Monthly Archives: August 2013

PF – Coup Déjà vu: What Egypt’s Military Learned – And Failed to Learn – From Venezuela

Posted By Juan Nagel  Thursday, August 15, 2013 – 9:39 AM

Long-time observers of Venezuelan politics view the events unfolding halfway across the globe, in Egypt, with more than a bit of déjà vu.

populist president with a power base in the poor classes? Check.

A revolution imposing a constitution and running a sectarian government, prompting a political crisis? Check.

Massive street demonstrations triggering a military ouster of said president, who is immediately placed in custody while his supporters take to the streets? Check.

Venezuela lived through all of this in 2002. And while so far the Egyptian coupsters have succeeded longer than the Venezuelans did, it’s still an open question whether the coup will have actual staying power, and at what cost to the Egyptian people.

In 2002, Hugo Chávez was facing a political crisis of enormous proportions. A sluggish economy had eaten away at his base of support. The approval of a new Constitution — tailor-made to his desires — was seen by many as a sectarian move. The approval of a series of secret decrees that touched everything from the oil sector to land holdings without consulting affected sectors brought panic to boardrooms across the country. And the suggestion of a new education law seeped in leftist ideology sent worried parents out into the streets en masse.

By April of 2002, the crisis had reached a boiling point. Members of the military began openly questioning the president. Throughout the month millions of people marched through the streets of Caracas demanding Chávez resign. A general strike was called.

The crisis came to a head on April 11, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on to the Presidential palace, only to be greeted by snipers of unknown affiliation. A violent, confusing confrontation ensued and nineteen people (from both the opposition and pro-government camps) lay dead.

This prompted the military to act.

Within a few hours, the top brass of the Venezuelan army had removed Chávez and placed him under arrest. The president of the main business federation and leader of the protest movement, Pedro Carmona, was named interim-President, and he quickly moved to dissolve parliament, the courts, and suspend the Constitution. (The best book on the subject is The Silence and the Scorpion, by American author Brian Nelson)

Then, in a development that changed the course of Latin American history, the military backtracked. Seemingly afraid of being in charge of a coup d’etat, facing internal grumblings from dissenting commanders, and unwilling to attack pro-Chávez demonstrators who marched on the streets demanding to know where Chávez was, the coup quickly collapsed. On April 13, two days after being removed, Chávez came back to consolidate his grip on power. Carmona and the generals are now in exile in Colombia. The opposition has never fully recovered from these events.

The parallels with Egypt are striking. After the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the government of Mohamed Morsy moved to change the Constitution. By all accounts, the new constitution left important sectors of society out in the cold. Demonstrations demanding Morsy’s ouster paved the way for Egypt’s military to depose Morsy and place him under arrest. Thousands of his supporters are now demanding his release, and the result has been unspeakably violent.

Yet, unlike Chávez, it does not appear as though Morsy has any allies in the armed forces. This is a crucial difference that may spell doom for the former Egyptian president. It is also understandable — Chávez, after all, came from the military, and his deep knowledge of the institution along with the friendships cultivated there proved a daunting challenge for Venezuela’s plotting generals.

Furthermore, Venezuela’s generals were unwilling to go all the way with their coup.

When Chile’s Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende in 1973, he promptly unleashed a wave of terror that overwhelmed Allende’s backers. The swiftness and the unabashed violence of his campaign helped consolidate his grip on power. Venezuela’s generals did nothing of the sort, and their power quickly dissolved.

If Egypt’s generals begin to feel remorse for the violence in the streets, if they begin losing allies, or if they face internal conflict, with sectors of the armed forces thinking twice about what they have done, the coup could very well collapse. Failing to quash dissent will only embolden the poor masses at the heart of Morsy’s movement, just like the chavista masses were emboldened after seeing Chávez’s detractors squabbling. This could pave the way for Morsy’s return amidst a popular wave of support, no matter what the middle-class crowds in Tahrir Square think.

There is a popular saying in Venezuela: doing something and not finishing the task is like “killing a tiger and being afraid of its dead skin.”

Venezuela’s generals overthrew a president and immediately began regretting it. If Egypt’s generals blink, the same could happen there. But if they tighten their grip, blood will continue being spilled, and the hopes for an open, democratic Egypt will be quashed.

Either way, it’s a tragedy for all Egyptians…just like 2002 was a tragedy for all Venezuelans.

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The New Cocaine War: Peru Overtakes Colombia as World’s Top Coca Grower | FP Passport

The New Cocaine War: Peru Overtakes Colombia as World’s Top Coca Grower | FP Passport.

 

REUTERS – No ties? No problem as China courts Taiwan’s remaining allies

By Lucy Hornby and Luc Cohen

BEIJING/MEXICO CITY | Tue Aug 6, 2013 5:00pm EDT

Aug 7 (Reuters) – Taiwan’s last remaining diplomatic allies are developing increasingly tight economic ties with China, in a trend that could increase Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation if the current detente between Beijing and Taipei fails.

The world’s second-largest economy is gaining soft power with a series of investment commitments in Central America, home to the last significant bloc of countries that still maintain formal ties with Taiwan.

But instead of jumping on the chance to make new allies, China is stalling on Central American requests to establish diplomatic relations. The goal is to avoid galling Taiwanese voters, as Beijing is also courting the administration of the island’s president, Ma Ying-jeou.

That leaves China with a trump card if cross-straits relations turn cooler under future administrations. It could then pull the diplomatic rug out from under Taiwan by engineering a mass defection of its remaining friends, analysts say.

“The economics are hot although the politics are still cold,” said Zhang Zhexin, who studies Taiwan policy at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. He estimates China has rebuffed at least five countries’ requests to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

“If it weren’t for the desire to support Ma, we would have let them switch already. But now we are not as much in a rush as before.”

Costa Rica was the most recent nation to recognise Beijing in 2007, leaving Taiwan with 23 allies ranging in size from Paraguay to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.

A U.S. State Department cable released by Wikileaks indicates that Panama sought to recognise Beijing in 2009, but was rebuffed.

“It doesn’t make any sense anymore economically speaking to be affiliated with Taiwan,” said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America programme at the Interamerican Dialogue.

Beijing became more conciliatory towards Ma’s ruling Nationalist Party under China’s previous president, Hu Jintao, and tried to woo Taiwan’s people with carrots rather than sticks.

China and Taiwan have signed a series of landmark trade and economic deals since the China-friendly Ma was elected in 2008, and the two sides have since observed an unofficial truce in the competition to lure diplomatic recognition with expensive investment deals.

Nonetheless, Beijing – the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – regards separately ruled Taiwan as a renegade province, to be reunited with force if necessary. The two have been governed separately since the Communist Party won the Chinese civil war in 1949, and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan.

“The PRC now wants to be in a position without violating the truce of effectively being able to say … ‘we are essentially in a position where we can take away the last remaining pieces of your diplomatic legitimacy’,” said Evan Ellis, assistant professor at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, D.C.

 

BUSINESS TIES THAT BIND

A number of Central American “dream” projects might have strategic interest for China as it seeks cheaper shipping routes for gas, ore and soybeans from the Caribbean or the Atlantic ports. But the greater allure seems to be for Central American politicians, who envision Chinese funding for their grand plans.

Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, which has ties with Taiwan, has granted a 50-year concession to a Chinese telecoms businessman with no experience in infrastructure projects, to build a canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean that would challenge the Panama Canal’s dominance. The price tag for this project, long desired by Nicaragua, is about $40 billion.

Not to be outdone, the president of Honduras, which also has ties with Taiwan, announced that China Harbour Engineering Corp (CHEC) was conducting a feasibility study for a $20 billion port and rail project, also to cross the isthmus. China Harbour executives said they agreed to do the study, but have not yet received a contract.

Meanwhile, plans for China Railway Group to build a trans-isthmus rail and port project in Colombia, which recognises Beijing, have seen little progress since they were announced by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2010, diplomats say.

And Guatemala is trying to tap Taiwan to finance the revival of its national train system, which has not operated for several years. Taiwan, which has ties with Guatemala, has agreed to develop a blueprint.

Beijing’s single Central American ally, Costa Rica, has asked for help developing a special economic zone in impoverished port regions.

Still, in practice, Chinese firms prefer to take less risky roles as cost-effective contractors on projects that range from American-backed power plants in Guatemala to Panamanian port projects.

“In terms of our business development, we can participate in a project regardless of whether there is diplomatic recognition,” said CHEC vice president Shi Yingtao. His company has worked on Panamanian port projects for Taiwanese shipping firm Evergreen Marine Corp.

While Chinese money might threaten Taiwan’s diplomatic standing, Taiwan’s vibrant business community has not lost out. They continue to operate export-oriented factories in Southeast Asia – despite a lack of diplomatic recognition – and in mainland China, where their investments were a major driving force for the spectacular growth of the past three decades.

In fact, politically driven overseas projects by the Taiwan government have in the past failed to attract significant interest from Taiwan businesses, to Taipei’s embarrassment.

“They spent a lot of money over the years competing for recognition but without much result. There was a very low return on investment,” said Chin-Ming Lin of the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

(Additional reporting by Mike McDonald in Guatemala City, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Ivan Castro in Managua, Isabella Cota in San Jose and Lomi Kriel in Panama City; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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NYT – From Jungle, Brazil Aims to Extend Its Reach

By 

Published: May 6, 2013

MARECHAL RONDON BASE, Brazil — Maj. José Maria Ferreira smiled as he listed the threats to human survival in the canopied jungle enveloping this remote military outpost in the Brazilian Amazon.

He started with the piranhas, which lurk in rivers, and the pit vipers like the feared bushmaster, the Western Hemisphere’s longest venomous snake. Then he moved on to the silent creatures, including the formiga-cabo-verde, called the bullet ant in English and found in colonies at the base of trees. Its sting, according to victims,hurts about as much as being shotand lasts for a good 24 hours.

Widening his grin, Major Ferreira then describedleishmaniasis, the flesh-eating disease caused by sand-fly bites, the mosquito-borne fevers like malaria and dengue and, finally, rhabdomyolysis, a condition brought on by extremely strenuous exercise. It leads to kidney damage and the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue; victims can identify its onset when their urine turns dark brown.

“We get concerned when that happens,” said Major Ferreira, 42, the spokesman for Brazil’s Jungle Warfare Instruction Center, which ranks among the most demanding institutions of its kind in the tropics. “That brown coloring means 90 percent chance of death.”

Strangely enough, dozens of soldiers from elite Brazilian military units, as well as members of special operations forces from around the world, vie each year for coveted spots in the courses at the center, which is emerging as a cornerstone of Brazil’s ambition to spread its influence into parts of the developing world, especially in Latin America and Africa.

In courses lasting about nine weeks, instructors submit soldiers to an array of punishing tasks. The soldiers must endure long hikes through the jungle, swim in waters infested with caiman and piranha and survive for several days without rations, hunting or foraging for their own food.

Instructors also deprive soldiers of sleep, roaring insults at them when they show signs of fatigue, and force them to engage in hand-to-hand combat with one another. Throughout it all, soldiers rest (when permitted) in hammocks pitched on trees deep in the forest, where they are often soaked by heavy rains or bedeviled by the ear-piercing groans of howler monkeys.

“It has been a very, very hard and tiring experience,” said Lt. Djibil Toure, 26, one of four junior officers from a special operations unit in Senegal’s army sent to take part in the course this year.

The Senegalese contingent dropped out after failing a test in which participants must tread water in full gear, carrying backpacks and a rifle that together weigh more than 100 pounds. But they remained here as observers because Brazil has agreed to help Senegal’s army improve its jungle warfare abilities.

After the course ends, Lieutenant Toure said, Brazilian military advisers plan to travel to Senegal, where his unit is involved in combating a slow-burning insurgency, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance.

For Brazil, the opportunity to train African soldiers will help lift its profile on the other side of the Atlantic at a time when trade is surging between Brazil and African countries. In addition to Senegal, Angola has begun sending soldiers to the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center, commonly called CIGS, the acronym of its name in Portuguese.

Brazil has also made the courses here available to countries in its own hemisphere, with Argentina, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname sending participants. Even France, which maintains troops in French Guiana, an overseas region that shares a border in the Amazon with Brazil, and the United States occasionally send soldiers for training.

CIGS originated in 1964 after a Brazilian officer, who attended a similar course once operated by the United States Army in Panama, sought to create an instruction center tailored to the conditions of the Brazilian rain forest.

Some of the innovations here include replacing mules and horses with Asian water buffalos, which were introduced decades ago to the Amazon River Basin and have adapted well to the rain forest, and providing soldiers who complete the course with a combat knife developed for the center.

Training a military force that will allow Brazil to assert its sovereignty over the Amazon region, about 60 percent of which is in Brazil and which is urbanizing at a rapid pace, remains the center’s top priority. The program focuses on the challenges posed by cocaine trafficking, illegal deforestation, the unauthorized mining of gold and diamonds, and the threat of incursions by guerrillas from Colombia briefly seeking a haven.

More broadly, the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center also supports Brazil’s efforts to raise its military profile by taking a more active role in United Nations missions, like the one in Haiti and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, while also repositioning the armed forces after a long stretch of military rule, from 1964 to 1985, when soldiers were implicated in human rights abuses.

The task of preparing soldiers here for missions in Brazil or abroad is largely left up to Lt. Col. Mário Augusto Coimbra, the chief instructor at the jungle warfare center. Colonel Coimbra, a self-described connoisseur of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, recently spent a vacation in Texas hunting feral hogs and displays a collection of combat knives, particularly Nepalese kukris, in his office.

“Rambo couldn’t finish this course,” said Colonel Coimbra, 44, a stocky man whose cellphone ringtone whirls like a helicopter taking off. “It’s because he’s an individualist; to truly survive in the jungle you need to be a team.”

Still, even the teams formed during the course inevitably get whittled down. Of 100 participants who began the course this year, just 53 were left at the midway point. Doctors and psychologists constantly monitor the soldiers, requesting their removal if they appear too fatigued or sick. The last fatality was in 2008, when a soldier fainted while swimming.

In addition to the Senegalese officers, soldiers from Guatemala, Ecuador and France took part in this year’s course. On a recent afternoon, many of the participants looked gaunt, with bags under the eyes, as they were ordered to run in formation under incessant rain. All of them had their name tags removed from their fatigues, and were assigned numbers by instructors.

No. 14, Lt. Caio Nicoli Calggario of Espírito Santo State in southeastern Brazil, looked exhausted when asked about the course. He said a low point came during the survival phase when some soldiers staved off hunger by eating the larvae found on the babassu coconut tree. “I slept 10 minutes last night,” he said, staring at the ground. “It’s hard to hunt when you’re tired.”

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