Tribunal Fumbles Milosevic Case
THE HAGUE – Over two years ago, former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was charged with 66 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. At the time, CNN called it “the most important trial since Nuremburg.” But during the proceedings, the prosecution couldn’t clearly establish Milosevic’s responsibility for atrocities, some witnesses were exposed as liars, and even the crimes’ scope has been questioned.
Forensic evidence confirms that no bodies were mutilated in Racak, the scene of the disputed killings that triggered the US-led Kosovo war. Rade Markovic, once head of Yugoslavia’s secret service, eventually testifying for his old boss, claiming he was subjected to “pressure and torture” to sign a court statement. Another “insider” witness, Ratomir Tanic, was paid by British intelligence.
Concerning the worst massacre – several thousand men and boys killed in Srebrenica in 1995 – no evidence challenged a five-year inquiry commissioned by the Netherlands. It concluded that there was “no proof that orders for the slaughter came from Serb political leaders in Belgrade.”
Despite flaws in the case, human rights groups either have remained silent or reacted favorably. Richard Dicker, observer for Human Rights Watch, says he was “impressed,” and Judith Armatta, a US lawyer and observer for the Coalition for International Justice, gloats that “when the sentence comes and [Milosevic] disappears into that cell, no one is going to hear from him again.”
Critics charge that the tribunal is essentially a political body set up by the nations that battled Yugoslavia. They point to a decision not to consider evidence that Western leaders might also be guilty of war crimes.
Whatever the verdict – and no one doubts what it will be – the process doesn’t bode well for the International Criminal Court. The US has already refused to accept its jurisdiction, and the UN Security Council can impede or suspend its investigations.
back to top
FTAA Stalled over US Farm Subsidies
PUEBLA, MEXICO – Representatives from 34 nations failed to reach agreement in February on a framework for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), mainly because of ongoing differences over US farm subsidies. The talks followed Miami’s November meetings that barely produced an outline, dubbed “FTAA-light.” World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun last September (TF, Winter 2004) also stalled over subsidies.
Brazilian and Argentine ministers are demanding measures like compensatory tariffs to protect their markets from the effects of US subsidies, which critics say subsidies rob South American farmers of foreign markets and prevent them from competing domestically. US officials have refused to compromise, insisting on resolution within the WTO.
Argentine negotiator Martín Redrado predicts that without an agricultural agreement, particularly about the subsidies, there will be no FTAA. Activists with the Continental Social Alliance attribute the lack of progress to social pressure throughout the region. This has forced some governments to refrain from granting potentially controversial concessions.
back to top
US Seeks New Bite of Venezuelan “Cherry”
CARACAS – US leaders have never been happy Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but the Bush administration turned up the heat. In April 2002, the first step was a coup. But US-friendly Pedro Carmona Estanga was ousted within two days, after dissolving Parliament and scrapping the constitution, and Chavez was brought back.
Now the US is preparing for what intelligence operatives call “a second bite at the cherry.” Venezuelan nationals, recruited with promises of fast-track US citizenship, have trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly the US Army School of Americas (SOA). They then relocated to training camps at Iquitos in Peru’s northern jungles, under US Southern Command direction.
The forces await the correct pretext, probably opposition-inspired violence. US Air Force and Navy contingents on Aruba will provide logistical and material backup. A US Navy hospital ship is reportedly ready to take a position off the coast whenever “the balloon is going up.
Chavez has repeatedly charged that the US is funding various moves to overthrow his government. The backdrop, of course, is Venezuela’s status as the world’s fourth largest oil-exporting country and the third largest source of US oil imports. Venezuela is a major cash cow for Phillips Petroleum and ExxonMobil; Chevron Texaco and Occidental Petroleum also have major interests.
The 2002 coup leaders aimed to privatize PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and Latin America’s largest corporation. They also intended to sell the subsidiary CITGO to shadowy Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros and his partners, and end the government’s exclusive subsoil rights.
back to top
UN Chief Decries Law of the Jungle
DAVOS – The world faces security threats and economic dangers that jeopardize international stability, says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Clear referring to recent US actions, Annan told corporate leaders at January’s World Economic Forum that terrorism and the global war against it threaten to undermine human rights and split the world along cultural, religious, and ethnic lines.
Business leaders have “a powerful interest in helping to prevent the international security system from sliding back into brute competition based on the laws of the jungle,” Annan said. Urging the world’s leading companies to influence their governments to create fairer trade and enhance security, he argued that businesses must play a vital part in averting conflicts, noting that violence is often related to struggles over natural resources.
back to top
Caspian Pipeline Gets Green Light
BAKU – The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline project, touted as “the super-project of the century,” is poised to receive $2.6 billion of its $3 billion total cost. Five credit agreements are signed, including $500 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and $923 million from four energy companies – BP, Total, ConocoPhilips, and Statoil. A syndicate of 15 commercial banks representing 18 countries is expected to attract an additional $936 million in credit.
Long the US-preferred route to bring Caspian Basin oil to market, the pipeline is designed to pump oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The US objective is to reduce reliance on Russian pipelines and bring the southern Caucasus closer to the West. Chevron and Halliburton have been deeply involved, and the oil should starting flowing by mid-2005.
back to top
Syria Tops the List for Next Target
WASHINGTON – Could Syria be next on the Bush team’s hit list? Charges that Damascus is backing Hezbollah and possibly hiding some of Iraq’s illusive WMDs have intensified. Aides to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office have even drawn up plans for punitive airstrikes and cross-border incursions. Hoping to improve its standing with the US, Bashar Assad’s government has signaled that it wants to resume Israeli peace talks.
So far, the White House, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and State Department appear to be resisting a new military venture. “We’ve got all we can handle, and then some, in Iraq, and our military is either stretched to the breaking point or already broken,” said one anonymous senior official. On the other hand, even those who oppose military action say Syria is sponsoring anti-Israeli and anti-US terror groups.
US officials also charge that Assad hasn’t yet closed the Damascus offices of Palestinian groups the US considers “terrorist,” as promised. But since Assad’s father Hafez ruled Syrian from 1970 to 2000, the US fears that ousting this dynasty and the Syrian Baath Party could spark “internecine war and anarchy.” Under the hypothesis that sustained US pressure will force Assad to change course, Bush recently upped the aggressive rhetoric by signing the Syria Accountability Act, imposing economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions at his discretion.
back to top
Russian Poll Tracks Roots of Anxiety
MOSCOW – Crime and unemployment are the leading causes for concern among Russians, according to a January poll. Increases in inflation, delinquency, and high prices are also worrying: Payments for community services, heating, and water have increased 10 percent since last year, whereas basic food products cost three times more. Respondents also mentioned a moral and cultural crisis, poor medical care, corruption, drug trafficking, and the state’s weakness in confronting such problems.
back to top
Moore’s New Film: Taking Aim at 9/11
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Michael Moore’s next documentary, slated for release this summer, will go straight to the heart of US fears. Fahrenheit 9-11 – an ironic reference to Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction novel about censorship, Fahrenheit 451- is due out this Summer. According to Moore, after September 11 many people in the US asked, “Why do they hate us?” Instead, Moore asks, “Why don’t they hate us?” To get answers, he goes around the world to show what’s been done in the name of the US.
Terrorism is wrong, Moore acknowledges. But after seeing his study of misdeeds by the US government and corporations, many viewers may feel lucky that there haven’t been more attacks. In the film, Moore also reportedly accuses the Bush administration of exaggerating the terrorism threat to frighten voters into giving the president another term, calling the ploy “one of the most successful lies ever perpetrated upon a people.”
back to top
US-Ecuador Moves Point to Columbia Push
QUITO – With public attention focused on the Middle East, the Pentagon has been quietly consolidating the military occupation of Ecuador, accelerating completion of military bases and an espionage center, as well as the training of elite counterinsurgent units. The moves reportedly prepare for Plan Colombia’s new phase – multinational intervention against the country’s main rebel groups, the FARC and ELN. Opposition leader Miguel Morán of the Tohalli movement charges that the whole country is a US base.
The Manta naval and air base is located on the Pacific shore within one hour’s flight from Colombia. It directs key mercenary operations under contract to Dyncorp (TF, August 2001), a private military company developing logistics centers and coordinating “anti-terror” training of Ecuadorian police. In July 2000, Manta became a main center of electronic espionage in South America, using Pentagon satellite technology. The base currently houses at least 160 US officers and 231 Dyncorp employees, almost all former soldiers.
Washington is reportedly preparing to unleash skirmishes inside Colombia, with Ecuador performing a function similar to Honduras in Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua – US aircraft carrier in an undercover war.
In 2002, Dyncorp was hired by the Pentagon to fumigate drug operations under Plan Colombia. But it’s also in charge of logistics, aviation, and administrative services, and offers computer technology services at Manta. According to Ecuadorian military strategist Colonel Jorge Brito, Dyncorp staff have diplomatic immunity, but carry out espionage.
A “confidential” covenant between Dyncorp and the Aeronautics Industries Directorate of the Ecuadorian Air Force was exposed last November. According to military sources cited by Quito’s El Comercio, the arrangement was hidden from the National Defense Council and makes soldiers and part of the US diplomatic mission.
Since 9/11, the number of security agencies, soldiers, and “contractors” assigned to Ecuador by the US have all dramatically increased. In 2001, US funding for its Quito embassy was $2 million; it reached $37 million in 2003. As former Ecuadorian foreign minister Alfonso Barrier puts it, “the conflict entered our territory through the window.”
back to top
Media Training Empowering Teens
PORT ELIZABETH – In South Africa, where girls are traditionally encouraged to stay at home, the Internet is sparking a mini-revolution among Black teenagers. Writing in Human Rights Tribune, Wilson Lee points to a training program initiated by Women’sNet to address the gender “digital divide.”
Lee followed 18 teenage girls from the Eastern Cape’s rural townships to Port Elizabeth for a week in which they learned Internet skills and examined how gender affects their lives. Many of them were using a computer for the first time. They picked topics, then produced radio skits and public service announcements for local community radio stations. Everyone mentioned violence against women and young girls as a top issue. With 58,000 reported rapes in 2003, South Africa has been dubbed the “rape capital of the world.”
The training gives girls valuable media skills and a platform for their issues, Lee concludes. Radio is the country’s dominant media, reaching almost every household. Women’sNet is expanding its efforts by working with the South African Girl-Child Alliance and UNICEF in three of South Africa’s nine provinces. For more information, visit Women’sNet at http://www.womensnet.org.za/ , or Human Rights Tribune at http://www.hri.ca/tribune/issueSearch.asp.