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Colombia: FARC Reiterates Call for Ceasefire During Peace Talks

By Marc Rogers | The Argentina Independent | February 2013

The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)’s negotiating team, Iván Márquez, underscored the group’s willingness to agree to a bilateral ceasefire with government forces while historic peace talks between the two continue.

ivan_marquez-25eneroAt the start of the fifth round of peace talks in Havana, Cuba, Márquez praised the proposal for a ceasefire written by Colombian politician and former cabinet minister Álvaro Leyva in a column for the El Nuevo Siglo newspaper.

Leyva called for a bilateral truce with international verification and oversight.

“For us a ceasefire requires a huge effort,” said Márquez, “but we know it is an important step to demonstrate a will for peace on both sides.”

FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire for two months after peace talks began in November last year, but did not extend the measure after the government refused to reciprocate. Even as peace talks continued, there has been an upsurge in violence since that ceasefire ended on 20th January, with seven Colombian soldiers killed in the latest incident.

The government has so far refused to accept a ceasefire agreement, over concerns that it would allow the guerilla group to re-arm and consolidate its position.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Comments Off on Colombia: FARC Reiterates Call for Ceasefire During Peace Talks

What the One-Percent Heard at the State of the Union

By SHAMUS COOKE | CounterPunch | February 19, 2013

When President Obama speaks, most Americans hear what he wants them to hear: lofty rhetoric and a “progressive” vision.   But just below the surface the president has a subtly-delivered message for the 1%, whose ears prick up when their buzzwords are mentioned.

Obama’s state of the union address was such a speech – a pro-corporate agenda packaged with chocolate covered rhetoric for the masses; easy to swallow, but deadly poisonous.

Much of Obama’s speech was pleasant to the ears, but there were key moments where he was speaking exclusively to the 1%. Exposing these hidden agenda points in the speech requires that we ignore the fluff and use English the way the 1% does. Every time Obama says the words “reform” or “savings,” insert the word “cuts.”

Here are some of the more nefarious moments of Obama’s state for the union speech:

“And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms [cuts]…”

“On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms [cuts] that will achieve the same amount of health care savings [cuts] by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms [cuts] proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”

This ultra-vague sentence was meant exclusively for the 1%.   What are some of the recommendations from the right-wing Simpson-Bowles commission? Obama doesn’t say. Talking Points Memo explains: 

-Force more low-income individuals into Medicaid managed care.

-Increase Medicaid co-pays.

-Accelerate already-planned cuts to Medicare Advantage and home health care programs.

-Create a cap for Medicaid/Medicare growth that will force Congress and the president to increase premiums or co-pays or raise the Medicare eligibility age (among other options) if the system encounters cost overruns over the course of 5 years.

There were many other subtly-delivered attacks on Medicare in Obama’s speech, all ignored by most labor and progressive groups, who clung tightly to the “progressive” smoke Obama blew in their face.

Obama’s speech also included a frightening vision of a national privatization scheme to previously publicly owned resources. But it was phrased so inspirationally that only the 1% seemed to notice:

“I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital [wealthy investors] to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children…we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers [corporations]…”

Obama’s proposal plans to “rebuild America” in the image of the wealthy and corporations, who only put forth their “private capital” when it results in a profitable investment; resources that previously functioned for the public good will now be channeled into the pockets of the rich, to the detriment of everyone else.

Allowing the rich to privatize and profit from public education and publicly owned infrastructure (ports and pipelines, etc.) has been a right-wing dream for years. This will result in massive user fees for the rest of us, while further dismembering public education, which Obama’s ill-named Race to the Top education reform is already successfully accomplishing.

Obama’s speech also put forth two massive pro-corporate international free trade deals, which would further drive down wages in the United States:

“We intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership [a massive free trade deal focused mainly on Asian nations]. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [free trade deal] with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.”

While praising free trade Obama disarmed labor and progressive groups by throwing in the meaningless word “fair.”

Lastly, Obama’s drone assassination policy was further enshrined in his speech. Drone assassinations are obvious war crimes — see the Geneva Convention — while also ignoring that pesky due process clause — innocent until proven guilty — of the constitution.

But Obama said that these programs will be “legal” and “transparent,” apparently good enough to keep most progressive groups quiet on the issue.

There were plenty of other examples of sugar-coated poison in Obama’s speech. It outlined a thoroughly right-wing agenda with no plan to address the jobs crisis — sprinkled with pretty words and “inspiring” catchphrases.

Some labor leaders and “progressive” groups seem dazzled by the speech. President of the union federation, AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, praised Obama’s anti-worker speech:

“Tonight President Obama sent a clear message to the world that he will stand and fight for working America’s values and priorities. And with the foundation he laid, working families will fight by his side to build an economy that works for all.”

And here is the real problem; as President Obama follows in the footsteps of President Bush, labor and progressive groups have found their independent voice stifled. The close ties between these groups and the Democratic Party have become heavy chains for working people, who find themselves under assault with no leadership willing to educate them about the truth, let alone organize a national fightback to win a massive jobs-creation program, prevent cuts to social programs, and fully fund public education. Obama’s second term will teach millions these lessons via experience.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org) He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on What the One-Percent Heard at the State of the Union

Turkey to consider gas deal with Iraqi Kurds

US claims to oppose deal

Press TV – February 19, 2013

Turkey has reportedly struck a massive oil and gas agreement with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, a move that would strain Ankara’s ties with the US and the central government in Baghdad.

According to a Monday report by The New York Times the Kurds in Iraq have agreed to supply Turkey with at least 10 billion cubic meters of gas every year through a natural gas pipeline whose construction is part of the deal.

Turkey has not officially confirmed the deal, which represents a fifth of the country’s current gas consumption.

The agreement is a major bone of contention between Turkey and the US, which believes such a measure would put Iraq’s integration in jeopardy by pushing the Kurds in the oil-rich country into the hands of Turks, the report says.

“Economic success can help pull Iraq together,” US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said earlier this month.

But “if Turkey and Iraq fail to optimize their economic relations … there could be more violent conflict in Iraq and the forces of disintegration within Iraq could be emboldened,” he warned.

The US envoy added that at the end of the day, the measure would harm the interests of Turkey, the US and the regional countries.

Turkey had previously shied away from engagement with Iraqi Kurds fearing their probable efforts for independence on Iraqi soil would embolden the Kurds in Turkey to intensify their three-decade battle for autonomy. But Ankara’s recent attempts at ironing out issues with Kurds to put an end to the long hostility may have convinced them to build up courage and get closer to Iraqi Kurds.

The recent deal is also a thorn in the side of Iraq’s central government which tries to block Turkey’s efforts at boosting leverage by planning to become an energy hub in the region.

In November, Baghdad prevented Turkish national energy firm TPAO from bidding for an oil exploration contract.

And in December, Baghdad barred a plane carrying Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz from landing in Arbil as he was reportedly on his way to seal the much-speculated energy deal.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Turkey to consider gas deal with Iraqi Kurds

Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala

By Cyril Mychalejko | Toward Freedom | February 13, 2013

On December 4, 1982, former President Ronald Reagan spoke in Honduras after meeting with Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Guatemalan General who seized power in a military coup a little over 8 months earlier.

“I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said Reagan. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

Two days later the regime that Reagan said was getting a “bum rap” sent a contingent of Kabiles, Guatemala’s notorious special forces unit, to the department of Peten. There they entered the village of Dos Erres, where they tortured the men, raped the women, took hammers to the children, and in the end murdered as many as 250 people. Afterwards they burnt the village to the ground as part of Rios Montt’s “scorched earth” campaign against the country’s Mayan population.

Thirty years later Ríos Montt may finally face justice. On January 28, 2013 a Guatemalan judge ruled that the former head of state accused of responsibility for “1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans” would be tried for genocide in a domestic court. This precedent-setting decision was lauded internationally by human rights activists and NGOs.

“Until recently, the idea of a Guatemalan general being tried for these heinous crimes seemed utterly impossible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action issued a joint statement on the day of the decision, also emphasizing the significance of the trial.

“This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows for the path of memory, truth and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country,” the statement noted. “We are hopeful that this case will continue on its course according to law and that soon there will be a final judgment against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.”

However, in order for justice to overcome impunity in Guatemala there needs to be an international component.

The cozy relationship between Ríos Montt and the Reagan administration needs to be dug up from the graveyards of history, much like the bodies that are still being dug up from mass graves in Guatemala.

The US media should use this case as an opportunity to act like the forensic anthropologists in Guatemala to sort through Washington’s skeletons when it comes to the history of foreign policy in Guatemala. This could be done very simply by sifting through declassified documents, old press articles, and other past reports to accurately retell the story of modern US-Guatemalan relations and Washington’s role in aiding and abetting what the United Nations declared a genocide, a genocide in which over 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans were killed and tens of thousands tortured, disappeared, raped and displaced.

While the recovery and discussion of national historical memory is central to creating lasting peace and justice in war-ravaged countries like Guatemala, US citizens must consider their own country’s history of promoting systemic violence in Guatemala if there is to be an improvement in US foreign policy toward the country.

Meanwhile, former US officials like Elliott Abrams, Reagan’s State Department point man for Latin American policy, should be called to testify as a witness at Ríos Montt’s trial, much like he did for a case in Argentina in January 2012.

Abrams testified via video conference that the Reagan administration knew that Argentina’s military regime were stealing babies from political prisoners and giving them to right-wing and military families. After finding out about such crimes, the Reagan administration then provided the military junta political cover by certifying its “improving” human rights record.

In the case of Guatemala, complicity in war crimes is not limited to the United States; there are other international actors with blood on their hands.

In December 2012 the Jubilee Debt Campaign released a report, Generating Terror, which made the case that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) helped legitimize and subsidize Guatemala’s genocidal regimes of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The report uses the Chixoy Dam project as a case study. The World Bank and IDB funded this dam project, the construction of which resulted in a series of massacres that resulted in over 400 deaths. Even after the documented massacres, these same international financial institutions provided additional funding to the same project seven years later.

Guatemala also turned to countries like Israel, Switzerland, France and Belgium during the civil war for aid, equipment and training.

There can be no peace in Guatemala without justice. In order for justice to prevail, the war crimes and impunity in the country need to be dealt with as an international issue, not just a local problem. While the Guatemalan government, again with the assistance of Washington, is re-militarizing the country, and corpses once more pile up, the need for accountability becomes more urgent—people’s lives depend on it.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala

Honduras: Murdered Lawyer’s Brother Killed in Aguán

Weekly News Update on the Americas | February 17, 2013

Unidentified assailants shot Honduran campesino José Trejo Cabrera on the evening of February 16th as he was riding on his motorbike to his home in the San Isidro section of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. Trejo was taken to a local hospital, where he died a few minutes later. The victim’s brother, Antonio Trejo Cabrera, an attorney who defended campesino activists and fiercely opposed plans for autonomous “model cities” in Honduras, was gunned down the evening of September 22, 2012, in Tegucigalpa near the Toncontín International Airport [see Update #1145]. Both brothers were members of the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of several campesino collectives seeking the return of land in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras that they say big landowners bought illegally.

The conservative Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna reported that according to several neighbors the attackers were trying to steal Trejo’s motorbike, but Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), told the French wire service AFP that the killers had been “waiting for” Trejo. Some 85 campesinos have been killed in the Aguán since the land dispute intensified in late 2009; two were murdered just two weeks earlier, on Feb. 2 [see Update #1163]. The government of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa has militarized Colón department, claiming that this would reduce violence both from the land disputes and from common crime, but many campesinos feel the militarization was actually directed against them. “We don’t understand how we can go on being killed in a department that’s under siege by the army and the police,” Alvarez remarked.

Another campesino, Santos Jacobo Cartagena, was gunned down a few hours before Trejo on the afternoon of February 16th. Unidentified men riding in a car shot Cartagena, a MUCA member, as he was waiting for a bus at the La Confianza community. “More murders can be expected after the persecution and threats against the campesinos who struggle for land,” the Permanent Human Rights Monitoring Center for the Aguán, a Honduran human rights group, wrote on February 16th. (Vos el Soberano 2/16/13; La Tribuna 2/17/13; AFP 2/17/13 via Terra.com; Conexihon.info (Honduras) 2/17/13)

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | 1 Comment

Economic Growth with More Equality: Learning From Bolivia

By Emily Achtenberg | Rebel Currents | February 15, 2013

Until recently, conventional economic wisdom held that sustained economic growth in any society could only be achieved at the expense of income equality. Today, even free market disciples like The Economist recognize that these goals are not contradictory—and that growing inequality, in fact, is an impediment to economic prosperity.

Recent data on economic growth and inequality for the United States and Bolivia reveal two starkly contrasting portraits.

The United States, after four decades of widening inequality, is experiencing the greatest economic downturn since the Depression. In 2011, while the economy grew by only 1.7% (down from 3% in 2010), income inequality increased by almost as much—the biggest single year increase in two decades. Over the past 30 years, the share of income held by the top 1% has more than doubled, increasing from 8% to 17%, while the share held by the bottom 20% has fallen from 7% to 5%. Currently, the United States has the highest level of income inequality of any developed country.

Poverty rates in the United States have risen 23% since 2006, now leveling off at 15.1%. Today, more Americans are living in poverty than at any time in the half-century since the census started publishing these estimates. Due to declining incomes, the U.S. “middle class” is eroding, dropping from 61% of adults 40 years ago to a bare majority now.

As Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted, the United States’ declining middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically fueled our economic growth. Thus, inequality is “squelching our recovery”—but U.S. political leaders have been slow to act on this lesson.

In contrast, despite the worldwide economic crisis, Bolivia’s economy is on track to increase by at least 5% in 2013, as it did last year. This is among the highest growth rates in Latin America, exceeded only by Chile, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Since the start of Evo Morales’s presidency in 2006, Bolivia’s GDP has tripled, and GDP per capita has more than doubled.

At the same time, according to data recently presented by Morales to the Legislative Assembly, income inequality in Bolivia has significantly decreased. In 2011, the richest 10% of the population had 36 times more income than the poorest 10%, down from 96 times more in 1997. “Bolivia is one of the few countries that has reduced inequality,” notes Alicia Bárcena, head of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). “The gap between rich and poor has been hugely narrowed.”

Between 2005 and 2011, Bolivia’s poverty rate declined by 26% (from 61% to 45%). The extreme poverty rate fell even more, by 45%. An estimated 1 million people joined the ranks of the “middle class.” The World Bank has officially recognized Bolivia as a lower-middle income country, a ranking that affords more favorable credit terms.

Between 2006 and 2011, Bolivian workers’ purchasing power increased by 41%, as compared to 17% between 1999 and 2005. The minimum wage has risen 127% since 2005, far exceeding the rate of inflation. In contrast, U.S. workers’ real wages have stagnated or fallen, with inflation-adjusted incomes now at their lowest point since 1997. Since 1972, the average hourly wage has risen only 4%.

In Bolivia (unlike the United States), domestic demand fueled by rising incomes and narrowing inequality is a driving force behind the country’s economic prosperity. Local evidence of increased domestic consumption and consumer purchasing power can be seen in places like El Alto, the sprawling indigenous city overlooking La Paz, where banks and fast food outlets are sprouting up and the first supermarkets, shopping centers, and cinemas are being planned. In 2012, there were 8.9 million mobile phones in Bolivia (with a population of around 10.4 million). Construction activity has outpaced the capacity of the domestic producers, with cement now being imported from Peru.

Rating agency Standard and Poor’s gave Bolivia high marks for economic resiliency last October, in underwriting a successful $500 million bond sale—the country’s first venture into the international credit markets since the 1920s.

Behind these positive indicators is Bolivia’s state-led economic policy, including the re-nationalization of strategic sectors divested by past neoliberal governments (such as hydrocarbons, telecommunications, electricity, and some mines). Around 34% of the national economy is now under state control—although private investment (on Bolivia’s terms) is encouraged and has continued, in hydrocarbons and other key sectors.

The vast increase in hydrocarbons and mining revenues under Morales has funded a major expansion of social welfare programs, including highly popular cash transfers targeted to the elderly, pregnant mothers, and school children. It has also supported major infrastructure improvements, a significant increase in the coverage of basic services (such as water, electricity, and domestic gas), and a major expansion of public healthcare and education programs—all boosting the living standards of average Bolivians. … Full article

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel changes law to allow re-arrest of freed prisoners

MEMO | February 18, 2013

A leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, revealed on Sunday that the occupation authority has amended its military law to allow the re-arrest of 14 Palestinian prisoners who were freed as part of the Shalit deal. The released prisoners are now expected to serve the remainder of their original sentences, in some cases decades.

Palestinian human rights organizations view the arrest of the released prisoners as a serious breach of the agreement brokered in October 2011 by the Egyptian and German governments between the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Israeli authorities.

The newspaper noted that under the new amendment the Israeli authorities are not obliged to prove the case for the re-arrest of released prisoners. It referred to a petition filed by Ahlam Haddad, the legal counsel for two prisoners, in which she pointed out that a driving offence or staying illegally in Israel were enough to return any released prisoner back to prison to spend his remaining decades; without the need to prove these charges.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Subjugation - Torture | , | 2 Comments