Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Monday, August 10, 2009

Our Human Rights Trip to Haiti

August 10, 2009

Dear Friends,

Thank you! So far we have received almost $2,000 in pledges and cash donations.

We're still packing. Our tickets to Haiti have been delayed a few days, so there is still time to reply back with a pledge of support. As you know, Children's Hope (in alliance with the Progressive Alliance), goes regularly to Haiti to do solidarity, human rights and humanitarian work, and all our donations are hand-carried; each school, clinic or prison is visited personally. This is our 10th trip since 2004. Every time is a new challenge, every time our hearts break in some new way, every time we are inspired by the strength and determination of this proud people.

Haiti has a horrifying tradition of being pillaged, and the result is that after thousands of years of abundance, this country is now the most impoverished place in this hemisphere. Children sadly are found wondering the streets, or sold into slavery; fathers can’t find work; women are targeted so systematic political rapes (19,000 of the 100,000 young women in the city of Port au Prince alone in the first year we went to Haiti following the recent coup).

Yet, I have never met so many heros. Please look for our journals from Haiti next week, for a personal look at conditions today.

You can save lives. $20 buys five bottles of anti-biotic eye med, pays a teacher’s salary for a week, or can buy powdered milk for 30 kids in an orphanage. Any amount helps, really.

We have purchased one new laptop (thanks to Dr. Ben) and found a bundle of children's vitamins at our door (I suspect - thanks go to Randy!) We are still finding the best prices on the medicine we want to purchase, but tomorrow Marshall Hospital in Placerville opens its surplus closet to us (thanks to Cathie!)...our bags are half full so far. Thank you, all!

On a sad note, this year, we will miss our dear friend and hero, Father Gerard Jean-Juste of Sainte Claire's Church in Port au Prince, near the infamous slum, Cite Soleil, and his feeding program struggles to continue.

Thank you for anything you can do...more updates later...peace, leisa

Leisa Faulkner
Founder, Children's Hope
3025 A Cambridge Road, Cameron Park, CA 95682

“If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, your life will be safe, expedient and thin." Katharine Butler Hathaway

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent?

[Political scientist and progressive icon Michael Parenti asks raises some important questions re: the Honduras Coup and the Obama Administration. As a supporter of President Obama, I hope he has some good answers. -- Paul B]

Published on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by
The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent?
by Michael Parenti

Is President Obama innocent of the events occurring in Honduras, specifically the coup launched by the Honduran military resulting in the abduction and forced deportation of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya? Obama has denounced the coup and demanded that the rules of democracy be honored. Still, several troubling questions remain.

First, almost all the senior Honduran military officers active in the coup are graduates of the Pentagon's School of the Americas (known to many of us as "School of the Assassins"). The Honduran military is trained, advised, equipped, indoctrinated, and financed by the United States national security state. The generals would never have dared to move without tacit consent from the White House or the Pentagon and CIA.

Second, if Obama was not directly involved, then he should be faulted for having no firm command over those US operatives who were. The US military must have known about the plot and US military intelligence must have known and must have reported it back to Washington. Why did Obama’s people who had communicated with the coup leaders fail to blow the whistle on them? Why did they not expose and denounce the plot, thereby possibly foiling the entire venture? Instead the US kept quiet about it, a silence that in effect, even if not in intent, served as an act of complicity.

Third, immediately after the coup, Obama stated that he was against using violence to effect change and that it was up to the various parties in Honduras to resolve their differences. His remarks were a rather tepid and muted response to a gangster putsch.

Fourth, Obama never expected there would be an enormous uproar over the Honduras coup. He hastily joined the outcry against the perpetrators only when it became evident that opposition to the putschists was nearly universal throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world.

Fifth, Obama still has had nothing to say about the many other acts of repression attendant with the coup perpetrated by Honduran military and police: kidnappings, beatings, disappearances, attacks on demonstrators, shutting down the internet and suppressing the few small critical media outlets that exist in Honduras.

Sixth, as James Petras reminded me, Obama has refused to meet with President Zelaya. He dislikes Zelaya mostly for his close and unexpected affiliation with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. And because of his egalitarian reformist efforts Zelaya is hated by the Honduran oligarchs, the same oligarchs who for many years have been close to and splendidly served by the US empire builders.

Seventh, under a law passed by the US Congress, any democratic government that is the victim of a military takeover is to be denied US military and economic aid. Obama still has not cut off the economic and military aid to Honduras as he is required to do under this law. This is perhaps the most telling datum regarding whose side he is on. (His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is even worse. She refuses to call it a coup and states that there are two sides to this story.)

As president, Obama has considerable influence and immense resources that might well have thwarted the perpetrators and perhaps could still be applied against them with real effect. As of now he seems more inclined to take the insider track rather than an actively democratic stance. On Honduras he is doing too little too late--as is the case with many other things he does.

Michael Parenti's recent books include: Contrary Notions [1] (City Lights); and God and His Demons (Prometheus, forthcoming). For further information, visit his website: [2].

Sunday, July 5, 2009

No Press Freedom in Post-Coup Honduras

Published on Saturday, July 4, 2009 by
by Medea Benjamin

When José David Ellner Romero heard the soldiers breaking down the door of the Globo radio station on the evening of the June 28 coup, he had a flashback. His mind conjured up the terrible images from the 1980s, when he was arrested by the military, thrown into an underground prison and tortured. "I couldn't stand the thought of going through that hell again, so I got out on the ledge of the windowsill and jumped," Elner told our delegation. His fractured shoulder, ribs and bruises were minor given that he jumped from the third floor.

The owner of the station, Alejandro Villatoro, was thrown to the ground by soldiers who put their guns to his head and demanded to know where the transmitter was. Villatoro also happens to be a deputy in the National Assembly from the governing Liberal Party, but that didn't afford him special treatment. While Villatoro was not a fan of deposed President Mel Zelaya, he believes in free speech and always guaranteed his employees that freedom. After the military invaded and censored his station, he now supports Zelaya's return. "If this new government says it's for democracy, then why is it censoring the press? This is the 21st century," he told us. "We shouldn't have coups and censorship and thugs running the country."

Radio Globo is now back on the air, but one of its most critical programs, Hable como habla, is still banned and the host of the show, Eduardo Maldonado, is in hiding. And every now and then, like when they broadcast an interview with the deposed president, their signal is suddenly blocked.

Reporter Luis Galdamez, who hosts a show on Radio Globo, is back on the air but the military told him not to criticize the new government. He refuses to buckle, but he's scared. "I get death threats every day. I don't even read my text messages anymore, they're so grotesque" he said. On our insistence, he pulled out his iphone and randomly picked from the 64 new messages he had. "We're watching you," the message read. "We know where you live and how many children you have. If you keep talking shit, we're going to hang you and cut out your tongue for talking shit. Remember what happened in the 80s."

Galdamez, a single father, is under tremendous pressure. At night, he sees cars without license plates outside his house, rifles pointing out the window. He wants to leave the country, but doesn't know where he and his children could go.

Another radio station under attack is Radio Progreso in the city of Progreso. Four hours after the coup around 25 soldiers stormed into the studios of the community-based station and closed it down. Hundreds of local people quickly gathered to defend the station and demand that the military leave. Thanks to the tremendous outpouring of support, Radio Progreso opened the next day, Monday, but by Tuesday the soldiers were back again. The station is now transmitting clandestinely.

While the coup leaders say they are bringing back democracy by deposing an autocratic president, their first actions after kidnapping the president and flying him to Costa Rica was to keep the public in the dark. At the time of the coup on June 28, they cut the electricity and when it came back on four hours later, news programs had been replaced by music shows, soap operas, sports and cooking lessons.

By day two, most TV and radio stations were back on the air, but the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) notified cable TV operators of a ban on broadcasting certain international TV stations such as Telesur, Cubavisión Internacional and CNN Español. The pro-Zelaya Channels 36 and 50 were also banned, their studios surrounded by soldiers. Another TV station not allowed to broadcast was Canal 66 Maya TV. "They've taken off the air everyone who does not support the coup," said Santos Gonzalez, a Channel 50 reporter.

The owner of Channel 36, Esdras Amado Lopez, received threats that he would be arrested and went into hiding. A week after the coup, the station was still shut and surrounded by soldiers. The government-operated Channel 8, located inside the heavily guarded presidential palace, was taken off the air but was back in business on Wednesday-transmitting the new government's propaganda. All of the TV stations are now decidedly pro-coup, devoting significant coverage to demonstrations in favor of the new government while ignoring or minimizing mass rallies supporting Zelaya.

The only reason there is not more press censorship in Honduras today is because most of the media-TV, print and radio-is owned by businesspeople who support the coup. Edgardo Dumas, publisher of the large circulation daily La Tribuna and the country's former Defense Minister, claims that rumors about censorship are "totally and absolutely false." In a July 2 interview with W Radio in Bogotá, Colombia, Dumas claimed, "I don't see any limit on freedom of the press. The four newspapers are putting out impartial and true news. No TV or radio station has been interfered with." When asked why CNN was cut, he said it was "misinforming" the public and was "on the payroll of the dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chavez."

The more educated Hondurans are now seeking information from the internet and text messages, but most Hondurans are getting a daily dose of pro-coup propaganda and journalists who oppose the government are doing so at great risk to themselves and their families.

The Honduran people should have the right to know what their new leaders, in the name of democracy, are doing to destroy the very basic foundations of a democratic system-a free press.

Medea Benjamin ( [1]) is cofounder of Global Exchange ( [2]) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( [3]).


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Honduran Coup Turns Violent, Sanctions Imposed

by Laura Carlsen
Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by America's Program

Thousands of Hondurans are now in the streets to protest the coup d'etat in their country. They have been met with tear gas, anti-riot rubber bullets, tanks firing water mixed with chemicals, and clubs. Police have moved in to break down barricades and soldiers used violence to push back protesters at the presidential residence, leaving an unknown number wounded.

If the coup leaders were desperate when they decided to forcibly depose the elected president, they are even more desperate now. Stripped of its pretense of legality by universal repudiation and faced with a popular uprising, the coup has turned to more violent means.

The scoreboard in the battle for Honduras shows the coup losing badly. It has not gained a single point in the international diplomatic arena, it has no serious legal points, and the Honduran people are mobilizing against it. As the military and coup leaders resort to brute force, they rack up even more points against them in human rights and common decency.

Only one factor brought the coup to power and only one factor has enabled it to hold on for these few days-control of the armed forces. Now even that seems to be eroding.

Cracks in Army Loyalty to the Coup?

Reports are coming in that several battalions-specifically the Fourth and Tenth-have rebelled against coup leadership. Both Zelaya and his supporters have been very conscious that within the armed forces there are fractures. Instead of insulting the army, outside the heavily guarded presidential residence many protesters chant, "Soldiers, you are part of the people."

President Zelaya has been remarkably respectful in calling on the army to "correct its actions." It is likely the coup will continue to lose its grip on the army as intensifying mobilizations force it to confront its own people.

International Community Imposes Sanctions

In the diplomatic arena, it's not that the coup is losing its grip-it never even got a foothold. The meeting of the Central American Integration System in Managua Monday became a forum for pronouncements from one after another of the major diplomatic groups in the region. Latin America is a region where diplomatic recombinations have proliferated in recent years, so the alphabet soup of solidarity statements just keeps on growing.

The Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) issued a resolution, announcing the withdrawal of its ambassadors while continuing the member countries' international cooperation programs in Honduras. The group urged other nations to do the same-a growing list including Brazil and Mexico has already followed suit.

The ALBA group cited the Honduran Constitution, which states in Art. 3:

"No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order."

Putting teeth behind the words has already begun. The Central American countries agreed to close off their land borders to all commerce with Honduras for the next 48 hours. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration has cut off all lending until the president is restored to power.

It also called for sanctions in multilateral organizations: "We propose that exemplary sanctions be applied in all multilateral organizations and integration groups, to contribute to bringing about the immediate restitution of the constitutional order in Honduras, and to make good on the principle of action that Jose Marti taught us when he said: 'If each one does his duty, no one can overcome us.'"

The Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean nations also met in Managua and issued a statement condemning the coup and supporting Zelaya. Organization of American States Sec. General Jose Insulza was there too. President Zelaya received a standing ovation following his closing speech.

The U.S. government has been unambiguous in its condemnation of the coup and support of President Zelaya. President Obama stated today:

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there." He added, "It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

After years of the Bush administration, when the commitment to democracy abroad was decided more on the basis of ideological affinities than democratic practice, some sectors have trouble accepting that the U.S. government is condemning the overthrow of a president who espouses left-wing causes. Note the obstinacy of reporters at today's State Department press conference:

QUESTION: "So Ian, I'm sorry, just to confirm-so you're not calling it a coup, is that correct? Legally, you're not considering it a coup?"

MR. KELLY: "Well, I think you all saw the OAS statement last night, which called it a coup d'état, and you heard what the Secretary just said ..." (Clinton explicitly called it a coup).

This discussion and another drawn-out discussion in which reporters attempted to open up a window of doubt over support for reinstatement of Zelaya went on quite a while. Ian Kelly, the Dept. spokesperson, held fast as reporters tried to equate supposed violations of law by Zelaya with a military coup in a fantasy "everyone's-at-fault" scenario. Kelly reiterated that the coup is indeed an illegal coup and the only solution is the return of the elected president.

The "coup question" is more than semantics and has implications beyond conservative media's political agenda to justify the coup leaders. When a legal definition of coup is established, most U.S. aid to Honduras must be cut off.

Here's the relevant part of the foreign operations bill:

Sec. 7008. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.

So far, the Obama administration has focused on diplomatic efforts and is waiting to see how long the Honduran stand-off will last before looking to specific sanctions. The probability that the coup's days are numbered makes that a reasonable strategy for the time being.

Attack on Freedom of Expression

The military coup has also launched an all-out attack on freedom of expression in the country. Venezuela's Telesur reports that its team was detained and military personnel threatened to confiscate its video equipment if it continued to broadcast.

The ALBA declaration notes the use of censorship as a tool of the coup, "This silence was meant to impose the dictatorship by closing the government channel and cutting off electricity, seeking to hide and justify the coup before the people and the international community, and demonstrating an attitude that recalls the worst era of dictatorships that we've suffered in the 20th century in our continent."

Grassroots organizations that support President Zelaya have faced an uphill battle against the media, which alternates between scaring people about the risk to keep them out of the streets and denying the existence of those who do go out. A message from Via Campesina Honduras warns people that information is controlled by the coup to hide opposition, cut off communications on many channels, and only allow information that favors them. They have now organized to open up contact with reporters throughout the world.

An increasingly organized opposition and independent media on the scene and on the net are breaking through the information blockade. A third source is Twitter. A major player in the Iranian uprising, Twitter has become the pulse of, if not the body politic, at least some bodies of that politic.

All this means that the information black-out designed by the coup is riddled with points of light. It's still hard to get statistical information like crowd numbers or figures of killed and wounded, but Honduras is certainly not the isolated and insignificant "banana republic" it once was.

The Return of the President

Zelaya now leaves for New York City where he will speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations to further outpourings of support. In Managua, he announced that from there he will return, accompanied by Insulza, to Honduras.

In an interview with CNN a coup leader said that Zelaya "can return to Honduras-as long as he leaves his presidency behind."

The Honduran ambassador to the UN, Jorge Reina, said that although the coup leaders have asked to address the UN, "the UN does not recognize them ... They have made a serious mistake, those who think that countries can be led through coups."

"That history has passed."

For More Information

ALBA and Via Campesina Issue New Declarations Against the Honduran Coup

Honduran Coup Moves from Failed Arguments to Repression, International Sanctions Imposed

Resolution from the OAS Diplomatically Isolates Honduran Leaders

© 2009 Center for International Policy (CIP)
Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(at) is director of the Americas Policy Program ( in Mexico City, where she has been an analyst and writer for two decades. She is also a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

Honduras Crisis Forces Obama to Focus on Latin America

Supporters of Honduras's President Zelaya sing the national anthem outside the presidential house in Tegucigalpa.

By Tom Hayden
The Nation, June 30, 2009

The military coup against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya puts pressure on President Obama to break sharply with past American policies or risk massive defections in what remains of Latin America's goodwill.

Yesterday President Obama declared the coup was "not legal" and affirmed the Zelaya government's legitimacy, statements that were considered "very good" by Venezuelan diplomats interviewed by The Nation.

The Obama position is complicated by the history of US training of the Honduras armed forces, past involvement with shadowy death squads, and concern over Zelaya's alliance with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. In the background are memories of US complicity in the attempted coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in 2002.

The issue will become paramount today as foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS) meet in Washington, DC, to consider their response. The Venezuelans will be accompanied by the exiled Honduran foreign minister. Meanwhile, Zelaya is expected to be at the United Nations for meetings at the General Assembly. "This will be a turning point in the history of the OAS," observed the Venezuelan official.

Some Democratic insiders were expressing mixed feelings over the coup. Michael Tomasky's blog found it "complicated," before concluding that "a military coup is a military coup, I guess." Faith Smith, writing on the blog of Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation, found it "difficult to say which side is democratic." She noted approvingly that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while criticizing the coup, offered "no specific support for Zelaya."

The choice for Obama is whether to side with a democratically elected government that happens to be a Venezuelan ally, or be ostracized by the governments of Latin America. Obama's policies have indicated a desire for modest and gradual rapprochement after the Bush years, without rapid or concrete changes. That gradualism will be tested today.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Honduran Coup Shines Spotlight on Controversial U.S. Military Training School

By Chris Kromm on June 29, 2009
Facing South

Before the torture debates about Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, there was the School of Americas -- a U.S. military training school in Fort Benning, Georgia, which has trained some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America.

As Facing South reported yesterday, two of the leaders of the Honduran coup -- General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, leader of the armed forces, and Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of the Air Force which transported the president to Costa Rica -- were trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

The Honduran coup leaders are just two of over 60,000 Latin American graduates of the school, which since 1984 has been headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA Watch database lists 3,566 graduates of the school from Honduras alone.

As watchdog groups like School of Americas Watch have documented, many of the school's trainees have been directly linked to death squads, killings of clergy and other aid workers, kidnappings and other gross violations of human rights.

The School of Americas/WHISC has also been linked to torture. In 1996, Dana Priest of The Washington Post broke the story about use of training manuals at the school that taught students many controversial techniques:

U.S. Army intelligence manuals used to train Latin American military officers at an Army school from 1982 to 1991 advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents, Pentagon documents released yesterday show.

Used in courses at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, the manual says that to recruit and control informants, counterintelligence agents could use "fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum," according to a secret Defense Department summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material and also released yesterday.

General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, widely credited with spearheading this week's military coup, appears to have been trained at SOA when torture was part of the curriculum.

Torture techniques were introduced at SOA after Vietnam, when the U.S. used lessons from the counterinsurgency experience in that war to create course materials for the school. The practice was halted under the Carter administration in 1976 due to human rights concerns -- the same year that General Vasquez first attended SOA.

The second time General Vasquez was trained at SOA in 1986, the torture techniques had been re-introduced into the school's lesson plans and training manuals under the Reagan administration. An in internal investigation, the DoD later concluded that the inclusion of torture techniques in violation of international law was a mistake. An internal memo dated March 10, 1992 stated [pdf]:

It is incredible that the use of the lesson plans since 1982, and the manuals since 1987, evade the system of doctrinal controls.

And who was Secretary of Defense when these warning signs about U.S. involvement in torture practices in Latin America came to a head? Dick Cheney, whose leadership in national security policy as Vice President would bring torture back into the media spotlight.

We're not aware of any evidence that General Vasquez was directly involved in torture, and the Obama administration has strongly condemned the military coup. But such history is an important backdrop to current events, which are vividly remembered in Honduras.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Father Gerard Jean-Juste, Father of the Just

Father Gerard Jean-Juste, 1947-2009

Dear Friends,

A moving tribute to a our dear friend Father Gerry... a beautiful human being and an inspiration to all those who seek peace with justice.

In Loving Memory,
Paul B

Father Jean Juste – Father of the Just
by Professor Bell Angelot
translated into English by Ezili Danto, May 27, 2009

(Father Jean Juste was always coupled to what’s just and morally right).

A powerful spirit has left this earth, and our mourning darkens the whole city.
A griot left for eternity and the whole tribe is in tears. But though the
prophet is gone, his light remains. The Haitian community of Miami has just
rung the toll to announce in pain, and in a flood of tears the departure from
this planet of Reverend Father Gérard Jean-Juste. Father Jean-Juste was one of
the pioneers of Liberation Theology alongside Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti,
Leonardo Boff of Nicaragua and Oscar Romero of Salvador.

Father Jean Juste was the spoke-person of the poor, the homeless, and for all
who thirst for justice. Father Jean Juste was a megaphone for the victims of
exclusion, those hungry for love, those suffering from the selfishness of
others and inequalities of all sorts. Father Jean Juste was the flag bearer for
Haitian immigrant rights, for those without papers, for those who braved the
shark-infested seas and for whom Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is still
denied. Father Jean Juste was a man of justice, his very name called forth
what’s just.

One can well compare the struggle of Father Jean Juste to that of the biblical
Moses who delivered his people from the persecution of slavery. ("Let my people
go!" Moses said to the Pharaoh of his time). This cry of Moses came often of
the lips of Father Jean Juste, the Prophet from Petite Place Cazeau, Haiti:
“I have certainly seen the affliction of my people, I have heard their cry by
reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7).

Father Jean Juste was a martyr. While distributing food to hungry children, he
was arrested and tortured by the political dictators in 2005. Some months
later, even in the deepest bowels of a church, The Sacred Heart Church of
Turgeau, the very same church where Izmery was assassinated, drape in his
priest cassock, Father Jean Juste was brutally beaten almost to
unconsciousness, manhandled and humiliated, afterwards waking up in prison.

Like Jeremiah the prophet, he knew the inside of a prison. Like Martin Luther
King, Jr. he preached love. Like Mahatma Gandhi he lived non-violence and
overcame violence. Just as Moses never reached the Promised Land, he too, did
not see the day of the complete liberation of the Haitian people. The passing
of Father Jean Juste bring us tears, this is a painful severance for us. Of
course, the lost of Father Jean Juste brings us grief, but we believe that
Father Jean Juste lives on.

Again in the years to come, we shall hear, all across Little Haiti in Miami,
the echo of his voice denouncing discriminatory immigration laws. Through time, his voice shall still wholly resound on Haiti, saying no to violence, no to exile, no to arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions, no to Coup D’etats. Jean Juste lives on and it is now that his butchers will tremble. For without confessing their wrongs and without altering their ways they allowed their victim to die, a man whose heart was filled only with compassion and tolerance.

Father Jean Juste left us on an assignment to meet up with Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. to whom he shall say that love amongst the races and race equality is
still a dream; to meet up with John Fitzgerald Kennedy to whom he will say that
Democracy and Peace are still the big challenges of our peoples; to meet up
with Father Jean Marie Vincent, to whom he shall say that the movement to bring literacy to our people has fallen by the waste side; to meet up with (Haiti’s founding father) Jean Jacques Dessalines to tell him that our country has been sold, it’s been torn apart, its been bloodied - peyi a vann, peyi a fann, peyi a tonbe nan sann - and we’ve been divided. He is not dead... He lives on!

His body succumbed to the vicissitudes: to pains that even defied science, to evil his heart and his brain could no longer bring order to, to political shocks that his conviction and his morale could no longer endure.

In the name of the larger Lavalas Movement, we bid farewell to Father Gerard
Jean Juste and wish him a good journey. In the name of all the cadres, the
grassroots/popular organizations, in the name of the Lavalas vision of
inclusion, we say thank you Father Jean Juste. Thank you very much
brother/compatriot, we shall continue to be the Sentinels – (to watch out -
veye yo - look out for the enemy).

The Haitian Center of Research and Social Science Investigations, bows in great
reverence, before the remains of the greatest tree (Mapou) to be cut down in
the forest of the just. May your demonstrations of faith, lessons in courage,
messages of patriotism, forever be the oil that lights our lamps to bring the
light in the darkness of realms, serve us all as the chorus of hope, songs of
resistances, hymn of love and friendship. For, as the (Haitian author, Jacques)
Roumain said in his book, Governors of the Dew - "The fruit that rots nourishes
the hope of the new tree."

Professeur Bell Angelot
Directeur du Centre Haïtien
De Recherches et d'Investigations
En Sciences Sociales


Forwarded by Ezili's Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Tragic Loss for Haiti: Father Gerard Jean-Juste, 1947-2009

On a very personal note:

We last visited Father Jean-Juste at his church in Haiti as we dropped off boxes of medical supplies. Below is a photo of him with a few of the hundreds of children he would feed daily. To me, he exemplified the heart of Haiti.

A few years earlier, Paul Burke and I stopped to visit him as he was receiving cancer treatments in Florida. He gave us money to carry to Haiti, so that we could insure the children were fed. When we asked if he didn't need this money for his own medication, he gently shrugged, and said, "I am fine; the children need to eat."

This summer, again, we will return to Haiti. Again we will carry loads of school and medical supplies. And again, somehow, we will manage to stuff in some soccer balls for Father Gerry's children.

-- Leisa Faulkner, Founder, Children's Hope

Father Jean-Juste, Spiritual Leader of Haitian Americans, Dies

Miami Herald, Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The spiritual and political leader of the Haitian community in South Florida died in Miami after suffering a stroke. He was 62.

Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, the Roman Catholic priest whose passionate, relentless, 30-year human-rights crusade on behalf of his fellow Haitians cast him as their spiritual and political leader in South Florida, has died.

Jean-Juste was a liberation theologist, controversial in both the United States and his homeland, who battled the unequal treatment of Haitian refugees in the federal courts, in Miami's streets and in the media.

He suffered a stroke recently, according to Ira Kurzban, the Miami attorney who represented Jean-Juste's Haitian Refugee Center in several lawsuits against the U.S. government, and died Wednesday evening at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was 62.

His death apparently was unrelated to the leukemia that Jackson doctors treated three years ago.

''The Haitian-American community has lost a visionary and a central figure who helped to establish the Haitian community in South Florida,'' Kurzban said. ``They lost a. . .friend whose arms and heart were always open.''

Marliene Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, called Jean-Juste ``an icon, someone who gave himself wholely, selflessly to others without any need to''self-promote.

'He was the greatest champion of refugees' and immigrants' rights, and he showed that we, as a country, could do better in the way we treat people who leave their native land to come here.''

Bastien said that Jean-Juste ``goes all the way when it comes to defending the rights of the less fortunate. He fights with all his might in the pursuit of justice. He doesn't stop to eat.''

Jean-Juste was an unflinching supporter of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas Party. On learning of his death, Maryse Narcisse, a Lavalas leader and spokeswoman for Aristide -- who is in exile in South Africa -- said, ``This terrible, terrible news. A big loss for us.''

Jean-Juste's demands for Aristide's return after a 2004 violent revolution, and his attacks on government corruption, earned him two prison terms in Haiti.

Unafraid to confront anyone, including Church superiors in two countries, he was suspended by the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince -- and prevented from having his own South Florida church by the Archdiocese of Miami.

Some admirers called him ''St. Maverick.'' He once said, ``The taste of freedom for somebody else is a great victory for me.''

Former Aristide government Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has known Jean-Juste since 1965. They exchanged notes from adjacent jail cells after both had been arrested by the interim government of Gerard Latortue.

Neptune remembered how Jean-Juste's passion for Haiti led him to return from Miami to work closely with Aristide's administrations.

''He's going to be missed a whole lot, and he's going to be remembered in a very positive way even by some of his detractors,'' Neptune said in Port-au-Prince. ``Especially. . .in the 1980s, he was very instrumental in having the U.S. government consider the case of the Haitian refugees. He was very much involved in social work not only in helping the Haitians solve their legal problems but in helping them in many ways.''

Born to an unmarried mother, Jean-Juste left Haiti in 1965 to study at a Canadian seminary.

He returned to Haiti briefly after ordination and worked in a remote parish. He left after refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the government.

He spent time in New York then attended Northeastern University in Boston, where he earned a degree in civil engineering.

In 1971, Jean-Juste became the first Haitian ordained as a priest by the Catholic Church in the United States. The first Haitian ''boat people'' began arriving in Miami the following year.

Initially they were treated the same as other refugees, but that began to change as their numbers grew and government policy shifted.

By 1978, Jean-Juste was running the Haitian Refugee Center in Liberty City -- and calling U.S. immigration policy toward Haitians ``our Holocaust.''

He upset Church officials by conducting funeral services for non-Catholic Haitians who drowned at sea, picketing the Archdiocese of Miami, and calling then-Archbishop Edward McCarthy a racist.

For Jean-Juste, there was only one priority: better treatment for the poor and hopeless.

''Haitian people had no rights in Haiti and they have no rights here,'' he told The Miami Herald in 1980. ``They are starving, they are being separated from their families, they cannot work.''

That year, the Mariel boatlift brought more than 12,000 Cuban refugees to Miami. At the time, the government routinely granted political asylum to Southeast Asians and Central Americans, as well as Cubans, while Haitians were detained indefinitely, sometimes abused, then usually deported.

The government considered them economic, rather than political, refugees, despite having fled the oppressive regime of Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier.

About 1 percent of those who sought asylum between 1972-1979 won it. Dozens drowned trying to cross 800 miles of ocean in small boats -- some shoved overboard by the smugglers they'd paid.

Many languished in immigration jails for months, sick with anxiety, depression and fear. Many attempted suicide; some succeeded.

Jean-Juste assailed the government's policy as heartless, racist, and in at least one case, criminal. That 1978 case involved an 8-year-old girl locked in a cell for two weeks with 40 adults after she entered the country illegally with her father.

Jean-Juste said she was hysterical when he found her.

The center's volunteer director since July 1978, he was named executive director drawing a $16,000 salary, shortly after rescuing the little girl.

But he was fired in the fall of 1980, several months after calling the Church in Haiti ''a prostitute'' for endorsing Baby Doc's marriage to a divorcee.

He launched The Haitian Refugee Center Inc. as an independent agency on Northeast 54th Street, and continued his fight through lawsuits.

In July 1980, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King handed Jean-Juste's cause a major victory. He ruled that the Immigration aned Naturalization Service had systematically discriminated against Haitian refugees by issuing sweeping deportation orders, and told INS to conduct new hearings for 5,000 refugees.

''We are very happy,'' Jean-Juste said. ``Judge King is a man of the Constitution.''

''Father Jean-Juste spearheaded all this,'' said Kurzban, the lawyer. ``He provided the political direction. . .He was a tremendous organizer and got people to demonstrate, and that completely changed the dynamic in South Florida.''

Jean-Juste returned to Haiti to work for Aristide. He fell ill with leukemia while behind bars in 2005, charged in the murder of a journalist.

International pressure the following year led a Haitian judge to drop the charge so the ailing priest could seek medical help in Miami.

He still faced what supporters called trumped-up weapons and criminal conspiracy charges. Eventually cleared -- and apparently in remission -- he returned to Port-au-Prince in early 2008, and had been pondering a run for president.

Miami Archdiocese spokesperson Mary Ross Agosta Wednesday night called Jean-Juste ``a man, a priest and the voice of the poor, both here and in Haiti. We pray his commitments in his life will bring him rewards in heaven. May he rest in peace.''

He is survived by two sisters and two brothers.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Change Haiti Can Believe In

Partners In Health and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti present:

Change Haiti Can Believe In

with Matt Damon, Paul Farmer, Linda Dorcena Forry,
and Brian Concannon, Jr., moderated by Amy Goodman

Obama May Put Paul Farmer in Charge of Foreign Assistance Program!

by Jodi Jacobson, Huffington Post

Dr. Paul Farmer, a founder of Partners in Health, recipient of the MacArthur "genius" award and a long-time provider of and advocate for basic health care for the poor is under consideration by the Obama Administration to head a newly overhauled foreign assistance program, according to sources close to Farmer. He will be meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to discuss the post.

Farmer, is a world renowned medical doctor, anthropologist and human rights activist, who began his career in the 1980s by bringing basic health care to the poor in Haiti, a country in which he has continued to work for over 20 years. His focus on human rights as an organizing principal for access to health services sets him apart from mainstream development policy and practice. This is in no small part because he often challenges the basic premise of "trickle down" theories inherent in the delivery of much of traditional development assistance, which often uses the rhetoric of human rights without adhering to the principles of a human rights approach to development. "If access to health care is considered a human right," asks Farmer, "who is considered human enough to have that right?"

"Paul has a vision that is grounded what he has learned in Haiti and elsewhere throughout a 20-year development career," said a source close to Farmer speaking on condition of anonymity.

"He has a vision of how to benefit the poor, starting from a principle of truly community-based and sustainable efforts that involve the population and work in collaboration with the local government to achieve real outcomes."

"If this vision could be spread to even part of US foreign assistance, " continued the source, "it would save a lot more lives, and dramatically improve health and improve economic conditions."

Sources close to Farmer also confirm he is in discussion to lead a wholly revised U.S. international assistance strategy, with portfolio over all non-military U.S. foreign assistance, including but not limited to the programs funded by USAID, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Account, humanitarian assistance, emergency assistance and potentially food aid. This would be a wholly new position with far broader purview than the current USAID Administrator's portfolio. Such a reorganization would also be in keeping with calls by many advocates who have long criticized the lack of integration within and across health and development programs funded through USAID and other agencies, including the State Department.

Kaiser Network and the Boston Globe reported earlier this week that Farmer had not decided whether he would take the positions, but sources close to Farmer contacted for this article suggested that this weekend he in fact expressed eagerness to take the post if it entails reorganizing U.S. foreign assistance, and if he has widespread grassroots support from the global health community.

And in fact, many health advocates are ecstatic at the prospect of Farmer taking on this role. "This is a precious opportunity for all those who care about the health and well-being of people around the world," said Gregg Gonsalves, an international AIDS advocate and co-founder of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (a coalition including thousands of advocates and researchers in over 135 countries).

"What better chance to change things for the better than to have Paul at the helm? He is a pioneer in health and human rights."

William Smith, Vice President for Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, agrees: "He would be an excellent choice with a strong background in the rights-based area where the U.S. has lost significant ground over the past 8 years."

People who have worked with Farmer underscore that he is also an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. According the one source contacted who asked not to be named,

"The first programs [Paul] started in Haiti focused on women's health. He is a strong believer in women's access to primary sexual and reproductive health services. And while Partners in Health always worked within the law of a given country, and did not provide safe abortions where these were legal, Paul saw and treated botched abortions all the time."

Gonsalves and others have high hopes for Farmer's ability to work across silo-ed programs to ensure that health services are themselves integrated and meet the needs of the poor, while also ensuring collaboration and integration across other portfolios to expand access to safe water, increase food security, and meet other fundamental human needs. While U.S. assistance has long funded programs in these areas, they remain largely uncoordinated and often unconnected, making it difficult to achieve sustainable gains in any given area. Gonsalves and other AIDS advocates contacted for this story underscored that having Farmer overseeing development programs would go a long way toward the recent disappointment caused by less-than-hoped-for-levels of funding for global health programs in the President's 2010 budget.

"Putting Paul in charge is change of the kind we all hoped for," said Gonsalves.

"He represents a new kind of vision for global health, because he is not an insider, not a bureaucrat, not just interested in making incremental changes. He wants to reform the way we fund and measure overseas development going forward. He also understands that AIDS has been a catalyst for change in global health and he realizes that there are positive ways to build on this change."

"If Obama is real about wanting to change the way overseas foreign development is conducted," said Gonsalves, "he will have a willing partner in Farmer."

"Nothing in DC is ever done until it is done," he continued. "But all I can say is that this would be a game-changing appointment, an unprecedented one in my lifetime, and yes, change we can truly believe in this time."

State Department representatives and others in the community could not be reached in time for this posting, but RH Reality Check will continue to update this story as it develops and provide reaction from other sources.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Correa Triumphs in Ecuador

Correa Triumphs in Ecuador, and Thereby Becomes One of Latin America’s Most Successful Political Figures

Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, was re-elected yesterday with an impressive 51.7 percent of the vote, in a large field, to serve another term as head of state. Illustrating his widespread popularity in the country, his untainted presidential victory comes as the first such electoral triumph since 1979 that did not require a later run-off vote. His closest contender, Lucio Gutiérrez, managed to command only 28.4 percent of the ballot. Finishing in third with the lowest level of support in his four bids for the presidency, banana magnate, Álvaro Noboa saw his right-leaning electorate seriously dwindle.

It could be argued that Correa is one of the most successful contemporary Latin American political leaders of the era. Since taking office, he has come forth with a very specific socio-political program which has significantly alleviated the country’s political instability and hobbling strategic and economic conditions, while at the same time advancing his overt leftist platform aimed at job creation and lifting the country’s living standards. “Socialism, of course, will continue. The Ecuadorian people voted for that,” he exclaimed after his victory Sunday. “When have we concealed our ideological orientation? We are going to emphasize this fight for social justice…”

Despite having expelled a pair of U.S. diplomats stationed in Quito this year on allegations of their “unacceptable meddling” in Ecuadorian matters, Correa has generally avoided going out of his way to flail at the U.S. At the same time he did not fawn over seeking Washington’s goodwill when he announced that the U.S. lease on the military and anti-drug base at Manta would not be renewed in November. The same cannot be said of his left-leaning counterparts, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who never avoided exchanging pot shots with the Bush White House, but seem more interested in re-establishing a diplomatic relationship with Washington now that a new incumbent is occupying the White House.

Having been largely effective at maintaining relatively good relations with Washington while still holding his own, Correa appears keen on continuing his social and economic programs. Although he does expend a good deal of time on political dickering and forming non-productive alliances, he is not anything like a regional visionary in the mold of Chávez or Morales. Correa’s pragmatic, hands-on nature and his genuine preference for domestic matters over foreign affairs, and being his own man rather than fabricating a satellite personality is a decided asset. Correa’s feisty performance has improved the myth or reality that the Ecuadorian poor believe that their president has drastically improved the lives of everyday Ecuadorians, including themselves.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Staff
April 27th, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ecuador’s Correa at Trinidad Summit: Not Likely to Be His Last Presidential Trip

* Rafael Correa travels to Trinidad and Tobago this weekend along with several of his colleagues

*The economic climate is precarious as Ecuador continues to refuse to join ALBA or relent on Colombia

*Following widespread support in the 2008 referendum, Correa appears poised to continue vast social and economic reforms after his likely reelection bid

Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, will be joined by fellow leaders Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and newly-elected Mauricio Funes of El Salvador at the Summit of the Americas this weekend. The left-leaning brigade will head to the Trinidad forum with significant clout, which will likely assist Correa’s prospects in Ecuador’s upcoming elections. The outcome of the Ecuadorian presidential and legislative elections, set to take place on April 26, will most likely determine whether Latin America’s left-leaning political shift will prevail in the Andean region, or if it was just an ephemeral initiative now destined to burn off. The incumbent quasi-populist leader, Rafael Correa, is expected to be reelected by an even larger margin due to his widespread social and economic reforms.

The effective restructuring of his country’s political workings and quality of rule, in general, has been well received. Even though the approval of the new constitution in September 2008 created opportunities for various openings for change in Ecuador, the political and economic climate in the small Andean nation remains tense, even by Latin American standards. Running against the popular current leader of Ecuador are no strangers to the battle for presidency. They include ousted ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez, and Alvaro Noboa, currently on his fourth bid for the presidency.

Past Presidential Punch-out
This is not the first time Noboa and Correa contend for the presidency. In the 2006 presidential elections each candidate respectively used all of their available electoral snake oil to snare at least 40 percent of the vote plus at least a 10 point advantage over one’s closest opponent. But, in the first round of elections, Noboa won 26.83 percent of the vote, while Correa was only able to attract 22.84 percent. While nearly all elections in Ecuador metaphorically draw blood because they tend to be vehemently-fought contests, the 2006 ballot came at a particularly discordant time in the nation’s modern political history. In the ten-year period leading up to the 2006 election, seven different presidents had assumed office in Quito, three of whom had later been forced out of office by irate street scenes.

During the period leading up to the second round run-off, both candidates resorted to bombastic attacks against the opposing person. Noboa, considered to be Ecuador’s richest national, resorted to a series of diatribes aimed at Correa, many of which attempted to portray his opponent as a puppet of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. “They have pursued the most immoral and dirty campaign against me in an effort to link me with communism, terrorism, and Chavismo,” contended Correa. Much to the dismay of left-leaning Latin American leaders, the magnate even went so far as to accuse Chávez of covertly funding Correa’s campaign.

Indeed, Chávez and Correa share a tight bond, but after having suffered humbling losses while attempting to aid political movements in Mexico and Peru, Chávez remained uncharacteristically silent during Correa’s campaign. That is, until Chávez pursued his own onslaught against the rightist Noboa. “There are also strange things going on [in Ecuador],” asserted the Venezuelan leader. “A gentleman who is the richest man in Ecuador; the king of bananas, who exploits children and puts them to work, who doesn’t pay them loans, suddenly appears in first place in the first electoral round.” Such back-and-forth criticism continued until Noboa was stunningly defeated in the second round, losing to Correa by 57.07 percent to 42.96 percent of the total number of votes.

Ecuador Refuses ALBA In June 2008, Correa announced that Ecuador would not join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a “socially-oriented” regional trade bloc. The basis of this coalition stands in stark contrast to its U.S.-backed counterpart, the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which, according to Teresa Arreaza of Venezuelanalysis, is “based on the logic of deregulated profit maximization.”

A report by stated that Ecuador decided instead to pursue its integration efforts by means of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to, in the same year that Ecuador decided not to join ALBA, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) promised a credit line of $150 million to Quito, guaranteeing Correa’s decision to be ultimately dependent on U.S. funding. An agreement to join ALBA would have almost certainly jeopardized the allocation of such transactions. To this day, Correa maintains that Ecuador will become a member of ALBA only after Venezuela rejoins the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), making it likely that Ecuador’s refusal to join ALBA was a coercive strategy to have Venezuela induced to rejoin CAN. Chávez refused to have Venezuela remain a CAN member, which he meant as a snub to Washington for the Bush administration’s anti-Venezuela policies and its free trade agreements (FTAs) brokered with both Peru and Colombia.

Political Environment
On September 28, 2008, nearly 65 percent of Ecuadorians supported a constitutional referendum that, among other things, would allow the reigning Correa to stand for two more terms. The new constitution, the 20th since Ecuador achieved independence, also greatly reduced the power of the country’s military and Congress, two institutions repeatedly responsible for aiding in prematurely terminating presidential terms in the decade leading up to Correa’s first term in office.

The new constitution, aimed at alleviating the plight of Ecuador’s poor, who make up 38 percent of the nation’s total population, attracted overwhelming support as a result of proposed social programs that guaranteed free education and additional spending on health care. Programs aimed at increasing development and economic growth included the distribution of free seeds for crops, micro-loans with relatively low interest rates, and building materials for new home owners. Among its 444 articles, the new constitution also included increased governmental control over monetary policy, handing over control to Correa rather than the Central Bank. State control was also increased when it came to oil policy, which was a significant position to take, due to the fact that 45 percent of Ecuador’s annual budget comes from oil revenues.

Correa had stated that he would resign if the constitutional referendum was not passed, but its sweeping victory will allow him to potentially remain in power until 2017. The tighter grip on the economy, as well as the reduced power of the legislative and judicial branches, is consonant with trends prevalent throughout the belt of left-leaning Andean nations. However, Correa claims that his newly acquired power will help him consolidate the citizen’s revolution. The fear that Correa was changing the constitution in order to stay in power indefinitely was modulated by the inclusion of a clause that allows Congress to censure and impeach the president, given that it had sufficient public support behind it. Nevertheless, the new constitution allocates more power to Correa while concurrently weakening Congress, thus making it harder for Ecuadorians to oust him if they become disillusioned by his leadership.

The referendum’s passage was yet another vital blow against the United States’ once tight hold on the region. Today, Ecuador remains part of the group of Latin American nations to have fallen under the current “domino effect” that is characterized by the election of populist, leftist leaders, like Correa, throughout South and part of Central America. However, Correa’s Ecuador remains unique among left-leaning South American nations because, unlike the nationalization strategies being pursued by Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Correa has not moved to nationalize the telecommunications or electricity industry. Despite the fact that he has attempted to renegotiate mining contracts, the mining industry has not been nationalized. Nevertheless, Washington is known to feel it still has some cause for concern. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, met with Correa in 2008 to discuss Russia’s willingness to aid Ecuador in nuclear energy projects, potentially claiming another Moscow ally that is too close for the State Department’s comfort. And, as if meeting with an increasingly anti-American Russia is not enough, Correa has pledged to kill free trade talks with the United States, while simultaneously furthering bilateral agreements with Venezuela. Moreover, Correa’s aim to detach Ecuador from American connections includes the freezing of his country’s foreign debt payments and statements that the dollar should be abandoned as the official currency of Ecuador.

The El Salvador Connection
Fears of the “dominos falling” in Latin America have been further exacerbated by Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) figure, Mauricio Funes’ rise to power. After the falling domino’s dust settled, the United States was left with a feeling of apprehension concerning El Salvador’s eventual direction. A series of rightist leaders in El Salvador had made the country one of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America and its sudden lean to the left became a major setback to U.S. preeminence in the region.

The loss of a key pro-Washington government in Latin America has made the Ecuadorian election that much more important. The current fight for the presidency in Ecuador will be examined closely, as a Noboa victory will give the United States a much needed pro- American figure in power in the region. Correa, having stated that he will not renew the lease on Manta Air Base — the only such U.S. outpost in South America — differs greatly from Noboa, whose platform includes an emphasis on orthodox private sector planning, including attracting foreign investment and building up tourism.

Border Dispute with ColombiaCorrea’s disapproval of any form of U.S. intervention in the region was further acknowledged when he claimed that Colombia had breached its borders in complicity with the United States. On March 1, 2008, Raúl Reyes, a rebel leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed by the Colombian military after it made an incursion on Ecuadorian territory.

Colombia had erroneously claimed they killed the rebel leader as the result of an air strike launched from within its own territory and that it was, in fact, an act of self defense on Bogotá’s part. Colombian soldiers then, according to this doctored version, crossed into Ecuador in order to confirm Raúl Reyes’ death. Correa, heatedly criticizing President Álvaro Uribe’s breach of Ecuadorian sovereignty, claimed that the fighting in fact took place within Ecuadorian territory and that the Colombian president had violated Ecuador’s autonomy due to pressure from the United States. The angered leader was then joined by Chávez, who stated that if the same situation had occurred in Venezuela, it undoubtedly would have been understood as an act of war. Uribe fired back by producing evidence that allegedly linked Chávez and Correa to the FARC.

According to “evidence” found on a laptop computer belonging to the late Raúl Reyes, Chávez had paid the FARC $300 million in exchange for the release of hostages that they held. The laptop also included information alleging that Correa received campaign contributions from the Colombian guerrilla group during his 2006 presidential campaign.

In a call for the OAS to act against Venezuela and Ecuador during the border dispute, Uribe stated, “Members of the Permanent Council and citizens of the hemisphere, let there be no doubt that the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela were negotiating with narco-terrorists, the proofs are in your hands.” Maria Isabel Salvador, Ecuador’s representative to the OAS attempted to refute the claims, calling Uribe’s evidence “alleged proofs,” pointing out that the computer recovered was “strangely intact” after a bombing attack that killed the FARC leader and others.

The allegations brought forth over the border incident, which Correa dismisses as a joke, could become a major decision factor for undecided Ecuadorian voters. Although Colombia violated Ecuadorian sovereignty by sending troops across the Colombian-Ecuadorian border to allegedly recover Reyes’ body, their allegations that Ecuador was in league with the FARC proposes a new obstacle in Correa’s fight to shed his popular label as being Chávez’ puppet. Latin News reports that despite having been in power since 2006, a Cedatos Poll, taken before the official campaign began, found that 44 percent of Ecuadorians were still undecided, and even Chávez’ silence in this election may not spare Correa from being somehow linked to the Venezuelan leader.
The border dispute had severe implications on Andean integration and cooperation efforts. In a hearing prepared by the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the dispute was said to have had lasting, negative consequences, breaking down the cooperation between South American countries in combating guerrilla groups, such as the FARC, and containing the drug problem. The House Subcommittee also reported that there would be an escalation in the militarization of border regions. In May 2008, two months after the border conflict had broken down, Ecuador announced its purchase of three Russian helicopters, which among other military type purchases from Brazil and Chile, would help reinforce the border with Colombia. Correa, if elected, will follow through with additional steps to secure the border. On March 24, 2009, General Fabián Varela, Ecuador’s Chief of the Joint Commander of the Armed Forces, stated that the aforementioned Manta Air Base, an important U.S. military site in the drug war, will be used as a center for its operations pertaining to the Colombian border when the U.S. lease expires in November 2009.

According to his campaign website, Noboa is running on a strong anti-corruption platform and has a professed interest in foreign investment. He currently has only 15 percent of the vote, having fallen to third place behind Lucio Gutiérrez (2003-2005), an April 6, 2009 final opinion poll found. It is unlikely that Noboa will gain much ground before the April 26 vote. Noboa’s U.S.-like vision of Ecuador seems to be losing to Correa’s promise of autonomy and social welfare, awarding the current Ecuadorian president 57 percent of the vote. Already, it seems Correa is set for a clean and decisive victory as he is ahead by 10 percent over his nearest opponent, and above the 40 percent mark needed to win the election in the first round. Correa’s victory now seems eminent, but news that Noboa’s Partido Renovador Institucional Acción Nacional and Gutierrez’ Sociedad Patriótica are carrying on talks of possibly forming an electoral alliance in order to win a majority of seats in Congress could effectively handicap Correa’s presidential prerogatives.
Council on Hemispheric Affairs:
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associates Billy Lemus and David Rosenblum Felson April 16th, 2009 Word Count: 2500

Monday, March 16, 2009

Leftist Victory in El Salvador Closes an Historic Cycle

Published on Monday, March 16, 2009 by Huffington Post
by Marc Cooper

The apparent victory of leftist candidate Maurico Funes in Sunday's presidential election in El Salvador finally closes out the Cold War in Central America and raises some serious questions about the long term goals of U.S. foreign policy.

With Funes' election, history has come full cycle. Both El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua will now be governed by two former guerrilla fronts against which the Reagan administration spared no efforts in trying to defeat during the entire course of the 1980's. We will now coexist with those we once branded as the greatest of threats to our national security. Those we branded as "international terrorists" now democratically govern much of Central America.

Funes, once a commentator for CNN's Spanish-language service, comes to power representing the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a Marxist guerrilla group-turned-political -party, an organization that the U.S. government once described in terms now reserved for Al Qaeda and Hizbollah.

From the late 1970's until a negotiated peace settlement in 1992, the FMLN fought a bloody civil war against a series of U.S.-backed right-wing regimes. Those Salvadoran regimes engaged in horrific massacres and deployed savage death squads, taking a massive human toll. While the FMLN also perpetrated atrocities, all independent analysts agree that the overwhelming majority of the 75,000 who were killed in the war in El Salvador were victims of government-sponsored violence.

This same FMLN which now comes to power in El Salvador was once declared as the primary perpetrator of "international terrorism" by the Reagan administration who deployed hundreds of U.S. military advisors to the tiny Central American country and who quadrupled the size of the Salvadoran Army. In this all-out quest to crush the FLMN, U.S. authorities, at best, turned a blind eye to the bloody excesses of the Salvadoran regime. At worst, it encouraged them.
At the same time in history, the U.S. spent billions creating a "contra" army to destabilize and dislodge the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) which had taken power in Nicaragua in 1979, overthrowing the dynastic and dictatorial rule of the Somoza family - another U.S.-backed ally.

During the entire eight years of the Reagan era, defeating both the FMLN and the FSLN were the absolute top priorities of U.S. foreign policy as the administration argued that the Texas border was a short hop from the fields of Central America and that all must be done to stop the northward march of hemispheric revolution. The sort of inflammatory rhetoric used to describe the Central American guerrilla movements was an eerie precedent for the overheated war of words against "The Axis of Evil" that would emerge earlier this decade.

The Nicaraguan Sandinistas were eventually defeated by an American-backed opposition in elections in 1990 and democratically and peacefully transferred power (something the Reaganites claimed could never happen). But the Sandinistas returned to power last year re-electing its historic leader Daniel Ortega as president. Almost twenty years of rule from the pro-U.S. coalitions that had succeeded the Sandinistas had failed to implement any meaningful social change.

The Salvadoran FMLN, meanwhile, which has acted as a parliamentary opposition party since the 1992 Salvadoran peace accords, now comes to power ending twenty years of uninterrupted rule by the country's ultra-conservative ARENA party - a political organization born directly from the death squads of the 1980's and, yes, a close ally of the U.S.

All of this raises the question of why so many lives were spent and so many billions in U.S. dollars were burned in an attempt to expunge these leftist forces twenty years ago? Wouldn't it have been possible in 1989 to find some sort of accommodation with these radical forces and not postpone the inevitable for twenty years?

In the case of Nicaragua, the year-old reborn and duly elected Sandinista administration--while far from a model of democratic ethics-- hardly poses any threat to U.S. interests. Though President Ortega, saddled with governing one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, still clothes his actions in revolutionary rhetoric, he has headed up what many think is essentially a conservative regime which recently outlawed all abortion (a move that could warm the deceased Ronald Reagan's heart). Ortega campaigned successfully for the presidency last year by quoting from scripture and has not flinched from pacting with the most conservative of political elements.

In the case of El Salvador, President-elect Funes has pledged to maintain close and cordial relations with the U.S. And while the FMLN--like the Sandinistas - clings to some of its Cold War revolutionary rhetoric, no one expects any radical moves by the incoming government. Fighting widespread poverty aggravated by the global slump and a chilling crime wave, the FMLN will have its hands full just keeping the government on keel. President-elect Funes holds distinctly moderate views and in an American context would be little more than a liberal Democrat. In any case, the FMLN can point to its recent governance of several Salvadoran cities (including until recently the capital of San Salvador) as its democratic bona fides.

The resurrection of the FMLN and the FSLN at this time in history raises a troubling irony regarding U.S. foreign policy. Yesterday we were told they were our greatest enemies. Today, now in power, they hardly garner any U.S. press coverage, let alone much attention from Washington. Likewise, the right-wing forces we bankrolled with blood and treasure and who we were told were a bulwark of Western Civilization, utterly failed in solving the basic existential questions that bedeviled their respective countries. Twenty years from now, we have to ask, what will Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria look like? Might we find ourselves peacefully co-existing with the same undefeated forces who today we proclaim our mortal enemies? Might we be better off using our soft power, our economic and diplomatic clout to force negotiation and moderation with those we perceive as irrational and radical enemies? Or do we only reach that conclusion after the dissipation of prolonged, bloody and ultimately unsuccessful armed intervention and war?

© 2009 Huffington Post


Jubilant Funes supporters poured into the streets of San Salvador to celebrate [AFP]
Monday, March 16, 2009

El Salvador's former rebel group-turned-political party has claimed victory in the country's presidential election.

Jubilant supporters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) poured into the streets of San Salvador in the early hours of Monday, after Mauricio Funes, the FMLN leader, declared that he had won.

"This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador's greatest hope," Funes said, with results showing he had 51.3 per cent of the vote, with over 90 per cent of returns counted.

Soon afterwards, Rodrigo Avila, the conservative candidate, conceded defeat, vowing to lead a formidable opposition.

"I want to make it known to Mauricio Funes from the FMLN that in this close battle the margin of difference has given him the advantage," Avila said, recognising the end of two decades of rule by his party.

'Peaceful and massive'

At least 20,000 government troops were deployed to maintain order during the elections but voting was "peaceful and massive", Walter Araujo, the president of the supreme electoral tribunal, said.

The FMLN win is the first defeat for conservatives since the country's 12-year civil war, in which 75,000 people were killed.

The election campaign had polarised El Salvador.

Funes pledged to combat corruption and tax evasion and ease the burden of the global downturn with centre-left policies aimed at helping the poor.

He had also promised to crack down on big business which he said exploited government complacency to evade taxes.

Avila, a former army sniper, with close ties to the business community, said he was the better qualified candidate to handle problems linked to the global recession and argued that Funes would turn the country into a Venezuelan socialist satellite.

Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez, reporting from San Salvador, said that Funes was a fresh face for the FMLN, having never fought with the guerrillas during the civil war, and commanded a lot of respect within the country.

During the civil war, Funes had worked for the CNN Spanish television channel and a commercial station in the capital, San Salvador, reporting on the war, which ended in 1992, before becoming a host of one of the country's most popular television shows.
US relations

Alberto Arene, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that Funes faced many challenges.
Funes said it was the happiest night of his life [Reuters]"We have a global economic crisis, deepening poverty levels, and many other issues," he said.

"I think he will have to govern from the centre if he wants to make a more viable government."

El Salvador, the most densely populated country in the Americas, is still recovering from the civil war, in which more than 75,000 people were killed, with many still missing, following 12 years of fighting between the army-backed government and FMLN fighters.

The country has been a close US ally and Arena supporters said an FMLN victory could affect the country's relationship with Washington.

But Funes has pledged to develop relations with the US.

A quarter of the country's population lives in the US and the tiny nation - Central America's smallest - relies heavily on remittances.

The government estimated that 40,000 immigrants in the US returned to vote.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

El Salvador Is Poised to Break with the Past

El Salvador is Poised to Break With the Past; Is the U.S. Ready to Change its Policy Toward Latin America?

By Mark Engler, Foreign Policy in Focus. Posted on, March 13, 2009.

Washington's past policies in El Salvador have been deadly. With Salvadorians poised to vote for change, the U.S. should embrace it.

A desire for change isn't a sentiment unique to voters in the United States, and it's not something that our country should fear when embraced by our Southern neighbors. El Salvador, a country that will hold presidential elections on March 15, is a case in point. It's a place where a single party has been in power for two decades. It has long been mired in poverty, crime, and corruption. And its own Cheneys and Rumsfelds remain in power. A victory by the progressive frontrunner in the electoral contest -- the first Latin American presidential elections since President Barack Obama's inauguration -- would give the new White House an opportunity to reject fear-mongering about the rise of left-leaning governments in Latin America and instead praise the regional wave of democratic transformation.

In recent months, Mauricio Funes of the progressive FMLN party (the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) has consistently led in the polls. A February 20 poll reported Funes with an 11 percent edge over Rodrigo Ávila, a private security mogul, former director of the National Civil Police, and nominee of the right-wing ARENA party (the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista). Funes is well known in El Salvador as a television journalist who hosted one of the few programs openly critical of the government. He has capitalized on public support for new approaches to a crime epidemic and an economy that has provided too few alternatives to destitution or migration to the North. ARENA has held the presidency in El Salvador for the last 20 years, including the 17 years since the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords that ended the country's civil war.

A key tactic of the Salvadoran right has been to paint Funes and his party as tools of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Many U.S. commentators have mirrored this position by caricaturing the Latin American left as naively obedient to Chávez and encouraging Obama to craft a tougher response. Within the context of El Salvador, the accusation against Funes is baseless; in the United States, this simplistic reading of Latin American politics invites a wholly counterproductive approach to the region.

The Obama administration's policy toward Latin America should be based in a more sophisticated understanding of regional politics, respect for democratic processes, and acknowledgement of the profound failure of past U.S. interventions. El Salvador provides a clear example of a country in which both military and economic policies promoted by Washington under previous administrations have had disastrous results -- and it now offers an opportunity for the United States to express a new understanding of its national interest.

The Shadow of War

El Salvador's civil war still looms large both in the country's domestic politics and in its relations with the United States. Unfortunately, the record of U.S. involvement was systematically distorted by the Bush administration, creating a continued need for Americans to face a difficult history.

In the 1980s, El Salvador was the site of one of the United States' largest Cold War interventions. Tragically, Washington sent $6 billion in aid to a Salvadoran government whose army and paramilitary death squads were responsible for heinous crimes. Some 75,000 people were killed in the country's civil war during that decade. In 1993, a United Nations-backed Truth Commission determined that the government was responsible for 85 percent of human rights abuses and that the rebel forces were responsible 5 percent, with the remaining 10 percent undetermined. Among the most notorious acts of the right-wing counter-insurgency included the massacre of at least 1,000 people in the village of El Mozote in 1981 -- an atrocity the Reagan administration tried hard to obscure and deny -- and the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.

The conservative ARENA party was formed in the 1980s by an infamous death squad commander, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, one of the figures responsible for Romero's killing. Nevertheless, as a conservative pro-business party, ARENA has held executive power since 1989, and it has won three successive presidential elections in the post-war period.

If eight years of Bush administration rule was enough for voters in the United States, it's easy to see why Salvadorans, too, would be ready for change. ARENA was eager to join Bush's "coalition of the willing," making El Salvador the only country in Latin America with troops in Iraq. The move won the country strong praise from Washington's neoconservatives. In 2004 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lauded El Salvador's "human struggle for liberty and democracy" and Vice President Dick Cheney held up El Salvador's 1980s counter-insurgency as a model for the "War on Terror." Each ignored the damning Truth Commission report naming U.S.-backed forces as the central actors responsible for terrorizing the country's population. Similarly warping history, ARENA's current presidential candidate, Ávila, expressed his admiration for D'Aubuisson's "defense of liberty" in accepting his party's nomination.

Breaking With Tradition

The FMLN also comes out of the civil war, formed by former guerilla forces that fought to wrest control from the country's traditional oligarchy. The FMLN became a left political party after the Peace Accords. Since then, it has served as the main opposition party in El Salvador, with members ranging from more traditional socialists (represented by vice presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén) to moderate social democrats (represented by Funes). Over the years, it has made steady gains at the mayoral level and in the National Assembly. In the municipal and legislative elections that took place in January, the FMLN became the predominant party in the Assembly. Its deputies now outnumber ARENA's 35 to 32. The FMLN also increased the number of towns and cities it will govern by more than 50 percent, to a total of 90 municipalities.

The party sees these results as encouraging signs. However, it has similarly entered past presidential contests with high hopes and electoral momentum, only to see its candidates fall short. Demonstrating that a lead in the polls doesn't always translate into an election-day victory, the FMLN's incumbent mayor of San Salvador, Violeta Menjívar, lost in January despite being favored to hold the post.

That said, there are several reasons why the results this presidential election might be different than those of the past. These include Funes's own merits, the declining appeal of ARENA's "law and order" policies, a region-wide demand for a new economic vision, and hope that the Obama White House won't repeat Bush administration interference in the Salvadoran electoral process.

Funes, now 49, was one of many citizens who experienced personal loss during the civil war. His older brother, a student leader, was kidnapped and killed by police forces in 1980. Funes also studied at the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) in San Salvador, where six priests, some of them his mentors, were murdered in 1989. However, representing a break with party tradition, Funes is the first FMLN presidential candidate who didn't fight in the conflict. This and his popularity as a well-known broadcaster have made right-wing charges that an FMLN victory would "place our nation in hands stained with blood" sound hollow.

ARENA has also lost the advantage of positive public perception of its anti-crime policies. Facing persistently alarming rates of homicide and robbery, both presidential candidates have vowed to make combating crime a priority of their administrations. However, only Funes has pledged to purge the police force of corrupt elements linked to organized crime. In polls released on February 20, 43.9 percent of Salvadoran respondents believed Funes could better solve the problem of insecurity, compared to 26.3 percent who trusted Ávila. Similar numbers believed that the FMLN would be more effective in confronting corruption.

CAFTA's Record

That leaves the economy. For the first time in recent election cycles, the economy replaced crime as the issue identified by the most Salvadorans as their greatest concern going into the elections. Few in the country seem satisfied with business as usual. ARENA's economic management has largely failed to address entrenched poverty and has maintained dramatic levels of inequality in the country. Since the war, the party has pursued an aggressive program of Washington Consensus economic policies, working to privatize social services and public utilities like electricity and water. The outgoing government of Antonio Saca led El Salvador into the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), promising jobs, investment, and cheap imports.

The results have been unimpressive, particularly for the 37 percent of Salvadorans who still live in poverty, according to World Bank data reported in September 2008. Real GDP growth languished well below 3 percent annually for most of the past decade. In the last two years, the economy as a whole has benefited from high commodity prices, and growth rates have been uncharacteristically healthy. But high prices have proved a double-edged sword for the poor, who have been forced to confront the bleak reality of food crisis. The World Food Program reported in February 2008 that "initial estimates are that as a result of the recent skyrocketing market prices, the actual calorie intake of an average meal in rural El Salvador is today roughly 60 percent of what it was in May of 2006."

In the realm of trade, CAFTA hasn't delivered on its promoters' promises. Since the deal was implemented, El Salvador's trade deficit with the United States has soared, as have rates of rural unemployment. This has fueled problems with crime, and it has left migration to the North as the only viable economic option for many Salvadorans. As a result, the country grows ever more dependent on money sent back from immigrants in the United States. Such remittances accounted for 18 percent of El Salvador's GDP in 2007.

This dependency, in addition to El Salvador's reliance on the United States to consume over half of its exports and the government's decision in 2001 to adopt the U.S. dollar as the national currency, have left the country nakedly exposed to the international financial crisis. More than for almost any other country, the downturn in the world's economic superpower will have dire consequences for El Salvador. The looming crisis could prove crucial in the elections, as elsewhere in the hemisphere economic woes have propelled progressive governments into power.

A New U.S. Role

Hope that the Obama White House will diverge from past administrations' interventions on behalf of ARENA is a final key reason for expecting change. The right in El Salvador has consistently charged that an FMLN victory would mean retaliation from Washington. In the past, U.S. officials have collaborated in affirming this impression, spreading fear among Salvadoran voters.

In advance of 2004 elections, several Republican members of Congress issued threats that the vital flow of funds sent by Salvadoran immigrants back to their home country would be disrupted if the election results did not please Washington. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) bluntly stated: "If the FMLN controls the Salvadoran government after the March 2004 presidential elections, it could mean a radical change in U.S. policy regarding the essentially free flow of remittances from Salvadorans living in the U.S. to El Salvador." Bush administration officials such as Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega and Special White House Assistant Otto Reich further suggested that an FMLN election could jeopardize the immigration status of Salvadorans allowed in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status program.

In December 2008, several dozen prominent North American academics specializing in Latin America signed a letter expressing concern that such interference in the Salvadoran electoral process might be repeated. They cited statements in May 2008 by then-U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer, who tried to tie the FMLN with the violent FARC guerrilla organization of Colombia. Without substantiating these ties, Glazer ominously said, "any group that collaborates or expresses friendship with the FARC is not a friend of the United States." Furthermore, U.S. Director of Intelligence J. Michael McConnell claimed in February 2008, also without substantiation, that the FMLN would be receiving "generous financing" from Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in the elections. "Such statements," the academics argued, "constitute unacceptable outside interference in the electoral process."

Fortunately, despite early warning signs, incidences of U.S. officials making such threats over the past year have been limited, and the change in government in Washington bodes well for non-interference. Thus far, the new Obama administration appears resolved to remain on the sidelines. Furthermore, the decision of Nicaraguan voters in late 2006 to elect Daniel Ortega, a candidate who ran a populist campaign that prompted its own round of Bush administration warnings, gave the FMLN hope that the lingering impact of Washington's threats may not be decisive this time around.

Redefining National Interest

Given a disastrous history of intervention, a form of benign neglect from the Obama administration represents a significant improvement in U.S. policy. Democratic critics faulted President Bush for not taking a more energetic role in Latin American affairs. However, the last eight years have been a period of robust democratic debate in the region, which flourished in part because White House attentions were focused on the Middle East. When the Bush administration did take an active interest in Latin America, as in El Salvador in 2004, the results were negative.

For the Obama administration to do better, it must develop a new understanding if U.S. national interest -- one that repudiates not only the military interventionism that fueled many "dirty wars" like El Salvador's, but also the Washington Consensus economic policies that were forcefully promoted even under Democratic administrations such as Bill Clinton's. In September, Obama railed against the doctrines of deregulation and trickle-down prosperity, describing the financial crisis as "the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed." Acknowledging that market fundamentalist policies have wreaked havoc in North and South America alike, the White House should applaud countries that pursue economic alternatives.

Indeed, it's the failure of neoliberal economic policies throughout the hemisphere, and not Chávez's machinations that have led to a wave of progressive governments winning elections in the past decade. Should Funes prevail in El Salvador, he'll have a wide range of peers from whom to draw lessons -- from Evo Morales to Bolivia, to Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, to the newest progressive head of state, Fernando Lugo, an ex-cleric known as the "Bishop of the Poor" who was sworn in as Paraguay's president last August.

Obama's own desire to break with Republican economics might make him sympathetic to Funes's vows for greater spending on social services and money to stimulate the local economy. With regard to trade, Funes's criticisms of CAFTA have been subdued and generally vague, perhaps as part of his effort to court support in the business community. Nonetheless, the FMLN as a party has harshly condemned the free-trade model. This, too, has a parallel in U.S. politics. On the campaign trail, Obama's literature presented him as a "consistent opponent of NAFTA and other bad trade deals," criticizing their lack of protections for workers' rights and the environment. As a senator, Obama voted against CAFTA, deriding "the White House's inattention to the losers from free trade."

Yet even while the Democratic Party overwhelmingly opposed CAFTA, the White House and media commentators routinely painted foreign countries that opposed unjust "free trade" deals with the United States as anti-American. President Obama is uniquely situated to break this pattern and dismiss the ridiculous double standard.

In describing the national interest of the United States, elected leaders have regularly invoked a desire to promote democracy and alleviate poverty in Latin America. As the history of El Salvador vividly illustrates, these worthy goals have been ill-served by past interventionism -- military, economic, and electoral. But they are goals shared by the progressive governments that are winning elections and coming to power with mandates to find economic alternatives. There could be few better reasons, on the eve of the first presidential elections in the hemisphere since Obama's inauguration, for his administration to again embrace change and adopt a new vision of the U.S. role in the Americas.

Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via