Pastors for Peace faces attacks on solidarity work

Source:  Granma
August 30 2016

by: Lissy Rodríguez Guerrero | informacion@granma.cu &  Jesús Jank Curbelo | informacion@granma.cu

pastors for peace face attacks.jpgPhoto: JUAN ANTONIO BORREGO

Despite the new attitudes to Cuba among many sectors in the U.S., this renewed attention is not always beneficial to the island or its friends.

For a quarter century, the IFCO / Pastors for Peace organization has organized multiple aid caravans loaded with donations of all kinds, including medicines, vehicles and school supplies, to Cuba and other nations.

Pastors for Peace was recognized as a non-profit organization by the U.S. government

gail walker pastors for peace.jpgAccording to Gail Walker, executive director of the organization, these efforts are an expression of love and solidarity with the Cuban people, in opposition to the blockade.

Pastors for Peace was recognized as a non-profit organization by the U.S. government, due to its fundraising work or action in support of a specific cause or set of causes. As such, the organization has enjoyed tax-exempt status.

IRS attempting to strip it of its non-profit status

As Walker stressed in an interview with Rosa Miriam Elizalde, published by Cubadebate, the organization’s work with Cuba provides no motive for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to strip it of its non-profit status, as it is attempting to do.

The executive director explained that given President Obama’s opposition to the blockade, they had hoped that the efforts of the IFCO / Pastors for Peace would be respected. But the reality is that despite the new approach to Cuba among many sectors in the U.S., this renewed attention is not always beneficial to the island or its friends.

Walker noted that we must recognize that the United States government continues its campaign to undermine Cuba and its revolutionary principles.

Walker explained that should the IRS strip the organization of its status, it will be required to pay taxes on income received from donors, thus negatively impacting on its budget and ability to remain functioning.

Donors would likely reduce or discontinue their donations

She added that certain donors would likely reduce or discontinue their donations, as these would no longer be considered tax-exempt humanitarian contributions.

Similarly, projects that we support financially will have to find other sponsors whose non-profit status remains intact, she said.

Online petition to President Barack Obama

Therefore, we have asked our support network to assist us in a number of ways. These include an online petition to President Barack Obama, the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and a dozen members of Congress who have held progressive positions and have declared themselves in favor of improving relations with the island, Walker explained.

She noted the organization’s hope that a large number of signatories will serve to bring this senseless attack to the attention of many lawmakers who have advocated for the end of the blockade.

However, she stated that regardless of the penalties imposed against Pastors for Peace by the U.S. government, the organization will continue steadfast in its mission: to assist the dispossessed and fight against human and civil rights injustices.

Cuba’s response

Of course, the island did not hesitate in expressing its support for Pastors for Peace.

icap logo 1The Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) made public its condemnation of the situation, and called on all friends across the world to show their solidarity and support for the organization.

“We stand in solidarity with our IFCO / Pastors for Peace brothers and sisters, who (…) have promoted social-community projects in defense of the poor classes inside and outside the United States and have defied the blockade imposed by that government on our country for more than 50 years,” read the statement, published on the ICAP website.

An attack on solidarity

ICAP added that organizations like this “are necessary in this world marked by war and social injustice,” and that “an attack on IFCO is an attack on solidarity.”

One of the sectors most benefited by IFCO / Pastors for Peace has been education, concentrated in recent years in the donation of school supplies, as Cira Piñeiro Alonso, first deputy Education minister told Granma.

She added that the technical and vocational education sector has received learning support materials, instruments and tools for developing skills in the island’s trade schools; while special education has benefited from the donation of school buses.

Helping the Cuban state overcome limitations resulting from the blockade

Notebooks, colored paper, pencils, crayons and toys for pre-school day care centers have also featured among the contributions.

According Pineiro, these resources have enabled the Cuban state to overcome the limitations resulting from the blockade, which prevent the purchase of essential teaching materials. As such, the Cuban education sector reiterates its gratitude and solidarity with Pastors for Peace.

Brazil Erupts in Furious Protests as Coup Approaches Final Act

Source:  TeleSUR
August 29 2016

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IN PICTURES: Explosive protests are showing that social movements don’t plan to back down from confronting the forces behind the neoliberal coup.

Brazil’s largest metropolis, Sao Paolo, became the scene of pitched battles between security forces and the country’s social movements while similar scenes played out in cities across Brazil for a second day Tuesday, in response to an imminent Senate vote on whether to remove suspended President Dilma Rousseff from office.

Paulista Avenue lit up by unrest

Sao Paolo’s central Paulista Avenue was lit up by unrest on Monday night, as flash-bang grenades and less-lethal weaponry were deployed in a violent crackdown on protesters, who responded by setting their barricades on fire and hurling rocks at military police.

“This is a sign that, when the coup is accomplished tomorrow or later, there will be a tough process of repression of social movements, including endangering our right to protest,” Brazil Popular Front leader Raimundo Bonfim told Brasil de Fato. “What they are doing is violence.”

Public welfare and educational programs at stake

At stake are the public welfare programs and educational programs created and expanded in the 13 years that the Workers’ Party or PT, has governed the country. Compounding matters is that a vote to remove the twice-elected Rousseff from office hearkens back to Brazil’s dark history of oppressive military rule. In her testimony before the Senate Monday, Rousseff herself said her impeachment would represent the “death of democracy” in Brazil.

teleSUR takes a look at the marches, barricades, and skirmish lines forming throughout Brazil as the people resist the right-wing oligarchy’s plot to destroy democracy in South America’s most populous nation.  See more photos here

Bolivia Has Cut Extreme Poverty in Half Since 2006

Source:  TeleSUR
August 30 2016

More than 2 million Bolivians have come out of extreme poverty in the last decade

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Aymara women stand at a fair held on the side of the Cholita fashion show at Villa Esperanza. | Photo: Reuters

Bolivia’s rapid economic transformation

Bolivia’s economy is on course to grow by 5 percent this year, placing it among the top performers in Latin America. It’s a sign of Bolivia’s rapid economic transformation in South America. Another indicator is falling poverty rates. When Evo Morales took office in 2006 the rate of extreme poverty was 38.2 percent. In 2016, that figure is now 16.8 percent.

RELATED: Vast Majority of Bolivians Back Evo Morales’ Administration

“More than 2 million people have left extreme poverty,” says Deputy Minister of Budget and Fiscal Accounting, Jaime Durán. A decade ago Bolivia was considered Latin America’s poorest country “Our economy was compared with African nations and not with those of the region,” claimed Durán.

World Bank: Bolivia is a world champion in revenue growth for the poor

A recent World Bank report confirmed that Bolivia is a world champion in revenue growth for the poorest 40 percent of its population. “It is one of the most important legacies of this this government,” said Minister Duran in a press briefing.

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Many residents of District 5 in El Alto have left extreme poverty. | Photo: teleSUR

Communities like District 5, in the city of El Alto near La Paz, are slowly beginning to reap the benefits of Bolivia’s commodities boom. “Twenty-five years ago, when I started working here, there were no paved roads, no sports centers and no parks,” said community representative Fanny Nina.

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Council Representative Fanny Nina says there have been huge improvements in the past decade. | Photo: teleSUR

While poverty and crime are still problems, “there have also been many improvements that have benefited my friends and neighbors,” Nina said. The residents of this small, remote town have access to better infrastructure, schools and potable water. “But we still have to fight the council for everything and we always need more.”

RELATED: Evo Morales Hails the Struggle of Bolivia’s Indigenous Groups

Extreme poverty has not been eradicated completely in District 5, but local representatives like Fanny are determined to make people’s lives better.

Every year we see more changes for the better

The community still has its fair share of social problems, but “every year we see more changes for the better,” one resident told teleSUR as we accompanied Fanny Nina on one of her weekly walkabouts. Cholitas are still selling on the streets, but now they sell alone while their children attend school. “This used to be the exception, not the rule,” Fanny told me in between dealing with the demands of her constituents.

evo wins a third term 2.jpgBolivia’s socialist government has ambitious plans to bring even more people out of extreme poverty. Low-income residents like those in District 5 are the main targets. “By 2020, we will reduce extreme poverty to 9.5 percent,” President Evo Morales has said.

In 2005, the richest 10 percent of the population had 128 times the wealth of the poorest 10 percent. In 2015, this gap was reduced to 37 times.

The government expects moderate poverty to drop to 24 percent and the inequality of income between the richest and the poorest to decrease to 25 times over the next five years. “There is a strong emphasis on industrialization and in building a society where not only poverty is eradicated, but where we also see social changes,” Bolivia’s Minister for Development René Orellana, said.

Nicaragua Demands OAS Head Step Down over Abuse of Post

Source:  TeleSUR
June 15 2016

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Denis Moncada Colindres (R), Nicaraguan representative to the OAS, called for the OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro to step down. | Photo: OAS / Reuters

The representative from Nicaragua said Luis Almagro’s behavior was “illegal, disrespectful and arrogant” and made him unfit for office.

The recent actions by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States took center stage Wednesday when the representative from Nicaragua requested Luis Almagro step down for his repeated interference in the domestic affairs of Venezuela.

RELATED: Amid Criticism of Its Head, OAS Meets on Sustainability and Indigenous Rights

“This repeated behavior of the secretary-general of the OAS disqualifies him to continue in his role and Nicaragua expects, in order to wash the stains and shame of the Organization of American States, that the Secretary-General Mr. Almagro put forward his irrevocable resignation to this plenary meeting today in the Dominican Republic,” said Denis Moncada Colindres, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS.

Illegal, disrespectful and arrogant

Moncada said Almagro’s behavior was “illegal, disrespectful and arrogant” and made him unfit to hold the diplomatic position.

The Nicaraguan representative added that his country believed Almagro was “abusing his post” by acting in an interventionist manner, which risked negatively affecting the stability of the Venezuelan government.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said her country had made a formal petition to the OAS to “evaluate” Almagro’s behavior. This request will be considered by the permanent council of the regional body.

Rodriguez emphasized that Almagro had overstepped the bounds of his role, that the secretary-general plays an administrative role at the service of member-states and not a protagonist role as Almagro has done.

RELATED: Ecuador Pushes to ‘De-Politicize’ OAS Human Rights Body

Almagro’s has attempt to suspend Venezuela from the organization

Almagro has received harsh rebukes from various Latin American and Caribbean governments for recent actions and statements including an undiplomatic letter addressed to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Almagro has attempted to invoke the so-called “Democratic Charter” to suspend Venezuela from the organization, but member states instead voted unanimously to back mediated talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition members.

“We leave very happy, we have defended the sovereignty and independence of our country,” said Rodriguez.

Almagro isolated

The 46th General Assembly of the OAS has served to isolate Almagro at the regional body, even from the United States and U.S-friendly governments in Latin America.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. opposed the application of the Democratic Charter against Venezuela and instead said he would send a high-level delegation to Venezuela to smooth relations.

Last month, Ecuador said it too was considering asking for Almagro to step down over his undiplomatic behavior. Almagro, however, largely brushed off the criticism.

Evo Morales Says the OAS Is Biased Against Latin America’s Left

Source:  TeleSUR
August 30 2016

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OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro (L) and Bolivian President Evo Morales | Photo: Reuters

The president of Bolivia suggested that the Washington-based OAS is pursuing a right-wing agenda in the Americas.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Tuesday that the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, OAS, is biased and doesn’t defend leftist governments in the region that are under attack.

RELATED: Nicaragua Demands OAS Head Step Down over Abuse of Post

Morales said OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro supports only right-wing governments while attacking left-of-center leaders like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Last week, Morales criticized Almagro for releasing a letter of support addressed to a head of the Venezuelan opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, a promoter of a recall referendum against Maduro. Lopez led violent protests in 2014 in Venezuela, known as guarimbas, that left 43 people dead and over 800 wounded.

“Where is Almagro? When there’s a conspiracy against leftist democratic governments we don’t see Almagro, he only appears to defend the right-wing.”

Maduro has repeatedly denounced foreign interference in Venezuela that, according to him, is orchestrated by the United States government, the secretary-general of the OAS and the opposition in Venezuela’s National Assembly, among others.

RELATED: OAS Meets amid Strong Criticism from Latin America’s Left

“Brother Almagro, don’t be a spokesman for the North American empire. To ask for international intervention is a colonial and undemocratic attitude,” Morales said on Aug. 23.

Almagro took an unprecedented step on May 31 by trying to use the Democratic Charter against the government of Venezuela in response to the economic and political crisis in the country. He has also moved to suspend the country from the international organization.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez alleged Almagro used his privileged position in the organization to promote a “coup” in Venezuela.

Morales also said Tuesday he would recall Bolivia’s ambassador to Brazil if suspended president Dilma Rousseff is impeached by the Senate to protest what he portrayed as an attack on democracy.

US Triples Special Ops Training Budget for Latin America

Source:  TeleSUR
August 30 2016

U.S. Special Operations Forces are training militaries across the Americas with horrendous human rights records.

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A Colombian soldier during a military parade.  Photo Reuters

The U.S. military has increased its presence in Latin America in recent years and tripled its budget for training the region’s armed forces, according to a new report.

RELATED: US Army Cooking the Books, Moving Around Trillions of Dollars

The Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, published an investigation Tuesday, based on documents from the U.S. State Department, detailing the stepped-up work of U.S. Special Operation Forces in the region.

According to the documents, the U.S. tripled the budget for Special Operations Forces training missions in Latin America between 2007 and 2014. The missions are part of a training program called Joint Combined Exchange Training, JCET. In that seven-year period, the number of missions went from 12 JCETs who trained 560 officers in the region to 36 JCETs training 2,300 officers.

The training budget is now more than US$17 billion each year

The training budget is now more than US$17 billion each year. By 2015, the U.S. forces carried out missions in 135 out of 196 countries in the world.

RELATED: The Militarization of Honduras: Creating ‘Chaos and Corruption’

These trainings include joint military exercises, teaching Latin American troops combat skills, intelligence gathering and riot control techniques. Meanwhile, the U.S. forces familiarize themselves with the country’s military, terrain, language and culture, according to the documents.

Honduras has the largest number of U.S. missions, with 21, followed by El Salvador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Belize.

Challenges Lie Ahead as Colombia Celebrates Historic Peace Deal

Source:  TeleSUR
August 25 2016

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Colombians in Bogota watch the announcement of the end of negotiations and the text of the final peace deal in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 24, 2016. | Photo: EFE

Colombia has still not launched a peace process with the country’s smaller guerilla army, the ELN.

Colombia has made history in Latin America

Colombia has made history in Latin America with the groundbreaking peace deal between the government and left-wing FARC rebels, but while the over half century-long war is finally over, difficult times still lay ahead to fully realize the promise of peace in the South American nation.

IN DEPTH:  Peace in Colombia

Agreements on six key issues

The nearly four-year peace process in Havana, Cuba, between the 52-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos achieved a landmark deal including agreements on six key issues: agrarian reform, political participation, disarmament and reincorporation of former combatants, illicit drugs, victims’ rights, and implementation of the end of the war.

Chief negotiators from both sides of the conflict, government delegation head Humberto de la Calle and FARC leader Ivan Marquez, signed and spoke about this historic agreement on Tuesday evening in Havana.

The peace deal is not the end, but only the beginning

De la Calle declared that the war is over, and Marquez stressed that the peace deal is not the end, but only the beginning of an ongoing process of building stable and lasting peace.

And while Colombians are celebrating the unprecedented achievement of ending the longest war in the Americas, many are also pointing to the real challenges that lie ahead.

RELATED:   Peace at Last! FARC and Colombia Govt to Announce Final Deal

ELN

One of the issues that has not been part of the negotiations in Havana, but many, including the FARC, have frequently stressed as a key part of building peace is the question of ending hostilities between the government and the country’s smaller left-wing guerilla force, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Former ELN commander Carlos Velandia, alias Felipe Torres, applauded the announcement of the deal, heralding it as a “new era” that could give a “peaceful” push to “other conflicts” to follow a similar path.

The international community wants Latin America to be a zone of peace

“The war is coming to an end, because the Colombian nation has demanded it, because they’ve understood the parks of the conflict, because the international community wants Latin America to be a zone of peace,” Torres told Colombia’s El Espectador. “This is an achievement that benefits the country, nobody loses, everybody wins.”

The beginning of talks between the ELN and the government have stalled, though the rebel army has said it is open to beginning a process. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has offered to host the process, playing the role that Cuba played in the negotiations with the FARC since 2012.

The importance of a peace process with the ELN

Chief FARC peace negotiator Marquez also reiterated the importance of a peace process with the ELN while speaking in Havana Wednesday.

“We have that the ELN can find a way to approach (the process) so that the peace that we long for will be completed involving all Colombians,” he said.

Another outstanding question as the FARC and government unveil the historic agreement is what will happen to Simon Trinidad, a senior FARC leader jailed in a “supermax” prison in the United States.

IN DEPTH: Who is Simon Trinidad?

Unjust imprisonment of Simon Trinidad

Trinidad was extradited to the U.S. in 2004 on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering under the watch of former far-right President Alvaro Uribe, who opposes the new peace deal. Leaked cables have show his extradition request was concocted, as the U.S. did not have any pending charges against the high-ranking FARC leader. He is now serving a 60-year sentence in solitary confinement.

USA’s role in perpetuating the war

The FARC has long argued that freedom for Simon Trinidad is a cornerstone in securing peace and reintegrating demobilized rebels into society. Speaking on Wednesday, Marquez singled out the U.S. for its role in perpetuating the war and indicated that Trinidad is still on the movement’s agenda even though negotiations in Havana have ended.

“To the government of the United States, which for so long supported the state war against the guerilla and against social non-conformity, we ask that you continue backing in a transparent way the Colombian efforts to restore peace,” he said. “We await Simon Trinidad.”

Ahead of the much-anticipated announcement of the final deal, FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday, “I recall that the FARC designated Simon Trinidad as the coordinator of the process of laying down of arms.”

The 297-page final agreement makes no mention of Simon Trinidad.

The historic deal is set to be put to a vote on Oct. 2 to ratify the agreement with Colombian society by asking voters whether or not they accept the peace accords with the FARC.