Archive for July, 2009

Honduran Violence, U.S. Aid Test Obama’s Global Image

July 6, 2009

Honduras coup: scenes of chaos as desposed president Manuel Zelaya tries to return

While English language television in the United States mined the minutiae of Michael Jackson’s upcoming funeral, millions watching Spanish, Portuguese and French language media in the rest of the Americas were transfixed by live broadcasts of the Honduran military shooting and killing a 10 year-old boy and other protesters.

From the U.S.-Mexico border to the southern tip of Argentina and Chile, Latin Americans were besotted by television and internet images of the tens of thousands of Hondurans who risked their lives while staging a peaceful march to the airport where a plane carrying the ousted  President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and United Nations President Miguel d’Escoto was trying to land.

In the course of Sunday’s mass mobilization by Hondurans, many throughout the continent watched the drama of the police stepping out of the way of the marchers when their chief declared that he “holds the military responsible” for any bloodshed. Shortly after blood was, in fact, spilled as at least 2 people were killed by the military and several others were injured, according to Telesur, which broadcast live from the Tegucigalpa airport.

Public and official outrage in response to the killings and shootings are sure to intensify pressure on the military coup leaders who already face worldwide denunciation and pressure. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras’ membership Saturday; The European Union and most countries in Latin America with embassies in Honduras have withdrawn their ambassadors; the World Bank and some governments have either suspended or frozen loans to Honduras.

But the military coup leaders are still recipients of U.S. economic and military aid.

As a result, the whole Latin American world is watching Honduras and President Obama, who still has not heeded calls to suspend U.S. military aid to Honduras. In fact, Latin America may well be where the decline and fall of Obama’s global rock star status begins.

The Obama Administration has chosen to respond to the crisis in a manner that will signify little to millions watching the bloodshed taking place in Honduras; While nobody in the hemisphere wants the return of the actions of the Bush era, many already believe that the Obama Administration’s inactions mean that the “new” or fundamental “change” Obama promised during his also widely-viewed Summit of the Americas speech last April adds up to little more than this: more militarismo, but with a smile.

For example, rather than officially declare and denounce the Honduras putsch as a “coup”, which would, among other things, trigger a cutoff of military and other aid, the Obama Administration has instead chosen the symbolic act of suspending joint military operations.

In a region where U.S. military aid, U.S. military training and U.S. political support for dictatorships responsible for killing, torturing and disappearing millions are at the heart of why Obama needed urgently to signal a “new” U.S. policy, Obama’s continued “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can) to continued military aid for such human rights violation-plagued governments as those of Colombia, Mexico and Honduras will only tarnish his and the U.S.’ image in the region.

The President’s inability or unwillingness to call for an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid is already raising questions about the motives and role of Obama Administration operatives like Hugo Llorens, the current U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

From 2002-2003 – the year many in Latin America condemned the attempted military coup in Venezuela – Llorens was the Director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC).

Llorens was charged with advising then President Bush and his National Security Advisor on issues pertaining to Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Although Llorens and the Obama Administration do not recognize the current government, they did, apparently, know that the coup in Honduras was going to take place.

That the Obama Administration knew of the coup and did not cutoff aid immediately after it took place, makes its claims that it tried to “stop” the coup seem naive, at best.

That the Administration may not cutoff aid even after coup-appointed Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez described President Obama as “ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada” (that little black boy who knows nothing about nothing) is to add political insult to tragic injury before a hemispheric audience; That Obama may not cutoff military aid even after Sunday’s increased bloodshed adds even graver injury to that insult.

And in Latin America, a region where the word “Honduras” now means “defend democracy”, a region where many know that Democrat-led U.S. regimes have propped up military dictatorships, assassinated leaders and covertly destabilized left-leaning governments with the same zeal and effectiveness as Republican regimes, President Obama and the United States, no longer have the luxury of being on the wrong side of history made on the streets. This hemispheric sensibility was articulated forcefully by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez, who traveled with the Presidents of Ecuador and Paraguay to El Salvador on Sunday in order support Zelaya. During their late night press conference, Fernandez seemed to speak to and for millions when she stated, “We’re not just defending Honduras. We’re defending ourselves.” The question President Obama must answer as unequivocally and rapidly as possible is, “Who are Latin Americans defending themselves from?”

Death, Detention and the Dream of Legalization: GritTV Panel on Immigration Reform

July 3, 2009

This show about the possibilities of immigration reform this year was deftly done by the folks at GriTV. Host Laura Flanders steered panelists in what I think is one of the better discussions on this topic I’ve seen. Check out show which includes Mallika Dutt, Executive Director of Breakthrough, Ravi Ragbir who spent two years in immigration detention and is a member of Families for Freedom, Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice and yours truly. Issues hidden away in the shadows of the debate are brought to light and the results are really infromative. So, check it out the clip below! And if you like it, then check out the full episode here.

Alex Sanchez Denied Bail. Prosecution Case Decried as “Weak”

July 2, 2009

Looks like some very , very questionable legal practices are coming out in the Alex Sanchez trial. For example, as you will note from the material below, the judge appears predisposed against Alex. More on this to follow.

Check out this video from the recently established Alex Sanchez Channel.

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Alex Sanchez Denied Bail,
Prosecution Case Decried as “Weak”
By Tom Hayden
For The Nation

LOS ANGELES. A federal magistrate today denied Alex Sanchez bail in his gang conspiracy trial as expected, but the prosecution entered a surprisingly “weak” case according to defense counsel.

If the bail denial is endorsed by federal judge Manual Real, an appeal to the US Ninth Circuit Court could take months, keeping Sanchez in federal isolation. His defenders argue that bail denial is a violation of his equal opportunity to participate in his own defense, tipping the scales of justice against the indigent defendant, former gang member and decade-long leader of Homies Unidos, a gang prevention organization highly regarded in juvenile justice circles.

Sanchez appeared in court today chained and shackled, dressed in a white prison uniform. He made brief eye contact with his family and supporters, tapping his heart in a gesture of love and strength. He remained quiet through the proceeding.

In arguing that Sanchez was a danger to the community and a flight risk, the prosecution case revealed the core of its conspiracy case for the first time since Sanchez was arrested at home at 6 a.m last Wednesday.

In the eye of this observer, who has personally experienced and covered many past conspiracy cases, the prosecution’s narrative seemed weaker than others brought during the police and FBI’s long wars against crime, the Left, revolutionaries, anti-war activists and, more lately narco-terrorists and violent gangs. As Father Gregory Boyle argues, the problem is not so much a police conspiracy as a deep ignorance and cultural bias in the ranks of prosecutors and law enforcement. Both a conspiratorial mindset and ignorance seemed on display today, leading Sanchez’ attorney Kerry Bensinger to call the government case “weak” and “laughable.” A notably professional attorney who refuses to argue the case in the media, Bensinger reddened and shook his head at several points during the proceeding.

As evidence that Sanchez leads a “double life” as community healer by day and secret member of a hierarchical racketeering organization [mara salvatrucha] by night, the prosecutors offered the following evidence:

-that Sanchez claims to support gang tattoo removal as a path out of the gang life, but has a gang tattoo across his chest. In fact, laser tattoo removal programs, which are painful, lengthy and expensive, are offered only for the hands, wrists, neck or other areas which are barriers to training and employment programs. Fr. Boyle credits Sanchez will helping 250 young people undergo tattoo removal. Sanchez openly admits he was a tattooed member of MS in the 1980s and early 1990s. [As a state senator, I authorized $2 million for tattoo removal programs.]
-that Sanchez has a long criminal record. But defense counsel noted that several of Sanchez’s previous convictions have been struck down, and that those which remain are two offenses dated in 1991. Subsequently, Sanchez has not only been exonerated of past offenses in LA Superior Court, but granted political asylum by an immigration judge during the Rampart police scandal in 2002.
-That a poem by Sanchez was found in papers taken by police during a house raid several years ago.
-That Sanchez appeared in a 2000 photo taken at a gang peace conference in San Francisco, smiling with an associate and posing with gang signs. Attorney Bensinger noted that millions of young people, including his own kids, sometimes throw gang signs without such behavior being criminal.
-That several weeks ago, Sanchez and several young men were talking and drinking after a sporting event, when police rolled up and took notes on field identification cards. There were no charges made.

-On the most sensational charge of conspiracy-to-murder, the prosecution introduced an LAPD officer who wiretapped Sanchez, among others, without the required turning over of transcripts of the actual wiretaps to the defense. Sanchez’ attorney objected to his inability to cross-examine or obtain evidence through discovery. But the officer, Frank Flores, was allowed to take the stand anyway, in support of charges which have yet to be examined. The prosecution argued that the tapes of multiple phone calls around May 5-6, 2006, will reveal arguments, tensions and threats among several gang members, including Sanchez and Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron”. Sanchez, according to the still-unreleased tape, is quoted as saying “we go to war”, without any further context or quotation. Lacinos was killed the following week in El Salvador by an unnamed MS member, according to the prosecution account.

A sentence such as “we go to war”, without context, could be prophecy, prediction or warning, but is hardly sustainable evidence of ordering a gang killing. The case itself may open up the shadowy world of LAPD collusion with Salvadoran police and the unsolved murders of numerous Homies Unidos members deported back to El Salvador in the past decade.

Many might ask why Sanchez isn’t simply tried for accessory to murder in the proper state or local court. The plain reason is that the evidence would be insufficient. Enter the RICO racketeering conspiracy laws, named after the gangster named “Rico” in an Edward G. Robinson film, which make guilt-by-association the basis of responsibility for concrete “overt” acts. [For example, during the 1969 Chicago conspiracy trial, eight defendants were accused of conspiring to cross interstate lines and carrying “overt acts” in furtherance of said conspiracy. It was not necessary that the eight knew each other. I was charged with the overt act of letting air out of a police car’s tires. Bobby Seale’s overt act was giving a speech in broad daylight. Jerry Rubin, if I recall, was charged with throwing a sweater at a police officer.]

Alex Sanchez will have to show that he was not an active participant in any crime and that his presence on wiretapped conversations was not evidence of murderous intent, and/or that multiple dangers precluded him from just hanging up. It is possible that the tapes themselves will unravel into garbled discussions proving nothing resembling a conspiracy. But the government will refuse to release the tapes for as many months as possible, while Sanchez remains locked away. In the end, the conspiracy may prove to be the LAPD and FBI elements who continue to blame Sanchez for causing them embarrassment in the Rampart scandal a decade ago, when they tried to imprison and deport him.

A movement to demand bail and a fair trial for Alex Sanchez was announced immediately after the bail denial, with the website www.wearealex.com. Led by Homies Unidos activists, the defense committee released over one hundred letters from Salvadoran community leaders, gang prevention groups from across the country, and an array of clergy including Father Boyle, Rabbi Allen Freehling, Rabbi Steve Jacobs, and Minister Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam, who attended the bail proceeding.

The actual bail motion is attached above. Note p. 12, which states that “Congress intended the Bail Reform Act to authorize detention only in the rarest of circumstances. The Ninth Circuit has strongly affirmed that “federal law has traditionally provided that a person arrested for a noncapital offense shall be admitted to bail” and that any doubts as to the propriety of release should be resolved in favor of the defendant. An individual detained as a “danger to the community” has the right to an adversary hearing with “specific and quantifiable evidence” presented. Finally, the Ninth Circuit has repeatedly held that the allegation in question is the least important factor to be considered in determining bail.

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and author of Street Wars [Verso, 2005]