Tag Archives: President Obama

Summit of the Americas

23 Apr

Summit of the Americas

Summit of the Americas

Leaders from the Summit of the Americas

The leaders who participated in the Summit of the Americas

Last weekend the leaders from thirty-three countries in the western hemisphere convened in Cartagena, Colombia. It was a vital political event which was marred by the actions of US officials. Although the scandals of the US secret service is what overshadowed the politics, in the media, what happened at the actual summit is of more importance.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying the secret service scandal is not newsworthy. The rumor is that eleven US secret service agents who were in Colombia before Obama, to set up security, solicited prostitutes and then would not pay them afterwards. What this scandal is is embarrassing. These are people who were sent to Colombia not only to secure the president’s safety but to represent the US. They definitely reinforced the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype. Many are calling the scandal a metaphor for US’ government’s treatment of Latin America, which I can’t disagree with. US government officials come in and support sex trade in a country where more than likely these prostitutes were forced into prostitution, are minors and/or have to resort to prostitution to feed their children. (For more information of sex trade in Latin America check out Esclavos Invisibles ) This is a serious situation and needs to be investigated but the policies discussed during the actual summit need more attention then they are getting.

This Cartagena summit was the sixth summit, the first was in 1994. The summit was a critical event for US relations in Latin America. Many political analysts say that the US’s influence in Latin America is steadily decreasing, and after the summit I would agree. The summit ended with no final decisions made. This was largely due to the US standing firm in its outdated ways while Latin American leaders disagreed with them. This is in part due to Latin America’s decreasing dependence on US trade and investment. “It seems the United States still wants to isolate us from the world, it thinks it can still manipulate Latin America, but that’s ending,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, “What I think is that this is a rebellion of Latin American countries against the United States.”

Relations with Cuba is where divide was most apparent. The US and Canada were the only countries at the summit that were opposed to inviting Cuba to future summits. All the other countries refused to agree to continue to exclude Cuba. In fact, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa did not attend the summit in protest to the exclusion of Cuba. A crowd outside the summit protested for the closure of US’ Guantanamo base. Many in the United States agree that the United State’s stance towards Cuba is outdated and defected. Many of the Latin American leaders believe that in order to democratize Cuba you must interact and participate with it. Which I agree with, as long as human rights and democracy must be promoted during dialogue.

I don’t believe that the US’s poor showing at the summit was directly Obama’s fault. In fact, many of the Latin American presidents applauded Obama for genuinely listening to concerns and being polite. He was able to break the stereotype of US Presidents being arrogant and authoritative. (Side Note: This stereotype always reminds me of the Billy Bob Thornton scene in Love Actually ) And while I do find Obama’s Latin American policies thus far the most frustrating part of his term I cannot entirely blame him for taking an outdated stance on issues brought up at the summit. Although Obama did make changes to Cuba policy, it was not enough and he still supports the embargo. However, it is election year and Obama needs Florida’s vote and the embargo is strongly supported by the anti-Castro population in Florida. Unfortunately, even if Obama did want to take a new stance on policy he doesn’t have the room to with the election coming up.

Another hot button issue at the summit was the drug war and drug policy. It has become apparent that several Latin American countries have become fed up with the violence plaguing their countries due to US drug demand. Countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia have started the decriminalization of drug possession. The big influence in the drug legalization talk has been Guatemala’s newly elected president Otto Perez Molina. President Santos of Colombia has also agreed that drug legalization should be considered. But the US took a firm stance against legalization or decriminalization. The fact is US drug consumption and US arms trade has made Latin America, especially Central America, increasingly violent and dangerous. Homicide rates due to drug cartels and drug trade is on a steady rise in many Latin American countries. While this is a problem created by the US, Latin America needs to focus on corruption as well as failed policy in order to start reducing drug trade.

The one subject that the US did want to focus on was the newly signed Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia. The agreement was finalized while Obama was in Cartagena and will be implemented May 15th. The United States is patting itself on the back for demanding improved labor rights in Colombia before signing the agreement. Colombia is the most dangerous country for trade unionists, labor organizers are constantly being murdered. Labor and human rights groups insist that the promises made in the Labor Action Plan have not been fulfilled and human rights abuses and labor organizers continue to be assassinated. When Obama was first running for president he said that he would not support the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia due to the high violence against unions, however once again the US feels they can put a band-aid on a large wound and ignore the problem.

What the summit was was a reminder of Latin America’s increasingly progressive policies, and the United States’ ancient stance on policies in the western hemisphere. Latin America is breaking away from the traditional way of doing things, becoming less dependent on the US. After the summit it was evident that the US is loosing influence in Latin America. It is hopeful that Latin America is gaining independence from Washington, and is now willing to stand up against the US’ bad policies. My hope is that after Obama wins the election this year he will take a stronger stance against US outdated policies in Latin America. Because even as Latin America becomes less dependent on the US the two regions will always need each other, geography dictates it. Hopefully, the next summit will be much more productive, and with far less scandal.

The US backs Honduras’ instability and deaths

28 Mar
Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

The last couple years in Honduras have been reflective of Latin American politics fifty years ago. Honduras has experienced a military takeover, an unstable government and blatant human rights abuses. Any opponents of the government or human rights workers are being killed or disappeared. All while, the United States works as an ally to the corrupt government, funding the very police and military that are killing the citizens. And like in most cases in Latin America, the majority of the international community is unaware.

In June 2009, Honduran military stormed the presidential palace and took Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected president of Honduras. They put him, still in his pajamas, on a plane to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Central America since the cold war and was triggered by Zelaya’s effort to change the constitution to lift presidential term limits.

The next day soldiers guarded government buildings and tanks patrolled the streets. Electricity was cut off in the country most of the day in what reports suggested was by military order. Zelaya denounced the coup and insisted that he was still the president of Honduras. However, Congress that same day voted him out of office and voted Congress leader Roberto Micheletti as interim president.

The coup was condemned by many western leaders. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales both denounced the coup. The European Union called for the return to constitutional normality. Human Rights Watch called for democracy to be restored and the Organization of American States called for Zelaya’s return and said it would not recognize any other government. US President Obama called Honduran officials to respect democratic norms and the rule of law saying, “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

The ousting of Zelaya only created a slew of problems for the Central American country. The interim president Roberto Micheletti instituted a curfew for the country. Congress issued an order suspending civil liberties during curfew. Towards the end of June the ambassadors from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua all claimed to be detained and beaten by Honduran military and then eventually released. The military government also shut down the media including TV stations, radio stations and newspaper’s websites. Meanwhile, across the country there were protests in support of and against Zelaya’s removal. Several of Zelaya’s allies and supporters were detained by the military.

In November, the military government of Micheletti continued on with elections trying to maintain an image of democracy. Many international election observer groups shunned the election, so it was hard to prove its legitimacy. The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela all declared they would not recognize the elections since they were taking place during a coup they were deemed as illegitimate. However, the United States said that it would accept the election as a way out of the crisis. Many critics of the election protested in the streets and were dispersed by tear gas. Porfirio Lobo, Zelaya’s former opponent ended up winning the election.

An article in the New York times calls Lobo’s government ‘a child of the coup’ with most of the same officials as the coup. While the US continues to recognize Lobo’s government Honduras has become a country overrun by human rights abuses and impunity. Honduras is now the most dangerous country for journalists in the western hemisphere with at least thirteen journalists killed during Lobo’s administration. Lobo’s security forces are responsible for violence against political opposition, journalists and small farmers, with no repercussion for their violence. In 2010, Lobo’s first administration year there were 61 politically related killings reported, in 2011 there was 59. According to the UN, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. In a poll taken last year seventy-two percent of Hondurans stated they do not feel safe with the police force.

In May 2011, an agreement was negotiated which let Zelaya return to Honduras and let Honduras rejoin the Organization of American States. The agreement was reached by Lobo and the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. One condition in the agreement was the protection of human rights, however the agreement has not slowed down human rights abuses.

In February of this year, an overcrowded prison in Honduras caught fire and killed more than three hundred people. The story brought much-needed international attention to Honduras. It brought attention to Honduras’ government’s impunity with light shown on the fact that the jail was overcrowded, many prisoners had not been convicted and there was no evacuation plan. However, attention soon faded and the international media never focused Lobo’s administration, the murders of journalists and the political killings.

On March 6th, US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Honduras. The trip did not focus at all on the murder rate in Honduras. In fact Biden stated that the relationship between the two countries grew stronger by the trip, meaning despite the human rights abuses the US continues to support Honduras with a blind eye. Biden’s trip only focused on drug policy.

On March 9th, 94 members of the US House of Representatives submitted a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to suspend US assistance to Honduras due to the human rights violations. But the letter did not get media attention and was looked over by Clinton and the State Department. In fact, Obama’s administration did the opposite asking an increase to Honduras military aid in 2012.

While I support Obama, much more than any of the GOP candidates, I feel this is by far one of his administration’s hugest mistakes. It pains me to know that my tax dollars are paying the police and military who are killing human rights activists and journalists. People who think like me, who believe human rights should be protected are being killed with my money, only because of their beliefs.

What lies ahead for Honduras is unclear. The human rights defenders on the ground in Honduras definitely need more support. They need stronger backing from other Latin American governments, from international organizations and from the US. Right now, the US government is standing against the human rights defenders. The US needs to stand with them and cut off all aid to Honduras’ police and military until the killings and disappearances stop. As an international community we need to ensure that the murder of a human rights activist or journalist does not go unnoticed. When Lobo’s government feels the pressure of the international community perhaps human rights defenders will be allowed to do their work instead of being killed for speaking their mind. Until then, unfortunately there is little hope for Honduras as those who try to change it are killed.

What can you do? For starters, let President Obama know how you feel.