Monday, September 24, 2007

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs Deserves an F for Article on Haiti

Originally posted at

By Joe Emersberger
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
September 21, 2007

COHA, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, recently published a piece by one of its research associates, Michael Glenwick, entitled “Préval of Haiti — A Provisional Report Card: Grade B+.” In it, Glenwick recycles the smears that contributed to Haitian President Aristide’s ouster in 2004 and, subsequently, to the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere. There can be no serious dispute about the scale of the bloodbath under Gerard Latortue’s coup installed government — one that was backed (quite predictably) by the US, Canada, France and the UN Security Council. Less predictable, and in some ways more important, was the backing Latortue received from progressive and “independent” institutions. Glenwick’s article moves COHA decisively into the camp of NGOs and media outlets that have served Haiti’s neo-Duvalierists so effectively in recent years. This represents a significant loss. Shortly before and after the coup, COHA stood admirably apart from the corporate media herd in its analysis of events in Haiti.

The opening paragraph of Glenwick’s article says that Latortue’s “accomplishments were meager at best” and that those years were “unstable” and “wasted.” In the next paragraph Glenwick says that “hundreds — if not thousands — of opposition party members were murdered” under Latortue. One is left wondering how many Haitians would have to die before Glenwick would condemn Latortue rather than offer modest praise and mild rebukes. In contrast, COHA’s Jeesica Leigh wrote a piece in 2004, coauthored by COHA director Larry Birns, about Latortue’s government entitled “A brutal regime shows its true colors.”

Citing no evidence, Glenwick equates Aristide to Latortue by writing that Aristide’s time in office was an “equally rocky period” but then goes on to assess Aristide much more harshly than Latortue by writing “Perhaps due to the attempted coup in late 2001 — or, just as likely, his own insensitivity to inclusive rule — Aristide seemed to manifest a show of lassitude to the rule of law as well as indifference to democratic institution building. He encouraged citizens to use violence when needed to fight the nation’s armed opposition, and civil liberties and political/human rights were in short supply.”

People who care to look for evidence to evaluate Aristide’s human rights record, especially compared to Latortue, Cedras, Duvalier, would come to quite a different conclusion.

A scientific survey by Athena Kolbe and Royce Hudson found that at least 4000 political murders were perpetrated during Latortue’s time in office – overwhelmingly by government security forces and their proxies. In contrast, after scouring Amnesty International reports, Perter Hallward, a UK based researcher, wrote “Amnesty International’s reports covering the years 2000-03 attribute a total of around 20 to 30 killings to the police and supporters of the FL [Aristide’s party] — a far cry from the 5,000 committed by the junta and its supporters in 1991-94, let alone the 50,000 usually attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.”

Pierre Esperance, one of Aristide’s most vehement, and dishonest, critics claimed in a (successful) funding request to the Canadian government that 100 people had been killed (not all Aristide opponents) during the “last several months” before the coup which he described as the worst period under Aristide.*

These numbers do not only reveal that Aristide’s track record was vastly superior to his opponents, they also show why it was inevitable that some of his partisans would conclude that violence was justified. Even during most of his second term Aristide’s supporters were more likely to be killed than his opponents’ supporters.[6] Glenwick completely disregards the massive amount of violence Haiti’s poor have been subjected to, and the threats they continually faced, to join the chorus of pious Western intellectuals who condemn Aristide for having said that the poor have the right to defend themselves. Many of those intellectuals also argue that the U.S. has the right to bomb defenseless countries thousands of miles away in “self defense.” The hypocrisy is as breathtaking as it is unnoticed by countless writers who have condemned Aristide for “incendiary” speeches.

Astonishingly, Glenwick refers to the presidential election that Preval won as “Haiti’s fairest election in decades.” In reality, as COHA accurately reported at the time, the election was a “caricature of the real thing.” Preval won, not because the election was fair, but because his opponents were so despised that they couldn’t win an election they had rigged.

Prominent Aristide allies such as the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, So Ann, and Yvon Neptune were in jail on trumped up charges. Thousands of other Aristide supporters were also in prison, exiled or in hiding. Aristide strongholds were subjected to state sanctioned terrorism by the Haitian National Police (fully supported by UN troops). Again, much of this was documented by COHA (for example, in a piece entitled “Haiti – And you call this an election?” among other articles.)

Another barrier placed in the way of participation by Haiti’s poor was the number of polling stations. About ten times more stations were available when Aristide was elected in 2000. COHA reported “many Haitians will have to walk more than two hours just to reach a voting center.” Haitians endured huge lineups and travel time in order to vote. When it was clear Preval was headed for victory in the first round a last ditch attempt at fraud was attempted. A truckload of ballots marked for Preval was found in the trash. Huge, non-violent demonstrations pressured Latortue’s regime to honor the results.

Glenwick noted that Preval was “a close friend and political comrade of Aristide” but did not explain the significance of Preval’s victory. Preval was untarnished by participation in the coup or association with Aristide’s opponents. Haiti’s ambassador to the US, in a letter to the New York Times, used Preval’s candidacy to imply that Aristide’s Lavalas movement was not being persecuted.[10] Preval received the endorsement of the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who was not allowed to register from prison as a candidate in the election. If Glenwick’s characterization of Aristide’s government had been accurate then Preval would never had stood a chance in a fair election, never mind one designed to disenfranchise most of the people who would vote for him.

The Herculean efforts required to elect Preval were not replicated during the legislative elections. The turnout was much lower than in the presidential election. Unpopular parties heavily backed by foreign democratization agencies obtained disproportionate power, but Glewnwick approvingly refers to this outcome as a necessary check on Preval. Glenwick’s fear is that, like Aristide, Preval might demonstrate “insensitivity to inclusive rule” (i.e. be reluctant to capitulate to politicians unable to win in fair elections).

Much of the material required to refute Glenwick is on COHA’s website. Did Glenwick read any of it? Did COHA’s editors? Should we expect a retraction of the articles COHA published in the past that refute Glenwick? Without engaging in Orwellian “doublethink” COHA must choose to either stand behind Glenwick’s analysis or their past work on Haiti. I hope people contact COHA director Larry Birns ( and respectfully ask him which COHA articles he stands behind.

*Documents obtained under Freedom of Information act by Anthony Fenton, a Canadian independent journalist

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Regarding "Colombian Free Trade Pact Shot Down: One Step Forward for the U.S., One Back for Canada"

Letter received 7/19/2007

I read very carefully your “analysis” called Colombian Free Trade Pact Shot Down: One Step Forward for the U.S., One Back for Canada. Sincerely this opinion article, coming from a reputed organization such as yours that says it’s a non partisan, independent NGO or think tank, has so many tilted statements that it leaves much to be desired to be even called an analysis.

Let’s start with the title. It already has an opinion in it which, if you read carefully, is supported with phrases that also only can be called political statements. Let me pinpoint some:

“This is merely the latest devastating blow to the standing of Colombia’s hard-line right-wing president, Àlvaro Uribe, whose disapproval rating hit a high of 27 percent in a Gallup Poll published on July 14”. Sure any president in its fifth year with an approval of 65 % must be having “devastating” political problems.
“As well his imperious removal of Washington’s long-favored policy of being able to extradite Colombian felons upon request”. More than 500 extraditions in 5 years, ‘Rasguño’ one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world sent today, can disclaim this political statement.
“President Uribe, when he was not squandering money on U.S. public relations firms…”. It leaves me with no words.
“…appalling number of more than three million displaced Colombian civilians has kept Bogotá in the crossfire of criticism for its daily derelictions of such internally displaced persons, Uribe’s indifference to issues of social injustice and Colombian’s incredibly unequal distribution of wealth”. Whenever your analysts want to see the amount of money Colombia spends on attending displacement or the reduction in unemployment, or the growth in the number of people with state health coverage or access to education, to just give you some examples, they are welcome to get them so their analysis can be a little more informed.
“Harper clearly feels more at home with vending Canadian products to the region rather than Canadian ideals and has staunchly supported his decision to trade with Bogotá despite calls that he should refuse to do so due to that country’s appalling human rights record.” Wow! This really is an analytical phrase that needs to be recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records for its depth in intellectual achievement.

I don’t want to go further in the analysis of your political commentary that does a disservice to your organization. A couple of editors, that with the crisis in the newspaper industry shouldn’t be to difficult to get, could seriously improve your document in terms of making them real analysis that have truthful elements into it and therefore improve the debate about Colombia and the US which, I think, is the main purpose of your organization.

Sincerely yours,

Francisco Santos Calderón
Vicepresidente de Colombia

Regarding "Préval of Haiti—A Provisional Report Card: Grade B+"

Dear Coha,

While Mr. Glenwick's article on Haiti and the Preval government appeared accurate in the description of the current state of affairs in Haiti, he erred in stating that it was up to the government to replace the "restavec" system. This system of sending children that one cannot support to live with more affluent families is the result of poverty. I cannot imagine what Mr. Glenwick thinks that the government can do about it.

By all first hand reports that I have had from Haitians traveling back and forth between Santo Domingo, where I live, and Port au Prince, the Capital city is transformed with a sense of peace since last January. People are out on the streets at night. The University is open late in the evening. People are hopeful and optimistic.

Please continue to monitor and report the situation there, perhaps with a bit more depth of understanding.

Thank you.

Elizabeth Eames Roebling

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Regarding "CAFTA’s October Referendum: A Death Sentence for Costa Rican Trade & Foreign Investment?"

Letter received 08/14/2007

The article seems generally well balanced (particularly by COHA standards) in presenting both the risks of CAFTA non-ratification by Costa Rica. However, I'm curious as to how you came up with the conclusion that "Without CAFTA, goods exported by the country to the U.S. can look forward to being subject to 35 percent tariffs." There is certainly a good possiblilty that Costa Rica will lose CBERA benefits in 2008 (as well as those under CAFTA-DR) if Costa Rica doesn't approve the agreement. However, that would mean that Costa Rica would be subject to U.S. MFN tariffs which average 3-4 percent ad valorem, since Costa Rica is a WTO member. (Some textile and apparel and footwear U.S. tariffs are much higher, but my impression is that Costa Rica isn't really interested in exports in either of those areas.)

If I am missing something please let me know.

Best Regards,

David A. Gantz
Samuel M. Fegtly Professor of Law and
Director, International Trade & Business Law Program
University of Arizona, Rogers College of Law

Regarding "Lightning Mustn’t Strike Twice: Alan García Determined To Avoid Another Failure Which Could be Staring Him in the Face"

Letter received 07/02/2007

Dear Larry,

Yes, I think you are right about Garcia magnifying the importance of Chávez for campaign purposes, but I don't think he "mainly invented" the relationship. The relationship existed, and of course Chavez himself weighed in repeatedly to publicly attack Garcia, creating an even stronger image of Chavez's support for Humala. Garcia didn't have to invent anything.

Thanks for your good work,

Charles Kenney

Regarding COHA's articles on India's growing role in Latin America

I read the article with interest and must compliment Alex Sánchez for both his articles recently on India’s emergence as a growing economic power and the relationship with Latin America.

May I point out that as a professional in the water sector that there is much to share between Brazil and India on how to manage urban waters and water in semi-arid area. I have seen the 1 million cisternas programme in northeast Brazil, which harvest rainwater.

This is absolutely akin to many such programmes in China and India. So there is much sharing of experiences to build on there too. It is good that the Asian giants and the Latin American people are increasingly sharing close ties. May this continue to increase.

Regards and complements once again,

Vishwanath S.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Regarding "Brazilian Aviation Crisis – Mechanical Error Or Governmental Failure? Or a Metaphor for Brazil Under Lula’s Rule?"

The Truth Finally Gets Its Socks On by Joe Sharkey

Given that the two American pilots of the Legacy 600 are now on trial, in absentia, on criminal charges that carry prison time in Brazil, it’s interesting to see how conventional wisdom has finally evolved in Brazil to accommodate realities that were violently in dispute for many months after the Sept. 29 crash.

Take this article by Concetta Kim Martens of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a think-tank whose interests include “the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.” The article was published on the organization’s Web site,, and republished by Brazil Magazine (, where it drew lively reader comment.

Obviously, I have no quarrel with the essence of the article.

That’s because nearly every assertion in it was first made a long time ago on this blog. But that was way back when no one else in the media was even raising the issues of the soundness of Brazil’s air-traffic control system, or criticizing the reckless rush by the Brazilian government, military and Federal Police to criminalize the Sept. 29 accident and scapegoat the American pilots.

Now that accuracy is winning the battle, we need to encourage perspective to march forward. So I need to point out that the COHA article, while essentially correct in its points, shades history a bit. And as I sense we are nearing the point where journalism must tip its fedora to history, I am sure Ms. Martens will forgive my nit-picking.

For one thing, she muddies the facts a bit on the demeanor of air-traffic controllers after the accident. “Since the September 29 Gol crash over the Amazon, controllers felt unfairly targeted for splenetic criticism [my italics] they were receiving from the public, and reacted by staging several work stoppages …” she writes.

Didn't happen quite that way.

Here is what did happen:

First the American pilots were recklessly and, it seemed to me universally, scapegoated. It took a while for the public in Brazil to become aware of, or concede, the role of air-traffic control in the accident.

Remember how long the ex-defense minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, loudly insisted that the pilots caused the crash by performing reckless aerial loop d loops over the Amazon? Nobody in power told him to put a lid on that nonsense, including his boss, the President, who won a runoff election amid the passions of the disaster, which had occurred two days before the polls opened.

Only in time did the general public, but not the authorities, acknowledge that the Sept. 29 crash had been set in motion by a series of egregious errors by air traffic controllers, who themselves were working in deplorable conditions with faulty equipment within a system beset with major technological deficiencies in radar and radio communications, especially over the Amazon.

Initially, as I argued last October, November and afterward, the air-traffic controllers' protests were basically a warning shot across the bow of government and military to not implicate air -traffic control in the blame.

What actually happened was that low-ranking controllers – fearing that they, too, might become scapegoats along with the pilots (which in fact ultimately happened) – clammed up while the American pilots remained in custody in Brazil.

While the pilots twisted in the wind, the core group of controllers who were on duty during the accident -- the people who knew, for example, that air-traffic control was aware of the transponder malfunction on the Legacy for 50 minutes before the crash and failed to raise the alarm -- remained silent, went to ground and refused to answer any questions, citing psychological trauma.

As the protests continued for months, air traffic in Brazil was thrown into chaos.

For months after the Sept. 29 accident, public sentiment, whipped up by xenophobic Brazilian media, had focused sharply and exclusively on the Americans as culprits. There was no “splenetic criticism” in Brazil of the air traffic controllers that I am aware of. Of course, I was raising criticism of air traffic control on this little blog. It wasn't splenetic -- though the outraged and verbally violent reaction to it certainly was.

Ms. Martens does zero-in effectively on some of the official nitwits who continually brayed that all was well in Brazil’s skies; that the Sept. 29 disaster was caused strictly by reckless, arrogant Americans; that Brazil’s skies and airports were under world-class supervision and that to say otherwise was a base calumny and an insult to the honor of the nation.

Of course, the official indignation all rang a bit hollow again in July, when another airplane crash killed 199 people at overcrowded, unsafe Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s busiest.

Wonderful Waldir Pires, the obstinate Defense Minister responsible for air-traffic control, was finally out the door. So was Jose Carlos “Sunshine” Pereira, who ran the airports authority and suggested that it was slander to suggest that anything, anything might be wrong with Brazil’s aviation system.

Sunshine Pereira ranks right up there near Wonderful Waldir as a classic character in this story. Pereira steadfastly insisted after the Sept. 29 crash, even as the evidence became manifestly clear that both aircraft had been put on a collision course at 37,000 feet by air traffic control, that “it is not the best moment to carry out changes” including addressing the inept military control of civilian aviation.

Later, as international aviation groups expressed outrage at the way Brazil had clumsily politicized and criminalized the Sept. 29 accident, and even after the second horrible accident in July, with 350 now dead in two disasters in 10 months, Sunshine Pereira stood by his rusty guns.

“Brazil does not need international help,” he proclaimed, inanely. “The crisis is ours. The dead are ours.”

Shortly after, he was ducked-walked off the deck.

But as Ms. Martens writes, the President remained in a defensive crouch. “The security of our aviation system is compatible with all other international standards,” Lucky Lula proclaimed. As recently as three weeks ago, Lucky Lula was still scoffing at the fact, otherwise widely accepted all over the world, that there are black holes and blind spots in air-traffic control radar and radio communications over the Amazon.

I assume Ms. Martens’ small deficiencies in context and nuance are a consequence of the demands of concise summary. She writes: “President da Silva’s government has come under a great deal of fire for failing to properly address the nation’s air-travel safety, an act that according to several aviation experts, and the adamant belief of a good deal of the public sentiment, led to the air disaster” [s]

Well, I'm here to repeat, for the record, that this "public sentiment" took a long time getting its socks on, and even longer to reach the level of being "adamant."

And I should also point out that, while public sentiment may well have finally come around to the truth, as Ms. Martens asserts, two American pilots remain on trial on spurious criminal charges that public sentiment realizes were trumped-up.