Tag Archives: Latin America

Assessing the 2030 Development-Security Linkage in Latin American Contexts, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 Nov

The following represent slight revisions (improvements) of remarks given in Mexico City on October 29.

I want to pay tribute to Dr. Simone Lucatello and his colleagues at Instituto Mora for holding this launch event and for their excellent guidance on this publication.

This is one of several books that we worked on thoughtfully over the past year or so.  We have very little funding and the UN in New York is a very large institution to cover and analyze.  Why do we invest our time and resources in this way?

  1. First, it helps to build credibility for our project as we seek to weigh in on a range of complementary initiatives that make up the UN system.  If we have a demonstrable “expertise” at all, it is this sense of how issues fit or should fit — the complementarity of concerns and interests that serves as a sound intellectual and political basis for effective policy.
  2. Second, it represents a contribution to leveling the policy playing field that can help dismantle some of the hegemonies of scholarship and policy that persist in our current world. There are so many voices across Latin America, including perhaps within this institution, which have yet to find their proper level.   Given all the security and development challenges we have to face today in the international community, there is seemingly little rational about keeping other talent on the sidelines. As I have said often to others, I have had my turn.  In our office, we have our turn every day.  It’s someone else’s turn and we want to do what we can to make space for that policy balancing.
  3. We have a special regard for young people who have much to learn but also to teach. They are inheriting this world and its challenges as we gather here.   My generation has made some real messes and they will be responsible for the clean-up.  The least we can do is give them the broadest and most hopeful access to multi-lateral institutions, channels to respected publications (like this one), and experiences in making sound policy that we are capable of providing for them.

As you in this institute know, many strategies are now being suggested for the 2030 goals implementation, but three seem to be rising most quickly to the surface:  robust, flexible data; reliable funding sources, and a stable social fabric.  We must stay connected to all three areas of concern, but the last one is of special interest.

Keeping the social fabric safe without engendering feelings of intimidation or fear remains an area of considerable challenge.  As we were writing and organizing this book, it became clear that some states are still quite reluctant to establish a strong security-development linkage and there are several reasons for this. From my standpoint, this reluctance his has something to do with what I would prefer to call a security-culture linkage.   Many indigenous and rural persons, many politically active and outspoken persons, many marginalized persons such as live around me in Harlem, New York — they often fear the “culture” of the security sector, and often for sound empirical reasons. At the same time, it is very difficult to hold that same security sector itself accountable for abuses, or even to acknowledge that they are CAPABLE of abuses.  In the US, it is a struggle to hold police accountable for their mis-behavior.  It is a struggle to hold military officials responsible for bombing civilian targets in the name of fighting terror; indeed many persons in the security sector take refuge in a system and its culture that only rarely acknowledges failure of any kind.

To promote a viable security-development linkage in the 2030 goals is to actively engage this possibility of cultural failure, a predisposition in more than scattered instances to discriminatory and excessive and even unprovoked use of force that can and must be reformed to serve the cause of social development rather than impede it.  Few still have the stomach to engage the security sector on its conduct – reminding the sector that it has the skill to enhance 2030 implementation in many ways, including addressing various forms of trafficking that overwhelm many Latin American communities, but that it also possesses more than sufficient power to frighten, intimidate and discriminate.

Similar levels of scrutiny are needed regarding agreements to regulate or prohibit weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty is one of the agreements that found some criticism in the book.  Some people will evaluate this Treaty and decide that something is better than nothing. The question we should be asking is if the remedy is sufficient to the cure that we have already held out as a promise to global constituencies? It is not enough to give a child suffering from pneumonia some hot tea and a Vitamin pill.  Such acts may be helpful at some level, but they certainly don’t rise to a level of effectiveness that is even in “radar range” of the cure from armaments that we so badly need.

If the global arms trade (its volume not only its shipping) is as serious a problem as many of us maintained it was – and still is – we continue to need a more robust set of instruments than we now have. Since its negotiation and adoption, the ATT has been politicized; it has attracted more than its share of mercenary NGOs more comfortable with branding than discernment; it has been permitted a secretariat function that is almost completely emasculated; it has invited the diversion of much time and energy from the UN Programme of Action, which engages the practical, multi-lateral work of stockpile management, marking and tracing of weapons, trafficking in weapons, and better security at borders and ports. And of course the ATT, through no intrinsic failure of its own, has no actionable outcome with regard to weapons that have long since left the factory, the weapons that do so much damage every day in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

When we step back from this type and level of scrutiny and aim higher, we recognize that security and development represent more than bookend obligations by states; they point to inter-related existential threats to a planet that has quite enough to cope with at present.  A failed 2030 development project –data that is politicized, funding that is unreliable and applied in a discriminatory fashion, policy that reaches in the direction of the most vulnerable but never quite makes physical contact – these and related limitations are as likely to exacerbate excessive militarism than address its defects.   And conversely, a security policy that inhibits the education of children, the political participation of women, the promotion of a free press and the fair administration of justice will not develop people so much as keep them in subordinate social and political contexts.  Trust in the state and in each other is an under-analyzed dimension in community development, and heavy handed security has a much smaller role in trust’s promotion than security advocates would want us to believe.

So now we have our 2030 development goals and we have what will hopefully become reformed security arrangements.  Moving forward, we must understand their mutual influences and minimize the more toxic aspects of their respective practices.  As though we needed reminding, human beings are imperfect creatures.  The 2030 promises we have broadcast to a world full of anxious, long-suffering constituents will require us, as the Pope reminded the UN earlier this fall, to become less imperfect still.   These are “development” promises of course, but their implications are virtually existential. If we fail to make our “best faith” effort to meet these promises, including on security, it will do more than bring discredit to the UN; it will signal that we have likely crossed a threshold of trust, health and peace from which our species might never find its way back.

Ecuador Applies the Concept of Self-Determination Or: “The spirits that I’ve cited…”

19 Jul

Truth has proven to be relative and is often modeled after those who are in the position of defining and shaping realities. Sometimes simply overpowered by, sometimes in comfortable alliance with those powers, Latin American countries have experienced long periods of political and economic dependency, predominantly linked to Western concepts of free market trade and governance.

It is a system from which these same nations are detaching themselves in many places–slowly but steadily–and by doing so, feeding into an ongoing process that might turn the world into more of a multipolar power system. However, this is not always met with appreciation from some of the traditional global players.  They are used to treating that region of the world as their proverbial “back-yard” for the extraction of important resources.

But interests and power federations are in flux. Some Latin American countries are now finding new business allies in Asia. Chile, for example, completed free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea. Mexico, Peru and Chile became members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), alongside with China, Japan, Russia, Australia and the U.S.  

Ecuador, a small Latin American country has quite regularly made the news for many different reasons over the past seven years. In particular for its new head of state Rafael Correa, thanks to his sometimes maverick but certainly charismatic style of leadership, and his seemingly undaunted sympathy for whistleblowers. The “charismatic leader” for better or worse, has become an approved concept in Latin America. Ecuador, the land on the equator, has been the setting for a string of unstable governments, combining a presidential democracy with a fragmented party system that often promotes corruption.

Author Jonas Wolff points out in his article, “About Ecuador’s most recent history,” for the German Federal Centre for Political Education (BPB), “The confrontation and mutual blockade of government and parliament dominate the political events since 1979, and the politicized judiciary is less a supervisory body as a tool in the ‘battle of state powers.’”

Immediately upon assuming office in January 2007, President Correa focused his attention on transforming Ecuador’s political system as the essential framework for a fundamentally better-functioning society.

At the core is a new Constituent Assembly, a crucial democratic tool for the implementation of a timely constitution, which Correa and his political allies were able to enforce against the resistance of the political parties of the center-right spectrum. The price the new government paid was a foreseeable clash of powers between the executive and legislative branches, which culminated in the dismissal of 57 opposition MPs.

In the past, inexperience in democratic procedures that facilitated instability in Latin American countries, in combination with outside influences and interests that often times favored authoritarian governments, lead to inadequate societies that were not able to serve its citizens appropriately.

Author John Perkins, the converted American “economic hit man,” wrote in 2005, “Ecuador today is in far worse shape than the country was before we introduced her to the miracles of modern economics, banking and engineering. (…) Since 1970, during this period known euphemistically as the Oil Boom, the official poverty level grew from 50% to 70%, under- or unemployment increased from 15% to 70%, and public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion. (…) Meanwhile, the share of national resources allocated to the poorest segments of the population declined from 20% to 6%. The top 1% of third-world households accounts for 70-90% of all private financial wealth and real estate ownership in their country.”

Today, in year seven of Rafael Correa’s tenure as Ecuador’s President, his Defense Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa proudly announced in an interview during her latest visit to New York City, “We are coming from fifty years of darkness in terms of the oil exploitation. If you go to the areas where Ecuador is extracting oil now, you will see the best services and best schools. People are feeling that they are recovering their dignity, and their condition as citizens.” Ecuador managed to renegotiate their oil contracts, significantly increasing the quality of labor for Ecuadorians involved, with oil still being the country’s main source of income, but not without upsetting powerful international interests.

“Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco — which merged with Chevron in 2001 — dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater while drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The pollution caused local indigenous people to suffer a wave of stomach and mouth cancer, birth defects and spontaneous miscarriages. Besides having been found guilty by Ecuadorian courts, Chevron maintains its innocence and brought its own case against the prosecutors. The company was fined $19 billion by Ecuador in 2011 and has been fighting the verdict since”, describes the International Business Times.

Perkins points out in his 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man how he would talk lesser developed nations into accepting vast loans from institutions such as the World Bank or USAID. Once indebted to an extent they could not hope to pay back, nations such as Ecuador would have to accept political influence and pressure coming from the U.S. on a level that would fundamentally compromise national sovereignty.

The accuracy of Perkins’ descriptions has been questioned by major Western media outlets, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, or the German weekly Der Spiegel. At the same time however, it has left some authors with a glimpse of the possibility that Perkins accounts might not be far from the truth. Author Thomas Schulz wrote for Der Spiegel, “At the end of the day his ‘confessions’ about the entanglements of American politics and economy do not sound that unbelievable, if one remembers well documented historical incidences of the recent past.” Schulz is referring to the United Fruit case, the corporation better known today as Chiquita, as one example.

When in 1953, Guatemala’s President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán expropriated a portion of the vast plantations of the U.S. company in the Latin American country and distributed it to small farmers, he was violently removed from his office through a coup d’etat, supported by the CIA. Or, as a document released by The National Security archive at the George Washington University depicts, “Arbenz was elected President of Guatemala in 1950 to continue a process of socio-economic reforms that the CIA disdainfully refers to in its memoranda as ‘an intensely nationalistic program of progress colored by the touchy, anti-foreign inferiority complex of the ‘Banana Republic.'” The first CIA effort to overthrow the Guatemalan president – a CIA collaboration with Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Somoza to support a disgruntled general named Carlos Castillo Armas and codenamed Operation PBFORTUNE–was authorized by President Truman in 1952.”

Times seem to have changed. To the super powers’ and its allies’ big surprise, Ecuador’s President Correa, an American and European schooled economist, renegotiated Ecuador’s external debt of US $10.97 billion – unilaterally. In May 2007 author Gail Hurley published a paper, titled, “Ecuador in the spotlight as government seeks to renegotiate debt on its terms,” with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad). Here she writes that “certain developed country governments” and “multilateral institutions” were sent into a “state of anxiety” when they learned about Correa’s perky proposal.

The Financial Times piece in February 2007, titled, “Ecuador threatens to become the first debtor with the ability to pay,” disregarded that the external debt service as a percentage of Ecuador’s government revenues used to be extremely high.

In 2006, a total of 38% of government revenues were paid to balance Ecuador’s external debt. The United Nations recommends that developing nations spend not more than 10-13% of revenues for external debt repayments. Correa, readily vilified as a “socialist” by many, an overused term that never fails to frighten, nevertheless seems to find his admirers in the West.

Reuter’s writer Felix Salmon pointed out in his piece “Lessons from Ecuador’s bond default” from May 2009, “But in the short term, Ecuador has elegantly managed to buy back a very large chunk of its debt at just 35 cents on the dollar. Old Ecuador hand Hans Humes, of Greylock Capital, summed up how spectacularly successful the Ecuador strategy was, calling it ‘one of the most elegant restructurings that I’ve seen’.”

Salmon explains further that Correa’s insightful economic incentive could not have been timed better. The default was implemented in December 2008, two years after Correa was elected President. At that point in time global debt markets had plummeted into chaos. “And Correa didn’t pull the trigger until he could see the whites of his opponents’ eyes: He announced that he was defaulting on the 2012 global bonds at exactly the time that three huge hedge funds, which held Ecuador’s debt, were being forced by their prime brokers to liquidate their holdings. As a result, the selling pressure on Ecuadorean bonds sent them tumbling from the 70s to the 20s almost overnight.”

Only last week Reuters announced that Ecuador now plans to return to international debt markets late this year or early next year.

Since the debt default in 2008, Ecuador has relied mostly on credits from China for financing needs. Ecuador’s Finance Minister Fausto Herrera announced in early July that Ecuador is seeking as much as $ U.S. 1.4 bn in order to bankroll this year’s budget. Detlef Nolte from the German Federal Centre for Political Education (BPB) describes China’s increasing interest in Latin America as follows. “Although China’s involvement in Latin America is primarily economic in nature, the Chinese government is also pursuing political interests. On one hand, Beijing is looking for allies for her vision of a multipolar world order. In this context, it considers Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela as strategic partners. On the other hand, 12 from 26 governments in Latin America and the Caribbean still entertain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in exchange for monetary favors. The Chinese government, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province tries to counteract this.”

The authors Mark Weisbrot, Jake Johnston, and Stephan Lefebvre published an analysis of Correa’s financial sector reform in February this year with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC. The findings of their study point out that Ecuador’s new head of state is indeed a capable architect of financial frameworks for his home country by combining private investment initiatives with a healthy dose of government involvement, a concept that creates nearly hysterical public outcries in the U.S.  Ecuador’s central bank is now under government oversight and brought back about $2 billion of reserves from abroad. The money was used by Ecuador’s public banks to give out loans for infrastructure, housing, agriculture, and other domestic investment.

“The new constitution defined the financial sector as composed of the public, private, and popular and solidarity-based sector, which includes cooperatives, credit unions, savings and loan associations, and other member-based organizations.” The Ecuadorian government created the Programa de Finanzas Populares in 2008. A program that is supposed to expand the popular financial sector that is supposed to focus lending to smaller financial institutions that in return will lend to small businesses. “In January 2007 co-op loans stood at 11.1 percent of private bank lending; by July 2012 this percentage had nearly doubled, to 19.6 percent. Co-op loans have also seen a large increase in the absolute total amount, tripling in real (inflation-adjusted) terms during this period.” Conclusively, the authors explain, “Ecuador is a relatively small, middle income developing country with an open economy that does not even have its own currency, yet in five years it has accomplished some of the most comprehensive financial reforms of any country in the 21st century.”

While Ecuador’s Defense Minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa recognizes the successes of her government, she admits, “It is a long process. We are trying to build a new society through a truly cohesive, comprehensive, integrative process. That will take time.”

Finding individualized economy and policy related solutions to secure national and regional interests independently, even if that means finding new partners, accepting failure at times, or possibly creating new dependencies long term, seems to work out for Ecuador at the moment. The concept of self-determination shouldn’t be perceived  as too alienating by Western states.

Lia Petridis Maiello

The article was originally published by The Huffington Post.




Luis Fernando Carrera: “Drug Trafficking Needs to Become Subject of the Public Debate”

25 Jun

Latin and Central American states have been displaying newly gained self-confidence when it comes to addressing a very pressing issue, that is, International crime related to drug trafficking and consumption, to the detriment of this region of the world for the past four decades. The recent political pathway demonstrates the will and the capacity to find solutions within the Latin and Central American context, and with it the political and ideological departure from the War on Drugs. The latter, a campaign waged under the aegis of the U.S. government over the last four decades. The present campaign is based on a combination of prohibition, military aid and military intervention in alliance with participating countries. Unfortunately it has generated often questionable results, and has become a larger target for external, as well as internal criticism.

Virgin Group founder and investor Richard Branson wrote in an Op-ed piece for CNN in December last year, “About 40,000 people were in U.S. jails and prisons for drug crimes in 1980, compared with more than 500,000 today. Excessively long prison sentences and locking up people for small drug offenses contribute greatly to this ballooning of the prison population. It also represents racial discrimination and targeting disguised as drug policy. People of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than white people — yet from 1980 to 2007, blacks were arrested for drug law violations at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than white arrest rates.”

Today, Latin American countries face more severe problems related to drug trafficking than before the U.S. initiative began. The prisons are overpopulated with small-scale drug offenders, meanwhile high-level traffickers roam free due to lax law enforcement or corruption.

A recent panel at the United Nations, organized by the Permanent Mission of Guatemala and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), disclosed a number of new insights on possible future guidelines. Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera analyzed the status quo of the movement and presented fresh experiences in the field by Human Rights Watch.

A report in 2009 by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and a regional meeting in Columbia in April 2012, defined the political U-turn, or the new approach of taking-matters-into-own-hands. The meeting included President Barack Obama, the presidents of Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador. For the first time in history the violence and the misery brought to Latin and Central American countries by the War on Drugs was openly criticized.

“There is an urgent need to bring drug policy to the international public debate,” Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carrera explained. He referred to the recent Declaration of Antigua from June this year, adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS). The declaration recognizes the complexity of the world drug problem, its effects on  health, social relations and the integrity of democratic institutions, and urges for individual approaches, tailored to the different needs member states face. “A few weeks ago, we had a real discussion on drug policy for the first time,” Carrera explained, “But the declaration still needs adjustments, and I clearly can’t tell you where we are going to be with this debate in ten years from now.”

Rebecca Schleifer, Advocacy Director at the Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, presented a disturbing fact, related to Guatemalan handling of drug addicts. She explained, “The treatment provided in some states often violates basic human rights standards.” At the moment around 6000 people that are charged for drug violations are detained in evangelical prayer camps. “They can’t leave voluntarily, they are behind barbed-wire and are absolutely at the mercy of some pastor who might release them at his good will.”

It is much hoped that once more rhetoric is turned into action, rather sooner than later.

Lia Petridis Maiello