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Venezuela Holds American Ship for Arms Trafficking

FORBES | SEPTEMBER 7, 2012

The Venezuelan government has seized a U.S. flagged ship and detained its captain for more than a week.

Since August 29 the ship Ocean Atlas has been at port in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where it docked to unload a cargo of equipment. Yet after four hours in port, the ship was boarded and searched by armed security personel, and the captain was detained on suspicion of trafficking in arms or drugs. The captain has been identified as Jeffrey Michael Raider, 45, of Texas.

The rest of the crew of 15 Americans has remained on board under guard. According to a well-placed source arrest warrants have been issued for all of the crewmembers, who are to be taken off the ship for questioning.

Incredibly, my Forbes colleague Jeff Bercovici has been in touch over email with one of the crewmen, Russell Macomber, who has managed to post updates to his Facebook account while under detention.

In a sardonic tone, Macomber even relayed that when Venezuelan authorities raided the Ocean Atlas they stole cartons of cigarettes, ate the crew’s ice cream and let their dogs defecate on the deck. Macomber writes that he would like nothing more than an airdrop of Budweiser. (Read Jeff’s post and Macomber’s account here.)

Officials at the ship’s operator, Intermarine, did not immediately respond to Forbes’ requests for information. Nor did officials at American Maritime Officers, which is believed to have provided the crew for the ship. A spokeswoman at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington said she would look into the incident.

A spokesman for the Seafarers Union confirmed the seizure to Forbes and said, “The SIU is working feverishly to help resolve this situation and to ensure the safety of all mariners aboard the Ocean Atlas. We are staying in touch with the crew and will continue doing so.”

A U.S. Embassy official in Caracas also confirmed the incident to Reuters earlier today.

The seizure of the ship could become an international incident if not resolved soon. A month ago Venezuela detained a U.S. citizen entering from Colombia. President Hugo Chavez accused the man of being a mercenary and part of an “imperial” plot to oust him. So far there has been no public comment from Chavez about the Ocean Atlas detention.

The 12-year-old Ocean Atlas is one of a very small number of U.S.-flagged heavy-lift vessels. Its cranes can lift 400 tons and its giant holds are ideal for hauling hauls boats, generators, and oilfield equipment. It often moves cargoes under contract with the U.S. government or for projects financed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which requires U.S. flagged ships to carry any cargoes it has financed.

A decade ago the ship carried oilfield equipment to Iraq. And according to a backgrounder on Globalsecurity.org, it also made a special trip to Libya:

The Department of State requested that the vessel be quietly diverted to Libya, where under special security cover, the vessel was loaded in its entirety with equipment from Libya’s nuclear and other WMD programs arsenal. They included specialized centrifuges used in the processing of uranium to weapons grade, equipment from a uranium conversion facility, and Libya’s five SCUD-C long-range missiles. The cargo was discharged at an undisclosed U.S. East Coast port. The Libyan cargo move was truly a spur-of-the-moment operation.

The ship became the first U.S. vessel to dock in Libya in 20 years.

So was Ocean Atlas carrying weapons this time, on another top secret U.S. mission? No, says Macomber; nothing but three rifles in case they needed to ward off pirates.

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Mercosur Opens the Doors to Socialism

The MERCOSUR alliance officially welcomed Venezuela as a permanent member.

By ALONSO SOTO | REUTERS | AUGUST 1, 2012

On his first foreign trip since undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba earlier this year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed his country’s welcome by fellow South American leaders into a troubled regional trade bloc on Tuesday.

Ignoring criticism that Venezuela’s entry could eventually cause greater dysfunction among the Mercosur trade bloc’s members, Chavez cast the event as a continuation of his self-styled revolution and a sign of greater ascendance for South America as a whole.

“Our north is the south,” the Venezuelan president said, evoking Simon Bolivar and other revolutionaries who wrested the continent from colonial rule. “Mercosur is, without a doubt, the most powerful engine that exists to preserve our independence.”

Chavez, who recently declared himself cancer-free, stood at a podium throughout his 20-minute speech in Brazil’s capital and spoke in a clear, strong voice. Later, after a meeting at Brazil’s foreign ministry, he jigged and declared that his health “is very good, as you can see.”

The meeting was overshadowed by controversial events that enabled Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur, which also includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The grouping now accounts for about $3.3 trillion in combined gross domestic product, and the leaders said it would be the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were a single nation.

The expansion of Mercosur was criticized by many who see a paradox in the protectionist policies and leftist slant that increasingly have come to dominate a bloc originally created to liberalize trade.

After years of stalled negotiations with Caracas, the group hastily accepted Venezuela despite the objections of Paraguay, a marked absence at Tuesday’s meeting. The other three countries made their invitation to Chavez after suspending Paraguay in June because of the controversial impeachment there by conservative legislators of leftist president Fernando Lugo.

That move troubled critics, who said it was emblematic of the decline of a bloc that was founded in 1995, at a time when a group of free-market reformers was dominant in the region.

“What was once an economic bloc has now been reduced to a political sideshow,” said Mario Marconini, a former Brazilian trade secretary who is now a business consultant in Sao Paulo. The inclusion of Venezuela despite the veto of a full-fledged member, “is a fatal blow to its economic credibility.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Tuesday that Paraguay’s suspension is justified until the country “normalizes” its internal politics. Brazil and other neighboring countries have argued that Paraguay must proceed with its regularly scheduled presidential elections next year before they consider its government to be stable.

FOCUS ON CHAVEZ

Most of the other leaders present glazed over the Paraguay controversy, and focused instead on criticizing the orthodox economic policies of the developed world. They cited Mercosur as a vehicle that could further regional goals of fair trade, equitable growth and social inclusion.

Chavez said construction companies from Mercosur countries should take part in ongoing projects to build millions of subsidized homes in Venezuela. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said the region would continue to produce all-important raw materials for the global economy, but demanded “financial stability” in return from richer countries.

Mercosur, she said, could “make this new pole of power indivisible, indestructible.”

Chavez, who has spent more than 13 years in office, has pursued a personality driven government that has scared away foreign investors and crippled productivity. His acceptance by Mercosur, opponents say, will give him one more thing to boast about as he campaigns for another six-year term ahead of Venezuela’s presidential election in October.

Officially, the leaders hailed Venezuela’s strengths as a major oil producer and an important market for everything from Brazilian machinery to Argentine wheat. In practice, though, Venezuela can’t fully participate in the bloc until it agrees to accept a common tariff adopted by Mercosur, common agreements with third-party countries and other prerequisites that Chavez has failed to embrace since talks for inclusion began in 2006.

In a statement Tuesday, Brazil’s National Industry Confederation, a powerful business group, reminded Venezuela that “the new member has obligations to fulfill.” Citing the common tariff and other existing bloc conventions, the group urged Mercosur to establish a timeline by which Venezuela must comply.

Mercosur, the group added, “should focus on reinforcing the stability and predictability of the economic bloc.”

BLOC IS ALREADY TROUBLED

Many fear Venezuela will only complicate relations in an already dysfunctional grouping. “The bloc is a mess,” said Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian representative to Mercosur who is now a consultant.

“Just imagine if you start adding Venezuela and others,” he said, noting recent discussions to include Bolivia and Ecuador, two countries with close ties to Chavez.

Tuesday’s ceremony was accompanied by a trickle of business as Chavez and Rousseff formalized a previously disclosed plan by Conviasa, the Venezuelan airline, to purchase 100-seat jets made by Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer. Under the terms

of the agreement, Conviasa will pay about $270 million for six Embraer 190 jets, with an option for 14 more.

Meanwhile, Venezuela and Argentina signed an agreement for greater investment in each other’s oil sector. PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil producer, will invest in Argentine petrochemicals, and YPF, its Argentine counterpart, will invest in Venezuelan oil fields, according to the agreement.

US Military wants Drones over Latin America

LATINO VOICES | JUNE 14, 2012

The U.S. Military is looking to relocate some of their predator drones, sending some to South and Central America, according to a new article in Wired Magazine.

As US forces come home from Afghanistan, the US military seems to have a surplus of predator drones — remotely operated unmanned aircraft vehicles often used to carry out attacks and intelligence gathering missions. Drones previously used in Afghanistan will be given to “operational missions by previously undeserved” commands, including those in the Pacific and in Southern America, according to Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Norton Schwartz. While the exact number of drones, which will be sent to Latin America remains unknown, the implications of their presence remain hotly contested.

Some question whether their presence in the region is even necessary or whether they will be effective in thwarting drug traffickers. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations told Wired Magazine that while the drones could help with spy missions in South America, there is no good reason to use their attack capabilities.

“There is no strategic rationale for the United States to be responding to the flow of drugs from Latin America with the tactical use of kinetic force against drug planes or boats you happen to be able to find, ” he said. Furthermore, Zenko noted that the drones might be better used for United Nations peacekeeping operations in regions like Southern Sudan.  “3,800 troops deployed right now for an [area] of 2,100 kilometers, with poor roads that wash out in the rainy season,” Zenko told Wired Magazine. “The deployment of these [spy] capabilities, and associated logistics and training infrastructure, would make a huge difference.”

Just days after the announcement that drone presence will be increased in Latin America, the Pew Research Center released a study suggesting that the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world. On Wednesday, Pew reported that in 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, “more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia,” according to The Associated Press. But a majority of Americans, 62 percent, approve the increased drone strikes.

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United Nations Religion: Fake Environmentalism on the Rise

The value of a human life will be equaled to that of a tree or an insect. The core of the initiative enacted already in Bolivia was drafted by its communist leader Evo Morales.

Canada.com
April 12, 2011

Bolivia will this month table a draft United Nations treaty giving “Mother Earth” the same rights as humans — having just passed a domestic law that does the same for bugs, trees and all other natural things in the South American country.

The bid aims to have the UN recognize the Earth as a living entity that humans have sought to “dominate and exploit” — to the point that the “well-being and existence of many beings” is now threatened.

The wording may yet evolve, but the general structure is meant to mirror Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted in January.

That document speaks of the country’s natural resources as “blessings,” and grants the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution.

It also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activist and other groups, including the state.

“If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance?” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. “But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance.”

The application of the law appears destined to pose new challenges for companies operating in the country, which is rich in natural resources, including natural gas and lithium, but remains one of the poorest in Latin America.

But while Salon said his country just seeks to achieve “harmony” with nature, he signalled that mining and other companies may come under greater scrutiny.

“We’re not saying, for example, you cannot eat meat because you know you are going to go against the rights of a cow,” he said. “But when human activity develops at a certain scale that you (cause to) disappear a species, then you are really altering the vital cycles of nature or of Mother Earth. Of course, you need a mine to extract iron or zinc, but there are limits.”

Bolivia is a country with a large indigenous population, whose traditional belief systems took on greater resonance following the election of Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president.

In a 2008 pamphlet his entourage distributed at the UN as he attended a summit there, 10 “commandments” are set out as Bolivia’s plan to “save the planet” — beginning with the need “to end capitalism.”

Reflecting indigenous traditional beliefs, the proposed global treaty says humans have caused “severe destruction . . . that is offensive to the many faiths, wisdom traditions and indigenous cultures for whom Mother Earth is sacred.”

It is through events like the Copenhaguen Conference that grassroots organizations get bamboozled into falling for fake environmentalism.

It also says that “Mother Earth has the right to exist, to persist and to continue the vital cycles, structures, functions and processes that sustain all human beings.”

In indigenous Andean culture, the Earth deity known as Pachamama is the centre of all life, and humans are considered equal to all other entities.

The UN debate begins two days before the UN’s recognition April 22 of the second International Mother Earth Day — another Morales-led initiative.

Canadian activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN debate: Nature Has Rights.

“It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” Barlow said of the campaign. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution — but the Bolivian law is said to be “stronger.”

Ecuador is among countries that have already been supportive of the Bolivian initiative, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

Costa Ricans Massively against U.S. Military Invasion

By Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
August 16, 2010

In the latest survey released by a Costa Rican polling firm, it is confirmed that most of Costa Rica does not welcome on arrival and permanence of U.S. troops in their country. In recent weeks, the Congress of Costa Rica agreed to allow the arrival of military ships, planes and thousands of American marines to ‘aid’ in the war against narcotics trafficking in the Americas, which is largely driven by the U.S. and Colombia.

In the survey, whose partial results were published in a local newspaper, Costa Ricans expressed unfavorable views of the U.S. occupation. Of all respondents, 32 percent believe that the occupation is detrimental. The newspaper did not explain why, or if polled respondents were questioned as to why their opinion was such. Meanwhile, another 38 percent of respondents expressed concern that the arrival and permanence of Americans violates Costa Rican sovereignty.

Overall, 70 percent of ‘Ticos’ demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the arrival and permanence of foreign troops until December 2010. But it is the 38 percent number that sounds the bell, more than any other number. The reason is that more than one third of Costa Ricans are aware that the U.S. invasion is a violation of their sovereignty, a position that until a few weeks ago was unknown. Thus, the 57 per cent who welcomes the country’s militarization pales in comparison to the 70 percent who disapproves -32 percent who see as harmful the arrival of the Americans and the 38 percent who disapprove due to the violation of sovereignty.

Although the majority of Costa Ricans disapprove the arrival of the Americans, for the reasons mentioned above, 57 percent approval makes it clear that there is considerable support. The reason for the support, although not explained in the publication, can be easily be connected to the insecurity that the ‘Ticos’ experience daily in their neighborhoods and cities. The insecurity has been allowed to grow freely for several decades by many governments that believed the fallacy that Costa Rica was the Switzerland of Central America and that nothing would change that. Years later, the underworld, the drug lords, both locals and from abroad, gained control of the streets in the country. Drug cartels now control large areas in southern, northern and the Caribbean regions. The failure of a bureaucracy that purposely let crime grow out of control, now presents the militarization as a solution with the arrival of 7,000 troops, warships and military aircraft and helicopters, which is seen as an exageration and a threat to the sovereignty of Costa Rica. But this is not new. It is the well known modus operandi and Hegelian practice of problem, reaction, solution.

In fact, the cooperation agreement between Costa Rica and the United States did not improve at all the drug trafficking situation in the country. During the execution of this agreement, more and more drugs continue moving through Costa Rican land and waters to their northern destinations of Mexico and the United States. In South America, the treaty known as Plan Colombia did not resul in anything positive, either. Millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers are ‘invested’ in a war regarded as a failure because it has failed to accomplish its only goal: ending the drug trade in South, Central and North America, where the largest consumer market of cocaine, crack, heroin and other drugs -made in clandestine laboratories with mixtures of pharmaceutical ingredients- is located.

In response to growing drug trafficking, the U.S. pursued a policy of ‘cooperation’ that includes the invasion of sovereign territories to supposedly stop the flow of drugs across the continent, but neither the navy nor the army, -under the guidance of the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM )- scattered across the continent have achieved that goal. People have to wonder why.

The results so far provided by the pollster UNIMER, not only reveal the overwhelming opposition of the people in Costa Rica to the occupation, but also the fatigue of the ‘Ticos’ to the ‘business as usual’ policy of their government. Although the new president arrived with great fanfare, as they all arrive, she was not able to recognize the lack of leadership from the previous governments and project a clear plan on what to do about insecurity in the country. Mrs. Chinchilla preferred to extend the policy of accepting gifts and even sacrifice the sovereignty of Costa Rica to participate in a drug war that has proved a complete failure due to the fact it is driven by corruption and not by a desire to end the drug trafficking scheme.

Another conclusion that emerges from the survey is that 57 percent of ‘Ticos’ who support military intervention ignore the failure of the current war on drugs, which is largely responsible for the bankruptcy of the United States. The policy of occupation emptied the coffers of the government, which in itself did not even have any money. Similarly, history shows that countries who sacrifice freedom and sovereignty in exchange for ‘security’, end up losing both. What this 57 percent should demand is a clear policy against crime, not the acceptance of royalties. Although the democratic system is a hedious one, as it subjects large amounts of citizens to the wishes of others, hopefully in the case of Costa Rica the voice of the majority, -which this time seems to be wiser than before- will be heard louder than ever, to wake up the minority from their sleep in the arms of ignorance.

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Costa Rica Occupied: Congress Surrenders Sovereignty to U.S. Army

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