Archive for December, 2014

EYE ON LATIN AMERICA: Venezuela Sanctions, Brazil Torture Report, USAID-Cuban Hip Hop Scene

Senate Sanctions Venezuela.

Flag_of_Venezuela_svgThe U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuela officials found to have violated the human rights of demonstrators in that country.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for approval.

The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, if enacted, would direct President Barack Obama to take action against any current of former Venezuelan government official who violated the rights of anti-government protestors this year, according to The Hill newspaper in Washington. Sanctions could include freezing assets and denial of visas to travel to the United States

Passed on a voice vote Monday (December 8), the bill was introduced by Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, after reports of peaceful protestors being tortured and killed. The Venezuelan government said opposition leaders incited protesters to violence and planned a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Thousands of activists taking part in anti-government protests that started February 4, were arrested. More than 40 people were killed in the protests that raged from February to May, according to the BBC.

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Brazil’s Torture and Execution Legacy.

Brazil Map via Wikipedia

Brazil Map via Wikipedia

The Brazilian government routinely used torture, summary executions and forced disappearances against dissidents during that country’s 20-year military dictatorship, according to a National Truth Commission report released Wednesday (December 10).

The three-year investigation concluded the violence of the anti-leftist campaign amounted to official policy. “During the military dictatorship, repression and elimination of political opponents became state policy, designed and implemented from decisions emanating from the presidency of the republic and the military ministries,” the report said, according to the Brazilian newspaper Estadao (according to Al Jazeera).

The report, based on over 1,000 testimonials, was presented to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, herself a former Marxist who suffered imprisonment and torture during the dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985. The report documents 434 politically motivated killings and disappearances and provides nearly 400 names of those responsible – including more than 200 military officers, almost 70 of them generals, the Brazilian paper reported.

Other South American countries – Argentina, Chile and Uruguay – have all prosecuted those responsible for atrocities under their own military dictatorships in the 1970s and ‘80s. But Brazil, like South Africa is one of the few whose truth commission named not just the victims but those responsible for the crimes, Al Jazeera reported.

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Rap Ruse Ripped.

Newspapers in Cuba and Venezuela report that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was trying to foment discontent among Cuban young people through music – particularly rap and hip hop.

But Cuban rapper Aldo Rodriguez Baquero, a member of the popular hip hop group Los Aldeanos, says he never received money from (USAID), despite published reports Thursday (December 11) to the contrary, according to the Spanish version of the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald.

The publications cited an investigation by the Associated Press. Rodriguez Baquero said he didn’t know that Serbian promoter Rajko Bozic was a subcontractor of Creative Associates International, which held a contract with USAID. The Cuban rapper said he was unaware the company was working on a project to “recruit” him to “unleash a youth movement against the Cuban government,” according to the AP.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware that in some cases contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for USAID kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs a  Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department,  said the conduct described in the AP report “suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail.” Leahy added that USAID “never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless.”

December 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali Hostage Freed, Ebola Roundup, Kenyatta Charges Dropped

French Hostage Released.

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in 2013. (Copyright Ministry of Defense)

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in 2013.
(Copyright Ministry of Defense)

A Frenchman kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in North Africa more than three years ago has been freed, the French government announced today (December 9).

Details of the release of Serge Lazarevic were not disclosed but French officials have insisted that no ransom is paid or prisoners released in exchange for any French hostages. At one time 14 French citizens were being held by terrorists in Africa. A Malian security source told AFP that Lazarevic was released at Kidal in northern Mali.

French President Francois Hollande said there are “no more French hostages in any country in the world.” Another, Phillipe Verdon, who was abducted with Lazarevic in 2011 by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed last year in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali to halt a revolt by Islamic extremists and nomadic Tuaregs.

While authorities denied or wouldn’t comment on reports that ransom was paid, a retired French anti-terrorism judge, Alain Marsaud, was more frank. He told France’s RTL radio: “There is no reease if there is no payment. Someone paid, if not the government, a business or insurance company.

Mali and its neighbors (CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

A Malian newspaper and two sources, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that several Islamist-linked militants held in Mali were freed.

A Dutch tourist, Sjaak Rijke, kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, has not been seen or heard from since he appeared alongside Lazarevic in a November AQIM video, the BBC reported.

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Ebola Roundup

The World Health Organization reports new cases of Ebola are still rising in West Africa, with Sierra Leone overtaking Liberia with the highest number of cases.

Data published Monday (December 8) by the WHO shows Sierra Leone has recorded 7,798 cases of the deadly virus, making it the country with the fastest growing infection rate, according to the Voice of America website. Meanwhile, infection rates are dropping in Liberia, which now has just over 7,700 cases – but Liberia still has more Ebola deaths than any other country: a little more than 3,100.

Overall, Ebola has infected 18,000 people in Africa and killed 6,346. The vast majority of those cases have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea.

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International Court Drops Kenyatta Charges.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Official photo via Wikipedia)

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta.
(Official photo via Wikipedia)

The International Criminal Court has dropped its case against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta for alleged crimes against humanity.

The prosecution withdrew the charges Wednesday (December 5) against Kenyatta, citing a lack of evidence. But there were also allegations that because the Kenyan government did not cooperate with the international court’s investigation, the case was unable to proceed, according to the Voice of America website.

The ICC’s lead prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against Kenyatta beyond a reasonable doubt. Bensouda said Kenya’s government failed to provide key documents to the prosecution, which undermined her investigations and “had a severe, adverse impact” on the case. She also said she reserved the right to file charges again if more evidence becomes available.

Kenyatta was charged for his alleged role — before he was president — in the ethnic violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan elections. More than 1,000 were killed and a half million more were displaced by the violence, which prosecutors claimed Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, incited.

After the ICC dropped the case, Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta — called it a “travesty” adding that he felt vindicated, the BBC reported. In the Hague, prosecutors accused the Kenyan government of refusing to hand over evidence vital to the case and said officials in Nairobi had intimidated potential witnesses.

 

December 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 7-December 13, 1814)

Enter the Pirate.

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century. (Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century.
(Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson is scrambling to find the men, weapons, ships and supplies to defend New Orleans from a pending British invasion — that may outnumber his 1,500 troops 10-to-1 — when he encounters the pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre, on a New Orleans street corner in early December.

Since August, when first approached by the British to join their efforts against the United States, Lafitte has been trying to get a similar offer, first from Louisiana officials, and then, United States authorities.  After years of smuggling into New Orleans untaxed goods, mostly taken from captured Spanish ships by Lafitte and his fellow privateers, the so-called “pirate” wants to clear his record, help Jackson and the United States and — perhaps most of all — get about 80 of his men out of jail.

They were captured when the U.S. Navy attacked their hideout on Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans, in September. The incarcerated pirates include Dominque You, a pirate captain who may be Lafitte’s eldest brother (historians disagree) and also may have been an expert cannoneer in Napoleon’s Grand Army. As the reader may surmise, little is known for sure about Lafitte. He may have been born around 1780 in France or in the French colony that became Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. He may or may not have been a pirate but he is certainly a smuggler of duty-free goods. And the new state of Louisiana (entered the union in 1812) as well as the federal government are looking to put Lafitte out of business after they collect the taxes owed them.

When first approached by the  Lafittes’ attorney, Edward Livingston a prominent member of New Orleans society, who also happened to be Jackson’s private secretary and adviser, the general balked at enlisting the help of shameless bandits (Jackson called them “hellish banditti).  But the surprisingly genteel and articulate Lafitte (he spoke English, Spanish, French and Italian) made his case again to Jackson at his headquarters on Royal Street (Rue de Royale). Lafitte explained he could supply gunpowder, shot, flints and cannon – which Jackson badly needed — as well as experienced gun crews that could man batteries on land or sea. Jackson relented. The jailed pirates were released and pardoned — if they enlisted in the defense force — and Jackson made Lafitte a member of his personal staff.

As we’ve said already, the facts of Lafitte’s life are hard to nail down beyond what he did during the Battle of New Orleans. However, there was enough swashbuckling to it, that Hollywood has made two fictionalized feature films about Lafitte. Click here to see a trailer (preview) of the second one, produced by Cecil B. DeMille in 1958.

We’ll have more on Monsieur/Capitane Lafitte in coming weeks as we approach the climactic battle of the New Orleans campaign.

BritAdvanceNewOrleans

December 12

Jackson closes his deal with Lafitte just in time. On December 12, the sails of the British invasion fleet are spotted approaching Lake Borgne (see map) 30 miles or so East of New Orleans.

December 8, 2014 at 1:59 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 5, 2014)

Simulated Trauma.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman

An airman role-playing as a simulated vehicle accident victim speaks with a first responder during an emergency response exercise on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. Between them is a less-responsive “victim,” a role being played by a medical training mannequin. Both airmen are assigned to the 18th Security Forces Squadron, part of the 18th Mission Support Group.

The exercise tested the abilities of Kadena emergency responders — from firefighters to security forces and medical personnel — to administer life-saving techniques quickly in a stressful environment.

Defense Department officials have warned that training — whether it’s landing troops on a beach, flying a plane, putting out a fire or working together with foreign military partners — is one of the essential areas facing cutbacks because of congressionally mandated and White House-approved across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

To see more photos of the exercise, click here.

December 5, 2014 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Ashton Carter to Replace Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary [UPDATE]

Obama Makes Change at the Pentagon.

President Barack Obama introduces Ashton Carter as his nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense Friday (Dec. 5)

President Barack Obama introduces Ashton Carter as his nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense Friday (Dec. 5)

UPDATES with Obama announcing selection of Ashton Carter to be next Secretary of Defense — subject to Senate confirmation.

It’s official, President Barack Obama has picked veteran Pentagon official Ashton Carter as his nominee to succeed Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

In remarks at the White House, Obama characterized Carter as someone who knows the Defense Department “inside and out.” The president added that Carter would “hit the ground running” if the Senate confirms the nomination — which most observers expect.

Carter was deputy defense secretary under Leon Panetta, but Obama passed over him in early 2013 to tap Hagel as SecDef. Numerous news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times indicated earlier this week that Carter was Obama’s choice this time around.

While he has never served in the military, Carter held key posts in the Clinton and Obama administrations at the Pentagon. In addition to serving as the No. 2 official at the Pentagon from October 2011 to December 2013, Carter, 60, has served as the Pentagon’s chief of acquisition, technology and logistics – the head weapons buyer for the military.

“As a top member of our Pentagon team for the first five years of my presidency, including two years as deputy secretary, he was at the table in he Situation Room; he was by my side navigating complex security challenges that we were confronting,” Obama said.

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter speaks to U.S. troops before a Patriot missile battery at a Turkish army base in 2013. (Defense Dept. photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter speaks to U.S. troops before a Patriot missile battery at a Turkish army base in 2013.
(Defense Dept. photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Carter is known for a keen, well-educated mind – he has a doctorate from Oxford in theoretical physics and degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale. Your 4GWAR editor was impressed by Carter’s candor, intelligence and laid-back but articulate manner at the 2013 Aspen Security Forum, explaining the expansion of cyber security in the wake of the mess caused by the National Security Agency revelations and other disclosures by rogue contractor Edward Snowden.

While the White House hasn’t confirmed Carter’s nomination, the choice isn’t expected to run into much opposition on Capitol Hill. From the moment Hagel’s resignation was announced last month, Carter was among the names Washington insiders considered most likely for the post. The reported front-runner, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, took her name out of contention, as did Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and former Army Ranger who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discusses his resignation during a White House news conference with President Barack Obamal Nov. 24. Hagel will continue to serve as defense secretary until a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discusses his resignation during a White House news conference with President Barack Obamal Nov. 24. Hagel will continue to serve as defense secretary until a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

The fact that Hagel’s departure was announced without a successor standing by, surprised Washington pundits, who speculated that it showed more disorder in an Obama White House, contending with a shooting war in Iraq, Russian belligerence, global jihad and Taliban resurgence while the United States is winding down its combat role in Afghanistan – all with less money from Congress.

But CNN reported that Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, declined to accommodate his resignation announcement until the White House settled on a nominee.  On Thursday (December 4) Hagel discounted reports that he resigned over differences with Obama, Reuters and other news outlets report. However, Hagel did not attend today’s White House event with Carter, according to The Hill.

All we can say is … Stay tuned.

December 4, 2014 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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