Lame excuses by sinister governments have a purpose. Mar 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 25 • By JOHN LONDREGAN
Across Latin America there are a slew of cases in which governments are engaging in more or less transparent misconduct, ranging from simple corruption to repression to murder, and offering patently implausible excuses. The litany includes Venezuela, where the most popular antigovernment mayor has languished in prison for the past year while sham judges maunder. Then there is Ecuador, where President Rafael Correa has taken to tearing up newspapers in public and prosecuting them when they are critical of the government. Add to the list Argentina, where a prosecutor was murdered the night before he was going to exposit his case that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was being bought—by Iran! Finally there is the comparatively benign case of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s son taking advantage of his mother’s position to extract a massive low interest loan from a prominent bank, a misdeed about which President Bachelet has remained aloof.
In each case, the government claims, implausibly, that nothing wrong has taken place. Why do governments caught in flagrante across the gamut from opportunistic influence peddling to murder make such lame excuses?
A guide to what’s going on can be discerned in the 2006 “murder by state” of Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko was poisoned by a minion of the Russian government using a radioactive isotope of polonium found in nuclear reactors. The Russian government might as well have advertised its involvement with a full-page ad in a major newspaper. No private individual, indeed no nongovernmental crime syndicate, can lay its hands on the exotic poison used to murder Litvinenko—yet the Russian Federation denied any role, and to this day feigns indignation that anyone would be so unkind as to suspect its involvement.
Given their long experience with such matters during the Cold War years, it beggars belief that the Russian secret police could not have found a more surreptitious means of committing murder. Why act in such an obvious fashion? Precisely because everyone will know from the use of polonium that Litvinenko was murdered by the Russian government to silence him, and so others will be intimidated. And because it is convenient for its diplomats to be able to show up at international events, because of the comity of conducting business with a pretense of being civilized, and to allow the British government an excuse to humiliate itself by not taking stern reprisals, the Russian government goes through the motions of denial.
In the epitome of what we might call implausible deniability, Putin sent his message: The world knows Litvinenko was killed for speaking out against me. The flimsy fig leaf of implausible deniability is there only to provide the rest of the world with an excuse not to act.
Perhaps out of nostalgia for the Cold War, the Latin American left seems once again to be following Moscow’s lead. Consider the case in Venezuela of Leopoldo Lopez. This principled public figure was elected mayor of the municipality of Chacao. Last year he called for peaceful protests against the rule of despot Nicolás Maduro; he has been in military prison ever since. False corruption accusations against Lopez brought by the government of Hugo Chávez spluttered to failure in the courts. Since then the government has gained firmer control over the judiciary. President Maduro’s new strategy is to deny Lopez’s lawyers access to tribunals, and to keep the brave leader in jail without bothering to convict him of anything.
As if to mark the first anniversary of the detention of Lopez, 80 of Maduro’s hooded henchmen descended on the offices of metropolitan Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and brutally abducted him. Ledezma is now in the same infamous prison as Lopez. Maduro has also recently jailed several pharmacy executives who had the imprudence to continue trying to serve the Venezuelan public. The pretense? There were queues of customers at the pharmacies. No one mistakes Maduro’s actions for law enforcement, but we are not supposed to be fooled. The real message is that with the new, low price of petroleum, the government of Venezuela will be replacing its earlier policy of badly administered subsidies that appealed to the greed and envy of a segment of the public, with a system of control based on fear—criticize the government, and you can join Lopez and Ledezma in prison.
2:40 PM, Dec 2, 2014 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Call it a tale of two countries. Two would-be Latin American powerhouses, both with populations surpassing 100 million people – and both with weak presidents who are beset by corruption problems. Both, in other words, are severely underperforming countries, whose chronic inability to live up to their potential continues to undermine growth, stability, and hope for the future.
9:23 AM, Oct 8, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Those looking for good news on the fight against Ebola will not find much encouragement from Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command.
4:04 PM, Oct 2, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A new report from the Jewish Telegraph Agency details that the Argentine congress will be fundraising for the terror group Hamas.
"A fundraising campaign for Palestine by the Argentine National Congress is being seen by one Jewish group as an endorsement of Hamas," reports JTA.
3:45 PM, Jun 18, 2014 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
The world’s eyes may have been trained on the World Cup this weekend, but a different heated contest also took place in South America on Sunday night. In Colombia, incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos, who has made “peace” talks with leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas the center of his campaign, was reelected in a runoff. He defeated his assertive challenger, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a staunch opponent of the negotiations, by a margin of 51 to 45 percent.
2:20 PM, Mar 26, 2014 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Late last month, the Spanish energy giant Repsol agreed to accept $5 billion worth of Argentine bonds as repayment for the government’s confiscation of YPF, Argentina’s largest oil company, which was formerly controlled by Repsol until its April 2012 seizure by President Cristina Kirchner. With the South American country mired in financial turmoil and flirting with yet another sovereign default, the true value of its bonds remains to be seen. But for now, President Kirchner appears to have resolved a longstanding dispute that had polluted Argentina’s image and accelerated capital flight.
The World Court’s new role: real estate broker.10:01 AM, Jan 28, 2014 • By JOHN LONDREGAN
The World Court resolution of Peru’s petition to change its border with Chile didn’t catch much attention beyond the Pacific coast of South America, but it matters, a lot. A century and a half ago la Guerra del Pacifico, in which Chile opposed both Bolivia and Peru, left Chile holding several hundred miles of coastal plane previously claimed by its opponents. Subsequently, in the 1929 Treaty of Lima, Peru conceded Arica to Chile, but got Tacna back. The marine border between the two countries, settled the following year, began at the coast, and extended due west at 18˚21′03′′, and there it stayed until this week.
12:20 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Sometimes a handshake is more than just a handshake. When President Obama warmly embraced the late Hugo Chávez at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, he lent respectability to a brutal autocrat who had crippled Venezuelan democracy, terrorized his political opponents, and supported both the Iranian theocracy and the Colombian FARC. When then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hugged Ecuadorean leader Rafael Correa during a visit to Quito in 2010, she made Correa seem like a normal democratic president, rather than a thuggish Chávez acolyte who had persecuted independent journalists and gravely weakened his country’s public institutions.
7:05 AM, Nov 20, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Not so long ago, the fate of democracy in Central America was a prominent and deeply controversial issue in U.S. politics.
12:20 PM, Sep 11, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The White House today announced Música Latina, a concert featuring performers Natalie Cole, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, Raul Malo, Ricky Martin, Price Royce, Arturo Sandoval, Romeo Santos, Alejandro Sanz and Marco Antonio Solis. The event will take place at the White House next week on September 16.
9:25 AM, Aug 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
In late June, the State Department issued a controversial report on Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere. Its most notable conclusion was that “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” Critics immediately pointed out that, just a month earlier, Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman had released a 500-page report showing that Tehran has “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” scattered across the region. The obvious question was: Why hadn’t Foggy Bottom considered the Nisman dossier before publishing its recommendations?
10:46 AM, Jul 15, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
If you’re concerned that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism has been expanding its strategic footprint in the Western Hemisphere, the Obama administration has a reassuring message for you: “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” That’s the conclusion of a State Department report issued late last month. (The report itself is classified, but Foggy Bottom released an unclassified summary of its policy recommendations, from which the above quote is taken.)
8:26 AM, Jun 6, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Guatemala on Wednesday, reminisced about his first trip to Latin America as a U.S. senator back in 1985: