Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama's War for Oil in Colombia


A War Against Human Rights and the Environment

By DANIEL KOVALIK

This past summer, President Obama announced that he had signed an agreement with Colombia to grant the U.S. military access to 7 military bases in Colombia. As the UK’s Guardian newspaper announced at the time, “[t]he proposed 10-year lease will give the US access to at least seven Colombian bases – three air force, two naval and two army – stretching from the Pacific to the Caribbean.” And, these bases would accommodate up to 800 military and 600 civilian contractors of the United States. As the Guardian explained, this announcement caused outrage in neighboring Latin American nations and “damaged Barack Obama's attempt to mend relations with the region.”

This announcement also angered human and labor rights advocates in both the U.S. and Colombia as the U.S. was now solidifying a cozier military alliance with by far the worst labor and human rights abuser in the Western Hemisphere. The human rights nightmare in Colombia, fueled by billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance, includes the forced internal displacement of nearly 4 million civilians – the second largest internally displaced population in the world (Sudan holding the number one position); the extraordinary killing of over 2700 union members since 1986 (by far the greatest number in the world), with 35 being killed in 2009 alone; and the extrajudicial killing of around 2,000 civilians by the Colombian military since President Uribe took office in 2002.
As for the extra-judicial killings by the Colombian military, these were carried out as part of the “false positive” scandal – a controversy involving the military murdering civilians and then dressing them up to look like guerillas in order to increase their body count numbers, thereby guaranteeing further U.S. aid. That scandal deepened earlier this month when 31 Colombian soldiers awaiting trial for their role in the killings were released from prison because of the Colombian government’s failure to indict them in a timely fashion.
While the U.S. has claimed for years that it is fighting a drug war in Colombia, though having to sheepishly admit year after year that its ostensible efforts have not yielded any decrease whatsoever in the amount of coca grown in Colombia or cocaine exported to the U.S., the real reason for the war has always been the control of Colombia’s rich oil resources. Indeed, at a Congressional hearing in 2000, entitled “Drugs and Social Policy in Colombia” – a hearing to debate the relative merits of Clinton’s new Plan Colombia, pursuant to which the U.S. has sent billions of dollars of military assistance to Colombia – one of the key witnesses invited to testify in support of this policy was none other than Lawrence Meriage, the Vice-President of Occidental Petroleum. Not surprisingly, Mr. Meriage had nothing to say about drugs or social policy in Colombia, but a lot to say about the need for military assistance to protect his oil pipelines.

Now, according to a January 19, 2010 Bloomberg article, “The Export-Import Bank of the United States [a U.S. government agency] announced Jan. 19 its approval of a $1 billion preliminary commitment to help finance the sale of goods and services from various U.S. exporters to Ecopetrol S.A., Colombia’s national oil company.” It should be noted that Ecopetrol is a business partner with L.A.-based Occidental Petroleum.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

US debt policies left Haiti vulnerable to catastrophe



Haitians protest against the cost of living on...
Haitians protest against the cost of living in Port-Au-Prince in 2008. Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife
The same message is resonating from all corners of the Internet: Poor Haiti. That little, miserable island just can’t catch a break, can it? Yes, thousands are feared dead, and thepictures coming in from Haiti are heartbreaking, but no one can beblamed for an earthquake.
And sure, Haiti is the poorest nation in the northern hemisphere(more than half the population of 9 million lives on less than $.50 cents a day,) which explains the construction of those flimsy houses that collapsed like card houses during the quake (Haiti’s ambassador calls the country’s infrastructure “among the world’s worst.”)
But this is just rotten luck, or God’s work! Surely, this is one of those things we can write off as “unlucky,” or “Shit happens.”
KT McFarland asks, what will become of those impoverished, feeble blacksHaitians when America can’t “ride to the rescue” anymore? I mean, really, when are these poor countries going to get their acts together?
In news story after news story, there are reports of Haiti’s “flimsy” shacks with no mention of why Haitians live in such extreme poverty. The impression one is left with is that these people are just inherently poor savages who don’t know how to construct decent homes for themselves (see these numerousexamples of the “flimsy” line). The language almost implies Haitians deserved to be crushed during the quake. That’s what they get for living in such squalid conditions!
The media is missing a valuable opportunity to explain why Haiti is so poor. Once again, Americans are receiving a hefty dose of miseducation. They are learning that Haiti is simply a poor country where bad things happen all the time. In reality, the country has a rich, fascinating story, but unfortunately its history is also dominated by western exploitation.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Only Fools Rush Into Yemen


By PATRICK COCKBURN
Protestors are walking confidently down a street a street in the southern Yemeni port of Aden when there is a rattle of gunfire as the security services shoot into the crowd and people run panic-stricken seeking cover. A man in a check shirt is left lying face down in the dust in the empty street, a stream of blood flowing from a bullet wound in his head.
In northern Yemen government tanks and artillery pound the mountains as they try to dislodge Shia rebels holding positions among the mountain crags. Plumes of white smoke rise from exploding shells. Tribesmen not in uniform fighting on the government side sit behind their heavy machine guns and spray the hillsides with fire. A few miles away on a dusty piece of flat ground thousands of refugees driven from their homes by the war cower in small over-crowded tents.
Nobody paid much attention in the West to violent incidents like these in Yemen last year, though both of those described above were recorded on film. The mounting crisis in the country only attracted notice when a Nigerian student is revealed to have been “trained” in Yemen by al-Qa’ida to detonate explosives in his underpants on plane heading for Detroit. But this botched attack has led to the US and Britain starting to become entangled in one of the more violent countries in the world. The problems of Yemen are social, economic and political, and stretch back to the civil war in Yemen in the 1960s, but Gordon Brown believes solutions can be found by holding a one day summit on Yemen to “tackle extremism.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More cause and effect in our ever-expanding "war"


If it is taboo to discuss how America's actions in the Middle East cause Terrorism -- and it generally is -- that taboo is far stronger still when it comes to specifically discussing how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels Terrorism directed at the U.S. An article in yesterday's New York Times examined the life of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian who blew himself up, along with 7 CIA agents, in Afghanistan this week. Why would Balawi -- a highly educated doctor, who was specifically recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials to infiltrate Al Qaeda on behalf of Western governments -- want to blow himself up and murder as many American intelligence agents as possible? The article provides this possible answer:
He described Mr. Balawi as a "very good brother" and a "brilliant doctor," saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been "changed" by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.
An Associated Press discussion of the possible motives of accused Christmas Day airline attacker Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab contained this quite similar passage (h/t Casual Observer):
Students and administrators at the institute said Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel's actions in Gaza.
When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al Qaeda announced earlier this year that they were unifying into "Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,"they prominently featured rhetoric railing against the Israeli attack on Gaza, and "presented their campaign as part of the struggle to liberate Palestine, since Israel and the Crusaders are one." So extreme is anger towards Israel over Gaza among Yemenis that even that country's President -- our supposed ally in the War on Terror -- called for the opening of camps to train fighters against Israel in Gaza. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright claimed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta signed his "martyr's will" from Al Qaeda on the day in 1996 when Israel attacked Lebanon, and he did so due to "outrage" over that attack. There's just no question that the U.S.'s loyal enabling of (and support for) Israel's various wars with its Muslims neighbors contributes to terrorist attacks directed at Americans.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Iraqis Angered as Blackwater Charges Are Dropped



BAGHDAD — Iraqis on Friday reacted with disbelief, anger and bitter resignation to news that criminal charges in the United States had been dismissed against Blackwater security guards who opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007 in a fusillade that left 17 dead.
“What are we — not human?” asked Abdul Wahab Adul Khader, a 34-year-old bank employee and one of at least 20 people wounded in the melee. “Why do they have the right to kill people? Is our blood so cheap? For America, the land of justice and law, what does it mean to let criminals go?”
The Iraqi government, meanwhile, expressed its “regrets” about the ruling.
The problem with the court case, according to the federal judge who issued the ruling, was that statements given by the five Blackwater guards had been improperly used, compromising their right to a fair trial.
The judge, Ricardo M. Urbina, threw out manslaughter and weapons charges against the guards on Thursday, ruling that the case had been improperly built, in part, on sworn statements that they had given to the State Department under the promise of immunity.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will appeal the decision.The shooting, a signal event of the war here, helped calcify anti-American sentiment in Iraq and elsewhere.
It also raised Iraqi concerns about the extent of its sovereignty because Blackwater guards had immunity from local prosecution, and stoked a debate about American dependence on private security contractors in the Iraq war.
Many Iraqis also viewed the prosecution of the guards as a test case of American democratic principles, which have not been wholeheartedly embraced, and in particular of the fairness of the American judicial system.
The ruling on Thursday appeared to confirm the feelings of some that their skepticism had been justified. For Iraqis directly affected by the violence, the result was incomprehensible.
Some victims and their families said they did not understand how charges could have been dropped despite what they regarded as overwhelming evidence.