What WikiLeaks is Revealing About U.S. Politics South of the Border

Under the category of “old, but interesting” news, I’ve been reading the NewsNotes from the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, where there’s been a very informative roundup on the November 2010 WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables and their connection to Latin America.

This bi-monthly newsletter is an excellent resource for understanding the on-the-ground stories for international justice work. Under the outstanding editorial guidance of Judy Coode, I always find a treasure trove of information and helpful perspective.

While most press coverage of the U.S. State Department cables revealed by the website Wikileaks has centered on the Middle East, a number of cables have been from and about Latin American countries. Information contained in some messages confirmed suspicions about political leaders, providing new details.

Others have brought new information showing internal contradictions in the policies of the U.S. and other governments. Cables from countries considered to be “oppositional” like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, show how embassies often use biased information from untrustworthy sources. Below are excerpts from the NewsNotes articles produced by Dave Kane, reprinted with permission of 2011 Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (please support them and sign up to receive their newsletter):

Bolivia: Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera has publicly supported the Wikileaks organization and posted all U.S. diplomatic cables released that pertain to Bolivia on his official website. He said that he wants people to know the “barbarities and insults” of what he called Washington’s “interventionist infiltration.”

Brazil: Documents show internal division in the Brazilian government in relation to Venezuela. While President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva refused to go along with U.S. requests to help isolate Venezuela, one cable shows that the Lula administration offered to support Su’mate, a Venezuelan NGO working in opposition to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, in exchange for U.S. authorization to sell a Brazilian training aircraft, the “Supertucano,” to other South American countries.

Colombia: Leaked cables from Colombia are an example of diplomatic actions that are perhaps better to be kept secret. The documents show that former president Alvaro Uribe secretly sought to dialog with leadership of Colombia’s rebel forces, the FARC.

El Salvador: Leaked cables from the San Salvador embassy confirm and provide more detail about how President Mauricio Funes faces increasing division and even subterfuge from his own political party, the Farabundi National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Honduras: A cable sent a month after the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya shows how the U.S. embassy had no doubt about the illegitimacy of the coup despite State Department reluctance to act on that fact.

Mexico: Released cables from Mexico show that, despite public praise from U.S. officials toward Mexican police and military, they have great concern that the poorly trained and corrupt security forces are unable to deal with drug cartels.

Panama: The Latin American country where Wikileaks documents have uncovered the most controversial and damaging information is Panama. The cables reveal high-level corruption surrounding a July 2009 contract to add a third set of locks to the Panama Canal, as well as an alleged illegal wiretapping operation by President Ricardo Martinelli. … Another scandal revealed by the Wikileaks cables involved President Martinelli allegedly pressuring and even blackmailing the U.S. embassy to help him spy on political opponents and unions.

Venezuela: A key learning from Wikileaks cables regarding Venezuela is the extent of the campaign by a number of regional government leaders to undermine Hugo Chavez and diminish Venezuelan influence in the area. The cables also show that, rhetoric aside, the U.S. government is not actually concerned about Venezuela providing uranium to Iran or Russia. … From within Venezuela, political opponents also have asked for the U.S. to work to undermine Chavez. Many opposition groups receive funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. Venezuelan Archbishop Baltazar Porras asked the U.S. government to “contain the regional aspirations” of Chavez, according to a January 2005 cable. Porras reportedly offered to organize a joint effort by the U.S. and Venezuela’s Catholic hierarchy and private business sector to try to win over poor communities that had benefitted from the Chavez regime. Porras, the vice president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, has denied saying any such thing, classifying the leaked cable as “a science fiction movie script.”

Read NewsNotes’ full content of WikiLeaks and Latin America.
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