Space Opera, mainstream rockers who were nevertheless deeply influenced by Bartok and Stravinsky. A couple of years ago they came out with a new CD, and there's a song there which I find appropriate for remembering September 11. The lyrics are good, the music is better.

Here you can have a listen, from the second Space Opera album.

Still Life

Our time like a frozen mirror
Reminds me of itself.
Of one mind
Always coming nearer
Give me new legs to reach the bridge.

Just believe the ocean of your dreams will be fulfilled.
Even when your day has turned to gray
While you looked away.
Still life plays on.
We draw the scene and call the song.
In the glory of the giving
We are made strong.
Still life
Be long.

I watch through expectant eyes
For the sign of your return.
Blue curtains of the sky
And the heavens brightly burn.

Just believe the oceans of your dreams will be fulfilled.
Even when the day has slipped away
Is it hard to say?
Still life plays on.
We draw the scene and call the song.
In the glory of the giving
We are made strong.
Still life
Be strong.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Bush vs. Jesus

From Mad magazine:

Resized to fit my screen. For a more legible version, go to Atrios.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Poll finds Europeans and Democrats think alike

No huge surprise, but that's the title of a Christian Science Monitor article today, based on a public opinion survey done by the German Marshall Fund.

Taking down No. 1 and No. 2

I should say something (largely positive) about Salvadoran President Tony Saca's first 100 days in office, but that will have to wait a few days.

Meanwhile, I recommend the reading of a piece by Eric Boehlert in Salon, which summarizes all of the arguments about Bush's non-existent National Guard duty in 1972-73.

While you're at it, you might also take a look at this T.D. Allman Rolling Stone article, who ledes with "Should George W. Bush win this election, it will give him the distinction of being the first occupant of the White House to have survived naming Dick Cheney to a post in his administration." You get the idea.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Who cares about polls?

Why isn't the The CNN/USA Today/Gallup post-Republican convention poll -- "the first national poll conducted entirely after the completion of that convention" -- getting any more play in today's papers? I was alerted to this in the blogosphere, namely at New Donkey and Donkey Rising, which have good commentary. One of many illuminating conclusions:
Bush's two-point convention bounce is one of the smallest registered in Gallup polling history, along with Hubert Humphrey's two-point bounce following the 1968 Democratic convention, George McGovern's zero-point bounce following the 1972 Democratic convention, and Kerry's "negative bounce" of one point among registered voters earlier this year. Bush's bounce is the smallest an incumbent president has received.

The Carter Center version

Jennifer McCoy, who led the Carter Center delegation (well, apart from Carter himself) also has a piece in the Economist this week, which details their findings. I find it pretty convincing. Here are three key paragraphs:

The only way the boxes could have been altered would be for the military—historically the custodians of election material in Venezuela—to have reprogrammed 19,200 voting machines to print out new paper receipts with the proper date, time and serial code and in the proper number of Yes and No votes to match the electronic result, and to have reinserted these into the proper ballot boxes. All of this in garrisons spread across 22 states, between Monday and Wednesday, with nobody revealing the fraud. We considered this to be supremely implausible.

This second audit showed that the machines were very accurate. We found a variation of only 0.1% between the paper receipts and the electronic results. This could be explained by voters putting the slips in the wrong ballot box. An additional piece of corroborating evidence was the result from the 15% of polling stations that used the old-fashioned manual ballot. These stations (in mostly rural areas without telephones) were even more favourable to the president, voting 70:30 against recall.

If the machines were accurate, how do we explain the three suspicious factors noted by the opposition? First, the mysterious “tied” results or “caps” on the machines. We found that 402 of 8,100 mesas (each with one to three machines) had two or three machines with the same result for the Yes vote; and 311 mesas had the same results for the No vote. So the phenomenon affected both sides. We consulted Jonathan Taylor, a statistician from Stanford University. Using various mathematical models, he predicted that 379 mesas would have ties (of two or three machines) in the Yes votes, and 336 mesas would have ties in the No votes. The error range would be plus or minus 36 mesas. So the actual results fell within the range of probability, and do not provide evidence of fraud.

So, were the audited mesas selected at random? And whose statistical model are we supposed to believe?

Venezuela: the story that won't go away

The proponents of the thesis that the Venezuelan government committed the most sophisticated hi-tech fraud in Latin American history last month got a boost from a new study by former chief economist at the IDB, Ricardo Hausman, and MIT's Ricardo Rigabon, both Venezuelan academics working in the U.S. Significantly, among those taking seriously their research is a Johns Hopkins University professor who'd previously discounted the possibility of fraud. You can download their study here (in Spanish, PDF, 1.1 MB).

Here's the entire Wall Street Journal article:

Academics' Study Backs Fraud Claim In Chavez Election
By DAVID LUHNOW in Mexico City and JOSE DE CORDOBA in Miami Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

September 7, 2004; Page A18

Two Venezuelan academics claim to have found statistical evidence of fraud in last month's referendum on President Hugo Chavez, fueling the opposition's claims of a rigged vote and raising the possibility that despite Mr. Chavez's victory, the country's tense standoff will continue.

The claims were made Sunday by Ricardo Hausmann, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and former chief economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, and Roberto Rigobon, a professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

The pair issued a report that tried to measure the possibility that the vote was clean using two separate analyses of the official results. In both cases, they said, the chances of a clean vote were less than one in 100.

Members of a civic group called Sumate that organized the referendum, which Mr. Chavez won by a 59% to 41% margin, seized on the study to suggest Mr. Chavez had won by tampering with the electronic-voting machines used in the contest. "We don't think the truth about the referendum has been revealed yet," Alejandro Plaz, a spokesman for Sumate, told reporters in presenting Mr. Hausmann's study Sunday. Sumate requested help from the academics in analyzing the referendum data but didn't pay for the study.

Mr. Chavez's government reacted with disbelief to the claims, saying the opposition's previous claims of fraud had so far proved incorrect. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said members of the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States had already validated the result. "No one believes in their theories anymore because three weeks have gone by and they haven't been able to prove anything," Mr. Rangel said.

Members of the Carter Center and the OAS were unreachable for comment yesterday. But both organizations have consistently stood by their findings in the past weeks and watched as other theories of fraud fell short under scrutiny.

The results of the study, however, prompted some independent experts on computer voting to call on the Venezuelan government to open up all aspects of the election -- including electronic codes from voting machines -- to public scrutiny.

"The Hausmann/Rigobon study is more credible than many of the other allegations being thrown around," said Aviel Rubin, a computer-science professor at Johns Hopkins University who has warned about security flaws with electronic voting. Mr. Rubin recently conducted a study of opposition claims that machines were rigged to limit the number of votes against Mr. Chavez and concluded the claims were highly unlikely.

"I would encourage the Venezuelan government to open up all aspects of the election to public inspection, not just to selected observers. That includes all of the paper ballots, the source code in the voting machines, the random generators ... that were used to pick the sites to audit," he said in an e-mail interview.

The study by Messrs. Hausmann and Rigobon suggested the government may have tampered with only some of the machines, leaving others clean for observers to audit. They said the sample used for the audit, which was carried out days after the election, wasn't randomly chosen and limited to the "clean" machines.

The study says the computer that determined which ballot boxes were to be subjected to a recount belonged to Venezuelan election officials. However, the Carter Center's Jennifer McCoy has said the group tested and verified the computer program used to select the sample.

The study compared the votes obtained by the opposition during the recall vote with the signatures gathered in November 2003 requesting the referendum. For the recounted votes, the correlation between the number of "yes" votes matched the 2003 petition numbers at a rate that was 10% higher than in the ballot boxes that weren't recounted. They calculate the probability of this taking place by chance at less than 1%.

The government's sample recount "was not a random sample, and I can say that with 99% confidence," Mr. Hausmann said in a telephone interview.

The academics used another technique to look for suspicious patterns in the results, using the 2003 petition and an exit poll on the day of the vote as a vague measure of a voter's intention. Because both measures are imperfect for different reasons, the academics argued, the measures should make different mistakes in predicting the final result.

But the academics found that each method had similar margins of error when compared with the official results, something that would happen only one in 100 times without fraud, they argued.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Walmart, and Starbucks

First Starbucks, now Wal-Mart. Just 2 kilometers from the heart of Teotihuacan.

Speaking of which, Starbucks rolled out its latest coffee from its Black Apron Exclusive series, and it's from El Salvador:
The Black Apron Exclusives™ line of coffee is named for Starbucks most knowledgeable buyers, roasters, tasters and Coffee Masters, who wear a black apron in the tasting rooms and in Starbucks coffeehouses. The first Black Apron Exclusives™ coffees were 100% Kona (introduced April 23, 2004) and Ethiopia Harrar (June 30, 2004).
If it means anything to you, the Salvadoran coffee is "Pacamara," a hybrid coffee variety combining the Paca and Maragogipe varieties. The Paca variety of coffee is a descendant of the Bourbon variety....

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Truth or dare in Mexico?

As a follow-up to my earlier posts in July on the controversial genocide charge against former Mexican president Echeverría, I should note that this week Kevin Sullivan of the Washington Post talked to the special prosecutor and raised some of the concerns of his critics. The prosecutor, Carrillo Prieto, seemingly unfazed by the obstacles, plans to charge another 30 former officials with the same genocide charge.

Surprisingly, however, Sullivan's piece failed to mention the previous day's interview by Ginger Thompson of the New York Times with President Fox, in which Fox said that if the genocide charge fails, he'll "convene those civic groups working with the special prosecutor, who have a full understanding of the case, to issue their own verdict, a historic verdict in the form of a truth commission.''

Friday, September 03, 2004

Very belated congratulations

To United for Peace and Justice and the hundreds of thousands of others for their joyful, peaceful, raucous, creative and, above all, LARGE demonstration last Sunday-- indeed, the largest ever held at a political convention.

I'm quite sure my old univeristy comrade, Leslie Kauffman (seen here in a photo in the Village Voice with one of her daughters), who was the mobilization coordinator for UPJ, deserves a lot of praise.

Romero case victory

I report this, but I'm not really sure what it means. I'm sure not a penny will ever be paid, and I wonder if justice will ever catch up with Saravia.
Judge finds Modesto man liable for 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Orders him to pay $10 million in damages

Fresno, California, September 3, 2004. Today at 5.45 pm, Judge Wanger issued a historic decision holding Modesto resident Alvaro Saravia responsible for his role in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador as he was saying mass on March 24, 1980. Judge Wanger ordered Saravia to pay $10 million to the plaintiff, a relative of the Archbishop, who has still not been identified for security reasons.

Until today, no single individual has been held responsible for the assassination, one of the most heinous and shocking murders of the last part of the 20th century.

In announcing the monetary award, Judge Wanger stated that "the damages are of a magnitude that is hardly describable."

Judge Wanger ruled that the evidence clearly established Saravia’s responsibility for organizing the murder. He also determined that the murder constitutes a crime against a humanity, because it was part of a widespread and systematic attack intended to terrorize a civilian population. As Judge Wanger stated: "Here the evidence shows that there was a consistent and unabating regime that was in control of El Salvador, and that this regime essentially functioned as a militarily-controlled government." The government perpetrated "systematic violations of human rights for the purpose of perpetuating the oligarchy and the military government."

He also concluded that what happened in El Salvador was the "antithesis of due process" and that there could not be a better example of extrajudicial killing than the killing of Archbishop Romero.

Judge Wanger’s ruling is one of the few in the United States finding an invidual liable for crimes against humanity... The case was brought by the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), based in San Francisco, together with the law firm of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe.