Tag Archives: Menges Hemispheric Security Project

Run Off Presidential Elections in Argentina Could Have Positive Impact on The Region

The voters of Argentina will have a major choice to make in the upcoming November 22nd runoff presidential elections. The choice is between Daniel Scioli, who is favored by the current president Cristina Kirchner, and his opponent Mauricio Macri. Each man has different visions for the future of Argentina. Mr. Scioli, a former vice president is close to President Kirchner and as such would continue most of her foreign and domestic policies. Mr. Macri, who was a businessman and now the current mayor of Buenos Aires, would be a departure from Kirchnerism and says he would support free markets and a more centrist foreign policy.

In the first round of presidential elections that took place on October 25, contrary to all expectations, Mr. Scioli from the ruling party, Front for Victory (Frente para la Victoria) received almost 37% of the vote while Mr. Macri took over 34% of the vote.

Supporters of Mr. Scioli were not sure whether Mr. Scioli would win in the first round or in the runoff but they were confident about his victory. But the results ended in a setback for the ruling party and at this point, based on the polls, Mr. Scioli is not likely to win. The Front for Victory also lost the Province of Buenos Aires, where Mr. Scioli is still the governor, to Maria Eugenia Vidal, a woman who until a few months ago was completely unknown.

Since October 25, the ruling party is in a state of panic. As a result, Mr. Scioli is making populist pledges promising that the value of the dollar will be brought to less than 10 Argentinean pesos. Scioli also promised to adopt part of the platform of another party, United for a New Alternative (Unidos por una Nueva Alternativa) led by Sergio Massa, a former chief of staff of Mrs. Kirchner. Massa created UNA in coalition with the Christian Democrats, whose leader is Jose Manuel de la Sota, a three times Governor of the Province of Cordoba, also a Peronist like Kirchner but who also broke and distanced himself from Kirchner.

Massa, whose home was burglarized by a state agent in 2013 when he began to challenge Mrs. Kirchner, defined the political vision of Mrs. Kirchner and her party as a “dead political project”. Massa received more than 21 % of the vote in the election. Massa’s statement on Kirchnerism sends a strong message to his voters that he would prefer Mr. Macri rather than Mr. Scioli.

Indeed, polls indicate that Macri is leading in the polls by 8 to 11%.

It has been recently reported by the Associated Press that Mr. Macri has said he will directly challenge the left-wing governments in the region and that he will not do business with Venezuela until the government there releases all of its political prisoners.

Meanwhile, the Government of Cristina Kirchner wants to continue its mandate and has taken certain steps since the October25th election to assure a positive outcome for its preferred candidate, Mr. Scioli. The government proceeded to appoint 300 new judges presumably sympathetic to Kirchner and her political project. The goal was to secure continuity and hegemony as the intellectual Ernesto Laclau (now dead) suggested to the president. However, on November 6, the Argentinean Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the method developed by Kirchner of appointing judges without the Senate’s approval. That was another setback to the shameful undemocratic and systematic colonization of the judicial power by the government.

The ruling party even created a group of pro-government judges called “Legitimate Justice” that became ardent defenders of the government even as the government was advancing over the judiciary.

A mass rally of prosecutors took place last February in support of the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who died in January in mysterious circumstances one day before he was to testify against the government before the Argentinean Congress. More than half a million people joined the march. In May another judges’ protest emerged as Ms. Kirchner tried to expel a Supreme Court justice over his advanced age.

In short, as Luis Fleischman has already written about last May, the Argentinean government has strayed far from pursuing a democratic path. It has attempted to destroy almost every institution and every entity that dared to challenge or judge it. In this regard, the Kirchner regime aims at expanding state control over the media, the judiciary, and everything that is autonomous.

In the region, Kirchner’s Argentina became a pillar of support and apologetics of the Venezuelan government. Furthermore, Kirchner admired Hugo Chavez and became the most Chavista among the non-ALBA countries.

A defeat for the candidate of the ruling Front for Victory Party could be a major blow to the regional coalition built in Latin America over the course of the last 10 years.

Removing the Kirchner government from power on November 22 will have negative consequences for the left wing regional coalition. This coalition has de-facto destroyed the democratic charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and strengthen authoritarian governments such as Venezuela and Cuba. , Likewise, it generated cynicism towards freedom and democracy that raised so many hopes for the region two decades ago.

Therefore, in a region that is so interconnected, a defeat for the Front for Victory Party could bring down another set of bricks of the foundation of a very defective the regional block. This could raise hopes for Argentina and for Latin America.

Center’s Menges Hemispheric Security Symposium Flays Obama’s Rapprochement With Cuba And His Support For Venezuelan Dictator

The Center for Security Policy’s Menges Hemispheric Security Project yesterday convened its fourth annual Latin America Symposium on Capitol Hill.  The half-day program focused on two issues: 1) the domestic repression and foreign adventurism of Cuba’s Castro regime in the wake of President Obama’s normalization of relations with Havana and 2) the rapidly deteriorating political, economic and security situation with regard to the one-time patron, now client of Cuba: Venezuela.

The Symposium featured remarks by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Chairman Emeritus, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and two panels of former senior U.S. government officials, national security experts, human rights activists, prominent academics and a top international journalist.  The participants persuasively argued that the Obama opening to Cuba is providing legitimacy and life-support to one of the world’s most odious dictatorships and that Venezuela’s conduct warrants its listing as a state-sponsor of terrorism.
In addition to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, the following made remarks in the course of the program:
  • Menges Hemispheric Security Project Director Nancy Menges
  • Dr. Jose Azel, Director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
  • Frank Calzon, Director of the Center for a Free Cuba
  • Jose Cardenas, former Acting Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Venezuelan expatriate human rights activist Adriana Vigilanza
  • Emili Blasco, correspondent with Spain’s ABC Network and the author of Bumeran Chavez
  • Amb. Otto Reich, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and former US Ambassador to Venezuela
  • Counterterrorism expert Joseph Humire, the Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society AND
  • Dr. Luis Fleishman, the Menges Project’s Senior Fellow and editor of its Americas Report
Videotaped highlights of their remarks will be available shortly at the Center’s YouTube channel.
Center for Security Policy President Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., who served as the program’s moderator, said at the conclusion of the Latin America Symposium:
“The powerful, fact-based and analytically rigorous interventions by these world-class authorities underscore a reality lost on most Americans:  The stakes regarding developments in Cuba and Venezuela – and, indeed, in much of the Western Hemisphere – could not be higher for the United States.  The Castro brothers’ regime is a metastasizing cancer in our region, as is its client in Venezuela.  President Obama’s much-ballyhooed rapprochement with the former is national security fraud.  His administration’s ongoing efforts to achieve a similar outcome with the latter would greatly compound that act of malfeasance.”

The State Department Under-Estimates Iranian Threat in the Western Hemisphere

Last year a bill titled “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” sponsored by Congressman Jeff Duncan was passed into law. This law mandated that the State Department issue a yearly report on Iran’s influence and activities in all of North, South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. As a result, on June 27 the State Department released their report to Congress on Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The State Department released an unclassified summary of policy recommendations, but it assessed that “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” According to the report, the main reason this occurred is that international sanctions against Iran “have limited the economic relationship between the Western Hemisphere and Iran.”

The report cites the fact that the Treasury Department designated the Venezuelan Banco Internacional de Desarrollo as an entity targeted for sanctions as well as the state-owned oil company PDVSA. PDVSA was sanctioned for sending petroleum products to Iran. Likewise, sanctions were imposed on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company.

The report also points out that agreements between Iran and Western Hemisphere countries went unfulfilled.

The report also stresses that the United States has used diplomacy to work with regional allies to help isolate Iran.  They have cited as successes the fact that Brazil, Chile and Mexico voted for a UN Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur for Iran and that Canada, Colombia, Panama and Mexico voted in support of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Iranian involvement in the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.

The report states that the U.S. will continue to build a robust coalition of Latin American governments to focus on Iran’s human rights records and will continue to share information about Iran’s missile and WMD programs with relevant Western Hemisphere countries.

The State Department’s analysis presents a number of problems that are important to note.

For one, it is not clear how international sanctions have affected relations between Iran and Latin America.

Iran’s trade with Latin America tripled between 2005 and 2008. Such an increase was not only with the ALBA countries, namely Venezuela’s allies, but mainly also with Brazil and Argentina. According to Iranian sources, Iran had exported around $43.7 billion worth of non-oil goods and imported some 61.8 billion worth of goods in 2011, thus reaching $105 billion in annual trade.

Furthermore, we have seen countries such as Uruguay sending a legislative delegation to Iran and its president stressing the idea that relations with Iran are good for the country. Moreover, the foreign minister of Uruguay is a former ambassador to Iran and a strong advocate of Iran-Uruguayan relations.

Argentina, whose own government once accused Iran of having been involved in the 1994 terrorist attack against the Jewish headquarters in Buenos Aires (AMIA), has signed an agreement with the Iranian government to include Iran in the investigation of the case. Argentina’s government initiative is very absurd as it expects the perpetrators to indict themselves. It is clearly not an attempt to solve the case but an attempt to normalize relations with Iran.

Along the same vein, the conservative president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera met with the Iranian ambassador and pledged further relations with the Iranian government.

Brazil, under the government of Luis Inazio Lula Da Silva, attempted, along with Turkey, to solve the Iranian nuclear crisis by offering a deal to the Iranians that exempted them from key responsibilities and avoided placing any practical limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

Even when the SD declared diplomatic victories (such as Canada, Colombia, Panama and Mexico’s support for a UN resolution condemning the Iranian involvement in the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.,) the simple question to ask is where were Brazil, Chile, Peru and the majority of the countries of the region? Perhaps what the State Department calls a success is only marginal and very limited in scope.

It is not clear how sanctions isolated Iran in the Western Hemisphere.

The State Department report seems to focus on imminent dangers rather than long -term dangers.

If the State Department claims that Iran does not constitute an immediate and impending danger to the United States, they have not provided sufficient arguments to prove this claim.

In the long run, the Iranian threat should be seen as the result of an alliance between two revolutions that are hostile to the United States. Both revolutions, the Islamic and the Bolivarian aim at eliminating American influence from the region and from the world.

In the context of a revolution that seeks to become a nuclear power, we need to think that Venezuela could become a strategic partner for Iran. In other words, if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is possible that Venezuelan soil could be used to post nuclear missiles or that Iran’s alliances in Latin America could provide Iran with a strategic card that can turn into a threat to the United States. Similar in manner to the way the Cuban posting of Soviet nuclear missiles on its soil almost led to a major confrontation between the two superpowers in the early 1960’s.

Another dimension deserving of consideration is Hezbollah’s increased presence in various Latin American countries. For example, Venezuela and Ecuador have eased visa and citizenship requirements, making it easier for Islamists to become citizens of their countries.

What is more, Venezuela openly cooperates with Iran’s terrorist activities. The case of Ghazi Nasr El Din, a former business liaison at the Venezuelan embassy in Damascus is a case in point. El Din is Lebanese but acquired Venezuelan citizenship in 2002. He helped Hezbollah raise money and repeatedly met with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon in order to facilitate the travel of its operatives to and from Venezuela.

Hezbollah continues to recruit individuals in Latin America by reaching out to local Muslims and Arabs in the region. Training camps run by Hezbollah have been reported by several sources. The dangerous alliance between two revolutions hostile to the United States should not be ignored.

The claim made by the SD report, that most agreements between Iran with ALBA countries have not been implemented, should not be a source of relief. The reason is that the non-implementation of agreements may indicate that perhaps these agreements were mere facades for another type of cooperation, even more dangerous. Roger Noriega and his associates have denounced the presence of bicycle and other “civilian” factories as possible facades for more dangerous activities carried out by Hezbollah. There have also been reports of uranium extraction in Venezuela aimed at furthering Iran’s nuclear program.

By the same token, Hezbollah has clear connections with drug cartels and is involved in criminal activities that mainly involve drug trafficking. Hezbollah and the drug cartels help each other as drug cartels have strategic knowledge and access to the United States. The attempt by a member of the gang-cartel “Zetas” to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in October 2011 proves the danger of such a connection. Hezbollah at the same time has used its expertise to help the drug cartels build tunnels that enabled them to transport drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border.

The question is whether the U.S. security, military and diplomatic establishment is working to counter these potential threats to our national security. Have we made the Iranian presence a priority in our interaction with countries of the region; or are we tolerating everything that is occurring in Latin America just because we are avoiding an open confrontation with these countries because we want to vindicate ourselves from past “sins” or because we expect nothing from most of them? Do countries in the region really view Iran with the same concern as we do? If not, what are we doing to persuade them?

Congressman Jeff Duncan, who introduced the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” pointed out that the SD did not consult with our allies in the region before they wrote the report. The question is why the SD did not do this. The answer is probably that those countries do not want to talk about the issue and we do not want to raise it. As long as the left dominates key countries in the region, the United States appears to be hesitant to voice its concerns and backs away from discussing issues of national security. For countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Iran is an ally. For other countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, a policy on Iran has a symbolic meaning. It has become a symbol of independence from U.S. dictates. This, in itself, is a challenge for the U.S. that is not clear if the State Department report has taken it into account.

A more complete and accurate report would have taken into account the long-term consequences of the Iranian presence in Latin America, and particularly the troubling relationship between the Islamic and Bolivarian revolutions. Given all the factors mentioned above, the danger needs to be considered as a gradual advance of the Iranian presence and needs to be tied to the degree for radicalization of the Bolivarian revolution, a factor that is not considered at all in the report. At the same time, the diplomatic activity necessary to persuade Latin American countries of the dangers posed by Iran and seek their cooperation is far higher than the one currently conducted. The United States has lost leverage and influence in the region. With the exception of Colombia, Mexico and a few others, most countries in Latin America are likely to ignore the U.S., unless the U.S. shows more determination in demanding cooperation.

Brazil and the Bolivarian Revolution

Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez was known for having started and spread what is called the Bolivarian revolution, a kind of anti-American, dictatorial type of socialism. His success in spreading his revolution and his influence in the region would not have been so successful without the support of the moderate-left countries of Latin America as well as the ALBA block made up of Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. In my last article I pointed out the role that countries in the region have played and continue to play in the perpetuation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

However, of all the countries in the region, Brazil is a crucial piece in the support of the Bolivarian revolution. At this point is probably a more effective source of support than Cuba or any other member of ALBA, despite having openly distanced itself from the Venezuelan model. Indeed, Brazil has supported Chavez in the international arena thus helping prolong the agony of the Venezuelan people, the authoritarian practices of its government, and the geo-political threats to the region.

As Brazil has grown economically, it has become self-conscious of its ability to become politically influential, not merely in the region but also in the world. Thus, it has sought a place for itself as a regional and world player. Beginning with the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva, Brazil was eager to show its political independence from the United States regarding foreign policy and international relations. Thus, Brazil proceeded to lead what is known as “South-South” relations, which is a sort of outreach to African and Arab countries in an effort to form a political coalition that also included other Latin American countries.

This explains certain Brazilian polices such as the recognition of the hard-line Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the legitimate winner of the June, 2009 elections in spite of widespread indications of fraud. Then Lula went further. Following Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil that November, President Lula tried to play a role in solving the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. In alliance with Turkey, Brazil offered Iran a deal that went contrary to the U.S. and European agenda. This deal had nothing to do with the problem of nuclear proliferation or with Iran’s nuclear program. It rather served Iran’s interests in delaying UN Security Council sanctions and probably more severe economic sanctions expected to come from the U.S. and Europe.

The same modus operandi applies to Brazil’s policies in the region. However, there is an additional idealistic component in the attitude of the Brazilian government that deeply affects other Latin American countries.  The Brazilian government views the power of the left as a victorious regional movement. The Left is defined in the abstract and does not draw any distinction between the social democracies of the moderate left and the authoritarian elected governments of the Bolivarian Alliance. It is the spirit and momentum of the left that needs to be preserved. The Venezuelan Bolivarian government is an integral part of this leftist movement.

As an example, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff pointed out that the “Venezuelan election was a model of an exemplary democratic process”. Moreover, Marco Aurelio Garcia, the most senior foreign policy advisor in the Brazilian government, was sent by the Rousseff government also as an observer to the election, who proceeded to complain about the “international support for the Capriles’ candidacy and for the attempt to delegitimize the democratic process in Venezuela”. In an even more perplexing statement, Garcia suggested that Chavez’s victory reinforced democracy, particularly after the region suffered “a democratic interruption with the impeachment of (President) Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.”

Garcia also accused, “right and center-right opposition forces in Latin America” of supporting Capriles.” Thus, he implied that the Venezuelan elections were a point of contention between the right and left wing forces in the region. Therefore, had Chavez lost the elections it would have been a defeat for the left in general—whether the authoritarian or the democratic wing.

This last point is particularly astonishing since Capriles ran on the platform of the social-democratic Brazilian model. However, the left could not see Capriles as one of them; he confronted Chavez, an authentic symbol of the left. Chavez, though deceased, remains a symbol of the left’s strength throughout the continent.

Garcia pointed out that in the region there are different types of leftist regimes but what they all have in common is that “all of them are marching in the direction of translating political democracy into a social factor.” Here, Brazil is passionately defending the idea that no political democracy can co-exist with inequality or the lack of social inclusion.

However, the fact that political democracy, human rights, and judicial independence are sacrificed in the name of social justice seems to be of no concern to the Brazilian leaders.

The Brazilian government seems to also obsessively believe that regional integration- an idea that was championed by former Brazilian president Henrique Cardozo and is supported by conservative governments in the region- can only work with left wing governments.

But it gets worse. According to officials in Rousseff’s circles, the Brazilian president began, even before Chavez’s death, to prepare a plan in cooperation with other countries to guarantee “the stabilization of Venezuela” after Chavez’s departure.  This point I find particularly astonishing since it looks like Brazil is much more concerned about the continuity of authoritarian stability rather than restoring the rights that the Bolivarian state had usurped from their citizens.

Of greater importance, the grassroots of the ruling Workers party (PT) in Brazil has a strong pro-Chavez component. I would dare to say that at the grassroots levels of the PT, Chavez is more popular than Rousseff or Lula.  It is this grassroots that is speaking about the need “to armor the region” and Chavez’s legacy.

Despite these Brazilian attitudes and their rather dubious foreign policyit is extremely important that the United States continue to cultivate Brazil as a regional and global partner even if its current behavior is disappointing.

As Brazil develops as a strong economic power with regional influence and a strong democracy, it could potentially turn into an ally of the United States.  This is unlikely at the present time given the strong pressure exercised by the Brazilian workers party. In spite of these hurdles, the U.S. needs to focus and work harder on strengthening its relations with Brazil while seeking their cooperation in confronting the many regional problems that now exist. The good news is that in Brazil, elections are clean and transparent and thus the next president may not be a captive of the pro-Chavez forces.

The more Brazil grows democratically, the more it needs to be persuaded that the Bolivarian revolution and the Bolivarian alliance, as well as Iran and other nefarious groups, are a threat to the region. It must see that allowing these forces to proliferate undermines the stability of the region and presents a threat to democracy. It seems that current diplomacy between the U.S. and Brazil is heavily focused on trade. While this is important, our efforts should be broadened to include trying to convince Brazil to pursue a policy that supports democracy and human rights in the region.

If Brazil moves closer to the position of the United States, the rest of the continent is more likely to follow suit for the Brazilians’ success is having a major impact on the other countries of the region. Further, if Brazil makes a commitment to help reinforce democracy, it can be a major force in driving the Organization of American States (OAS) back to the principles outlined in the organization’s democratic charter and Resolution 1080, which stipulates sanctions and diplomatic pressures when democracy is violated.

Questionable Chinese mining practices in Latin America

Originally published at the Americas Report

China has conducted an economic foreign policy under the slogan of “win-win”.

This concept is based on the notion that China’s investments abroad could help China’s growth as well as the infrastructure of the countries where Chinese investments are pursued.

As Elizabeth Economy has pointed out, in order to advance its investments, mostly in countries that provide raw materials, China includes broader trade and aid deals to promote the development of the recipient country’s infrastructure.

In Latin America, China is the third largest foreign investor, mostly in the mining and hydrocarbon industry. Considering the broader picture, a recent study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicts that China will become Latin America’s most important trading partner within the next five years. ECLAC suggests the need for a more balanced trade relationship as most of the exports out of Latin America are in the form of raw materials (59%) with a high ratio of manufactured products coming from China to Latin America. When China invests it secures an equity share of production on terms comparable to other co-owners (mainly the host country). Likewise, China usually makes a loan to the producer country in return for a purchase agreement.

In Latin America, mining industry contracts were awarded to China to help exploit valuable subsoil resources.

Ecuador and Peru offer two different models of Chinese investment that are very telling not only about China but also about how these two different political regimes deal with this issue.

Ecuador, a member of the Bolivarian Alliance, is one of the largest recipients of Chinese investment, particularly in the area of mining and oil.

The government of Ecuador has signed a number of deals with China. One of the largest such projects is a huge mine called Ecuacorriente. The Chinese company signed an agreement with the Ecuadorian government where the former obtained 50% of the profits.

China has developed a large loan operation. Ecuador is the recipient of loans from China, which China considers as a good will gesture.  The interest payments on these loans are high and come with strings attached as Ecuador is obliged to use Chinese contractors to build the projects. Most importantly, these contracts are not available to the public. However, a letter signed by PetroEcuador and Petro China was recently disclosed. The letter seems to suggest that Petro-China can seize oil from Ecuador’s other international clients if the country fails to repay any part of the loan.

Chinese companies have been guilty of environmental negligence, giving rise to protests from the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAEI), the largest indigenous organization and one of the groups that initially supported President Rafael Correa for president. As pointed out by Carolina Ocampo-Maya, from the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment,   neither China nor any Chinese mining company is part of two major trans-national organizations promoting better practices in mining, which are the International Council on Mining and Metals and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Likewise, China has not signed the International Labor Organization’s 169 Convention protecting the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the main tool used by Latin American communities to demand consultation on matters affecting their territories and way of life.”.

In fact, Chinese oil and mining companies have amongst the worst records in labor rights, environmental responsibilities and transparency. In addition, these companies only deal with high level government officials instead of with the local population.

President Correa, who in the past, fought Chevron’s environmental policies and pursued a big law suit against the company has not set up clear guidelines on issues related to transparency or environmental issues.

Chinese companies are greedy and draconian in contrast to those companies linked to members of the Organization for Economic Development (OECD), which is mostly comprised of Western countries. OECD companies not only comply with environmental and labor laws but also hold a permanent dialogue with local communities and have an open transparent policy that prevents bribery and corruption.

However, Chinese companies do not always behave in a draconian way unless the host country permits them to do so.

The case of Peru provides an instructive example as Barbara Kotschwar, Theodore Moran, and Julia Muir have shown.

A Chinese company, Shougang, won a bid to work in Peru in the exploitation of steel. According to the agreement with the Peruvian government, they were supposed to invest $150 million in the community over three years but they failed to live up to this agreement.  The company also fired Peruvian workers and brought laborers from China. Furthermore, they forced Peruvian workers into cramped living quarters in order that single family homes could be occupied by multiple families or workers.

Shougang also paid amongst the lowest wages and fired workers without giving a reason.

According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency,  the company forces its employees to renew their contracts and also changes the company’s trading name every six months in order to prevent the workers from organizing.  In addition, protests by workers were brutally repressed by the police.

On the other hand, a second Chinese mining company operating in Peru, state-owned Chinalco, has so far behaved differently. Chinalco’s open-pit copper mine, high in the Andes just outside the town of Moro Cocha is due to become operational sometime in 2013. Chinalco underwent a major project of relocation of the town’s approximately 5000 residents by building a new town six miles from Moro Cocha. This has been met by mixed reviews from the residents as for many it is an improvement in their living standards while for others the environment is very sterile and the houses, at 400 sqaure feet each, are too small. So far, Chinalco has respected labor rights, has not imported Chinese laborers, has complied with environmental laws, and has invested in the community while maintaining a network of local communications.

Kotschan, Moran and Muir explain the different types of behavior by both Chinese companies by referring to the time they started their operation. Shougang began its operations under the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori, whereas Chinalco began its operations after democracy was re-established. It was under the democratic government of Alejandro Toledo that civil society began to flourish; indigenous rights were enhanced and local government more fully developed. Chinalco could not avoid this important transformation.

While in Ecuador, Correa has claimed that mining is a natural resource he wishes to exploit since economic growth is important to him, he has ignored the rights of the Ecuadorian population.

For a leader of the Bolivarian revolution that has promised inclusion  and claims to  represent the most oppressed in society as against ‘the factual powers” as he likes to call them, his tolerance of China’s  19th century brutal capitalism looks surprising on the surface but it has its own logic.

Correa’s citizens’ revolution is, in fact, a system where citizens empower the president and not the other way around. Correa’s top-down approach is exactly like the Chinese top-down approach. All this comes at the expense of civil society and workers’ rights.

If we look at the Ecuadorian constitution, we can clearly see that it gives significant prerogatives to the state. The state is responsible not merely for guaranteeing or expanding liberties and rights but the Ecuadorian constitution empowers the state with overall national planning and involvement in all aspects of life in the name of the “social interest”.  The constitution also provides the executive power with prerogatives that are unacceptable in a true constitutional democracy. (See deeper analysis here)

Therefore, it is not surprising that in Correa’s Ecuador, the behavior of the Chinese companies not only reflects the ruthlessness , anti-civil society approach of these companies but also the exploitative approach of the Ecuadorian government, whose regime is built on a top-down model, despite claiming to represent the poor.

Chinese companies will always try to take advantage of the weaknesses of countries where they invest. They are ruthless and have no self-regulation. This is true of so many Chinese companies in their own country that have used this same model of massive relocation, environmental degradation and poor labor practices. The questions for countries in Latin America are whether the exploitation of raw materials is to their benefit in terms of alleviation of poverty and long term  environmental impacts as well as are they getting a fair deal.  Therefore, it is up to the different governments to set up the appropriate conditions that prevent exploitation of their workers and irreversible environmental destruction.  Aggravating the situation is that transparency, the rule of law, and good governance are generally very weak in Latin America, with some exceptions.

Even though the story is not fully told, the more positive experience of Chinalco in Peru can only be reproduced in countries that maintain a strict rule of law and proper enforcement.

Nancy Menges and Luis Fleischman are co-editors of the Americas Report. Luis Fleischman is also the author of the upcoming book  “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States”

Speculating on Venezuela’s Future

There is a great deal of speculation these days about the immediate political future after Chavez’ expected death.

Some analysts, like Amherst University professor Javier Corrales argue that regardless of what happens, the next government will have to deal with a serious problem left behind by Chavez . This problem centers on the previous irrational approach to government spending in which money was used as an instrument of political influence domestically and abroad.  Government officials never worried or valuated whether these expenditures made sense or whether they were creating a huge deficit and debt.  Therefore, Corrales believes that the main challenge for Venezuelan leaders will be economic adjustment and that no successor will have the same level of largesse or fiscal irrationality as Chavez had.

However, there are other commentators who focus more on the ideological differences and potential conflicts that may ensue after Chavez’s departure.

They view Chavismo as being deeply divided between the military and the civilian factions.  This division was kept together under Chavez but it is likely to explode after the commander’s death.

Nicolas Maduro, the current foreign Minister and the man Chavez appointed as his successor, leads the civilian faction.  Maduro has strong ties to the Cuban government and plays a key role in forging alliances with rogue states such as Iran, Syria, and Belarus.  He was also instrumental in strengthening alliances with the Bolivarian countries and in raising the status of Venezuela in the region, including its inclusion in the South American common market (MERCOSUR).

The current President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, leads the military faction.  He is more nationalist oriented, has only visited Cuba once, and  is not close to the Cuban government.  However, Cabello played a role in Chavez’s domestic agenda, particularly in cracking down on the media.  He was also instrumental in helping Chavez corrupt the machinery of government in order to strengthen his power.  Cabello was part of the group of officers that orchestrated the coup d’état in 1992 that helped Chavez rise to the public scene as an anti-establishment figure.

According to Vladimir Gessen, a former congressman, the military reject the Cuban model and also resent their presence in the Venezuelan military.

Thus, according to his view, the conflict between the two factions could  be very serious as the military has played a role in the social missions and eleven of twenty Chavista governors are former military officers. Therefore, Gessen assumes that Cabello will do everything he can to prevent the civilian faction led by Maduro from taking the reins of the Bolivarian Republic.

In my opinion, these analyses are relevant and important to note.

However, I would like to reflect upon the situation from a different angle before relating to the arguments presented above.

Going forward, the first major question to consider is whether the Bolivarian Revolution will change its course. In other words, is  there any incentive to change a revolution that has shown considerable success both domestically and abroad?  While taking into account Corrales’ serious arguments about the Venezuelan fiscal deficit, it is important to understand  that Chavez was not only re-elected in the October 7th elections but also was victorious in the December 16th elections, winning the overwhelming majority of governorships (20 out of 23.)  Though these results reflect continued popular support for Chavez, elections in Venezuela are not transparent.  Chavez and his cronies have an overwhelming advantage because the Electoral Commission is controlled by the regime as well as large segments of the media.

At the domestic and regional level, Chavez has earned an image as the father of the oppressed, thus his followers believe he is the only leader in the region that has the ability to unite different and diverse sectors of the population.  Following the thought of scholars Hannah Fenichel Pitkin and Ernesto Laclau, we can say that, how the constituent is kept satisfied matters less than the symbol the government or the leader represent.  Whether or not the Bolivarian Revolution succeeded in fulfilling its promises or whether it has created a fiscal cliff has less weight than the loyalties and identification of its followers.  One of the great accomplishments of Chavismo has been its ability to homogenize and bring together a diverse group of people, who now have a sense of representation, unknown to them prior to the revolution.

The collective perception that Chavez and his revolution represent the oppressed and disadvantaged, is crucial, regardless of whether people truly are better off now than they were fourteen years ago.  The revolution has also succeeded in blaming the opposition for the problems it has created. The Chavez regime has adopted a patronizing attitude towards the opposition, accusing it polarization, when in truth, the larger polarizing force is the regime itself.

The Bolivarian Revolution has excited the masses, not only in Venezuela, but also across Latin America. It has expanded the revolution to Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.  It is a symbol among the grassroots of the ruling Workers and Peronist Parties in Brazil and Argentina respectively, and the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), one of the largest sectors in Uruguay’s ruling party, the Broad Front.  The Bolivarian Revolution is popular among the indigenous grassroots, including CONAIE, the largest indigenous movement in Ecuador.  The revolution has also fascinated important sectors of the intellectual left.

Chavez and his revolution are so powerful that various governments in South America, including that of Brazil, a rising world power, viewed the victory of Chavez in the October elections as a necessary condition for the continuity of regional integration.  A proud atheist such as the Uruguayan president, Jose Mujica, took time out of his schedule to pray in a Church for Chavez’s health.

The success of the Bolivarian Revolution provides no incentive to the new leadership in Venezuela to change its course, whether there is economic bankruptcy or internal divisions.  Contrary to the Fascist or the Communist Revolutions, the Bolivarian Revolution has neither been challenged nor contained.

Once we have reached this conclusion, we can discuss how, for example, the Maduro-Cabello confrontation might play out. The assertion that the military is anti-Cuban requires a more comprehensive analysis than this piece can cover.

However, even if the military were anti-Cuban and succeeded in expelling Cuban advisors and officers from the Venezuelan Armed Forces, this act alone would probably not constitute a major turning point or the end of the Bolivarian Revolution as we know it. One might also ask, is the military now anti-Cuban enough after all the purges that have taken place in the last 14 years and after all the bribery and luxurious life that has been provided to many of the military officers?  What role are the 125,000-troop militias likely to play after Chavez’s death?  Will the alliance with Iran or the drug cartels end?  Will the revolution lose ideological strength?  Will it become less hostile to America?

The Bolivarian Revolution does not depend on the Cuban government economically but, rather, the other way around.  Nor, does the revolution depend on Cuba for ideological support.   In fact, it has already achieved an influence that the Castros never had.  The Castro Regime, at its peak, responded to the Soviet Union, whereas, the Bolivarian Revolution maintains its own leadership. The Cubans mostly play a role in assisting the Bolivarian regime in consolidating a repressive and controlling regime.

From a geo-political point of view, governments of the region, including the United States, must look beyond hasty conclusions because, as has been repeatedly pointed out, the Bolivarian Revolution is the most far-reaching and most challenging phenomenon in the Western Hemisphere.

The Gaza Crisis and the Intellectual Left in Latin America

The recent Gaza crisis, during which Israel responded with a limited military operation to stop Hamas missile attacks against Israeli populations, unleashed a number of reactions by intellectuals in Latin America.

Some of these reactions were expected but others raise serious concerns about the direction  Latin America is taking in what is called “the battle of ideas”.

The reaction to the Gaza crisis by some intellectuals reflects the ideological power of the Bolivarian Revolution and the challenge this revolution will present for us in the future.

This time we did not hear mere pacifist statements calling to stop the bloodshed. We heard a much more aggressive discourse that accused Israel of conducting genocide on the Palestinians; promoting expansionism; committing war crimes; and nothing short of serving the devil.

These types of accusations are not new and certainly not new for the left. However, if we carefully analyze what guides the viewpoint of these intellectuals the story is hair-rising. Not for the nonsense they say about Israel but rather because of the sources they draw from and its significance in the context of the current political situation in Latin America.

For example, Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan writer who became famous at a young age when he wrote “The Open Veins of Latin America”, a humorous account of Latin American economic history viewed as systematic exploitation of natural resources by developed countries and imperial powers. Since the transition to democracy in Uruguay, he has become a public intellectual, mostly representing the left. He is often a guest on national TV. He comes across as having a great sense of humor and warmth and remains a popular figure. He is close to the political circles of President Jose Mujica.

In reaction to the recent events in Gaza, Galeano launched a strong and vicious attack on Israel, to which I responded here in Spanish.

Galeano not only attacks Israel’s specific action but also claims that Israel was built at the expense of the Palestinians and continues to expand. What is curious about Galeano is that he literally uses elements drawn directly from Arab propaganda and distortion. Using the most vicious Arab propaganda he claims “the persecution of the Jews has been an old European habit but in the last half century this historical debt has been charged to the Palestinians who have never been anti-Semitic. Furthermore, they are Semitic themselves.” Galeano suggests that Israelis kill civilians on purpose, “knowing exactly what they are doing”. The military industry is “successfully testing (its equipment) in this operation of ethnic cleansing”. In another passage Galeano argues that the threat of a nuclear Iran is an invention of the pro-American media and that the real nuclear threat comes from the Americans because they burned Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The international community is repudiated by what Galeano calls another “piece of theater put on by the United States”.

Another intellectual who follows this same line of thought is Atilio Boron, an Argentinian columnist for a major national daily, a PhD from Harvard University and a person very close to the political circles of President Cristina Kirchner.

Boron accuses Israel of being a terrorist, murderous and a “scoundrel” state. He defines Israel as being far more evil than Al Qaeda. He quotes from fanatic Arab sources that claim that Israel manipulates the Europeans, the Egyptians and the entire world community, including President Barack Obama in order to keep its stand.(I have responded to Boron in Spanish here)  )

What is interesting is that Mr. Boron accuses Israel of murdering civilians but in regard to Syria he claims that the uprising against the tyranny of President Bashar Al Assad is nothing more than an “imperialist conspiracy”. Boron implies that the Syrian regime, that has already killed more than 40,000 people, is not a murderous regime but it is a victim.  He also holds Israel responsible for increasing tensions with Iran, despite the fact that it was Iran that broke off diplomatic relations with Israel 30 years ago.  Iran has also expressed its desire to destroy Israel, and has sponsored terrorist activities against it. Furthermore, using language drawn directly from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even Neo-Nazis, Boron blasts Israel for using the Holocaust as a way to blackmail the world.

Of course, they both justify Hamas hostility against Israel because Israel is the “repressor”. Hamas is not at fault and its past suicide bombers against Israeli civilians or the bombardments of Israeli populations are not mentioned. The fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza seven years ago or offered peace concessions that were rejected altogether by the Palestinians does not seem to be important either.

What is important is that Israel is a U.S. ally. They detest American power with all their might.

But the most astonishing public figure and intellectual is the Nobel Prize laureate from Argentina, Adolfo Perez Esquivel. Mr. Perez Esquivel received the prestigious prize for his activism on behalf of human rights. He strongly opposed the Argentinean and other Latin American dictatorships during the 1970’s and 80’s and became a star during a dark time where tragic events where occurring in the Southern Cone of Latin America. Like the previous public intellectuals I mentioned he blames Israel for the conflict in Gaza, calls it a “terrorist state” and initiated a letter calling for a boycott of Israel. He drew on people like Noam Chomsky and 50 other like-minded individuals to participate in this effort.

In an article published on November 20th, Perez Esquivel wrote the following paragraph: “When will the international community stop allowing Israel to act with impunity, without attempting to limit its aggression against the Palestinian people? When will the United States and the European Union stop being part of the aggression against the people of the Middle East, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq? When will they stop threatening Iran?

As the European Union received the Nobel Prize, Perez Esquivel repudiated the European countries’ intervention in the conflict in Libya and warned them of intervening in Syria, as well. Of course, this human rights activist does not mention that in both the case of Syria and Libya, we are talking about murderous dictators that launched a merciless war against their own people.

But Perez Esquivel is even more nefarious. In a letter directed to President Obama after the killing of Osama Bin Laden last year, he questioned why the U.S. didn’t capture Bin laden and try him in a court of justice. Then he answered his own question by suggesting that Bin Laden probably knew information that the United States did not want him to disclose. Thus, several paragraphs later, Perez Esquivel tells the U.S. president: “You know that there are people who have investigated the tragic events of 9/11/2001 and claim there is evidence that this was a self-coup (self-inflicted attack)”

Perez Esquivel continues “This event was the perfect excuse to launch a war against Afghanistan and Iraq and now against Libya”.  In the same letter the human rights activist and Nobel Laureate accused the United States of committing the worst atrocities in the world to keep world power. Finally, he calls the U.S. an “axis of evil”.

These three intellectuals are strong supporters of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution. They also support the half -century old Cuban dictatorship. While three decades ago they were active in the struggle for democracy in the Southern cone, they now have no problem supporting Hugo Chavez, a putschist who in the name of economic and social justice subjugated the judicial power; limited freedom of the press; persecuted opponents; organized Para-military groups to intimidate people and potential opponents; who now controls the electoral council and has forced thousands of Venezuelans into exile. This is without mentioning Venezuela’s attempt to destroy the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States.

Galeano, Boron and Perez Esquivel are not just identified as bloggers or anonymous fanatics that run colorful website pages. These are opinion leaders who are respected in their societies.

But the most important point is that they are public intellectuals that not merely support the Bolivarian Revolution in its political form. They are also part of its ideology including the anti-imperialist lunacy, the admiration for tyrants and the delirious and venomous conspiracy theories that this revolution wishes to propagate.

In past writings, I mentioned how Chavismo will survive without Chavez and showed how this will most likely happen in Venezuela. I also mentioned that the Bolivarian revolution has absorbed many elements of the left, including moderate elements, and is gradually succeeding in achieving a regional unified message in what seems to be a continental movement of the left.

Now, the case of these three public figures shows that the Bolivarian Revolution has established its hegemony in the form of ideas and prejudices that will be very difficult to remove in the years to come. The Post-Chavez era will survive as a movement because it no longer depends on Chavez’s personal well-being for its ideological survival.

All this shows that ideas matter and that the intellectual left in Latin America has and continues to have an enormous impact influencing the thinking of large segments of their societies. Since the United States has retreated from communicating our ideas and values, many old notions about the U.S. as an exploitive and expansionist power still hold sway in the minds of many Latin Americans. By not taking seriously or participating in the political and ideological debate, our side will never be heard and freedom and democracy in Latin America will suffer as a consequence.

Reflections on Regional Reactions to Chavez’s Victory

Two days prior to the Venezuelan presidential election, Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist and blogger, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that Chavez and his movement have become irrelevant.

As Chavez’s socialism is becoming increasingly authoritarian and has failed to reduce poverty, Toro claims that it is no longer an exemplary to other Latin American states; in his opinion, it is Brazil’s template—combining free enterprise and democracy with social programs aimed at reducing poverty—that is what everyone in the region hopes to follow.

To illustrate his point, Toro uses the examples of Ollanta Humala in Peru and Venezuelan presidential opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. (To this list, we could also add Fernando Lugo in Paraguay). All of them ran on a “Brazilian” platform based on the social democratic principles established by former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva.

Toro also points out that, in public, the authoritarian and the social-democratic Left are united but, behind closed doors, they are divided to the point of being “viciously dismissive of each other.”

Yet, as we have observed, both the authoritarian and the democratic Left displayed public enthusiasm for the victory of Hugo Chavez. I would argue that this was not necessarily a public display of hypocrisy but rather an event that has serious implications for the region.

Indeed, shortly after Chavez’s victory was announced, various Latin American leaders congratulated Chavez. Of course, the followers of the Bolivarian alliance enthusiastically praised Chavez’s victory. Non-Bolivarian allies such as Argentina broadcasted live the announcement of the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council declaring Chavez the victor. Argentina’s president, Cristina Kirchner, tied Chavez’s victory to the future of her own government and political philosophy. Paraphrasing Venezuelan national hero, Simon Bolivar, Ms. Kirchner sent a written note to Mr. Chavez stating, “Hugo… you have cultivated the land and planted seeds in it; you have watered it and now you have harvested it….  Your victory is our victory.”

However, the reaction of the Government of Brazil is the most confounding, precisely because it is the Brazilian model that has been most often contrasted with Chavez’s.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Roussef pointed out that the “Venezuelan election is a model of an exemplary democratic process.”

Marco Aurelio Garcia, a senior advisor to President Roussef, and a former senior advisor to President Lula—and considered one of the most influential organic intellectuals and foreign policy architects of both governments—praised the democratic character of the Venezuelan elections. He also pointed out, “Venezuela is not a model Brazil should follow, but Chavez, with his own style, implemented a program of social inclusion. In this way, he sought to find equilibrium between political and social democracy. Such equilibrium is something the whole region aspires to achieve.”  (My own translation).

Interestingly enough, the first part of Garcia’s statement seems to point to a distance between Brazil and Venezuela (as Toro rightly pointed out) but the second part of the statement seems to recognize, as acceptable, the Venezuelan model.

Then, Garcia proceeded to complain about the “international support for the Capriles’ candidacy and for the attempt to delegitimize the democratic process in Venezuela”. In an even more perplexing statement, Garcia suggested that Chavez’s victory reinforced democracy, particularly after the region suffered “a democratic interruption with the impeachment of (President) Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.”

This argument surprised everyone that has followed or experienced the deterioration of democracy, human rights, and the increasing political restrictions and political violence promoted by the Venezuelan government for more than a decade now.

But this makes sense if we continue to listen to what they say.

Echoing Chavez’s repeated statements, Garcia said, “right and center-right opposition forces in Latin America supported Capriles.” Thus, he implied that the Venezuelan elections were a point of contention between the right and left wing forces in the region. Therefore, had Chavez lost the elections it would have been a defeat for the left in general—whether the authoritarian or the democratic wing.

This last point is particularly astonishing since Capriles ran on the platform of the social-democratic Brazilian model. However, the left could not see Capriles as one of them; he confronted Chavez, an authentic symbol of the left. The Bolivarian model for the Brazilin leaders may not be the model to follow, but Chavez remains a symbol of the left’s strength throughout the continent.

In other words, the Brazilin leaders felt that if Chavez lost the election, it may have made the entire left vulnerable.

Garcia acknowledged that in the region there are different types of leftist regimes but what they all have in common is that “all of them are marching in the direction of translating political democracy into a social factor.” Here, Brazil is passionately defending the idea that no political democracy can co-exist with inequality or the lack of social inclusion.

The fact that political democracy, human rights, and judicial independence are sacrificed in the name of social justice is of no concern to the Brazilian leaders.

Brazil’s position suggests that its government cares more for regional integration than for democracy.

Chavez is seen as a good partner for regional integration—and this is what matters to the Brazilian leaders. Both Brazil and Venezuela have championed the idea of regional integration and economic independence. This would not only be good for the region but also for Brazil as it aspires to be a regional leader and ultimately a world power.

The Brazilian government seems to obsessively believe that such integration can only work with left wing governments.

This is why Roussef pointed out that “Brazil wants to cooperate with Venezuela in the construction of a more equal and just South America by reinforcing bilateral relations and regional integration.”

The idea that regional integration can only come to being through the left and not through the right has pushed conservative governments, also eager to be part of this regional integration, to adopt positions aimed at gaining the acceptance of its leftist neighbors.

As an example, the foreign minister of the Conservative Government of Sebastian Pinera in Chile, Alfredo Moreno, not only congratulated Chavez on his victory but also pointed out that “most countries of Latin America are experiencing a democratic reality that has been in existence for a long time and this is different than what occurred in our continent a few decades ago.” The reference of course was to the right-wing military dictatorships of South America but does he really think that Venezuela is a true democracy?

Chile’s desire to be part of this regional integration not only contradicts the idea that integration can take place only through the left but also shows the overwhelming pressure left wing countries can exercise over conservative governments.

By the same token, the conservative government of Manuel Santos in Colombia has initiated talks with the guerilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). I dare to assume that a Colombia-FARC reconciliation is somehow tied to Colombia’s willingness to gain acceptability among the dominant left.

If at one point I thought, like Toro, that the solution to the problem of  Bolivarianism and the radical left could be found in the counter-balancing power of the moderate social-democratic left, I no longer hold this view.

For the moderate left, political or liberal constitutional democracy is only understood in the context of social justice. Without social justice, democracy has no meaning. But the problem has been that the drive towards regional integration became the excuse to disregard political democracy and legality.

I foresee that very soon the Organization of American States (OAS) and its democratic charter will cease to be relevant.

Perhaps, at this point, the best hope to weaken the power of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution is if the moderate left loses elections in the countries where it holds power.

Furthermore, what we have witnessed during the different Latin American summits (including the Latin American and Caribbean Summit, the Summit of the Americas, and the OAS General Assembly) is that the leftist tsunami returned the intractable authoritarian Cuban regime to the status of acceptable government while the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court were ferociously attacked by the authoritarian left and by moderate Brazil.

In the short term, we will see the OAS coming under pressure to dissolve itself as governments in the region view it as an obsolete organization aimed at serving U.S. hegemony. This is a major challenge for the United States, which should try to use its influence to discourage such a situation.

This context may have affected Capriles Radonski’s decision to immediately accept the results of the election.

Indeed, those allowed to  “observe” the election included  Marco Aurelio Garcia himself; Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez, an Argentinean former vice-president  who is the head of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) and a Kirchner loyalist;  and ; other individuals friendly to Chavez including a Spanish Communist professor and a fervent pro-Chavez Chilean writer, among others).  The Chavez-controlled Electoral National Council did not allow the OAS or any other neutral body to observe the election.

This was a deterring factor on Capriles.

Had Capriles waited a few hours and gotten the right advice, he could have requested a careful review of the electoral process. Had he done so, he would have, at minimum, brought the Venezuelan abuses to public debate or even mass protests and attracted some international attention. By accepting the results he contributed to the myth propagated by Chavez and his regional supporters that Venezuela is, without doubt, a true democracy.

Election in Venezuela

The upcoming October 7th elections in Venezuela do not constitute just another round of elections in another country. These elections are crucial for the future of Latin America and for the security of the United States. In fact, it is no exaggeration to point out that the Venezuelan drama should be as great a  concern as the  elections in the young democracies of the Middle East that emerged in the aftermath of the Arab spring.

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan electoral process  has been characterized by intimidation of the opposition and the press, violence, and indiscriminate use of state resources, all this with the objective of providing an advantage to Hugo Chavez.

In fact,  two supporters of Henrique Capriles Radonsky, the opposition candidate  challenging the President,  were recently shot to death.

Although Chavez and his interior Minister pledged to make every effort to bring the killers to justice, the case seems to follow an environment of intimidation and fear that has characterized the Chavez campaign. Opposition rallies have been blocked and undermined by pro-Chavez supporters and fistfights have been very common. Even the last killings took place at the time Chavez supporters blocked a motorcade of Capriles supporters. In September, Chavez supporters blocked a motorcade and burned a truck that belonged to the Capriles campaign.

As polls have shown a tight race between the two contending sides, Mr. Capriles has proven himself adept at mobilizing large crowds. In the aftermath of the election, It seems almost inevitable that violence will increase especially if Chavez loses the race.

Experts have discussed possible scenarios in the aftermath of October 7th. They predict that if Chavez loses the election there might be a rise in violence, street protests, political hooliganism, and even sabotage of public services or invalidation of the election. So far, the Venezuelan government has rejected observers.

A paper written by Dr. Ray Walser, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is called “The Chavez Plan to Steal the Venezuelan Election.”  In that document, Walser unequivocally defines the electoral process as an attempt by Chavez to win the election by non-legitimate means.  Walser describes how Chavez has used state power and monopoly over the main natural resource (oil) to spend money to benefit people; how  he has restricted the media and freedom of the press including laws that protect slander of the President; and how he has abused the electoral rules that limit air time for other presidential candidates.

Walser stresses that the electoral process has been flawed. Many voters have raised questions about whether their vote is really secret as their fingerprints, which are required as an anti-fraud mechanism, may be ultimately used to reveal the identity and the political choice of the voter. There is also concern about fraudulent registration of people who are not legally allowed to vote.

I would add that violent scenarios could be created not only if Chavez loses but also even if Chavez wins. This is not necessarily because the opposition and Capriles supporters are violent but because if it is perceived that Chavez cheated, there will be rage similar to the one that took place in the Ukraine and some of the former Soviet satellites and Republics a few years ago. This sense of fraud might mobilize people who are tired of Chavez’s chaotic and authoritarian rule.

In either case, Chavez is likely to mobilize his militias and paramilitary; violence will ensue but this time the presence of fire -arms will increase and we will see  a situation of civil war. Not unlike what is now occurring in Syria.

It will be interesting to see how the United States will respond should Venezuela erupt.

In his paper, Walser urges the United States government to support civil society and continue to support NGO activity to train domestic electoral observers. Walser also urges the Administration to reaffirm their commitment to democracy and demand transparency.  Likewise, he suggests that the United States  work in coalition with other countries in the region and in Europe  to act in unison in case of fraud or violence that might  arise. Finally, Walser calls on the Administration to develop a plan of action that could include severe economic sanctions such as designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, thereby prohibiting the importation of Venezuelan oil.

These recommendations are certainly right on target. We can only hope that countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Chile and a few others will stand on the side of democracy without making excuses in the name of national sovereignty.  These countries have to understand that the prevalence of authoritarianism may have a contagious effect in the hemisphere and can promote more and more pro-Chavez leaders in the region . The clearest examples are, beside the countries of the Bolivarian alliance, the former Government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, a conservative who became a Bolivarian, and the current government of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina. Almost 30 years ago, Argentina rejected authoritarianism after  horrible years  of repression. Ms. Kirchner has elevated Chavez to the level of a statesman and a hero. What is worse she has replicated  a number of Chavez’s practices including the nationalization of private companies, bullying of the opposition and the private sector, control and censorship of the media. In addition Kirchner has created a constant discourse of hostility, and has instigated a suspicious project of constitutional reform.

The U.S needs to exercise leadership among countries in the Hemisphere but making sure that the Democratic Charter signed by members of the Organization of American States (OAS) is implemented. The U.S must exercise its influence to take democratic leadership in the region or allow another key country to do so. It would be ideal if Brazil could be persuaded to take such leadership as the country is a growing democracy and economic power.

I would add that the struggle for democracy in our hemisphere should not be merely based on moral principles. The struggle for democracy needs to be understood as a major strategic tool of national security. Democracy promotion creates a culture of peace and tolerance. A real democracy includes substantive components that reject elements such as alliances with rogue states.

As Venezuela continues to ally itself with Iran, Belarus, Russia and China, the security threat on the United States aggravates. Chavez has brought his Bolivarian allies in the hemisphere including Presidents Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Evo Morales from Bolivia and Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua into similar alliances with Iran. If Iran turns nuclear, it is likely that missiles will be posted on Venezuelan soil creating a major threat to our security.

Chavez has built an illiberal democracy that includes  regular elections but  nothing else: no rule of law, no reasonable dialogue between the factions, no free press and abundant violence and intimidation. Chavez, nonetheless, rules because he continues to be elected. This is the card he holds to maintain his legitimacy. This is why Western Hemisphere  countries have accepted Venezuela as a democracy,  as have  the Organization of American States (OAS) and  Mercosur (The South American Common Market). In both organizations democracy is a pre-condition to become a member. However, Venezuela does not seem to fall under the category of non-democratic countries because Chavez  elections are held and Chavez has been “democratically elected”..

If Chavez continues in power,  he will consolidate his regime to the point where it will survive his death. Moreover, both China and Russia have  major interests in perpetuating the Chavez government for a number of reasons including an ability to counteract U.S. influence in the hemisphere.

The United States cannot treat the Venezuelan case as it has treated the Syrian case. Our national security is at stake.

U.S. policy should be as determined and aggressive as possible with the purpose of restoring genuine democracy to Venezuela and the hemisphere. The morning after the election will be the real test for the region and for the United States.

The consequences of Colombia’s negotiations with FARC

Early in October, peace negotiations will take place between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Oslo, Norway. If successful, the talks will continue in Havana, Cuba.

These talks are taking place against the backdrop of major military victories by  the Colombian army against the FARC, the elimination of key FARC leaders in the last four years, and, confirmed connections between the FARC and the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.

The upcoming talks were made possible through the mediation of Chile, Venezuela and Cuba. Venezuela and Cuba are two key players in the revolutionary, anti-American Bolivarian alliance. The Government of Venezuela has been one of the staunchest enemies of Colombia whom it views as an American puppet. Venezuela has also objected to the war on drugs and to Plan Colombia..  Many  of Hugo Chavez’s international political attacks have been directed towards Colombia.  Chavez even started an arms race with the help of the Russians and made a number of threats against his Colombian  neighbor.

Chavez also made alliances with the FARC, proven in the FARC Files (or Reyes Files) captured during a military raid in Ecuador early in 2008. Venezuela served as haven for the FARC guerillas escaping Colombia and also made alliances with other drug cartels who are the archenemies of the Colombian government.

The presence of Chile in the mediating group looks rather symbolic and poses a serious question mark as to their reasons for participating.

On the other hand these talks are taking place in Norway, far away from the region and in a country whose dominant political culture has been apologetic towards  extremist organizations.  According to Alan Dershowitz, a well-known Harvard Law professor, the former Norwegian Prime Minister, Kare Willock reacted negatively to President Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. It appeared that the fact that Emanuel was Jewish  disqualified him  for   a job that included dealing with  the Middle East conflict. Following the same logic, the Government of Norway has also maintained contacts with the arch-terrorist group, Hamas, claiming that it supports “dialogue”. [1] In other words, whether Norway’s opinion matters in the FARC-Colombia dialogue or not, Norway’s role is consistent with its approach that “terrorist groups might not be that bad, after all. It is likely that Norway’s sponsorship  will lend  legitimacy to the talks. It is also likely that they will  bestow  the status of “freedom fighter” upon  the Colombian guerrilla group even though the FARC  is and has  been responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people just like Hamas.

As stated, if the first round of talks are successful the second round will take place in Cuba, a country that has supported both terror and  the FARC.

Though it is not clear why Santos agreed to these negotiations given that terrorist organizations like the FARC are not known for their trust- worthiness in abiding by treaties, there are a number of possibilities as to why these negotiations are taking place and the kinds of outcomes that may result.

First, it is  possible that the Colombian government believes it can reach a good deal given the weakness of the FARC after four years of military setbacks. In this case, the FARC can either become a political party or somehow be integrated into the democratic mix. . Such expectation is based on the belief  that the FARC may replicate the experience of the M-19, a former guerilla group, which so far has been positive and lasting. Thus, if the FARC follows in the footsteps of the M-19,  Colombia could  have a situation of total peace. The Colombian people would then  be happy and grateful to President Manuel Santos for his efforts.  However,I find this scenario to be highly unlikely given the still extremist discourse, behavior and resentment of the FARC leadership.

In order to find a possible answer to the reason for these strange   negotiations, mediated by two allies of the FARC and enemies of Colombia, it is important to understand some of the shifts that the FARC has undergone in the last several years.

The alliances between the FARC and the Bolivarian countries have a deep strategic meaning.

The FARC is a guerilla movement with decades of experience in what is called “asymmetric war” or the war of the weak against the strong.  “Asymmetric war” is a concept adopted by Chavez very early in his tenure.  He defines it as the “war of all the people” against a never to come U.S. invasion.

Though defined this way by Chavez, asymmetric war can be fought in support of the consolidation of a revolution and the spread of terror on an  oppressed population or as a subversive force against a government the revolution seeks to overthrow.

The FARC’s weakening has forced the organization to cut an alliance with Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.  In light of this, the Bolivarian Revolution seems to be the only viable way to achieve a radical transformation. Thus, the FARC has loosened its ideology of peasant-based Marxist revolution in order to embrace the Bolivarian Revolution and to commit to its expansion. This includes the fight against U.S. imperialism, neo-liberalism and globalization. Likewise, it embraces socialism and continental unity.

The Venezuelan Bolivarian leader, Hugo Chávez created a body called the Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana (Bolivarian Continental Coordinator or CCB), which later changed its name to Bolivarian Continental Movement (MCB). The CCB and the MCB has the FARC as one of its members.

The CCB was founded in 2003 as an umbrella organization that integrates different social and political revolutionary organizations across Latin America. The organization seeks to “rescue and reaffirm our historical memory and Bolivarian integration in order to create a new alternative pole against the domination of the world imperial powers.” The CCB seeks to create “a movement capable of articulating the diverse revolutionary forces and to develop a strategy in order to defeat the imperialist strategy and so emancipate Latin America (Nuestra America) forever.”[2]

The CCB/MCB views violence as a crucial component on the way to achieve its goals. Indeed, in the aftermath of the CCB gathering in Caracas, -which was attended by representatives of global extremist organizations including terrorist groups such as the Spanish ETA (the Basque insurgency), the communist party of El Salvador, remnants of the Red Brigades and other armed groups [3] a declaration was issued that stated the following: “The Continental Bolivarian movement is a means to promote the cause of the big nation” envisioned by Simon Bolivar. “We are thought and action melted with weapons against injustice. We are the combination of a variety of forms and methods of struggle.” Likewise, the “Bolivarian revolution…will be defended with our soul and hearts and with blood loaded with anger if necessary.” Then, the declaration turns more specific: “We will defeat the regime of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia…We will defeat the regime in Honduras and open up the way for a constitutional reform…Colonialism in Puerto Rico, the Falkland Islands and the Caribbean will face us.”[4]

In a message delivered by video early this year, the FARC invoked Simon Bolivar’s name as a role model and  a liberator of  oppressed people and as a supporter of continental unity. Again, the FARC repeated  its fight against imperialism and its support for socialism. Continental unity would provide the power to fight the transnational corporations that exploit national resources for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people. [5]

Although, in the same message the FARC stresses the need to continue the armed struggle against imperialism and particularly against Colombia, it is clear that they  no longer have the ability to act without the help of the Bolivarian Revolution.

In short, the FARC has ceased to be a solely  Colombian organization but rather has  become part of the Bolivarian Revolution. Its  activities and involvement are  now  regional and transnational. Indeed, the FARC is involved in about thirty countries to varying degrees. Some of their operations are more visible and some  more clandestine. The FARC reaches out to students and regular militants with propaganda and ideology and sometimes helps insurgent militias. Sometimes, they are involved in drug trafficking and sometimes in money-laundering. Sometimes they have sought support for their organization and sometimes they have sought to secure sanctuary.

In Mexico, the FARC has worked with the  Ricardo Flores Magon Militia and  has provided financial support to left-wing politicians.

In Peru, the FARC has reached out to the Peruvian Revolutionary Movement, Tupac Amaru (MRTA). The FARC provided training to several groups including a splinter group of the MRTA and the Left Revolutionary Movement (MIR).  The FARC also recruited people in Peru and provided weapons to the Maoist guerilla group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).  In El Salvador,the FARC used its connections with the Frente Farabundo Marti (FMLN), now in power, to purchase arms and munitions.

In Bolivia,the FARC tried to carry out activities of indoctrination.

In Chile, the FARC recruited members of the communist party and sent them to Colombia for guerilla training. Likewise, the FARC reached out to groups, such as the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodriguez (FPMR), the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), and the Mapuche indigenous movement. [6]

In Paraguay there has been a large presence of FARC members. They assisted the People’s Army of Paraguay (EPP) in the kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of  former president, Raul Cubas (1998-1999).[i] The EPP is a relatively small Marxist group, mostly active in the northeastern part of the country. The connections with the FARC have existed for more than ten years and EPP members have received training in Colombia.  The group was not only assisted by the FARC, but has allegedly also received training in Venezuela and Cuba. The group considers Hugo Chávez a hero. [7]

In summary, the reason why the FARC wants these negotiations is  to give them legitimacy  in the eyes of the world under the auspices of an incredibly naïve Western country like Norway that sees nor hears  no evil. Since Norway’s attitude towards Hamas is exculpatory, it is likely that this country will turn the blame on the Colombian government while providing excuses and apologies for the FARC. Regardless of how insignificant Norway is as a world player, it could distort the Western European perception of reality in South America in the same way it has done  in the Middle East.

In addition, the FARC could get “a break” from the Colombian mighty and effective hunting machine.  In that way, the FARC could   then  concentrate on their Bolivarian revolutionary goals. Most recently, Hugo Chavez stated that if he does not win the October 7th election there would be civil war. For that he needs a robust and healthy FARC.  Therefore, the strategy is aimed at placing the Colombian government, which is the most effective tool against the FARC, on hold. But paraphrasing Chavez,”por ahora” (for now).

President Santos has proven to be a wise man. We hope he has taken all these elements  described above into account.

But Santos  also needs the help of the U.S. government to make the right choices. Santos has refused to agree to a ceasefire until the negotiations are under way.  Likewise, he pointed out that these negotiations will not be allowed to drag on forever.  Santos has said that he will give negotiations a chance for no more than six to eight months. This is good.  However, as pointed out, even if there is an accord, the dangers of the FARC are not likely to go away as long as Chavez keeps them busy and provides them with a life-line.

Colombia is the most important U.S. strategic ally in the region and should not fall into a trap. Colombia is the country that keeps U.S. enemies in the region at bay and is an important regional ally. It is not certain whether we have recognized the fact that the Bolivarian Alliance and their allies aspire to weaken and eventually defeat their American neighbor to the North. In the meantime Chavez and his allies will do anything in their power to chip away at  U. S. interests. The United States needs to open its eyes to this reality and act accordingly.

 


[1] Alan Dershowitz, “Norway to Jews: You are not Welcome Here” , Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2011

[2] “Aporrea, Conclusiones del II Congreso de la Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana (29 February 2008),  http://www.aporrea.org/tiburon/n109960.html.

[3] Douglas Farah, Venezuela Hosts Terrorist Central in Caracas, 8 December 2008, http://www.douglasfarah.com/article/517/venezuela-hosts-terrorist-central-in-caracas

[4]  Noticias de la Rebelion, Declaración Bolivariana de Caracas, 17 December 2009, http://www.noticiasdelarebelion.info/?p=4931

[5] “Saludo de las FARC-EP, Marzo de 2012” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=g9Gbk_RCopM#!

[6] The World of the FARC (Part II: America),” Semana,  January 6,  2009.

[7] Hanna Stone, “Paraguay’s EPP: Phantom or Rebel Army?,” 2 May 2011, http://insightcrime.org/insight-latest-news/item/852-paraguays-epp-phantom-or-rebel-army.

[i] ‘Fluidos Contactos con las FARC antes del Secuestro de Cecilia Cubas”, ABC Color, Asunción, September 15, 2009.