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Condi’s Bizarre Relocation Plan for the Palestinians

As if the political situation in the Middle East could become no more volatile, we now have not just WikiLeaks but another document scandal, this one pertaining to the failed Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Dubbed the "Palestine papers," the documents represent the largest leak in the history of the Middle East conflict, comprising a whopping 1,600 confidential records.
Spanning successive White House administrations, the Palestine Papers were leaked to Al Jazeera and the Guardian of London and have already created a firestorm of controversy for the Palestinian Authority which gave away key political demands to the Israeli side. In the long-term, however, the documents could wind up shaming not just the Palestinians, Israelis and the United States but also countries as far afield as Chile.

That is because Palestinian negotiators seem to have caved when it came to standing up for their people's historic "right of return." Since Israel expelled Palestinians in 1948, refugees have been floating around various corners of the Middle East hoping to one day return to their ancestral homes. Yet, according to leaked documents, Palestinian negotiators agreed to the mere return of 10,000 people over the course of 10 years, a minuscule fraction of the overall number of refugees totaling more than 5 million.

According to reports, Palestinian president Abu Mazen remarked that it would be "illogical" to expect that Israel would accept five million refugees as this would signify "the end of Israel." If true — and needless to say the Palestinian authority has derided the papers as false, taken out of context or manipulated — then the document release sorely discredits negotiators. What is even more bizarre, however, was a scheme launched by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to relocate Palestinian refugees to South America.

The surreal discussion took place in June, 2008 when Rice met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Berlin. At the time, Rice was following up on the Annapolis peace conference of the previous year and final status negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert. According to minutes from the meeting, Rice remarked "maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind. Chile, Argentina, etc (ie, give land)." Though the suggestion was certainly outlandish, Rice may have been influenced by a previous decision to transfer 117 Palestinian refugees to Chile between March and April, 2008, shortly before the Berlin negotiation.
 
Grim Conditions at Al Tanf


The 2008 transfer, a truly dramatic exodus, brought Palestinian refugees from far-flung Middle Eastern camps all the way to South America. The Palestinians had long been stuck in the miserable makeshift Al Tanf camp located in a bleak no man's land along the Iraqi-Syrian border. For years, the refugees had sought a stable home without success. The majority of Palestinian refugees who arrived in Iraq came from the city of Haifa in 1948, and their children grew up in the new adopted country. Under Saddam Hussein, the Palestinians were treated favorably but after the dictator's fall the refugees once again came under persecution. In the midst of war and instability, some were deprived of their residency papers which made it impossible for the refugees to come and go from Iraq.

The Syrian Al Tanf camp, which received aid from the UNHCR and its partners - mainly UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), UNICEF, the World Food Program, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had been set up originally to harbor Palestinians fleeing persecution in Iraq as no other nation would take them in. When they first arrived, the refugees thought their stay in Al Tanf would be merely temporary but they ultimately wound up having to stay there for nearly four years, during which time they had to endure pests such as snakes and scorpions, not to mention extreme temperatures, sandstorms as well as snowstorms, floods and inadequate access to medical care.


Bachelet to Palestinians: "I Know What It Means to Be a Refugee"


Coming to the aid of the Palestinians, Chile offered asylum to some of the refugees in response to a UN appeal. Though the refugees were relieved to be leaving Al Tanf, they were apprehensive about their uncertain future. In Chile meanwhile, the authorities undertook an ambitious program aimed at reinserting the Palestinians into national life, while providing crucial assistance in the areas of housing, food, clothing, education, health, language skills and employment. After forty hours of grueling travel from Damascus, the refugees arrived in La Calera, a small farming town north of the Chilean capital of Santiago. "Leave your suffering in the past and let Chile be the fountain of your newfound happiness," declared Deputy Interior Secretary Felipe Harboe.

In certain respects, Chile was an agreeable and logical destination for the refugees. The country has large tracts of sparsely populated land and has Latin America's largest Palestinian population, estimated at some 350,000 people. The Palestinian community in Chile dates back a century: the first to make the trek to South America fled the Ottoman Empire and the First World War. Today, most Palestinians are middle class textile merchants and have integrated well into Chilean society.

The town of La Calera has long been home to Chileans of Middle Eastern descent, and as the refugees arrived they were greeted by local residents waving Palestinian flags and singing the Palestinian anthem. Later, the town served Arabic food, played local folk music, and danced to Chile's national dance, called the "cueca." The refugees, relaxed but exhausted, smiled and nodded while murmuring "gracias" to the crowd. "We are confident that here we will be able to live in peace," one refugee remarked through an interpreter. After the ceremony the exhausted migrants were escorted to their apartments.

As I discuss in some detail in Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan), former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was herself a political exile in her youth: fleeing Chile during the military rule of Augusto Pinochet, she found shelter in communist East Germany. As the Palestinian refugees arrived, the socialist politician harked back to her own past. "I want to tell you that I know exactly how it feels to arrive in a new country as a refugee," Bachelet remarked during a reception for the Palestinians.
 
What about "The Right of Return"?

For the Palestinians, undertaking a new life in Chile was infinitely superior to languishing at the Al Tanf refugee camp. Yet, this outlandish story raises fundamental questions about the Palestinian struggle and its long term political prospects. By accepting Chile's invitation, the Palestinians sacrificed their "right of return." For Israel, it must have seemed like a sweet deal: if the Palestinians carved out a home 8,000 miles away in the Andes, this could relieve pressure on Israel to return land.

For the Palestinian community in Chile, relocation of their compatriots to South America gave rise to some mixed feelings. While the local community thanked the Bachelet government for its generosity, it maintained the Palestinian historic right of return under United Nations Resolution 194. The local Palestinians argued that Chile, which had already signed the resolution, would be violating the principle of right of return by agreeing to the refugee relocation.

The Chilean authorities, activists argued, should continue to lobby the Israelis and the international community so as to relocate the Al Tanf refugees to their legitimate homes. It would not be until later that the Palestinians would come around, reluctantly, to the Chilean plan. Mauricio Abu-Gosh, president of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, remarked that the right of return should be upheld but that the first priority should be to rescue the refugees from their plight.

Two years later, in the wake of the release of the Palestinian Papers, Abu-Ghosh was outraged when he read of the revelations. Israel, he remarked, was "making the rules" in defiance of UN Resolution 194. Ghosh added that Chile was certainly a desirable country for foreign immigration but Rice's notion of turning the Andean nation into a new homeland for Palestinians was "impractical." Daniel Jadue, vice president of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, declared that the news was "completely unacceptable." Rice's suggestion, Jadue explained, indicated that the negotiation was "dishonest," and "clearly inclined toward Israel."


Lingering Questions


What is behind the Palestinian-Chilean connection? Perhaps, Rice was inclined to suggest Chile as a possible relocation point given that the Bachelet government was a pliable U.S. ally in the wider region. Though the Chilean president was a socialist and publicly declared her support for other leftist governments in South America, her government pursued friendly relations with the United States. Indeed, as I have written, Bachelet did her utmost to convince Washington that not all Latin American leaders were fire breathing populists or identical in political orientation. According to documents released by WikiLeaks, Bachelet told U.S. diplomats that there were many moderates in Bolivia and President Evo Morales was very different from Venezuela's Chávez.

The Palestinian Papers raise some provocative questions. Did the Bush administration ever broach Rice's idea officially with Chile and Argentina? If WikiLeaks has any documents pertaining to this issue, then Julian Assange should consider releasing any information which would fill in the gaps from the Palestine Papers. If there are further revelations, this could cause severe embarrassment not only to the U.S. and Israel, but also to the Palestinian Authority. What is more, further reporting could discredit the Chilean government which publicly supports the creation of a Palestinian state but which privately may seek to hide any skeletons lurking in the closet.

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WikiLeaks: Chinese “Locusts” Spreading into Latin America

If Wikileaks documents are any indication, Chinese investors might have a big surprise in store as they continue their push into Latin America. In their effort to extract raw resources, the Chinese have fared relatively well in such areas of the globe as Africa. However, recently disclosed U.S. cables hint that Latin America may not prove as pliable for the Chinese. Indeed, during private discussions with U.S. diplomats in Shanghai, Chinese experts candidly admitted they faced a “public relations challenge” in Latin America, and that local residents viewed Chinese businessmen as “locusts” intent on “extracting minerals and natural resources and leaving very little of lasting value behind.”

China is a relative newcomer in Latin America, yet the Asian powerhouse has made a big splash. In its drive to dominate Latin American markets, China is primarily motivated by economic and not political considerations. In recent years, the Chinese authorities have understood that native industry must be provided with adequate supplies of energy, minerals, and other basic raw materials if the Asian powerhouse is to sustain continued economic growth. In tandem with such desires, China has moved aggressively to become Latin America’s second largest commercial partner after the United States.

For their part, the Latin Americans have been content to export their raw materials to China, though many countries have uncomfortable memories of U.S. economic enclaves and may wonder whether the Asian powerhouse will encourage sustainable development and social equity. While China is willing to help construct ports and railroads, such infrastructure projects will be linked to the transport of raw materials and in this sense the Asian tiger is little different from the United States, which historically sought to promote the type of “development” which would merely facilitate the extraction of South America’s resources.

Latin America is Not Africa

In Africa, China found that it could import its own labor, ignore environmental standards and essentially adopt a colonialist approach toward local peoples and resources. Compliant political elites, who displayed scant regard for human rights, made life easy for Chinese investors. But Latin America, having recently witnessed a tectonic shift to the left, is less willing to embrace untrammeled economic development if this comes at a high social and environmental cost.

In contrast to Africa, Latin America has a much more dynamic political culture characterized by combative political parties, labor unions and non-governmental organizations. Though many within Latin American civil society may have looked upon China as the champion of “Third World-ism” at a certain point, some will be less than impressed by the Asian tiger’s shedding of any ideological pretensions in the name of promoting a more politically neutral “multi-polar” world.

WikiLeaks documents shed fascinating light on the many difficulties and contradictions in the incipient Chinese-Latin American relationship. Speaking with officials at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai, Chinese experts said their nation’s leaders were interested in paying more attention to large emerging countries like Brazil and Mexico “amid the changing global economic balance of power.” Chinese companies, however, had difficulty understanding the Latin business milieu, and complained about “strong labor unions and cultural conflicts.”

Fundamentally, experts noted, “Chinese investors think Latin America and Africa are the same…but it is easier for them to do business in Africa since Africa's institutions and regulatory environment are less well-developed than Latin America’s.” Chinese workers, meanwhile, had a “different work ethic” from their Latin American counterparts, and as a result many companies had chosen to import their own laborers which had in turn fed “local resentment.” Conscious of the need to improve its public image, China encouraged its companies to take on more local employees, and the Asian tiger had become a substantial donor to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Differing Views on China

Despite these many problems, it is also clear from WikiLeaks cables that Latin America’s view of China depends very much on the individual country. Indeed, while China is viewed as a friend in some nations, in others it is viewed as a threat. In recent years, China has signed free trade agreements with Peru and Chile, two countries which don’t have competitive industries to defend. China has failed to negotiate accords with some of the other larger countries, however, because certain Chinese exports are viewed as more direct threats.

One country which has been particularly wary of the Asian tiger is Mexico. In early 2009, U.S. diplomats at the American embassy in Mexico City wrote Washington that “Mexico’s trade deficit with China and concerns over China’s approach to investment continue to color Mexico’s perception of China as a true partner.” While Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was well received in Mexico, officials were “reluctant to push too strongly for increased Chinese presence.” One top Mexican businessman confided to the Americans, “We don’t want to be China’s next Africa.”

The entrepreneur was referring to “the oft-cited criticism that China has pursued a strategy of seizing the continent’s huge natural resources while dumping cheap industrial manufactured products into Africa’s markets.” “We need to own our country’s development,” the businessman added. Judging from WikiLeaks documents, the Chinese are aware of Mexico’s skittishness. Speaking to U.S. officials in Shanghai, Chinese experts pointed to the “similar industrial structure” between China and Mexico, adding that the Asian powerhouse should “invest more in the Mexican oil industry to counter Mexican concerns about China's growing trade surplus with the country.”

Seeking a South American Gateway

Another nation with mixed feelings toward the Asian tiger is Colombia. In WikiLeaks cables, U.S. diplomats in Beijing remarked that Colombia was actively seeking new economic partners but was still “wary of Chinese motives.” Speaking to the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Beijing, Colombian businessmen expressed their concern that China might “walk all over” Colombia and its people much as the Asian powerhouse had done in Africa. In addition, the Colombians were wary of Chinese investment in mining and hydrocarbons given the Asian tiger’s awful track record on environmental and labor practices [such talk is rather ironic in light of Colombia’s own horrible standards on these counts].

Because Colombian exports compete with those from China, the Andean nation is mainly interested in investment as opposed to signing a free trade agreement with the Asian powerhouse. Originally, China had directed its companies to invest in neighboring Venezuela, but the firms had “dragged their feet.” Reportedly, Chinese businessmen regarded Colombia as more stable and economically open than Venezuela, and therefore a “better base for targeting the rest of Latin America.”

In the long-term China may find that Colombia, which has a much more repressive anti-labor climate than Venezuela, is a country more to its political and economic liking. Indeed, recent business deals suggest that China sees Colombia as its preferred South American gateway. Take for example a Chinese plan to build an auto assembly plant in Colombia. The factory will manufacture light vehicles for export to different regional markets. The Chinese chose Colombia over Chile, Brazil and Mexico and the factory will begin production in 2012.

Brazil: “We Don’t Want to Be Colonized Again”

While Colombia and Mexico are certainly economically important within the overall Chinese strategy, it is the South American powerhouse of Brazil which has become the most indispensable linchpin. China has already displaced the U.S. as Brazil’s chief trading partner and experts predict that between now and 2014 the Asian tiger could invest an average of about $40 billion a year in Brazil. As they establish their key beach head in South America, the Chinese will target specific economic sectors such as telecommunications, infrastructure, farming, oil, biofuels, natural gas, mining and steel.

The most visible sign of burgeoning Sino-Brazil ties is the Açu complex, a mega port which is being constructed near Rio de Janeiro. The vast $2.5 billion facility will open in 2012 and its piers will host fleets of cargo ships including the ChinaMax, a huge vessel capable of holding a whopping 400,000 tons of cargo. In the nearby city of São João da Barra, the local town hall is providing free Mandarin lessons to those who wish to work with an anticipated wave of Chinese guests.

Though the new economic relationship has proven beneficial to both China and Brazil, it is rather lopsided. Indeed, China’s needs have begun to alter the Brazilian economy in fundamental ways. Take, for example, the Brazilian footwear industry which has been decimated by Chinese imports. Caught by surprise by China’s economic rise and burgeoning manufacturing sector, Brazilians worry that they haven’t laid the ground work for a sufficiently balanced relationship, one which will result in sustainable growth and not just small enclaves of prosperity.

Información Selectiva, a Mexican company providing financial news from around the region, recently reported on an eye-opening business meeting which brought together Latin and Chinese executives. During the summit, which took place in Chengdu, Brazilian investor Nizan Guanaes remarked “We were already colonized once and we don’t want to be colonized again. We want to be partners.” It’s unclear whether the Chinese have the patience to put up with such insolent independence. Frustrated by everything from Brazilian bureaucracy to strong labor unions to a more vigilant media culture and stringent environmental laws, the Chinese have found that Brazil is no pushover.

To be sure, the Chinese relationship has brought tangible economic benefits for Brazil. Take for example the local soybean industry which has thrived amidst booming exports to China. For the Asian tiger, soya is a versatile product which is utilized from everything from soy flour to tofu to soy sauce. In my recently published book No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010) I discuss the rise of soy boom towns in Brazil and accompanying infrastructure such as highways which are designed to facilitate exports to China. Even here, however, local development has been a mixed bag: while the soybean industry has brought economic gains it has also led to severe environmental downsides and pressures on the Amazon. Meanwhile, paved roads linking Brazil to Pacific ports of call and onward to Asia have cut through the rainforest and exacted a high ecological toll.

Wikileaks cables underscore underlying tensions in the Sino-Brazilian relationship. Speaking with American officials at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, Brazilian diplomats expressed some concern about growing imbalances in bilateral trade. Although Brazil exported some small commercial aircraft to China, in general the South American nation was a mere provider of commodities to the Asian tiger and received higher value-added machinery in exchange. Meanwhile, Chinese investors failed to adequately understand the local Brazilian market and regulations.

As history has shown, the Latin American people do not take kindly to outside powers coming in to the region and reaping maximum economic advantage while failing to encourage equitable social development. For years, it was the United States which raised the political ire of many countries throughout the hemisphere as it set up economic enclaves and propped up compliant elites. So far, the Chinese interest in Latin America has been primarily economic though the Asian giant may be obliged to become more involved in local politics as its interests grow. If China expects, however, that it will get its way in Latin America as easily as it did in Africa then the Asian tiger may find that it has another thing coming.

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WikiLeaks Needs to Fine Tune Its Media Strategy

If anyone had any doubts about WikiLeaks' potential to exert profound political change, recent events in Tunisia may serve to undermine such skepticism. As the civil unrest unfolds, some will wonder what actually caused the fall of the despotic Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime. While it would be a stretch to argue that Tunisia represents the first "WikiLeaks revolution," it's clear that some U.S. cables emanating from the American Embassy in Tunis severely tarnished the local government's reputation. The documents, which reported on embarrassing corruption plaguing the Ben Ali regime, were widely discussed amongst Tunisian bloggers and fueled long-simmering tensions within civil society.

Perhaps, then, WikiLeaks represented the straw that broke the camel's back. As he observes the volatile political scene in North Africa, Julian Assange might feel as if his wildest expectations have been superseded. Indeed, some are already discussing the possibility of unrest crossing over into neighboring countries, exerting a kind of "domino-like effect" throughout the autocratic Arab world. How many other damaging documents from U.S. embassies around the Middle East have yet to be released, and what are the ramifications? As they watch Ben-Ali flee from Tunis, many despotic leaders may worry about their fate.

Progressive forces should cheer events in Tunisia, yet I would argue that on balance "cablegate" has failed to live up to its greatest potential. As it seeks to fundamentally alter power relations, WikiLeaks should take stock of the past two months or so of "cablegate" and figure out what has worked and what has, to the contrary, fallen flat. If it wants to maximize its impact, WikiLeaks might consider a) releasing documents that complement critical, breaking stories; b) prioritizing certain regions of the globe over others; c) concentrating on specific instances of U.S. government malfeasance so as to fundamentally alter the terms of Washington's foreign policy, if such illegality is demonstrated through the documents; d) releasing more politically relevant cables and saving the less important documents for later; e) reassessing its overall media strategy in the United States.

I would be the last one to downplay WikiLeaks' many journalistic coups and accomplishments, Tunisia being only the most recent and noteworthy, but the fact is that cablegate has failed to prompt serious debate within the U.S. about the way in which Washington conducts its foreign policy. If it seeks to alter this equation and exert an impact where it matters most, WikiLeaks should become shrewder about what documents it releases and the actual proportion of such releases. The debate is not over whether to release all of the documents at once, which as Wikileaks correctly points out would fail to do the cables justice, but how such a staged release might work. Thus far, the whistle-blowing group has opted for a geographically diverse approach in which separate portions of the globe receive relatively equal and fair exposure. Yesterday, for example, I noticed that all of WikiLeaks' cables related to Holland whereas a mere four days ago the cables pertained to Iceland.

On the positive side, such a strategy grabs the attention of diverse media outlets all over the world. The approach will appeal to WikiLeaks volunteers who are based in many different countries and who strive for greater political transparency at home. Assange, who has been criticized as overly autocratic, may have felt that such a modus operandi was desirable given the diffuse nature of his organization. I don't know how decisions are reached within WikiLeaks, but if one region was favored above all others then volunteers might have become discouraged and, needless to say, Assange can ill afford additional problems with morale at this point.


Rethinking Media Strategy for the Middle East
 
On the other hand, Assange's strategy thus far has lacked political focus: as soon as the media reports on one story, WikiLeaks releases another batch of documents from a different part of the globe. A more sensible approach would be to declassify relevant documents pertaining to just one or two regions, and for my money the Middle East makes the most sense. In terms of sheer urgency, Iraq and Afghanistan should be a top priority, though releasing sensitive documents from North Africa would be surely welcome right now. In hindsight, releasing the Ben Ali cables at the exact moment that the democracy movement was taking off in Tunisia was a stroke of genius, and by declassifying further sensitive documents from around the region WikiLeaks could give a leg up to nascent democracy movements. In this sense, it is more desirable for WikiLeaks to be flexible and improvise depending on the news cycle, as opposed to simply rotating the geographical focus every few days or so.

For insight into cablegate, head to WikiLeaks own website. If we are going by simple numerical importance, Baghdad is second only to Ankara in terms of actual cable volume. In a bar graph, cables are organized into separate colors without further explanation, though presumably green refers to "unclassified," orange stands for "confidential" and red stands for "secret." It's difficult to make out the exact numbers on WikiLeaks' bar graph, but it appears as if the whistleblowing group holds about 7,000 cables from Baghdad, of which only 30 have been released. It would seem that Baghdad alone sent a whopping 1,000 secret cables to Washington, the greatest number recorded for any foreign U.S. embassy. The U.S. embassy in Kabul meanwhile is less prolific but still substantial with about 3,500 cables, of which only 50 have been released.

What's with the long hold up here, and why have the releases slowed to a trickle? It would seem that WikiLeaks banked on the New York Times and expected that America's most influential paper would help it sift through many of the State Department's most important documents. It's understandable that WikiLeaks would turn first to the Times, one of the few outlets which actually pursues investigative journalism and sets the bar for wider media coverage. Clearly, however, that strategy has proven unsatisfactory as the Times hasn't published many stories based on cablegate. It's anyone's guess as to why the paper failed to take advantage of WikiLeaks scoops, but I suspect that the Times simply cannot bring itself to question the underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy.

Understandably, WikiLeaks wants to be scrupulous in vetting its material, but by the time all relevant cables are disclosed from Kabul, the war in Afghanistan will have claimed many more lives. Perhaps, WikiLeaks simply lacks the capacity to evaluate all of the documents in its possession. What, then, are WikiLeaks' options? One strategy would be to join forces with assorted media activists in an effort to pressure the Times to move faster. The alternative is to partner with other media outlets and foreign policy experts, from The Nation to Mother Jones to The Huffington Post to Juan Cole to the National Security Archive. From there, news and analysis would flow to progressive TV and radio such as Democracy Now! or the Rachel Maddow show.
 
Coming to Terms With America's "Informal Empire"


In terms of sheer urgency, the Middle East takes priority over other regions of the globe. Yet, if WikiLeaks truly seeks to have an impact on the tenor of U.S. foreign policy, then it should consider devoting more time and resources to Latin America. Arguably, the region still constitutes America's "informal empire," though much of the U.S. public seems apathetic or oblivious to this fact. TV outlets haven't helped much, either: though MSNBC briefly covered WikiLeaks revelations that Hillary Clinton requested personal information about Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, including psychological details and medications, in general the media hasn't shown much interest in cables emanating from U.S. embassies around Latin America.


One possible reason why is that WikiLeaks, to my knowledge, has not uncovered any overt illegalities on the part of the U.S. government. Perhaps, Washington has cleaned up its act in Latin America and there is no "smoking gun" that would incriminate high level State Department officials. Given the U.S. track record in the region, however, I find this difficult to believe. What is more probable WikiLeaks that Wikileaks, for whatever reason, has simply glossed over its most damning evidence or is biding its time before releasing sensitive material.


Whatever the case, I find WikiLeaks' approach to Latin America baffling. According to its own site, the whistleblowing group holds about 3,000 cables each from U.S. embassies in Bogotá and Caracas. Yet, to date WikiLeaks has only released 28 and 27 cables, respectively, from both diplomatic posts. That is perplexing given that U.S. diplomats were concerned about Chávez's wide-ranging influence over South America's leftist "Pink Tide" (officials were even concerned about Venezuelan influence as far afield as the Falklands Islands).


Though the left would like to claim that the U.S. played a significant role in Chávez's brief ouster in April, 2002 the concrete evidence is lacking. For Assange, documenting this period should be a top priority, though to date WikiLeaks has only published certain Caracas cables from 2004 to 2010. Presumably, there would have been much correspondence between Caracas and Washington in the early years of Chávez's reign and throughout 2002-03 when political destabilization was at its highest.


WikiLeaks could focus on this period, yet instead the organization has chosen, inexplicably, to concentrate on Brazil. According to WikiLeaks, there are more cables pertaining to the U.S. embassies in Bogotá, Caracas, and even Tegucigalpa than Brasilia [to date, WikiLeaks has released 219 cables from Brasilia compared to just 2 from Tegucigalpa]. Furthermore, with the exception of early cables released by WikileWikiLeaksaks which document relations between Washington and the Brazilian Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim, the Brasilia documents don't reveal anything too earth-shattering.

Shaking Up the U.S. Public


WikiLeaks needs to get its Latin America material out to the U.S. public, but so far its media strategy hasn't proven very effective. The only paper that has been consistently running stories on the region is Spain's El País, an outlet which had earlier partnered with WikiLeaks. For whatever reason, however, even El País has been tapering off in recent weeks. The Norwegian paper Aftenposten also got its hands on WikiLeaks cables, but to date editors at the publication have chosen to concentrate their resources on European documents. At one point, Aftenposten asked its readers for research suggestions, and a couple of days later looked into such conspiratorial topics as the Bilderberg society and U.F.O.'s.


The New York Times, meanwhile, only writes about Latin America when WikiLeaks cables reinforce the notion of Third World corruption. Take, for example, the case of rightist Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli who reportedly asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA to help him carry out illegal wiretaps on his political foes. Last month, the Times published a story on Martinelli in which the DEA was portrayed as a somewhat beleaguered agency forced to deal with shady and unsavory characters throughout the Third World. Though the Times mentioned that Martinelli may have wanted to spy on his leftist opponents, the paper failed to contextualize the wider political backdrop which pitted a pro-corporate and pro-U.S. president against combative organized labor.


Similarly, the Times passed when it came to other important stories which have cast the United States in an unflattering light. Take, for instance, U.S. cynicism toward Bolivia and Cuba, nations that have been pushing for a more radical agenda at international climate change summits. One would think that WikiLeaks cables might create a furious "climategate" scandal, yet the Times chose to ignore the matter. Furthermore, the Times failed to report on cables that revealed that the FBI kept tabs on the Mapuche, a Chilean indigenous group fighting for its ancestral lands and against the pro-corporate and pro-U.S. regime in Santiago. In yet another oversight, the Times ignored additional cables showing that the U.S. and Costa Rica may have shared high level intelligence in an effort to thwart Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.
To be sure, none of these revelations expose blatant illegalities, yet they reveal U.S. foreign policy as deeply immoral and crass. Is the U.S. public ready for a wholesale debate about these cables and changing the way business is done at the State Department? Recently, the Daily Show had a rather witty if somewhat cynical take on WikiLeaks. During a monologue, comedian Jon Stewart suggested that the U.S. public is already aware of previous coup d'etats in such diverse nations as Guatemala, Chile and Iran, and as a result is totally jaded.


For WikiLeaks, which has worked hard and taken risks, the U.S. certainly provides a dispiriting picture. Given that the New York Times is an unreliable partner, the whistleblowing group might calculate that the progressive media is more likely to run stories about the U.S. cables. Yet, even as some commentators loudly proclaim their socialist credentials, MSNBC pundits rarely provide any coverage of foreign events, preferring instead to dwell on Sarah Palin and refute whatever Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck said over the course of the afternoon.
What is it going to take for the U.S. public to sit up and pay attention to cablegate? Perhaps it will be a hard sell any way you look at it, though WikiLeaks might want to consider becoming more creative and innovative in its media strategy.

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WikiLeaks: Costa Rica is a Willing U.S. Partner in Central America

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WikiLeaks: Lula’s Secret Dealings with Chávez and Morales

When will Brazil throw its weight around on the world stage and actually start to challenge Washington? Judging from Wikileaks documents, that day may be very off indeed. Far from taking a stand against the United States, Brazilian diplomats serving in Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s administration sought to appease the Americans behind closed doors or, at most, express mild criticism. Since Wikileaks documents end in late 2009, we don’t know if incoming president Dilma Rousseff will choose to mimic her predecessor’s non-confrontational foreign policy, but most observers expect continuity. For the South American left, Wikileaks documents serve as a sobering wake-up call and underscore the difficult political work which lies ahead.

Recent cables pick up in 2005, at the height of the Bush administration’s diplomatic difficulties with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In Brasilia, U.S. ambassador John Danilovich expressed Washington’s “growing concern” about “Chávez’s rhetoric and actions” during a meeting with Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim. Going further, Danilovich sought to set up a joint U.S.-Brazilian operation which would gather intelligence on Chávez. Amorim rejected Danilovich’s entreaties, remarking that Brazil did not see Venezuela as a threat.

Nevertheless, Amorim said the Lula government would be interested in “any intelligence [the U.S.] wished to provide unilaterally.” What was behind Amorim’s interest, and might the diplomat have shared sensitive U.S. intelligence with Venezuela? Like Chávez, Lula came out of South America’s new left and the two shared cordial diplomatic relations, at least publicly. Perhaps, Brazil’s foreign minister hoped to double cross Washington, though frankly such an interpretation seems unlikely given that Lula had reportedly told Chávez to “tone down his rhetoric.”

Furthermore, Lula had “personally persuaded Chávez not to go swimming at a Chilean beach where Chávez intended to proclaim to gathered press that he was bathing in a spot which should be Bolivia's coastline on the Pacific.” Ever since the 1879-1904 War of the Pacific, La Paz has claimed that Chile denied Bolivia rightful access to the ocean and the issue strikes a nationalist chord in the impoverished and landlocked Andean nation. Historically, Chávez has been a leading critic of the more pro-U.S. Chile and a champion of leftist political movements in Bolivia.

The Petrobras Affair

The Danilovich-Amorim détente took place against the backdrop of political instability in the Andes. In Washington, the Bush administration was concerned about coca grower and rising political star Evo Morales, who would shortly succeed to the presidency of Bolivia and become Chávez’s protégé. During his meeting with the U.S. ambassador, Amorim sought to depict Brazil as a reliable regional partner. The Lula administration, which was focused on the “economic exposure of Brazilian companies in Bolivia, along with the threat posed to regional stability by unrest there,” sought to persuade Morales that the Bolivian needed “to act in a democratic fashion.”

Compared to the politically volatile Andean region, Brazil is certainly an island of tranquility and it is understandable that the Lula administration would seek to promote regional calm within its own “near abroad.” There’s always a fine line, however, between promoting stability and diluting South America’s common leftist front. Wikileaks cables suggest that, more often than not, Lula opted for the latter in his dealings with Bolivia. Shortly after the Danilovich-Amorim meeting, the Americans checked in with Lula’s Institutional Security Cabinet and asked if Brazil had a contingency plan “if the Bolivia political situation deteriorates into instability or radicalization that threatens Brazilian interests, especially Petrobras [a mixed private/state Brazilian energy company which had operations in Bolivia] and energy resources from Bolivia that are critical to industry in southern Brazil.”

Brazilian officials frankly admitted that they were “banking on ‘a strategy of hope,’ i.e., that despite fiery nationalist rhetoric during the elections, sensible leaders in Bolivia will not allow radical new government policies or general instability to damage Brazilian energy industries which contribute so massively to Bolivia's economy.” U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Phillip Chicola remarked that Lula’s security apparatus was particularly concerned “about the potential for increased cocaine flows into Brazil from Bolivia in the event of a Morales victory.”

In the wake of Morales’ electoral victory, Lula and Amorim announced they would maintain “strong relations” with Venezuela and Bolivia, but did not seek to “abandon” or “contaminate” Brazil’s bilateral ties to the Bush White House. Writing to Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, Chicola suggested that the U.S. seek to exploit Brazilian-Bolivian tensions in upcoming meetings. It would be wise, Chicola advised, for Shannon to bring up “the grittier, real-world worries of Brazilian law enforcement and intelligence services about the increased threats a Morales presidency may bring in the arenas of narcotrafficking and other cross-border criminal activities.”

In mid-2006, Lula was placed in a further quandary when Morales nationalized foreign oil and gas investments in Bolivia. Publicly, U.S. diplomats noted, the Brazilian president “issued a stunningly bland public statement…recognizing Bolivia's sovereignty to act as it did but reaffirming that Brazil would act to protect the interests of…Petrobras.” In a private meeting with the Americans, however, deputy foreign affairs advisor Marcel Biato painted a more intricate picture. According to him, Bolivia and Petrobras had been involved in “what appeared to be relatively positive discussions.” Later, however, Morales abruptly broke off the talks and “there was a lot of Morales interaction with Chávez.”

At a meeting in Brasilia, Lula was scheduled to “register his concern” about “Venezuelan involvement with Morales on the hydrocarbons issues.” The Brazilians, it seems, were angered when Morales dramatically sent in the army to occupy Bolivian gas fields. In the final analysis, American diplomats noted, Morales was emboldened by Venezuelan support “after hearing that Chávez would (a) provide technical help to get gas out of the ground if Petrobras bails…and (b) buy the product.”

Writing to his superiors in Washington, Chicola noted that “Lula and his foreign policy team could not look worse at this moment. The image of Bolivian soldiers moving into Petrobras installations is vivid and offensive for Brazilians of all classes, and will appear to many as a massive rebuke to the Lula administration's theology of a Brazilian-led new era of ‘regional integration.’ Indeed, in the Brazilian press and popular imagination, Lula is increasingly seen as outmaneuvered, manipulated and flim-flammed by his ‘hermanos,’ Chávez and Morales.”

Adding insult to injury, on the same day that Morales announced the gas nationalization the Bolivian president also stated his intention to carry out agricultural reforms which could affect Brazilian farmers residing within the Andean nation. Numbering some 15,000-strong, the farmers had been gradually moving into Bolivia where they had taken to cultivating soybeans. Chicola noted that “any action taken that would threaten the rights of those farmers would occasion a public outcry in Brazil, probably worse than that caused by the spectacle of Bolivian soldiers occupying Petrobras facilities.” Needless to say, as I point out in my recent book, soybean farming has been highly damaging to the environment and in this sense Brazilian interests run contrary to social progress in the Andes.

‘Managing’ Morales

All in all, Brazilian officials were exasperated by Morales, a politician who was intent on playing poker with Brasilia but who had no sense of “logic and rationality.” When Chicola “challenged” Biato “about the growing public perception in Brazil that Morales and Chávez are in cahoots at Lula’s expense,” the Brazilian was “laconic.” “What are we supposed to do?” Biato lamented. “We can’t choose our neighbors. We don’t like Chávez’s modus operandi or Morales’ surprises, but we have to manage these guys somehow, and keep the regional integration idea alive.”

The idea that Brazil might have to “manage” pesky Bolivia, much as the U.S. has sought to oversee political developments in, say, Central America, proved irksome to the Lula administration. In the waning days of the Bush administration, Brazilian presidential Foreign Policy Advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia told the Americans that Bolivia’s instability stemmed in large measure from Morales’ highhanded attitude. The coca leader, Garcia declared, had come into office “as if it were a revolution.” Prolonged instability in neighboring Bolivia, the diplomat added, could worsen “like a flammable gas in the air.”

Many Brazilians, Garcia continued, were frankly surprised by Morales’ “confrontational posture” toward Brazil early on and the Lula administration had been compelled to warn Bolivia, like Venezuela before, to “tone down the rhetoric” and to “cease provoking the United States.” Fundamentally, Garcia opined, Bolivia would have to get its political house in order if the country sought to attract foreign investment and maximize its energy potential. A further cable from late 2009, now well into the Obama era, suggests that relations failed to improve over time. Speaking to the Americans, Brazilian diplomats characterized their relationship with Morales as “frustratingly difficult to manage” and expressed ongoing interest in joint counter-narcotics operations with Bolivia and the United States.

Brazil’s Ambiguous Role

Though Brazil has refused to ostracize its leftist neighbors at the behest of Washington, South America’s biggest political and economic powerhouse has acted rather cynically more often than not. Publicly, Lula expressed solidarity with his leftist colleagues in Brazil’s near abroad, but behind the scenes diplomats worked to dilute a common anti-imperialist front. Putting on airs in private, Brazilian diplomats evidently feel their own country is superior and more “mature” than neighboring nations where rabble-rousing populist regimes hold sway. As the U.S. loses geopolitical influence in South America, will Brazil expand its own regional sphere and what are the larger implications? If Wikileaks cables are any indication, promoting revolutionary change could not be farther from the minds of Brazilian officials. Rather, narrow-minded energy and economic interests will guide Lula’s successors.

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WikiLeaks: The EU and Germany Are Failing to Lead on Climate Change

Perhaps, prior to the WikiLeaks scandal, small island nations which stand to be deluged by rising sea levels might have looked to the European Union and, specifically, Germany to provide leadership on climate change. Recent disclosures, however, have probably dashed any such hopes. Far from looking out for the interests of vulnerable countries imperiled by global warming, the European Union has conspired with the United States to limit the scope of climate change reform in international negotiations.


Even if the EU wanted to set an ambitious course on climate change, there are serious doubts about the bloc's ability to do so. Indeed, when it's not negotiating with the U.S. behind closed doors, the EU has shown little unity on issues of vital environmental importance. To make matters worse, Germany and the U.S. reportedly lied about a satellite program ostensibly designed to collect information about climate change. In reality, Germany had no intention of employing the satellites for any such purpose —- the technology would be simply used for spying.
 
The WikiLeaks scandal represents a kind of fall from grace for Germany, which has long prided itself on its green credentials. Indeed, it wasn't so long ago that U.S. diplomats painted a rather flattering environmental portrait of the Angela Merkel government. In December, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia noted that "Germany has long been the leading contributor of financial and technical assistance to Brazil on deforestation and climate change." U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Lisa Kubiske added that Germany planned to invest 100 million Euros on climate change and renewable energy projects. Furthermore, Kubiske added, "Germany has long played the leading role in the international effort on conserving the Amazon forest."


Even as it sought to deal with the Amazon, however, Germany fretted about climate change politics closer to home. According to cables, there were acrimonious divisions within the 27- member EU prior to the Copenhagen climate summit held in December, 2009. When the Dutch demanded that the EU cut its emissions by 30 percent, Italy and Poland balked during a particularly "vicious" meeting. One German official dismissed Poland's argument disdainfully as "give us two billion euros for technology." "Germany is concerned that a lack of internal solidarity is leading to problems with the EU's position and leadership internationally," noted the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Brussels.


Copenhagen and German Lack of Leadership

While Germany certainly confronted a disconcerting scenario, Merkel failed to push ahead and seemed to accept a zero sum game. Prior to the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, U.S. ambassador to Germany Phillip Murray wrote Secretary of State Clinton that "German leaders recognize the challenge of passing climate change legislation in the U.S. and have lowered their expectations for the possibility of reaching a legally binding agreement next month at Copenhagen. They have begun to describe the Summit as one step in a larger process — a politically binding framework — and may be preparing the German public for a less ambitious outcome."  Far from seeking to exercise true leadership on climate change, Merkel advocated a strong "US/EU position towards the major emerging economies, particularly China and India, to urge them to commit to ambitious national actions at Copenhagen."


During the conference itself, major powers such as China, the U.S. and Brazil amongst others cobbled together a hastily agreed upon climate compromise. In the wake of the summit, some countries were left feeling bitter and pessimistic. The EU signaled that it would only sign on to a new UN treaty if other big economies agreed to make deeper cuts in their emissions. According to cables, incoming European Council President Herman Van Rompuy felt "angry that Europe was elbowed out of discussions in Copenhagen."


Van Rompuy was pessimistic that upcoming climate talks at Cancún would yield any positive result, and suggested that the U.S. and EU negotiate on their own and then approach China. The EU official was not the only one to share such a dismal outlook: Chancellor Merkel too was frustrated by the lack of progress at Copenhagen and started to move away from her goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Merkel even signaled to the rest of the EU that she would not support the idea of Europe going it alone on climate change. Playing the blame game, the Chancellor said that China and India represented a true "structural problem" when it came to reaching a binding climate agreement.


Climate Change Shenanigans


The EU, then, felt excluded from negotiations but was not prepared to act as a trailblazer on climate change, arguing instead that emerging economies such as China and India should assume responsibility. The EU takes its cue from Germany, and in this case Merkel's lack of leadership had unfortunate consequences: in early 2010, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman met with EU officials, including Van Rompuy's Chief of Staff, in Brussels. The aim of the discussions was to "push back against coordinated opposition of BASIC countries (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) to our international positions." Though the BASIC group had widely differing interests, U.S. diplomats observed, the bloc was "surprisingly united" and would "take turns" playing the U.S. and EU off against each other.
 
To be sure, BASIC is a huge obstacle when it comes to climate change and other nations should take a stand against the bloc at international summits. On the other hand, the U.S. is not much better than BASIC when it comes to setting policy. If they wanted to take a more principled stand at this point, EU officials might have refused to take sides with either the U.S. or BASIC in the meaningless race to the bottom. According to cables, however, the EU cynically negotiated with the U.S. in an effort to head off meaningful change. When Froman remarked that "the U.S. and EU need to... work much more closely and effectively together... to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future trainwrecks on climate," the Europeans agreed to lobby BASIC as well as the G-77 group of poor nations in advance of the next climate summit in Cancún, Mexico.


If Washington had any doubts about where Europe stood, EU officials certainly cleared up any uncertainty: when Froman remarked that it would be necessary to "neutralize, co-opt or marginalize" radical Latin American nations which were advocating deeper cuts in carbon emissions, the Europeans agreed that it was imperative to "work around unhelpful countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia." An EU official then noted how "ironic" it was that Europe donated a lot of money to radical Latin American countries, but they in turn were "actively discouraging" others from signing on to Copenhagen, a heavily criticized accord which the EU nevertheless sought to foist on the rest of the world. Simultaneously, in preparation for Cancún the EU aimed to downgrade public expectations for the summit, hoping to merely score modest agreements on climate financing and a climate warning system.


Cancún Expectations


Despite such unpromising backroom diplomacy, the Cancún summit ended with Germany agreeing to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2020. That would be well ahead of pledges made by the EU bloc as a whole, which only agreed to reduce emissions by 20 percent. Indeed, Der Spiegel reports that "other countries in the [EU] club are appreciative of Berlin's pledge — but none have followed the example." For Cancún to be effective Germany will have to cajole other member states to make deeper commitments, but already there are indications, in the words of Der Spiegel, that the central European powerhouse "no longer wants to be the model EU pupil."


Since China and the U.S. left Cancún without offering concrete carbon pledges, it is up to the EU to make the greatest difference on global warming. German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats, argues that his country must "advance decisively," in the post Cancún milieu. A new eco-boom, he declares, might create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. If other EU members should renege on carbon reductions, Röttgen argues, Germany should lead even further by raising its targets to between 42 and 50 percent.


Throwing cold water on that idea, Merkel says that such a deep commitment would put pressure on the economy. Officials at the Chancellery declare that "Germany, with its national reduction target of 40 percent, is at the upper limit" of its Cancún targets and that other EU countries need to make up the difference. Seeking to avoid a confrontation with Merkel, Röttgen has now changed his tune and lambastes other EU countries, demanding that they "make a contribution that corresponds to the German contribution."


The Satellite Imbroglio


Failing to inspire fellow EU members is disappointing enough, though further WikiLeaks cables show that the Merkel government has truly acted cynically. Recently, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten released U.S. cables from the American Embassy in Berlin dating from early 2009 to early 2010. The documents show that Germany and the U.S. sought to develop a joint satellite program which would be operational by 2013. Code named HiROS, or High Resolution Optical Satellite System, the project would reportedly detect objects on the ground as small as 50 centimeters in diameter and take infrared images at night.


Because of the controversial nature of HiROS, the U.S. and Germany planned to present the project to the public as a civilian project which would study climate change and improve the environment. In reality, however, HiROS was "under the total control" of German intelligence and the national aerospace center. Observing the growing German-U.S. détente, neighboring France grew concerned and sought to derail the satellite program at every turn. The Merkel government, however, which had long sought to become a leading player providing satellite data, disregarded French entreaties.


The satellite imbroglio reveals the Merkel government at its most crass. At a time when the world desperately needs satellite data to further understand global climate change, Germany seems more intent on outmaneuvering its fellow EU members on intelligence gathering. Even as its rails against other European countries for not living up to their carbon commitments, Germany is pursuing narrow self interest and failing to use its technology for the benefit of all. If anything, the WikiLeaks scandal may sow suspicion amongst EU members and make further environmental diplomacy that much more difficult to achieve.


On the other hand, ongoing disclosures might actually spur a public outcry and further debate. With the chances for climate change legislation looking dimmer and dimmer in the new Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, the EU must be a more forceful player on global warming. As the most significant political and economic country in Europe, Germany must lead in a much more convincing way than recent WikiLeaks cables suggest. Perhaps, German environmentalists and the media will raise a stir and pressure the Merkel government to finally assume its historic responsibility.

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WikiLeaks: From South Atlantic to South Pacific, It’s Open Season on Environmentalists

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