Get Me the Paraguayan President's DNA: Three Devastating Wikileaks from Latin America
There has been much made of the leaks emanating from U.S. embassies in the Middle East, Europe, the Korean Peninsula and the netherworlds of U.N. Headquarters in New York and the U.S. State Department in Washington.
Most of those cables deal with opinions about what kind of threat the Iranian government represents to the Middle East or who Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi likes to party with. Meanwhile, the precious few leaks coming out of the Western Hemisphere have served to illuminate some of the United States' most recent attempts to control the region, representing a shift away from a strategy more centrally focused on supporting, training, and financing military dictatorships.
So, here are three of the most contentious cables that have captured the attention of Latin America, while being largely ignored or misrepresented in the north.
1. Collecting DNA in Paraguay
Much has been made, and rightly so, about US diplomats collecting financial and biometric information of foreign diplomats at the United Nations. As nefarious as that is, diplomats have limited influence, what if the State Department were doing the same for elected presidents?
Of the five media outlets to receive advance copies of the leaks, The Guardian was the only one to publish a March 2008 cable from the State Department to the U.S. embassy in Paraguay. The Guardian ran the entire cable, without comment, under the headline: "Washington Worries that Paraguay Harbors Iranian Agents and Islamist Terrorists". The cable is a shopping list of information that the State Department requested in the run-up to Paraguay's 2008 presidential elections. Near the bottom of the list is a disturbingly casual request that the U.S. embassy gather "(b)iographic and financial information on all leading contenders, and especially on Minister of Education Blanca Ovelar, former Vice President Castiglioni, Lino Oviedo, and Fernando Lugo; and biometric data, to include fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA, on these individuals."
Fernando Lugo, a Catholic bishop who promised to bring about massive land reform in order to return needed crop space to the country's peasant farmers, went on to win the presidency. As the Real News reported recently, Lugo has been unable to achieve many of his pledges, due in part to the influence of U.S. agribusiness corporations who are using the land for soy production.
So, what does one do with the President's fingerprints?
I have been posing this question to many friends of mine, ranging from Hollywoord movie buffs to seasoned computer hackers, and I have filtered out a measly three potential explanations.
Ray McGovern, a former CIA intelligence officer of 27 years, suggested it may be the result of a super-inflated intelligence industry seeking a way to justify its existence. He referenced the Washington Post's July investigation titled "Top Secret America" which documents the rapidly expanding U.S. intelligence industry. The Post says the industry now includes at least 45 Government agencies and 2,000 private companies, operating on bottomless public budgets out of more than 10,000 offices in the US alone.
Outside of this, it is difficult to imagine any possibile explanation that doesn't belong in a bad Steven Seagal film.
James Paul, Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum, suggested that the data could be used for getting access to privileged information. Iris and fingerprint scans, or other advanced security systems, are often employed to protect sensitive information found in computers, safes, or offices. While that could be the specific purpose, Paul adds that the general thrust is to get as much info as possible in order to create the illusion of control over another person, and then to let this be known from time to time in order "to appear unbeatable and all-powerful."
Another possible scenario involves straight-up blackmail. Threatening to frame the president with a misdeed of some kind, or maybe just implying the capacity to do so. I have absolutely no information that this is the case, but for those who think it impossible, I would point out that it has only been two decades since the U.S. was training the soldiers of Paraguay's brutal dictator and U.S. ally, Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. Blackmailing the president would be peanuts compared to the torturing of political dissidents by sodomizing them with electric cattle prods, the forced enslavement of the Ache indigenous nation as house workers for the elite, or the extrajudicial execution of the regime's opponents, all of which enjoyed the support of successive U.S. administrations for 35 long years.
2. Brazilian authorities use trumped-up drug charges to jail people the United States suspects of terrorism
Brazil has been the focus of most of the Latin American cables released this far, and many of the documents reveal a U.S. embassy hell-bent on getting the Brazilian government to cooperate in tracking potential "Islamic extremists" in Brazil's Arab communities. The administration of President Lula da Silva had been adamant that such terrorist activities don't exist, and rejected U.S. calls for him to pass a Brazilian anti-terrorism law. Lula reminded the U.S. that anti-terrorism laws were used under the country's military dictatorships to jail political dissidents. Lula himself spent one month in jail in 1980 for his union organizing. Nonetheless, the cables reveal that the U.S. has been working directly with Brazilian intelligence agents and police forces, without the knowledge of Lula and the rest of Brazil's elected leadership.
In a cable to Washington in January 2008, US ambassador to to Brazil Clifford Sobel reported that the U.S. feeds the names of suspects to Brazilian police who will:
"often arrest individuals with links to terrorism, but will charge them on a variety of non-terrorism related crimes to avoid calling attention of the media and the higher levels of the government. Over the past year the Federal Police has arrested various individuals engaged in suspected terrorism financing activity but have based their arrests on narcotics and customs charges."
This has received significantly more press attention than the Paraguay debacle, but the coverage often treats the trumped up drug charges as a side-note. For example, CNN went with the headline: "Brazil tried to distance itself from U.S. war on terror". Some outlets chose to highlight the fact that the Brazilian government doesn't consider Hamas, Hezbollah, or the FARC as terrorist organizations. This information was not 'revealed' by the cables, it is a matter of public policy in Brazil. For those curious, the Lula's administration's official position is that Hamas and Hezbollah are political parties, and the FARC is a belligerent force in an ongoing civil war.
The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled "Latin Americans Revel in Leaks", casts the arrests in a positive light. They employed the same language as the U.S. ambassador himself in blaming Brazilian opposition to anti-terrorism laws on anti-U.S. sentiment in Lula's administration, and applauding that "lower-level law-enforcement agencies had been helpful by acting on U.S. intelligence to arrest suspects." No sign of concern for either Brazil's sovereignty or the rights and dignity of those arrested.
This current standard of reporting on Latin America where government decisions are evaluated on whether or not they coincide with U.S. government dictates, demonstrates a press corps unprepared to treat the region's governments as sovereign and it's people as having individual rights. In the worst reporting samples, any sign of opposition to U.S. demands is written-off as the result of anti-American ideology. This perspective is rampant in both the writing of U.S. diplomats and U.S. journalists.
3. U.S. embassy in Honduras knew President Zelaya's removal was a military coup
While the cables reveal some of the new ways the U.S. exerts influence in the region, the old style of supporting military dictatorships is alive and well in Honduras, and a dissenting ambassador was largely ignored.
In a July 2009 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens wrote Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon and Obama's Latin America Advisor Dan Restrepo an analysis of the June 28th coup d'etat in Honduras. The cable was titled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup" and it was sent at midnight on the night of July 23rd. The assessment was that "there is no doubt" that the events of June 28th "constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup." He went on to say that every one of the arguments being put forward by those defending the kidnapping and deportation of President Zelaya, and the ensuing militarization of Honduran society were without any "substantive validity".
But, just twelve hours after her office received the cable, Secretary Clinton called the ousted President Mel Zelaya "reckless" for trying to return to Honduras via the border with Nicaragua. More importantly, she suggested that he would be held responsible for any violence the military would be forced to inflict to maintain control should he enter his country.
From that point on, the U.S. government actions revealed an ever-growing support for the forces behind the coup. Disregarding Llorens' cable, the State Department never officially declared the events a military coup. Such a declaration would have activated a U.S. domestic law banning aid payments to coup governments, which would have cut off a vital lifeline to the fledgling regime. Months later, the Honduran coup resistance's worst suspicions came true when the U.S. announced its last-second support for ill-conceived elections under the coup government.
To this day, Clinton and the State Department continue to pressure other Latin American governments to recognize the Honduran government, something that the majority of South American governments have shown no willingness to do. In fact, of all those who voiced opposition to the coup, including governments, organizations, and commentators both inside Honduras and outside, the U.S. government and its allies are largely alone in advocating recognition of the country's fraudulent elections. The U.S. has even increased aid to the same military that both overthrew the president and most recently attacked an anti-coup music concert.
Honduran filmmaker and commentator Oscar Estrada points out that while the resistance treated ambassador Llorens as an enemy, it turns out he was actually "another victim of the imperial machinery, his reports could do nothing to stop the criminal gang that carried out the coup." Estrada adds that the same Honduran press that backed the coup has neglected to report on Llorens' cable, choosing instead to continue their ongoing campaign in support of the regime's attempts to label landless farmers as terrorists. If the regime succeeds in this campaign, it will be able indict these farmers under Honduras' freshly passed anti-terrorism law.
In the most twisted of ironies, the Honduran regime's next legal project in what Estrada calls the "advance of fascism" is a law against "yellow journalism". According to the congressman who wrote it, the law seeks to regulate the negative reporting that is "discouraging tourism and foreign investment."
What information is being prioritized?
As The Real News interview with Larry Wilkerson--former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell--lays out in detail, most of the cables from the Middle East that are attracting so much attention are little more than hearsay, document the opinions of influential players with their own motivations. For example, a critically-minded press shouldn't find it at all shocking that the King of Saudi Arabia is supportive of somebody else's military attacking his neighborhood oil rival, Iran. That's just good business. Like Pepsi benefiting from a tornado hitting the Coca-Cola plant. An event Pepsi executives would celebrate regardless of whether Coke had a nuclear weapon or not.
On the other hand, the cables from Latin America aren't merely revealing opinions and characterizations, but actual activities now joining the long history of U.S. influence in the region.
With every leak should come a new series of questions for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Even if a given violation did not happen under her watch, she should be called on to answer whether or not she has put an end to the practice in question. Unfortunately however, Clinton has said that her office will not comment on the contents of any specific documents.
Her vow of silence is deafening to a South with a new, invigorated enthusiasm for challenging U.S. meddling in their affairs. But, equally distressing is the silence from the press corps, as journalists with access and audience neglect to step forward and ask: what exactly does the State Department plan to do with President Lugo's DNA?
Plenty more to come
Stay fixed on The Real News where will be highlighting more reports as they trickle in. As of writing, Wikileaks has published less than three hundred of the 251,287 cables they have pledged to release. Still no cables have come out from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, or Ecuador, countries where the United States have been accused of quietly influencing events.
At the same time, some U.S. allies in the hemisphere have already demonstrated their unease before any cables were released about them. Perhaps most notably, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trusted advisor, Tom Flanagan, called for Wikileaks' spokesman Julian Assange to be assassinated during an appearance on the CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster.
For his part, Assange has assured the world that the process will continue with or without him. If Wikileaks' current rate of releasing roughly 100 documents per day continues, that means we've got almost seven years worth of material to go. So, make sure to donate so that The Real News can survive long enough to see this process through to the end.