Foreign Affairs

Banks Launder Billions of Illegal Cartel Money While Snubbing Legal Marijuana Businesses

This article was published by the Huffington Post and Alternet.

In the past few weeks, violence in the western Mexican state of Michoacán has been rapidly escalating. The government’s inability to deal with the powerful cartels has led to citizens taking the law into their own hands — by forming armed vigilante groups. The bloodshed caused by this development has now led to the deployment of Mexican soldiersinto the region, which in turn has caused further civilian deaths.

The failure of both the vigilantes and the army to quell the cartel’s carnage is a direct result of the huge profits that the drug trade generates. Cartel leaders can continue hiring and arming their combatants because it’s worth the expenditure; the illegal drug trade accounts for around 8 percent of all international trade. One of the primary reasons that cartels retain their enormous power is that well-known and popular banks are supporting their finances.

Bank of America, Western Union, and JP Morgan, are among the institutions allegedly involved in the drug trade. Meanwhile, HSBC has admitted its laundering role, and evaded criminal prosecution by paying a fine of almost $2 billion. The lack of imprisonment of any bankers involved is indicative of the hypocritical nature of the drug war; an individual selling a few grams of drugs can face decades in prison, while a group of people that tacitly allow — and profit from — the trade of tons, escape incarceration.

The hypocrisy of the role that banks play in the drug trade is particularly disgraceful when considering the recent system of marijuana regulation that was introduced in Colorado. The state’s legal marijuana business has proven to be highly lucrative, with $5 million made in the first week of 2014. However, at present, marijuana businesses cannot access essential banking services. Despite liberalization of marijuana laws in Colorado and elsewhere, the plant remains illegal at the federal level; this means that banks won’t open accounts for marijuana businesses, so the majority of their transactions are cash-only. The movement of such large amounts of cash can be highly dangerous for business owners, and troublesome for both customers and tax collectors.

Earlier this week, several Colorado legislators made a bipartisan appeal to the federal government, requesting clear guidelines for marijuana businesses’ regulation within the banking sector. Banks have avoided allowing these new companies to open accounts, ironically, for the fear of being penalized, or implicated as launderers. Essentially, the current banking system implicitly tolerates the handling of violent cartels’ illegal assets, but blocks the legal and legitimate business of the Coloradan marijuana industry.

The role that banks have played in the global drug trade has been partly responsible for widespread carnage and countless civilian deaths, particularly in Mexico. Now, as legal marijuana industries begin to emerge, and the war on drugs seems to slowly decelerate, the banking sector has an opportunity to redeem itself in this respect. Banks cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but they can create a fairer future for regulated trade within this expanding and legal new industry, and without supporting lawlessness.Image


Mexico vs. Marijuana


The bodies of cartel gunmen beside their vehicle after a shootout with Mexican soldiers (Source:

Mexico is, arguably, the nation worst affected by the war on drugs. Since the country’s intensification of aggressive prohibitionism in 2006, more than 70,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, although the true figure is unknown. Such criminality has become so prevalent that it barely makes headlines, and the cartels exacting this violence are targeting all levels of Mexican society; ordinary civilians, journalists, police, soldiers and numerous public officials. Staggeringly, in the past seven years, at least 30 Mexican mayors have been murdered for daring to stand up to trafficking groups, including 15 in 2010 alone.

Mexican cooperation with US-sponsored counter-narcotic schemes, most notably the 2008 Mérida Initiative, has led to a further militarization of the drug war, yet little success. A 2010 report suggests that illegal narcotic transactions with the United States continue to boom; earning Mexican cartels around $40billion every year. The incredible wealth of these organizations is the primary reason that Mexican forces struggle to decrease trafficking or subdue the violence. Additionally, government corruption is a significant repercussion of the traffickers’ power; a 2012 exposé by political science professor Stephen Morris refers to the indictment or prosecution of Mexican “prison officials, military and police commanders, governors […], district attorneys, mayors and city officials, and hundreds of military police” for tacit involvement in the drug trade.

To reduce violence and corruption, it is vital for the state to act efficiently in reducing the income of cartels by targeting one of their main cash crops: marijuana. There are no verifiable statistics of how much marijuana trafficking contributes to Mexican cartels’ overall earnings, as estimates vary wildly – from 25–60%. However, it is undeniable that significant profits are made from the production and trafficking of the flowering plant. If marijuana were to be legalized, regulated and taxed, the trade could be taken over by either the state or legitimate private businesses. Legalization would be financially devastating for traffickers, and could potentially raise sufficient tax revenue for the government to suppress the vicious aspects of cartel activity that are destabilizing the state. Of course, as opponents argue, cartels may continue to fund their operations by selling marijuana through a legal system, but the legitimizing of the trade would vastly offset the associated violence and corruption.

This is not revolutionary thinking; Mexico has been ravaged by prohibitionism for decades, and critics have long-called for a reform of marijuana policy. However, the past year has seen significant international momentum growing against marijuana prohibition – from the passing of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, to the on-going success of a legalization bill in the Uruguayan congress. Perhaps most importantly, senior Mexican political figures are now beginning to embrace the idea of legalization, and are publicly declaring so.

Earlier this month, a representative of the Mexico City council announced that the legalization of cultivation and usage was being considered – albeit being restricted to the capital city. Although well-intentioned, this measure may be insufficient even if implemented, as only nationwide legalization could be efficient in removing the trade from the hands of organized criminals. Meanwhile, former president Vicente Fox has placed himself firmly behind the anti-prohibitionist cause; comparing the illegality of marijuana to bans upon abortion and equal marriage – he declared “these arbitrarily imposed prohibitions have ended. And they ended because they don’t work”. Inversely, current president Enrique Peña Nieto has opposed such a change, citing the debunked myth of marijuana being a “gateway drug”.

Mexico’s proximity to the United States – the world leader in illegal drug consumption – has caused its citizens to face some of the deadliest consequences of militarized prohibitionism. As states across the USA reform their marijuana policy, it is essential for Mexico to keep up with their northern neighbor, and to end their war on marijuana before it claims more casualties.


The discovery of 120 tons of marijuana by the Mexican army – worth an estimated $180 million to cartels (Source:

Dissertation: The Failure of the War on Drugs


“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control mans’ appetite through legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not even crimes…” – Abraham Lincoln, 1840

The United States government has implemented federal laws that outlaw certain narcotics since the early 20th Century. The implementation of such policies is known as prohibitionism, and has been characterised by government suppression of the cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking and consumption of a number of drugs. This illegality was instituted into international law by the United Nations in 1961, and, since then, the United States has advocated this prohibitionism as a prominent part of its foreign policy agenda. This dissertation aims to identify and investigate the impacts of these policies upon basic human rights and security. In this context, ‘human rights’ are deemed to be the internationally recognised set of rights outlined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ‘Security’ is perceived as the safety and survival of the state or governing body; in this context, national security and regional security are encompassed by this term. In this dissertation it will be argued that prohibitionism has directly caused a severe deterioration of human rights and national security.

US prohibitionist policy has taken a number of forms, including the support for militarised counter-narcotic endeavours. This policy has caused extreme intrastate violence in Latin America, particularly evident with the conflation of terrorism and drug trafficking. This militarisation of prohibitionism is explored throughout this dissertation, and may be considered to be the reasoning behind the word ‘war’ in the idiom ‘the War on Drugs’; a phrase coined by Richard Nixon when state violence against drug traffickers began to develop.

To analyse the effectiveness of prohibitionism, it is essential to investigate the origins of such policy. Chapter One will involve an investigation into the roots of domestic prohibitionist policies in the United States, as these were the principal laws upon which global prohibitionist regulations were based. Subsequently, this chapter will focus on the transition of prohibitionism into international law, and will provide an explanation and analysis of how the United States government was, and continues to be, the primary driver of the intensification of the War on Drugs, particularly in Latin America. The primary argument put forward by this chapter will be that prohibitionism originated from a bigoted and oppressive rationale, and that these connotations continued as it progression into the international realm. It will also be argued that this discriminatory foundation is partially responsible for the inherent flaws within contemporary international prohibitionism.

The proximity of Latin America to the United States has allowed the former to become the primary cultivation region of the two most prevalent illegal drugs used by Americans: marijuana and cocaine. In the 1980s, Colombia emerged as the predominant producing nation in the hemisphere, and Mexico became the principal transit route of illegal drugs into the US. Since, Colombia and Mexico play vital roles in the drug trade, Chapter Two and Three will analyse the important, but distinctly heterogeneous, impacts that the War on Drugs has had upon human rights and security in these two nations respectively. Chapter Two addresses prohibitionism in Colombia; analysing the success of policies – including crop fumigation and the conflation of counter-narcotic and counter-terror efforts – and the repercussions upon the government and citizens. In contrast, Chapter Three will address the widespread corruption and empowerment of cartels that have resulted from prohibitionism in Mexico, as well as assessing the effectiveness of US involvement in the nation. These case studies are used to argue that prohibitionism, particularly the militarisation of drug policy, has caused severe destabilisation to both Colombia and Mexico’s national security, as well as a marked increase in human rights abuses; fuelling social, economic and political instability in both a local and regional context.

Following this disclosure and scrutiny of the consequences of prohibitionism, Chapter Four will outline an alternative framework for controlling drugs. The concepts of legalisation and decriminalisation will be defined, and the potential for their successwill be considered by referring to recent examples of drug policy reform, as well as theoretical perspectives. This chapter will put forward the argument that a legal and regulated system for the cultivation, distribution and consumption of drugs is superior to prohibitionism for the protection of human rights and national security. Additionally, it will be argued that legalisation is the most appropriate course of action at both the national and international level.


The international community’s failure to prevent the Rwandan Genocide


April 6th 2014 marks 20 years since the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide.

ImageIn early 1989, the United States, under George H. W. Bush’s administration, became legally bound by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (‘Genocide Convention’). When signing the legislation during his presidency, Ronald Reagan described it as a bold statement that indicated that “the United States… will punish acts of genocide with the force of law and the righteousness of justice”[1]. Shortly afterwards, in April 1994, this commitment purported by the US and the UN was put to the test, as mounting levels of violence began to erupt in the central African republic of Rwanda. In this piece I will address the Rwandan genocide – around 100 days of violence that ultimately resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 and one million people. Initially, I will briefly describe the aspects of the genocide that brought it to worldwide prominence. Subsequently, I will describe how and why the international response to the situation failed; critiquing the realist theoretical context in which the genocide was often framed, and evaluating the reluctance of involvement by the United Nations and the United States. Finally, I will assess the implications that the genocide has had upon the international community’s response to later conflicts, particularly in terms of the Responsibility to Protect.

From the end of World War I, the League of Nations mandated Belgium to govern Rwanda; scholars consider the Rwandan genocide to be a result of extreme intrastate tensions created by this interference[2]. Belgian rulers enforced a segregationist domestic policy; ensuring that the minority Tutsi group had political and socioeconomic advantages to Hutus, and punctuating the intention of divisiveness by requiring all Rwandans to carry identification cards to classify which group they belonged to[3]. In 1962, Belgium granted independence, and the majority Hutus gained power; the following decades were characterised by hundreds of thousands of Rwandans being killed in communal violence. The 1994 death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash was immediately blamed on Tutsis by the nation’s remaining leadership, and sparked what has been termed as an “accelerated genocide”; sudden violence occurring during a short space of time[4]. The precise death toll is unknown, though writer Philip Gourevitch poignantly gave an estimate: “eight hundred thousand killed in a hundred days… five and a half lives terminated every minute”[5]. Despite Rwandan ethnic tension having clear origins in historical external interference, little international effort was made to prevent the horrors that unfolded.

Extreme violence in Rwanda was not unexpected to the international community; a number of published reports and other warnings had been provided regarding the imminence of a potential humanitarian crisis. As Ronayne describes, “the signs were there for those who wanted to see and care”[6]. In early 1994, the UN Peacekeeping Operations decided against action due to the on-going failure of the UN Operation in Somalia II. Similarly, the United States vetoed a Belgian request to send forces into Rwanda, despite an eerily accurate CIA prediction of “a worst-case scenario of the deaths of half a million people”[7]. This inaction was partially due to fear of a backlash within domestic politics, and powered somewhat by Pentagon officials who opposed intervention due to a lack of national interest, and a fear of a repeat of the US deaths in Somalia[8]. In response to a request for intervention by the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, a government authority coldly articulated an opposition to this; “we can’t put all these silly humanitarian issues [such as Rwanda] on lists like important problems like the Middle East [and] North Korea. Just make it go away”[9]. This quote illustrates the contemporary US perception that activities within certain regions were considered to be more “important” than mass genocide within a state that had no direct significance within US foreign affairs. In May 1994, in the midst of the genocide, Clinton implemented an executive order outlining that US involvement in UN humanitarian missions would be restricted to states or regions that had “direct bearing on US national interests”[10]; this adherence to the realist tenet of restricting intervention to nations that provide strategic or economic value was undoubtedly in contradiction with the nature of the Genocide Convention.

The United States had its reasons for not militarily intervening in Rwanda, although it possessed alternative means to reduce the brutality of the genocide that didn’t involve force, yet did not utilise them. Evidence has emerged that US and British radio services monitored messages that Hutus were broadcasting to incite attacks upon Tutsis, yet did not attempt to halt these transmissions[11]. As Ronayne argues, the United States’ reluctance to take any action in Rwanda – save the evacuation of Americans – indicated a great hypocrisy; the US “abdicated world leadership [and] relegated its values to the realm of rhetoric”[12]. To maintain this avoidance of intervention, the US deliberately avoided the use of the term ‘genocide’ – if the acts were described as such, the government may have been coerced into fulfilling its perceived “legal obligation” within the Genocide[13]. Although, the White House later concluded that the UNGC did not require signatories to prevent genocide or punish culprits involved, but rather “enabled” them to do so – without the implication of an obligation[14]; indicating the failure of the Genocide Convention to ensure the protection of civilians from slaughter. Scholar Hedley Bull describes that “any historical system of rules will be found to serve the interests of the ruling or dominant elements”[15]; indeed, despite the opportunity to protect civilians, the US avoided intervention due to its particular interpretation of the Genocide Convention’s phrasing. A report written with the collaboration of academic professors, the US Army, and several distinguished diplomacy organisations concluded that an intervention with US participation could have saved thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of innocent lives[16]. Logistically, a humanitarian response to the genocide could have easily been implemented, as there was a wide variety of options; the US government could have involved a few thousand of its troops in Rwanda, a multinational coalition of highly trained troops could have entered with US leadership, or, untraditionally, even private military companies could have been hired[17]. The result of the Clinton administration’s actions, Gourevitch argues, was “a success of a policy not to intervene. The decision was not to act. And at that [the US] succeeded greatly”.

Throughout the period of the genocide, the United Nations failed to demonstrate any kind of organised opposition to the on-going crimes against humanity – even within the UN headquarters in New York City, a Rwandan government representative continued to occupy the country’s seat[18]. The commander of the UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda), Romeo Dallaire, explained his perception that the UN ultimately failed in their duty to strategically protect Tutsi civilians during the genocide; “we had a time frame of two weeks easily where we could have made the task of killing much more difficult[19]”. Despite an opportunity during which sustained UN actions could have reduced the brutality of the genocide, troops were unable to act, as UNAMIR’s presence was too small and insufficiently trained. Additionally, aside from such organisational failures, a major factor that led to the high number of Rwandan fatalities was the deficient legal framework; UNAMIR was a peacekeeping operation consented to by the Rwandan government, not a mission to covertly gain intelligence, destabilise the regime, or to militarily counter the violence. Alike other peacekeeping missions, the intention was to improve the capacity and self-sufficiency of the host state, and ultimately, to aid the peace process. Despite UN failings, some scholars have placed the blame for the lack of an appropriate response to the Rwandan genocide on to the unwillingness of the United States. Nico Krisch uses Rwanda as a case study to exemplify his argument that “the [UN Security Council has worked] reasonably well since the end of the Cold War”, and that failures to respond appropriately to humanitarian crises have stemmed primarily from individual states[20]. Nicholas Wheeler corroborates the sentiment that state inaction was detrimental to the response to the genocide; “governments are notoriously unreliable as rescuers”[21].

Soon after the violence subsided, the world began to realise the extent of the horrors committed; US politician Herman Cohen said “another Holocaust may have just slipped by, hardly noticed” [22]. In an attempt to compensate for inaction and preserve justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was formed; an international court created by the United Nations, and supported predominantly by US finances, as well as some US employees. Former mayor of the Rwandan commune of Taba, Jean-Paul Akayesu, became the first individual to be convicted of genocide in the ICTR, and, Jean Kambanda, the Rwandan prime minister at the time of the crisis, soon followed[23]. These convictions, among others, helped send an international message that such depraved acts of genocide would be dealt with by the world’s most powerful nations and international organisations.

However, the most vital precedent set in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide was the introduction of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was created to discuss how the international community should respond to future human rights violations alike that of “Rwanda [or] Srebrenica”. The commission concluded that if civilians are enduring or facing the threat of “major harm”, and their respective state is unable to protect them from this, then a humanitarian intervention is legitimate[24]. This helped set a precedent, as it established that a primary component of R2P was the understanding that state sovereignty is a responsibility, not a right; if a state fails to protect, and provide peace for, its population, the international community has a responsibility to intervene within the state’s domestic matters[25]. R2P focussed on the introduction of organised international opposition to four particularly immoral crimes: ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This communitarian, and somewhat cosmopolitan, norm becoming generally considered legitimate within international relations has resulted in an improved international response to such grave violations of human rights, as seen with the 2011 intervention in Libya. Rwandan president, Paul Kagame reacted to the 2011 humanitarian intervention in Libya positively, and alluding to his own nation’s plight, by stating that “this is the right thing to do; and this view is backed with the authority of having witnessed and suffered the terrible consequences of international inaction”[26]. If R2P had gained international normativity prior to 1994, it is possible that the UN, the US and other nations may have reacted more benevolently and appropriately to the endangered Rwandan civilians, although perhaps such an overwhelmingly heinous crisis as Rwanda was needed for the international community to truly understand the ramifications of their inaction.

The international response to grave human rights violations recommended by the ICISS has, however, not been consistently applied. Despite its success in Libya, the international community has not instigated an intervention in the on-going Syrian Civil War. The Public International Law & Policy Group prepared a paper in 2012 arguing that the Syrian regime had “breached its R2P duty” by using indiscriminate force against civilians, and, therefore, the international community must now assume the responsibility to ensure the safety of these non-combatants[27]. Despite such demands being voiced by a number of international organisations and governments, an intervention into Syria has not occurred, partly due to the vehement opposition to such a move by two UN Security Council members – Russia and China. Despite the progress made by the ICISS, and subsequent international directives, issues such as this – the thwarting of an intended humanitarian intervention due to political alliances and a fear of regional instability – indicate an inherent ineffectiveness in the current management of human rights violations; alluding to the aforementioned quote by Krisch, “individual states” continue to be the primary actors blocking humanitarian intervention. To ensure that civilians of Syria do not suffer a similar fate to that of Rwandan civilians, it is vital for R2P to be further instilled as a required course of action within international law.

The international response to the Rwandan genocide was undeniably a failure. The historical external influence upon the Rwandan people that spawned the conflict particularly accentuates the tragic irony of the unwillingness of the international community to help those facing slaughter. Rwanda is a clear case in which a planned and structured humanitarian intervention could have saved countless civilians from brutal deaths. It is apparent that there were two primary problems that prevented such an intervention from occurring; the lack of a legal framework for a militarised intervention, and a realist focus on self-interest – rather than a concern for preserving the values of a common humanity. The United States, and the United Nations, clearly had many viable options for countering the magnitude of the genocide, but failed to act upon their international responsibilities as the world hegemon and the foremost international peace-promoting organisation, respectively. The improvements to international humanitarian norms and laws since 1994, particularly the Responsibility to Protect, suggest that the Rwandan genocide has taught the international community some lessons about the necessity of humanitarian intervention.

[1] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P13

[2] Destexhe, Alain. Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. 1995. P43

[3] Ibid. P41

[4] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P152

[5] Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. 1998. P133

[6] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P155

[7] Ibid. P156

[8] Ibid. P164

[9] Chang, Chih-Hann. Ethical Foreign Policy?: US Humanitarian interventions. 2011. P80

[10] Presidential Decision Directive 25. US Department of State.

[11] Chalk, Frank. Radio Propaganda and Genocide. 1997. P3

[12] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P162

[13] Article IX, United Nations Genocide Convention.

[14] Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. 1998. P153

[15] Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society. Columbia University Press, New York. 1977. p55

[16] Scott R. Feil, Preventing Genocide: How the Early Use of Force Might Have Succeeded in Rwanda. 1998. P38

[17] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P178

[18] Des Forges, Alison. Rwanda: Genocide and the Continuing Cycle of Violence. 1998. P6-7

[19] Washington Post. Arming Genocide in Rwanda. 1999.

[20] Krisch, Nico. Legality, Morality and the Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention after Kosovo. 2002. p323-335.

[21] Wheeler, Nicholas. Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. 2000. P310

[22] Frey, Robert. The Genocidal Temptation: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and Beyond. 2004. P110

[23] Ronayne, Peter. Never Again. 2001. P186

[24] International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The Responsibility to Protect. 2001. P16

[25] Badescu, Cristina. Humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect: security and human rights. 2012. P110

[26] Adams, Simon. Rwanda, Syria and the Responsibility to Protect. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. 2012. P2

[27] Public International Law & Policy Group. The Legal Case for Humanitarian Intervention in Syria under the Responsibility to Protect. 2012. p.i

Palestine’s success in the UN vote faces the ‘harshest Israeli response’

The E1 areaOn November 29th 2012, the United Nations voted in overwhelming support for an upgrade of the status of Palestine from a “non-member observer entity” to a “non-member observer state”, with 138 nations supporting the new measures; the combined population of the nine nations that voted against Palestinian statehood (including the US, Canada and Israel) makes up just 5% of the world’s total population. Less than 24 hours after the results of this vote, the Israeli government has announced its approval for the building of over 3,000 settlement homes in the West Bank. This is a clear message being sent from Netanyahu’s government that, regardless of Palestine’s new status, Israel will continue to violate international law by annexing further Palestinian territory.

A key part of these planned settlements is that many of them are intended for construction beside the continuously-expanding Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which was originally a Palestinian area in the West Bank where thousands of people have been forcibly evicted during the past two decades. The Israeli government has labelled the location of the new settlements as the E1 area – an estimated 4.6 square miles between Ma’ale Adumim and the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem. The significance of this is that the new settlements are contributing to the eventual effective separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; mutilating the contiguity of the state of Palestine.

Prior to the UN decision, our foreign secretary William Hague announced that Britain would abstain from voting on the subject – despite a YouGov poll indicating that 72% of Britons support the Palestinian state right to statehood. Hague previously indicated that he would vote favourably for the recognition of the state, but only on the condition that Palestine would immediately reopen peace talks with the Israeli government – a proposition vehemently opposed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, who have refused to continue peace talks until the construction of illegal Israeli settlements are halted. The announcement of these new settlements exemplifies the lack of tangible change that the new Palestinian status actually has upon the actions of the Israeli government.

There was significant vocal US and Israeli opposition to the vote, especially the declaration by the Israeli foreign ministry that by asking for a UN vote, the Palestinians’ behaviour warranted “the harshest Israeli response”; these huge new settlement plans seem indicative of this threat. Considering that the vast majority of the world now clearly and formally recognises the validity of the United Nations’ 194th state, there is new hope that the international community may behave more actively in peacefully opposing the imperialist nature of Israeli policy in the state of Palestine – such as through the BDS practice of boycotts, divestment and international sanctions.

The US role in the rise of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile

This is an academic piece written for my university which explains the impact that the United States had in the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende, and the installation of dictator Augusto Pinochet, in the CIA-backed coup in Chile in 1973:

During the 1960s and 1970s, Latin America saw a sharp rise in the number of military dictatorships taking control of a number of nations. The role of the United States government in these occurrences has been contentious, especially due to the clandestine tactics employed at the time. The case of Chile stands out due to the highly interventionist nature of the United States in the nation’s democratic political progression; this piece will consider the importance of US involvement in the rise and fall of Salvador Allende, and discuss whether it was the most crucial catalyst for Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power. This will include a consideration of the importance of other factors in the political transition – including economic strife and other internal issues – that may have led to the rise of Pinochet’s regime. Attention will also be given to the reasons why the US became involved in Chile; issues such as the fear of communism, and the effects of Chilean socialism upon US business interests, will be reviewed. Lastly, this piece will address the traits of Pinochet and Allende’s domestic policies, and consider whether the US support or opposition to them was justified.

To comprehend the involvement that the US had in the emergence of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, it is important to understand contemporary contextual relations between Latin America and the United States. In the early 1960s, when Salvador Allende began to gain momentum in his popularity among Chilean voters, tensions were rife between the United States and foreign governments that were perceived to be sympathetic to communism. The US considered the empowerment of any socialist or Marxist leader – democratic or otherwise – to be a direct threat to US interests; this stemmed from the belief that any state allowing such ideology to flourish would signify an expansion of Soviet influence. However, the support provided by the United States to Latin American military dictatorships that supported US interests was not unique to Cold War international relations; throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, US presidents authorised “overt military efforts” with the intention of removing governments considered to be resistant of accepting US political and financial interests[1]. Prior to this period, the tactics used by the US government in installing and maintaining dictatorships in the region had been largely consistent; support for “small oligarchical political parties” on the right side of the political spectrum had proved effective in protecting US interests[2]. However, the ousting of Fulgencio Batista in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the empowerment of Fidel Castro, led to the realisation that an oppressive US-supported right-wing leadership strengthened public support for the left. During his brief presidency, John F. Kennedy privately spoke of a “viable alternative” of fostering support for centrist and reformist parties[3] – a move that would have created a dissonance between those on the left who supported an outright revolution, and those who preferred a gradual reform of political institutions.

This approach was clearly seen in US policy when, in the 1964 Chilean presidential election, Christian Democratic Party (PDC) leader Eduardo Frei gained an absolute majority – ensuring his power[4]. However, Frei’s success was a direct result of covert intervention by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the campaigning process. The run-up to this election was the key point in which the United States made its first efforts to undermine Chilean democracy in this period; the CIA financed a significant portion of Frei’s campaign, and spread vast amounts of anti-communist propaganda. These actions included the distribution of 3,000 political posters, as well as the financing of radio spots and news commentaries that opposed Allende[5]. After ensuring his 1964 electoral win, the United States government then had to maintain Frei’s popularity among the Chilean people – to safeguard a PDC win in the 1970 elections. Therefore, a period of covert financial assistance ensued, with around $1.2 billion in grants and loans being provided to Frei’s administration to “sustain social and economic development”[6]. The fact that the United States found it necessary to fund the PDC at the time is indicative of the political failures of Frei’s governance to address the contemporary needs of the Chilean people.

A number of factors contributed to the US sentiment opposing the increasingly popular Allende; a potential for a Chilean alliance with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the spread of communism in mainland Latin America, and Allende’s significant support for the nationalisation of Chilean industries.  The latter was significantly contentious, as Chilean industries were “dominated by US corporations” at the time, and a nationalisation move would cause a dramatic loss of profits for the United States[7]; essentially, a significant reason that the US opposed the democratic election of Allende was to protect the business interests of a wealthy but powerful few. A CIA report at the time indicated that an Allende win would threaten “US private investment of more than $750 million”[8]. As noted in various sources, Chile historically had “the strongest tradition of democracy in Latin America”[9], yet with the implementation of various tactics by the CIA, and a few domestic issues, this democratic tradition was destroyed in 1973.

In 1970, after it became apparent through polling results that Allende was expected to achieve electoral success, the United States began to formulate plans to depose him, and install a leader with policies sympathetic to US interests. To exact this, the CIA concluded that “the only viable solution for blocking Allende” was a military coup covertly organised by US agents operating in the region, or Chilean proxies implementing CIA-backed actions. Following the elections in September 1970, a clear winner was not evident, as both Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri received a similar number of votes – both well below an absolute majority[10]. Due to the nature of the Chilean political system, the choice of who was to become president had to be voted upon in Congress. While a decision on this was still being considered, the United States executed the first stage of their anti-Allende plan known as the ‘Viaux solution’, due to the involvement of General Roberto Viaux. The commander-in-chief of the Chilean army at the time, René Schneider, had expressed opposition to the staging of a coup, due to his support for constitutionalism and an apolitical military. However, this did not get in the way of US intentions for a military coup; a group of insurgents led by General Viaux, and financed by the CIA, shot and killed Schneider during a failed kidnapping attempt[11]. The US involvement in this highly undemocratic move is indubitable; the US ambassador to Chile at the time, Edward Korry, described Schneider as the “main barrier to all plans for the military to take over the government”, and that he needed to be “neutralised, by displacement if necessary”[12]. This development was intended by the United States to cause instability in Chilean politics, while blame for Schneider’s murder was to be placed on leftists – therefore inciting the military to raid Communist-controlled areas, and leading to the creation of a ruling junta to dissolve Congress and prevent any empowerment of Allende[13]. Despite the intentions, Schneider’s death created a significant “repudiation of violence and a clear reaffirmation of Chile’s civil, constitutional tradition”[14], this culminated in Congress electing Allende as president of Chile.

The election of Allende was viewed as a more severe threat than previous Latin American leaders who were later overthrown by the United States, as he was the twentieth century’s first democratically elected “socialist parliamentarian” in the Western Hemisphere[15]; an ideologically opposing politician with a clear representative mandate. Evidence thus far is highly indicative of a crucial US involvement in the political process of Chile throughout the 1960s; however, it is vital to note that US efforts to depose Allende, destabilise democracy and create a dictatorship serving US interests, were largely failures until this point. Once Allende became president, US policy changed from a strategy of prevention to a more direct assault upon the stability of Chile. President Richard Nixon privately declared that the “Allende regime in Chile is not acceptable to the United States”, and ordered the CIA to “make the [Chilean] economy scream”[16]. President Nixon and his administration began to develop numerous tactics to ensure “that son of a bitch Allende” was removed and replaced with a dictator[17]. The logic of Cold War relations led to Allende’s election being seen by the United States as not “a legitimate action by the Chilean people, but as a ‘takeover’ by hostile, outside forces”; despite Allende’s acceptance speech outlining an intention to uphold the values of “democracy, pluralism and freedom”[18][19]. Most importantly, as Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explained, in the perception of the United States, “Allende’s election was a challenge to our national interest”[20]. Evidence has also emerged indicating that Kissinger’s anti-Allende policy was motivated by business interests; within two weeks of polls indicating an Allende win, Kissinger met with David Rockefeller or Chase Manhattan Bank, as well as the president of Pepsi-Cola, to determine how sabotaging Chilean democracy may prove useful to their interests[21]. This eventually resulted in Nixon instructing the CIA to “play a direct role in organising a military coup d’état in Chile”[22].

In August 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet as the new commander-in-chief of the Chilean army; a decision that was to change the nation’s fate. This topic is contentious, as Pinochet’s appointment was unrelated to US involvement in Chile – it is feasible that without Allende having made the decision to appoint him, the military coup may have been unsuccessful, and democracy may have been maintained. Several weeks after this occasion – when Pinochet ironically told Allende that he would willingly “lay down [his] life in the defence of the constitutional government” – CIA and anti-Allende Chilean conspirators had recruited Pinochet to launch a military attack upon the presidential palace[23]. The number of soldiers that the CIA had managed to recruit to fight the government by this point was substantial, this was especially due to the economic woes felt by many – ostensibly due to Allende’s economic policy; in fact, the United States had orchestrated an “international credit squeeze” which caused high debt and inflation in Chile, in order to establish a firmer opposition to his presidency[24]. Soon after the coup was initiated, Allende died in his palace. Pinochet assumed power of Chile immediately, and the United States used this opportunity to both overtly and covertly support his oppressive rule.

The “Nixon administration officially [but privately] embraced the bloody coup d’état in Chile”, despite this, the US government publicly portrayed itself as being in a position of “neutrality” towards Pinochet’s regime[25]. Notorious uses of torture by the Pinochet regime against thousands of supposed militants and civilians (including children) were rife; evidence of abuse included the use of electric shocks and forced rape between family members[26]. Additionally, over 2000 people are thought to have been killed by Pinochet’s repressive regime. Despite these reprehensible abuses of human rights, the United States continued to support Pinochet; the Nixon administration agreed to provide “1,000 flares [and] 1,000 steel helmets” for the Chilean military junta with the spurious justification that the US should “be willing to take some risks to avoid [a set pattern of attitudes]”[27]. The provision of this equipment to the military was conducted with purported US ignorance to its usage; however, Nixon clandestinely provided equipment for other clearly malevolent purposes. The US eventually became aware that Pinochet was creating “detention camps” for political prisoners, but considered it to be politically untenable to aid in their establishment. Instead, the US indirectly supported the creation of these camps by providing materials such as tents and blankets which it insisted “need not be publicly… earmarked for prisoners”[28].

As well as providing equipment, the United States immediately lifted its financial blockade on Chile once Pinochet had seized power. On September 12th 1973, one day after the coup, the Washington Special Actions Group – a government task force – began to consider “short, medium and long term Chilean assistance requirements”[29]. This involved the United States dramatically increasing the amount of economic and military aid to Chile, including $24million to ostensibly “alleviate food shortages” – aid that was not granted to Allende’s government due to the aforementioned blockade. It is indubitable that the US government were fully aware of the atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime against the Chilean people. Recently declassified evidence indicates that Henry Kissinger was briefed with a secret document entitled “Chilean Execution” which detailed the hundreds of people killed by the regime since its establishment[30]. The disparity between economic support provided by the US to Allende, and that provided to Pinochet, is huge; between 1970 and 1973, the Allende government received $19.8 million in assistance, compared to $186 million provided to Pinochet between 1974 and 1976[31].

Despite this plethora of evidence indicating a crucial US role in the emergence of Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile, there is an array of other factors which may have contributed to the 1973 coup d’état. Importantly, Allende made a vast number of promises during his election campaign and victory speech that indicated a wide range of economic and institutional reforms; he pledged to “abolish the monopolies which grant control of the economy to a few dozen families… abolish a tax system which favours profiteering… nationalise credit… [And] to put an end to the foreign ownership of our industry”[32]. The expectations he provoked among the poor were very high, while the wealthy and middle classes viewed his proposed tax reforms as threatening; Chile was highly polarised, and Allende’s lack of progress at the start of his presidency exacerbated the rift between classes[33]. Social stability then deteriorated, with a major strike participated in by numerous workers who felt inappropriately affected by his political actions, or lack thereof; this eventually culminated into a “nationwide business lock-out which aimed to bring down the government”[34]. The effects of this strike, along with the unfortunately-timed drop in copper prices – a major industry nationalised by Allende, massively damaged the economy. Economic woes were also increased by high government spending on social programs such as a rise in minimum wage and the provision of free milk for school children, as well as an underhanded “sabotage by the economic elite”[35]. However, regardless of these financial issues caused by domestic factors, the most prominent economic factor in the failure of Allende’s government was the blockade imposed upon Chile by the United States. This also involved the IMF refusing to provide regular credits and assistance to the nation due to Allende’s unwillingness to recant to the institutional reformation criteria of the US-backed “stabilisation program”[36].

The United States was not simply involved in the emergence of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile; it was directly involved in multiple aspects of the Chilean political process during Frei’s presidency, Allende’s presidency and continuously until the wane of Pinochet’s power in the late 1980s – apart from the four years of Jimmy Carter’s US presidency, when the two nations’ relationship was compromised due to Carter’s opposition to Pinochet’s human rights violations[37]. The United States’ role was crucial in Pinochet’s empowerment and the deplorable crimes he committed against his people, and the US was vitally involved in derailing democracy and denying a voice to the Chilean people – with priority given to US political and financial interests. The Allende government made several political failures that led to disillusionment among the public, however, these were mostly exacerbated, if not generated, by US economic sanctions imposed upon Chile. Despite other factors, the United States was primarily, if not entirely, responsible for creating and supporting Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.

[1] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p2

[2] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p3

[3] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p3

[4] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p4

[5] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p4

[6] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p5

[7] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p94

[8] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p94

[9] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p51

[10] US Department of State. Cover action in Chile 1963-1973, US State Department, Washington DC

[11] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p21

[12] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p22

[13] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p28

[14] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p29

[15] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p1

[16] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p96

[17] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p25

[18] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p95

[19] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p58

[20] Schmitz, David F. The United States and right-wing dictatorships, p95

[21] Nottingham University. Subversion in Chile, p42

[22] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p52

[23] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[24] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[25] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p209

[26] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p60

[27] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[28] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[29] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p211

[30] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet Files, p212

[31] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p62

[32] Lawson, George. Negotiated Revolutions, p179

[33] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[34] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p59

[35] Livingstone. G.  America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, p58-59

[36] Sigmund, Paul E. The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980, P235

[37] Ensalaco, Mark (2000). Chile under Pinochet: Recovering the Truth. P161

President Barack Obama, Term II: Attack of the Drones

On Tuesday 6th November, Barack Obama won a second term of the US presidency with 50.8% of the popular vote, compared to Mitt Romney’s share of 47.5%. Prior to the elections, US and international media had been buzzing at the closeness of the race, and the ominous prospect of a return to the growingly radical leadership of the Republican Party. Supporters of the President suggest that it was a comfortable win – with Obama gaining 332 electoral seats, almost a hundred more than Romney’s 206. However, the extent of his popularity has certainly depleted since his lead of 192 seats over Senator John McCain in the 2008 elections.

If you opened your Facebook or Twitter feed on Tuesday night, you were probably met with dozens of posts from your friends supporting Obama or celebrating his success. Curiously, here in Britain, and around the world, Obama is idolised – seen as a beacon of hope and change, even for those otherwise uninterested in politics. Indeed, statistical data has confirmed this; last month, public opinion research consultancy GlobeScan published the results of a survey, in which thousands of people across 21 nations voiced who their preferred candidate was. Obama was overwhelmingly supported worldwide, scoring popularity ratings over 60% in the UK, France, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil and several other states. For many, he is representative of the ideals of a liberal, social democracy; considerate of human rights, fairness and equality.

Looking at President Obama’s track record on domestic policy, he has made a lot of socially progressive decisions; he has expanded the eligibility for healthcare for impoverished US citizens, he has increased spending on laws that protect victims of domestic violence, he has extended further rights to homosexuals. The list is long and commendable, but these choices have little impact on the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s foreign policy has taken a very different turn from the humanitarian image his administration often attempts to instil; most importantly, the use of drones as part of the ‘war on terror’. Drones or ‘unmanned combat aerial vehicles’ started being used by the US military under the presidency of George W Bush, but their use has increased hugely in the past four years. Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen have been attacked numerous times with these machines, though the prime target bearing the brunt of drones has been Pakistan. In fact, in the four years of the Obama Administration, Pakistan alone has been targeted by drone strikes almost 300 times, compared to 52 strikes during the entirety of President Bush’s two terms.

Obama’s increase in drone warfare has been highly controversial; seen by tamer opponents as the extrajudicial killing of perceived enemies, and by fiercer critics as a significant cause of death for many non-combatants. Earlier this year, a report published by the United Nations noted that the Obama administration’s widespread drone use occurs due to the internationalism of the counter-terrorism ideology; an argument denounced by UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson as a “spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations”.

A report into drone strikes in Pakistan published by NYU and Stanford University this year documented that despite the Obama administration’s efforts to avoid democratic accountability for such attacks, “there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians”. Evidence which indicates that during the second term of George W Bush, and the first term of Obama, between 474 to 884 Pakistani civilians were killed by drones – including 176 children.

The report provides more detailed and morbid findings regarding the results of drone strikes in Pakistan. A tactic implemented under Obama and utilised by the US military has involved the deliberate targeting of any person who, following a drone strike, attempts to help the injured or remove the bodies of the dead – in case they are abetting terrorism. Such policy has the capability to destroy the essence of a civilised society, as it makes medical workers and other civilians too scared to provide help to each other; it takes the humanity out of society by means of terror. This belief that people are guilty by association is seen even more clearly with the policy implemented under Obama of drone striking the funerals of those killed by drone strikes; killing numerous people who knew the deceased, often family members.

During the recent televised debates between Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama, the subject of drones was one of the few topics that united the two competitors; Romney declared that he “supported [drone warfare] entirely” and that President Obama’s policy regarding its enforcement “was right”. The successful domestic policy and trustworthy aura of President Obama seem to have overshadowed the ideological similarity of his foreign policy implementations with those intended by Romney. It is undoubtable that if Mitt Romney had succeeded in the elections, the international implications of US foreign policy would have been far more severe – notable through his aggressive rhetoric in relation to Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Russia. However, despite posing slightly less of an existential threat to the world as we know it, Obama remains a firm proponent of increasingly indiscriminate interventionist US foreign policy.

If a US voter desired a presidential candidate who has not vocally supported the extra-judicial execution-by-flying-robot of ‘terrorists’, and any unlucky person who is near that ‘terrorist’ at the time, then they could only have wasted their vote. As opposition to the heinous 9/11 attacks, and similar attacks around the world, many have justly used the word ‘cowardly’ to describe suicide bombings. But are suicide attacks any more cowardly than sitting safely in a bunker, out of harm’s way, bombing targets on a screen, as if its nothing more than the latest Xbox release? Obama’s expansion of drone strikes is killing countless civilians, increasing animosity towards the US around the Muslim world, as well as lowering the standards of ethical warfare. Despite his huge popularity around the world, the more people learn about his true foreign policy objectives, the more distrust in him grows. I hope President Obama at least has the decency to remove his Nobel Peace Prize from the mantel…

Sudanese and Eritreans: new victims of Israeli xenophobia

As a nation founded to provide a homeland for oppressed people fleeing vicious totalitarian rule, Israel’s increasingly inhumane treatment of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees is tragically hypocritical.


(Sudanese families returning to Juba- Photo from Reuters)

To incite anti-Semitic hatred through the population, and to justify the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Jews, Hitler used derogatory rhetoric to portray them as a threat to German security and identity. “The Jews” he once said, “are a cancer on the breast of Germany”. In May, with eerily similar phrasing, Israeli Parliament member Miri Regev proclaimed that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”.

The past month has seen an increase in the demonisation of, and violence against, sub-Saharan Africans across Israel. Aggressive government policy, including detention and deportation, has been mainly focussed on the thousands of Sudanese refugees fleeing the war-torn states; a widely criticised move that is in direct violation of international human rights law. Earlier this week, over a hundred men, women and children were deported to South Sudan as Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister, vowed to deport every Sudanese and Eritrean person in the country.

The Israeli government have employed a consistent tactic of scare-mongering to ensure popular support for its repressive policies. Infiltrators has been the most popular term among Israeli officials to incite fear and and hatred among the population. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described the presence of the refugees as a “[grave threat to] the social fabric of society, national security and national identity”; perhaps an exaggeration considering Israel’s population of 7.8million includes only around 50-60,000 so-called “illegal” migrants. The actual threat posed by these people is also easily disputed, and appears to be more of a scapegoat for failing social and economic policy. In a totalitarian move reminiscent of Nazi policy, the government now imposes a maximum of five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000,000 (USD) for harbouring a refugee or “illegal” migrant, including Palestinians; indicating that the Israeli government is forcing citizens to ignore the Jewish tradition of compassion for fellow man, and ensuring that they embrace divisiveness. The Jerusalem Post reported thoughts from one Christian man facing deportation to South Sudan, “I remember growing up reading the Bible thinking Israel is people who help each other… we realised that its not Israel any longer”.

Since such vile opinions have become more widespread, citizens have tried to take the law into their own hands, with the misguided belief that they are protecting their country. Recent protests have seen African refugees and migrants face vicious verbal and physical assaults, violence that has even been encouraged by an Israeli politician, Aryeh Eldad. The parliamentary member, who resides in an illegally occupied West Bank settlement, recently declared his opinion that “anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot”. A statement so bold and hostile that it seems taken out of context, but within context it is even worse. Eldad lists some of those who he believes deserve death for crossing Israel’s borders; “a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Gazans from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border – shot.”

The threatening xenophobia being fostered by Israeli politics and society is something any sane-thinking person should be afraid of, especially as a citizen of a country that continues to maintain good relations with such a government. The men, women and children who have been labelled infiltrators by Israeli society are victims of a government venting its anger because international civilised society is unwilling to bend every law in the book to please them. Andrew Akolawine, a father of four being deported to South Sudan after spending five years living in Israel, joked “I’m very proud that I am part of a people [that] Israel thinks are so important that they don’t talk about the Palestinians anymore, just us”. Unfortunately true; the Israeli government have already successfully demonised Palestinians, so the violence shown against them by the IDF goes mostly unquestioned. It sadly seems that the attitudes to sub-Saharan Africans in Israel is going the same way.