Sunday, October 31, 2004

Taking out Castro?

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

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

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

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

My electoral predictions

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Iraq and the numbers game

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Collateral damage

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

Here's a look inside:

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

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

    Monday, October 25, 2004

    Outsourcing Diplomacy

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

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

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

    Very odd double-standards

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

    -- from today's Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, October 21, 2004

    The Boston-Guatemala nexus

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

    and sixty years earlier...

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

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Cocaine Republics

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

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

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

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    Growing the economy?

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

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

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

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    PBS Frontline/World

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

    George Bush, the Worst Mexican President Ever

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

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

    The President asks: "What time is it?"

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

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

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

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

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

    The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    Exports to the rescue

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

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

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

    Friday, October 15, 2004

    The "terrorist" label

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

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

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Jockeying for the OAS

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

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

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

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004

    Talking Trash

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

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

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

    Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    CAFTA prospects

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

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

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

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

    Looking to El Salvador

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

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

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

    Monday, October 11, 2004

    Wanted: A new OAS S-G

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

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

    Saturday, October 09, 2004

    Note to Amy Sullivan

    Dear Amy,

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

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

    Yours truly,
    (lapsed Southern Baptist from Fort Worth)

    Friday, October 08, 2004

    Outsourced to Iraq: Prescient Cynicism?

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

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

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

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

    Can Paco make a comeback?

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, October 06, 2004

    Rubbing it in

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

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

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

    Oh, and John Edwards also presided over two sessions.

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

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    Cheney's Brooksian moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hat tip to Daily Kos

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

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

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

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

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    Neglecting Latin America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday, October 03, 2004

    Uncle Sam's favorite nephew

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, October 01, 2004

    The Dalai Lama in El Salvador

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

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

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

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

    Not about the debate

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

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

    Indeed, it did.