Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit his job at Reuters to publish a story on Thailand’s government and monarchy based on Thailand cables from WikiLeaks. His work on the cables have great potential for impact because of the strict laws in Thailand which prohibit slander of the monarchy. Articles based on Cameroon, Mexico, and Haiti cables are also included.
On June 23, an article in The Independent by journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall revealed why he had quit his job at Reuters to publish a story on Thailand’s government and monarchy. Marshall’s story is based on his experiences and research of Thailand’s political landscape. Its first parts have come out just before Thai elections to be held on July 3. It makes extensive use of the U.S. embassy cables from Thailand, which were originally obtained by WikiLeaks, but given to Reuters through another source. Marshall “stole” (his words) the cables from Reuters before quitting in early June. He has been working on his story for the past month without pay. In The Independent, he explains that he could not write freely as a Reuters journalist because of the severe repercussions his story would have on 1,000-plus Thailand-based Reuters journalists.
Thailand’s lèse majesté law means that any insult to the monarchy is punishable by three to fifteen years in prison. Thais therefore tread very carefully when offering opinions on politics. Pravit Rojanaphruk writes:
The “invisible hand”, “special power”, “irresistible force”, all these words have been mentioned frequently lately by people, politicians and the mass media when discussing Thai politics, the upcoming general election and what may follow. These expressions are used as a substitute for an alleged unspeakable and unconstitutional force in Thai politics, to make the otherwise incomplete stories about politics and its manipulation slightly more comprehensible…The hand (he or she, there could be more than one invisible hand), operates in the shadow because it cannot bear the scrutiny, the transparency and accountability of a democratic society.
Part one of “Thailand’s Moment of Truth”, as Marshall’s story is called, is 108 pages long. Part two is 68 pages, and parts three and four will be released next week on Marshall’s blog. The prologue to “Thailand’s Moment of Truth,” found in part one, is just over 15 pages, and it is highly recommended as a thorough overview of the potential impact that the Thailand cables could have on Thailand’s government and people. Marshall writes, “Of all the world’s countries, Thailand is among those for which the publication of the U.S. embassy cables could have potentially the most profound impact.”
First, Marshall expounds the history of the tumultous dichotomy between the Red Shirts – who supported ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – and the Yellow Shirts – who support King Bhumibol. In 2006, a coup which overthrew Thaksin “only succeeded in wrenching an already divided country even further apart.” Clashes between political groups resulted in violence in May 2010, when Red Shirts congregated in Bangkok to protest the government of Prime Minister Abhisit. A subsequent military crackdown resulted in 91 killed and over 1,800 wounded.
Second, Marshall explains how the lèse majesté law has affected the international and local media. He then writes,
One reason above all makes the leaked U.S. embassy documents invaluable for an understanding of modern Thailand: unlike almost all journalistic, academic and public discourse on the country, they were written without explicit and extensive self-censorship about the absolutely pivotal role played by the
monarchy in Thai political developments throughout the country’s modern history.
Third, the double layer of secrecy that has resulted from extensive U.S. influence in Thailand compounds the unknowns in Thai politics:
No other country has been so inextricably involved with Thailand over the past century as the United States, and this adds even more value to what the cables have to say. America’s influence has had a transformative impact on Thailand – and on the life and reign of U.S.-born King Rama IX [Bhumibol].
Finally, we see the impact that the Thailand cables can have on the future:
The cables do not merely illuminate Thailand’s history – they are also likely to have a profound impact on its future. The official culture of secrecy that has criminalized public acknowledgement of truth among Thais and prevented academic and journalistic study of fundamental issues affecting the country has been irretrievably breached. The genie cannot now be put back into the bottle.
Several articles (See for example, Confidences de Paul Biya à Janet Garvey from Le Jour, Biya veut les aveux d’Inoni, Atangana Mebera, Abah Abah, Olanguéna… from Cameroon Voice, or Cameroonian President Biya Gives Ambassador Political/Economic Overview from blogger Dibussi Tande.) came out this week based on cable 10YAOUNDE83 describing a meeting between Cameroon President Paul Biya and U.S. ambassador Janet Garvey on February 4, 2010. President Biya claimed that officials arrested for corruption would not be freed until they showed remorse for their wrongdoing. He said that more anti-corruption arrests would be made, under “anti-corruption initiative Operation ‘Epervier’ (Sparrowhawk),” but an article from TrustLaw claims:
Civil society groups, who say corruption in the country is worsening, say the high-profile anti-graft operation [Sparrowhawk] has turned into a political witch-hunt ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this year.
President Biya also spoke to Garvey about transparency in future elections. An independent electoral commission which oversees elections in Cameroon called Elecam had been criticized for being corrupt and incompetent, and Garvey expressed concerns about its lack of credibility. Biya claimed not to know members of Elecam, and said that he had spent many late nights worrying over problems with the commissions’ function. President Biya also mentioned that he was planning setting up an electoral council and having Senate elections in 2010, but neither of the plans was ever realized.
The cable contained comments from Biya on many other issues, including positive exchanges between Biya and Garvey on the progress of American mining companies in Cameroon Hydromine and Geovic. Biya was also “delighted” by Boeing’s interest in Cameroon.
WikiLeaks partner La Jornada has been publishing articles on the U.S. embassy cables from Mexico every week since November. The La Jornada website has extensive links to WikiLeaks material and related articles, and every La Jornada article cites the relevant cables by reference number with hyperlinks to the cable itself. While the articles themselves do not bring much outside commentary and research to the cable material, it is significant that they present the Mexican cables consistently in Spanish.
- EU sospechaba que Chávez Chávez ayudó a narcos en Chihuahua summarizes cable 09MEXICO2759 from 21 September 2009:
The cable reports an overall positive U.S. impression of Arturo Chavez Chavez, who was to be elected new Mexican Attorney General. He was dubbed “pro-American and a trusted interlocutor” who had some success in fighting cartels in Chihuahua. However, Chavez Chavez had been criticized for failing to investigate a series of killings of young women in Chihuahua during his tenure as Attorney General of Chihuahua in the 90′s. Cartel leaders suspected of involvement in the murders were never prosecuted (U.S. suspected former Mexican Attorney General was helping drug cartels from All Headline News, provides more context for this cable). For President Calderon, Chavez’ nomination would be a “self-inflicted political headache” because there was not enough analysis of his background or other candidates. The nomination would also be seen negatively by human rights groups.
However, although the U.S. noted that President Calderon had not carefully scouted a proper candidate for Attorney General, the cable states in essence that anyone who filled the position would anyways be forced to work with the U.S. on anti-trafficking issues.
…there is no way that any candidate in the Attorney general’s office will walk away from cooperation with the United States. Calderon knows that U.S. support in this area is critical to concrete progress and to certain degree his own political credibility. He will not tolerate any obstruction to investigations that make it harder to seize high-value targets and disrupt the cartels.
- “La presión del gobierno contra los cárteles engendró más violencia”: García Luna describes an October 30, 2007 meeting with Mexico’s then Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora from cable 07MEXICO6043. Medina Mora said that Mexican sentators had “expressed great interest in the Mérida Initiative,” a cooperation proposed by the U.S. to fight drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering in Mexico and Central America. The plan was later approved, and U.S. Congress authorized $1.4 billion for the years 2007 through 2010. The money was used for equipment,technology, and training to combat drug cartels. (See Status of Funds for the Mérida Initiative, December 2009. Critics have called the Mérida Initiative “Plan Mexico” because of its close resemblance to Plan Columbia, which had heavily the Columbian military, but yielded an increase in cocaine production.)
In anticipation of followup with the Méerida Initiative, Secretary for Public Security (SSP) Director Garcia Luna outlined SSP plans for reforming the police force. He planned to increase the 17,000 police force to an eventual 35,000, upgrading federal prisons, and building a “super maximum security” prison to isolate cartel members from other networks. Such reform was supposed to provide greater security throughout Mexico. But at the conclusion of the cable, Garcia Luna admitted, “The Calderon administration’s press against the cartels earlier this year engendered further violence.”
Two years later, cable 09MEXICO3504 describes another meeting with Garcia Luna. Luna described the progress being made with respect to the Méerida Initiative and SSP expansion of police forces. State of the art technology was being used to build a Mexican database system and simulations of hostage rescue and riot control were run at the Federal Police Headquarters.
- Perturbó a EU pasividad militar ante atentados en la frontera
Cable 07MEXICO1068 from March 2007 describes the beginning of Calderon’s presidency, when the government movement against crime generated a rise in violence. The cable notes that the local press have called this the “cockroach” effect, which meant that stamping out crime in one area only moves them to a different place. The cable acknowledges that operations against crime may be symbolic, but asserts they have had some impact nonetheless by demonstrating willingness to use aggressive tactics, which wins “political capital” for Calderon.
- Embajada niega que mexicanos entrenados por el Pentágono se unan a Los Zetas
Cable 09MEXICO2473 from August 2009 responds to accusations that members of the notoriously violent drug cartel Los Zetas were formerly part of the Mexican military force trained by the U.S. The U.S. embassy in Mexico city had been keeping records of all Mexican military trained by the U.S., so they cross-referenced their database of 4952 Mexican soldiers trained from 1996 to August 2009 with known names of members of Los Zetas. The embassy claimed they did not find any U.S.-trained members who had joined Los Zetas, but records of Los Zetas based on informant cases yielded one member who had been trained by the U.S.
- Report on Haiti Killings Irked U.S. Embassy (June 24, Democracy Now!).
Democracy Now! is mentioned in a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that cites [Democracy Now's] 2005 report on a deadly raid in the poor neighborhood of Cité Soleil by United Nations forces. “You accurately reported on what was going on and the embassy was alarmed by it,” [said] Dan Coughlin. “What they were upset about is there wasn’t PR push back on Democracy Now! by the U.N.” Another cable shows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called embassies around the world to tell them to “get the narrative right” with editors and fight negative portrayals of U.S. deployment in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
- Haiti: Leaked Cables Expose U.S. Suppression of Min. Wage, Election Doubts and Elite’s Private Army (June 24, Democracy Now!).
Drawing on almost 2,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables on Haiti released by WikiLeaks, a partnership between The Nation magazine and the Haitian weekly, Haïti Liberté, exposes new details on how Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked with the United States to block an increase in the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, how business owners and members of the country’s elite used Haiti’s police force as their own private army after the 2004 U.S.-backed coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and how the United States, the European Union and the United Nations supported Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections, despite concerns over the exclusion of Haiti’s largest opposition party, Lavalas, the party of Aristide.
- Haiti’s Elite Tried to Turn the Police into a Private Army by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives (June 22, Haïti Liberté).
Following the 2004 coup d’état that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide for a second time, the de facto Prime Minister Gérard Latortue’s interim government of Haiti (IGOH) and his paramilitary allies had difficulty stabilizing their unpopular regime, despite killing, jailing, and purging from government jobs thousands of Lavalas militants and sympathizers. Post-coup unrest culminated with UN “stabilization mission” (MINUSTAH) raids on Lavalas party strongholds like the slums Cité Soleil and Bel Air, which resulted in dozens of casualties.
This week’s Haïti-Liberté article focuses on these topics, drawing from the cable entitled “Haitian Private Sector Panicked by Increasing Violence,” which describes a meeting between embassy workers and Fritz Mevs, a member of “one of Haiti’s richest families and a well-connected member of the private sector elite.” During this meeting, Mevs claimed that the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos (Boulos currently sits on the board of Bill Clinton’s Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) which controls the spending of $10 billion being donated to rebuild Haiti after the 12 January, 2010 earthquake.), had “distributed arms to the police and had called on others to do so in order to provide cover to his own actions.” In the cable, the embassy worker writes that “Mevs says that of the roughly 150 business owners in the area, probably 30 have already provided some kind of direct assistance (including arms, ammunition, or other materiel) to the police, and the rest are looking to do so soon.” The purpose of Mevs’ visit was to ask the Embassy if “the U.S. would oversee [a] program” under which the elite could legally buy the HNP’s guns because “he did not trust either MINUSTAH or the HNP to properly control the issuance of weapons.”
- Afghanistan war: every death mapped by Simon Rogers (June 23, The Guardian).
Between 2004 and 2009, data released by Wikileaks last year shows 24,498 deaths – over 4,000 of them civilians caught up in the conflict. As Barack Obama announces a drawdown of US troops there, [The Guardian has] taken that data and mapped it.
- US tried to smooth Czech ammo sales to Iraq by Chris Johnstone (June 20, Czech Position).
A confidential cable reveals that in 2005, the Czech Republic had a large supply of Soviet-era ammunition, and lacking the proper storage facilities, was eager to sell it off. But the Czech government was skeptical about selling the ammunition to U.S. companies who wanted to export it to Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. embassy stepped in to ease the process by offering the Czech ministry key contacts in Iraq and Afghanistan.