Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Tuesday, The National Press Club hosted a discussion featuring Chief Executive Officer of Control Risks Richard Fenning, highlighting how the civil unrest of the Arab Spring has affected the way people do business in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Kimberly Mikecmoderated the event.
For full event notes, continue reading below. Or, click here for the PDF
Fenning began his talk by citing the emerging geopolitical struggle, making comparisons reminiscent of a cold war stand off, and stated that as the geopolitical context evolves, it is important to consider the internal dynamics and “domestic changes” occurring in geopolitical powerhouses, namely Russia, China, and Iran.
He continued saying the extreme sanctions Iran faces have increased tensions to an unprecedented level making the entire region very unstable. This instability would exist not even taking into consideration the political upheaval and transition occurring across the region.  Fenning affirmed thatIran understands it does not have the manpower to actually close the Straight of Hormuz, as it has threatened. Furthermore, such a move would “not be tolerated” by the West, and more importantly would not be tolerated by China, Iran’s largest oil importer. “China has very little to gain from Iran,” said Fenning. China reportedly has already met with other Arab regional players to diversify its supply in case of a hike in the oil price. The situation across the board was described as a situation with “rising tensions without a way forward.”
The emerging standoff pits the U.S., Arab states, and the E.U. against Russia, China, and Iran and they have chosen Syria as their battlefield. Opposing opinions of the desired result in Syria have polarized the positions of those involved. Today, a Russian convoy visited Damascus, with a message Fenning believes of an offer to handover power. Rising sectarian tensions have threatened to spill over to neighboring states (Iraq, Lebanon) and have made investors apprehensive.
Fenning transitioned to discussing prospects for business in Libya, Iraq, and Egypt. Fenning had a cautious, but optimistic outlook for Libya’s economic prospects. He called Libya “extraordinarily rich,” noting that Libya has three percent of the world’s oil reserves, a strategic location on the Mediterranean in proximity to Europe, and relatively small population of 5 million people. Fenning said that Libya has the potential to become the “Norway of North Africa”; a country rich in hydrocarbon resources produced using solar energy.
Fenning compared Libya with oil-rich Iraq, a country with enormous potential recently facing a difficult political transition. Iraq is having difficulty dealing with “the inevitable spike in violence,” which appeared following the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Fenning said that Iraq’s geostrategic position unfortunately places it in a “difficult neighborhood,” straddling the fault line of Shia-Sunni tensions. Companies investing in Iraq understand the situation and are “thick-skinned” enough to temper the violence, which Fenning described as “bringing the country to its knees.” Fenning commented on the recent behavior of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, saying that the regime is falling victim to its autocratic past and moving towards strong central governance.
Additionally, Fenning discussed Egypt’s political transition, calling it “vexed.” Fenning could not make sense of Egypt’s “unfortunate” decision to “pick a fight with the U.S.” with its recent crackdown on American and Egyptian NGOs and stated that the move is having disastrous implications on their foreign direct investment. Egypt already faces a disastrous economic situation with the collapse of its tourism industry, rapid inflation, and debt issues.
According to Fenning, the question that remains to be answered is whether the Arab Spring events have opened the respective countries’ economies. The region traditionally has been plagued with centralized family/minority rule that controlled most of the countries’ economies. The age old transaction, said Fenning, has been “we buy our oil, you buy our arms” has “gone on far too long.” The wave of revolutions can “open the possibility” that the MENA countries can “offer more.”
Although stability is “no longer on the menu,” companies that once found it difficult to find space or authority to operate under autocratic constraints may now have the opportunity to find their niche in the transitioning governments.  Fenning foresaw corruption as a problem that could potentially plague emerging governments navigating their way through unchartered territories. Fenning added that these governments would benefit from an “unprecedented” level of anti-corruption sentiment manifested by a majority of governments in a post-financial crisis world.
Fenning briefly discussed the troubles of gulf countries Bahrain and Yemen. He believes that Bahrain wants to reform, but has neighboring Saudi Arabia “breathing down its neck” because of strong Shia ties in Bahrain to those in Saudi’s own eastern province. He foreshadowed that Yemen will continue to struggle and continue to be the focus of U.S. military attention as long as it continues to be a hotbed of Al-Qaeda activity. Fenning ended the discussion saying that he believes that “a retreat from democracy” is “untenable” for any of the Arab Spring nations and believes that democracy is necessary to harness the enormous economic potential of the MENA region. 

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) warned Egypt’s government that the investigation into foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations could result in a “disastrous” rupture in ties with the U.S., saying “support for Egypt, including continued financial assistance, is in jeopardy.” Senator McCain alsosaid he will be among a group of senators traveling to Egypt for a visit that will include discussions about U.S. military aid. Congress conditioned Egypt’s $1.3 billion in military aid on the country achieving certain democratization benchmarks. At a press conference today, Judge Sameh Abu Zaid said “there is a lot of evidence” against indicted NGO workers, who could face five years in prison for failing to pay taxes, entering Egypt on tourist visas, and training political parties. Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abouel Naga, widely seen as driving the NGO probe, insisted the government had the right to “expel unlicensed foreign organizations.” Egyptian Prime MinisterKamal Al Ganzouri said (Ar) that Egypt will  ”apply the law” and ”will not kneel” nor “change [its] stance because of American aid.”
Writing for Foreign Policy, Freedom House Senior Program Officer Sherif Mansour argues that the U.S. government must “take a moral stand” and “stop subsidizing repression in Egypt with U.S. taxpayer money” by halting Egypt’s aid. James Phillips at the Heritage Foundation agrees, saying the U.S. should offer an ultimatum: “free the American hostages or permanently lose U.S. foreign aid and any American help in refinancing Egypt’s burdensome national debt.”  Adam Entous and Julian Barnes write in the Wall Street Journal that the NGO workers “faced a level of harassment from Egypt’s new rulers that outstrips what they experienced” under former President Hosni Mubarak.  Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, claims the NGOs “have become the latest scapegoats as the authorities desperately spin their story of foreign conspiracies.” Brian Dooley, writing for Human Rights First, states that “strong NGOs are an essential part of any democracy,”  and Egypt must recognize that the NGO crisis “undermines its relationship with the U.S. and further destabilizes the transition.”
Paramilitaries and Army put on risk, again, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
Our Community has been attacked, everything is getting worse, and nothing is being done about it
Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó / Lunes 6 de febrero de 2012
For months, week after week, we have been reporting many human rights violations which are a crime against humanity; today there was a serious attack on our Community, once again against our legal representative. All of this is happening and the State does nothing about it, or rather it does a lot with its complicity and shamelessness, letting everything happen. We hope that some day, at some time in the future, humanity will judge all of these crimes against this population that has taken a nonviolent stance against the war.
- Tuesday, January 31, 2012, army troops were moving between the rural districts of Miramar and La Cristalina. Among these troops there were four hooded men, and also among them was an alias "Muele Gallo", a demobilized guerrilla fighter who went along threatening farmers and sending messages to everyone in the area that they will be evicted from the land in order to make way for coal mining operations.
- Thursday, February 2, 2012, at around 11am, army soldiers damaged a corn field in Mulatos, totally destroying the crops and leaving several families without sustenance.
- Saturday February 4, 2012, at around 12:15pm our community suffered an assassination attempt, this time against the legal representative of the Peace Community, Jesús Emilio Tuberquia. He was walking near the marketplace in Apartadó and he was approached by two paramilitaries carrying handguns and riding a motorcycle. Without a word they shot at him, but fortunately he was able to run and escape unharmed. This occurred only 100 meters from a police checkpoint through which the two subjects passed without being detained.
These incidents further demonstrate the close relationship between the State security forces and State institutions and the paramilitaries. We have made numerous reports about the paramilitary bases that exist intact in Nuevo Antioquia, Los Mandarinos, Piedras Blancas, Batata and El Dos, and nothing has been done.
Once again we call for national and international solidarity given the seriousness of these incidents. Those who sow death think that their guns will silence us or make us give up on our struggle for life, but they are totally wrong; our struggle for truth, justice, and memory is an integral part of our daily lives
   Uribe's ongoing terrorizing of independent journalists must be ended (legally) 

Former President Alvaro Uribe continues to denigrate, intimidate and slander journalist Hollman Morris who has previously had his life made miserable by death threats, arbitrary detention and illegal wiretapping by Uribe's spy agency.
"We may not allow that terrorism deteriorates the freedom of press in this country," said Alvaro Uribe on March 18, 2007 after Caracol Radio host Dario Arizmendi fled the country. The senior journalist allegedly had to leave the country because now-defunct intelligence agency DAS had detected that an unidentified illegal armed group was at the point of killing Arizmendi.
I am confused about Uribe's personal interpretation of terrorism, but according to the dictionary, it means "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes," which to me sounds exactly what Uribe was doing and continues to do.
Uribe's defense of press freedom came only weeks after a report indicating that the state was suspected of 35% of the 102 violations of press freedom in 2006, double the violations allegedly committed by the FARC.
By the end of 2007, the number of violations of press freedom had increased by 16% and the state was suspected in 24% of the cases where a suspect could be found. In both years, in most cases, the suspects were simply untraceable.
Returning to the case of Morris, while internationally he is one of the most respected and awarded of Colombian journalists, within Colombia he has been the victim of death threats, two arbitrary detentions and illegal spying by the DAS, all while Uribe was "defending" the press freedom in his country and accusing those of criticizing him of being "useful idiots" or worse, "terrorist assistants."
On February 1, 2009, Morris attempted to report on the release of a group of FARC hostages. Uribe was infuriated by the reporter's supposed bias, and Morris was promptly arbitrarily detained and arrested, accused by then-Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the previously-exiled Arizmendi of collaborating with the FARC.
The accusations forced the United Nations and the Organization of American States to condemn Uribe,who dismissed the criticism on February 11 and instead -- despite an obvious lack of any legal merit -- called on the judiciary to open a criminal case against the journalist.
Morris immediately started receiving several anonymous emails telling him that he "must die for supporting a criminal group" and fled the country. Again, Uribe was asked to retract his statement and refrain from linking journalists to terrorist organizations without any legal evidence, but this time without a response. Colombia's Prosecutor General's Office dropped the investigation against Morris because there was no shred of evidence the journalist had committed any crime.
Morris told me that Santos sent him a personal letter after his resignation as defense minister, praising the journalist's "patriotic" labor.
According to Reporters without Borders, "the 'democratic security' policy inherited from the Uribe years led to serious abuses including systematic spying on journalists by the domestic intelligence agencies."
This "systematic spying" was carried out by the DAS which directly and only reported to the Colombian Presidency until it was dismantled over the wiretaps and increasing reports of its ties to drug traffickers and terrorist organization AUC, the prime suspect of violations of press freedom. Morris was later determined to have been a victim of the illegal DAS spying practices.
His 2010 documentary Impunity, about failures during the peace process with the AUC, received wide critical acclaim abroad but never made it to the mainstream Colombian cinemas and is still virtually unknown among Colombians in their home country. In fact, few Colombians I talk to know who Morris is, and those who do only remember the false accusations made against him that were never publicly retracted.
By the time Uribe left office, despite initial resistance by the U.S. State Department, Morris was invited to become a fellow at Harvard University's Nieman Foundation Program and later became a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Program fellow. This continued until recently when he was appointed director ofBogota's public television station, Canal Capital.

The Uribistas

    Investigated for ordering the illegal wiretapping of his political opponents, politically responsible for the death of an estimated 3,000 Colombians killed by the army and repeatedly linked to slain drug lord Pablo Escobar and hisMedellin cartel.
    Pablo Escobar's cousin and Uribe's former presidential adviser who has been accused of ordering the illegal wiretapping [1] [2] of Uribe opponents and allegedly set up a meeting with representatives of extradited paramilitary chief "Don Berna" inside the presidential palace
    A mysterious attorney who is facing accusations of having had ties to the AUC and is the defense attorney of former DAS director and prime suspect in the wiretap scandal Maria del Pilar Hurtado.
    A former minister, barred from holding public office over a corruption scandal, who got into further trouble recently after leaked conversations with retired army general Rito Alejo del Rio who was convicted for his complicity in paramilitary massacres in Uribe's home Antioquia department.

Uribe's public platforms and NGOs

Because of the jailing of dozens of Uribe-loyal lawmakers linked to paramilitary death squads (as described in Morris' documentary), the jailing of government officials over an embezzlement scandal and the illegal wiretapping and the massive loss of Uribe allies in the 2011 local elections, the former president's political power has shrunk to a few hardline lawmakers in Congress, a few shady allies and no institutional access to security agencies.
Using Uribe's Twitter account, his allies' digital platforms, Jose Obdulio Gaviria's talkshow on Cablenoticias -- a television station repeatedly accused of ties to the Medellin cartel -- and performances in the mainstream media, Uribe and his allies have returned to attacking Morris and now claim he is "the war correspondent of website ANNCOL (information channel of the FARC)," a "member of the FARC's international committee." and, in Uribe's own words, "a specialist in slander."
But the intimidation goes beyond bullying and slander. Last Monday, the transmission of Bogota's Canal Capital was sabotaged and FARC hymns were heard over the regular programming, a clear attempt to try to discredit a public television network now directed by an actually critical journalist.
A second victim of the group's slander is journalist Juan Diego Restrepo, who in a Semana column exposed alleged ties between Uribe's ally Jaime Restrepo and the AUC. The journalist was falsely linked to extremist websites that copy-pasted the column without apparent consent of the author.
So, while Uribe and his allies are enjoying the full extent of Colombia's freedom of expression, and cry they are politically persecuted every time a corrupt ally is arrested or indicted, they are aggressively persecuting, stigmatizing and endangering every person who has the balls to criticize them.
Because of this bullying and Uribe's apparent moral authority over extreme right-wing armed groups, Hollman Morris and Juan Diego Restrepo are again worried about their lives and that of their families.
And to be honest, even I feel uncomfortable publishing this because Uribe's message has always been very clear: "Don't fuck with me or else..."
So in order for Colombian journalism to overcome the terror it has been exposed to, and in cases like Morris continues to be exposed to, it is imperative that important and influential politicians like Uribe are forced, by law, to respect the freedom of press and are forced, by law, to refrain from endangering the well-being and lives of journalists who do nothing but their work.
Libya and Syria: Lizzie Phelan on her reporting 

‘I have been accused by some of being a mouthpiece for the [former] Libyan government but now the truth is coming out. We know that the essence of the former Libyan government's analysis has been proved correct.’


Lizzie Phelan was video interviewed over Skype by New York Times journalist Robert Mackey about her coverage of events in Libya and Syria and her criticisms of the mainstream western and GCC media in relation to events in those countries.

This was her first interview by a mainstream Western media organisation. Prior to the interview Lizzie was sent three questions outlining the general topics that would be covered. In some ways the interview veered away from those topics and so she decided to publish the questions that were outlined prior to the interview and her full answers to them because she felt it is important that full responses are given to the questions in particular, and while she made most of these points in the interview, there are some points that she omitted.


ROBERT MACKEY: Since your impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly different from those of many foreign reporters who have worked there recently, I wanted to ask you about how you found your sources and what you think accounts for the different picture painted of the conflict by other journalists.

LIZZIE PHELAN: First of all I hope that you will give me the opportunity to answer all of your questions in full, so that the context, which is always lacking, can be provided. I also hope that you will ask all the questions that you proposed when I agreed to do this interview. If not I will myself publish the full questions and my full answers.

This question is flawed, because what you really mean is that my impressions of what is happening in Syria seem to be strikingly different from those reporters from the NATO and GCC countries [council for Arab states of the Gulf], which have a vested interest in destabilising Syria. Of course my impressions are actually shared by the majority people of this world, from those countries outside of NATO and the GCC and particularly those which are victims of these powers. But because they do not own a powerful media their voices are drowned out by the impressions of the minority reflected in the mainstream media of the NATO and GCC countries.

So in relation to my sources, I find my sources through a number of different means, but my main means is I talk to ordinary people everywhere I go and in Syria this is not difficult because people are really keen to speak about the crisis in their country, especially to foreigners who they feel strongly have a false impression about their country and current events. This was overwhelmingly, but of course not exclusively, the point of view that I encountered. And this is reflected in my reporting.

In fact, like in Libya, I was so overwhelmed by the volume of people that wanted to talk about their anger at the fabrications in the media of the NATO and GCC countries that my colleague Mostafa Afzalzadeh and I decided to make a documentary so that we could reflect what ordinary Syrian people are really saying. This documentary will actually expose how, if it was not for such media, the crisis in Syria would have been over before it started and the people of Syria would be living in peace now.

The difference with journalists from mainstream media in NATO and GCC countries is that they come with an agenda, and that agenda is to cover what they call a ‘revolution’ happening inside Syria and to give substance to the false claims that the Syrian government is a threat to the Syrian people. So if, for example, they walk down the street and they have 10 people telling them there is no revolution happening in Syria and actually the people want the army to protect them from the terrorists that are flooding the country, and then they have one person who tells them that there is no democracy in Syria, they will discard the 10 as government spies and run with the one person who said something different. I witnessed this myself.

If they were to do the reverse and reflect the majority view on the street, then this would undermine the coverage of their media organisations over the previous 10 months that have painted a picture of a government hated by its people, and in turn it would undermine their own credibility as journalists working for those organisations.

But in time they will not be able to suppress the truth. However, like in Libya the danger is that the truth only comes out when it is too late, when a country has been successfully destroyed by the NATO and GCC countries, with the vital help of their media. Then the western media can afford to be more honest, although never entirely, because the aims, for example of regime change, of their paymasters have been achieved.

I am, on the other hand, not concerned about toeing a line in order to ‘make it’ as a journalist working for one of the world’s most respected media organisations. I became a journalist in order to reflect the truth at whatever cost that may come. The only thing I am loyal to is my conscience.


Elliott Abrams' Dark History in Latin America and the Struggle for Justice
Elliott Abrams, a former high level State Department official during the 1980s, testified last week that the Reagan administration knew that Argentina's military junta was systematically stealing babies from murdered and jailed democracy activists and giving them to right-wing families friendly to the regime. But this didn't deter the State Department at the time from granting Argentina certification indicating that the country's human rights record was improving.
Venezuelan Authorities Arrest Drug Kingpins Implicated in Paramilitary Activities

On Saturday, officials from Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office (ONA) arrested the Colombian drug kingpin Nelson Orlando Buitriago Parada, alias “Caballo,” who is implicated along with his father and brother in “multiple homicides and a network of important narco-paramilitarism,” said the Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice, Tareck El Aissami.
“On Saturday night we arrested, in Anzoátegui state (in western Venezuela), specifically in the town of El Tigre, another Colombian drug trafficker requested by Interpol Bogotá,” El Aissami explained.
His brother, paramilitary kingpin Hector German Buitriago Parada, alias “Martin Llanos,” former commander of the Colombian paramilitary group Rural Self-Defense Forces of Casanare (ACC), was also arrested as part of a joint operation between Colombian and Venezuelan authorities.
Last January 24, during an event to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the ONA, El Aissami announced that Venezuelan police and military authorities have arrested 76 drug traffickers to date, many of whom have been delivered to judicial authorities of the requesting countries, including Colombia, the U.S., France, Italy, and the Netherlands.
“Caballo” becomes the 77th kingpin arrested by Venezuelan authorities in the last six years. In 2011, Venezuelan arrested 21 individuals linked to trafficking, according to an ONA report.
Colombian President Thanks Venezuela
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos thanked the Venezuelan government for having arrested the two Colombian paramilitary leaders, Nelson Orlando and Héctor Germán Buitriago Parada.
“I want to congratulate the police; it is a very important blow. I also want to thank the Venezuelan authorities for this close collaboration that has had the desired results, because we had been looking for this individual [alias Martin Llanos] for a long time, and it is a very important result for the peace of all Colombians,” Santos said.

ALBA countries join chorus condemning "Contras" interference in Syria 
In a statement issued during the eleventh summit of the organization, the nine members of the ALBA bloc (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) rejected on Sunday the "systematic policy of interference and destabilization" that seeks to "impose by force on the Syrian people a regime change."
The ALBA resolution condemns the "acts of armed violence that paramilitary groups supported by foreign powers have unleashed against the Syrian people."
The heads of States members of the organization for Latin American integration have further lent support to the "national reform process initiated by the government of President Bashar al-Assad," who seeks a "political solution to the current crisis respectful of the Syrian people’s sovereignty and the territorial integrity of that Arab country."
The Atlanticist and Gulf States, and their communication relays, accuse the Syrian government of brutally quelling peaceful protests. On the other hand, the Syrian government maintains that these same countries have been sponsoring the armed groups responsible for the sabotage operations occurring in the country, which have killed several thousand citizens, both civilian and military. The Arab League monitors have disqualified their own governments’s accusations and to a large extent validated the Syrian’s Governments version of events.
While the cynicism underpinning the destabilization strategy underway may leave many Europeans incredulous, the same does not apply in the case of Latin America. There, the role of the "Contras" is still fresh people’s minds, and the parallel with the Syrian situation is made immediately.
These armed groups (in Spanish: "Counter-Revolutionary") were sponsored and trained first by the Argentinian dictatorship, acting as a sub-contractor, then directly by the Carter and Reagan administrations to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua during the 1980’s. They launched raids targeting the economy and the population of Nicaragua from rear bases located in Honduras.
This phony civil war, orchestrated by the United States against a sovereign state and a people, is estimated to have caused 57 000 casualties, including 29,000 dead.
On their part, NATO and GCC foreign ministers continue to spew statements against Syria, in their eyes "more isolated than ever."