Friday, 21 of November of 2014

Vet: Racial tensions eased in Vietnam

In the United States, Charles Nelson may not have been allowed in the same restaurant as the man whose life he saved in Vietnam.

While training as an Air Force medic at South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base hospital from 1969 to 1971, Nelson, who is black, often drove to Washington, D.C. He would pack his lunch for the road, unsure which places to eat would welcome an African American.

Along his route, signs for “colored” entrances and separate facilities remained, despite the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He saw a billboard along one North Carolina highway featuring a hooded Klan member on a rearing horse, which read, “Smithfield, North Carolina: No n—–, Jews or dogs after dark.”

When he arrived in Vietnam in July 1971, Nelson didn’t see such open discrimination. He says that though he noticed whites getting better job assignments, the racial divide “wasn’t as pronounced as it was when I left America.”

As a medic at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Nelson once comforted a white man in his arms for two hours, his finger jammed inside the bullet wound in the man’s chest to prevent his lung from collapsing.

In one place, segregation was turned on its head: White servicemembers were forbidden from entering “Soul Alley” outside Saigon, which catered to black troops. “They had girls who learned how to cook potato salad and collard greens and ribs,” Nelson said. “It was crazy.”

Although black and white troops were comrades in the war zone, Nelson saw the racial divides reappear on his flight home to the U.S. “Slowly but surely, you could see the people going to their own sections,” Nelson says. “By the time we got to Treasure Island, San Francisco, the white guys were on one side of the plane, the black guys were on the other side, the Hispanic guys were in another little section, and all of a sudden we didn’t know each other. There was no more speaking to each other, none of that.”

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Media manufacture epidemic of drug-addled face eaters

Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #20

Just when you thought getting your face eaten by a naked, snarling, homeless man was something that only happened to other people, Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police arrives to explain that this is something we all must fear.

Aguilar recently told reporters that the horrific zombie-like attack, in which a Miami police officer shot a man to death for refusing to stop eating another man’s face, strongly resembled other recent assaults in the Miami area, and that the perpetrators were believed to be under the influence of a new, deadly drug known as bath salts.

The media have taken Aguilar’s assertion and run with it, in the latest sequel to Reefer Madness.

Images and video of the naked attacker’s bullet-ridden corpse and his victim’s destroyed face have since surfaced, adding lurid detail to the macabre descriptions. Needless to say, we Americans have been drawn to this tale like flies to shit, and it’s become the biggest turd floating in the cesspool that is our national psyche.

Yet, our sensationalist media weren’t satisfied with rabid cannibalism, nude corpses or masticated visages. The American people needed to know how such a terrible thing could happen in the tranquil paradise of Miami, and our hard-nosed reporters never stop digging until the American people have all the information they need.

Following a holiday weekend, however, no one was too anxious to break a sweat while doing their diligent digging. Enter Armando Aguilar, equipped not only with easy answers, but the uncanny ability to turn this freak event into an epidemic that could strike any of us, at any time.

CNN’s Erin Burnett tells her viewers, “The gruesome face-eating attack in Miami could be part of a trend, an example of something larger and much more dangerous.”

All the articles repeating Aguilar’s claim focus on the fact that these drugs are legal in many states, underscoring the theme that your face, or the face of one you love, may be next.

The problem with this theory is that Aguilar is the only named source in any of these reports promoting it. That is not to mention the fact that Aguilar is not an officer investigating the case and no medical reports have yet determined what drugs the attacker or victim had in their system. Read more »


‘Rios de Hombres’: Lessons from Bolivia’s water war not so clear

Photo courtesy FICCI

CARTAGENA — The end of the film, “The Corporation,” portrays the massive protests that drove the multinational, Bechtel, to relinquish its control over the municipal water supply of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba as a dramatic victory of David over Goliath. This story captured the imagination of globalization’s opponents around the world, and has served as a parable for the power of people to triumph over the seemingly invincible forces of international capital. As The Democracy Center‘s Jim Schultz told Amy Goodman, “People like a good David-and-Goliath story, and the water revolt is David not just beating one Goliath, but three. We call them the three B’s: Bechtel, Banzer and the Bank.”

Another documentary, “Rios de Hombres,” screened this week at Cartagena’s International Film Festival, questions whether the 2000 water war was indeed proof that “the people united can never be defeated.” While the protests did lead to Bechtel losing its contract and started the social upheaval that forced President Hugo Banzer’s resignation, nothing has improved for the impoverished people of Cochabamba, and the water problem remains unsolved.

Director Tin Dirdamal took seven years to make the film, and that temporal distance from the events discussed permitted him to take a fresh look at the outcome.  Dirdamal arrived in Cochabamba, he told Opinión, “thinking that the water war was a victory. And, as I mention in the film, I went to be a part of this triumph, I identified with it.”

Yet, Dirdamal reveals a rare intellectual integrity, in that he abandoned his assumptions when confronted with facts that contradicted his preconceptions. For example, he arrived with the intent to tell the story of an American company that had privatized the rain water — a detail in the story that invoked the ire of people around the globe — and raised prices to unaffordable levels for the city’s poor.

Dirdamal discovered, however, that the there was little truth in these reports. Charging for rain water would have been a logistical impossibility, the film convincingly argues, and the 300 percent price increases were actually only leveled on the highest consumers such as hotels, large farms and private estates with swimming pools.

In a heavy-handed visual metaphor Dirdamal compares the impoverished, largely homeless, people who actually fought the bloody battles with the police, to cattle being led to slaughter. They unknowingly did the bidding of these wealthy Bolivians, who were spared the higher rates with the expulsion of Bechtel, and the original water suppliers, who make large profits providing polluted water inefficiently. Read more »


Coca reduction agreement between Brazil, Bolivia, U.S., canceled at last minute

The Sala de Honor -- Hall of Honor -- at the Bolivian Foreign Ministry stands empty at 7 pm Friday when representatives from Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S., were to sign a trilateral agreement on coca crop reduction. Photo by William W. Cummings

LA PAZ — The flags of Brazil, Bolivia and the U.S. hung limply behind three empty seats Friday night in the Bolivian Foreign Ministry’s Hall of Honor. The room had been prepared for the public signing of a trilateral agreement establishing a new, cooperative system for monitoring and reducing coca cultivation in Bolivia. Yet, as the announced time of the signing came and went, the room remained unoccupied.

Various explanations have been offered since the abrupt cancellation as to why the signing of the agreement was postponed for the fifth time since March, and the second time in 24 hours.

Officials had said the previous postponements were due to logistical and scheduling problems. Felipe Cáceres, Bolivia’s top drug official, continued this theme Friday evening, saying the signing was postponed because he had to attend the closing ceremonies of the South American Council on the Global Drug Problem.

Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde, on the other hand, told El Deber the postponement was due to issues with the agreement itself and that the signing would be delayed until he received further orders. “The document is being revised,” he said. “It still is not as we would like it.”

Minister of Government Wilfredo Chávez, who was to sign the agreement for Bolivia, also felt the document had to be rewritten. According to the Associated Press, Chávez said Sunday that the Bolivian government needed clearer control over the counter-narcotics efforts outlined in the agreement.

“The draft of the agreement must be improved so that it is understood that the Bolivian state is at the head of the drug war. It is under the total and absolute control of the Bolivian state, and there can not be a single word or concept that can be misunderstood,” the minster of government said.

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Morales: DEA will not return to Bolivia

Left to Right: Bolivian President Evo Morales, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala during a meeting of the Andean Community of Nations in Bogotá on Nov. 8, 2011. Photo courtesy of Javier Casella, SIG.

LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales stated unequivocally Tuesday that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will not return to Bolivia, despite the new agreement that calls for greater cooperation in the fight against drug traffickers.

“The DEA will not return because of issues of sovereignty,” Morales said during a meeting of leaders of the Andean states in Bogota. He called Monday’s agreement one of “mutual respect,” and said, “For the first time, since the founding of Bolivia, the U.S. will respect Bolivian rule, including Bolivian laws and the constitution.”

Bolivian law permits the cultivation of coca for traditional uses, while the U.S. deems all coca cultivation illegal. Morales himself was a coca grower and a leader of the coca-farmers’ fight against DEA eradication programs.

“I was personally a victim of the DEA,” Morales said. “Armed, uniformed Americans commanded the police, commanded the armed forces. They repressed us. That is over.”

Morales expelled the DEA, and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, in September 2008 after accusing them of conspiring to overthrow his administration.

During a press conference Tuesday in La Paz, Vice President Álvaro García Linera said he stood by the the decision to expel Goldberg and the DEA because it, “saved our country from a coup d’état.”

“In no article of the agreement does it say the DEA will return,” García Linera said. “We do not need it. We do not need a foreign police agency of political character in our country.”

García Linera, while admitting some difficulties, said the Bolivian police, intelligence agencies and armed forces were improving their fight against drug traffickers without the help of the DEA.

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Bolivia and U.S. sign agreement, restore diplomatic relations

Bolivian Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and U.S. Under Secretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero sign the “Framework Agreement” in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 7, 2011. Photo courtesy of the Bolivian Foreign Ministry.

LA PAZ — Bolivia and the United States signed an agreement Monday reestablishing diplomatic relations, three years after President Evo Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Bolivian Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde and U.S. Under Secretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero signed the “Framework Agreement” in Washington, D.C. The agreement, “establishes a framework by which the two governments will pursue relations on the basis of mutual respect and shared responsibility,” the two governments announced in a joint statement.

The agreement’s objectives include economic development, improved trade relations and “effective action against illicit narcotics production and trafficking.” It is unclear if the “shared responsibility” and “enhanced law enforcement cooperation” called for in the agreement will include the return of the DEA to Bolivia.

Armando Loaiza, who served as Bolivia’s foreign minister during the first year of the Morales administration, said in an interview on Bolivian television that it would be difficult to imagine a serious effort to stop drug traffickers that would not include the DEA. “There isn’t a more powerful and effective organization in the counter-narcotics fight than the DEA,” he said.

Morales expelled the DEA and Ambassador Goldberg in 2008, saying they were inciting the opposition in an effort to overthrow the government. “We don’t want people here who conspire against our unity. We don’t want people who threaten our democracy,” Morales announced at the time.

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Morales pledges to eradicate 10k hectares of coca by year’s end

LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Monday that his government will eradicate 10,000 hectares of coca before the calendar year is up, although his claims that this would represent a new record are belied by United Nations data.

Bolivian President Evo Morales announces from the Presidential Palace that his government will eradicate 10,000 hectares of coca in 2011. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of the President.

According to Prensa Latina and Tarija’s El País, Morales, “announced that the Plurinational State will break in 2011 all records for the elimination of surplus coca leaf.” Perhaps the distinction lies in the definition of “surplus coca,” but, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 World Drug Report, Bolivia has eradicated more than 10,000 hectares of coca four times since 1996, including a high of 15,353 hectares in 1999.

Morales, who said more than 8,000 hectares of coca have already been eradicated this year, stressed that an agreement with the producers made the eradication possible. It is taking place, “without a single shot being fired that resulted in death or injury, unlike what occurred during the neoliberal governments,” he said

Morales is a former coca grower, and current head of the coca-growers’ union. His political career largely began as a leader of the cocaleros fight against the United States-backed coca eradication programs. He expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2008 and suspended DEA activity in Bolivia the same year. He has insisted that his country can continue to produce coca for traditional uses while fighting the production and distribution of processed cocaine.

“You can not talk about free coca cultivation, nor zero coca for tradition and culture.” Morales said Monday.

Morales said the eradication was an important act in the fight against narcotraffickers. “This contribution and this conscious, voluntary reduction has a great impact on the international community,” Morales said.

The eradication of 10,000 hectares of coca would be a new record for the Morales administration, if not for Bolivian history, and would be double the amount eradicated during his first year in office. Since Morales took office, coca cultivation has increased roughly 12 percent, from 27,500 hectares in 2006 to 30,900 in 2010.

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WikiLeaks: State Dept. traces narco grenades, Mex. Army Major aids cartels

The Mexican military recovered 32 hand grenades and 29 40mm grenades in a raid on a Zeta training camp on May 10, 2010. (Photo: SEDENA)

Retailers in the U.S. are a major source of weapons for Mexican drug trafficking organizations, but many of their armaments are from military sources.

A U.S. State Department cable released Monday by WikiLeaks reveals that Mexican law enforcement recovered grenades, which the U.S government sold to the El Salvadoran military in the early 1990s. One of these grenades, a U.S. military M67 fragmentation grenade, was used in an attack on Televisa, a Monterrey TV station, during their evening news broadcast. Law enforcement officials identified that grenade from the fuse spoon and pull ring left behind at the scene.

Three South Korean K400 grenades were recovered in an abandoned armored car believed to have been used by traffickers as a getaway vehicle. The cable requests that U.S. Embassy officials in Seoul, “discreetly query the Korean government regarding the whereabouts, disposition, and the possibility of any missing stocks,” of South Korean-made grenades. Another Korean-made K75 grenade was thrown into a nightclub in Pharr, Texas on the U.S. side of the border, where the targets were three off-duty police officers. The grenade did not detonate.

Other recovered military hardware described in the cable includes 14 more U.S.-made M67 grenades, an unexploded U.S. M26A2 fragmentation grenade hurled at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey on Oct. 21, 2008, 21 unidentified grenades from a narco warehouse, 25 40mm projectiles, and a U.S. M203 40mm grenade launcher,

Another cable provides detail of the case against Mexican Army Major Arturo Gonzalez, who was arrested on Dec. 21, 2008 for assisting drug trafficking organizations (DTO). The Jan. 20, 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City says Gonzalez, “stands accused of leaking military intelligence, training [Arturo Beltran Leyva Organization] hit men through a private security company and supplying military weapons to various DTOs, including los Zetas.” Gonzalez was paid $100,000 a month for his services, beginning in 2005, according to the cable.

At the time of his arrest, Gonzalez was a part of President Felipe Calderon’s security team. He is accused of passing information about Calderon’s travel schedule and Calderon’s medical records to the cartels.

“The arrest represents the most serious security breach to date but is not surprising given high-level civilian Government of Mexico (GOM) corruption charges over the past six months,” the cable says.


House budget blocks ATF notification of multiple rifle sales in border states

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) sponsored the budget amendment blocking the ATF request.

The budget bill passed in the Republican-led House of Representatives Saturday includes an amendment that blocks a request from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives [ATF] for emergency powers ATF officials say will help stop the flow of guns to Mexican drug cartels.

The ATF has asked that all firearms dealers in the four border states temporarily be required to report the sale of two or more rifles in less than five days to the same buyer.

“By obtaining information about these multiple sales, ATF increases the likelihood of uncovering and disrupting trafficking schemes before the firearms make their way into Mexico,” acting ATF Director Ken Melson said in a statement.

The Obama administration has yet to accept or reject the ATF request, but The Hill reports the bill would make that decision moot. The House budget bill’s fate will be determined in the Senate.

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) sponsored the amendment, which passed 277 to 149.  According to The Hill:

Forty-one Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and two Republicans – Reps. Peter King (N.Y.) and Brian Bilbray (Calif.) – opposed it. King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has often been at odds with GOP leaders over gun reform.

“The ATF has no legal authority to demand these reports,” Boren said in statement. He said that ATF was trying to circumvent Congressional authority because there are not enough votes in the House to approve this new regulation.

“This new regulation would create a flood of new reports that will further waste already scarce law enforcement resources,” Boren added. The rule change would also, “compromise the privacy of their customers by cataloguing [sic] personal information in a database,” he said.

According to Boren’s website, “The amendment was fully supported by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), an organization representing the firearms industry, says the rule change would make it more difficult for firearms retailers to identify suspicious buyers and alert the ATF because traffickers will begin to buy their guns at multiple locations.

“Illegal firearms traffickers engaged in acquiring firearms to smuggle into Mexico will simply and rapidly modify their illegal schemes to circumvent the reporting requirement,” the NSSF says.


Feinstein calls for halt on assault rifle imports

A Romanian AK-47 and its accessories, imported by Century International Arms. (Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild, courtesy of Creative Commons)

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) called upon President Barrack Obama in a letter last week to use his executive authority to ban the importation of “military-style assault firearms.” This would help stop “the gun trafficking that is fueling the horrific gun violence in Mexico,” Feinstein wrote.

Previous presidents used a provision of the 1968 Gun Control Act, which only permits the importation of firearms that are “particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes,” to limit shipments of these types of semiautomatic rifles into the United States. This provision is not being aggressively enforced and guns that should ineligible for import are flowing into the United States, Feinstein says.

Among the firearms that have Feinstein concerned are, “cheap AK-type variants from former Eastern bloc countries.” The WASR-10, a Romanian version of the AK-47, is the gun most frequently recovered in Mexico and successfully traced back to the United States.

In her letter, Feinstein also asks Obama to stop the practice many importers employ of reassembling imported rifles with some domestically manufactured components in order to comply with import restrictions. This practice is in violation of the Gun Control Act, Feinstein says.

The National Rifle Association responded to Feinstein’s letter in a statement saying, “the ‘sporting purposes’ limitation imposed by the Gun Control Act of 1968 is constitutionally suspect, to put it mildly.” The “sporting purposes” criteria undermines citizens’ Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, and “the law is ripe for a remedy,” the NRA statement says.

The NRA says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has repeatedly misinterpreted the “sporting purposes test” for political reasons and faults Feinstein for, “encouraging yet another misinterpretation.”