Trying to track the course of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is enough to give one whiplash. Where a few weeks ago Barack Obama's administration appeared to take a principled stand behind opposition protests asserting that this April's presidential election to elect Hugo Chávez's successor was stolen, today it seems to have tossed the opposition overboard as it seeks to normalize relations with the disputed government of Nicolás Maduro.
Even as opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been traveling to regional capitals seeking support for his campaign for a clean election, someone at the State Department evidently thought it was perfect timing for a smiling, handshaking photo op between Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua at last week's Organization of American States meeting in Guatemala.
Certainly it would be understandable if a U.S.-Venezuelan rapprochement was the product of some identifiable change in that government's behavior -- some nod to the legitimacy of the opposition's complaints, maybe a commitment to stop berating the United States and friendly countries, or perhaps even a public pledge to finally cooperate on counternarcotics policy. Yet none of this has occurred.
Instead, this is what we have seen from the Maduro government in the last few months:
Not exactly what you would call a charm offensive.
Indeed, the only thing we have seen from the Maduro government since its tainted victory is an accelerated offensive to replace the Castro regime as the bully in the Latin American neighborhood, using threats both explicit and implicit to intimidate anyone daring to criticize its anti-democratic actions.
Rewarding bad behavior is no way to treat a bully. Moreover, one does not have to be Bismarck to recognize that indulgence of belligerent actions among states only encourages more aberrant behavior.
Most frustrating is that, unlike Chávez, Maduro's vitriol and bombast are a reflection of his weakness, not his strength. Clearly, he is in over his head, commands no respect at home, has disputed legitimacy, and is manifestly incapable of managing the socioeconomic disaster bequeathed by Chávez. In such a scenario, he desperately needs U.S. recognition of his regime, and it is now being handed to him on a silver platter, with no apparent concessions being demanded of him.
That isn't statesmanship; it's an abdication of it. Maduro and his Cuban minders are avowed enemies of the United States. Throwing them a "lifeline" -- as the Washington Post put it in a blistering editorial -- with some wooly hope that they will see the error of their ways will only succeed in inviting an even worse situation for U.S. interests than the one we are confronting now.
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Many in Washington have been expressing growing alarm over the devastating toll that drug trafficking and gang activity have taken on the countries of Central America, primarily in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Caught between more robust counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico that have forced drug-trafficking organizations to expand operations elsewhere while absorbing convicted gang deportees from the U.S., these countries' already weak law enforcement and judicial institutions have simply been overwhelmed.
It is in this context that controversial and risky policy prescriptions such as calls for drug legalization by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina or El Salvador's "truce" with criminal gangs are being met with less skepticism than they deserve. It is not always true that desperate situations demand desperate actions. In many cases, they only make matters worse.
This week, the Washington Post weighed in with an editorial endorsing El Salvador's gang truce (and Honduras's decision to follow the same path) as "a worthy peace offering" because El Salvador's government claims a drop in the murder rate since the agreement was announced last year.
Yet a closer scrutiny of the El Salvador situation raises more questions than it answers. It is not hard to conclude it represents more of a false promise of peace than any lasting solution to the region's troubles.
That's because, to begin with, the government's pursuit of a truce with the gangs comes not from a position of strength, but of weakness - a fact no doubt understood by the gangs, who are now in a stronger position vis-à-vis the government than they would otherwise be. They now control the agenda and can use the threat of violence (i.e., breaking the "truce") to exact more concessions from the government, whether it is more scarce state resources devoted to their interests (such as social programs designed just for gang members), more so-called "peace zones" where gangs can operate with impunity, and more recognition of gangs as political players in the country's domestic scene.
Indeed, public sentiment in El Salvador continues to be extremely wary of the truce, not least of which is because the gangs have not stopped other criminal activities such as kidnappings and extortion that have wreaked havoc on their society. (There are also questions about the government's accounting of the murder rate.) But also because they see gangs getting financial rewards and political relevancy not by following the rules, but by breaking all of them.
The Obama administration has wisely kept its distance from these "truce" initiatives. That's because veteran policymakers know there are no shortcuts to rooting out criminality; it requires instead committing to the hard slog of building viable law enforcement, judiciary, and penal systems - in short, credible and effective rule of law. (Only then can social programs designed to reintegrate truly repentant gang members into society succeed.)
One also has to recognize the political dynamic at play here. The ruling, former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power promising citizens a safer and more stable country. This they have not delivered. Heading into presidential elections in March 2014, one doesn't have to be a cynic to believe the FMLN wants the issue of street violence off the table before the campaign season kicks into high gear. Their political calculations have to be an issue in how they are trying to achieve real peace.
One can certainly otherwise understand sincere efforts to try and quell the violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But political expediency or rolling the dice and hoping for the best are rarely sound bases for public policies.
The Post editorial ends by endorsing the Obama administration's request for a 20 percent increase in funding next year for the Central American Security Initiative, a multi-faceted program supporting law enforcement and judicial reform and social programs to support civil society. That is welcome, but it may not be enough. All must recognize there are no quick fixes to helping our friends deal with problems due in part to U.S. demand for illicit narcotics. It is a battle we and our allies can win, but not in the short-term and not with schemes that will only make matters worse in the long-run.
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The headline is as tendentious as it was predictable. The surprise is that it should appear on a mainstream site like that of ABC News and not some fringe outlet of the fevered left. Indeed, the headline is the holy grail for those legions of activists who have been egging on the recent conviction of former Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide stemming from the country's bloody civil war in the 1980s.
The activists claim that what they have wanted all along is justice for civilians who died in that terrible conflict, but it is clear their ulterior motive has been seeking an indictment of U.S. policy in Central America to resist Soviet- and Cuban-sponsored subversion. Now, in their minds, they have it. Guilty as charged: The United States, under President Ronald Reagan, aided and abetted "genocide."
The charge is without merit. Here's the real story: Ríos Montt came to power in March 1982 after leading a coup against another general, Fernando Lucas García, whose scorched-earth policies against the guerrillas had so alienated Washington that military assistance was cut off in 1979. However, in overthrowing Lucas García, Ríos Montt acknowledged the military's excesses were damaging the counterinsurgency effort.
It was in that context that the Reagan administration reconsidered military assistance to Guatemala, calculating that it would give the administration influence to hold Ríos Montt to his pledges to mitigate the violence. Aid was then restored in January 1983. While it turned out that Ríos Montt was either unwilling or incapable of reining in the military, the point became moot in August 1983, when Ríos Montt himself was overthrown in a coup after only 17 months in power -- and seven months after the Reagan administration began sending aid.
Now, if someone wants to argue that the Reagan administration's policy gamble on Ríos Montt to quell the violence did not pan out, then that's one thing (history books are full of such examples). But to equate it with aiding and abetting "genocide" is beyond the pale. In fact, it is more evidence of an ideological agenda than any noble search for accountability. Worse, it is politicizing crimes against humanity that cheapens the meaning of the term and makes it that much more difficult to prevent and to hold real perpetrators accountable.
On a broader plane, it bears noting that those who have cheered on the prosecution of General Ríos Montt have never mounted any similar movement to hold, for example, Fidel Castro to account for his role in supplying training and weapons to guerrillas who committed their share of atrocities throughout Central America. Why is it only right-wing dictators like Chile's Augusto Pinochet and Ríos Montt who are hounded to their dying days and whose years in power were a mere fraction of Castro's 50-year dictatorship? It seems that those who are determined to achieve justice for victims of dictatorships in the Americas would enhance their credibility immensely if they were to apply a single standard to all perpetrators of crimes against their peoples, regardless of their ideology.
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Last year, in the run-up to what would be Hugo Chávez's final election, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter provided the ultimate cover for the late caudillo when he called the Venezuelan election process "the best in the world." Today, as the country roils in the aftermath of a contested election to elect Chávez's successor, we now know that is not the case.
Who says? Carter's own election-monitoring organization. Last week, an official at the Carter Center told the Washington Post, "The concerns are not about the [voting] machines and whether they counted accurately. The questions are much more about who voted. Was there double voting? Was there impersonation of voters? And was there coerced voting?"
All good questions, ones which anyone should expect to be assessed before making pronouncements about any electoral process as the "best in the world." This is no small matter, since the Carter Center, perhaps more than any other organization outside Venezuela, has repeatedly granted legitimacy to Hugo Chávez's successive reelections, even as the evidence mounted that elections in Venezuela were exceedingly one-sided affairs.
From stacking the electoral council with his loyalists, to his near-monopoly control of the broadcasting media, to his non-transparent spending of Venezuela's record oil profits for political purposes, to intimidating voters with the public exposure of their votes, Chávez used every tactic, above-board and underhanded, to smother opposition candidates.
But with the rabble-rouser-in-chief no longer among us, it appears chavismo, the movement Chávez created, has run its course. Something went seriously awry in April's snap election for Chávez's chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro. Whereas the late president won the October election by eleven percentage points, Maduro barely edged challenger Henrique Capriles, beating him by one percentage point.
What we learned from that election is that Maduro is no Chávez, and not even the obscene collusion between the government, the ruling party, and electoral officials could change that. (My colleague Roger Noriega has exposed the sophisticated chavista vote-getting machine here.) What they failed to account for was that Chávez's link with his base was not transferrable to the wooden Maduro.
What Chávez's successors also underestimated this time around is the adamant refusal of the opposition to accept another rigged election. They have demanded a recount, filed a protest with the Supreme Court, and asked for international solidarity with their cause. The Maduro government and its Cuban handlers have responded with the only thing they have left: violence.
Last week, opposition lawmakers were physically attacked on the floor of the National Assembly after they protested a move to silence them. Before that, Venezuelans were attacked in the street by government-armed thugs as they protested the election result.
Given the ongoing turmoil, the Obama administration has taken a principled stand in not recognizing the outcome until the opposition's grievances are dealt with in some satisfactory way. During his trip to the region this past weekend, President Obama addressed the controversy:
"I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition. I think our general view has been that it's up to the people of Venezuela to choose their leaders in legitimate elections. Our approach to the entire hemisphere is not ideological. It's not rooted back in the Cold War. It's based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed? There are reports that they have not been fully observed post-election. I think our only interest at this point is making sure that the people of Venezuela are able to determine their own destiny free from the kinds of practices that the entire hemisphere generally has moved away from."
Right on the money, Mr. President. Let's hope someone is listening in Georgia.
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A surprising thing happened on the way to the coronation of Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro as the designated heir to chavismo, the movement created by the obstreperous former President Hugo Chávez, who succumbed to cancer last month. Evidently, a good number of the Venezuelan people decided that bread-and-butter issues like inflation, shortages of basic goods, electricity blackouts, and soaring street crime were more important to them than the circuses Chávez regularly supplied.
Challenger Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Chávez last October by some 11 percentage points, narrowly missed an epic upset, losing this time to Chávez's chosen successor by a count of 50.7 to 49.1 percent of the vote.
Capriles has rejected the official tally and demanded a recount of the paper receipts of each Venezuelan vote. "We are not going to recognize the result," he said, "until every vote is counted, one by one." He has also called for peaceful street demonstrations outside the electoral council offices. In welcome developments, both the Obama administration and the Organization of American States have backed the call for an audit of the election results.
Maduro's reaction was predictable, rejecting any recount and accusing Capriles of "coup-mongering." He has no doubt calculated that a recount is more dangerous to the continuation of chavismo than trying to tackle Venezuela's myriad post-Chávez challenges while dogged with questions about his legitimacy. Not only must he address declining socio-economic conditions -- including soaring inflation, a bloated public sector, a crippled private one, electricity blackouts, shortages of basic goods, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world -- he must also deal with a reinvigorated opposition while attempting to manage a movement that is splintering under the weight of corruption and competing interests.
Already, Maduro has been put on notice that he is under scrutiny from his own side. Diosdado Cabello, the powerful head of the National Assembly and long-seen as a Maduro rival within chavismo, said of the election: "These results require deep self-criticism ... Let's turn over every stone to find our faults, but we cannot put the fatherland or the legacy of our commander [Chávez] in danger."
What is clear is that Venezuela's contested election likely presages a period of political turmoil not seen in the country since 2002, when Chávez was briefly ousted from power. But it also presents an extraordinary opportunity for the United States to actively defend its regional interests. No one is advocating that the Obama administration engage in mud-slinging contests with Hugo Chávez wannabes, but neither should we remain silent on matters of principle and U.S. security.
For example, the Iranian presence in Venezuela, including the existence of a number of suspicious industrial facilities, and the prodigious use of Venezuelan territory for drug shipments to the United States and Europe have been tolerated for too long without any effective U.S. response. (Several high-ranking associates of the late President Chávez have been designated as "drug kingpins" by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Maduro's shaky standing today within Venezuela means there is increased leverage for the United States to hold the government accountable for its threats to regional stability. It is not likely Maduro will be able to withstand the pressure coming not only from the opposition and his own coalition, but from the United States as well. That can come in the form of more designations and indictments of Venezuelan officials involved in drug trafficking and violating sanctions against Iran, but also repeated public calls to disassociate his government from these criminal activities.
The administration must also continue to stand behind the Venezuelan opposition on matters of principle. Voters deserve a clear accounting of what transpired last Sunday. The future of their country hangs in the balance.
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True to form, the Venezuelan government and its Cuban minders have spared no effort or expense to ensure the outcome of Sunday's snap election to elect the late Hugo Chávez's chosen successor. Challenger Henrique Capriles has been game (and his singular effort to revive the fortunes of the Venezuelan opposition commendable), but in the end his lot has been to be cast as a mere prop in Venezuela's version of "casino democracy," where the house always wins.
Ironically, Capriles should privately be relieved that Chávez's appointed successor, the dour and robotic Nicolas Maduro, and not he, will inherit the ticking economic time bomb that Chávez has bequeathed his country. Most sober observers of the Venezuelan scene give the country's economy 12 months at most before the wheels start coming off. As I have written before, some may remember Chávez for his embrace of the country's marginalized, but all Venezuelans are now poised to reap the whirlwind of the balance of his legacy: soaring inflation, a bloated public sector, a crippled private one, electricity blackouts, shortages of basic goods, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Far from demonstrating any appreciation for the gravity of the economic situation, Maduro has indicated he only intends to dole out more of the same. In fact, even as the campaign has been taking place, the government has been pushing a new law in the rubber-stamp National Assembly that further undercuts the private sector and concentrates even more economic power in the state.
The so-called Law against Monopolies and Other Similar Practices is a capricious measure that empowers the government to confiscate any business that it deems not acting in the public interest. Yet the law would discard traditional metrics for the determination of monopolistic practices and instead leave it up to a politically appointed board to decide if a company has a "decisive domain" over the setting of prices or other market conditions. (State-owned enterprises would be exempt under the law, further tilting the playing field against the private sector.)
In other words, any successful company runs the risk of confiscation at any time by crossing the government's arbitrary line of being "too successful." And with the judicial sector also controlled by the government, private companies are left with no outlet to appeal adverse decisions.
The fall-out if such a law was to be implemented is not difficult to imagine: a further retraction of private sector activity, less production, and less opportunity for working Venezuelans. Just what the Venezuelan economy does not need at this critical juncture.
This is a far cry from the image of Nicolas Maduro that U.S. audiences were presented by the news media after he was named by Chávez as his successor. We were told the former bus driver was "pragmatic" and "likable." (Call it the Yuri Andropov Syndrome, after the soft-pedaling to the American public of the former KGB-head's supposed fondness for "Western jazz and scotch.")
Well, during this recent campaign, when the likable, moderate Maduro was not expelling additional U.S. personnel from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, accusing the United States of poisoning Hugo Chávez, or implicating former U.S. officials in attempts to assassinate either him or Capriles (depending on the day), he was making homophobic slurs about his opponent and characterizing the opposition as fascist coup-mongerers. And, at the same, planning further actions to destroy what is left of the private sector in Venezuela.
There will be those who will dismiss all this as just so much campaign bluster. They do so at risk to U.S. national interests. There is no evidence that Maduro is anything other than a deadly serious ideologue beholden to Cuba and to further pushing Hugo Chávez's destructive agenda. Consider him Chávez without the charm -- and come hell or high water he is about to be with us for another six years beginning this Sunday.
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As a former U.S. official with substantial experience in Venezuela, I was not surprised, but still outraged to hear the temporary new leader of that country, Nicolas Maduro, accuse the United States of murdering his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. I feel obliged to set the record straight, not because I care about what Maduro thinks, but because if not challenged, Maduro's latest falsehood will become another urban legend circulating the globe on the Internet.
Predictably, in two dozen interviews I gave to international press in the 48 hours following Chávez's death, two journalists, one from the BBC and one from the U.S. Spanish-language CNN channel, questioned me about Maduro's accusation, implying it was credible that the United States had "inoculated Chávez with the cancer" that killed him. I replied, of course, that the United States had nothing to do with his death.
Despite the hostility that characterized the U.S. relationship with Chávez, it is not only false to accuse the United States of killing Chávez, but the truth is that we likely prevented his assassination on more than one occasion. Since, as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in the George W. Bush administration, I played a part in at least one of those instances, I feel compelled to defend our country once again from the calumnies of our foes and their acolytes by relating just one such incident. While everything herein is the best of my recollection, contemporary State Department records will substantiate the facts.
On a routine day in 2002, my secretary called me to the phone: "Ambassador Shapiro needs to talk to you on ‘secure,'" the encrypted U.S. government telephone network by which sensitive conversations are conducted. Charles Shapiro was our ambassador to Venezuela, and receiving calls from him and other ambassadors on "secure" was also routine. Weeks before, Charles and I had communicated often via secure phone for days as we attempted to manage the U.S. response to Chávez's removal from the presidency by his own people, and his subsequent return.
"Have you seen the report on the latest conspiracy to kill Chávez?," Shapiro asked.
I replied: "Yes, I did. Is this one real"?
This article is cross-posted from Foreign Policy's main site. Read the rest of the article here.
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Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
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We have a pope, and the announcement came on the afternoon when, bored after a couple of days of no results, the same shade of smoke four whole times in a row, and dwindling leaks, the media turned to the line "divided cardinals can't decide who will lead church (which is plagued by scandal)." The choice was not the woman E.J. Dionne hoped for to heal the church (fraught with scandal), nor the African whom Dennis Rodman journeyed to Rome expecting to meet after his wildly successful basketball diplomacy in North Korea (the church whose new leader Rodman sought to meet has faced a long series of scandals). Rodman, however, was closer than most to predicting correctly the outcome of the conclave (held at a moment of crisis over scandals).
The leader of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, is known informally as "the black pope" because of the black vestments worn by that order, and the title is sometimes used ironically (until yesterday, anyway) because of the ups and downs of the relationship over the centuries between the pope and the Jesuits (who were once suppressed by a church now beset with scandal). But the new pope is the first Jesuit to assume the throne of Peter (and he must now deal with a range of scandals). One wonders if the Lord really has a sense of humor, telling the Jesuits, "You guys are so smart? Let's see how one of you likes being in charge of 1.2 billion mortals. And a bunch of scandals."
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina walked into the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and, apparently to his own surprise, was not far from walking out as the pope elected by those who sought to block Joseph Ratzinger's papacy. So while Cardinal Bergoglio was not among the front-runners this time around as handicapped by Vaticanistas, his selection was not entirely out of left field (springtime brings these mixed sports metaphors, amidst the scandals).
Pope Francis walked out on the balcony yesterday after a relatively quick conclave, which was thankfully months shorter than the 2000 election court challenges in the U.S. Although not well known by the international media, he comes with a great reputation. He is thought to be thoroughly orthodox in his theology, which may disappoint some of his brother Jesuits and plenty of others who were hoping for a brand of modernizing, progressive reform comparable to what Americans are experiencing under President Obama (and progressivism is thought by some to be the only remedy for the many scandals afflicting the church).
But there is much in a name (even in a church struggling with scandal). Those of us whose primary cultural references include the Animal House film genre (and, in my case, fighter squadrons -- much of a muchness) can forget that renaming has a long and very serious scriptural history. Abram is renamed Abraham, Simon is renamed Peter, and there are many other such cases.
While the name Francis may in part allude to that great Jesuit global evangelizer St. Francis Xavier, it seems clear that the new pope has taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi. That is a wonderful choice in many ways. No pope has taken that name before, suggesting a willingness to do something fresh while remaining firmly within tradition by asking for the protection of a great figure in church history (that history is now being challenged by scandal). St. Francis famously renounced his family wealth in favor of a life of genuine poverty and love for the poor, and the new pope has "walked that walk" in Argentina. St. Francis is also known (and idealized in ways that might have horrified him) for his love of wildlife and what we now call nature. His statue adorns many gardens of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His qualities give him a universal appeal (important for a church fighting to overcome scandal). The choice of name responds, intentionally or not, to the universal interest in this election, in and out of the church (about which Maureen Down has open questions based on scandals).
Moreover, although not taken by a pope before, the name Francis has the hallmark of a certain kind of continuity. St. Benedict began the western monastic movement at the end of the Roman empire, a time of chaos, as Europe entered the middle ages (sometimes ineptly dubbed the "dark ages"). G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, calls this period one of necessary penance, from which continued reform (and the rise of Europe) would emerge. The markers of that emergence were the foundation of two new church orders, that of St. Dominic and that of St. Francis. The transition from Benedict to Francis took several centuries the first time around. Perhaps this pope is seeking to speed to process this time, or more likely, to call attention to the long tides of temporal events in which church history plays out.
We can expect that, like his predecessor, this pope will conduct a diplomacy that is, at root, more evangelical than political. While his perspective as a non-European will be different than previous popes, he has spent much time in Rome and comes from Italian heritage (which, along with choosing a name associated with Assisi, will ease his way into the chair -- the Curia at the Vatican has all the bureaucratic features of DOD or the State Department, and outsiders have much work to do gaining respect and loyalty).
This pope is not afraid to take on the powers of the planet. He has challenged the authoritarian tendencies of the Kirchners, but he will likely not go picking unnecessary fights. He is comfortable with democracy (long-ago reports of ties to the Argentinean junta were evidently dispelled by testimony of the Amnesty International director there -- we certainly hope there is not yet another scandal brewing, but this time it looks safe). He will have to spend much time on his flock in places where Christians are routinely persecuted.
The scandals brought upon the church by the malice and error of too many of its all-too human members are real. Pope Francis must indeed deal forcefully with them. He seems to be a vicar of Christ who will do so, at the same time moving to put the historical Christian message -- the gospel's scandal of the cross -- at the forefront of his papacy. While the right administrative and, where needed, punitive measures will be essential, that central message will be the most Franciscan, most effective priority that Pope Francis could adopt. And he will.
His election has brought joy to Catholics, and many others, from around a world that St. Francis, living before the European age of exploration, had little familiarity with. A few weeks ago in this space, I suggested that Catholics pray that we not get the pope we deserve. From the initial indications, it looks like that prayer may have been answered.
Residents of the Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic went to the polls over the past two days to deliver a resounding rejection of Argentina's bullying campaign to assert a historically dubious claim to sovereignty over the archipelago. With turnout over 90 percent, some 99.8 percent of islanders voted in favor of remaining an overseas territory of Britain.
The referendum comes thirty years after Argentina's disastrous military invasion of the islands was repelled by British forces at the cost of some 1,000 lives. Reasonable people can be forgiven for thinking that skirmish should have ended for the foreseeable future any dispute regarding sovereignty over the islands.
But reasonableness is not a quality in abundant supply among today's Latin American populists. It seems the government of Cristina Kirchner has dusted off the Falklands chestnut just as the country's economic fortunes -- and her popularity ratings -- are going even further south than the Falklands.
After riding the commodities boom for most of the past decade, the global recession has depressed demand and Argentina is now feeling the pain of President Kirchner's brand of populist economic policies. Economic growth has dropped from 9 percent to 2.2 percent, inflation has increased to approximately 24 percent, and unemployment stands at 7.6 percent. So, what is a good populist leader to do? Try to distract the populace's attention by resurrecting historical grievances. But speechifying from the balcony for domestic consumption is one thing. As the Heritage Foundation points out in a recent paper, the Kirchner government is also waging an intimidation campaign against the islanders, with its navy interfering in shipping and fishing activities, pressuring other countries to deny entry to Falkland-flagged ships, and threatening a vital air supply link to Chile.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has had no comment on this kind of aberrant behavior, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the referendum, and adopted no position on either side's sovereignty claims, simply saying the two should "negotiate."
The problem with the administration's position is that it legitimizes and elevates Argentina's spurious claim to the same moral plane as that of the Great Britain's -- as if there some sort of equivalence -- despite the fact that the latter's position has more than two hundred years of history behind it and the overwhelming wishes of the very same people whose lives will be most affected by any change in the status quo.
And ... to what purpose? Merely to provide succor to the expedient political interests of a government, Argentina's, that is no friend of the United States? And, moreover, at the expense of the interests of our closest and most trusted ally in the world?
U.S. policy on the issue of the Falklands should be that there is no issue. This is not Kashmir. We should be supporting our real friends in defending their interests whenever and wherever needed -- just as President Reagan did when he provided key U.S. logistical support to Great Britain during the 1982 war. It is regrettable that today we opt instead to enable the bad behavior of Latin American populist governments with whom we have no common interests or goals.
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Floating policy trial balloons is longstanding Washington custom. Not so common is when that balloon gets blasted out of the sky by the "senior official" leaker's own administration. That's what happened last week when the Boston Globe reported that, "High-level U.S. diplomats have concluded that Cuba should no longer be designated a state sponsor of terrorism."
Yet the ink was barely dry on that report before both the White House and State Department utterly repudiated (here and here) any notion that Cuba would soon be de-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
As I have written in this space before, de-listing Cuba has been a long-sought goal of a die-hard cadre of critics of the United States' Cuba policy. Why? Well, it seems that the Castro regime, which was born in terrorist violence, aided and abetted it across four continents over three decades, and whose training camps produced such international luminaries as Carlos the Jackal, is upset that it continues to be listed as a state-sponsor of terrorism. And, what's more, Washington policymakers ought to be vexed by that, because it is an "obstacle" to normalized relations.
It turns out that the Globe report was simple mischief-making by some apparently inconsequential U.S. official, clearly meant to provide succor to the de-listing campaign. As was noted deeper in the story, "U.S. officials emphasized that there has not been a formal assessment concluding that Cuba should be removed from the terrorism list and said serious obstacles remain to a better relationship, especially the imprisonment of [development worker Alan] Gross."
Still, since the subject has been raised, it's worthwhile to examine just what it has taken for other countries to be removed from the state sponsors list. In 2007, Libya was de-listed after Muammar al-Qaddafi terminated his WMD program and renounced terrorism by severing ties with radical groups, closing training camps, and extraditing terrorism suspects. He also accepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing and paid compensation to the victims.
In 2008, in a controversial decision, the Bush administration de-listed North Korea for progress that was being made on ending the country's nuclear program.
Clearly, removal from the list usually follows some pro-active, game-changing actions by a country. What pro-active measures has Cuba ever adopted? The answer is none. Just being too broke to support terrorism anymore hardly merits any action on the U.S. part.
Moreover, according to the law, before de-listing, an administration must not only certify to Congress that a country has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period, but that it has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
In Cuba's case, even if relevant U.S. agencies can conclude that the Castro regime has not provided material support for a terrorist act in the last six months -- that is, apart from its terrorizing of its own people, which continues apace -- where is the regime's public renouncement of its past support for international terrorism and assurance that it will not support any acts in the future?
Is even that too much to demand? Of course, it is. The Castro regime will not issue any such statement because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong since 1959. They maintain that they are the victims of U.S. policy and are deserving of all the concessions, without any quid pro quo. The regime can no more renounce terrorism than renounce their totalitarian state -- and that is why they belong on the terrorism list until they give the U.S. government a real reason to be taken off.
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A remarkable thing almost happened in Washington this past week. The Organization of American States nearly became relevant to the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela following Hugo Chávez's missed inauguration. Alas, it was not to be -- as apparently the only thing that stirs Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a Chilean socialist, to action is when fellow leftists are removed from power for their abuses (see Honduras, 2007).
Indeed, making matters worse, the diplomat who tried to rouse the organization on Venezuela wound up getting fired by his government for his temerity.
Panamanian representative to the OAS Guillermo Cochez took to the floor last week to criticize Insulza's supine reaction to recent events in Venezuela, including the decision of the Chávez-packed Supreme Court to overrule their constitution and delay the president's swearing-in for his new term in office, since no one has seen or heard from Chávez in more than a month. (He is believed to be in Cuba, convalescing from a reported fourth cancer surgery. Nominally in charge, but resting on no constitutional basis, is Chávez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro.)
Citing the lack of transparency on Chávez's health and lack of independent institutions in the country, Cochez called Venezuela "a sick democracy." He said that if the OAS was not going to be concerned about whether events there were in compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter (to which Venezuela is a signatory), then the organization ought to be shut down.
Predictably, the Venezuelan representative responded with vitriol, calling Cochez's remarks "an aggression" and insulting him as mentally unstable and "a jerk."
The session was quickly adjourned, as no one witnessing wanted to be further splattered by typical chavista mud-slinging, although not before the Canadian envoy suggested sending an OAS delegation to Venezuela to evaluate the situation.
The U.S. response to the spectacle was hardly inspiring. The U.S. representative said that the U.S. "will not interpret the constitution of Venezuela," which is up to "the people of Venezuela." That certainly stands in stark contrast to the Honduran presidential crisis of 2007, where the U.S. did precisely just that. And, frankly, how the Venezuelan opposition is supposed to make its voice heard when all governing institutions have been gutted and packed with chavistas is not clear. In any case, no one is expecting the U.S. to be the lone voice of criticism, but the alternative requires some diplomatic heavy-lifting in getting other countries to speak out. But, to date, precious little is evident.
Unfortunately, for his troubles in trying to do the right thing, Ambassador Cochez was summarily dismissed from his position and his comments were disavowed. According to a statement from the Panamanian government (whose president once touted himself as the "anti-Chávez), "Panama reiterates that it will continue to respect the internal political processes of states, and, in the case of Venezuela, we are praying for the quick recovery of President Hugo Chávez."
It is doubly unfortunate that the OAS secretary general position is not open until 2015, because Ambassador Cochez exhibits just the qualities you would want in an OAS secretary general.
As for the current occupier of the position, his tenure can be pretty much summed up in a separate interview with the Miami Herald. Asked about the ludicrous situation in which another regional organization, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) -- which purposefully excludes the U.S. and Canada and lists fortifying democracy as a goal -- would be soon turning over its leadership to Cuban dictator Raul Castro, Insulza responded, "The fact that the president of Chile, who is by no means precisely a leftist, hands over CELAC to Raúl Castro shows a new climate of tolerance and understanding in Latin America."
There you have it: an inability to make a distinction between a democratically elected, right-of-center businessman and a left-wing military dictator who shot his way into power fifty years ago and continues to rule through the barrel of a gun. Yes, Mr. Insulza, it does show how far your Latin America has come. Not very.
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Do we really need another lesson on the folly of attempting to appease dictators?
Apparently, Foreign Affairs thinks so -- albeit inadvertently. They recently posted a piece, "Our Man in Havana," about the heroic efforts of some Obama administration officials to give the Castro regime everything it wanted for the release of jailed development worker Alan Gross. Specifically, this meant gutting the official U.S. democracy program for Cuba that Gross was operating under. In the end, however, they just could not overcome the intransigence of -- not the Castro regime -- but the "Cuban-American Lobby" in Congress.
Indeed, not only did they not wind up with the long-suffering Gross's freedom, but, to boot, former Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was forced to sit through a humiliating meeting with Cuban officials ranting about all the dictatorship's grievances against the United States. As the article puts it, "The Cubans were far less flexible than the Americans expected." (One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.)
The central figure in this drama of high diplomacy is one Fulton Armstrong, a controversial former CIA analyst who began a second career as a staffer for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). (Today, he is affiliated with American University.) Armstrong was such an unabashed promoter of U.S.-Cuba normalization in the inter-agency process that he was shipped off to Europe during the Bush 43 administration, although not before playing a role in trying to scuttle John Bolton's nomination to serve as U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Apparently, Armstrong was enlisted by the administration to serve as a go-between with the Castro regime, no doubt due to the fact that he was a "friendly face" in the eyes of the Cubans. His mission: convince the Castro regime that the Obama administration agrees with them that USAID's Cuba democracy programs "are stupid" and that, in the words of Armstrong, "we're cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can't kill them."
The article also includes other Armstrong-sourced inanities meant to further discredit the USAID program: that he was told by a "State Department official" that Gross's mission was "classified" and by another that Gross "likely worked for the Central Intelligence Agency." Apparently, Armstrong needs new sources, because such assertions are nonsense and known to be by anyone remotely associated with the program (as I was during my time with the Bush administration.)
The ever-resourceful, man-on-a-mission Armstrong even enlisted his former boss, Senator Kerry, in the appeasement effort, arranging for him to meet with Cuban officials in New York. The article reports, "there was no quid pro quo, but the meeting seemed to reassure the Cubans that the democracy programs would change, and the Cubans expressed confidence that Gross would receive a humanitarian release shortly after his trial." (That was in March 2011.)
Enter the villain: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the nefarious "Cuban American Lobby." He supposedly called Denis McDonough, Obama's deputy national security adviser, to say basically hands off the Cuba program. According to a former government official, "McDonough was boxed in." Now, there's a tough call: side either with a lawless dictatorship or with an influential U.S. senator from your own party.
In the end, the effort to appease the Castro regime ended predictably: no freedom for Alan Gross and only utter contempt from Castro regime lackeys. Indeed, is there any mystery why Gross continues to languish in a Cuban jail cell when, according to Armstrong, unnamed administration officials signal to the Cubans that they think the democracy program is "stupid" as well? Moreover, offering to gut a democracy program because a dictatorship opposes it sends a terrible message to authoritarian regimes around the globe.
As I have written several times before, the best approach to securing Alan Gross's freedom is not giving in to the demands of an illegitimate regime, but by denying it things it wants and needs, such as U.S. tourists spending hard currency under currently licensed travel programs. Let's hope this Fulton Armstrong-led fiasco puts an end to any more appeasement attempts and the issue is placed in the hands of those with a more sober understanding of the nature of the Castro regime
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By Ambassador Roger F. Noriega and José R. Cárdenas
Last week, ahead of President Obama's meeting with the Business Roundtable, the Roundtable and the U.S. Council for International Business released a report saying that, "the success of American companies, and of the U.S. workers they employ, increasingly hinges on their success as globally engaged companies."
Indeed, there is some optimism in Washington that President Obama, free from political constraints in his second term (i.e., Big Labor opposition to free trade), can implement a robust international trade agenda as a sure-fire way to create new jobs at home, markets for U.S. goods and services, and investment opportunities abroad. Much of that talk is focused on action regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement with Europe.
We have just co-authored a paper for the American Enterprise Institute -- "An action plan for US policy in the Americas" -- the essence of which can be distilled down to the following: Mr. President, stop ignoring Latin America!
If the President's objective is to use trade to help jump-start the U.S. economy and create more jobs here at home, then Latin America has to be part of the equation. That's because when you look beyond the rogue behavior of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and his populist ilk, clearly the Western Hemisphere is home to some of the most dynamic markets in the world.
Since 2003, an estimated 73 million Latin Americans have risen out of poverty. Moreover, between then and 2010, the average Latin American income increased by more than 30 percent, meaning that today nearly one-third of the region's nearly 570 million population is considered middle class. And in just the next five years, regional economies are projected to expand by one-third.
Given the Americas' close historical, cultural, familial, and geographic ties, linked by common values and mutual interests, what that means for U.S. businesses is millions of new consumers with an ingrained affinity for U.S. goods and services.
Greater economic integration will also create momentum to deal with other challenges in the region, from security issues to modernizing immigration policy -- not to mention rendering obsolete once and for all the retrograde populist agendas of some who prefer looking to the past rather than the future.
It's time that U.S. policymakers dispensed once and for all with Old Think when it comes to Latin America: that is, what is it the U.S. can do for the region. Today, it is what we can do together to benefit all the peoples of the hemisphere and boost our own recovery and competitiveness. If President Obama is to pursue an aggressive trade agenda in his second term, the incentives are powerful for a fundamental reassessment of relations right here in our own hemisphere.
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By Otto J. Reich and Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger
Seventy-one years ago this week, on December 7, 1941, the United States changed forever. What began as a tranquil day in a country that thought it could avoid the violence wracking the rest of the world ended with a bloody and unprovoked surprise attack. That "day that shall live in infamy" -- in President Franklin Roosevelt's famous words -- saw our country transformed from a growing but isolated nation into the military, technological and economic superpower that routed a vicious totalitarian Axis, then a brutal communist empire, and that has ensured peace and democracy in the world ever since.
On December 7, 2012, the people of Argentina will wake up to a different assault. The attack on its freedoms will not be a surprise and it will not come from a foreign empire. It will be a pre-announced offensive on freedom of expression, the most fundamental liberty of any democracy, and it will come from the increasingly despotic regime headed by Cristina Kirchner, a left-wing populist that, like most authoritarians, cannot abide an independent press.
It is often said that Argentines only protest when the economy hurts their pockets. If so, last November 8, was an exception to this rule. On that day about a million people across that country took to the streets with a clear message: Argentina wants more freedom, an independent judiciary, free press, and an end to widespread corruption. Unlike previous protests, this time the Argentines rallied not for better pay but for the basic principles that a democracy requires to function.
In the last year, after winning re-election with over 54 percent of the vote, Mrs. Kirchner apparently felt that an electoral majority allowed her to crudely grab all remaining power and move aggressively against every sector of society that she saw as a threat.
Motivated by Kirchner's removal of her democratic face mask, the protesters carried signs and placards denouncing many policies of the government, including violations of the constitutional separation of powers (e.g, threats, blackmail and extortion against judges); corruption scandals at the highest levels of government such as with the sitting vice-president; resumption of close diplomatic relations with Iran, with the concomitant somber foreign policy implications; and arbitrary restrictions on private enterprise, such as blocking access to foreign currency for commercial transactions and obstacles to importation of goods from abroad.
But the biggest immediate challenge facing the country, and the largest target of popular discontent, are the threats to press freedom coming from Kirchner. Many of the other indignations described above would not have been known but for the existence of an independent press that the government is trying to silence. And among the most professional and hard-hitting journalistic reporting is that by the largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin.
Two years ago, Mrs. Kirchner saw to it that the Congress pass a new media law that seeks to break up the Grupo Clarin, a move that in the opinion of many jurists is unconstitutional. After several judicial processes, in which the government tried to maliciously influence the judges' decisions, the President announced that on December 7 Grupo Clarin will shed many of its properties. If this occurs, it could spell the beginning of the end of press freedom in the Argentina, since Clarin is a trial balloon to be followed by Government attacks on smaller news organizations less able to defend themselves.
But not only is press freedom threatened. If the government is able to neutralize Grupo Clarin, representative democracy itself will be tested. Without the independent media's courage to expose the abuses and scandals of the government, President Kirchner will have eliminated the largest obstacle in her path toward the "constitutional reform" that would allow her to remain in power for an unprecedented third term, or perhaps indefinitely.
Argentina is once again at a crossroads. On November 8, its people arose and demanded the President respect basic principles. On December 7, Argentines will face their own "Pearl Harbor," seeing one of its most illustrious institutions shatter. If, on the other hand, they stand and defend their Constitution and freedoms, they will put a stop to Kirchner's plans for autocratic government and avoid the self-destructive path followed by the Cuban, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, and other left-wing hemispheric governments.
The U.S. and other Western governments have a responsibility to defend the people of Argentina. Just as on December 7, 1941 the U.S. was bloodied but not broken, so will the people of Argentina recover their freedoms, sometime in the future, probably after a fierce but non-violent struggle, but one that must count with the support of the free world.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
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While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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The Obama campaign recently took umbrage with criticisms of the president's Cuba policy by Paul Ryan in a campaign swing through Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community. Ryan charged that the policy amounted to appeasement of the Castro regime, to which the campaign responded that Obama "has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island."
Yet even as the campaign defended the president's policy, administration officials were furiously rewriting the rules of one of the president's signature Cuba initiatives that had gone scandalously awry.
Last year, the Obama administration significantly liberalized Bush-era restrictions on private travel to Cuba that were designed to deny hard currency transfers to the Stalinist dictatorship. The thinking behind the change was that "purposeful" or "people-to-people" travel can build relationships between Americans and Cubans and empower the latter to think and act as individuals rather than as vassals of the state.
Well, as it happens, the initiative came to serve no purpose other than to become a propaganda vehicle for the Castro regime with the complicity of fellow-traveling U.S. tour operators. Far from promoting contact with real Cubans, the trip itineraries revealed close collaboration with the Castro regime and featured interactions only with Cubans approved by the regime -- hapless minions who could only be counted on to spout the party line that all of poor, little Cuba's problems are caused by the big, mean old United States.
And where the indoctrination ended, it was rounded-out by frivolous tourist activities -- rum, salsa, Hemingway! -- that are carefully walled off from interaction with ordinary Cuban citizens.
In fact, the abuses became so flagrant that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) held up the nomination of a senior State Department official until the administration agreed to review a program that had egregiously gone off track.
Typical of the purposeless results is a recent report in which a professor at the University of Iowa gushed about an essay written by a student after meeting with "an American fugitive who had escaped the country and taken asylum in Cuba." That would likely be either Joanne Chesimard or Charlie Hill, two radicals wanted by U.S. authorities for the murders of U.S. law enforcement officials in the 1970s.
Then there is the Duke University Alumni Association promoting an "Art & Architecture Tour of Havana" next month. Not only is the trip wholly choreographed by the Castro regime, but the group is only allowed to meet with regime-approved artists. But the key line in their brochure is this: "The arts have long presented Cubans with an opportunity to cautiously express their views on society."
Such an assertion is patently false and only demonstrates the dishonest degree trip organizers will go to pretend they are serving a higher cause in traveling to Cuba -- and receive their coveted license to travel. And in it they provide the most salient lesson of all: that engagement with totalitarian regimes rarely changes them, but it does change us. It forces people to obfuscate their language, to compromise their values, and to accept unjust and immoral situations and arrangements they wouldn't tolerate anywhere else in the world.
It remains to be seen if the Obama administration will restore some sanity to its liberalized travel regime to Cuba by truly making it purposeful and people-to-people. They have an opportunity to act to demonstrate they really are working to help the Cuban people have more of a say in their own future and to support democracy movements on the island. Because the status quo is having the exact opposite effect: by further enabling the Castro brothers to suffocate the Cuban people's legitimate aspirations for freedom and a better future.
Ever since Julian Assange sought the diplomatic protection of the government of Rafael Correa in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in June, there has been much commentary on the seemingly odd political pairing of a supposed champion of government transparency with an erratic president mostly known for his horrendous record of press abuse at home.
I have written previously that Assange's embrace of Correa exposes the former computer hacker as a fraud and that his reckless exposure of U.S. confidential documents was no blow for freedom of information. Instead, that his real agenda was to try and harm the United States' attempts to play a leadership role in ensuring the security of the prevailing global system.
For Correa's part, many have speculated his association with Assange is meant to expressly counter his (well-deserved) international image as intolerant of a free and independent media. Others see him embracing the Assange cause as an audition to replace an ailing Hugo Chávez of Venezuela as the leader of South America's perpetually angry Left.
It is certainly all that, but also more. And President Correa pretty much summed it up in comments this week: "This is not a about patching up systems that have not worked for centuries," he said. "It is about changing the systems, and that is why we are clashing with national and international powers that want things to stay as they are."
Thus, his granting of political asylum to Assange is meant as a direct provocation and challenge to long-established roots of international order and accepted behavior. Painstakingly built up by the United States and its allies over the last century, this interlocking system of institutions and largely accepted international norms has helped not only to maintain a remarkable level of global stability in recent decades, but has irrefutably created the conditions for unprecedented global economic growth that has pulled billions out of poverty.
Is the system perfect? Of course not. But as Robert Kagan has pointed out in his recent book, The World America Made, the alternatives are not very appealing.
But you will always have the outliers, the self-alienated who feel compelled to act out against the system for whatever reason - historical, cultural, or just plain personal. This is precisely what Assange and Correa are all about: tearing down what has gone before, motivated by no more than spite.
As the old Midwestern saying goes, "Any jackass can kick down a barn." In other words, destruction is easy. Where the credit for human progress lies is with the builders and creators - and those who carry the burden of protecting environments where builders and creators can thrive.
Granting political asylum to someone wanted in Sweden (of all places!) for questioning on allegations of sexual assault is by any measure a gross abuse of accepted standards of behavior (no matter what outlandish conspiracies theories people think lie behind the charges).
Thus, the central question in London is this, will established rules and norms prevail or are we prepared to allow the Assanges and Correas of the world to begin rewriting them as we go along?
For my money, the future most certainly should not be allowed to lie in the hands of these two pied pipers of anarchy.
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Once again, a prominent Cuban dissident has met an untimely death under suspicious circumstances. According to the Castro regime, Oswaldo Payá, 60, was killed Sunday in a "one-car accident" after the vehicle in which he was riding skidded off the road and collided with a tree. A dissident colleague of his was also killed and two Europeans in Cuba to support Cuba's oppressed opposition movement were injured.
Payá's family immediately disputed the official version of what had happened. His daughter told CNN that the car in which her father and the others were riding was actually struck by another vehicle before losing control. His son told the BBC that his father had received many death threats and another well-known dissident, Marta Beatriz Roque, told reporters, "He had said they were going to kill him. And this was the third accident he had this year."
Indeed. Ramming vehicles carrying dissidents and foreign supporters, including diplomats, has been a stock-in-trade act of intimidation by Cuban state security for years. It is entirely believable that this was another such incident gone horribly wrong. Only the two Europeans can set the record straight. They are said to be now in the care of their embassies.
Oswaldo Payá was a Cuban patriot, best known for his spearheading the Varela Project, named after a famous Cuban clergyman and independence advocate, which used provisions of Castro's own constitution to challenge the lack of basic civil and human rights in Cuba, for which he collected some 11,000 signatures on the island.
Humiliated, the regime could not do anything but expressly violate its own constitution by ignoring Payá's petition and staging yet another mass mobilization to convince no one "the people" were united behind the Castro regime. For this effort, Payá was awarded the European Union's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Payá, a devout Catholic, was his own man, beholden to no one. He was never cowed by the regime's incessant harassment and intimidation tactics, and he would diverge from prevalent thought in the Cuban exile community. He once wrote in the Miami Herald, "Lifting the embargo won't solve the problems of the Cuban people. Maintaining it is no solution, either."
Oswaldo Payá was man of independent thought and action. Although his profile began to wane in recent years with the emergence of a younger generation of home-grown Cuban activists savvy in the ways of electronic media, a man like Payá would have been indispensable in reconciling the Cuban nation following fifty-plus years of tyranny under the Castro brothers. He was about non-violence and mutual respect and he believed in the unity of the Cuban nation. Instead, another powerful and enlightened Cuban voice has been silenced by the Castro regime's intolerance and cowardice.
In this country, one hopes that Payá's sacrifice can have some effect on the thinking of critics of U.S. policy. Payá was everything their caricature of Cuban dissidents was not; he did not receive official U.S. support, he would criticize U.S. policy and exile opinion when he believed it necessary, and he tried to affect reform working within the system -- something even former President Jimmy Carter supported.
And still it did not protect him from the regime's wrath. The question those critics ought to be asking themselves now is, where do we go from here?
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I'd like to follow up on my colleague Jose Cardenas' excellent post last week on the presidential election in Mexico. The PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto has won, but with only a little more than 38 percent of the vote. He will have to make deals with the opposition in the national legislature to get the much needed reforms he promised; exert his authority over the PRI at all levels, including the governors; handle any lingering student protests deftly; and win over critics in the United States and abroad who have a phobia where the PRI is concerned. All these burdens are legitimately laid on him, but the latter one is arguably unfair and unhelpful if taken too far.
As it is said, "the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generations." Nevertheless, Peña Nieto should not be held accountable for the PRI's misdeeds and political culture over 71 years of rule for two very good reasons. First, he has already demonstrated in his governorship of Mexico state that though he might be a scion of the quintessential old guard, he has governed differently in many ways. For example, he was a reformer in his state as he tackled tax cheating at every level, including in his own cabinet. And Peña Nieto has experience working with an opposition legislature as governor.
Second, he has positioned himself among a line of PRI reformers. The PRI was transforming itself, albeit slowly, even from the time of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado in the 1980s. In other words, let's give credit where it is due and see the previous three PRI presidents, even with their warts, as reformers who had already begun to free the PRI from the grip of the dinosaurs. From the 1980s on, the PRI was pro-free trade, seeking foreign investment and knocking down barriers to it. By the time of Ernesto Zedillo, the PRI was on the path to reforming and improving Mexico's democratic institutions and culture. The PRI has been choosing candidates by primaries for years now and has been learning what a legitimate opposition actually is by having to live as one. Maybe we can say that with Peña Nieto enough generations have lapsed for the sins to be expunged. It is time to start fresh with the PRI and give him a guarded benefit of the doubt.
He has started his national presence rather well, despite the accusations of electoral fraud that will be evaluated by the elections tribunal. Peña Nieto led in the polls for most of the campaign and the charges tossed about now are so far mostly about the perennial vote-buying and media bias. In the old days, the charges would have been electronic manipulation of the vote and outright ballot-box stuffing; who can forget the "computer crash" that led to the victory of Carlos Salinas in 1988 that no one doubts was fraudulent. We'll see if any of the charges hold up or if there are more serious ones, but for the most part, it appears that not even the PRD loser, Lopez Obrador, is willing to go the barricades again as he did for months his last time out.
Throughout his campaign and even now as the president-elect, Peña Nieto has said a lot of things that should encourage the United States and win over at least those segments of Mexico that understand that there is no chance of growth and prosperity without a strong commercial Mexico that works well with the United States, regional partners, and the emerging Pacific Alliance. Most important of all, Peña Nieto is determined to reform the labor laws and foreign ownership regulations that have stymied Mexico's growth. The PRI blocked these reforms while in opposition, most likely out of a stubborn refusal to allow the PAN presidents to win their biggest agenda items. But now the PRI is led by a president who campaigned to do these things because he knows, unlike the dinosaurs, that there is no other option if Mexico is to prosper. The PRI and the PAN will have a chance to make an alliance for reform. Let's hope the PAN is not stricken with foolish pride. It is certain that the PRD leftists will not try to move Mexico into the modern world of global competition and cooperation among investors and producers.
So a PRI victory can certainly be a boon for the United States. It already is in some ways regarding the security issues surrounding the drug war. Peña Nieto's tapping of the former Colombian National Police Chief, Oscar Naranjo, as his advisor speaks volumes for his commitment and determination to continue the war against those who make war on society. While he might change some tactics, the public and the new president appear as committed as ever to curtailing the violence with all the means the state can bring to the task. Will he focus more on stopping the violence and less on arresting kingpins? Perhaps, but that is not the same thing as saying he will return to the old PRI modus vivendi of making deals with outlaws. He'd lose Naranjo quickly if that is his plan and he has no interest in making both his citizens and the United States nervous by doing so.
And speaking of interests, in all the problems he'll face, the new president has zero interest in returning to his party's corporatist, statist, and sometimes violent roots. He has demonstrated with bold words and deeds that he is a modern politician of a chastened party that, having begun to reform itself and having suffered 12 years in the wilderness, knows what the future must look like. He might have been raised by the dinosaurs in his home state (which was for decades ground zero for the dinosaurs), but he talks and acts like a different breed. He appears to be a leader who can appreciate the technocrats who began the changes in his party (and he surrounds himself with U.S.-educated advisors), but so far he seems to be a politician who can get things done, who knows how to lead Mexico for what it is while looking ahead to what it can be.
Only Nixon could go to China, another saying goes. And perhaps only the PRI can take Mexico fully into a future of free trade, free labor, and freely flowing -- and abundant -- foreign investment in the moribund Mexican energy sector. The United States should not squander the opportunity to give this new leader and this hopefully newly reborn party a chance to prove his critics wrong.
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Mexican voters go to the polls this Sunday to decide whether to return to power the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had governed the country for seventy years under a "one-party democracy." Polls show PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto comfortably ahead of his two rivals, leftist populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Josefina Vazquez Mota of the incumbent center-right National Action Party (PAN).
If those polls hold, it would mean a remarkable comeback for a party that was tossed out of power in 2000 after it came to symbolize nothing more than clientelism, patronage, muscle, and corruption.
For most observers, a Peña Nieto victory raises the $64,000 question: Will he govern as a forward-looking reformer eager to modernize and accelerate Mexico's integration to the global economy, or will he simply preside over Mexico's slide back to its authoritarian and statist ways under the PRI?
This question is not just academic. This election is important for the United States because what happens in Mexico does not stay in Mexico. Instead, events there have a direct impact on U.S. interests, whether it's the health of the Mexico's $1.1 trillion economy, energy production, and security issues -- e.g., narcotics trafficking -- among a range of other important issues.
In short, we really don't know how Peña Nieto intends to govern because his campaign has been vague on many key policy issues, although he has tried to reassure voters who remember the PRI-style all too well that, as president, "[he] will govern with the most solid and free democratic principles in the world."
While only time will tell where a President Peña Nieto will lead Mexico, on one crucial issue he will not have the luxury of time or nuance. That is, the war begun by President Felipe Calderón to break the backs of the Mexican drug cartels, a courageous decision that specifically upended the PRI-model of "live and let live" and deal-cutting with the drug syndicates.
Many thus are looking for signs as to just how Peña Nieto intends to wage (or not) the war against the cartels. So far, there has been no detailed plan, only vague statements about shifting priorities to reducing violence over the primacy of taking down capos and drug seizures. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, the drug war is not a loser with the Mexican people; 8 in 10 support the use of the Mexican army against the cartels, according to Pew.
However, in a nod that Peña Nieto intends to keep the pressure on the cartels, his campaign recently announced the hiring of Colombia's former national police chief Gen. Óscar Naranjo as his drug war adviser. (Naranjo has a sterling record against Colombia's drug cartels and is well-known to both Washington and the Calderón administration.)
While that is a good sign, it still will not be easy for Peña Nieto to overcome his party's historical reluctance to take on the drug cartels or, politically, to embrace his predecessor's signature policy. It is admittedly a war fraught with great risks and enormous costs. Some believe that the extent of the counter-drug mobilization ordered by President Calderón means that any successor will have no choice but to continue forward.
One certainly hopes that is the case, but there is no guarantee. And there can be any number of gradations on how that war is fought and the underlying commitment communicated. Let's hope that Peña Nieto also understands this is a battle to take back Mexico's security and sovereignty from criminal organizations and that there is no going back to some deal-cutting modus vivendi.
Lastly, this is not just Mexico's war, but our war too. It is U.S. demand that fuels the Mexican drug trade and it is their product that blights our neighborhoods and poisons our youth. Yet a transfer of power in Mexico will necessitate a delicate diplomatic dance by the Obama administration to help keep the next government on the right path. The administration stumbled a bit trying to build a trusting relationship with the Calderón government. We need to get it right from the start this time around.
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A constitutional crisis in Paraguay is developing rapidly. Last Friday, yet another struggling Latin American democracy experienced a traumatic change of government. The prospects are better than you might guess, but the fate of the country might lie in the hands of people like Chavez and Ortega, who excel at throwing stones from their glass houses.
Ex-priest-turned-president Fernando Lugo was one year away from completing his term, having been elected in 2008 as a Chavez-lite leftist in a historic democratic election. He was elected because he inspired the voting poor who outnumbered both the traditional ruling party, the Colorados, and the perennial opposition, the Liberals. His base got him elected and kept him relatively safe for a while. But eventually Lugo proved weak and ineffective in the eyes of that base, and he gave his political enemies what they needed to move against him constitutionally. It didn't help that he had four paternity suits filed against him (he's acknowledged two of the children), including one related to his time as bishop that involved a 16-year-old girl. Weak, bumbling, and lecherous is apparently enough to remove one from power.
Marking the beginning of his tenure with a lot of verbal and symbolic support for Chavez's socialist remake of Latin America, Lugo embarked on a project of agrarian reform to right the wrongs of the last 60 years. He planned to take land from large landowners, most of it tied to the ruling party he ousted. For generations, the long dominant Colorado Party had appropriated the vast majority of the arable land for its cronies.
But the land seizures did not go fast enough or smoothly enough for the poor, who found that sometimes Lugo's government was evicting them for squatting if their demand for land reform got in the way of Paraguay's soybean-based growth trajectory. (Lugo knew how to capitalize on a global boom by getting in bed with the corporate "enemies of the poor.") The most recent case that helped bring him down involved his eviction of squatters from the land of a powerful Colorado politician that left six police officers and 11 farmers dead. Lugo has been blamed by the peasants for turning against them and by the elites for bumbling.
Other charges include allowing leftist parties to hold political meetings in an army base; allowing thousands of squatters to invade a large Brazilian-owned soybean farm; his inability or refusal to capture members of a guerrilla group; and subverting Congress by not submitting an international agreement to them for approval.
Lugo's ouster was effected by the legislature, not the military, and that is at least one bright spot in this situation. A combination of his erstwhile allies and the Colorado Party removed the president in a five-hour trial in the Senate in which he had little time to mount a defense. It is important to note that he used to have a lot of allies in the legislature, but all but a few had turned against him of their own volition. The removal appears to have been technically legal in that the constitution affords an impeachment and removal process, but is light on the details. Since impeachment is really a political action, the reason for it can be, well, pure politics. And it teaches the lesson that political movements built around a personality are inherently unstable.
Depending on your political point of view, there is perhaps another bright spot: The public doesn't seem to believe they have been robbed of their vote. Protests have been rather small and no violence has occurred. It reminds one of when Fujimori did his auto-golpe and the public just went to work and about their daily business the next day.
Regional reaction has been more intense, with many Latin American leaders recalling their ambassadors, denouncing the act as a coup, and Chavez announcing that he will cut off oil supplies. Some governments in the region have had a more muted response, and some Western countries have accepted the new government of Lugo's vice president Frederico Franco. A showdown of sorts was to occur this week with the meeting of the Union of South American nations, where Lugo intended to be present and the new Paraguayan government has been told to stay away. However, Lugo has again changed his mind and says he will not attend. The regional leaders nevertheless intend to discuss a general response to the crisis.
It is worth noting that many of the region's governments who are criticizing the legislature's actions are the first to tell the United States to stay out of the internal affairs of other countries. Apparently sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, but most observers knew that already. When dealing with leftist governments, criticism of Sandinista-run Nicaragua is bad, criticism of and perhaps even intervention against the new Paraguayan government is good. This might explain why the U.S. response has been rather muted. The best approach of U.S. foreign policy in this case is probably to be as sure as we can about the legality of the legislature's move, even if we don't like it, and wait to see what the people of Paraguay want rather than what Ortega, Chavez, and Fernandez want. Let's not repeat the Honduran situation.
Returning to the Paraguayan public's reaction so far, it bears repeating that their reaction has been quite pacific. One explanation is simply that they, especially the poor, voted Lugo in expecting him to solve problems, yet he didn't. He not only failed to solve those problems, he appears to be of questionable character and competence. They heard these very criticisms for much of the Lugo presidency from his running mate, a surgeon whom Lugo agreed to run with. The public observed Lugo fail, then watched a formal if speedy impeachment, trial and removal of the president, and his replacement by his vice president. They are remaining calm. Maybe they are satisfied with this outcome, hoping the next leader can solve the problems. It might not be as orderly a democracy as many of us would like, including Paraguayans (who knows?), it might be unstable and fraught with future problems, but it does appear at this point that it satisfies the public. And this is a far better state of affairs than the way governments in the region used to change hands, when we saw nothing but uniforms and bullets flying instead of votes in the legislature cast by men and women in business suits. Let's hope the region's leaders as well as the U.S. government does not punish them for this.
The Organization of American States (OAS) just held its 42nd general assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia. During the general assembly, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in a renewed attack against freedom of the press, sought to block the release the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' (IACHR) report of press freedom in the Americas.
Freedom of speech is not the only right under fire from Ecuador's leader. For years, Rafael Correa has used all available government resources to concentrate governmental power in his hands. The result has been to hide crimes committed by him or his inner circle. Every time he attacks a journalist, nationalizes a TV station, or leaves unpunished people engaged in drug trafficking, Correa does so knowing that he manipulates the judicial system and intimidates his country's media.
Astoundingly, not long ago Correa said this on television: "The president of therRepublic is not only the head of the executive, but the head of all the Ecuadorian state, and the Ecuadorian state is the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, the electoral system, the state comptroller... [and every other major function of the government]." Correa's strategy has been described by Ecuadorian constitutional lawyers as a "de facto coup d'état."
As an example, in May 2011, President Correa called for a referendum to restructure the Supreme Court. Correa's purpose was to dominate the court and the result of the referendum was the replacement of the system through which judges were appointed with a new system controlled by the president through the following mechanism: a new "judicial council" was established, composed of three members, one from the executive, one from congress (where Correa has a majority), and a third from the comptroller's branch -- which also reports to the president.
Correa wasted no time: The new Council has already appointed all twenty-one new judges to the Supreme Court. To no one's surprise, fourteen of the new judges have been former Correa officials, relatives of current cabinet ministers, or peopble involved in controversial, pro-Correa judicial decisions. One of the latter, for example, is Wilson Merino, who as a lower court judge sided with President Correa in a sham defamation lawsuit launched by Correa against the newspaper El Universo. Merino not only ruled for Correa but awarded the president $40 million dollars in "damages." This sentence was later "forgiven" by Correa due to international criticism by international press organizations and the very Inter-American Human Rights Commission that Correa now wants to silence.
As a result of his sycophantic ruling, Merino was appointed to the Supreme Court. This was only possible because Correa shamelessly manipulates the judicial appointments process. This process establishes a series of requirements, qualifications, and tests that the candidates are required to pass in order to be selected. Wilson Merino did not meet the minimum qualifications, but since the three members of the judicial appointments council respond to Correa, Merino's final score was artificially increased, giving him the necessary points for appointment to the Supreme Court, as the president wished.
Freedom-loving Ecuadoreans, however, have not remained silent. Opposition congressmen such as Andres Paez have denounced the executive's manipulation of the judicial appointments system. Congressman Paez has identified at least seven additional judges that have been appointed by similar deceit. President Correa is now openly harassing Congressman Paez due to his public accusations.
An international committee led by former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon oversaw the appointment process. Judge Garzon is expected to release a final report shortly concerning the process' transparency and legitimacy. Several members of Ecuador's national assembly have officially advised Mr. Garzon of additional cases of fraud and manipulation.
Correa is attempting to destroy the Ecuadorian judiciary system in three steps. First, he restructured the judicial appointment system in order to control it. Second, by using his control to designate his subordinates, such as Wilson Merino, to the Supreme Court. The third step is under way, and consists of legitimizing the process internationally. The success or failure of Correa's plan depends on Mr. Garzon's forthcoming oversight report and on the international reaction to this scheme. For the sake of Ecuador's liberties, it is necessary that defenders of democracy around the world raise their voices for freedom in Ecuador and that Mr. Garzon teach Correa the difference between representative democracy and autocracy.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
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By Aaron Marr Page, Attorney for the Ecuadorians suing Chevron
It is disappointing that José Cárdenas feels the need to throw in a little gratuitous boosterism for Chevron in the middle of an important foreign policy discussion about trade. Chevron is overtly trying to destabilze U.S.-Ecuador relations as part of a self-serving strategy to escape legal accountability for egregious misconduct in Ecuador's Amazon. Cárdenas uncritically recites Chevron's talking points about being the victim of a judicial "shakedown" when in fact overwhelming scientific evidence produced by Chevron itself (and as found by multiple courts) concluded that the oil giant has committed monstrous environmental abuse in Ecuador, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer. For a summary of the evidence against Chevron, see this video here and this document here.
It was Chevron that insisted the claims filed by more than 30,000 indigenous people and Amazon residents be heard in the courts of Ecuador, declaring the courts in 14 affidavits fair and just. Once the trial started in 2003 and the evidence pointed to Chevron's guilt, the company started a public relations and diplomatic campaign to taint Ecuador of which trade lobbying is an important component. Ecuador's government estimates that cutting trade preferences could negatively impact 320,000 jobs, but to Chevron that's a small price to pay if it means it can politically engineer the legal outcome it seeks.
Chevron was right about the competence of Ecuadorian courts: they performed admirably, supervising an 8-year trial that included over 50 judicial site inspections and the submission of over 100 detailed expert reports containing over 64,000 scientific results from soil and water samples. Dozens of witnesses testified and each and every one of the company's legal defenses was thoroughly briefed and analyzed in the trial court's 188-page final judgment. Classified State Department cables released by Wikileaks reveal that the company repeatedly admitted to U.S. diplomatic staff in private that it had "no real complaints about the administration of the case." See here. Chevron has tried to undermine the rule of law at every turn. For a summary of Chevron's strategy of harassment, delay, obstruction, and misconduct, see this sworn affidavit.
Chevron is now engaged in an ugly bit of diplomatic theater in an effort to end-run a case that it lost. The last time Chevron stormed Capitol Hill with lobbyists to destabilize the trade relationship with Ecuador, twenty-six members of Congress wrote to ask the USTR to steer clear of the issue. As the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time, "punish[ing] Ecuador because its government refuses to halt a private lawsuit against the oil giant" would "harm broader U.S. interests" and "create needless ill will in a region where President Obama has promised to end North American bullying."
José R. Cárdenas responds: "Examples of judicial misconduct and political interference in the Chevron case have been well-documented. I stand by my comments."
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Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has made no secret of his support for Iran's controversial nuclear program. In fact, the fiery leftist revels in flaunting that support before the international community. But the relationship goes even deeper than that. Correa's foreign minister just returned from Tehran, where he blasted the United States and sealed a $400 million deal to purchase Iranian fuel products, a deal that might not be illegal under United Nations sanctions, but certainly violates the spirit of international efforts to isolate the Islamist regime over its rogue nuclear program.
At the same time, Iran's Vice President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou was visiting President Correa in Quito, saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran places no limits on the expansion of cooperation with Ecuador." (Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Ecuador just this past January.)
What makes this all worth noting is that the Ecuadorean embassy in Washington has just announced a public campaign to convince the U.S. Congress that Ecuador is deserving of continued trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).
Where to begin?
ATPA was first passed by Congress in 1991 to provide certain Andean countries market access for key exports to boost alternative industries to the drug trade. Of the four original beneficiaries, only Ecuador remains. Colombia and Peru both now have free trade agreements with the U.S., while Bolivia lost privileges for its expulsion of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008.
Obviously, a fundamental prerequisite for ATPA eligibility is that a country shares a commonality of purpose with the U.S. in eradicating illicit narcotics, but such a commitment under President Correa has been nonexistent. In fact, he made a central component of his rise to power to expel a U.S. counter-narcotics unit from the coastal city of Manta, which monitored drug shipments heading north to the United States and beyond.
According to the State Department's 2012 international narcotics report, since the U.S. expulsion from Manta in 2009, drug seizures have gone down and trafficking has gone up. Moreover, last year the U.S. and Ecuador did not carry out a single joint counter-narcotics exercise, even as Mexican, Colombian, Russian, and Chinese transnational criminal organizations have increased their presence and activities in Ecuador.
Beyond counter-narcotics cooperation, ATPA also requires that the beneficiary respect the rights of U.S. companies operating within their borders. On that front, Ecuador has been involved in a high-stakes, multi-billion-dollar shakedown of the U.S. oil company Chevron, which it claims is responsible for the despoilment of a patch of the Ecuadorean rain forest years ago. The case has been replete with rigged judicial proceedings and political interference from the get-go.
Finally, Iran. One would think that extending trade benefits to another country would entitle the U.S. to some expressions of broader good will in return. Instead, the Correa government has responded with a reckless embrace of an international rogue that is pushing the world to a crisis point, for no other reason than to burnish its anti-American credentials.
ATPA does not expire until next year, but the U.S. Trade Representative has already asked for public comments on whether it should be renewed for Ecuador. The case for extension is not even close and the Obama administration ought to convey their opposition to any roll-over. Whether it is a joint commitment to fighting drugs, respecting U.S. investors, or hostility to fundamental U.S. foreign policy goals, Ecuador under the Correa government fails on all counts.
If Ecuadorean exporters are going to be hurt by the end of ATPA benefits, they need to make their case to their own government, not the U.S. Congress. And they need to hold President Correa accountable -- and him alone -- if those benefits are lost.
The usually sober editorial board of the Washington Post misfired badly in a recent editorial, "The refuseniks of Cuba," in which it lambasted the Obama administration for denying visas to a few Cuban academic apparatchiks who wanted to attend an upcoming conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) in San Francisco.
Now, there are good reasons to criticize the administration's decision on the matter -- but on the grounds of its apparent incoherence, rather than as a statement directed against the Castros' totalitarian regime. It turns out that only 11 visas were denied, some 60 were approved, and a few more are under review. Given the non-transparent visa issuance process, there is little to explain why any of the decisions were made, including granting a visa to Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, a noted "sexologist."
Predictably, the result of the administration's apparent split-the-difference approach wound up pleasing no one. Pro-freedom Cuban American members of Congress were irate that the State Department granted travel permission to Mariela Castro, who Senator Robert Menendez called a "vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy, who has defended the regime's brutal repression of democracy activists."
Yet, in attempting to make the case for the 11 Cubans who were denied visas, the Post went over-the-top, completely distorting the issue at hand. For example, calling the denied Cubans "refuseniks" eviscerates all known meanings of the term, which originated behind the Iron Curtain and referred to those who requested exit visas to leave the Soviet Union, an act of betrayal in the eyes of authorities from which they suffered greatly.
The fact is that not a single member of the Cuban LASA delegation has ever said or written anything that deviated so far from the party line that they had to pay any professional or personal price. They all live lives of relative comfort and ease under the benign care (and watchful eye) of the regime.
Contrast this to the thousands of Cuban men and women who have dared to think freely and independently and continue to do so. Not only are they harassed daily, jailed, or forced into exile, but many have paid the ultimate price for refusing to relinquish their fundamental human rights. To equate in any way their sacrifices to the experiences of pampered regime elites is simply obscene.
Unable to comprehend this point, the Post can only attribute opposition to the granting of visas to "fear," as if people are afraid the Cubans' sanctioned talking points couldn't be rebutted or would change anyone's opinion about their murderous regime. The assertion is risible on its face.
Rather, the point is that a regime that has denied a truly free and independent thinker such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez permission to leave Cuba some twenty times simply does not deserve to enjoy the same rights as a reward to its academic collaborators, whose all-expenses-paid visit to the United States is designed only to whip up public sentiment against the U.S. embargo anyway.
Then there is the matter of the jailed American Alan Gross, who has been incarcerated in Cuba for more than two years for trying to help Cubans link to the internet without going through regime censors, as is their human right. Once again, in granting any visas to the Cubans, the administration has sent the signal that the abduction of Mr. Gross continues to be cost-free.
The principled decision would have been to deny all the visas in solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who cannot speak their minds in Cuba or travel freely or had to flee Cuba to enjoy those rights; moreover, to reaffirm that there will not be business-as-usual as long as Alan Gross remains unjustly imprisoned. But all this has been muddled by half-measures: Deny some, allow others. It may be that the administration doesn't mind drawing both the ire of the right and the left, but political expedience is never a good choice over principle.
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The Obama administration's two major weekend summits, the G-8 gathering at Camp David and the ongoing NATO meeting in Chicago, happen to be occurring as the U.S. presidential campaign gets underway. That coincidence of timing presumably helps explain an otherwise baffling statement by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon posted over at the Cable previewing the meetings:
Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama's ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.
"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.
"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does... And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."
The best explanation I can muster for this is that Donilon is channeling David Axelrod and indulging in some spin for the campaign "silly season." One hopes that the Obama administration doesn't actually believe that its record on alliances is so exemplary, because to do so means that the notorious White House-bubble must be even thicker than usual. Yet I suppose that as long as the media gives a free pass on these kinds of claims, they will be made. Even the Humble Cable-Guy, normally vigilant to call out any manner of fluff, spin, or distortion, seems to have missed this one.
Campaign spin notwithstanding, the reality is different.
First, taking Donilon's own timeline, the Obama administration inherited a set of alliances in solid shape. When Obama took office the Bush administration had largely repaired bilateral relationships that had been admittedly frayed during its first term. Gone were the "old Europe/new Europe" lines, the feuds with Chirac and Schroeder, etc. By 2008, America had very solid relationships with allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as emerging partners such as India. Expanding these partnerships and inviting rising powers to the high table of international politics, Bush had even convened the first-ever G-20 summit in Washington to deal with the eruption of the global financial crisis.
Second, the Obama administration's record on relations with U.S. allies is wanting, to say the least. American allies and friends on almost every continent have been neglected or undercut by the Obama administration. These include specific countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Georgia, Ukraine, and Colombia. While the specific issues may have varied -- whether neglected and re-litigated free trade agreements, abandoned missile defense commitments, cancellations of state visits, shirking of defense needs, rebuffs on energy cooperation, dithering on multilateral interventions, hectoring on fiscal policy, or just thoroughgoing neglect -- all of these nations, among them America's most important allies and partners, have suffered poor treatment at the hands of the Obama administration. Anecdotally, one can hardly visit a European capital without hearing private complaints from European diplomats over the neglect they feel from the Obama administration.
Third, Donilon's sanctimonious dig contrasting "alliances" with "coalitions of the willing" was unflattering as well -- to the Obama administration. After all, this White House has, for justifiable reasons, made frequent use of coalitions of the willing on its most significant foreign policy initiatives, such as the Libya War (which included non-NATO members such as Sweden, Qatar, Jordan, and UAE), the P-5 Plus One coalition on Iran, the "Friends of Syria" Group, and the Afghanistan War (forty non-NATO participants).
The Obama administration's efforts to keep blaming Bush have an almost perfunctory quality. If anything, they reveal this White House's own anemic record to base re-election on [insert obligatory "three envelopes" joke here]. I have some sympathy for the administration in that working with allies in practice is much harder than campaign rhetoric would indicate. But here the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is significant.
Obama campaigned claiming he would improve America's global image, but his treatment of allies has undermined our nation's credibility. In a way, Obama's international reputation seems to mirror his domestic reputation. At both home and abroad, personal affection for him far exceeds approval for his policies. He has been successful at cultivating his personal image in the world, but in the process America's standing has been diminished. In terms I hope our Anglosphere allies will appreciate, this White House may talk like Ringo Starr, but too often it has acted like Mike Reno.
From the photographs of Hillary Clinton partying up at a Cartagena disco during last weekend's Sixth Summit of the Americas, it appears she was the only U.S. official who enjoyed herself while in Colombia. (We'll leave out the members of the president's security detail who were sent home for allegedly consorting with prostitutes.)
Indeed, despite being commended for "listening politely," President Obama had to have been frustrated with being endlessly harangued by his counterparts over historical and ideological grievances that predated his birth. It was, as the president said, like entering a "time warp."
Rather than figuring out how to cooperate with our southern neighbors in meeting the challenges of the 21st century global economy, the president was instead forced to sit and listen as others complained about why Stalinist Cuba wasn't invited to a summit of otherwise popularly elected governments or how come the United Kingdom won't honor Argentina's specious claim to the Falkland Islands after more than two centuries?
It's a wonder nobody demanded that President Obama cede back to Mexico a huge chunk of the American Southwest.
Of course, one of the hallmarks of Latin American populism is nursing historical grudges; it's easier than having to solve real problems. But, still, the disconnect between the agendas of the United States and our neighbors to the south continues to widen. And, in this, those administration officials tasked with managing the Latin America portfolio are not blameless.
Three years of U.S. neglect -- combined with a period of economic prosperity built mostly on Chinese demand for agricultural commodities and raw materials -- have convinced many governments in the region that cooperation with the United States is not as important as it used to be. An expression of that new-found attitude is talking about issues they want to talk about, and in which the United States has no interest discussing.
It is perfectly natural that Latin American governments are branching out and establishing new economic relationships or boosting trade amongst themselves. But spurning closer cooperation with the United States -- whose economy still comprises almost seventy percent of regional GDP -- is in no one's long-term interest.
It may be that the region is enjoying good times economically, but Chinese demand isn't always going to be there, and it is hardly a foundation on which to build lasting prosperity. Moreover, confronting the U.S. over historical grievances may boost some sort of elitist self-esteem, but it is hardly relevant to the majority of the region's citizens who live on less than two dollars a day.
Enhancing long-term development is better met through closer regional cooperation in trade integration, promoting energy security, strengthening democratic institutions, and tackling drug corruption and violence. And, of course, it cannot just be a one-way street. The ground is shifting under U.S.-Latin America relations, with the days of demand and compliance a distant memory.
In an increasingly turbulent world, there is much to say for developing stronger relationships within our own hemisphere. By doing so, we will also necessarily crowd out those who would rather wallow in the past than look to a prosperous and mutually beneficial future.
With this most recent summit so dominated by issues no U.S. president can find any benefit in discussing, some have speculated that this may very well be the last such summit in which the U.S. will likely participate. That would be unfortunate. Better that the Sixth Summit of the Americas be remembered as the nadir of U.S.-Latin America relations, with the only way to go but up.
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President Obama will join his 34 regional counterparts in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend for the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The theme of this year's meeting is "Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity."
A more appropriate theme would be, "Whatever happened to the Inter-American Democratic Charter?"
That landmark document, signed a decade ago by all the governments of the hemisphere (excluding Cuba), in Lima, Peru, states, "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."
But the rise to power of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and a passel of other leftist populists has turned that commitment on its head, as they have systematically gutted their country's democratic institutions and trampled on nearly every article enshrined in the Charter with nary a peep of protest from other governments in the region.
Indeed, the region's fading commitment to defending democracy has even dominated headlines leading up to the Summit. The ringleader in this case has been Ecuadorean rabble-rouser Rafael Correa, who in high dudgeon has declaimed that he is boycotting this year's summit because thoroughly undemocratic Cuba was not invited.
Castro's Cuba, which would not recognize a democratic principle if one walked up and slapped him in the face, has never been invited to a summit because conforming to the most elementary standards of democratic governance is a prerequisite to attend.
Predictably, Hugo Chávez was the first to rush to Correa's defense, saying that although he would attend the summit (health permitting), "This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba. The next one wouldn't occur," and that a "good number of us" will advocate Cuba's inclusion at the next such gathering.
He added that he had discussed the issue with leaders from Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Brazil.
It wasn't long before Argentina and Brazil also weighed in, toeing the same line. "This has to be the last summit in which Cuba does not participate," said Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman in an appearance with his Brazilian counterpart Antonio Patriota.
You know a regional commitment to promoting and defending democracy is in trouble when otherwise mature countries like Argentina and Brazil are lining up in support of Cuba's inclusion in the Summit of the Americas.
But the issue also goes beyond the incongruence of a Stalinist regime participating in a meeting of popularly elected governments. As noted, a deafening regional silence has accompanied populist encroachments on democratic norms and institutions over the past few years, whether they have occurred in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, or Nicaragua.
It may be true that there are limits to the appeal of the Chávez model throughout the region, but according to Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World (2012) report, Chávez's "quasi-authoritarian populism still stands as a threat to the region's political stability."
President Obama has an opportunity when he travels to Colombia on Saturday to make clear that the Charter is not just another regional declaration to be signed and forgotten. Instead, it stands as the crowning achievement of the region's history of perseverance and grit -- at great human cost -- to move past its authoritarian past and establish democratic governance as the hemispheric norm.
The president must unabashedly reassert the abiding relevance of the Inter-American Democratic Charter as one that transcends ideology and fuzzy notions of Latin "solidarity" and remains the foundation for any lasting regional peace and prosperity.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
On the flight from Rome to Mexico prior to his visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI stirred the hearts of many by declaring that Marxism had lost its relevance in the 21stcentury. The comment was seen as a preview to how he would comport himself in Cuba -- an anticipated and welcome contrast to the traditional international indulgence of the Castro dictatorship.
Alas, that was to be the most provocative thing he had to say over the entire trip. Instead, it is what he said next that appears to typify how the Church is approaching its mission in Cuba: that the Church was ready to help the island find new ways of moving forward without "traumas."
Apparently, "traumas" is Vatican-speak for the kind of upheavals seen elsewhere in the world of late, in which populations have risen up against oppressive and bankrupt dictatorships.
In other words, the Church has decided that its role in Cuba is not to be a change agent and it would shun any abrupt turn away from Castroism. It also means that the Church is placing its faith in the Castro regime (and its repressive apparatus) to manage a "soft landing" as Cuba supposedly transitions to wherever it is transitioning.
That is why the Pope's trip is a profound disappointment to many who were hoping for a stronger signal that the cries of the Cuban people were being heard for a better future over their dysfunctional and spiritless existence under the Castro regime.
Pope Benedict did pepper his public remarks in Cuba with words like "liberty," "prisoners," (although not "political prisoners") and reached out to "Cubans, wherever they may be" (more than one million in exile), but even the international press covering the visit seemed disappointed by his lack of powerful symbolism and rhetoric. The Pope "delivered a carefully worded, nuanced and balanced arrival address" and "kept his language lofty, his criticism vague and open to interpretation." Frankly, there is little in Cuba today that is "open to interpretation."
Indeed, the effort to avoid saying anything that would offend the Castro government was too conspicuous, as was the smothering regime choreography of the visit -- high-ranking officials always appearing near the Pontiff, media restrictions to control public perceptions, the arrests of dissidents. The Cuban people needed no translation on what was really going on: The regime was demonstrating that the Church did not exist as an alternative voice of authority, but that they and the Pope were compatible.
Neither was the visit enhanced by the fact that the Pope declined to meet with beleaguered Cuban dissidents (as Pope John Paul the Great had done 14 years earlier) because of a "busy schedule," yet found the time to reportedly add a last-minute meeting with cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (in Cuba for medical treatment), a man who has notoriously insulted Church leaders in Venezuela time after time.
In one encouraging note, however, a brave Cuban refused to go along with the regime's charade and began shouting during one of the Pope's addresses: "Down with the Revolution! Down with the dictatorship!" As he was being led away, he was punched by an official wearing a Red Cross vest. (Such is life in Cuba.) His fate remains unknown.
Cuba is, of course, hostile territory for the Church, which has been repressed -- at times violently -- for five decades. And it stands to reason there may be a bit of a whipped dog syndrome in the Church's reluctance to be bolder. But the Church is not without its own strengths -- a fact that terrifies the Castro regime, hence, the overexertion to try and co-opt it. But the bottom line is Pope Benedict declined the opportunity to meet the regime on equal terms, and the Cuban people are poorer off for it.
The irony is that the Vatican's choice of a passive and accommodating approach will only help to bring about the kind of turmoil it ostensibly seeks to avoid -- as the pent up frustrations of the Cuban people continue to be denied any viable outlet. It also diminishes the Church's own image as an honest broker in a future Cuban transition.
History will ultimately render the verdict on the Vatican’s choice, but the record shows that placing one’s faith in the hoped-for good will of a dictatorship never really does work out very well in the end.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.