Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WNU #1156: HSBC Gets Off Easy in “Drug War” Case

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1156, December 16, 2012

1. Mexico: HSBC Gets Off Easy in "Drug War" Case
2. Argentina: Ford Motor Investigated for “Dirty War” Torture
3. Colombia: Petroleum Workers Leader Murdered
4. Haiti: "Earthquake Relief" Helps Build New Luxury Hotel
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Mexico: HSBC Gets Off Easy in "Drug War" Case
The London-based corporation HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, will pay the US government $1.92 billion in fines for its failure to prevent money laundering through some of its affiliates, including its Mexican branch, US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer announced at a press conference in Brooklyn on Dec. 11. However, the US Justice Department has decided not to bring criminal charges against the bank. Breuer noted that bank executives faced some penalties. “HSBC has replaced virtually all of its senior management,” he said, “and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials” over a five-year period.

As indicated in a 330-page report by the US Senate in July, Mexican drug cartels were major beneficiaries of the bank’s decision not to institute standard precautions against laundering [see Update #1137]. According to Breuer, the bank “failed to monitor over $670 billion in wire transfers from HSBC Mexico between 2006 and 2009, and failed to monitor over $9.4 billion in purchases of physical US dollars from HSBC Mexico over that same period.” “From 2006 to 2010 the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia, and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA,” Breuer said. Traffickers “would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows in HSBC Mexico’s branches.” The US also accused the bank of circumventing US trade sanctions against several countries, including Cuba, Iran and Sudan.

Analysts indicated that the Justice Department failed to press criminal charges for fear that this would put one of the world’s largest banks at risk and might destabilize the international financial system. Since 2010 the Justice Department and the Treasury Department have investigated at least six banks—Credit Suisse, ING and Barclays in Europe, and JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia and Citigroup in the US—for similar failures to monitor transfers. The investigations have brought the US government more than $2 billion in fines, not counting the HSBC settlement, but to date no bank or bank executive has faced criminal charges. (New York Times 12/11/12; US Department of Justice 12/11/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/12/12 from correspondent)

Noting that HSBC’s $1.92 billion fine represents about five weeks’ income for the bank, Rolling Stone financial columnist Matt Taibbi proposed in a blog posting that the Justice Department should treat the bank the way it regularly treats “ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases”—by jailing all the executives involved and confiscating their bank accounts and personal property, along with HSBC’s entire holdings. “[B]y approving this settlement,” Taibbi concluded, “Breuer removed the government's moral authority to prosecute anyone for any other drug offense. Not that most people didn’t already know that the drug war is a joke, but this makes it official.” (Rolling Stone blog 12/13/12)

The HSBC case isn’t Lanny Breuer’s first contact with Mexico’s bloody “war on drugs.” The New York Times reported in September that the Justice Department had admonished him in connection with Operation Fast and Furious, in which the US allowed thousands of guns to be purchased illegally and smuggled into Mexico, largely for use by the drug cartels. In 2011 he reportedly proposed to Mexican officials that the US and Mexico cooperate in a similar program to monitor illegal gun purchases as a way of tracking gun smuggling operations [see Update #1145].

*2. Argentina: Ford Motor Investigated for “Dirty War” Torture
On Dec. 5 Argentine judge Alicia Vence opened an investigation into the possible involvement of four former executives of Ford Motor Company’s Argentine subsidiary in the kidnapping and torture of at least 25 autoworkers during the “dirty war” against suspected leftists under the 1976-83 military dictatorship. According to prosecutor Félix Crous, former Ford Motor Argentina president Nicolás Courard, former manufacturing director Pedro Müller, former industrial relations director Guillermo Galarraga and former security chief Héctor Sibilla are suspected of collaborating with the military in the abuses, which took place in 1976 next to the company’s plant in the city of General Pacheco in Buenos Aires province, just north of the city of Buenos Aires.

Previously the only person facing charges in the case had been military commander Santiago Riveros, who has already been convicted of other crimes of state terrorism. Ford Motor acknowledges that it asked for military protection during the period, saying two executives were murdered and two others were wounded in attacks by the Montoneros rebel groups from 1973 to 1975, but the company denies that its plant was used as a torture center.

Workers were a principal target of the “dirty war”; 30% of the estimated 30,000 people disappeared worked in factories. Executives from a number of companies are now under investigation for possible human rights abuses during the dictatorship. The companies include Mercedes-Benz  Argentina and Acindar, a metal manufacturing firm now owned by ArcelorMittal. José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, the dictatorship’s economy minister from 1976 to 1981, is a former Acindar president; he was arrested in May 2010 in connection with the kidnapping of industrialist Federico Gutheim and his son Miguel Gutheim [see Update #1032]. Food processing and biofuel magnate Carlos Pedro Blaquier also faces charges of collaborating with the military during the period [see Update #1090]. Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, now an adviser to the Argentine Chamber of Deputies’ Human Rights Commission, is supporting Blaquier’s claim of innocence. (El País (Madrid) 12/6/12 from correspondent)

These charges come while a court in the capital is hearing the third trial on crimes committed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) during the dictatorship. Some 5,000 detainees were held there; most never returned. The trial is the largest ever dealing with the “dirty war”: 68 defendants are charged with crimes against 789 people, with about 900 witnesses expected to testify over two years. The trial started on Nov. 28; as of Dec. 9 the charges were still being read.

In the first trial the only defendant, former navy officer Héctor Febres, was charged with participating in torture, kidnapping and other crimes. Febres was found dead in his cell on Dec. 11, 2007, two days before he was to be sentenced; he died of a heart attack, but traces of cyanide were found in his body, and the death is considered a suicide [see Update #929]. The second trial resulted in the conviction of 16 former military and police officers; 12 of them, including former Navy captain and spy Alfredo Astiz (“The Blond Angel of Death”), were sentenced to life in prison on Oct. 26, 2011, while four received shorter sentences [World War 4 Report 10/27/11].

The current trial is the first to deal with the notorious “death flights,” in which as many as 1,000 of the ESMA detainees were drugged with pentothal, loaded on to planes, flown over the Río de la Plata, the Atlantic or the Paraná River delta, and then pushed out, naked and with their hands and feet bound. Some of the defendants were already convicted of other crimes in the second trial: Astiz, Están Jorge Acosta (“The Tiger”), Juan Antonio Azic, Adolfo Donda and Ricardo Cavallo. The new trial includes eight men charged with piloting the planes, including Juan Alberto Poch, who was working as a pilot for the Dutch airline Transavia when he was arrested in September 2009 [see Update #1032].

An important part of the evidence against the defendants comes from several corpses that washed ashore in 1977. Forensics experts identified them in 2005 as the bodies of detainees who disappeared from the ESMA, including several women from a group that Astiz had infiltrated; two founding members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that demonstrated each week in central Buenos Aires to demand the return of their disappeared children; and the French nun Léonie Duquet. Another missing nun, Alice Domon, was apparently killed on the same flight, but her body was never found; naval personnel at the base reportedly joked that Duquet and Domon were the “flying nuns.”

Another important part of the evidence resulted from investigations by Argentine journalist Miriam Lewin, who herself was detained in the ESMA. She located a plane used in the death flights, one of five Irish-built Skyvan planes that the Argentine coast guard acquired in 1971. This allowed prosecutors and human rights organizations to investigate flight logs and other records. The plane is currently used to carry goods from south Florida to the Bahamas. (IPS 12/3/12 via Upside Down World ; Christian Science Monitor 12/7/12; El País 12/9/12 from correspondent)

*3. Colombia: Petroleum Workers Leader Murdered
Two unidentified men on a motorcycle gunned down Colombian labor leader Milton Enrique Rivas Parra on Dec. 11 in Puerto Gaitán, a city in the central department of Meta. He was hit by 17 bullets, according to his family. Rivas was a leader in the Meta section of the Workers’ Labor Union of the Petroleum Industry (USO) and in a local grassroots organization, the Villa Ortiz Community Action Council. He had been receiving death threats, which he first reported to Colombian prosecutors on Aug. 25.

The USO has been carrying out an organizing drive over the last year at several companies, including the Canadian-Colombian multinational Pacific Rubiales. Vivas was involved in organizing at Termotecnica Coindustrial S A, a subcontractor for Cepcolsa, the Colombian subsidiary of the Spanish company CEPSA. Negotiations between the company and the union were held in November; the newly formed European industrial union federation IndustriALL joined with the USO negotiating committee as a demonstration of international support. But the talks broke off on Nov. 24 without an agreement.

Citing unidentified sources, the Meta police claimed that Vivas may have quit the union a month before his death and may have been involved in an argument with another unionist on Dec. 10. Labor leaders dismissed the implication that Vivas’ murder resulted from disputes within the union, noting that 2,500 labor leaders and activists have been killed in Colombia in less than 20 years, largely by rightwing forces. On Dec. 14 the USO wrote that its members would continue a strike against Termotecnica despite the “tense situation” in Puerto Gaitán after Vivas’ death. “The workers and leaders of the USO unanimously reject the accusations by the police,” the union said, “and warn that they will file complaints with the relevant national and international organizations, where they will present recordings in which members of the ESMAD [the police force’s Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD)] announce that they will murder the participants in the protest against Termotecnica.” (IndustriALL website 11/30/12; El Tiempo (Bogotá) 12/12/12; USO website 12/14/12; Rebelión (Spain) 12/16/12)

*4. Haiti: "Earthquake Relief" Helps Build New Luxury Hotel
The Clinton Bush Fund, which former presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and George W. Bush (2001-2009) established shortly after Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, is closing down on Dec. 31, the group’s vice president for marketing and communications said on Dec. 7. The fund will have disbursed all of the $54.4 million it raised, she indicated. The organization says on its website that its goal was “to assist the Haitian people in building their own country back better.” The group says it has “[d]irectly created or sustained 7,350 jobs and counting” and “[d]irectly trained 20,050 people and counting.” (New York Times 12/7/12 from AP)

One of the fund’s projects—the Oasis Hotel in Pétionville, a suburb southeast of Port-au-Prince—opened on Dec. 12 with a soiree and 800 invitation-only guests. Munching hors-d’oeuvres and sipping “free-flowing wine,” the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles wrote, the participants observed “the bamboo, locally grown orchids and sexy white furniture that lined the expansive courtyard.” The 128-room hotel cost $35 million to build; $2 million was provided by the Clinton Bush Fund [see Update #1080]. President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) called the hotel “a symbol of the new Haiti.”

According to Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, Martelly’s government has approved a $161 million hotel project that will bring a total of 1,200 new hotel rooms to the country next year. A 106-room Best Western and an El Rancho with 72 rooms and 13 apartments are set to open in the coming months; Comfort Suites and Marriott are also planning hotels in Port-au-Prince. (Miami Herald 12/13/12)

On Dec. 10, two days before the Oasis opening, the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), a grassroots housing coalition, issued a press release charging that Port-au-Prince area mayors, police agents, justices of the peace and property owners—some with questionable land titles—were continuing forcible evictions of people left homeless by the 2010 earthquake. Some 150 families were threatened, according to the group, which said the displaced persons camps at risk were Vilambeta at Caradeux in the northeastern suburb of Tabarre; Camp Gaston Margron, in the Mariani Zone of Carrefour, southwest of the capital; Fortuna Guery in Port-au-Prince; and Camp Cr3, at Delmas 60, a neighborhood in the Delmas commune east of downtown Port-au-Prince. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/10/12)

Some 360,000 people are still living in the camps or other temporary shelters almost three years after the earthquake—4% of Haiti’s population, according to Johan Peleman, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti. “There’s still not enough construction of new housing going on,” Peleman told the Reuters wire service’s AlertNet, which notes that “just over half the $6.04 billion in aid to Haiti pledged by donors from 2010 to 2012 has been disbursed.” (AlertNet 12/13/12)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, US/immigration

Americas: Human Rights Defenders Increasingly Targeted and Attacked

Interview: Noam Chomsky on Latin America

Look from Above or Look from Below: An Interview with Raúl Zibechi (Latin America)

What really happened in Curuguaty? (Paraguay)

Bolivia: End of the Road for TIPNIS Consulta

Environmental Dissonance: Global Warming and Bolivia’s Kallawaya Healers

Native Communities in Peru Take Charge of Environmental Monitoring

Peru: Multinationals Undermining Justice

Colombia puts security forces under martial jurisdiction

Armed Peace does not Equate with Civil Peace (Colombia)

Colombia: Dismantling a Half-Century of Conflict

The End of the Chávez Era? (Venezuela)

Venezuelan President Chavez’s “Complex” Recovery Creates Uncertainty

Unions March in Venezuela over Labor Rights

Universal Health Care in El Salvador – A Personal Reflection

Congress vs. the Supreme Court: The Power Grab (Honduras)

Ismael and Manuelita Died in Defense of Three Basic Rights (Mexico)

Mexico bans Maya ceremony at ancestral temples

Lead Poisoning Underscores Mexico’s Need to Hasten Toxic Waste Inventory

Killing Spree on the Border (Mexico/US)

Why Build a Border Wall? (US/immigration)

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