Hillary Clinton’s Memoir Deletions, in Detail

Originally published on CEPR’s The Americas Blog. Also reprinted by Common Dreams.

As was reported following the assassination of prominent Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres in March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton erased all references to the 2009 coup in Honduras in the paperback edition of her memoirs, “Hard Choices.” Her three-page account of the coup in the original hardcover edition, where she admitted to having sanctioned it, was one of several lengthy sections cut from the paperback, published in April 2015 shortly after she had launched her presidential campaign.

A short, inconspicuous statement on the copyright page is the only indication that “a limited number of sections” — amounting to roughly 96 pages — had been cut “to accommodate a shorter length for this edition.” Many of the abridgements consist of narrative and description and are largely trivial, but there are a number of sections that were deleted from the original that also deserve attention.

 

Colombia

Clinton’s take on Plan Colombia, a U.S. program furnishing (predominantly military) aid to Colombia to combat both the FARC and ELN rebels as well as drug cartels, and introduced under her husband’s administration in 2000, adopts a much more favorable tone in the paperback compared to the original. She begins both versions by praising the initiative as a model for Mexico — a highly controversial claim given the sharp rise in extrajudicial killings and the proliferation of paramilitary death squads in Colombia since the program was launched.

The two versions then diverge considerably. In the original, she explains that the program was expanded by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe “with strong support from the Bush Administration” and acknowledges that “new concerns began to arise about human rights abuses, violence against labor organizers, targeted assassinations, and the atrocities of right-wing paramilitary groups.” Seeming to place the blame for these atrocities on the Uribe and Bush governments, she then claims to have “made the choice to continue America’s bipartisan support for Plan Colombia” regardless during her tenure as secretary of state, albeit with an increased emphasis on “governance, education and development.”

By contrast, the paperback makes no acknowledgment of these abuses or even of the fact that the program was widely expanded in the 2000s. Instead, it simply makes the case that the Obama administration decided to build on President Clinton’s efforts to help Colombia overcome its drug-related violence and the FARC insurgency — apparently leading to “an unprecedented measure of security and prosperity” by the time of her visit to Bogotá in 2010.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Also found in the original is a paragraph where Clinton discusses her efforts to encourage other countries in the Americas to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement during a regional conference in El Salvador in June 2009:

So we worked hard to improve and ratify trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and encouraged Canada and the group of countries that became known as the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile — all open-market democracies driving toward a more prosperous future to join negotiations with Asian nations on TPP, the trans-Pacific trade agreement.

Clinton praises Latin America for its high rate of economic growth, which she revealingly claims has produced “more than 50 million new middle-class consumers eager to buy U.S. goods and services.” She also admits that the region’s inequality is “still among the worst in the world” with much of its population “locked in persistent poverty” — even while the TPP that she has advocated strongly for threatens to exacerbate the region’s underdevelopment, just as NAFTA caused the Mexican economy to stagnate.

Last October, however, she publicly reversed her stance on the TPP under pressure from fellow Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Likewise, the entire two-page section on the conference in El Salvador where she expresses her support for the TPP is missing from the paperback.

 

Brazil

In her original account of her efforts to prevent Cuba from being admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2009, Clinton singles out Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a potential mediator who could help “broker a compromise” between the U.S. and the left-leaning governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Her assessment of Lula, removed from the paperback, is mixed:

As Brazil’s economy grew, so did Lula’s assertiveness in foreign policy. He envisioned Brazil becoming a major world power, and his actions led to both constructive cooperation and some frustrations. For example, in 2004 Lula sent troops to lead the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, where they did an excellent job of providing order and security under difficult conditions. On the other hand, he insisted on working with Turkey to cut a side deal with Iran on its nuclear program that did not meet the international community’s requirements.

It is notable that the “difficult conditions” in Haiti that Clinton refers to was a period of perhaps the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere at the time, following the U.S.-backed coup d’etat against democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Researchers estimate that some 4,000 people were killed for political reasons, and some 35,000 women and girls sexually assaulted. As various human rights investigators, journalists and other eyewitnesses noted at the time, some of the most heinous of these atrocities were carried out by Haiti’s National Police, with U.N. troops often providing support — when they were not engaging them directly. WikiLeaked State Department cables, however, reveal that the State Department saw the U.N. mission as strategically important, in part because it helped to isolate Venezuela from other countries in the region, and because it allowed the U.S. to “manage” Haiti on the cheap.

In contrast to Lula, Clinton heaps praise on Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was recently suspended from office pending impeachment proceedings:

Later I would enjoy working with Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protégée, Chief of Staff, and eventual successor as President. On January 1, 2011, I attended her inauguration on a rainy but festive day in Brasilia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the country’s first woman President drove by in a 1952 Rolls-Royce. She took the oath of office and accepted the traditional green and gold Presidential sash from her mentor, Lula, pledging to continue his work on eradicating poverty and inequality. She also acknowledged the history she was making. “Today, all Brazilian women should feel proud and happy.” Dilma is a formidable leader whom I admire and like.

The paperback version deletes almost all references to Rousseff, mentioning her only once as an alleged target of NSA spying according to Edward Snowden.

 

The Arab Spring

By far the lengthiest deletion in Clinton’s memoirs consists of a ten-page section discussing the Arab Spring in Jordan, Libya and the Persian Gulf region — amounting to almost half of the chapter. Having detailed her administration’s response to the mass demonstrations that had started in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt, then Jordan, then Bahrain and Libya, Clinton openly recognizes the profound contradictions at the heart of the U.S.’ relationship with its Gulf allies:

The United States had developed deep economic and strategic ties to these wealthy, conservative monarchies, even as we made no secret of our concerns about human rights abuses, especially the treatment of women and minorities, and the export of extremist ideology. Every U.S. administration wrestled with the contradictions of our policy towards the Gulf.

And it was appalling that money from the Gulf continued funding extremist madrassas and propaganda all over the world. At the same time, these governments shared many of our top security concerns.

Thanks to these shared “security concerns,” particularly those surrounding al-Qaeda and Iran, her administration strengthened diplomatic ties and sold vast amounts of military equipment to these countries:

The United States sold large amounts of military equipment to the Gulf states, and stationed the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, and maintained troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as key bases in other countries. When I became Secretary I developed personal relationships with Gulf leaders both individually and as a group through the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Clinton continues to reveal that the U.S.’ common interests with its Gulf allies extended well beyond mere security issues and in fact included the objective of regime change in Libya — which led the Obama administration into a self-inflicted dilemma as it weighed the ramifications of condemning the violent repression of protests in Bahrain with the need to build an international coalition, involving a number of Gulf states, to help remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi from power:

Our values and conscience demanded that the United States condemn the violence against civilians we were seeing in Bahrain, full stop. After all, that was the very principle at play in Libya. But if we persisted, the carefully constructed international coalition to stop Qaddafi could collapse at the eleventh hour, and we might fail to prevent a much larger abuse — a full-fledged massacre.

Instead of delving into the complexities of the U.S.’ alliances in the Middle East, the entire discussion is simply deleted, replaced by a pensive reflection on prospects for democracy in Egypt, making no reference to the Gulf region at all. Having been uncharacteristically candid in assessing the U.S.’ response to the Arab Spring, Clinton chose to ignore these obvious inconsistencies — electing instead to proclaim the Obama administration as a champion of democracy and human rights across the Arab world.

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German Finance Minister in 2012: Greeks Must “Bear the Consequences” if They Elect Syriza

Originally published on the CEPR Blog.

As ThePressProject reported in March, a memo in Hillary Clinton’s declassified emails reveals that the German government had been preparing for the possibility of the anti-austerity Syriza party being elected in Greece as early as May 2012. The memo, viewable through WikiLeaks’ Clinton email archive, illustrates the concern with which German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble viewed the prospect of a Greek exit from the eurozone (a “Grexit”) ahead of the June 2012 legislative election. Questioning Syriza’s commitment to the euro, Schäuble laid out two contingency plans to manage the scenario, neither of which would be favorable for Germany.

According to the memo, Schäuble and “other financial officials in Berlin, London, and Brussels” increasingly viewed the elections as a “plebiscite on whether or not Greece wants to remain in the Euro-zone” despite Syriza’s insistence on keeping Greece in the eurozone if elected. Schäuble, seeking to avoid a Grexit at all costs, proposed that Greek voters should “bear the consequences of their actions” if they ever elected a Syriza-led government. This was because Germany’s two options in the event of a Grexit would consist of either a “European Redemption Pact,” which the Merkel administration had long vehemently opposed, or a drastic shrinkage of the eurozone to expel every member with a budget deficit.

The first option would entail taking all debts owed by eurozone members that exceeded 60 percent of GDP and transferring them into a redemption fund financed by joint bonds issued by the currency union as a whole. As former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis points out, the plan would almost certainly have been rejected by Italy and Spain, who would have been forced to carry out austerity on the same scale as Greece for at least 20 years in order to meet target budget surpluses. Schäuble, viewing the proposal as the lesser of two evils, had warmed slightly to it and was attempting to persuade Merkel to consider it.

Shrinking the eurozone, on the other hand, would have courted similar controversy particularly from France, which would have been among the countries forced to revert to using its own currency. The memo notably describes French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as having irreconcilably “divergent views on the roles of growth and austerity in resolving the crisis.” The only other possible outcome in Schäuble’s opinion was “a complete collapse of the currency union,” which would have been “unacceptable for Germany” given that a new deutsche mark would be much more valuable than the euro and severely undermine the competitiveness of German exports.

Two separate conclusions can be drawn from these revelations. One, as Varoufakis emphasizes, is that the Greek government wasted — and would go on to pay a hefty price for wasting — a perfect opportunity to push for debt restructuring and the reduction of budget surplus targets, knowing full well that Schäuble and other European financial officials would want to prevent a Grexit at all costs. Instead, Greece would go on to pass a seventh austerity package the following November to meet the terms of a previously agreed bailout worth €31.5 billion.

The other key implication is that the troika had long premeditated its efforts  to coerce the Syriza-led government into submission. In fact, its blatant disregard for Greek democracy — or indeed any form of rational economic debate — only grew stronger as its officials began to regard Greece as a weak link whose removal, rather than creating a domino effect leading to its disintegration as other crisis-hit countries followed its example, would instead help to strengthen the currency union. Whereas Brussels and Berlin had been desperate to avoid a Grexit while the eurozone was on the brink of financial collapse in 2012, they were clearly convinced by the time Syriza was elected that the currency union could be better off without Greece. Schäuble, having vowed to make Greek voters “bear the consequences” for electing a Syriza-led government, duly delivered on his promise.

Could US Trade Threaten Sustainable Agriculture in Cuba?

Originally published on CEPR’s The Americas Blog. Also reprinted by NACLA and Common Dreams.

With limited access to chemical and mechanical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery, Cuban farmers have pioneered innovations in sustainable agriculture out of necessity since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Although most continue to employ conventional agricultural methods, and Cuba continues to import more than half of its food, around a quarter of the country’s farmers have nonetheless succeeded in supplying some 65 percent of national agricultural output using agroecological practices. These achievements, however, could come under threat with the expected resumption of U.S.-Cuban trade relations.

Having lost the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc trade partners, Cuba suffered an 80 percent reduction in foreign trade between 1989 and 1991, leaving it fully exposed to the U.S. trade embargo. Its agricultural sector was hit particularly hard given its heavy dependence on agrochemicals. Chemical fertilizer use per hectare, which had been roughly double that of the U.S. in 1989, fell by almost 90 percent in the following decade, while herbicide and pesticide use dropped by a similar amount.

The result has been a rapid de facto transition toward agroecological and organic methods that has been strongly supported by the Cuban government, including a proliferation of urban and suburban farms that provide some 70 percent of vegetables in major cities such as Havana. Innovations such as organopónicos — urban gardens powered by household waste, manure and crop residues in place of chemical fertilizers, and found in a range of urban environments including rooftops, vacant lots, alleys and backyards — have helped to drastically improve Cuba’s food security. Per capita food production grew by 4.2 percent per year from 1996 to 2005, a considerably higher rate than in any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean, while the costs of organic fertilizer and biological pest control are 98 percent and 89 percent lower than their respective chemical equivalents. Moreover, the dominance of locally grown produce in Cuban cities has also reduced both the environmental and financial costs of transportation in-country and overseas.

The recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, however, could drastically shift the political and economic conditions that spawned and have helped to sustain this unique system of agriculture in Cuba. According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a bilateral agricultural accord signed during President Obama’s trip to Cuba last month will “allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba” (emphasis added). These exchanges will be largely unidirectional, with these U.S. entities providing “nutritional research and guidance,” while “U.S. based market, consumer, nutrition and environmental research findings” will be delivered “to Cuban government and industry officials” in order to “help meet Cuba’s need for healthy, safe, nutritious food.” Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of agroecology or organic agriculture in this USDA press release, which expresses little interest in bringing Cuban innovations to the U.S., where certified organic crops comprise just 0.7 percent of total cropland.

Most worrying of all, however, are the explicit provisions for U.S. agricultural firms to play a central role in these activities (the USDA defines marketing orders as “initiated by industry”). Revealingly, President Obama was joined on his trip by representatives from the U.S. agricultural industry hoping to persuade Congress to open up “a market worth about $2 billion annually.” USDA projections show poultry, wheat, corn, rice and dairy as among the most profitable agricultural commodities in Cuba. Although U.S. firms have been allowed to export agricultural products to Cuba since 2001, Cuban importers still face financial restrictions that are often prohibitive, as they are not allowed to take out loans through U.S. banks.

The stated objective of the accord is to “help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector.” But questions must be raised as to whether the promotion of U.S. agricultural practices in Cuba will only serve to help U.S. agribusinesses infiltrate the Cuban market, posing two distinct risks to the country’s agroecological and organic farms. One concern is that the promotion of U.S. agricultural methods under the new bilateral accord could entice more farmers to increase their use of imported fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, especially if and when these become more widely available in Cuba, and to specialize in monocultures in order to maximize revenue. The networks that currently exist to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise between small farmers could in turn be weakened, putting the entire Cuban agroecology movement at risk.

The other main risk, especially given the considerable U.S. agribusiness interest in exporting to Cuba, is increased competition from U.S. imports. Despite being partially sheltered from U.S. competition by the trade embargo, agroecological and organic farms already struggle to compete against their conventional counterparts. Aside from the challenges facing Cuban agriculture in general, including labor shortages, red tape and limited access to machinery and irrigation systems, these farms face their own unique obstacles, such as difficulty in obtaining natural inputs like compost, microorganisms and earthworms. Existing government policies create additional hurdles, as the state distributes agrochemicals along with improved seeds for cash crops such as corn, beans and taro, allowing conventional farmers to achieve the same results with less labor input.

The future of agroecology in Cuba rests not only on how U.S.-Cuban relations continue to develop but also on how the Cuban state proceeds with ongoing economic reforms. Cuban farmers who practice agroecological methods by necessity will face a choice between committing to them in principle and returning to using imported agrochemicals to resolve the issue of labor shortages. The Cuban government will face a tricky balancing act between using U.S. agricultural exports to settle the question of food security and protecting its own industries, particularly agroecological and organic farms, from increased competition. Will a pioneering, sustainable food system that emerged from a period of extreme scarcity and hardship survive the transition to an era of relative abundance?