Monday, October 04, 2010


While Sheriff Scott Franklin of Jena, Louisiana says he is trying to rid his jurisdiction of drugs, critics say he has a vendetta against the town's black community for the local civil rights protests that won freedom for six black high school students who had been charged with attempted murder for a schoolyard brawl in 2009.

As reported in Race-Talk on July 9, 2009, over 150 officers from 10 agencies met and mobilized "Operation Third Option" with the goal of fighting drugs. Despite the fact that Sheriff Franklin spent massive resources for an investigation that lasted nearly two years, officers have yet to seize any contraband. Working with District Attorney Reed Walters, Sheriff Franklin has been seeking maximum penalties for minor offenses in a town that is 85% white with only 300 black residents. Thus far, their efforts have almost exclusively targeted African Americans.

Catrina Wallace, the sister of Robert Bailey, one of the "Jena Six," was a leader in the initiative to free the accused youth and organized protests and meetings for months. She and her children were awakened with guns pointed to their heads and were held on a $150,000 cash-only bond although officers found no drugs or contraband in her home. Furthermore, despite a lack of evidence, her car was also taken by police and never returned.

Samuel Howard was sleeping nude when police raided his home at 5:00 a.m. and tasered him three times. They took him out of his house to a baseball field while he was still nude, where he spent another hour without any clothes, standing among other arrestees. Howard said "The sheriff knows me. We went to school together. He knows I'm not a violent person." Howard's home was badly burned during the raid as a result of flares that police used inside.

Many of Jena's black residents claim that the DA, Sheriff, and editor of the local newspaper want revenge against black people who stood up and fought against unjust charges. The owner, editor, and publisher of the Jena Times, the town's only newspaper, is Sammy Franklin, father of Sheriff Franklin. A white-owned store near the courthouse sells T-shirts commemorating "Operation Third Option" with a design of a person behind bars. Black residents of Jena say that an earlier version of the shirt featured a monkey.

Marcus Jones, father of one of the Jena Six, has called for a federal investigation of the Sheriff's department and District Attorney's office. He said "This is racially motivated. It's revenge. Wouldn't none of this be going on if justice had been done the way it was supposed to have been."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Attempted Coup in Ecuador Fails, But Threat Remains
by Mark Weisbrot

In June of last year, when the Honduran military overthrew the social democratic government of Manuel Zelaya, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador took it personally. "We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I'm next," said Correa.

Yesterday it turned out to be true. Some analysts are still insisting that what happened was just a police protest over possible benefit cuts that got out of hand. But to anyone who watched the prolonged, pitched gun battle on TV last night, when the armed forces finally rescued President Correa from the hospital where he was trapped by the police, this did not look like a protest. It was an attempt to overthrow the government.

The coordinated actions in various cities, the takeover of Quito's airport by a section of the armed forces -- all of this indicated a planned coup attempt. And although it failed, at various points during the day it was not so clear what the outcome would be.

The government pointed a finger at former president and army Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, and he was on television yesterday calling for the ouster of Correa. He accused the president of everything from supporting the FARC (the guerrilla group fighting Colombia's government) to wrecking the economy.

The coup might have had a chance if Correa were not so popular. Despite his enemies in high places, the president's approval rating was 67 percent in Quito a couple of weeks ago. His government has doubled spending on health care, significantly increased other social spending, and successfully defaulted on $3.2 billion of foreign debt that was found to be illegitimately contracted. Ecuador managed to squeak through 2009 without a recession and is projected to grow about 2.5 percent this year. Correa, an economist, has had to use heterodox and creative methods to keep the economy growing in the face of external shocks because the country does not have its own currency. It adopted the dollar in 2000, which means that it can do little in the way of monetary policy and has no control over its exchange rate.

Correa had warned that he might try to temporarily dissolve the Congress in order to break an impasse in the legislature, something that he has the right to request under the new constitution -- it would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court. This probably gave the pro-coup forces something they saw as a pretext. It is reminiscent of the coup in Honduras, when Zelaya's support for a non-binding referendum on a constituent assembly was falsely reported by the media -- both Honduran and international -- as a bid to extend his presidency.

Media manipulation has a big role in Ecuador too, with most of the media controlled by right-wing interests opposed to the government. This has helped build a base of people -- analogous to those who get all of their information from Fox News in the United States, but proportionately larger -- who believe that Correa is a dictator trying to turn his country into a communist Cuba.

The U.S. State Department issued a two-sentence statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late yesterday afternoon that urged "all Ecuadoreans to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador's democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order." Unlike the White House statement in response to the Honduran coup last year, it also expressed "full support" for the elected president. This is an improvement; although it is unlikely that it reflects a change in Washington's policy towards Latin America.

The Obama Administration did everything it could to support the coup government in Honduras last year, and in fact is still trying to convince the South American governments -- including Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, and the collective organization of UNASUR -- to recognize the government there. South America refuses to recognize the Lobo government because it was elected under a dictatorship that did not allow for a free or fair contest. The rest of the hemisphere also wants some guarantees that would stop the killing of journalists and political activists there, which has continued and even become worse under the "elected" government.

As the South American governments feared, Washington's support for the coup government in Honduras over the last year has encouraged and increased the likelihood of right-wing coups against democratic left governments in the region. This attempt in Ecuador has failed, but there will likely be more threats in the months and years ahead.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He has written numerous research papers on economic policy, especially on Latin America and international economic policy. He is also co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and president of Just Foreign Policy. This article was first published in the Guardianon 1 October 2010 and republished by CEPR under a Creative Commons license. Comments (0) | Print
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