Category Archives: Latin America

OAS election observers subvert Bolivian democracy

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Organization of American States election observers have played an important role in subverting Bolivian democracy.

While some may find it hard to believe that a regional electoral monitoring body would consciously subvert democracy, their actions in the South American country are not dissimilar to previous US/Canada backed OAS missions in Haiti.

The OAS Election Audit That Triggered Morales’ Fall in Bolivia”, explained a New York Times headline. For his part, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”

After the October 20 presidential election, the OAS immediately cried foul. The next day the organization released a statement that expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results [from the quick count] revealed after the closing of the polls.” Two days later they followed that statement up with a preliminary report that repeated their claim that “changes in the TREP [quick count] trend were hard to explain and did not match the other measurements available.”

But, the “hard-to-explain” changes cited by the OAS were entirely expected, as detailed in the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission”. The CEPR analysis points out that Morales’ percentage lead over the second place candidate Carlos Mesa increased steadily as votes from rural, largely indigenous, areas were tabulated. Additionally, the 47.1% of the vote Morales garnered aligns with pre-election polls and the vote score for his Movement toward Socialism party. The hullabaloo about the quick count stopping at 83% of the vote was preplanned and there is no evidence there was a pause in the actual counting.

But, the OAS’ statements gave oxygen to opposition protests. Their unsubstantiated criticism of the election have also been widely cited internationally to justify Morales’ ouster. In response to OAS claims, protests and Washington and Ottawa saying they would not recognize Morales’s victory, the Bolivian President agreed to a “binding” OAS audit of the first round of the election. Unsurprisingly the OAS’ preliminary audit report alleged “irregularities and manipulation” and called for new elections overseen by a new electoral commission. Immediately after the OAS released its preliminary audit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, saying “all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process.” What started with an easy-to-explain discrepancy between the quick count and final results of the actual counting spiraled into the entire election is suspect and anyone associated with it must go.

At Tuesday’s Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Bolivia the representative of Antigua and Barbuda criticized the opaque way in which the OAS electoral mission to Bolivia released its statements and reports. She pointed out how the organization made a series of agreements with the Bolivian government that were effectively jettisoned. A number of Latin American countries echoed this view.

US and Canadian representatives, on the other hand, applauded the OAS’ work in Bolivia. Canada’s representative to the OAS boasted that two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia and that Canada financed the OAS effort that discredited Bolivia’s presidential election. Canada is the second largest contributor to the OAS, which receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington.

It’s not surprising that an electoral mission from the Washington-based organization would subvert Bolivian democracy. OAS electoral observers have played more flagrant role in undermining Haitian democracy. In late 2010/early-2011 the US/Canada used an OAS election “Expert Verification Mission” to help extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly become president. Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating and following the first round of voting in November 2010, forced the candidate whom Haiti’s electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. After Martelly’s supporters protested their candidate’s third place showing, a six person OAS mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the CEPR determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.” In an interview he warned that “time is running out”, adding that “our ambassador has raised this with the president [Rene Préval] himself.” The CEPR described the intense western lobbying. “The international community, led by the US, France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” This pressure included some Haitian officials having their US visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total was not increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of Haiti’s electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but the other half did not. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first-round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections. Official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this exercise in what they said was democracy. After Martelly won the second round with 16.7 percent of registered voters support Cannon declared: “We congratulate the people of Haiti, who exercised their fundamental democratic right to choose who will govern their country and represent them on the world stage.” The left weekly Haiti Progrès took a different view. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, the paper explained: “The form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

A decade earlier another OAS election mission helped sabotage democracy in Haiti. After voting for 7,000 positions an OAS team on site described the May 2000 elections as “a great success for the Haitian population which turned out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments.”

As the opposition protested the scope of Fanmi Lavalas’ victory, the OAS jumped on a technicality in the counting of eight Senate seats to subsequently characterize the elections as “deeply flawed”. The 50 percent plus one vote required for a first-round victory was determined by calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates, while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates. OAS concerns were disingenuous since they worked with the electoral council to prepare the elections and were fully aware of the counting method beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but they failed to voice any concerns until Fanmi Lavalas’ landslide victory. Finally, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome of the elections and even after Jean Bertrand Aristide got the seven Lavalas senators to resign (one was from another party) the “deeply flawed” description remained.

Haiti’s political opposition used the OAS criticism of the election to justify boycotting the November 2000 presidential election, which they had little chance of winning. The US and Canada used the claims of electoral irregularities to justify withholding aid and Inter-American Development Bank loans to the Haitian government. OAS Resolutions 806 and 822 gave non-elected opposition parties an effective veto over the resumption of foreign aid to Aristide’s government. The OAS claims of “deeply flawed” elections played an important part in a multipronged campaign to oust Aristide’s government.

In an editorial responding to the coup in Bolivia, People’s Voice called for Canada to withdraw from the Washington dominated OAS. Internationalist minded Canadians should support that position.

But we should also recognize the blow Morales’ ouster represents to any effort to subvert the OAS. The Bolivian President’s removal is a further setback to the Latin American integration efforts represented in forums such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. A potential replacement for the OAS, CELAC included all Latin American and Caribbean nations. But Canada and the US were excluded. By helping oust Morales the OAS has taken revenge on a politician who pushed an alternative, non-Washington based, model for ‘Nuestra America’.

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Canada backs coup against Bolivia’s president

Unknown-2In yet another example of the Liberals saying one thing and doing another, Justin Trudeau’s government has supported the ouster of Evo Morales. The Liberals position on Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president stands in stark contrast with their backing of embattled pro-corporate presidents in the region.

Hours after the military command forced Morales to resign as president of the most indigenous nation in the Americas, Chrystia Freeland endorsed the coup. Canada’s foreign affairs minister released a statement noting “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people. We note the resignation of President Morales and will continue to support Bolivia during this transition and the new elections.” Freeland’s statement had no hint of criticism of Morales’ ouster, who still has two months left on his 2015 election mandate. Elsewhere, leaders from Argentina to Cuba, Venezuela to Mexico, condemned Morales’ forced resignation.

Ten days ago Global Affairs Canada echoed the Trump administration’s criticism of Morales’ first round election victory. “It is not possible to accept the outcome under these circumstances,” said a Global Affairs statement. “We join our international partners in calling for a second round of elections to restore credibility in the electoral process.”

The Canadian government also financed and promoted an Organization of American States effort to discredit Bolivia’s presidential election. In a statement titled “Canada welcomes results of OAS electoral audit mission to Bolivia” Freeland noted,“Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise.”

The OAS played a crucial role in bolstering right-wing anti-Morales protests after the presidential election on October 20. Morales won the first round, which no one seriously disputes. The dispute is about whether he won by a 10% margin, which is the threshold required to avoid a second-round runoff. The official result was 47.07 per cent for Morales and 36.51 per cent for US-backed candidate Carlos Mesa.

Immediately after the election the OAS cried foul. But, the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission” challenges the OAS claims. The CEPR concludes that there is no evidence the election results were affected by fraud or irregularities.

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot criticized the OAS for questioning the election results without providing any evidence. “The OAS press statement of October 21 and its preliminary report on the Bolivian elections raise disturbing questions about the organization’s commitment to impartial, professional, electoral observation,” said Weisbrot. “The OAS should investigate to find out how such statements, which may have contributed to political conflict in Bolivia, were made without any evidence whatsoever.”

While backing the ouster of Morales, Trudeau has offered support for beleaguered right-wing leaders in the region. Amidst massive demonstrations against his government, the Prime Minister held a phone conversation 10 days ago with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who has a 14% approval rating. According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia”and discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president. A CTV story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Pinera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”

In Haiti the only reasonJovenel Moïse remains president is because of backing of Ottawa, Washington and other members of the so-called “Core Group”. Unlike Bolivia, Haiti is not divided. Basically, everyone wants Moïse to go. Reliable polling is limited, but a poll last month found that 81% of Haitians wanted the president to leave. Many are strongly committed to that view, which is why the country’s urban areas have been largely paralyzed since early September.

TheTrudeau governmentis obviously following the Trump administration in backing the removal of Morales. But, there has also been conflict between Canadian capital and the Morales government. Executives of Canadian mining companies have criticized Morales andexpressed fear over “resource nationalism” in the region more generally. In 2012 weeks of protest against South American Silver’s operations in central Bolivia — that saw an indigenous activist killed— prompted the Morales government to nationalize the Vancouver-based company’s mine. Ottawa immediately went to bat for South American Silver. Ed Fast’s spokesman Rudy Husny told the Vancouver Sun the trade minister instructed Canadian officials to “intensify their engagement with the Bolivian government in order to protect and defend Canadian interests and seek a productive resolution of this matter.”

Once again our government has prioritized the interests of Canadian corporations over the interest of indigenous people. Shame on Trudeau for supporting the ouster of Evo Morales.

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If Trudeau was environmentalist he’d stop making nice with Brazil president

trudeau+bolsonaro+shakeBy now most environmentally conscious people understand that Jair Bolsonaro is a bad guy. Brazil’s president has scandalously blamed environmentalists for starting fires burning in the Amazon region, after having called for more “development” of the huge forests.

Canadians are lucky we have a prime minister who is not such an embarrassment and understands environmental issues, right?

While Justin Trudeau has called for better protection of the Amazon, his  government and Canadian corporations have contributed to the rise of a proto fascist Brazilian politician who has accelerated the destruction of the ‘planet’s lungs’.

In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup”. While Canadian officials have made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past three years, the Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. In fact, the Trudeau government began negotiating — there have been seven rounds of talks — a free trade agreement with the Brazilian-led MERCOSUR trade block. They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership and Trudeau warmly welcomed Bolsonaro at the G20 in June.

Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Former Workers Party president Lula da Silva was blocked from running due to politically motivated corruption charges, but the Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Lula’s imprisonment and other forms of persecution of the Brazilian left.

With over $10 billion invested in Brazil, corporate Canada appears excited by Bolsonaro. After his election CBC reported, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”

Canada’s support for right-wing, pro-US, forces in the region has also favored Bolsonaro. Since at least 2009 the Canadian government has been openly pushing back against the leftward shift in the region and strengthening ties with the most right-wing governments. That year Ottawa actively backed the  Honduran military’s removal of social democratic president Manuel Zelaya. In 2011 Canada helped put far-right Michel Martelly into the president’s office in Haiti and Ottawa passively supported the ‘parliamentary coup’ against Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo  in 2012. In recent years Canada has been central to building regional support for ousting Venezuela’s government. The destabilization efforts greatly benefited from the ouster of Rousseff and imprisonment of Lula. Brazil is now a member of the Canada/Peru instigated “Lima Group” of countries hostile to the Nicolás Maduro government.

Ottawa has long supported the overthrow of elected, left leaning governments in the hemisphere. Ottawa passively supported the military coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and played a slightly more active role in the removal of Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch in 1965 and Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973. In Brazil Canada passively supported the military coup against President João Goulart in 1964. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn Goulart’s ouster and deepened relations with Brazil amidst a significant uptick in human rights violations. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notes Brazil and Canada in the Americas.

Along with following Washington’s lead, Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Toronto-based Brascan (or Brazilian Traction) was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Putting a stop to the Goulart government, which made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business for a firm that had been operating in the country for half a century. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.06.”

The company was notorious for undermining Brazilian business initiatives, spying on its workers and leftist politicians and assisting the coup. The Dark side of “The light”: Brascan in Brazil notes, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’État against Goulart in 1964.”

Gallotti, who was a top executive of Brascan’s Brazilian operations for a couple decades, was secretary for international affairs in the Brazilian fascist party, Acao Integralista. Gallotti quit the party in 1938, but began working as a lawyer for Brascan in 1932.

Historically, Canadian companies empowered fascists in Brazil. Today, corporate Canada appears happy to do business with a proto-fascist trampling on Indigenous rights and fueling climate chaos. Ottawa has also enabled Bolsonaro. At a minimum the Trudeau government should be pressed to follow French President Emmanuel Macron’s call to suspend free-trade negotiations with MERCOSUR until Bolsonaro reverses his wonton destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’.

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Liberals use ‘human rights’ to push coup in Venezuela

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Chrystia Freeland, Michelle Bachelet and Ben Roswell

The modern way to overthrow a government the capitalist world doesn’t like is by claiming to do it in the name of supporting ‘human rights’. This requires that the target be portrayed as a rights violator.

As part of their effort to overthrow Nicolas Maduro’s government, Ottawa has funded and promoted a slew of groups and individuals critical of human rights in Venezuela. And a recent report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) gave a boost to Canada’s faltering coup bid in that South American country. Overseen by former social democratic Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, the report paints Venezuelan security forces as extremely violent and the government as politically repressive.

While the Hugo Chavez/Maduro government’s failure to address insecurity/police violence in the country is condemnable, some context is required. Neighbours Colombia and Brazil also have significant problems with police and other forms of violence. As do countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, Honduras, etc.

Instead of offering a roadmap for remedying the scourge of violence and divisions in the country, the one-sided OHCHR report offers a public relations triumph to those pursuing regime change, which would likely plunge the country into greater violence. As former OHCHR Independent Expert Alfred de Zayas pointed out, Bachelet “should have clearly condemned the violence by extreme right opposition leaders and the calls for foreign intervention in Venezuela.” The human rights law expert, who produced a report on Venezuela last year, added that the “report should also have focussed on the criminality of the repeated attempts at a coup d’etat [because] there is nothing more undemocratic than a coup.”

On Saturday thousands marched in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities to reject the OHCHR report. For its part, the Venezuelan government responded with a 70-point rebuttal and Maduro wrote an open letter challenging the OHCHR report. According to Caracas, more than 80% of the 558 individuals interviewed by the OHCHR were not in Venezuela and Maduro asked, “can a political project legitimized 23 times at the ballot box in the last twenty years be called a dictatorship?” The Venezuelan government also criticized the OHCHR for failing to call for the lifting of unilateral sanctions, which the Center for Economic and Policy Research recently found responsible for 40,000 deaths from August 2017 to the end of 2018. The sanctions have become more extreme since. A Financial Times story last week titled “Venezuela sanctions fuel famine fears” and a New York Times op-ed titled “Misguided sanctions hurt Venezuelans” highlight their growing impact.

Canada has adopted four rounds of unilateral sanctions against Venezuela. It also contributed to the one-sided OHCHR report. In mid-June Bachelet met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and foreign minister Chrystia Freeland. They reportedly discussed Venezuela. Bachelet also participated in a panel with Freeland on “the global fight for human rights.” It was moderated by former Canadian Ambassador in Venezuela Ben Roswell, who has been Canada’s most vocal advocate for overthrowing Maduro’s government.

Even more dubious, Bachelet met self-declared Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó’s “ambassador” in Canada Orlando Viera Blanco. Accompanied by Chile’s ambassador, Alejandro Marisio, Viera-Blanco gave Bachelet a dossier of purported human rights abuses in Venezuela. In a sign of how seriously he took the report and Bachelet’s then upcoming visit to Venezuela, Viera-Blanco posted two dozen tweets related to meeting Bachelet.

The statement released by Bachelet’s office at the end of her two-day visit to Montreal and Ottawa reflects what could be described as an ‘imperialistic human rights agenda’. In a press release titled “Canada ‘a welcome ally’ in advancing human rights around the world”, Bachelet declared, “Canada is a leader in promoting the international human rights agenda and the benefits of the rules-based international order.” That’s a Trudeau government talking point that doesn’t withstand minimal scrutiny. During their mandate the Liberals have cozied up with repressive Middle East monarchies, backed brutal mining companies, justified Israeli violence against Palestinians, enabled a corrupt, illegitimate and murderous Haitian president to remain in power, allied with an unconstitutional Honduran government, deployed troops on various NATO missions, failed to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refused to support nuclear weapons controls, increased military spending, etc.

Why would Bachelet and the OHCHR lend themselves to the US-led campaign against Venezuela’s government? The anti-Maduro Lima Group and Chilean president Sebastián Piñera have pressured Bachelet to criticize the Maduro government. In fact, Bachelet’s government joined the Lima Group of countries opposed to the Maduro government.

The OHCHR is dependent on countries hostile to Maduro for its funding. About 45% of its budget comes from general UN funds and most of the rest from discretionary state contributions. Norway, Britain, European Commission, Sweden, Denmark and the US are its top donors. Canada was the OHCHR’s ninth biggest national funder in 2018 and the tenth biggest in the first six months of this year.

What prompted me to dissect the OHCHR report was an email sent to my mother from a politically sympathetic family member who asked whether it was a mistake to dog Trudeau on Venezuela. (At a public event last month I repeatedly yelled “Hands off Venezuela”, “end illegal Canadian sanctions”, “non a l’intervention Canadien au Venezuela” a few feet from the Prime Minister and a week ago I yelled “hands off Venezuela” and “end the Illegal Canadian sanctions” as Trudeau left a press conference. In a similar vein, some 50 individuals confronted Freeland about Venezuela at a Canada Day barbecue and last week activists in London, Ontario, challenged Trudeau on Venezuela at a music festival.) My relative wrote that he supported countries’ right to self-determination but felt that Bachelet’s report was a credible indictment of the Maduro government.

But if the attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government were really about human rights violations how do you explain the lack of similar Canadian (or other Western nations) action against dozens of countries with terrible human rights records but that do not challenge capitalism?

Even those inclined to believe some of the more extreme criticisms leveled against the Venezuelan government should support the protesters, not our government. The likely result of Canada succeeding in its current path is a civil war in Venezuela. Moreover, it would set a bad precedent if Canada were to succeed in its brazen coup mongering. (In a further sign of the brashness of their campaign, the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers gave Patricia Atkinson, Head of the Venezuela Task Force at Global Affairs Canada, its Foreign Service Officers award last month. The write up explained, “Patricia, and the superb team she assembled and led, supported the Minister’s engagement and played key roles in the substance and organization of 11 meetings of the 13 country Lima group which coordinates action on Venezuela. She assisted in developing three rounds of sanctions against the regime.”)

Whatever one thinks of Maduro, Canada’s interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and unilateral sanctions contravene the “rules-based international order” Trudeau, Freeland and Bachelet claim Ottawa upholds. But, Parliament and the media largely play along so it’s only through grassroots activism that we can hope to pry open the discussion and rein in our government.

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Ugly Canadian supports status quo in original banana republic

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Stephen Harper meets with Porfirio Lobo.

In 1901, US author O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe Honduras, which was dominated by the US-based United Fruit Company. According to Wikipedia: “Typically a banana republic has a society of extremely stratified social classes, usually a large impoverished working class and a ruling-class plutocracy, composed of the business, political and military elites of that society.”

Not much has changed in the past 120 years, although the Ugly American has been joined at the ruling class table by the Ugly Canadian.

Ten years-ago today Ottawa tacitly supported the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya. During the past decade Canada has strongly allied itself to those backing the coup who continue to rule the Central American country.

It was not until basically every country in the hemisphere denounced the June 28, 2009, coup that Ottawa finally did so but Canada did not explicitly call for Zelaya’s return to power. On a number of occasions Minister of State for the Americas Peter Kent said it was important to take into account the context in which the military overthrew Zelaya, telling the New York Times: “There is a context in which these events [the coup] happened.”

In the lead-up to his ouster Ottawa displayed a clear ambivalence towards Zelaya. Early in June Kent criticized Zelaya, saying: “We have concerns with the government of Honduras.” The Conservatives opposed Zelaya’s plan for a binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution, which had been written by a military government.

A week after the coup, during which Zelaya was flown to Costa Rica, the elected president tried to return to Honduras along with three Latin American heads of state. But the military blocked his plane from landing and kept over 100,000 supporters at bay. In doing so the military killed two protesters and wounded at least 30. On CTV Kent blamed Zelaya for the violence. Just before the elected president tried to fly into Tegucigalpa, Kent told the OAS the “time is not right” for a return, prompting Zelaya to respond dryly: “I could delay until January 27 [2010]” (when his term ended). Two weeks after trying to return by air Zelaya attempted to cross into Honduras by land from Nicaragua, which Kent once again criticized.

Despite the coup, Ottawa refused to exclude Honduras from its Military Training Assistance Program. Though only five Honduran troops were being trained in Canada, failing to suspend relations with a military responsible for overthrowing an elected government was highly symbolic. More significantly, Canada was the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. The World Bank, European Union and even the US suspended some of their planned assistance to Honduras.

In response to the conflicting signals from North American leaders, the ousted Honduran foreign minister told TeleSur that Ottawa and Washington were providing “oxygen” to the military government. Patricia Rodas called on Canada and the US to suspend aid to the de facto regime. During an official visit to Mexico with Zelaya, Rodas asked Mexican president Felipe Calderon, who was about to meet Stephen Harper and Barak Obama, to lobby Ottawa and Washington on their behalf.

Five months after Zelaya was ousted the coup government held previously scheduled elections. During the campaign period the de facto government imposed martial law and censored media outlets. Dozens of candidates withdrew from local and national races and opposition presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes was hospitalized following a severe beating from security forces.

The November 2009 election was boycotted by the UN and OAS and most Hondurans abstained from the poll. Despite mandatory voting regulations, only 45 percent of those eligible cast a ballot (it may have been much lower as this was the government’s accounting). Still, Ottawa endorsed this electoral farce. “Canada congratulates the Honduran people for the relatively peaceful and orderly manner in which the country’s elections were conducted,” noted an official statement. While most countries in the region continued to shun post-coup Honduras, Ottawa immediately recognized Porfirio Lobo after he was inaugurated as Honduran president on January 27, 2010. Not long after, Canada negotiated a free trade agreement with Honduras.

Particular corporate interests and regional integration efforts motivated Ottawa’s hostility towards Zelaya. A number of major Canadian corporations, notably Gildan and Goldcorp, were unhappy Zelaya raised the minimum wage and restricted mining operations. Rights Action uncovered credible information that a subsidiary of Vancouver based Goldcorp provided money to those who rallied in support of the coup. Additionally, a year before the coup Honduras joined the Hugo Chavez led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), which was a response to North American capitalist domination of the region.

Lobo’s successor as president came from his right-wing National Party. Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) won an election marred by substantial human rights violations targeting the Libre party, which put forward Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro for president. In 2017 JOH defied the Honduran constitution to run for a second term. At Hernandez’ request the four Supreme Court members appointed by his National Party overruled an article in the constitution explicitly prohibiting re-election. (The removal of Zelaya was justified on the grounds that he was seeking to run for a second term despite simply putting forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.) JOH then ‘won’ a highly questionable poll. With 60 per cent of votes counted opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead by five-points. The electoral council then went silent for 36 hours and when reporting resumed JOH had a small lead. The Canadian government endorsed this electoral farce and accepted the killing of at least 30  pro-democracy demonstrators in the weeks after the election.

Over the past decade Ottawa has reinforced Honduran impoverishment and political dysfunction. The corporations, their paid lobbyists and the politicians who follow their orders clearly prefer this status quo.

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Trudeau government squeezes Cuba

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Chrystia Freeland and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

Ottawa faces a dilemma. How far are Trudeau’s Liberals prepared to go in squeezing Cuba? Can Canadian corporations with interests on the island restrain the most pro-US, anti-socialist, elements of the ruling class?

Recently, the Canadian Embassy in Havana closed its Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship section. Now most Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits will have to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents. In some cases Cubans will have to travel to another country at least twice to submit information to enter Canada. The draconian measure has already undercut cultural exchange and family visits, as described in a Toronto Star op-ed titled “Canada closes a door on Cuban culture”.

It’s rare for an embassy to simply eliminate visa processing, but what’s prompted this measure is the stuff of science fiction. Canada’s embassy staff was cut in half in January after diplomats became ill following a mysterious ailment that felled US diplomats sent to Cuba after Donald Trump’s election. Four months after the first US diplomats (apparently) became ill US ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis met his Canadian, British and French counterparts to ask if any of their staff were sick. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story, “none knew of any similar experiences afflicting their officials in Cuba. But after the Canadian ambassador notified his staff, 27 officials and family members there asked to be tested. Twelve were found to be suffering from a variety of symptoms, similar to those experienced by the Americans.”

With theories ranging from “mass hysteria” to the sounds of “Indies short-tailed crickets” to an “outbreak of functional disorders”, the medical questions remains largely unresolved. The politics of the affair are far clearer. In response, the Trump Administration withdrew most of its embassy staff in Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from Washington. They’ve rolled back measures the Obama Administration instituted to re-engage with Cuba and recently implemented an extreme measure even the George W. Bush administration shied away from.

Ottawa has followed along partly because it’s committed to overthrowing Venezuela’s government and an important talking point of the anti-Nicolás Maduro coalition is that Havana is propping him up. On May 3 Justin Trudeau called Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel to pressure him to join Ottawa’s effort to oust President Maduro. The release noted, “the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Lima Group [of countries hostile to Maduro], underscored the desire to see free and fair elections and the constitution upheld in Venezuela.” Four days later Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland added to the diplomatic pressure on Havana. She told reporters, “Cuba needs to not be part of the problem in Venezuela, but become part of the solution.” A week later Freeland visited Cuba to discuss Venezuela.

On Tuesday Freeland talked with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Venezuela and Cuba. Afterwards the State Department tweeted, “Secretary Pompeo spoke with Canada’s Foreign Minister Freeland to discuss ongoing efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. The Secretary and Foreign Minister agreed to continue working together to press the Cuban regime to provide for a democratic and prosperous future for the people of Cuba.”

Ottawa supports putting pressure on Cuba in the hopes of further isolating/demonizing the Maduro government. But, the Trudeau government is simultaneously uncomfortable with how the US campaign against Cuba threatens the interests of some Canadian-owned businesses.

The other subject atop the agenda when Freeland traveled to Havana was Washington’s decision to allow lawsuits for property confiscated after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Trump Administration recently activated a section of the Helms-Burton Act that permits Cubans and US citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property nationalized decades ago. The move could trigger billions of dollars in legal claims in US courts against Canadian and European businesses operating on the island.

Obviously, Canadian firms that extract Cuban minerals and deliver over a million vacationers to the Caribbean country each year don’t want to be sued in US courts. They want Ottawa’s backing, but the Trudeau government’s response to Washington’s move has been relatively muted. This speaks to Trudeau/Freeland’s commitment to overthrowing Venezuela’s government.

But, it also reflects the broader history of Canada-Cuba ties. Despite the hullabaloo around Ottawa’s seemingly cordial relations with Havana, the reality is more complicated than often presented. Similar to Venezuela today, Ottawa has previously aligned with US fear-mongering about the “Cuban menace” in Latin America and elsewhere. Even Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously declared “viva Castro” during a trip to that country in 1976, denounced (highly altruistic) Cuban efforts to defend newly independent Angola from apartheid South Africa’s invasion. In response, Trudeau stated, “Canada disapproves with horror [of] participation of Cuban troops in Africa” and later terminated the Canadian International Development Agency’s small aid program in Cuba as a result.

After the 1959 Cuban revolution Ottawa never broke off diplomatic relations, even though most other countries in the hemisphere did. Three Nights in Havana explains part of why Ottawa maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba: “Recently declassified State Department documents have revealed that, far from encouraging Canada to support the embargo, the United States secretly urged Diefenbaker to maintain normal relations because it was thought that Canada would be well positioned to gather intelligence on the island.” Washington was okay with Canada’s continued relations with the island. It simply wanted assurances, which were promptly given, that Canada wouldn’t take over the trade the US lost. For their part, Canadian business interests in the country, which were sizable, were generally less hostile to the revolution since they were mostly compensated when their operations were nationalized. Still, the more ideological elements of corporate Canada have always preferred the Cuban model didn’t exist.

If a Canadian company is sued in the US for operating in Cuba Ottawa will face greater pressure to push back on Washington. If simultaneously the Venezuelan government remains, Ottawa’s ability to sustain its position against Cuba and Venezuela is likely to become even more difficult.

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