Colombian militia chief: the army helped found us

December 20, 2006

The Colombian paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso has gone on the record to show how the Colombian armed forces set up the right-wing paramilitary forces in the late 1980s, reports Colombia’s El Tiempo.

Speaking to judges as part of his demobilisation proceedings under Colombia’s Peace and Justice Law, the paramilitary chief said detailed some of the crucial support they were given in their early years.

In particular, Mancuso mentioned the aid given by Major Walter Fratini of the Junin Batallion of the 11th. This included both light and heavy arms and, crucially, safe conduct passes.

Monitoring organisations, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have repeatedly shown strong links between the army and paramilitaries. However, such a frank admission from a senior paramilitary is rare.

Mancuso was a former leader of the Catatumbo Bloc paramilitary group. His confession follows the arrest and investigation of several high ranking political figures from parties that support the President of Colombia.

Despite the repeated human rights abuses of the UK still provides secret training and aid to the Colombian armed forces.


Latin America 2006

November 29, 2006

We’ve been asked to publicise the Latin America 2006 conference, which looks like being a very good event.

It features speakers from the UK and Latin America talking about the changes and struggles around the continent.

Speakers include:

Harold Pinter, playwright, political activist
Aida Avella, of the Patriotic Union party in Colombia, who has faced several assassination attempts.
Cesar Navarro, of the Bolivian MAS party
Wayne Smith, the former US head of interest in Havana.
Tariq Ali
A member of the Venezuelan Parliament
Colin Burgon MP
Barry Camfield, TGWU
Keithe Sonnet, UNISON
Frances O’Grady, TUC.
And a host of other speakers.
Tickets are available to book online here


Taxing Cigarettes and alcohol

November 23, 2006

The EU’s Court of Justice is likely to rule today that it is legal for people in the UK to circumvent the tax system by ordering cigarettes and alcohol by mail order from another EU country.

The ruling would reverse a previous decision that stopped Death Cigarettes running exactly this kind of scam a few years back.

It’s a worrying development of the very worst sort of “competence creep” as the Euro-wonks call it. That’s the notion that the EU gradually expands the areas in which its powerful non-elected institutions (the Court of Justice, the Commission and the Council) have power over the democratically elected governments of its member states.

Last year, a ruling on Marks & Spencer’s disastrous foray into France, Germany and other EU countries gave the company the right to write-off millions of pounds of tax revenue.

The latest decision would probably see a rise in smoking and drinking as prices come down. It would also see a huge rise in the black market for booze and fags, as it becomes even easier to get them from abroad legally and then sell them on. It just seems that public health and the use of tax funds to pay public services are not the important thing facing the European Court of Justice. Their only consideration in this will presumably be pushing the single market forward.

Now, The Daily likes the idea of a social Europe as much as the next blog. We like trips to Paris, gap years in Spain, the working time directive and purple passports. However, we have to face the fact that the main focus of the EU, certainly over the last decade or two, has been pushing the free market on member states at the expense of “market barriers” like tax revenue and contracted public services.

Update****

Probably fair to say it wasn’t The Daily’s finest moment when we posted this story about ten minutes before the European Court of Justice ruled against the liberalisation of booze and fags across Europe. In our/my defence, it is very rare for the Court to rule against a preliminary ruling.

Anyway, it’s always a pleasure to see an outbreak of good sense in the ECJ, even if it means eating a little humble pie in The Daily’s dingy basement office.


US mid-terms in perspective

November 16, 2006

Chris Bowers looks back at the mid-terms to take stock of what the Democrats actually won now that the dust has settled.

In state legislative bodies, Democrats control 56 chambers, Republicans control 40. Two, the Montana House (previously tied) and the Pennsylvania House (previously Republican controlled) are undecided. Democrats took nine legislative chambers, and lost none. The gains came in Indiana (House), Iowa (House and Senate), Michigan (House), Minnesota (House), New Hampshire (House and Senate), Oregon (House), and Wisconsin (Senate). The Iowa Senate was previously tied, and the Oklahoma Senate, previously controlled by Democrats, is also now tied. I believe, however, that the tie in the Oklahoma Senate goes to Democrats, because we have the Governorship there.

Democrats control 3,964 state legislature seats, and Republicans control 3,307. I do not know how many are controlled by third parties, or are currently undecided. Democrats also have a non-southern majority in state legislature seats for the first time in many years.

It’s an interesting post worth reading. As he says:

We have now almost entirely restocked our bench following the 1994 elections. Our list of potential candidates for higher office at every level is now much longer than it was only six years ago. We also are in a position to favorably remake electoral maps in than we were six years ago.


Democrats question Colombia neo-liberalism

November 14, 2006

No one expects the Democrats to set the world ablaze with a radical agenda, but it does make a difference that they won the mid-term elections. Within days, we have an example of why.

President Uribe of Colombia, a man who paramilitaries referred to as “our candidate”, is desperately lobbying in Washington. The reason is to protect the Free Trade Treaty that Colombia and the US have signed, but which hasn’t yet been ratified.

The treaty is unpopular among the country’s many poor citizens despite a massive government propaganda effort, with TV programmes about how great the it would be, and the works.

The reason is that it would open up even further Colombia’s massive agricultural and mineral resources so that big business can make even more money out of the deeply divided country. This is already under way and has caused the country to lose its self sufficiency in food due to exports of environmentally destructive plants such as oil palm.

Reports now say that some Democrats are now threatening to vote against ratification, which is why Uribe has made the dash.

The treaty may pass, but it’s worth remembering that this would never have been a question under the Republicans.


How labor delivered for the Democrats

November 10, 2006

Tula Connell on Kos has a really good piece on the contribution made by organised labour for the Democrats in the mid-term elections.

The union movement made a big difference Nov. 7. We waged a massive GOTV effort, reaching an unprecedented 13.4 million voters in 32 states. Since the beginning of the year, the AFL-CIO union movement has involved 205,000 volunteers who have:

  • Knocked on the doors of 8.25 million union voters
  • Made 30 million phones calls to union voters
  • Mailed 20 million pieces of mail to union homes
  • Distributed 14 million worksite fliers

The result of this was:

While nonunion voters provided a two-point margin of victory for Democratic candidates, union households made it a five-point difference–turning a modest victory into a wave. Union households voted 74 percent to 26 percent for Democratic candidates–and union members made up one in four voters. In key battleground Senate races, union members voted 73 percent to 27 percent for Democrats.

The research showed that :

76 percent of union members who were contacted by their union voted Democrat compared to 61 percent of those who weren’t.

Together with community organisations, unions were at the forefront of campaigns for wage raise ballots. In Arizona 94 percent of union members supported wage raises. The Daily has already reported on the importance of those ballots in mobilising Democratic voters.

Turnout was higher among unionised casual voters following the AFL-CIO’s focus on them.

Working America, the unions’ community affiliate, has 1.5 million new members. 80 percent of those who didn’t vote in 2002 voted this time around. They voted 80 percent Democrat.

There’s lots of info in her piece. It’s really worth looking through.


Senate race latest: analysis

November 8, 2006

Control of the Senate currently rests in a few ballot boxes in Montana and Virginia.  As the UK media seem to lack any eye for detail (did anyone else see any of the appallingly bad coverage on Sky News overnight?) we thought we’d bring you a bit of proper analysis.

In Montana, we are waiting on the results from Meagher County.  As it stands, Democratic challenger Jon Tester is just over 1700 votes ahead.  Meagher is a traditional rural Republican county which went 72% for Bush in ’04.  However, it is sparsely populated and normally only around a thousand of its residents turn out to vote.  In theory, scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Conrad Burns could still turn it round, but in practice there just won’t be enough votes there unless something very suspicious happens.

More critical will be the rules about a recount – if the result is within a quarter of a percent then under Montana law the loser can request a recount and the State picks up the tab.  A quarter of a percent would be about a thousand votes – so a good turnout from Meagher County would mean Burns gets a recount on the taxpayer, which he would probably take.  If he is up to half a percent off, then he has to pick up the tab himself.

So, touching every available wood surface in The Daily’s newsroom, we reckon it’s a Tester victory in this count, but with a strong chance that there will be a recount and no final result for days.

The situation is similar in Virginia.  Democratic challenger Jim Webb has a lead of just under 8000 over gaffe-prone GOP incumbent George Allen.  There are precincts still to report in Loudoun County, Fairfax City and the Isle of Wight (no, really).  Loudoun breaks pretty evenly, Fairfax leans Democratic and Isle of Wight leans Republican.  The latter is more populous than Fairfax but there are more precincts still to go there.  Though it may be Republican areas still to report, it’s extremely hard – again, touching wood – to see how Allen can find the numbers of votes to make a shock comeback.

But again, under Virginia state law, he can ask for a recount if the result is under 1% which seems certain.  So, both states may well end up recounting votes over the days ahead, with the US Senate majority depending how the hanging chads land.

18.20 update****

AP are now reporting that Tester has claimed victory in Montana. No info yet on whether there will be a recount, but at the very least, it would appear that the Republicans have lost their majority in the Senate. It now only remains to be seen if there will be a dead heat of 50/50 with Dick Cheney breaking the deadlock with the speaker’s casting vote, or whether the Democratic Party can get a majority of one senator.

In other news, Don Rumsfeld has resigned and will be replaced by former CIA head Robert Gates.