A lobby blitz Massaging the drug-war numbers
Sep 122008

Goodbye to Bolivia’s unlikely ambassador, former journalist Gustavo Guzmán.

Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez have just endorsed their candidates for the U.S. elections. Their choice is John McCain and Sarah Palin. They appear to hope not just that McCain wins, but that he puts the Republican Party’s hardest line back in control of U.S. policy toward Latin America.

This may be a counter-intuitive statement, but the reasoning behind it is not. With Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s expulsions of U.S. ambassadors on Wednesday and Thursday, Morales and Chávez dealt a major setback to the moderates in the U.S. policy debate.

Who are this week’s losers? They are those who favor continued contact, cooperation and dialogue; those who have sought to maintain bilateral relationships on a serious, adult level; those who have abstained from “taking the bait” and responding to provocative statements. These moderates include:

  • The foreign-policy professionals who took over stewardship of the Bush administration’s Latin America policy after the departure of ideological political appointees Otto Reich and Roger Noriega. (Thomas Shannon at State, Stephen Johnson at Defense, and Ambassador Patrick Duddy in Venezuela are pragmatic “grown-ups,” not fire-breathing neocons.)
  • Top advisors to the Obama campaign.
  • Some congressional committee staff from both parties.
  • NGO analysts who support diplomacy over gratuitous confrontation, including CIP. We support dialogue with adversaries, even unpopular scenarios like humanitarian exchange dialogues with the FARC, so of course we oppose a breakoff in bilateral diplomatic contacts with Bolivia and Venezuela.
  • Officials we have known at the Bolivian and Venezuelan embassies who have sought to downplay the rhetoric from the top and keep channels of contact open.
  • (This list does not include the White House, where Drug Czar John Walters has attacked Venezuela and Bolivia’s drug-interdiction failures while downplaying or ignoring those of friendlier governments in Colombia and Peru, and where President Bush has sought to sell the Colombia Free-Trade Agreement by portraying Venezuela as a national-security threat.)

The above groups have little in common, and often disagree sharply on issues like free trade, military assistance, human rights and the U.S. role in the region as a whole. But they have coincided in their advocacy of an approach to elected “leftist” leaders based on avoidance of unnecessary provocation, proportional responses, dialogue, search for common ground, and insistence on facts instead of rumors or spin. They also have in common that they suffered a blow this week. If you believe that it is rarely a good idea to break off communications channels with adversaries, and worry that a lack of contact often leads to further radicalization and conflict, then you have had a bad week too.

Don’t believe for a moment that either expulsion had anything to do with an imminent danger of aggression from a waning U.S. administration already in way over its head in the Middle East and with Russia. What we have here are two leaders badly in need of an external threat to rally their domestic bases at a volatile political moment. In Bolivia, anti-government and separatist violence in eastern provinces is reaching truly alarming proportions, as supporters of local leaders who won the August recall referendum are illegally trying to make half the country ungovernable for a president who also handily won the August referendum. In Venezuela, municipal and gubernatorial elections are coming up. While supporters of President Chávez are likely to make gains, the government remains stung by its unexpected loss in a December 2007 constitutional reform referendum.

This is a moment when both leaders could badly use a strong, radical, angry, irrational U.S. over-reaction to help them rally their bases behind them. They need to sharpen the contradictions. They need Washington to step up and play the role that it so faithfully played for the Castro brothers in Cuba for fifty years: that of an aggressor appearing to be obsessed with their overthrow and constantly plotting to carry it out.

For the most part, those who have run the administration’s policy since 2006 or so have not obliged them. They have refused to play this role. Provocations like meetings with Iran, arms purchases from Russia, kind words for the FARC, or cancellations of USAID programs have met with little more than mild expressions of concern. Which is all they deserve.

That is not good enough, clearly, for these leaders to energize their supporters. So both presidents took it up a notch this week by expelling their U.S. ambassadors.

In the United States, the State Department’s tit-for-tat response was predictable. It is a shame, though, to see the departure of Bolivian Ambassador Gustavo Guzmán, a pragmatist who was by no means an attack dog. Guzmán seemed to place high value on the relationships he had built with Assistant Secretary Shannon and other officials. He also appeared to support the idea of President Morales visiting Washington, which Morales has not done during his presidency. But Guzmán is gone, and a main channel of communication has been cut.

This week’s crisis may help rally both presidents’ bases, for a time at least. But the expulsions’ timing, 54 days before the U.S. elections, is no accident either.

This week’s crisis is an investment in guaranteeing a continued U.S. hard line toward Bolivia and Venezuela. Doing so would require the defeat of Barack Obama, whose promise of a less confrontational, not-taking-the-bait approach is of no use to them. They want McCain and his hard liners to bring U.S. policy back to the open hostility of George W. Bush’s first term. And with this week’s actions, they have given the McCain-Palin campaign more red meat for its “country first” foreign policy rhetoric.

These “leftist” leaders have just contributed their grain of sand to the McCain-Palin campaign’s election effort. And their message to the moderates and pragmatists is clear: get out of the way.

27 Responses to “A good week for hard-liners”

  1. Will Says:

    Adam,

    Thank you for your comments on this issue, but I sincerely believe you are stretching things to suggest that these moves are designed to deliberately affect the U.S. election. Lives have been lost in Bolivia, governmental buildings have been taken over and airports have been closed by Bolivia’s “democratic” opposition. The U.S. ambassador held a public and private meeting with a central leader of an opposition that is violently trying to destabilize the country, why should we expect Morales to respond in any other way? I can’t imagine what the response of our government would be if this situation was reversed. I am certain that it would involve at the very least the expulsion of the Bolivian ambassador.

    The fact that your post makes little reference to these events is quite problematic and undermines one of your arguments (that these expulsions are timed to shift the presidential election to McCain and Pallin). BTW if this was actually the case they should have waited until after the Presidential debates, because whatever mileage that McCain and Pallin get from this will be long gone by the end of October. I think you are on stronger ground in terms of strengthing their domestic political position by playing the “empire” card, but again maybe the U.S. ambassador shouldn’t be meeting with individuals that are leading a destabilizing, violent and often racist movement. Also, the expulsion of the ambassador may alienate pro-U.S. factions within the military who might be finally persuaded to throw their lot with neoliberal/elite opposition that are seeking to remove Morales from power. In other words, whatever support he receives for this action (which was already mobilizing before expulsion, witness the road closings between La Paz and Santa Cruz) he also risks increasing the opposition from other sectors.

    Finally, “lines of communication” will be disrupted, but I assume that they will be begun again (as Chavez has already promised) after the presidential election. Moderates and pragmatists will not be permanently shut out.

    With Respect,

    Will

  2. David Sketchley Says:

    Hi. Thanks for this analysis although I have to say, I concur with Will’s comments. You also fail to take into account the funding provided by USAID and NED:

    Undermining Bolivia
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8101

    Report: U.S. Funding Opposition Groups in Bolivia
    http://www.democracynow.org/2008/2/11/report_us_funding_opposition_groups_in

    Trojan Horse: The National Endowment for Democracy
    http://members.aol.com/superogue/ned.htm

    NED – Grants Program Latin America & Caribbean – Bolivia
    http://www.ned.org/grants/07programs/grants-lac07.html#bolivia

    And guess who is on the Boad of NED? Goldberg’s former boss Holbrooke.
    http://www.ned.org/about/board_bios/holbrooke.html
    http://www.ned.org/about/who.html

  3. Boli-Nica Says:

    In Bolivia, anti-government and separatist violence in eastern provinces is reaching truly alarming proportions, as supporters of local leaders who won the August recall referendum are illegally trying to make half the country ungovernable for a president who also handily won the August referendum.

    It is wrong to characterize Bolivia’s autonomist movements as “separatist”, there are isolated fringe “separatists” within the Autonomy movements, but they are hardly a majority. It is even wrong to characterize them as “Conservatives”, there are people with long histories of militance in center-left parties in Bolivia who are involved in the departmental movements.
    As Carlos Toranzo, a leading Bolivian Economist – one of the “wisest” and “calmest” of analysts (in the words of Bolivia expert James Dunkerley) – has stated that at its core the movement for autonomy is for political and administrative decentralization not separatism. And it is a movement that had momentum and grassroots support from way before Evo Morales, and is firmly rooted in Bolivian history.

    Claiming that the autonomy vote was “illegal” is dubious, considering the fact that the only Court that can adjudicate the issue of ultimate legality is the Bolivian Supreme Court. Which cannot muster the quorom needed because Morales has waged war on it. The same Evo who appointed an uneducated non-lawyer as Justice Ministger, has said he deliberately acts “illegally” and that he does not recognize some of the “neo-liberal” laws of Bolivia.

  4. Boli-Nica Says:

    Its also pretty hard to understate just how bad the drug situation is in Venezuela. It is the most corrupt government in South America – Transparency International rates it as one of the least transparent and less accountable governments in the WORLD – second to Haiti in the hemishpere.
    You have a perfect storm situation which combines the inherent stupidity and inefficiency of socialism with the absolute worst of Latin American crony capitalism and centralism. Where simply due to oil, staggering amounts of dollars are stolen and laundered daily and military officers become millionaries. In other words the perfect place for narcotics cartels to do their thing, without raising that much attention due to the overall insanity of the situation.

  5. Adam Isacson Says:

    Thanks for these thoughtful comments.

    I didn’t mean to apply the word “separatist” to the entire autonomy movement. But I think the word may fit the few hundred people involved in this past week’s serious acts of violence.

    I certainly didn’t mean to say the autonomy vote was “illegal” – there’s no consensus on that even among Bolivian constitutional experts. I was referring, again, mainly to the violence.

    I am unconvinced that Ambassador Goldberg was encouraging any violent action by meeting with opposition figures. Bloodshed and instability in Bolivia is in nobody’s interest. Goldberg’s visits were certainly antagonistic to Morales politically, but an endorsement of or incitement to violence? No.

  6. jgirard98 Says:

    Great post Adam. Appreciate the insightful comments as well. Ultimately the larger point that both Chavez and Evo seem to be seeking a foreign policy squabble to distract from their rising domestic opposition problems seems undeniable.

    We are all watching the situation closely here in Colombia.

    On a related note did you see the bolivia related press release from CEPR calling for USG to publically disclose funding to “opposition” groups?

  7. David Sketchley Says:

    I wonder why you haven’t published my previous comment? Maybe its a delay…

    I just wanted to add that in fact there is a theory which is completely the opposite of yours, that in fact, Chavez acts, never thinking of the London or Washington, actually with an eye on Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo: This is theory put forward today by Spanish sociologist and journalist Juan Agulló:
    http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Agull%C3%B3

    La estrategia de la tensión
    Chávez nunca actúa pensando en Londres o Nueva York

    “El petróleo es un arma geoolítica y estos imbéciles que nos gobiernan no se dan cuenta del poder de un país que produce petróleo”. La frase, pronunciada por Hugo Chávez durante la campaña electoral que le aupó a la Presidencia en 1998, ilustra muy bien dónde estamos. La reciente decisión de Caracas de expulsar al embajador estadounidense, en solidaridad con los acontecimientos de Bolivia, podrá ser extemporánea pero no ilógica.

    Necesita ser explicada en el marco de una visión estratégica: el petróleo como instrumento de transformación estructural de la realidad venezolana. Esa percepción está en la matriz del pensamiento chavista.

    Los arabescos posteriores aparecen porque, para un país tan dependiente de los mercados internacionales de hidrocarburos (pero, sobre todo, de los estadounidenses) las líneas nunca son rectas: siempre hay otras variables a considerar.

    En este caso la unidad latinoamericana constituye un corolario indisociable de la reseñada voluntad de transformación: en el ideario chavista sólo una América Latina entrelazada por intereses comunes puede garantizar que las decisiones políticas que toman sus componentes frisen la irreversibilidad.

    En coherencia con esa perspectiva -y por mucho que sorprenda- Chávez nunca actúa pensando en Londres o Nueva York sino en Buenos Aires o Sao Paulo.

    continues at link:
    http://www.publico.es/150855/estrategia/tension

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Agulló is an expert on Venezuela.

  8. Will Says:

    Boli-Nica,

    Based on the level of drug trafficking, production, extrajudicial executions and paramilitary squads I guess Colombia is a “perfect storm” of murderous neoliberalism? Socialism or military corruption is obviously not necessary for drug traffickers to capture and/or subvert governments. In regards to inefficiency, hmmm inequality has been reduced, poverty has gone down and more people eat in Venezuela today than in the past, yep pretty damn inefficient…much more inefficient than the neoliberal, capitalist regimes that preceded it.

    Also, does the fact that a history of regionalist movements justify the violent actions of the opposition? This opposition resistance has nothing to do with Morales’ land reform proposals or their desire to take greater control over the country’s natural resources, just a friendly group of democrats seeking local democracy? Where were these regional movements during the 1980s and 1990s? I know that they played an important role during Bolivia’s democratic transition, but where were the protests and demands for greater autonomy during the Banzer administration or the Sanchez governments? Were they calling for regional autonomy elections during this time or humiliating and beating indigenous individuals in public squares? If you provide me a cite of these types of actions during the time of these neoliberal governments I would appreciate it.

    Adam,

    Whether Goldberg was encouraging violent actions or not the fact that he met with this individual (privately and publicly) within the present Bolivian context was at the very least an error in judgement and I think gives Morales some justification to expel him (especially given the long history of U.S. intervention in the region).

    Best,

    Will

  9. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Thanks Will and David, glad your are still around, to educate us about what is really going on.

    Adam said:

    “Goldberg’s visits were certainly antagonistic to Morales politically, but an endorsement of or incitement to violence? No.”

    After reading David’s links, Adam’s assertion just seems the last desperate resort of a gung ho US patriot, ruling out all evidence to the contrary.

  10. Boli-Nica Says:

    Based on the level of drug trafficking, production, extrajudicial executions and paramilitary squads I guess Colombia is a “perfect storm” of murderous neoliberalism? Socialism or military corruption is obviously not necessary for drug traffickers to capture and/or subvert governments.

    Contrary to your comments, it seems like its Colombia moving in the right direction, while Venezuela is becoming what Colombia was 10, 15 or 20 years ago. You are safer in Medellin than in Caracas.
    Colombias historical problems of ultra-violence and a weak state not controlling its territory, have undeniably improved significantly. Venezuela under Chavez is a disaster.

    Meanwhile, Colombia’s economy has grown, poverty indicators have gone down, and its government is ranked higher in terms of transparency and accountability than Venezuela’s. All that in a larger country, with twice the neighbors population but with a budget several times smaller. All this while having to deal with thousands of Communist insurgents, Paramilitaries, narcotics dealers, and a centuries old culture of political/personal feud murder and inpunity.

    In regards to inefficiency, hmmm inequality has been reduced, poverty has gone down and more people eat in Venezuela today than in the past, yep pretty damn inefficient…much more inefficient than the neoliberal, capitalist regimes that preceded it.

    Get your facts right. Chavez is doing nothing new in Venezuela, He is repeating patterns of behavior that go back 8 decades of civilian and military rule, arguably doing it much worse than previous administrations.

    during the “Venezuela Saudita” period. of the 70’s and 80’s Venezuelas government spent about the same % of its budget on social programs as Chavez does. Another point of comparison: CAP’s second administration in the 90s built more public housing in one year, than Chavez did in 06 with oil prices at a much higher level. According to the UN. Venezuela has been one of the 3 slowest countries in reducing malnutrtion in South America, a situation not helped by ideological stupidity (price controls, centralized distribution) , ineptness and corruption, that have destroyed its productive sector.

    Chavez has blown through 600 billion dollars the past years, and has little to show. That is more money than was spent by the Marshall plan.

  11. Maximón Says:

    Transparency International? This Transparency International:
    “Transparency International denies that they pursue an anti-Chavez agenda. “We are not a political organisation”, their spokesperson told me. Despite this denial, TI’s Venezuela bureau is staffed by opponents of the Venezuelan government (pdf). The directors include Robert Bottome, the publisher of Veneconomia, a strident opposition journal, and Aurelio Concheso of the Centre for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge, a conservative thinktank funded by the US government. Concheso was previously a director of the employers’ organisation, Fedecamaras. The president of Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmona, led the failed 2002 coup and was briefly installed as Venezuela’s dictator.”
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/calvin_tucker/2008/05/seeing_through_transparency_in.html.printer.friendly

    There seems to me to be a lack of transparency to the organization that calls into question any argument founded upon its supposedly transparent and uncorrupted reports, particularly when Venezuela is concerned.

  12. Will Says:

    Bolinica,

    Wow your response on Venezuela didn’t mention anything about declines in poverty, inequality or increases in the number of Venezuelans with access to health care, shocking!! Or the fact that inflation ran at an average higher rate during the neoliberal governments in the 1990s then today…. and you market fundamentalists talk about efficiency! Give me a break.

    My point on Colombia was that its silly to suggest that socialism or statist policies are somehow more or less conducive to the corruption of drug traffickers…Colombia has never been a socialist republic nor has Mexico, but both these countries have had horrible problems with drug traffickers and their associated violence…they have also embraced the market policies (Colombia beginning at the end of the Barco administration in the late 1980s) that you seem to cherish, so much for the glories of private enterprise and open trade.

    Will

  13. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Bola Ñuca is lying, shamelessly, as a good uribe follower should.

    About Medellin:

    http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=112678

  14. Maximón Says:

    I also have to add that I find the above post a bold one to be made the day after the 35th anniversary of the US supported coup of Allende’s democratic government in Chile. That is a fantastic list of moderates in the US, but as others have pointed out what was Morales to do? Continue to engage in dialogue with the moderates while known financial and other forms of support flows to violence-generating opposition groups in Bolivia from US government institutions such as USAID and NED, amongst others? What influence and direction are these moderates actually forging with their efforts and where can we see the improvements? I ask in all honesty because in Bolivia it is starting to become a very frighteningly similar series of events against a democratically elected government. I do not deny that there is definitely the motivation to demonize the US government for the benefit of the upcoming Venezuelan elections and other such political motivations. But at the same time it is not unfounded, unreasonable, and given the history an irresponsible action to strongly call into question any US government official who openly and privately meets with opposition leaders closely linked to violence against democratically elected governments. And if the nice list of “moderates” is going to be a loss, I have to ask again, what exactly were they moderating because from my end it does not seem like there has been very much willingness to change US practises in the region and it looks very similar to 2002 and 1973.

  15. Nell Says:

    U.S. analysts are generally prone to “it’s all about us”-ism, and never more so than during the two months preceding a presidential election, when everything is seen through that lens. So while Adam’s probably correct about the electoral impact, it’s ridiculous to think that that was the _purpose_ of the actions by Chavez and Morales.

    Both U.S. presidential candidates are promising policies very little changed from what was on offer from Clinton and Bush. Neither appears to have learned the slightest bit from the long, sorry history of U.S. intervention in the region. The “moderates” will talk more softly and continue to fund NED and other destabilizers; the “hard-liners” will openly mount coups. There’s a difference, but it’s decorative.

  16. Charles Says:

    What is Bolivia supposed to do? Allow acts of terrorism, such as the destruction of a pipeline and mass murders (reported today) to overwhelm their society?

    I would certainly rather preserve diplomatic ties, but they have a tough job and they have to call it as they see it.

  17. MZR Says:

    The only reason that cities like Medellín are safer than Caracas is, as Adam has argued, because the paramilitaries took over the rule of law there (usually with cooperation from Colombia’s armed forces). It has little to do with the application of the rule of law from Colombia’s government but rather it is imposed by a group of drug traffickers with an appalling human rights record (actually, a bit like the Colombian government, then).

    Moreover, asserting that the Colombian economy is growing seems to assume that Venezuela’s economy isn’t or that it hasn’t performed well under Chávez. In fact, economic growth in Venezuela and Colombia have been pretty similar (actually, Venezuela has performed better) and forecasts show that this is likely to continue. Over the period 2003-2007, real GDP growth in Venezuela = 7.6%. Colombia = 5.6%. And forecasts for the future:

    Colombia
    Key indicators 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
    Real GDP growth (%) 7.5 5.0 4.4 4.7 4.5 4.4

    Venezuela
    Key indicators 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
    Real GDP growth (%) 8.4 5.2 4.0 4.1 4.8 5.1

    (Data from The Economist)

    Social spending has increased under Chávez, from 7.8% of GDP in 1990; 8.2% in 1998 (when Chávez won the election, assuming office in 1999) and in 2005 stood at 13.2% of GDP (Center for Economic Spending And Policy Research). Moreover, let’s look at poverty reduction (split bi-annually).

    Households below the poverty line, 1998 (%)
    1998 (1st half) = 49
    1998 (2nd half) = 43.9

    Households below the poverty line, 2005 (%)
    2005 (1st half) = 42.4
    2005 (2nd half) = 37.9

    People below the poverty line, 1998 (%)
    1998 (1st half) = 55.44
    1998 (2nd half) = 49.99

    People below the poverty line, 2005 (%)
    2005 (1st half) = 48.80
    2005 (2nd half) = 43.70

    (Center for Economic Spending And Policy Research)

    This progress has occurred despite an illegal, US-funded coup in 2002, a “top-down” imposed oil strike in 2002-2003, which was devastating to the Venezuelan economy, and continued political strife.

    Moreover, Venezuela is arguably spending more on education than any other Latin American country and, for 2008, the government has pledged that an estimated 22 percent of the national budget will be directed toward primary and secondary level education, compared to 9 percent in 1998. So, indeed, Venezuela is certainly moving in the right direction.

    And I didn’t even go into greater access to healthcare for Venezuela’s poorest citizens…

  18. MZR Says:

    Sorry: here’s the GDP data again:

    Colombia
    Key indicators
    Real GDP growth (%)
    2007 = 7.5
    2008 = 5.0
    2009 = 4.4
    2010 = 4.7
    2011 = 4.5
    2012 = 4.4

    Venezuela
    Key indicators
    Real GDP growth (%)
    2007 = 8.4
    2008 = 5.2
    2009 = 4.0
    2010 = 4.1
    2011 = 4.8
    2012 = 5.1

    (The Economist)

  19. MZR Says:

    Oh, and it’s worth remembering just how “anti-Chávez” The Economist is, therefore Venezuela’s estimates are arguably conservative. This is juxtaposed with The Economist’s championing of Uribe.

  20. Sergio Méndez Says:

    Boli-Nica, you say:

    “Meanwhile, Colombia’s economy has grown, poverty indicators have gone down, and its government is ranked higher in terms of transparency and accountability than Venezuela’s”.

    The point is that poverty has been diminishing all around the continent, not only in Colombia. And the reductions in poverty, for the level of economic growth Colombia has experienced in the last 4 or 5 years, is modest not to say mediocre (see what economist Alejandro Gaviria, hardly a leftist or a sympathizer of Chavez has to say in that respect). Even the star programs like security, Uribe goverment is looking bad since the last year when the homicide rates increased, specially in cities. Concerning transparenc…have you actually paying atention to colombian politics? Uribe has large social programs that he uses to capaitalize for votes (see “Familias in acción” program), and he is even pushing to reform the judicial branch to suit his own interests, not to mention the chaos of many of his ministeries (like “protección social” or “agriculture”). Transparency…nah

  21. MZR Says:

    Excellent post, Sergio Méndez.

    Also, Boli-Nica, your use of “Transparency and Accountability” to discredit Chávez and lend support to Colombia is utterly ridiculous. Transparency and Accountability measurements (such as those used by The Economist, Transparency International and The World Bank) are compiled largely through surveying business leaders and analysts for their opinions (both in and outside a respective country). As such, of course Venezuela scores poorly on these measurements and Colombia scores high. For example, the latter welcomes foreign companies taking control of its natural resources and sending the huge profits to “back home”, while many Colombian campesinos starve. Venezuela has effectively fought against this and, as such, when surveyed, such business leaders rank Venezuela low and Colombia high. Do you think business leaders in Venezuela will rank the government as transparent and accountable given that they are in direct conflict with it? Do you think an analyst from “The Economist”, a neo-liberal newspaper that is famous for its “Chávez-bashing”, will rank Venezuela high? The measurement is completely meaningless, skewed and biased.

    Now, criticising The Economist (and the World Bank, for that matter, and for the same reasons) would be easy: it certainly doesn’t like Chávez’s social agenda and has an obvious bias – so, it’d be an easy target for me here. So, let me chose a harder target: “Transparency International”, an “independent organisation”. Well, Transparency International [TI] has been heavily criticised for its bias against Venezuela and its state oil company, PDVSA, which received the lowest rank of 42 oil companies analysed in a 2008 TI report entitled “Promoting Revenue Transparency”. Why? Because the data was collected by Mercedes de Freitas, a staunch Chávez opponent who backed the illegal 2002 coup. De Freitas also previously headed the group “Fundacion Momento de la Gente”, an anti-Chávez group that was subsidised by the US agency “National Endowment for Democracy” (that one always makes me laugh. For example, it funded and supported an illegal coup against a democratically elected president: Hugo Chávez). And who are the main donors of Transparency International? Well, main donors include western governments and big business, including the US and UK governments. Also, ExxonMobil is a donor, a company which despises the Chávez administration. For links on donors please see link below for sources, although an internet search would also be easy and this information, i.e. sources of funding, is also available through TI’s website.

    From the Guardian:

    *****Transparency International [TI] denies that they pursue an anti-Chavez agenda. “We are not a political organisation”, their spokesperson told me. Despite this denial, TI’s Venezuela bureau is staffed by opponents of the Venezuelan government (pdf available from link below). The directors include Robert Bottome, the publisher of Veneconomia, a strident opposition journal, and Aurelio Concheso of the Centre for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge, a conservative think-tank funded by the US government. Concheso was previously a director of the employers’ organisation, Fedecamaras. The president of Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmona, led the failed 2002 coup and was briefly installed as Venezuela’s dictator.

    The data in TI’s report was gathered by Mercedes de Freitas, the head of their Caracas bureau and a longtime opponent of President Chávez. De Freitas’ previous job was running a US government funded opposition “civil society” group. The Nation reported on her response to the 2002 military coup: “… on the night of April 12 – after Carmona suspended the assembly – Mercedes de Freitas, a director of the Fundacion Momento de la Gente, a legislative monitoring project subsidized by NED [National Endowment for Democracy, a US government agency], emailed the endowment defending the military and Carmona, claiming the takeover was not a military coup.”*****

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/calvin_tucker/2008/05/seeing_through_transparency_in.html.printer.friendly

  22. MZR Says:

    “What we have here are two leaders badly in need of an external threat to rally their domestic bases at a volatile political moment. In Bolivia, anti-government and separatist violence in eastern provinces is reaching truly alarming proportions, as supporters of local leaders who won the August recall referendum are illegally trying to make half the country ungovernable for a president who also handily won the August referendum.”

    Adam, this is one of the most biased pieces of work I have read on this issue and, indeed, on this blog. For one thing, Morales is not “badly in need of an external threat” and doesn’t need any political stunts to rally his supporters. There is a sufficient internal threat that is antagonising his supporters without the need to demonise the US – just look at the events in Santa Cruz this week, to name one example. Morales supporters take to the streets every single day, in support of Morales and in support of badly needed change. Indeed, Morales won 67% in August’s recall referendum – a figure that western politicians can only dream of. He hardly needs to “rally support” by expelling the US ambassador. The US administration is, again, trying to thwart the democratic process in Bolivia and the 7th December referendum is the new target. Many Bolivians were already incensed by the continuing support the US is giving to opposition groups. Now, we have 28 people dead (this was the number the last time I checked), most whom have been brutally killed by such opposition groups and anti-Morales supporters. The US ambassador was widely thought to be supporting these groups (at least, conservatively speaking, indirectly through funds and political “advice”). With the evidence from the 2002 coup in Venezuela and US’ support of it, it’s pretty hard to convince not just Evo Morales, but millions of his supporters too that the ambassador and the US is not further antagonising the situation by lending support to these opposition groups. History has shown that the USA only likes democracy which it deems “acceptable”, regardless of what the people of a respective country might vote for. Chile is a prime example, Gaza another, Venezuela another – the list is endless. So, it’s easy to write from Washington and pronounce that the ambassador shouldn’t be expelled and to put all the blame on Morales and Chávez. But in Bolivia, it’s a totally different reality.

    It’s also worth nothing that former ambassador Goldberg was head of mission in Pristina, Kosovo, during its secession from the Yugoslav Federation (quite worrying given Bolivia’s current situation and recent illegal “autonomy” proclamations in Bolivia). Moreover, ambassador Goldberg further raised suspicions and antagonised the situation (together with a number of other US congressmen) by recently visiting the prefect of Santa Cruz, Rubén Costas, who now has declared himself ‘governor’ of an autonomous administration in the department. The ambassador had to go – stop pointing the finger at Morales and Chávez.

  23. Camilla Says:

    Wrong, Adam. If Chavez really wanted to get McCain elected, he’d come out and openly endorse Obama. For some reason, his live-in palace adviser Chesa Boudin (Ayers’ stepson) is advising him not to. I doubt it’s because Chesa supports McCain.

    Meanwhile, Ortega and Castro have given implied and actual endorsements to Obama and then clammed up after they saw the negative public reaction in the states. Why would Chavez dissent from that position and favor McCain?

    Chavez wants Obama because Obama is naive and would be easy to roll. He’d gladly force Colombia into “peace” talks with FARC to please Chavez and the next thing we’d hear would be of a demilitarized zone and FARC declared a belligerant as well as taken off the global terror lists. These would make both Chavez and FARC happy. And we already know that someone from the Obama camp was gleefully advising Raul Reyes that Obama would be elected and the good news from that would be a cut-off of military aid and a full shutout of free trade – both goals that FARC and its Big Labor allies seek. Reyes, as you know, was a labor organizer just like his Big Labor pals.

  24. alina Says:

    Perhaps Adam’s claim is true that Chavez and Morales’ actions will have the impact of supporting McCain/Palin at the polls, but it does not have to. What kind of quotes experts in the area give will help frame the issue.

    In my mind, given the US’s history, and given clear proof of USAID, OTI, NED funding in both Venezuela and Bolivia going to opposition groups (this is aggression, even if not military aggression), Bolivia was justified in expelling the ambassador. Venezuela followed suite as part of its solidarity work (yes, talking to Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires) in supporting leftist governments against the empire’s aggressions (see similar response in March when Colombia illegally bombed and entered into Ecuador). Chavez is obviously also playing to his domestic audience, given regional elections are around the corner.

    The response that was very uribista was the Treasury and State Departments response. The best defense is a good offense: instead of responding to the Presidents’ concerns of intervention in Bolivia and supporting coups in Venezuela, instead the Treasury Dept fires a hard round against Venezuelan leaders for supporting narco-trafficking and expels the ambassadors.

    Why can’t this whole occurrence be another reason Not to support the hard-liners? Is it really an appropriate US response to say, “you kicked us out, so we’ll kick you out”? No. The US response should have been negotiation and discussion. In a dream world, it should have been, “let’s talk about your concerns – you don’t like that we support parties and organizations seeking to overthrow your democratically elected government? Well, I guess we should stop.”

    Instead we see the US on a quick slippery path of putting Venezuela on the list of countries that support terrorism. Just in time for the elections.

    Oh and while I’m commenting – on the Medellin vs Caracas spat. Colombia’s supposedly demobilized paramilitaries have expanded into Venezuela. They already control many of the border areas (Maracaibo, San Cristobal) and are quickly gaining control of barrios of Caracas. Don’t worry, surely Caracas will be as ‘safe’ as Medellin in a few years.
    http://azzellini.net

  25. jcg Says:

    I apologize for my absence, due to personal circumstances that will unfortunately continue even after making this comment.

    I just happened to run across the blog today and haven’t even read most of the articles posted in the past several weeks, believe it or not.

    MZR: “The only reason that cities like Medellín are safer than Caracas is, as Adam has argued, because the paramilitaries took over the rule of law there (usually with cooperation from Colombia’s armed forces). It has little to do with the application of the rule of law from Colombia’s government but rather it is imposed by a group of drug traffickers with an appalling human rights record (actually, a bit like the Colombian government, then).”

    My memory may fail me, but I distinctly recall that Adam has written about several reasons being involved.

    Unless I read this wrong, it seems that you are only focusing on one, and are extrapolating the case of Medellín to other cities.

    It is unfortunate that I cannot debate this further, as it should be, but I wanted to point that out at least.

  26. MZR Says:

    Um… I wasn’t reply to Adam’s post with that comment, jcg. My direct response to Adam’s post was post 22 (I also had little time to write properly, hence the fragmented nature of my posts). Unless you mean the reasons why Medellín is safer than, say, Caracas? In which case, a few of Adam’s posts (as well as a few of the reports authored/contributed by Adam) may well list other reasons (I didn’t, for example, state it was the only reason given by Adam) but rather I was putting across my opinion (which seems to be backed up by the aforementioned posts/reports) to highlight the implications with comparing Medellín with Caracas. I also didn’t mention other cities specifically but take your point. Nonetheless, I feel it would be naive to think that such a process hasn’t happened in other areas of Colombia and thus argued “cities like Medellín” in anticipation of responses bemoaning my concentration of only that city.

    A bit long-winded, that reply… Apologies, jcg, and I hope your personal circumstances will soon improve.

    MZR.

  27. Lou Says:

    Uribe and his friends in the sugarcane industry are not so happy about the strike going on:
    http://www.louisesparza.net/2008/09/6000-colombian-sugar-cane-workers-go-on.html

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