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It looks like Obama is marching in zombie lockstep with Bush policy in Somalia and Honduras. It also looks like a Great Leap Backward to the days of US suported military coups in Latin America, and despots propped up by US aid in Africa. In both cases the United States provides the military training and the weapons.

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In Honduras, the leader of the coup:
… General Vasquez attended the School of the Americas and … a good part of the Honduran military were trained there and in its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
… the U.S. has a military base in Honduras, gives the Honduran military a few million dollars each year, and … most of the military equipment used against the people was from the U.S.
… a group that openly supported the coup, “Paz and Democracia” (Peace and Democracy), received money from the USAID. (Eva Golinger reported that the USAID pumps more than 50 million dollars into the country each year.)
… the immediate response from Washington was tepid and non-committal. … Dan Restrepo, the presidential advisor for Latin American affairs, said the administration was waiting to see how things would play out. (The response has been stronger since then, but still seems to lack the strength other America nations have put forward in their demands.)
This is most unfortunate for the Obama administration, or for any US government and ongoing relations with Latin America. Like Africa, most people in Latin America want the military back in the barracks, and want democratic governments. A coup is not democracy. Supporting, or even tolerating a coup is a US blow against democracy. Eva Golinger writes:
Yes, I know Fox News is not the best way to judge the political scene in the US, but this video clip is a hint into the way US media is now beginning to portray the coup events in Honduras over the past few days. And note the NPR correspondent’s comments, very similar analysis as to mine over the past few days regarding Washington’s ambiguity regarding this coup so as to buy time and possibly recognize the coup government as “transitory” until the elections in November…….very dangerous.

Note, this will isolate the US/Obama Administration from the rest of Latin America and definitely show Obama is not an agent of change.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the US is still trying to prop up the TFG, the Transitional Federal Government, in Somalia. As one Somali commentator put it, the only true word in that name is the word transitional. The TFG is neither federal, nor a government. The TFG only controls a few blocks in Mogadishu.
Reuters:  Al Shabaab and allied fighters control much of southern and central Somalia and have boxed the government and 4,300 African Union peackeepers into a few blocks of Mogadishu.
The US has stepped up arms transfers and training, ostensibly to the AMISOM troups, but in actual fact it is violating the UN arms embargo, US, EA gunrunners violating UN’s Somalia arms ban.  And the US is stepping up the training of troops in Somalia.

US violations are said to include a missile attack on a target inside Somalia along with “intensive and comprehensive military training” conducted inside Ethiopia for officers from the breakaway Somalia region known as Somaliland.

The previous incarnation of the TFG was an alliance of the oppressive warlords and the hated and oppressive Ethiopian army. The current incarnation of the TFG was engineered by the US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, in an election held in Djibouti. Because the TFG is under siege, and controls so little of Mogadishu, and none of the rest of Somalia, the TFG has invited the hated Ethiopians back in for help. The US, Ambassador Ranneberger, and the UN donor countries characterize the the TFG as a representative government, although they are the only ones it represents. They characterize the opposition as al Qaeda, although their only proof is to keep invoking the names of two men who bombed the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. al Qaeda has never been welcome or successful in Somalia. But as long as the US government and media say al Qaeda whenever any opposition in Somalia is mentioned, US citizens will shiver with fear and support more bombing and killing. And it looks like the US and the donor countries are stepping up their outside interference, rather than letting the Somalis settle their own affairs.

Daniel Volman writes on security policy in Somalia:

The only other indication we have about the president’s true intentions is provided by his decision to authorise the use of force to rescue the kidnapped captain of the Maersk Alabama in May 2009. When he was a candidate, President Obama declared that he believed that ‘there will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force.’ But his action during the kidnapping episode show that he is also willing to use military force in situations that have nothing to do with terrorism. According to recent news articles, a debate is currently underway within the administration about the wisdom of direct US military intervention against Somali pirates or against the al-Shabaab insurgents. Top administration officials and military officers are convinced that, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ‘there is no purely military solution’ to piracy and political conflict in Somalia. And Johnnie Carson, the president’s new assistant secretary of state for Africa, told the BBC that ‘there would be no case of the US re-engaging on the ground with troops’ in Somalia. But some in the military and a number of prominent neo-conservative leaders contend that the United States must strike back at the pirates and the insurgents to prevent future acts of piracy and terrorism against Americans. It would be a mistake to assume that Obama will not take further military action if the situation in Somalia escalates.

If you read this transcript of the June 25 State Department daily press briefing, it sounds like the US government really does not know what it is doing in Somalia. And so far it looks like more US interference just recruits more Somali insurgents. US violence and interference will never resolve Somali problems. The US is interested in possible oil in Somalia. The EU continues to steal fish from Somali waters, and dump toxic and nuclear waste in those same waters. Keeping things unsettled in Somalia works to the advantage of all these outside meddlers.

As b real puts it:

the TFG2 has always been a weak actor in the mix. as i’ve elaborated on in multiple threads, there is more evidence that, rather than create a strong federal govt, the int’l community’s overriding objective has been to pit islamist factions against each other in order to engage them into battle amongst themselves rather than be united and [1] establish an independent govt and [2], so goes the reasoning of the unrestrained paranoid fantasies of the int’l actors, threaten & carry out ‘terrorist’ activities beyond the borders of somalia. letting them wage a war of attrition between themselves requires a minimal amount of overhead & a modicum of commitment.

their lip service to sh. sharif’s govt can be seen as an inside joke, directing, instead, the bulk of support to AMISOM and putting pressure on the UN to get more countries paying for the militarization of east africa. meanwhile, the main beneficiaries are int’l arms dealers, int’l NGOs, and, eventually, the wildcatters up through the big oil companies still comfortably playing the force majeure card.

In the long run it does not pay to be an international bully. It comes back to bite you. And the US cannot afford to garrison the entire world. It cannot afford the wars it is already waging. The proxy armies it is creating with the US Africa Command will go into business for themselves. President Obama has a lot on his plate at home. It may seem easier to let the policies that were already in place continue to run their course. In general Obama seems reluctant to get out front and lead on specific issues. If the US is going to retain its own democracy, and carry any moral weight in the world, President Obama will have to step forward and lead in the democratic direction. There is no hope and change without democratic leadership.

________
Note: the illustration above is from BibliOdyssey.

Voting for President in Ghana

Voting for President in Ghana

Check for results at GhanaWeb.

In light of recent events and in view of my readings on AFRICOM and PMCs I realized that what Bush is doing with the military is the same thing he and the Republicans have done to the banks, deregulate them and put them beyond the reach of US or any other law.

This was also the reason to call the Geneva Conventions quaint, to set up the prison at Guantanamo, and to debase American values by trying to make torture acceptable.  The intention of Cheney, Bush, and their cronies is to put government outside the law and outside the US Constitution, not subject to any oversight or review.  They are quite happy with big government. What they don’t want is responsive government, or any accountability. In regard to PMCs and deregulating the military, Frida Berrigan documents this in her recent article: Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Top to bottom, the Pentagon’s war machine is no longer just driven by, but staffed by, corporations.

Consider the following: In fiscal year 2005 (the last year for which full data is available), the Pentagon spent more contracting for services with private companies than on supplies and equipment — including major weapons systems. This figure has been steadily rising over the past 10 years. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, in the last decade the amount the Pentagon has paid out to private companies for services has increased by 78% in real terms. In fiscal year 2006, those services contracts totaled more than $151 billion.

Ever more frequently, we hear generals and politicians alike bemoan the state of the military. Their conclusion: The wear and tear of the President’s Global War on Terror has pushed the military to the breaking point. But private contractors are playing a different tune. Think of it this way: While the military cannot stay properly supplied, its suppliers are racking up contracts in the multi-billions. For them, it’s a matter of letting the good times roll.

These have been the good times for defense contractors, if not for the military itself. Since September 2001, many companies have made a quantum leap from receiving either no Pentagon contracts or just contracts in the low hundred millions to awards in the billion-dollar range.

And in the course of this:

corruption, incompetence, and callous indifference become ever more ingrained in the military way of life.

Fighting wars for hire has become an essential part of the Pentagon’s MO since 2001, and the Blackwater employee gunning through Baghdad in a Kevlar vest, a kafiyah, and wrap-around shades is the ultimate symbol of the new moment.

But there’s another dimension of the Bush era’s privatization surge at the Pentagon that has gotten far less coverage: Private military firms are also doing the paperwork of war. …

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at 21 different Pentagon offices and found that private contractors outnumbered Department of Defense employees in more than half of them. In the engineering department of the Missile Defense Agency, for example, employees from private contractors made up more than 80% of the work force. The GAO found that contractors were responsible for carrying out a wide range of tasks and were not subject to federal laws and regulations designed to prevent conflicts of interest — including the rules that concern personnel who want to take positions with companies they had awarded contracts to as federal employees.

Once private companies take on military and war-making tasks, where does the buck stop? It is not uncommon, for example, for a company hired to perform a service for the Pentagon to subcontract part of the job to another company, which may then subcontract part of its task to a third. Who, then, is in charge? When something goes wrong, who is culpable?

One result of this: The United States has ended up paying companies that are essentially enslaving Filipinos, Sri Lankans, and other “third country nationals” who drive supplies into Iraq. … these companies “openly flout U.S. labor laws by using cheap imported labor, withholding employee passports and housing workers in decrepit conditions.”

And if the U.S. military machine is now both oversized and staggeringly expensive, it is also more prone to breakdown in a more dangerous and unstable world. So think of George W. Bush’s legacy to us as a Pentagon bloated almost beyond recognition and crippled by its dependence on private military corporations.

As for Bush’s legacy to the Lockheed Martins, the KBRs and the Pentagon’s whole “Top 100″ crew, it’s been money beyond measure

This is why the PMCs and their lobbying association, the IPOA, are targeting AFRICOM.

Read the whole article here:
Military Industrial Complex 2.0
Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle
Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle. You can see more pictures at Ghana Web.

The Economist has an article up about how sales of Coke track economic change in Africa:

AFRICANS buy 36 billion bottles of Coke a year. Because the price is set so low—around 20-30 American cents, less than the price of the average newspaper—and because sales are so minutely analysed by Coca-Cola, the Coke bottle may be one of the continent’s best trackers of stability and prosperity.

“We see political instability first because we go down as far as we can into the market,” says Alexander Cummings, head of Coca-Cola’s Africa division. The ups and downs during Kenya’s post-election violence this year could be traced in sales of Coke in Nairobi’s slums and in western Kenya’s villages. Events in the Middle East, such as the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, can dent sales in Muslim parts of Africa, though anti-American feeling usually wears off quite quickly.

At a macro-level, when Coke fails, the country whose market it is trying to penetrate usually fails too. Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Eritrea hardly works because the country’s totalitarian government makes it impossible to import the needed syrup. The factory in Somalia sputtered on heroically during years of fighting but finally gave out when its sugar was pinched by pirates and its workers were held up by gunmen. Mr Cummings admits that Coca-Cola is “on life support” in Zimbabwe.

Still, if Coca-Cola’s predictions are anything to go by, Africa’s future is mostly bright. The company expects sales in Africa to grow by an annual 10-13% over the next few years, handily outstripping economic growth.

I have a new post up on at the African Loft: The Vultures are Gathering – Mercenary Corporations look to AFRICOM for new Contracts. The IPOA, the orwellianly named International Peace Operations Association is looking to AFRICOM and Africa for their next contracts. Take a look.

corn in Ghana

Corn in Ghana

The Guardian obtained an unpublished study by the World Bank. The reason it has not been published is probably because it would embarrass President Bush and create tensions between the World Bank and the White House. So it has been completed and sitting unpublished since April.

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% …The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

… The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways.

  1. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel.
  2. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production.
  3. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.


“It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices,” said Dr David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, last night. “All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change.”

scene from torture training video in Mexico

Still from a video in which a US Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico.

AFRICOM plans to make Ghana its anchor in the west African version of the DoD “War on Drugs”. Drugs are the DoD (Department of Defense) tool of choice for coopting a country. Nevermind that the US “War on Drugs” has gone on for decades with no apparent success, and has often been allied with the same people who are trafficking and profiting from drugs, as in Columbia, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

The Drug War Expands to Western Africa describes the problems faced by Guinea-Bissau, but also states:


DoD has identified Ghana as its “anchor country” for emerging counternarcotics efforts through AFRICOM.

Whichever is your richest and strongest government department, that is where the most opportunities for corruption lie, and where you will find people taking advantage of those opportunities. By investing heavily in African militaries, the US strengthens the opportunities and the likelihood of corruption in the countries it targets, and increases the likelihood of military coups. When the military controls the government, it is much easier to control the trade in contraband, the profits, and to protect cronies from the law.

The article describes the military complicity in Guinea-Bissau:

The military is thought to be complicit in the drug trade; last year, two military personnel were detained along with a civilian in a vehicle carrying 635 kilos of cocaine. The army secured the soldiers’ release and they have not been charged.

When Ghana had military governments they regulated the price of cocoa. Then the military smuggled cocoa across the border and sold it for higher prices, and officers pocketed the profits. There was no point in most farmers investing much in cocoa, they could not profit on their own. Strengthening the military in the face of the drug trade just provides these same opportunities to make even more money through the same practices that harm the country and enrich corrupt elites. There are passionately patriotic Ghanaians who would oppose this, within the military and without. But there are always plenty of people who are corruptible. It is very difficult to fight corruption when corruption becomes the norm.

It is the current elites in Ghana, and the NPP party in power who have been most often associated with cocaine and drug scandals in the press, such as MP Eric Amoateng, and even rumors regarding the Asantehene.

It gets a lot uglier than this. Keep in mind that the Pentagon via AFRICOM plans to use PMCs, the Private Military Corporations, that are currently gathering to feed at the AFRICOM trough, now that Iraq is passing laws that strip the PMCs of immunity for their actions, and the Iraq war may be winding down.

PMCs have been training the military and police in a number of countries. They are training in Mexico where videos of torture training for the Mexican police by an American PMC have just emerged.

Supposedly the people being tortured are trainees who “volunteered”, and they are learning how to psychologically withstand torture. But according to the account, the torture techniques they are learning are not typical of those used by the local gangs and criminals. From the article:

Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the AP that the English-speaking man in the videos is a contractor from a private US security firm. Tornero refused to elaborate on the man’s identity, details about the US company, and who contracted the company.

The government’s response has been to defend the program, attack the media for reporting on the videos, and deny the illegality of torture.


Mexico’s national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief’s assertions: “Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who ‘intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,’ faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison.”

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police
torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries.

Representatives of the US training other countries’ police and military how to torture is not unprecedented, but it is still deeply shocking. Contraband and coups are the legacy of the US “War on Drugs” in Latin America. We do not need to spread that. Is this what AFRICOM and the US are bringing to West Africa?

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