US suspends big security aid programs in Burundi

Due to elections violence and continued risk of coup during the 2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis, State Department and DOD pull the plug on Burundi for military and non-military security aid. The huge US peacekeeping training program is halted:

In response to the abuses committed by members of the police during political protests, we are suspending all International Law Enforcement Academy and Anti-Terrorism Assistance training that we provide to Burundian law enforcement agencies.

Recognizing that Burundi’s National Defense Force has generally acted professionally in protecting civilians during protests, the United States continues to value our partnership with the Burundian military and urges them to maintain professionalism and respect for the rule of law.

However, due to the instability caused by the Burundian Government’s disregard for the Arusha Agreement and its decision to proceed with flawed parliamentary elections, the United States is unable to conduct peacekeeping and other training in Burundi. As a result, the United States has suspended upcoming training for the Burundian military under the Department of Defense’s Section 1206 Train and Equip program, as well as training and assistance under the Africa Military Education Program.

We remain deeply concerned that the current crisis will further hamper our ability to support the important contribution of the Burundian military to international peacekeeping.

To get a sense of scale for this news, as previously noted on AFD, via The Wall Street Journal:

After Nigeria — a country 18 times more populous — the U.S. trained more soldiers in Burundi than any other sub-Saharan African country between 2007 and 2014, according to publicly available data from the U.S. State Department. In the first nine months of 2014, 6,298 soldiers from the tiny country went through courses including advanced special operations, language classes and counterterrorism studies.


Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

In Ethiopia, US State Dept. has baffling view on democracy

According to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a violently totalitarian single-party state. Also according to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a great democracy.


For example, during a recent visit to Ethiopia, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as a vibrant and progressive democracy.
In its latest Ethiopia report, for example, the State Department identified significant human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of speech, Stalinist-style show trials, and crackdowns on free press, opposition leaders, activists and critical journalists. The report and others by human rights groups reveal a consistent and widespread pattern of abuse, including torture, arbitrary killings, restrictions on freedom of association, interference in freedom of religion and the politicized use of the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation.
[Mass surveillance] and many other instruments of control enabled the EPRDF to win 99.6 percent of the votes in the 2010 elections, losing only two of the 547 seats in the federal Parliament and one seat out of the 1,900 in the regional assemblies. Five years of intimidation and harassment of the opposition and war against free press means that Sunday’s voting will be anything but fair and free.

Even more puzzling, as the country waits to see if other parties will win even two seats in the national parliament in Sunday’s elections, is the State Department’s odd assessment of trendlines in the country’s pseudo-democracy:

Speaking during a press briefing in Addis Ababa in April, Ms Sherman said: “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election it gets better and better.”
In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.

In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the ruling EPRDF garnered 99.6% of all parliamentary seats. An independent candidate was also elected.

By definition, based on the past two elections, it has been getting worse. Perhaps it will be better this coming election, now that the country’s longtime dictator has passed away in the intervening time since the last election, but at the moment there’s no way to know that. And all signs don’t point to that at as a likely outcome.

Kerry opening door to piecemeal peace in Syria?

For the past year, the US State Department has stridently rejected the use of localized ceasefire-and-surrender deals brokered by the UN (recap explanation below) as a tool for winding down the overall conflict in Syria. Now, Secretary of State John Kerry appears to have opened the door to the piecemeal peace strategy (or at least accepted it might be a valid component of an overall strategy):

Mr. Kerry’s support for the Russian and United Nations initiatives comes at a time when the American-led push to negotiate a solution to the bloody Syria conflict has lost momentum. [UN envoy] Mr. de Mistura’s step-by-step strategy to de-escalate the civil war has been attracting growing interest among some Obama administration officials.

Mr. Kerry said before the failed peace talks in Geneva last year that the United States’s goal was a transitional government in Syria that did not include President Bashar al-Assad. But Mr. Kerry refrained from making such an explicit demand in his remarks on Wednesday; instead he urged the Syrian leadership to reconsider what it is doing.

This marks a significant shift, it would seem, and opens up a lot more realistic outcomes than are found by steadfastly clinging to an opposition government without authority and a rebel coalition without military dominance against a leader who is no longer likely to be toppled.

Two months ago, remember, the administration was not amenable to the idea at all:

…at the moment, the United States hasn’t even applauded the existing diplomatic progress, remaining hung up on unrealistic regime change objectives instead of seeking to stop the killing. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki blasted the truce proposals on Monday, saying “Unfortunately, many local truces achieved thus far have more closely resembled surrender arrangements,” without acknowledging that halting the fighting and withdrawing doomed rebel forces is translating into hundreds (probably thousands) of civilian lives being saved.


Arsenal Recap: Local Ceasefire-and-Surrender Agreements

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Hip-Hop Invasion! (And other stupid covert Cuba projects)

The Associated Press has broken yet another story of a mind-blowingly stupid State Department USAID plot to infiltrate Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime, all via a horribly incompetent contractor called “Creative Associates International.” The latest? Trying to infiltrate the country’s underground hip-hop scene to overthrow Castro via angry rap lyrics:

A U.S. agency’s secret infiltration of Cuba’s underground hip-hop groups scene to spark a youth movement against the government was “reckless” and “stupid,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said Thursday after The Associated Press revealed the operation.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware that in some cases contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for the U.S. Agency for International Development kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found.

Hip-hop artists who USAID contractors tried to promote either left the country or stopped performing after pressure from the Cuban government, and one of the island’s most popular independent music festivals was taken over after officials linked it to USAID.

“The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail,” said Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. “USAID never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless. It’s just plain stupid.”

Before this revelation? The AIDS education plot:

Fernando Murillo was typical of the young Latin Americans deployed by a U.S. agency to work undercover in Cuba. He had little training in the dangers of clandestine operations — or how to evade one of the world’s most sophisticated counter-intelligence services.

Their assignment was to recruit young Cubans to anti-government activism, which they did under the guise of civic programs, including an HIV prevention workshop.

According to internal documents obtained by the AP and interviews in six countries, USAID’s young operatives posed as tourists, visited college campuses and used a ruse that could undermine USAID’s credibility in critical health work around the world: An HIV-prevention workshop one called the “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists, according to a report by Murillo’s group. For all the risks, some travelers were paid as little as $5.41 an hour.

As one Republican put it:

“These programs are in desperate need of adult supervision,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona and longtime critic of USAID’s Cuba programs. “If you are using an AIDS workshop as a front for something else, that’s … I don’t know what to say … it’s just wrong.”

Flake has been particularly loud in criticizing these idiotic policies, as I don’t think he particularly cares about hurting the feelings of the militant, aging anti-Castro bloc in Congress.
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US diplomacy runs into foreign politics

Here’s a good read. “Will India’s Next Leader Be Banned From America?”

My Summary: In 2005, the US State Department banned a state-level Indian politician, Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, from coming to the United States due to his alleged role in genocidal activities against Muslims (though investigations in India have never officially tied him to them) during the February 2002 riots in Gujarat. State figured it would be a symbolic denunciation with few likely consequences down the road.

Fast forward to present and now he is a national leader of the main opposition party (the Hindu nationalist BJP) and is widely anticipated to cruise into the office of prime minister next year. Now, the State Department is on the fence about what to do, particularly since he hasn’t been elected yet. Lifting the ban now would be seen as an endorsement or interference. Lifting it after he wins (if indeed he does) would be embarrassing and make the State Department look like it was bending the rules.