Friday, March 30, 2012

Guyana: Remembering Dr. Cheddi Jagan

March 6 marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the former President of Guyana and the hemisphere’s first democratically elected Marxist leader. While that distinction is often mistakenly associated with the election of Chilean President Salvador Allende, Guyana was not only the site of this historic election, but Jagan (not Jacobo Arbenz) was also the first leader in the Americas to fall victim to Cold War military intervention—as Iran’s Mosaddegh was overthrown several months earlier on August 19, 1953.

In the wake of widespread labour unrest throughout the Caribbean between 1935-38, the West India Royal Commission was established in order to investigate the socio-economic conditions of the British colonial territories in the Caribbean, and propose reforms to minimize the potential of future unrest. In a response to the Commission’s findings, during 1950-51, the British government agreed to the implementation of political reforms that would allow for universal suffrage and the formation of political parties, essentially allowing for self government in then British Guiana, but not formal independence. The arrangement was similar in most West Indian colonial territories, with power remaining in the hands of the British appointed governor.

That year, Jagan and his associates formed the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), and he was elected as the first Chief Minister in April, 1953. The PPP had been elected upon a pro-independence platform, stressing economic development and the creation of a socialist society. The new government, led by Jagan immediately set out to implement the numerous socio-economic reforms laid out in its popular election manifesto, ranging from the improvement of social services, to the implementation of workers’ rights and land reform. Such reforms were immensely popular amongst the Guyanese people, but stirred unease within more conservative circles, including the British colonial office.

Despite the fact that the British intelligence agency, MI5 concluded that the Jagan and the PPP were "not receiving any financial support from any communist organisation outside the country," the British government remained determined to squash the political movement, seeing it as a foothold for the Soviet Union in the region.

Despite his popularity, Jagan’s first political victory would be short lived, as 133 days later on October 5, the British government grew tired of Jagan’s “disruptive antics,” and were directed by Winston Churchill to go ahead with Operation Windsor. The operation called for the dispatching the HMS Superb and the landing a military force in Guyana, where they suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected Government.

The aftermath of the coup would see the fracturing of the party along ethnic lines, with the PPP and the Indo-Guyanese aligning with Jagan, and the Afro-Guyanese population siding with former PPP Chairman, Forbes Burnham and his People’s National Congress in 1955. This split along racial lines has politically divided Guyana to this very day – and remains a prominent, polarizing feature of national politics.

Despite his arrest and placement under house arrest, Jagan remained the country’s most popular politician, and was re-elected in 1961. The democratic return of Jagan to power drew concern this time from the Kennedy administration, who implemented a covert program to reduce the popularity of Jagan and the PPP. At the time, Burnham was the president of the Guyana Labour Union, which would be used as one of the primary tools in the destabilization of Jagan’s government. The CIA began a destabilization campaign which instigated labor unrest, funding the striking workers, engaging in the dissemination of widespread disinformation and triggered race riots that left 170 people dead and thousands more injured. The head of the CIA operations in Guyana was Agent Frank Wisner, a veteran of the previously mentioned covert actions that overthrew Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz and Mohammed Mossedegh of Iran.

In the midst of the struggle, Jagan defended his course of action, remarking that “I believe that my first charge is to raise my people from the mire of poverty in which, for too long, they have suffered. I have never made any secret of my views. I have been thrown out of office. I have been subjected to violence, indignity and jail. I am willing to face these things again, and gladly, in the fight to free my people and aid them. Here I stand. Here I will stand until I die.”

Despite the numerous covert actions against Jagan, he remained in power until 1964, when he was finally defeated by Burnham (in a rigged election), despite winning the plurality of the vote. Once in power, Burnham went on to lead a 20 year dictatorship in which he intensified the racial divide amongst the Indo and Afro-Guyanese populations.

In 1966, while in opposition, Jagan reflected on the period of destabilization and it’s unfortunate outcomes, stating “The violence and disturbances of 1962 and 1963 did not succeed in their immediate objective of bringing about the fall of the government or the suspension of the constitution. But they did result, as we shall see, in the delay of independence and the imposition of a constitutional and electoral formula designed to bring the opposition to power. It was a major tragedy for Guyana that a section of the working class was deluded into forging its own chains by directing its attack not, as previously, against the capitalists and landlords but against a national, pro-working class, socialist-oriented government.”

It was later declassified that in the run up to the 1964 elections, Burnham and the PNC had received significant funding from the U.S. State Department, upwards of $2 million. After spending a total of 28 years in the government opposition, Jagan and the PPP won the 1992 election, finally becoming President of a politically independent Guyana. Once in power, Jagan remained committed to policies of environmental sustainability and human development—but like all previous times it would be cut short, this time with his tragic passing due to a heart attack in March, 1997.

The misconceptions about Allende’s role as the first elected Marxist leader reveals the unfortunate fact that Jagan is often overlooked in many of the discussions of progressive leadership and their contribution to independence, anti-imperialism and genuine development in the hemisphere. Often, the progressive contribution of Dr. Jagan—with his intense commitment to both democracy and socialism, and the immense obstacles faced by him are often lost and overshadowed in contemporary times by the previously mentioned figures like Allende or Arbenz, or his counterparts Michael Manley, Maurice Bishop, and Jean Bertrand Aristide in the Caribbean. The reality is that with the exception of Haiti—Guyana has been the site of some of the most significant military intervention in the Caribbean, with consequences which have impacted the nation’s efforts to break the cycle of dependency and foster cooperation amongst its population. Dr. Jagan should be remembered for both his efforts to make Guyana a truly independent and more equal society, and as a symbol of what could have been and how far the (neo) colonial powers—the United States and the United Kingdom will go to undermine the possibility of democracy in the Caribbean.

Friday, March 23, 2012

If at First You Don’t Succeed… The United States Renews its Pursuit of Aristide

Originally posted on
March 22, 2012

The year 2012 began with a degree of promise and optimism that Jean Claude Duvalier would finally stand trial for his role in committing crimes against humanity and for embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from Haiti’s treasury. Such a trial would be the most significant human rights proceeding in Haitian history. It has the potential to end a long era of impunity, improve the performance of Haiti’s judiciary, and deliver justice to the hundreds of thousands who were victims of the former "President-for-life." Nearly four months later, the pursuit of Duvalier for human rights abuses has stalled and the media spotlight has shifted, notwithstanding piles of documentary evidence, direct testimony of victims, and forensic financial audits submitted to the Haitian courts.

Haiti has an obligation under numerous international treaties it has signed to try Duvalier for crimes against humanity. But in late January, Judge Carves Jean announced that Duvalier will only face trial for charges of embezzlement. According to the January 25 Miami Herald, "lawyers estimated that Haiti's former dictator embezzled at least a half-billion dollars through an elaborate scheme of false companies, phony charities, and transfers in the name of friends and family."

While this miscarriage of justice is currently occurring in Haiti, the United States is busy resuscitating its worn and failed case against another former Haitian President. On March 13, the Miami Herald ran an article titled "Miami Bribery Probe Zeroes in on Haiti’s Ex-Leader Aristide." The emergence of this latest case is significant, as it is a key step in the revival of a long and failed history of attempting to frame Jean Bertrand Aristide. It also raises the question why the United States is all but silent on Duvalier, yet wastes hardly any time in bringing charges against Aristide?

The truth is that the United States has never stopped trying to go after Aristide, and on the other hand has never applied any pressure for Duvalier to face trial for his numerous abuses. This most recent attempt comes after a long series of failed attempts of bringing charges against Aristide in relation to human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and embezzlement.

For example, in November 2005, 21 months after the second coup d'état against Aristide, the illegal regime of Gérard Latortue presented a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit in a U.S. court, accusing Aristide of corruption and the embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars. The case was later withdrawn, but it succeeded in damaging the reputation of Aristide.

Aristide’s former security chief, Oriel Jean, has also revealed to the weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté that during his brief detainment in Canada in mid 2004 for travelling to the country without a visa, “the U.S. government offered him many incentives to testify against Aristide, to say that Aristide was somehow involved in drug trafficking.”

Aristide’s present accuser is Patrick Joseph, the former director of TELECO, the former state telephone company. The Miami Herald reported that “According to the indictment, Official B and senior officials of Haiti Teleco, the telecommunications company owned by Haiti’s Central Bank, allegedly received payments totaling about $2.3 million from Miami businesses Cinergy Telecommunications and Uniplex Telecom Technologies.” 843 "Photo Credit - Wall Street Journal"

In June 2003, Aristide fired Joseph from his position due to issues of corruption within TELECO. Last month Joseph negotiated a guilty plea with U.S. federal prosecutors for accepting $2.3 million in bribes from U.S. companies which fell under the Haitian anti-bribery laws and the statute of U.S. wire fraud. He currently faces a maximum sentence of 20 years. It has come as no surprise that he agreed to co-operate with the Department of Justice in order to receive a lesser sentence. Joseph’s plea deal can be accessed here.

According to Miami laywer David Weintsein, the current chief of narcotics in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “There is no doubt that Official B is Aristide based on the language in the indictment.”

Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, told the Herald, “In the end, there is not a shred of evidence in the indictment that Aristide did anything corrupt except uncorroborated testimony of a person who is an admitted corrupter and criminal.”

In addition to bringing another well U.S.-funded case against Aristide, such a movement shifts attention away from the important embezzlement case against Duvalier and accompanying calls for the charges of crimes against humanity to be reintroduced. It also reveals the dangerous double standard that the United States has in its relentless pursuit of Aristide, on the one hand, and its blatant disinterest in Duvalier, on the other.

In response to the new case against Aristide, Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote on March 13 that “The U.S. government has spent millions and possibly tens of millions of dollars trying to railroad Haiti's former president. On behalf of U.S. taxpayers, we could use a Congressional inquiry into this abuse of our tax dollars. It also erodes what we have left of an independent judiciary to have federal courts in Florida used as an instrument of foreign policy skullduggery.”

As previously stated, the trial of Duva­lier has the potential to be the most sig­nif­i­cant human rights case in Hait­ian his­tory—but the total absence of U.S. and other international assistance to the Haitian judiciary in prosecuting a case is damning. The U.S. obsession to contain Aristide in exile, or incarcerate him in the United States on corruption charges speaks volumes about their unease with him physically being in Haiti. Even Aristide’s lack of involvement in politics constitutes a threat to the interests of the United States. He has since reopened his University of the Aristide Foundation—which was shut down after the 2004 coup—and will continue to train medical doctors at no cost. In comparison, Jean Claude Duvalier has left a long trail of Swiss bank accounts, Ferraris, Miami condos, and jewellery abroad, and is now routinely breaking his house arrest and dining in expensive restaurants in Pétionville, an upscale suburb of Port-au-Prince. It is because of such flagrant abuse of human rights and interference in internal Haitian affairs that Aristide remains a powerful symbol for the broader fight for social justice in Haiti, and thus remains a thorn in the side of the United States and others who wish to profit off of Haiti's status quo.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Canadian Banks and Economic Control in the Caribbean

Originally posted on

March 15th, 2012

In December 2011, it was reported that the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia were both exploring a return to Cuba under the financial reforms of Raul Castro, more than 50 years after they had been expelled by his brother Fidel. Canadian banks operating in the Caribbean are nothing new, however, the Royal Bank of Canada proudly claims that it had branches in the Caribbean before it had opened any in Western Canada.

Canada’s role in the Caribbean is much longer and deeper than most think. The Royal Bank of Canada’s involvement with the Caribbean began in 1864, when a group from Halifax engaged in trade, bringing flour, cod and timber south, returning north with a cargo of sugar, rum and spices. The Bank of Nova Scotia would quickly follow and go on to build a branch in Jamaica in 1889. Such events were a precursor to larger scale Canadian visions of Caribbean control. At the end of World War I, Ottawa had asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the British Empire. While the request did not materialize, it simply meant that Canada had to find another way to exercise its interests in the Caribbean.

When Canadian banks entered the Caribbean under colonial rule, the local populations had virtually no say over who controlled their banks. In The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Yves Engler remarks thus, “Canadian banks have been traditionally conservative in releasing capital to local manufacturers, retailers and farmers. This has stunted the region’s development and heightened these countries dependency on foreign imports. Further stunting Caribbean development, the banks’ profits are repatriated home.” This should not comes as a surprise, as Engler remarks, “West Indian banking laws, when they were written, were written with our help and advice for our [Canadian] benefit.”

Such foreign control increases the overall dependency of the Caribbean, as the Caribbean people are marginalized in the development of their own countries, while foreign multinationals can easily access credit to develop enclave industries. As a result, it should not be surprising that due to such corporate control the region is now dangerously dependent on food imports, with enclave industries like tourism and extractive industries such as mining being dominated by foreign interests which repatriate their profits. This contradictory model of “development” which currently exists in the Caribbean is due to the ongoing legacy of colonial historical structures, which created massive agricultural export economies across the region, while at the same time remaining net importers of foodstuffs.

Fast-forward to 2008, when Trinidad's RBTT overwhelmingly accepted a takeover by the Royal Bank of Canada, signaling an increasing interest in the region. This move led to the Canadian control over the English-speaking Caribbean's three largest banks, with $42 billion in assets, four times those of its roughly 40 remaining locally owned banks. Canadian control over Caribbean banks is also very deceptive in their branding, as the First Caribbean International Bank is totally controlled by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

The presence of such banks does not just result in significant foreign economic control over the Caribbean, it also provides attractive havens where Canadian banks can avoid paying taxes at home. Four out of the ten top destinations for Canadian direct investment abroad are Caribbean tax havens. A June 2008 study by the University of Quebec at Montreal concluded that the five major Canadian banks avoided $16 billion in federal and provincial taxes through offshore affiliates in Barbados, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas between 1991 and 2003, and $2.4 billion in 2007 alone.

During protests aimed at Canadian banks in Trinidad during the 1970's, a Canadian foreign affairs expert told Maclean's magazine that "we’re not colonialists by intent, but by circumstances." Regardless of intent, the results are still the same. Foreign financial domination in combination with continued attacks on the region’s export agriculture and highly vulnerable tourism industries have placed massive obstacles in front of the Caribbean governments’ efforts to develop their economies towards greater self sufficiency. With the 50 year anniversary of Jamaican and Trinidadian independence occurring later this year, it is a bittersweet time to reflect on how much real, substantive freedom and independence has been gained. The shifts towards alternative regional alliances like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States hold some promise, but only if they can work to redirect the economies away from the contradictory models of development inherited from colonialism towards increasing the general welfare of the people, instead of foreign corporations.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hypocritical Justice: Police Killings Rattle Jamaica

The killing of 21 people— including a 13-year-old girl and an elderly man—by the Jamaican police in the past six days has highlighted the systemic problem the country is having with controlling the inappropriate use of deadly force. To say that the country is outraged by the actions of the police would be an understatement. To say that the people were shocked would be a lie, as events like this have become all too common in Jamaica. So far in 2012, 45 people have been killed by the Jamaican police. What makes matters worse is that when one looks at the record of the police being held accountable for their actions, it is safe to say that those responsible for the extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses will nearly always go unpunished.

For example, out of more than 2,220 fatal shootings by police recorded between 2000 and 2010, only two officers have been convicted. During the state of emergency in May 2010, 76 people were killed over two days by Jamaican security forces in their search for Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Nearly two years later, not one officer has been held responsible for those killings. Amnesty International’s Chiara Liguori remarked that “The problem is that police continue to enter marginalized inner-city communities as if everyone there was a criminal suspect."

Because Jamaica’s record of holding the police accountable for the killings of civilians is undeniably bad, and as such inspires little confidence that justice will be served, groups like Families Against State Terrorism and Jamaicans for Justice have emerged to try to raise awareness of the routine human rights abuses committed by the Jamaican police. Another major part of the work that the groups engage in is to overcome the misconceptions that widespread police violence is somehow serving the purpose of maintaining “law and order.”

Speaking on the recent civilian killings, Jamaicans For Justice spokesperson Susan Goffe pointed out the dangerous hypocrisy of the situation, remarking, “That 21 persons should have lost their lives is bad enough. That these deaths occurred at the hands of those sworn to protect, serve and reassure is appalling and completely unacceptable.”

Due to their stance of holding the police and state accountable for their actions, such groups have often faced public criticism along the lines that they care more for the rights of the perpetrators rather than the victims of crime. In September 2000, the former Prime Minister, P J Patterson, appeared to echo this point of view, stating that "Human rights cannot be confined to the murderers and rapists and robbers . . . The innocent on which they trade also have human rights."

Jamaicans for Justice counters such lines of thinking by calling on the public to think of the wider consequences that unlawful police action can have on their own lives and communities. The website for the group states that “Many Jamaicans believe that the police will only infringe on the rights of ‘certain’ people (usually residents of socio-economically depressed communities) and the abuse of the rights by the police is justified in the interest of fighting crime. This is a dangerous notion as an abrogation of one’s rights today is a threat to everyone’s rights tomorrow. People who are of the mindset that only ‘certain’ people’s rights are abrogated and the infringements of rights are necessary to fight crime are not aware that their rights too can be trampled and when it does happen to them, they adopt a different perspective.”

The hostile environment in Jamaica, which had a murder rate of 42 per 100,000 in 2011, is further compounded by the fact that the police do not face any accountability for their actions. If the police wish to truly fight crime effectively, they will have to earn the trust of the populations they are expected to serve— which will be a long and difficult task.

The obstacles facing Jamaica in regards to crime are very steep, and the only way forward now is for the police and the Jamaican government to lead by example, and hold those guilty of engaging in criminal acts against the civilian population accountable. To do otherwise sends a dangerous signal to all that certain segments of society are above the law, and that many others unfortunately exist outside of it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Will He Sing or Stay Silent: Sentencing of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke Delayed

In August 2011, Christopher “Dudus” Coke pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to charges of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering, avoiding a life sentence. At the time of Coke’s plea, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara remarked that “For nearly two decades, Christopher Coke led a ruthless criminal enterprise that used fear, force and intimidation to support its drug and arms trafficking 'businesses.' He moved drugs and guns between Jamaica and the United States with impunity."

Coke's sentence was expected to be issued by the judge on February 28, but was postponed to March 16, in order for Coke’s defence to prepare a point by point rebuttal of the federal prosecutor’s request for a maximum sentence of 23 years in prison.

"A substantial sentence - the statutory maximum - is necessary to reduce the risk that Coke resumes his leadership position in the organisation and his criminal activities upon his release from prison and his return to Jamaica," said the presecution.

Coke gained international notoriety in May 2010, when widespread, intense fighting occurred between the Jamaican Defence Forces (JDF) and Coke's armed supporters in his West Kingston garrison community of Tivoli Gardens. The violence left more than 70 people dead. Coke was well defended in Tivoli by barricades, lookouts, and armed patrols. His community support stems from his notoriety as Jamaica’s most powerful don, leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang, and his provision of protection and free public goods, like electricity and tuition, to many Tivoli community residents. Coke remained on the run until June 22, 2010, when he was intercepted at a security checkpoint and later extradited to face a litany of charges in the United States.

At the time of the raids, Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding was the sitting Member of Parliament for West Kingston, but by all accounts Coke was really the one in charge. It became well known in Jamaica that Golding owed his seat and a significant part of his rise within the Jamaican Labour Party to the direct intervention of both Coke, and former JLP leader Edward Seaga. Tivoli Gardens, located in West Kingston, has often been referred to as a classic examlpe of how "garrison politics" has influenced politics in Kingston. Garrison politics refers to the fierce loyalty demonstrated by the populations of large scale public housing estates - essentially states within a state - in Kingston to the party who created them. Golding would not easily forget such favors, and his later attempts to repay Coke for his political support would in fact lead to his exit from Jamaican politics.

The violent events in May 2010 and the subsequent political fallout related to the “Dudus saga” led to the eventual resignation of Golding, as it became apparent that he was the central figure protecting Coke from an August 2009 extradition request by the United States. Golding quickly rejected the extradition request because he claimed that the charges were based upon illegally obtained wiretaps. In March 2010, Golding’s reputation took what many consider to be its fatal blow, when it was revealed that his government had hired the U.S. law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to lobby the U.S. government to drop Coke’s extradition case.

Golding’s resignation on September 25, 2011, deeply shook up Jamaican politics and led to the eventual steamrolling of the JLP in the December 29th elections by the People’s National Party, led by Portia Simpson Miller. The one term run of the JLP was the first time in Jamaican politics that the electorate did not give a sitting government a consecutive term. The Golding-Coke scandal appeared to be too much for the Jamaican people to forgive, returning just 22 JLP members to the 63-seat parliament.

For many, the trial of Christopher “Dudus” Coke was seen as an opportunity for him to come clean about the deep links between organized crime and the political establishment.

“We hope that Mr Coke will 'sing like a bird', naming names and pointing fingers," wrote the Jamaica Observer in a September 2011 editorial. "In a small society such as ours, it is not possible for Mr Coke to have been able to run such a 'successful' organisation without the involvement of well-placed individuals in both the public and private sectors. Not to mention the beneficiaries of his nefarious activities.”

It remains to be seen if the upcoming rebuttal by Coke will lead to any further political fallout, or if his silence will leave Jamaica’s “garrison politics” intact. While the trial revealed the deep ties between crime and politics in West Kingston, it further highlighted the brutality and relative impunity that the JDF employs in the garrisons, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent civilians. The Coke's silence during the trial has also been mirrored by the Jamaican government, which has yet to publically release any information about the civilians who were killed in the raids, flatly stating instead that the dead were criminals and armed supporters of Coke. Such stories highlight the complex realities of Jamaica’s garrison politics, as many of the criminals in this affair were also the ones entrusted with enforcing and upholding the law.