State Dept. requests $5m+ in aid to Honduran security forces for FY 2014

According to the US State Department’s Executive Budget Summary for FY 2014, the Obama administration is requesting that Congress approve for Honduras $4.5 million worth of Foreign Military Financing. It is also requesting $650,000 under the International Military Education & Training program for Honduras as well. Together, this adds up to $5.15 million in requested security assistance for Honduras for FY 2014. Undoubtedly, this aid will only serve to empower right-wing Honduran regime’s apparatus of repression.

In March 2012, 94 members of Congress sent the State Department a letter requesting that it “suspend US assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces.”

This past February, the NGO Rights Action has documented the killings of some 88 peasants and peasant supporters in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras (a backgrounder on the land-based conflict in this region can be found here).  Many of these killings–and other rights violations–have been attributed to the Honduran military’s 15th Battalion. According to Rights Action Co-Director Annie Bird, “at the same time the 15th Battalion was implicated in kidnappings, killings, threats, torture and abuse of authority, it received assistance and training from the Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) of the United States Armed Forces.”

Last month, the Associated Press released an investigative piece on the presence of death squads within Honduras’ civilian police force.

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The bitter truth about the US-Israel relationship

Remarks by President Obama in Arrival Ceremony, 19 March 2013:

I want to begin right now, by answering a question that is sometimes asked about our relationship — why? Why does the United States stand so strongly, so firmly with the State of Israel? And the answer is simple. We stand together because we share a common story — patriots determined “to be a free people in our land,” pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom, and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse societies.

John Quincy Adams, Oration at Plymouth, 22 December 1802:

There are, indeed, moralists who have questioned the right of the Europeans to intrude upon the possessions of the aboriginals in any case, and under any limitations whatsoever. But have they maturely considered the whole subject? The Indian right of possession itself stands, with regard to the greater part of the country, upon a questionable foundation. […] Shall he forbid the wilderness to blossom like a rose? Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall before the axe of industry, and to rise again, transformed into the habitations of ease and elegance? Shall he doom an immense region of the globe to perpetual desolation, and to hear the howlings of the tiger and the wolf silence forever the voice of human gladness?

Shimon Peres, 1970:

The country [Palestine] was mostly an empty desert, with only a few islands of Arab settlements; and Israel’s cultivable land today was indeed redeemed from swamp and wilderness.

Gallup, 15 March 2013:

As President Barack Obama prepares to visit Israel, the Palestinian West Bank, and Jordan next week — his first trip to the region as president — Americans’ sympathies lean heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%. Americans’ partiality for Israel has consistently exceeded 60% since 2010; however, today’s 64% ties the highest Gallup has recorded in a quarter century, last seen in 1991 during the Gulf War.

Too often the US’ close relationship is attributed to the ambiguously defined “Israel Lobby.” While there is something to be said about the strong-arm tactics of groups such as AIPAC in getting massive amounts of US tax payer money sent to Israel, the fact of the matter is that the American population overwhelmingly sympathizes with the settler state of Israel while heaping endless disdain and loathing upon the indigenous Palestinian population. The reason for this is simple: Americans relate to the Israelis more than they ever could with the Palestinians. Israel and the US were both founded as settler states which displaced their respective native populations. Therefore, Israelis are represented as honorary members of the civilized world while Palestinians are proclaimed to be savages.

In this context it becomes clear that AIPAC would not succeed in getting much financial, military and diplomatic backing for Israel without the widespread support it enjoys among the American people. Members of Congress may be greatly concerned with obtaining campaign contributions and gifts from lobbyists, but they are not as insulated from the demands of their constituents as many on the left have asserted.

State Dept. report shows massive increase in authorized defense sales to Bahrain for FY 2011

According to the latest Section 655 report issued by the US State Department, the combined value of direct commercial sales of defense-related materials and services in Fiscal Year 2011 was $280,373,829. This represents a 40% increase over the $200,771,754 worth of authorized sales in FY 2010. The most revealing category of defense goods is “Category III: Ammunition/Ordnance.” In FY 2010 there was 3,953 units authorized for sale at a combined worth of $9,716 in this category. In FY 2011, the quantity of units authorized for sale to Bahrain dramatically increased to 936,740 at a combined value of $1,330,915. This represents a 236-fold increase in the amount of units of ammunition and ordnance authorized for sale to Bahrain from FY 2010 to FY 2011.

These figures strongly suggests that Bahrain has seen an increased need for military-related goods and services since the start of the Shia majority-based revolt against Sunni minority rule. The US has maintained steadfast support of the Bahrainian regime despite verifiable reports of massive human rights violations by government agents against domestic opposition. These numbers serve to confirm that the relationship has gotten a lot closer since the start of the revolution in early 2011.

Egyptian military raids US-funded “civil society” groups

The Egyptian military’s raids of the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House appears to be an obvious attempt to play the nationalism card against the broad movement for dissent in that country. As I have touched upon previously, these so called “civil society” groups are far from the innocent, pro-democracy actors they are made out to be and suspicions surrounding them are probably justified in any country. It has been established that such organizations have played a large role in undermining democratically elected governments in countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela and especially Haiti. In Egypt, US tax dollars helped promote crooked privatization schemes that benefited Mubarak’s cronies. Generally speaking, these groups are part of “Trojan Horse” strategy of imposing neo-liberal economics and subservience to US interests through the use of soft power.

Regardless of these documented facts, this move by Egypt’s government is almost certainly a cynical attempt to tar any and all opposition to military rule as US financed astroturf. This is especially rich from Egypt’s armed forces, which the Washington Post correctly notes is “by far the country’s largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving about $1.3 billion a year.” While it is probably the case that the raided groups were backing the Egyptian resistance movement, that does not mean the entire movement should be seen as a puppet of USAID and the NED. Most likely, the case is that the US is backing both sides in this battle (while leaning more towards the military) to preserve its influence no matter who comes out on top.

Our AIPAC-owned Congress

Priorities, priorities…

H. R. 2893: To prohibit Foreign Military Financing program assistance to countries that vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

H. RES. 297: To withhold United States contributions to the United Nations until the United Nations formally retracts the final report of the “United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.”

H. R. 2589: To prohibit certain activities in support of the Arab League boycott of Israel, and for other purposes.

H. RES. 297: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Secretary of State should withhold United States contributions to the regularly assessed biennial budget of the United Nations for purposes of the General Assembly of the United Nations if the General Assembly adopts a resolution in favor of recognizing a state of Palestine outside of or prior to a final status agreement negotiated between, and acceptable to, the State of Israel and the Palestinians.

H. R. 1609: To amend the War Powers Resolution to limit the use of funds for introduction of the Armed Forces into hostilities, and for other purposes.

(a) No funds available for the United States Armed Forces may be obligated or expended for introduction of the Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, in the absence of a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization or obligation under a treaty, or a national emergency created by an attack or imminent threat of attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or the Armed Forces.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of funds for introduction of the Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, to provide for the defense of Israel created by an attack upon Israel.

H. RES. 394: Supporting Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

WikiLeaks cable: Chile suspected that the US exported biological agents to Pinochet regime

A newly released State Department cable details the Chilean government’s investigation of the 1982 death of ex-president Eduardo Frei Montalva. The Chileans had just charged six people with assassinating him by poisoning him with a chemical agent of some sort. In the middle of discussing the US government’s involvement in the investigation, a few small details about a Chilean inquiry to the US government are revealed.

U.S. involvement in the investigation took another strange turn in October 2009 when two Chilean Policia de Investigaciones (PDI) officers assigned to the Frei case attempted to speak with officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. The officers wanted to know if the CDC sent strains of “clostridium botulinum” (toxin or antidote) to the Chilean Institute of Public Health in 1981 or 1982. The officers requested the meeting with the CDC through the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) rather than through a U.S. law enforcement agency, creating another situation where Chilean authorities did not follow proper protocols. After consulting with Post and [Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs], the CDC declined to meet with the Chilean officers because they did not follow established rules for arranging such a meeting. The State Department’s Chile desk officer verbally notified the Chilean Embassy in Washington about the need to follow proper channels when conducting investigations and Post’s Legatt discussed the issue with the PDI officials (US Embassy in Santiago, 4 Feb. 2010, ¶ 11).

It seems relevant to note that clostridium botulinum was one of those exported to Iraq in the 1980s according to a 1994 report by the Senate Banking Committee.

It may also be worth noting that this is not the first time the US has been suspected of providing biological warfare agents to Latin American rightists.

[In 1981] an epidemic of dengue fever swept the Cuban island. Transmitted by blood-eating insects, usually mosquitos, the disease produces severe flu symptoms and incapacitating bone pain. Between May and October 1981, over 300,000 cases were reported in Cuba with 158 fatalities, 101 of which were children under 15. In 1956 and 1958, declassified documents have revealed, the US Army loosed swarms of specially bred mosquitos in Georgia and Florida to see whether disease-carrying insects could be weapons in a biological war. The mosquitos bred for the tests were of the Aedes Aegypti type, the precise carrier of dengue fever as well as other diseases. In 1967 it was reported by Science magazine that at the US government center in Fort Detrick, Maryland, dengue fever was amongst those “diseases that are at least the objects of considerable research and that appear to be among those regarded as potential BW [biological warfare] agents.” (William Blum, Killing Hope, Ch. 30)

In the 1984 trial of Cuban exile Eduardo Victor Arocena Perez, the defendant testified about a boat which traveled to the island in 1980:

The group that was ahead of me had a mission to carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war, which later on produced results that were not what we had expected, because we thought that it was going to be used against the Soviet forces, and it was used against our own people, and with that we did not agree. (Transcript, 10 Sep. 1984, p. 2187)

In short, there is much evidence to suggest that the US has given dangerous biological warfare agents to unsavory characters that it viewed as favorable at the time.

State Dept. requests for aid to Honduras have dramatically increased since Zelaya’s overthrow

In recent years the US State Department has been asking for significantly more funds to support its operations in Honduras according to budget justifications submitted to Congress. For both Fiscal Years 2011 and 2010, it asked for about $68 million. This represents a 40% increase from the $49 million requested for FY 2009. The most recent justification lists $54 million in funds going towards the Development Assistance (DA) account. According to the document:

Programs funded under the DA account will support the efforts of host governments and their private sector and non-governmental partners to implement the systemic political and economic changes needed for sustainable development progress. Requests for significant increases in individual bilateral DA programs will be focused on countries that demonstrate commitment to improving transparent, accountable, and responsible governance, where U.S. assistance is most likely to produce significant and sustainable development results (p. 70).

While the official diplomatic line was that the coup was illegitimate and that Zelaya should be allowed to return, the US accepted the results of the much contested November 2009 presidential election. It may not be much of a stretch to assert that the US saw the fraudulent election of Porfirio Lobo as a step in the right direction for a “sustainable development progress.” After all, Lobo has shown himself to be a partisan of neoliberal economics and a proponent of making Honduras appealing to foreign investors. Just last month he traveled to Denver, Colorado to speak at a “Honduras is Open for Business” event hosted by a group called the the Chamber of the Americas.

A few months after Lobo’s inauguration, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern at “the fact that high-ranking Army officers or former members of the Army who have been accused of participating in the coup are holding high-level management positions in public offices” in the Lobo administration. It is also the case that the human rights abuses that became apparent soon after Zelaya’s overthrow have continued under Lobo. As Human Rights Watch noted, at least 18 journalists and pro-Zelaya activists have been killed since Lobo assumed power in January 2010. Additionally the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) has gone as far as alleging the return of widespread death squad activity to the country. The group claims that the death squads are explicitly targeting family members of resistance leaders as a way of causing “distress” and intimidating them into silence.

The issue of US assistance to the right-wing regime in Honduras was addressed by a few in Congress this past October. Rep. Sam Farr wrote a letter–signed by 29 other members of Congress–to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting that US aid, “particularly military and police aid,” be suspended until Lobo distances himself from the 2009 coup participants and honestly addresses the human rights situation in the country. The total amount of security aid requested for Honduras the past few years is small but still significant. Most security assistance falls under two programs: International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The amount of IMET and FMF requested for Honduras was $1.5 million for FYs 2009 and 2010. For FY 2011, this number is $2 million, a third higher than the previous two FYs.

These figures should raise questions about the Obama administration’s commitment to democracy and human rights in Latin America, as well as the deception inherent in policy towards Honduras.

A breakdown of the amounts of security aid requested for Honduras from FY 2009 to FY 2011 follows:

FY 2009

FMF: $800,000
IMET: $700,000
TOTAL: $1,500,000

FY 2010

FMF: $936,000
IMET: $496,000
TOTAL: $1,432,000

FY 2011

FMF: 1,300,000
IMET: 700,000
TOTAL: 2,000,000

Here is a breakdown of the total amounts of funding requested for US foreign operations (including all forms of foreign aid) in Honduras from FY 2008 to FY 2011:

FY 2009: $49,128,000
FY 2010: $68,234,000
FY 2011: $67,934,000