Sunday, September 21, 2014

US and El Salvador to move forward with second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact

Earlier this week, it was announced that the second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact between El Salvador and the US (FOMILENIO II) would go forward as planned. The agreement had been held up as a result of concerns on the part of various US government institutions concerning access to Salvadoran agricultural markets, perceived weak money laundering laws and presidential elections.

The US seems to have relented on forcing El Salvador to also consider purchasing seeds from US corporations rather than solely national small- and medium-sized farmers. The reforms to the Public-Private Partnership (P3) and money laundering laws moved the legislation towards where the US wanted them to go but maybe not as much as it wanted. Hence, negotiations.

Republicans also wanted the US to hold the compact hostage in return for lifting the ban on gold mining in El Salvador. It's not clear, however, that any of those directly involved in the negotiations were pushing this condition.
In a telephone interview Saturday, Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, said her embassy must be “vigilant” to make sure El Salvador follows through on promised reforms. But looking back at the past year of negotiations, she said it has been a learning experience for both sides.
“The new government in El Salvador has learned a lot. We also have learned a lot,” Aponte said. “We have to keep our eyes open” going forward, she added. But given the migrant crisis, she was excited that $101 million of the aid is for improved training and education that could help young men and women find jobs in El Salvador
The two countries will now move forward with the $277 million compact for coastal and maritime development, including $101 million for improved training and education. The FMLN, however, will have to continue to work with those communities in the affected areas, many of whom are against the proposed development projects. They fear that the proposed projects will destroy already fragile ecosystems and their livelihoods as well as turn the region into another Cancun. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Citizens are always sensitive when it appears that foreign governments and corporations and international tribunals are intervening ...

Citizens are always sensitive when it appears that foreign governments and corporations and international tribunals are intervening in their sovereign affairs. During the last few weeks, we've seen the people of Guatemala and El Salvador push back against efforts by the United States, Monsanto, and Australian-Canadian gold mining companies to require national governments to abide by national and international agreements over the objections of domestic constituents.

In Guatemala,
On September 4th, after ten days of widespread street protests against the biotech giant Monsanto’s expansion into Guatemalan territory, groups of indigenous people joined by social movements, trade unions and farmer and women’s organizations won a victory when congress finally repealed the legislation that had been approved in June.
The Monsanto Law would have given exclusivity on patented seeds to a handful of transnational companies. Mayan people and social organizations claimed that the new law violated the Constitution and the Mayan people’s right to traditional cultivation of their land in their ancestral territories.
The Guatemalan people's success followed similar efforts in El Salvador to defeat Monsanto. There, it took place within the context of the government's negotiations with the United States over a $277 million second Millennium Challenge Compact.
El Salvador is a recent example of corporate domination in U.S. foreign aid. The United States will withhold the Millennium Challenge Compact aid deal, approximately $277 million in aid, unless El Salvador purchases genetically-modified seeds from biotech giant, Monsanto.[1] The Millennium Challenge Corporation is “a U.S. foreign aid agency that was created by the U.S. Congress in January 2004,”[2] according to Sustainable Pulse, and serves as a conduit for foreign aid funds.
MCC’s unethical aid conditions would force El Salvador to purchase controversial seeds from the American biotech corporation instead of purchasing non-GMO seeds from the country’s local farmers[3] – an action that would have negative effects on El Salvador’s agricultural industry in addition to presenting serious health and environmental risks.
Sure the laws were meant to give Monsanto a foot in the door, but they were also simply designed to have foreign companies treated in the same manner as domestic companies (give or take) as everybody agreed to in CAFTA-DR (that free trade agreement pursued by the Central American governments with the US). The US eventually relented on Monsanto and it was recently agreed that the two parties would go forward with the second compact.

Unlike agricultural reform, the evil CAFTA-DR is also being used to reforms that the left is cheering.
The United States accused Guatemala this week of failing to live up to the labor standards spelled out in the countries' trade agreement, pursuing a case that could lead to fines if Guatemala doesn't move to better protect its workers.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said he was moving ahead with the case in hopes that Guatemala, a partner of the U.S. in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), would make "concrete improvements" in enforcing labor laws already on its books.
"Our goal is to raise standards," Froman said at a press conference Thursday.
The case is being filed at a time when the U.S.-Mexican border is being overwhelmed by young immigrants, many of them Guatemalan children and teens fleeing violence in their home country. Froman said the complaint was aimed at helping to make Guatemala a safer place to live and work, so that its citizens don't feel compelled to "embark on a dangerous journey of migration."
The Guatemalan government agreed last year to follow a plan to address the country's labor law violations. Froman, who traveled to Guatemala this summer, said the country had taken "significant steps" since then.
But Guatemalan union leaders insist the government hasn't made sufficient progress in addressing the violence. Those unions first raised their concerns back in 2008, when they filed a joint petition with the AFL-CIO calling on Guatemala to make good on its commitments.
The case announced by the trade representative's office Thursday will create an arbitration panel to determine whether or not Guatemala is failing on its obligations.
See also here and here. It's nice to see the US using its free trade agreements to enforce worker protection rights but where's the outrage with against the US for using its free trade agreement with Guatemala to interfere with the country's internal affairs? Is the process with regard to labor versus Monsanto so different or is it simply the presumed outcome of that pressure?

Finally, there's gold mining in El Salvador.
A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.
An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.
“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences." -- Father Eric Lopez
The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.
Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.
“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”
Pacific Rim, Oceana Gold's predecessor, tried to pursue its claims through CAFTA-DR but its claim was rejected when it was determined to be a Canadian company and therefore not eligible to sue under this free trade agreement. Oceana Gold is now using the ICSID because the Salvadoran government became a party to that trade agreement in 1999.

Obviously many people would have preferred that the US and the countries of Central America had not signed a free trade agreement, but we have. After a decade of requests from Central American leaders, the US agreed and the agreement was signed in 2004, becoming effective a few years later. I'm just not comfortable blaming CAFTA-DR for all of the region's recent economic problems as was frequently heard during this summer's unaccompanied minors crisis.

The free trade agreement can be used to enforce laws to benefit more positive outcomes enjoyed by large (workers' rights) or small (mining corporations) groups. The Central American country that tends to get some of the highest marks from CAFTA-DR and for addressing workers' rights is Nicaragua. While not perfect, Nicaragua seems to be benefiting from CAFTA-DR to a greater extent than its neighbors (at least in the media). Part of that is due to its poverty (they received special benefits) but there are other factors as well.

While, for now, I am happy that the Monsanto laws were repealed or not passed and that the US is using CAFTA-DR to help promote workers' rights in Guatemala, it's not based on any principled reasoning. If anything, it's based upon what I see are outcomes that serve the needs of some of the region's most vulnerable. Now, I'm just waiting for a vote in favor of the environment in El Salvador.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Centroamérica en el siglo XXI

During my 2013 Fulbright to Guatemala, I gave a series of lectures at the Rafael Landivar University on United States - Central American relations in the post Cold War period. While not perfect, the first talk covered eight years of Bill Clinton and the second eight years of George Bush. The third talk covered the first Obama term with an eye towards his second term.
“Barack Obama, América Central y el future de las relaciones EE.UU. – América Central.” June 2013.
“El Impacto de los atentados del 11-S en las relaciones EE.UU. – América Central.” May 2013.
“Las Relaciones EE.UU. – América Central después de la Guerra Fría.” April 2013.
Alberto Martin and I more fully developed the presentations and they were just published by the Landivar as "Las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Centroamérica en el siglo XXI" in La Politica Exterior de Estados Unidos, (Colección Cátedra de Coyuntura Internacional n.º 4, Guatemala, 2014: 103-176).

In addition to our entry, the university included contributions from Beatríz Zepeda on "Los desafíos de las relaciones internacionales en el siglo XXI", Josefina del Prado on "Obama y el cambio: política exterior de EEUU," Carlota García Encina on "¿Pragmatismo o debilidad? La política internacional del presidente Obama," Ana Esther Ceceña on "La dominación de espectro completo sobre América," and Claudio Katz on "Bloques y problemas de América Latina."

Click here if you'd like to take a read.

Guatemala's poor getting poorer

According to a recent report, Guatemala is the only country in the region where the poor have been getting poorer. In 2012, the poorest 40 percent of the country's people lived on $1.50 per day. That is worse than 2003 when the bottom 40 percent lived on $1.60 per day.

Last I read poverty had improved to where only 51 percent of the population had lived in poverty but then increased again following the global economic and food crises as well as insecurity, natural disasters, and other issues more specific to Guatemala. (Poverty in GuatemalaPoverty decreased by twenty percentage points - that's good, right?)

Go take a look at the brief article. No need for me to summarize it all here. However, what was really disappointing was the concluding paragraph.
According to World Bank simulations, if Guatemala's rate of growth were to rise to 5 percent over the next three years, by 2016 the poverty rate could fall by an additional 1 percentage point, thereby allowing 160,000 more Guatemalans to escape poverty.
I haven't read anything that indicates 5 percent over the next three years is possible. The Perez Molina government has been all about encouraging foreign investment and promoting economic growth but the results have been mixed.

Really makes me wonder how neighboring El Salvador has been able to decrease poverty by 10 percentage points over the last several years with horrible growth rates. Social programs help, of course, as due remittances (which Guatemala also enjoys) but there's something fishy going on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Latin America's Dirty Wars - a false equivalency?

The Economist had a not so great piece arguing that the Latin American “Dirty war” memorials should not be used to rewrite the past. Otto, Lillie, Steven and Colin all have good responses to the misinformed Economist article. I sympathize with The Economist's article but it's a mistake to look for balance where there is none.

The authoritarian right in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc.) carried out brutality on a scale that was disproportionate to anything that the authoritarian left has executed (Nicaragua, Cuba). I think that there has been a tendency to romanticize the revolutionary left, failure to investigate their human rights violations, and excuse/justify their crimes when uncovered. However, one needs to be careful with any false equivalency.

A friend and I were discussing some of the crimes of the FMLN last week in Berlin. We discussed Mayo Sibrian. He seems to have been responsible for hundreds of deaths of civilians and FMLN in the mid-1980s. However, when speaking with FMLN sympathizers, I was also told that the deaths were more in the dozens and was the work of a drunk commander one weekend. I don't know. The terror carried out by Sibrian seems to have been carried out over a much longer time period and to have involved many more than dozens.

The killings were also known at the time. According to some documentation and interviews, internacionalistas and other guerrillas knew about the massacres. They even spoke to the FPL about the allegations. The FPL, including its commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren, didn't seem to care and didn't bother to investigate.

The FMLN also engaged in forced recruitment, including youth, and the killings of mayors. The recruits and the mayors were both civilians. However, when I wrote that in my 2010 article on violence during the Salvadoran civil war, a reviewer kept trying to downplay the events. It was only the ERP that was engaged in forced recruitment, not the entire organization and it was only for a little while before they realized their mistake. It was again, an attempt to downplay the violence committed by the FMLN. The ERP, on the other hand, complained that they were the political-military organization that was most truthful about the crimes that they committed during the war. The other organizations were not as upfront and therefore did not look as bad in the country's truth commission.

Finally, the truth commission covers 1980-1991 which is convenient to the insurgents. The war started with the failure of the October 15, 1979 coup and the March 24, 1980 murder of Oscar Romero. It started after the fraudulent 1972 and 1977 elections. However, the guerrillas had already formed in the early 1970s. Some even traveled to Guatemala in the 1960s to engage in guerrillas warfare training (two even died fighting in Guatemala). They then carried out kidnappings, assassinations, and bank robberies during the 1970s. However, by marking the beginning of the war in 1979 and 1980, it does overlook a lot of what happened during the years before the outbreak of large-scale violence. It also explains why the Salvadoran right gets upset when the latter dates are used to explain the outbreak of the war. Many of them had been targeted prior to the official start of the war.    

In Guatemala, there have been documented massacres by the guerrillas, including one where a local commander was recently found guilty in a Guatemalan court. In interviews I've carried out with former guerrillas, two mentioned that their biggest regret was the way that they and their comrades treated people within their ranks. Revolutionary justice was carried out against guerrillas who gave away the group's position or somehow else endangered the political-military organization. There was little tolerance.

In Nicaragua, they Sandinistas led a broad-based coalition against the Somoza regime. However, while not entirely the Sandinistas' fault, they alienated pro-democratic (at least in the formal liberal sense) members of their coalition early on during the revolutionary government. They also alienated one of their key supporters during the downfall of Somoza - Costa Rica. They criticized their democratic ally as being a lackey of the US. I wouldn't say that makes them equally authoritarian to the region's right, not even close, as The Economist article would lead one to conclude.

Of course the guerrillas carried out violence against those within their own ranks, against the civilian population, and against government officials - acts that fall outside the rules of war. We have not paid enough attention to documenting, understanding, or explaining how and/or why the violence occurred. It's not clear that any of the revolutionary coalitions that did not come to power would have ruled in a democratic, human rights friendly fashion. Their behavior during the war leads me to think that they would not have ruled in a very heavy-handed fashion. Well, maybe except for the Shining Path and/or FARC.  

However, that's a far cry from drawing any false equivalency between the left and the right when it comes to their behavior in Latin America during the Cold War.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Border Disputes, Political Tensions Threaten Needed Cooperation in Central America

As Central Americans celebrate their independence today, Christine Wade has analysis on some of the difficulties that impede regional cooperation in the 21st century for the World Politics Review.

Here's the opening of her analysis on Border Disputes, Political Tensions Threaten Needed Cooperation in Central America.
In the first week of September, the Honduran military raised the Honduran flag over the disputed Conejo Island, quickly raising the ire of El Salvador’s government. The incident as well as other recent border disputes highlighted tensions within the region at a time when cooperation and collaboration are more important than ever. 
The timing of the flap was illustrative on a symbolic level as well: On Sept. 15, five Central American states—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—will jointly celebrate 193 years of independence. Once united in a short-lived federation, the domestic and international politics of these five countries remain deeply intertwined. Since independence, the region has suffered from its share of domestic turmoil and foreign intervention, at times both uniting and dividing countries in the isthmus. 
Go check it out.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Immigration in NEPA

I am quoted in this Scranton business article on the likely impact of immigration on northeast Pennsylvania. I'm in Germany until tomorrow night. At some point this week, I'll be back to regular blogging.