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French giant Veolia cut down to size for abusing Palestinian rights

French giant Veolia cut down to size for abusing Palestinian rights

26 August 2011

France is refusing to address corporate complicity in the occupation of Palestine.

The French corporation Veolia once appeared unassailable; today it is ailing. It is faced not only with the global economic crisis but also the growing impact of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against its involvement with Israeli apartheid infrastructure and transport projects. A recent merger between Veolia’s transport division and a subsidiary of the main French state investment fund indicates French industry and government have united to find a simple solution to Veolia’s problems: let the taxpayers finance Veolia’s income losses — and its complicity with Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

On 4 August, Veolia management held a conference call with major financial analysts to defend the company’s latest figures. It wasn’t an easy task. Veolia’s management was forced to gloss over the terrible financial situation of the group that has forced it to draw up sharp cost reduction plans, initiate a complete restructuring of management, plan the pullout from more than forty countries and search for more investors to cover a high debt.

Veolia has lost more than 50 percent of its share value since March 2011, according to tear sheet data from The Financial Times (“Marketdata: Veolia Environnement Ve SA,” accessed 25 August 2011).

However, among the underlying financial data discussed — €67 million ($96 million) in net loss during the first half of this year; €15 billion ($21.6 billion) net debts; €250 million ($360 million) yearly cost reduction — one number did not come up: the massive financial damage the company has faced at the hands of the BDS movement. Since the beginning of the Palestinian-led campaign in 2005, Veolia has lost contracts worth more than €10 billion ($14 billion) following high profile campaigns.

Veolia’s chief financial officer Pierre-Antoine Riolacci had to admit that its municipal services are suffering a downturn in some countries “in particular with pressure on the downside, namely in the UK where things are rather difficult.”

Ignoring London loss

Surely the CFO had heard the news from across the English Channel the day before the conference call, where Veolia had failed to be selected for a £300 million ($493 million) contract by Ealing Council in London following a determined campaign by the local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The worldwide campaign against Veolia was initiated in response to the company’s five percent stake in the consortium that is constructing the light rail project that links West Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank, thereby cementing Israeli colonization and creating the necessary infrastructure for its further expansion. Moreover, Veolia holds a thirty-year contract for the operation of its first line, due to open later this month. Veolia and its subsidiaries also operate bus services, waste management and a landfill all deep within the occupied West Bank, and all for the use of Israeli settlers. All of these projects contribute to war crimes, as defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Refusal to withdraw from Israel

Despite its apparent desperation to reduce costs, Veolia has yet to implement the most effective cost reduction strategy it could: including Israel in the list of countries it plans to withdraw from. Rather than divesting from Israeli colonization of Palestinian land, Veolia is turning to the French state for financial assistance, involving public money in operations abetting Israeli war crimes.

This spring Veolia Transport merged with Transdev into a newly created company Veolia Transdev (“Veolia Transdev: Creation of the world’s leading private-sector company in sustainable mobility,” press statement, 3 March 2011).

Transdev was a subsidiary of the French Caisse des Dépôts (CDC), a public investment authority that manages public funds and is overseen by the French parliament. The CDC is now a 50 percent partner in the newly created Veolia Transdev transport company. According to Veolia’s Pierre-Antoine Riolacci, the entrance of Transdev intp the group has allowed Veolia to “cut back our debt by €159 million [$229 million].” The degree to which Veolia Transdev has come under the protection of the French state is evident in the fact that during the conference call, Veolia Transdev issues were directly dealt with by the CDC’s chief executive Jerome Gallot.

On its website, CDC boasts that it exists to “serve the general interest and the economic development” of France. But pumping French tax money into Veolia to make up for its financial troubles, thus allowing it to push forward projects that serve illegal Israeli population transfers into occupied Palestinian territory, is unlikely to help attain either goal. Moreover, the Jerusalem light rail project contradicts French government policy that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Promoting the project in 2005, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated, “This [light rail] should be done … to strengthen Jerusalem, construct it, expand it and sustain it for eternity as the capital of the Jewish people and the united capital of the state of Israel.”

Even before its partial ownership of Veolia Transdev, CDC was involved in the light rail project through its subsidiary Egis Rail, which won a contract in 2008 to assist with managing the project. The current role of Egis Rail is unclear.

Private companies have long been heavily involved in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, such as building and maintaining the illegal settlement infrastructure, and the wall built on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank. But by investing in Veolia, the French government is bucking a recent European trend of governments to start ensuring public enterprises and institutions are not complicit with Israeli violations of international law.

The German government recently responded to public pressure by taking steps to end the state-owned company Deutsche Bahn’s involvement in the construction of a train line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv passing through the occupied West Bank. Explaining its intervention, the German transport ministry pointed to the “potentially illegal” nature of the project and the fact that it is inconsistent with government policy toward Israel and the Palestinians (“Letter from German government to Die Linke parliamentarian concerning A1 train project,” 10 May 2011). The German foreign ministry has admirably published an alert on its website warning German companies about the potential legal consequences of Israeli projects in the occupied West Bank (“West Bank, Economy”).

Precedents set by other European capitals

The Norwegian government took a precedent-setting step when it excluded Elbit Systems from its investment portfolio. Elbit is an Israeli arms company involved in the construction of Israel’s illegal wall in the West Bank. It subsequently also excluded Africa Israel and Danya Cebus, two companies which build illegal Israeli-only settlements in the West Bank (“Norwegian government pension fund excludes more Israeli companies,” 23 August 2010).

The British government also took a stand on the issue when, in 2009, the foreign ministry pulled out of a deal to rent office space for its embassy in a building owned by Lev Leviev, the Israeli diamond tycoon who owns Africa Israel and finances development of illegal settlements in the West Bank. The British government also withdrew export licenses to Israel from UK arms companies that provided the Israeli military with weapons or components that have been used during the winter 2008-09 attacks on the Gaza Strip (“Israel arms licenses revoked by Britain,” The Huffington Post, 13 July 2009).

In September 2009, the Spanish government excluded Ariel university from a state-sponsored architecture competition after having become aware that it was located in an illegal settlement.

The French government, however, has so far failed to take action to end such complicity. By doing so, France is not only undermining important precedents set by its allies. It also violates its obligations under international law and the voluntary commitments it has made regarding good governance and corporate social responsibility.

France must honor obligations

When the International Court of Justice ruled on the illegality of Israel’s apartheid wall and related infrastructure in the occupied West Bank, it also ruled that third party states are obliged not to aid or assist the maintenance of the unlawful situation created by Israel or infringements of the right to Palestinian self-determination. Two companies owned by the French state fund CDC — Veolia and Egis Rail — are involved with and profit from such unlawful acts. This calls France’s commitment to international law into question.

In June, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved its new Guiding Principles for the implementation of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework, designed to help states and businesses understand their duty to prevent corporate abuse of human rights and their obligations under international law (“Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework,” 21 March 2011).

According to these principles, “states should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the state … [including by] denying access to public support and services for a business enterprise that is involved with gross human rights abuses and refuses to cooperate in addressing the situation.”

Involvement in the light rail project also violates the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s guidelines on multinational companies. Considering that Paris is the seat of the OECD, this is particularly ironic (“OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” 2008 [PDF]).

The OECD guidelines call for companies to “respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments.” Israel’s settlements and associated infrastructure violate several key international law treaties, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all of which have been ratified by Israel and France.

The French government has become a shareholder in Veolia in full knowledge of that company’s role in supporting Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. The principal victims of this French policy are the Palestinian people. However, this development should also be of concern to all those who believe in the importance of a functioning system of international law and the implementation of human rights standards. The French people, whose taxes have financed the Veolia Transdev merger, should be especially concerned.

It will be up to campaigners in France and all around the globe to stop governmental buy-ins to illegal operations of private or state enterprises. It will be their task to ensure that the Transdev deal will not be enough to shield Veolia from the impact of the BDS movement’s demand for accountability. The group is in financial trouble and its CFO has admitted that Veoila is losing municipal service contracts in cities and regions that have seen meticulous grassroots campaigning. In December, Veolia will present the full list of countries which it is leaving (“Veolia to leave 37 countries as loss spurs quicker revamp,” Bloomberg, 4 August 2011).

This might be another chance for the company to show that it has learned that failure to respect human rights and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination comes with a price.

Maren Mantovani is coordinator for international relations with Stop the Wall, the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.

Michael Deas is Europe coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).

Nile River row: Could it turn violent? | Africa News blog

Nile River row: Could it turn violent?

Jul 7, 2010 08:59 EDT


The giggles started when the seventh journalist in a row said that his question was for Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam.

The non-Egyptian media gave him a bit of a hammering at last week’s talks in Addis Ababa for the nine countries that the Nile passes through.

Allam bared his teeth when a Kenyan journalist accused him of hiding behind “colonial-era treaties” giving his country the brunt of the river’s vital waters whether that hurt the poorer upstream countries or not.

“You obviously don’t know enough about this subject to be asking questions about it,” he snapped before later apologising to her with a kiss on the cheek.

Five of the nine Nile countries — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — last month signed a deal to share the water that is a crucial resource for all of them. But Egypt and Sudan, who are entitled to most of the water and can veto upstream dams under a 1929 British-brokered agreement, refused.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have not signed yet either and analysts are divided on whether they will or not. Six Nile countries must sign the agreement for it to have any power but Egypt says even that wouldn’t change its mind. The five signatories — some of the world’s poorest countries — have left the agreement open for debating and possible signing for up to a year.

Tensions were clearly still running high after two days of negotiations in Addis and despite grinning around the table and constantly referring to each other as “my brother”, the ministers always seemed in danger of breaking into bickering.

When the Sudanese water minister said his country was freezing cooperation with the Nile Basin Initiative — the name given to the ten-year effort to agree on how to manage the river — Ethiopia’s water minister loudly protested to the media that his Sudanese colleague had not revealed that during their private meetings.

Highlighting the seriousness of the issue, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abul Naga, arrived in Addis Ababaon Wednesday to again meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

It’s no surprise that the spat is getting a lot of press in both Ethiopia and Egypt.

“Egypt is a gift of the Nile,” people like to say in a country that worshipped the river as a God in ancient times. “If Egypt is a gift of the Nile, then the Nile is a gift of Ethiopia,” Ethiopians shoot back with growing confidence.

And they have a point. More than 85 percent of the waters originate in Ethiopia, which relies on foreign aid for survival and sees hydropower dams as a potential cash cow and central to its plans to become one of Africa’s only power exporters.

But Egypt is not for turning. Almost totally dependent on the Nile for its agricultural output (a third of its economy) and already worried about climate change, it is determined to hold onto its 55.5 billion cubic metres of water a year, a seemingly unfair share of the Nile’s total flow of 84 billion cubic metres.

The Egyptians point out that they don’t benefit from rains like the upstream countries. Everybody, it seems, has valid points. Nobody is budging. Now some regional analysts are even saying the row could turn into the world’s first major water war and similar thoughts are being expressed in cafes from Cairo all the way upriver to Dar es Salaam.

So what next? The nine countries are due to meet again in Nairobi sometime between September and November. But where is the way forward? Who will blink first? And who really should? Could this bickering turn violent?

The Islamo-Bolivarian threat – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

The Islamo-Bolivarian threat

Should the US be worried about the close relationship between Iran and Venezuela?
Belen Fernandez Last Modified:
17 Aug 2011 13:22

Recent years have seen an increasingly close relationship between Venezuela and Iran [EPA]

In early July, the US Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America – Implications for US Homeland Security“.

The line-up of witnesses consisted of Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute; Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and journal editor for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Brown University professor Dr. Melani Cammett, the only testifier who bothered to provide an accurate history of Hezbollah and to refrain from referring to the Lebanese political party and resistance movement as a terrorist organisation directed by Iran.

Cammett’s co-witnesses more than made up for her dearth of creativity. Given the quality of what is consistently allowed to pass as evidence of the threat posed to the US by the supposed love affair between Iran and leftist Latin American regimes, it is perhaps only surprising that the first three expert-propagandists did not invoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s joke in the Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border” – in reference to a corn-processing facility – that, “This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb.”

Stripped of its facetious intent, the comment would have proved an able companion to the clique’s existing arsenal of justifications for increased US militarisation of Latin America as well as potential military manoeuvrings against Iran.

The Caracas-Tehran one-stop

No congressional subcommittee hearing would have been complete without testimony confirming that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus.

This bit of trivia, mentioned by both Noriega and Farah, has for the past several years been a favourite among neoconservative pundits as well as members of the Israeli foreign ministry.

During his June 2009 expedition to Honduras to attend the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.” The superior urgency of the “Iranian attempt to penetrate into the continent” was unclear given that no representatives of the Islamic Republic or any other non-American state had been present at said assembly.

In addition to Ayalon’s appearance in Honduras, other instances of proof of the facility of transatlantic travel include the 1983 training in Israel of Carlos Castano, father of modern Colombian paramilitarism, who acknowledged inheriting the concept from the Israelis. It comes as no surprise that Israeli-Colombian models of terrorisation and displacement of populations infringing economically, ideologically, or ethnically on the interests of power are deemed far less deserving of contemplation in certain circles than, for example, the “dangerous ‘caudillo-mullah’ axis” advertised by the Honourable Noriega.

Noriega’s scary secret fantasy stash

Roger Noriega, one of various Iran-Contra relics recycled into subsequent US administrations, served under the Bush II regime as US ambassador to the OAS and then as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. The Iran-Contra portion of his curriculum vitae suggests that he has already had considerable experience with a different sort of caudillo-mullah axis, according to which profits from arms sales to the axis’ latter half went to benefit supporters of right-wing dictatorships in Nicaragua.

Noriega’s transparent fear-mongering efforts against the new axis often employ a vocabulary of limited range, such that in the past ten months alone we have been alerted to the existence of rightist Honduran President Pepe Lobo’s “Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez” as well as “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Program” and “Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?“, and have been reminded that the Caracas-Tehran one-stop is part of “Hugo Chavez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.”

The sensational effects of Noriega’s strategic reliance on “secrets” are somewhat mitigated by his inability to sustain his own allegations. As Nicaragua-based journalist Charles Davis points out in a March 2011 piece for Right Web with regard to Noriega’s October 2010 detection of Venezuela’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme:

“[T]hat show-stopping claim of nuclear proliferation on the US’s ‘soft underbelly’ isn’t mentioned in [Noriega’s] more recent, 2,700 word policy guide for the new Congress. According to leaked State Department cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, US diplomats have privately mocked the notion that Venezuela is assisting Iran’s nuclear program or developing atomic weapons – or even capable of developing a civilian nuclear power program.”

In a dispatch entitled “Chavez the Cocaine Capo?“, Noriega speculates that the Venezuelan leader “should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling US federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations”. The attempt to discredit leftist governments by saddling them with drug trafficking ties should be juxtaposed with the fact that CIA facilitation of the accrual by right-wing Nicaraguan paramilitaries of revenues from cocaine distribution in the US is no secret.

Farsi tattoos, Mexicans and geography

The tendency to heap socialists, Islamists, drug traffickers, and other undesirables into a single nexus of malevolence is also observable in a 2010 letter from US Representative Sue Myrick to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, hyping the idea that Hezbollah is cooperating with drug cartels on the US southern border.

Apparently unconcerned that the friendly Mexican government may also be cooperating with drug cartels on the same border, Myrick delivers the smoking gun:

“Across states in the Southwest, well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi. We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic, but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah. These tattoos in Farsi are almost always seen in combination with gang or drug cartel tattoos.”

Myrick’s argument was compelling enough to merit regurgitation by Douglas Farah at last month’s congressional subcommittee hearing and then by Texas’ Rio Grande Valley KRGV news station, which cautioned: “Terrorists Use New Identifying Markers To Recognize Each Other”. As for Myrick’s contention that, thanks to the bond between Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians can now learn Spanish in Venezuela and then cross the US border posing as Mexicans, the need for enhanced racial profiling in the US has also been suggested by the global intelligence firm STRATFOR’s analysis that Hezbollah looks Mexican.

Farah’s testimony meanwhile also included the allegation that Venezuela is an “ideal launching pad” for drug trafficking due to its “geographic proximity to West Africa”. That Farah is unable to present his arguments without resorting to such preposterous calculations does not aid his overall credibility, which is further obviated via his announcement that Iran, the Bolivarian states, Hezbollah, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC):

“Share a doctrine of asymmetrical warfare against the United States that embraces the use of weapons of mass destruction, massive civilian casualties as acceptable collateral damage and the underlying belief that the acquisition of nuclear weapons to destroy the United States is a moral or religious imperative. This is not a statement of capacity, but a clear statement of intention.”

The problem here, of course, is that it is not clear what the “this” that is allegedly a clear statement of intention is referring to aside from Farah’s own fabrications, given that none of the listed entities has ever expressed belief in the necessity of a nuclear destruction of the US and that the practice of inflicting massive collateral casualties has in recent history been monopolised by the US-Israel axis.

Argentina, penetrated

Relentlessly invoked as evidence of the malicious continental designs of Iran/Hezbollah is the extermination of civilians in Buenos Aires in terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA, the Jewish cultural centre, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. The standard argument is that the attacks were conducted as revenge for Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear contracts with Iran.

However, as historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter points out in an in-depth report for The Nation, a top Argentine nuclear official has confirmed that negotiations to resume cooperation with Iran continued throughout the period in which the bombings occurred and that it appeared the outcome would be favourable to the Islamic Republic. This raises the possibility that revenge may have instead been the priority of a non-Iranian party.

Walking down the street in Buenos Aires in July 2009, I quickly learned from the disproportionate number of sidewalk billboard advertisements featuring Chavez and Ahmadinejad clasping hands – accompanied by a warning of “Iranian penetration in Latin America” – that the annual observance of the anniversary of the AMIA attack constituted a prime occasion on which to intensify the dissemination of paranoia. The penetration ads directed consumers to an article by a certain Ely Karmon in Veintitres magazine and were interspersed with posters depicting an unoccupied bed with white sheets in commemoration of the “85 goodbyes”, which I first assumed was a reference to the current Argentine swine flu epidemic rather than the AMIA fatalities.

Veintitres defines Karmon as a Senior Academic Investigator at the International Counterterrorism Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. His senior academic investigatory techniques in this case include plagiarising three paragraphs from a 2007 Miami Herald article by Andres Oppenheimer, whose observation that “Ahmadinejad must love the tropics” because he has spent more time in Latin America than George W. Bush, Karmon does attribute to the Herald – albeit without explaining how it is that the former US president has become the standard against which travel frequency to places other than Crawford, Texas, should be measured.

Karmon’s investigation exposes worrisome trends such as that Farsi is being taught at Venezuelan universities, that a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish, and that Hezbollah operations have recently been “thwarted in Azerbaijan and an unidentified European country”. He additionally draws attention to a 2008 Los Angeles Times article that reports word of a joint scheme between Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Venezuelan airport workers to exploit IranAir’s Venezuela service in order to capture Jewish businessmen in Latin America and smuggle them to Lebanon. The “Western anti-terrorism official” to whom knowledge of the plan is ascribed does not explain why the one-stop to Tehran is not thus a non-stop to Beirut.

As for other functions of the Caracas-Tehran trajectory, these have been revealed by Roger Noriega, who, two weeks after declaring that “We can only guess who and what are aboard these flights”, managed to inform the congressional subcommittee: “The Hezbollah networks use these flights and others to ferry operatives, recruits, and cargo in and out of the region.”

Nicaragua misplaces mega-embassy and canal

Another persistent cause for concern is the Iranian diplomatic presence in Latin America, as exemplified in Douglas Farah’s testimony: “In Bolivia recently the Iranian embassy reportedly asked for more than two dozen spaces in the international school for children of their newly-arrived diplomats there.” It is not clear why the Iranian embassy in Bolivia is inherently more sinister than the Iranian embassies in Canada and the UK.

Journalist Charles Davis summarises the ruckus generated by Iran’s reported ambassadorial mother ship in Nicaragua:

“In 2009, prominent neoconservatives like Michael Rubin drew attention to media reports claiming that Iran had built a new embassy in Nicaragua’s sprawling capital Managua that was ‘the largest diplomatic mission in the city’. The embassy, coupled with Iran’s investments in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the region, Rubin warned, indicated the Islamic Republic ‘might see Latin America as a beachhead from which to conduct an aggressive strategy against the United States and its allies’.

“The claim was spread throughout right-wing policy circles. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked it up. “The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua,” she warned in 2009, just a few months after taking office. “And you can only imagine what that’s for.”

“But as the Washington Post reported in July 2009, that “huge embassy in Managua” could not be found. “It doesn’t exist,” a chuckling Ernest Porta, head of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, told the paper.”

As for last year’s headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz according to which “Iran, Venezuela plan to build rival to Panama Canal,” the prospect of an Iranian-funded “‘Nicaragua Canal’ linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans” becomes less convincing when the following detail appears at the end of the article: “A US State Department official told Haaretz’s Washington correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya on Wednesday that the US is not aware of any plans to build a new canal in Latin America.”

The non-tractors

In an October 2009 presentation to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled “Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela“, Norman A. Bailey – former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence and Honduran death squad ally John D. Negroponte – unearthed further insidious machinations on the part of the penetrators.

A champion of the 2009 US-backed coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Bailey converted Chavez’s displeasure at intra-hemispheric neoliberal penetration into the result of Iranian inter-hemispheric penetration and the idea that “the Iranians had opened a ‘maintenance’ facility in Honduras for… ‘tractors’ produced in Venezuela, in reality a drug transshipment warehouse.” International observers with a less keen eye, such as the Agence France-Presse news outfit, reported the delivery of Venezuelan tractors to Honduras without realising that they were not really tractors.

Bailey describes Iranian involvement in Latin America as “curious” given that “[t]here is no affinity at all between monarchic or Islamic Iran and the countries of the Hemisphere; historical, cultural, political, economic or otherwise.” One might ponder what sort of cultural or political affinities exist between the US and monarchic Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan, or whether trade between Venezuela and Iran does not constitute economic affinity. As for Bailey’s assessment that “one of the principal motivations [for Iranian activity in the region] is to be able to retaliate against the [sic] United States if [Iran] is attacked,” it is not clear whether Bailey is aware that he has just characterised Iranian penetration as defensive rather than predatory in nature.

Barrios of Caracas convert to Shia Islam

Ely Karmon’s prediction concerning the possibility of sudden religious affinities and the inculcation of the Latin American poor with Shia teachings meanwhile appears to be as of yet unfounded given Chavez’s contention that Jesus Christ was an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as a result of the class struggle. That some level of ideological convergence is nonetheless possible is suggested by Roger Noriega’s observation that “radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training.”

The danger of Latin American collaboration with a foreign country that – unlike the US – has not in contemporary history engaged in such regional activities as inaugurating schools for aspiring dictators and death squad leaders, presiding over illegal detention centres, and infecting local populations with syphilis is meanwhile fairly straightforwardly spelled out by Douglas Farah:

“All of this [collaboration] comes at the expense of US influence, security and trade – including energy security and hence economic and infrastructure security (Venezuela is the 4th largest supplier of US petroleum imports, just behind Mexico; indeed Latin America is our 2nd largest source of supply overall, only slightly behind the Middle East).”

“Security”, of course, is not to be confused with stability – a concept that has no place in the business of regional militarisation and incitement.

Belen Fernandez is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work will be released by Verso on Nov. 1, 2011.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

By Warren E. Buffett

August 15, 2011 “NYTimes” – -Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill – the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf – was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income – and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine – most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone – not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 – shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion – a staggering $227.4 million on average – but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million – there were 236,883 such households in 2009 – I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more – there were 8,274 in 2009 – I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.