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Bolivia’s restrictions impede human rights & civil society

Bolivia’s restrictions impede human rights & civil society

 

Bolivia Restrictions Impede Human Rights Civil SocietyBolivia’s restrictions on the work of nongovernmental organizations violate human rights defenders’ and civil society groups’ right to freedom of association, according to a leading advocacy group:

On August 5, 2015, Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief to the Bolivian Constitutional Court, in a case brought by the Bolivian Ombudsman challenging the constitutionality of a 2013 law and presidential decree that grant the government broad powers to dissolve nongovernmental organizations.

Under the decree, any government office may ask the Autonomy Ministry, which is charged with strengthening autonomous local governments and indigenous communities in the country, to revoke an organization’s permit to operate if the group carries out activities different from those listed in its bylaws or if the organization’s representative is criminally sanctioned for activities that “undermine security or public order.” The Plurinational Assembly, the national legislature, may also request revocation of permit in cases of “necessity or public interest.”

The Ombudsman’s submission specifically challenged the constitutionality of a provision in the Law of Legal Entities that provides that nongovernmental organizations and foundations must specify in their bylaws “their contribution to economic and social development,” and another in the presidential decree that provides that organizations can be dissolved if they “fail to comply with [official] policies and rules.”

“The way Bolivia’s law and decree on nongovernmental groups is written invites arbitrary, politically motivated decisions that undermine their right to freedom of association,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Bolivia should immediately repeal these restrictions to ensure that human rights defenders can do their job freely, which is critical in any democratic society.”

Democracy Digest

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Obama hides the evidence of growing cruelty of the Castro brothers

EDITORIAL: Obama hides evidence of Castro cruelty

Mr. Obama's Cuban legacy

The U.S. hides the evidence of growing cruelty of the Castro brothers

Obama Hides The Evidence Of Growing Cruelty Of The Castro BrothersThe French, as they usually do, have a word for it: the tendency of a man to judge problems solely on the basis of his professional skills. The French call this "deformation professionelle." If you're a lawyer, you want to litigate difficulties away, a physician wants to prescribe medicines to wipe them out, a surgeon is eager to cut them out. If you're a diplomat, you want to bargain them away — whatever the sacrifice and cost, to reach the "successful negotiation," which is the point of the exercise.

It's not enough that Washington has made a deal with a bankrupt Cuban regime, throwing them a life line of support just when their last sugar daddy, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has gone to his just reward and his heirs can no longer afford to give the Cubans oil. At the very moment he was concluding a deal with President Obama, Raul Castro, the aging dictator-in-chief once removed, was throwing new political prisoners in jail. We're not supposed to notice.

There’s a lot of hip, hip hooray and ballyhoo, too, about how Cuba will open up to foreign trade when and if the United States lifts the trade embargo, and become another, if smaller, China. But smoke is getting in someone’s eyes. The Canadians have been open to trade with Cuba for decades, but unable to do much business with Havana because of restraints on trade and the usual Marxist economic incompetence. In sheer desperation, the government now permits certain (very) small business ownerships. With an expected wave of American tourists, soon a few luxury hotels and boutiques will be allowed, but available only to foreigners and Cubans with dollars remitted from kin in the United States.

The ferocious warriors of the dainty teacup in Foggy Bottom have spread a veil over the continuing human rights cruelties of the regime with whom they have chosen to sip and sup. The sight of the cruelty can curdle the cream in any deputy assistant undersecretary’s cup of Earl Grey. In this year’s annual report by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons — or “slavery” in plain talk — Cuba was removed from the “Tier 3” blacklist. There was the official claim, disputed by the State Department’s own trafficking analysts, that Cuba had made notable improvements in its sorry record of kidnappings and imprisonments without cause.

The Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau of the State Department scoffs, politely, of course, at claims that the Castro brothers are permitting progress toward human decency. Nor is there an attempt to show the lengths to which the regime goes to indenture its citizens. The Castros’ highly touted extension of medical services — of whatever quality — to other Latin and African nations is not necessarily voluntary by the doctors and nurses, but carefully disguised penal servitude for its medical students and graduates. The Cuban government takes most of their meager earnings.

The careful exposure of the complexity of the Cuban tyranny, as developed over a half-century and as has impoverished the island and driven its elites abroad, is necessary if Mr. Obama’s grandiose initiative to improve relations will mean anything beyond jobs for a few diplomatic clerks. It’s impossible to identify a single concession which the Castro brothers made in return for the semi-respectability the Obama administration conferred on them.

It’s another example of the inability, or lack of will, of the Obama administration to defend American interests and those of subjugated peoples in its foreign relations. There must be a limit to what the U.S. should tolerate when it extends the prize of diplomatic relations to a sordid foreign regime.

A new administration in 2016, whatever its party and personal affiliations, will have a large diplomatic mess to clean up after. It’s part of Mr. Obama’s growing legacy.

Publication: The Washington Times 

The Washington Times EDITORIAL: Obama hides evidence of Castro cruelty

© The Washington Times

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Special Report: State Department watered down human trafficking report

Special Report State Department Watered Down Human Trafficking Report2015WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse.

The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed.

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons - or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said. 

The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery - such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution - won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said. (Graphic looking at some of the key decisions here: http://reut.rs/1gF2Wz5

Of the three disputes J/TIP won, the most prominent was Thailand, which has faced scrutiny over forced labor at sea and the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims through its southern jungles. Diplomats had sought to upgrade it to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status. It remains on “Tier 3” - the rating for countries with the worst human-trafficking records.

The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously known by diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions and is the basis for many countries’ anti-trafficking policies. This year, local embassies and other constituencies within the department were able to block some of the toughest grades.

State Department officials say the ratings are not politicized. “As is always the case, final decisions are reached only after rigorous analysis and discussion between the TIP office, relevant regional bureaus and senior State Department leaders,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in response to queries by Reuters.

Still, by the time the report was released on July 27, Malaysia and Cuba were both removed from the "Tier 3" blacklist, even though the State Department’s own trafficking experts believed neither had made notable improvements, according to the sources. 

The Malaysian upgrade, which was highly criticized by human rights groups, could smooth the way for an ambitious proposed U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.

Ending Communist-ruled Cuba’s 12 years on the report’s blacklist came as the two nations reopened embassies on each other’s soil following their historic détente over the past eight months.

And for China, the experts’ recommendation to downgrade it to the worst ranking, Tier 3, was overruled despite the report’s conclusion that Beijing did not undertake increased anti-trafficking efforts.

That would have put China alongside the likes of Syria and North Korea, regarded by the United Nations as among the world’s worst human right abusers. 

Typically, J/TIP wins more than half of what officials call “disputes” with diplomatic sections of the State Department, according to people familiar with the process. 

“Certainly we have never seen that kind of an outcome,” said one U.S. official with direct knowledge of the department.

ABILITY TO EMBARRASS

The Trafficking in Persons report, which evaluated 188 countries and territories this year, calls itself the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts. Rights groups mostly agree.

It organizes countries into tiers based on trafficking records: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2 for those making significant efforts to meet those standards; Tier 2 "Watch List" for those that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that fail to comply with the minimum U.S. standards and are not making significant efforts.

While a Tier 3 ranking can trigger sanctions limiting access to aid from the United States, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, such action is frequently waived.

The real power is its ability to embarrass countries into action. Many countries aggressively lobby U.S. embassies to try to avoid sliding into the Tier 3 category. Four straight years on the Tier 2 Watch List triggers an automatic downgrade to Tier 3 unless a country earns a waiver or an upgrade.

The leverage has brought some success, including pressuring Switzerland to close loopholes that allowed the prostitution of minors and prompting the Dominican Republic to convict more child trafficking offenders.

President Barack Obama has called the fight against human trafficking “one of the great human rights causes of our time” and has pledged the United States “will continue to lead it.”

But the office set up in 2001 by a congressional mandate to spearhead that effort is increasingly struggling to publish independent assessments of the most diplomatically important countries, the sources said.

The rejection of so many recommendations could strengthen calls by some lawmakers to investigate how the report is compiled.  After Reuters on July 8 reported on the plans to upgrade Malaysia, 160 members of the U.S. House and 18 U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to keep Malaysia in Tier 3, based on its trafficking record. They questioned whether the upgrade was politically motivated.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, has threatened to call for a Senate hearing and an inspector general to investigate if top State Department officials removed Malaysia from the lowest tier for political reasons.

The final decision on disputed rankings this year was made in meetings attended by some of the State Department’s most powerful diplomats, including Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Kerry’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Finer, according to the sources. 

Sarah Sewall, who oversees J/TIP as Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, presented the experts’ recommendations, the sources said.  The State Department declined to make any of those officials available for comment.

“NO, NO, NO”

The unprecedented degree of discord over this trafficking report began to become clear after Reuters early last month revealed plans to upgrade Malaysia from the lowest Tier 3 rank to Tier 2 Watch List.

The improved ranking came in a year in which Malaysian authorities discovered dozens of suspected mass migrant graves and human rights groups reported continued forced labor in the nation’s lucrative palm oil, construction and electronics industries. As recently as April, the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Yun, urged the country to take prosecution of human trafficking violations more seriously.

U.S. officials have denied that political considerations influenced Malaysia’s rankings. 

“No, no, no,” said Sewall, when asked by reporters last Monday whether Malaysia was upgraded to facilitate trade negotiations. She said the decision was based on how Malaysia was dealing with trafficking.

Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who authored a 2000 law that led to the creation of J/TIP, said in an interview that the office’s authority is being undermined by the president’s agenda. “It’s so politicized,” he said.

If Malaysia had remained on Tier 3, it would have posed a potential barrier to Obama's proposed trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That deal is a crucial part of his pivot to Asia policy. Congress approved legislation in June giving Obama expanded trade negotiating powers but prohibiting deals with Tier 3 countries such as, at that time, Malaysia.

Congressional sources and current and former State Department officials said experts in the J/TIP office had recommended keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, highlighting a drop in human-trafficking convictions in the country to three last year from nine in 2013. They said, according to the sources, that some of Malaysia’s efforts to end forced labor amounted to promises rather than action. 

The analysts also clashed over Cuba’s record with the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, whose view took precedence in the final report. 

Human rights groups and people with knowledge of the negotiations over the rankings said an unearned upgrade for Cuba, especially at a time of intense attention due to the historic diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, could undermine the integrity of the report.

Cuba had been on the “border line” for an upgrade in recent years, a former State Department official said. And although Cuba ended up with an upgrade, the final report remained highly critical, citing concerns about Cuba’s failure to deal with a degree of alleged forced labor in medical missions that Havana sends to developing countries. 

China was another source of friction. J/TIP’s analysts called for downgrading China, the world’s second-biggest economy, to Tier 3, criticizing Beijing for failing to follow through on a promise to abolish its “re-education through labor” system and to adequately protect trafficking victims from neighboring countries such as North Korea. The final report put China on Tier 2 Watch List.

SHOWING DEFERENCE

But the candor of J/TIP can run afoul of other important diplomatic priorities, particularly in countries beset by instability or corruption where U.S. diplomats are trying to build relationships. That leads every year to sometimes contentious back-and-forth over the rankings with far-flung embassies and regional bureaus – the diplomatic centers of gravity at the State Department.

“There is supposed to be some deference to the expertise of the office,” said Mark Lagon, J/TIP’s ambassador-at-large from 2007 to 2009 and now president of Freedom House, an advocacy group in Washington. If the office is now losing more disputes over rankings than it is winning, that would be “an unfortunate thing,” he said.

Most U.S. diplomats are reluctant to openly strike back at critics inside and outside of the administration who accuse them of letting politics trump human rights, the sources said.

But privately, some diplomats say that J/TIP staffers should avoid acting like “purists” and keep sight of broader U.S. interests, including maintaining open channels with authoritarian governments to push for reform and forging trade deals that could lift people out of poverty. 

From the start, J/TIP has tried to be impartial. It is based in a building a few blocks away from State Department, adding to the sense of two separate identities and cultures.

But establishing genuine independence has been difficult. At first, the heads of regional bureaus, representing the business and political interests of U.S. embassies, would join the J/TIP team around a table and have almost an equal say in deciding country rankings in the final report.

John Miller, a former Republican congressman from Washington state named by President George W. Bush to head the bureau from 2002 to 2006, overhauled that structure.

“I said ‘no way’,” Miller said in an interview. By 2004, decisions on how to rank countries were made by his office. Diplomats who objected could appeal to then deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage. “He rarely overruled me,” said Miller. Armitage, who is no longer in a government job, did not respond to a request for comment sent through his office.

Laura Lederer, who helped set the office up as senior human trafficking adviser from 2002 to 2007, said its job was “to assess and rate countries solely on their progress in addressing the prevention of trafficking, the prosecution of traffickers, and protection and assistance of victims.”

But officials who worked in the office over the past 15 years acknowledge that countries with sensitive diplomatic or trade relationships with the United States sometimes received special treatment following pressure from local embassies and other constituencies within the department.

One such country is Mexico – a key trading partner whose cooperation is also needed against drug trafficking and illegal immigration. It was kept at Tier 2 despite the anti-trafficking unit’s call for a worse grade, according to officials in Washington and Mexico City.

The controversy over this year’s report comes at a time when J/TIP lacks a congressionally confirmed leader. 

The prior chief, ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, left in November of last year. His deputy, Alison Friedman, then resigned to join a non-profit anti-slavery organization. And then it took until mid-July for Obama to nominate Georgia federal prosecutor Susan Coppedge as the next ambassador-at-large.

The lack of a director can increase the unit’s exposure to political influence, said Lederer.

Some say the perceived hit to the integrity of the 2015 report could do lasting damage.

“It only takes one year of this kind of really deleterious political effect to kill its credibility,”  said Mark Taylor, a former senior coordinator for reports and political affairs at J/TIP from 2003 to 2013.

(Reporting by Jason Szep and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Dave Graham in Mexico City, Michael Martina in Beijing, and Dan Trotta in Havana; Editing by Martin Howell)

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Clinton Needs to Read Up on the Castros

Clinton Needs Read Up CastroThe embargo does not block the sale of books to Cuba, or isolate its economy from the world.

Getting to the left of Vermont senator and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is no easy feat. But Hillary Clinton’s speech in Miami Friday was an excellent effort. What could be more reassuring to the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party (i.e., primary voters) than a candidate who uses the talking points of Fidel and Raúl Castro to explain Cuban isolation and misery?

The problem for the rest of the electorate is what the speech says about Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy judgment. Her remarks do not inspire confidence that she has a strategy for dealing with the intransigent Castro dictatorship.

Things are not going well for Mrs. Clinton. Gallup reported on July 24 that Mr. Sanders’s favorability rating had doubled since March to 24% while Hillary Clinton’s had dropped five points to 43% since April. The loss of momentum calls for creativity. Playing the Cuba card is a way to win back the far left, as well as to bring in campaign donations from unprincipled corporatists eager to go into business with the regime.

Mrs. Clinton’s call for the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo “once and for all” is neither new nor unique; she advocated doing that a year ago at the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s a view shared by a variety of Americans across the political spectrum, including libertarians who believe the U.S. government shouldn’t have the power to dictate where they can travel any more than it should fund the Inter-American Development Bank, which undoubtedly wants to add the crooked Castros to its “client” list.

But when Mrs. Clinton said on Friday that “we must decide between engagement and embargo, between embracing fresh thinking and returning to Cold War deadlock,” she was applying the same reasoning the Obama administration uses to argue that the U.S. needs to either accept the nuclear deal with Iran or go to war. This is a false dichotomy that doesn’t hold for Cuba policy any more than it holds for dealing with Tehran.

Mrs. Clinton called on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “answer the pleas of the Cuban people.” Cubans “want a closer relationship with America,” she said. They “want to read our books, surf our Web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century.”

The Cuban regime couldn’t have crafted a better “blame America” narrative for the island’s isolation. If polls suggest Americans are buying it, it’s because the dictatorship has done such a good job of spreading propaganda in American universities and media. Mrs. Clinton, after serving as secretary of state for four years, should know better.

The embargo does not block the export of books to Cuba because informational material is exempt. Cubans cannot read “our” books because Cuba controls the reading material that enters the country and imprisons for “dangerousness” anyone caught with nonapproved texts.

There is no such thing as “our Web,” and the U.S. embargo does not restrict Cubans’ access to the Internet. Most Cubans cannot get computers. Most of those who do have them are denied access to the World Wide Web. It’s only the party faithful who get approval.

As to learning from “our people,” Cuba tightly controls interaction with foreigners, and those who step out of line can go to jail. Try getting a visa from Cuba if you have been labeled a “counterrevolutionary,” as I have. These policies are expressly designed to block Cubans from communicating with each other and with outsiders to keep them from organizing politically or socially.

The unconditional end of the embargo will do nothing to change this. On the contrary, it may strengthen the dictator’s hand if it results in fresh capital flowing to the island.

Since President Obama announced in December that he would restore diplomatic relations and liberalize travel to the island, state security arrests have sharply increased, according to human rights groups. Mrs. Clinton’s line that, if elected, she will press for the settlement of claims for property confiscated during the revolution would be more plausible if she pledged to do it before lifting the embargo.

In a July 26 blog post, Cuban-born author and columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner noted that Mr. Obama’s steps toward normalization have not altered Cuba’s “state military capitalism.” Some 2,500 medium-size and large businesses, including the tourism industry, remain in the hands of the armed forces. Mr. Montaner reminded readers that to generate foreign currency, Cuba also rents out its doctors and dentists around the world as slave labor and depends on remittances from émigrés.

With this income, the regime funds the jackboots and maintains the repression. Or as Mr. Montaner put it, “One ferocious dog is enough to keep 200 sheep terrified.”

If Mrs. Clinton wants to lift the embargo on libertarian grounds she may have a case. But arguing that doing so will liberate the Cuban people is either disingenuous or just plain dumb.

 Capitol Hill Cubans

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