Brazil: seeing the monster

Time for another quick trip down to Brazil.

We’ve reported earlier on the multibillion-dollar Petrobras scandal, which is making every American political scandal since Watergate – put together – look like a mere bagatelle. In recent months, as the investigation has widened, more and more top-level businessmen and politicians have been implicated in the kickback scheme centered on the country’s state-run oil firm.

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Dilma and Lula

And just as with Watergate, the net has reached ever higher. In just the past few weeks, authorities have raided the home of the beloved ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known popularly as Lula) and detained him for questioning, in response to which President Dilma Rousseff tried to name Lula as her chief of staff to protect him from prosecution – only to have the appointment blocked by a federal judge. Meanwhile, Rousseff herself has been drawn into the probe, leading to calls for her resignation or impeachment. In short, it’s looking very much these days like an endgame.

Brasil, Brasília, DF. 18/10/2005. O doleiro Alberto Youssef, operador do mercado financeiro que teria ligações com a corretora Bonus-Banval, depõe na sub-relatoria de Movimentação Financeira da Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito (CPMI) dos Correios, no Congresso Nacional, em Brasília (DF). - Crédito:JOEDSON ALVES/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO/AE/Código imagem:161138
Alberto Youssef

Things have come a long way since March 2014, when, as David Segal of the New York Times reported in August, Alberto Youssef, described by Segal as “a convicted money launderer and former bon vivant,” sat in his jail cell and told two lawyers that about to reveal information to them that would bring down the Brazilian republic. As Youssef listed the names of the parties who, he claimed, had enriched themselves with Petrobras funds, the attorneys became increasingly aghast; one of them, Tracy Reinaldet, told Segal that “in Brazil, we know that corruption is a monster. But we never really see the monster. This was like seeing the monster.”

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João Vaccari Neto

In the case of Petrobras, the monster is many-headed one. So far over 100 indictments have been issued, several politicians arrested, and over a dozen companies sued. We’ve examined the cases of João Vaccari Neto, treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party, and party hack Renato Duque, both of whom have been sentenced to long prison terms, the former for corruption and money-laundering, the latter for padding Petrobras contracts and transferring the excess take to party coffers.

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Joao Santana

We’ve discussed Joao Santana, Rousseff’s answer to Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, who was arrested for knowingly accepting payments from those illicit funds. And we’ve surveyed a number of others who’ve been nabbed for their roles in this massive scheme – among them, Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’s former supplies director; Ricardo Pessoa, owner of UTC, a major construction company; and José Dirceu, Lula’s ex-chief of staff. Then there’s a couple of guys who turned state’s evidence: former Petrobras manager Pedro Barusco, who admitted he’d pocketed almost $100 million in dirty money, and businessmen Julio Camargo, who confessed to paying Petrobras $4.5 million in bribes.

But these names are just the tip of the iceberg. Several other big shots from both the public and private sector have also gone down, some of them since our previous look at this debacle. We’ll spend the rest of this week making their acquaintance.

The “peace troubadour”: a follow-up

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James Twyman, the “peace troubadour”

Back in January, we reported on a self-styled “peace troubadour” named James Twyman. We’d never heard of him before, but according to his website he’s quite the accomplished chap, having made a bunch of movies, written a bunch of books, issued a bunch of music CDs, and founded something called “The Beloved Community,” a supposed worldwide “network of spiritual peace ministers” whose website reads like a parody of New Age twaddle. (“The Beloved Community has no rivals, because it is non-competitive….The Beloved Community knows no boundaries, for nationalisms are unloving.”)

As noted, we’d never heard of this guitar-toting Oregonian hippie  – not until he announced his plans to bring his “message of peace” to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. He would fly to Europe on January 20, then make his way to Tel Aviv, and from there head for the Syrian border. In Syria, he would share his message and his music in person with the members of ISIS who are busy causing mayhem in parts of that country.

Twyman’s announcement was a stroke of PR genius: he made headlines around the world. We promised at the time that we’d stay tuned and find out what, if anything, happened as a result of his big plans.

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The picture accompanying Twyman’s February 1 tweet

Well, we looked into it. Here’s what we’ve been able to find. On February 1, Twyman tweeted as follows: “World Synchronized Meditation on Syrian border HUGE success. Fighting stopped right in front of us. MIRACLE.”

The tweet was accompanied by a picture. Here it is. Make of it what you will. Curiously, this was the only tweet Twyman sent out about this “HUGE success” and “MIRACLE.”

The next day, an item bearing the byline of Eileen Fleming was posted at the website of something calling itself the Arab Daily News. It stated (all caps in the original) that on the previous day “JAMES TWYMAN AND THE ABRAHAMIC REUNION UNITED MILLIONS OF ‘INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE’ WHO MEDITATED WORLD-WIDE WHILE OVER 100 HAD ‘BOOTS ON THE GROUND’ METERS AWAY FROM ISIS, NUSRA FRONT AND HIZBALLAH CONTROLLED TERRITORY ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS BORDER OF SOUTHERN SYRIA AS THE VISIBLE WITNESS OF THE LARGEST SYNCHRONIZED PEACE VIGIL IN HISTORY.” Enthused though she obviously was about the event, Fleming didn’t mention the “MIRACLE” Twyman referred to, namely the claim that “Fighting stopped right in front  of us.”

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Eileen Fleming

What’s the Arab Daily News? As the website itself explains, it’s a site that runs items sent in by “freelance writers,” with each item being “the responsibility of the writer.” And who’s Eileen Fleming? Identified elsewhere as the site’s “Senior Non-Arab Correspondent,” she’s an American who, she says, was transformed by 9/11 into “a spiritually driven political peace activist.” A quick look through her archive at the Arab Daily News website suggests that, like Twyman himself, she’s a New Age nutbag and Useful Stooge of the first water. (We’ll get around to her another day.) 

Fleming’s was the only online report about Twyman’s big day until February 24, when the website of something called the United Religions Initiative (URI) ran an article headlined “Abrahamic Pulse Global Prayer for Syria.” It stated that on February 1,

the Abrahamic Reunion C[ooperation] C[ircle] joined by peace musician James Twyman, hosted the ‘Great Abrahamic Pulse’, a global prayer for the peace of Syria. 80 people made a multi-faith journey to the Golan Heights, gathering on the Syria border: Israelis from Jerusalem, the Galilee, and the Golan; Palestinians from Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, East Jerusalem and Jericho, joined by an international group of spiritual peace seekers.

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Another photo of the event, this one from the URI website

The article proceed to recount a group lunch at a restaurant “in the Druze village of Mas’adeh,”

followed by a trek southward “to the view point overlooking Quneitra, an abandoned town on the Israel-Syria border” that “is held by the Syrian army,” while “nearby villages are held by rebel groups, including ISIS.” From there, Twyman & co. “drove up to Mount Bental, to hold the Abrahamic Pulse global synchronized meditation event.” There they reportedly saw “a full rainbow around the sun.” Then Twyman and someone named Eliyahu McLean “gathered the diverse crowd into a circle,” and several leaders from various religious backgrounds led prayers.

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The cover of one of Twyman’s books

Like Fleming’s report, the URI piece said nothing in support of Twyman’s assertion that “Fighting stopped right in front  of us.”

It’s fair to say, then, that there’s a lot of hype going on here. First of all, Twyman, in his initial sales pitch, strongly implied that he’d be front and center at this event, with everyone else playing supporting roles; in the end, he seems to have been one of several idiots who played equally important roles in this idiocy.

But never mind that. The main thing is that he didn’t hook up with members of ISIS. He doesn’t even appear to have sought to hook up with members of ISIS. He went to the northeastern part of the Golan Heights, which is occupied by Israel. No, of course it isn’t the safest place in the world, but it’s not an active war zone, either. To be sure, it’s not far from a war zone: just over the Syrian border, a civil war is raging, with government troops fighting rebel forces just miles from the spot where Twyman and his buddies held their event. But between them and Twyman was the mighty IDF and the entire Israeli defense cordon.

In any event, ISIS isn’t operating anywhere near this area. Yes, in recent weeks some ISIS-linked groups have been identified as being active on Syrian territory just across the border from the southern Golan Heights. But that’s several dozen kilometers from where Twyman and his friends held their prayer circle. If there was, indeed, fighting underway near Twyman’s event, and he somehow made it stop, we’d be delighted to see the details. His failure to provide any seems, shall we say, conclusive. 

Cuba libre?

A Cuban national flag is seen painted on a shack in Alamar, a large public housing complex in the Eastern Havana, Cuba, 5 February 2009.Michael J. Totten is an indispensable journalist who in recent years has provided immensely perceptive reportage from some of the most oppressed and/or war-torn corners of the world, notably the Middle East and the Balkans. On March 22, he posted on his blog a memorable item entitled “In Cuba, Prosperity is a Crime.” We’ve spent some time on this site detailing the horrors of the Castros’ island prison, but did you know this?

The United States has a minimum wage while Cuba has a maximum wage. And that maximum wage is a paltry 20 dollars a month. No one can get ahead. It’s impossible. It’s illegal. When prosperity is a crime, there can be no prosperity, and that’s entirely the fault of Cuba’s communist party.

Totten also reported that just hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, the Castros “arrested more than 20 people at a Ladies in White demonstration.” Who are the Ladies in White? They’re an internationally respected human-rights group consisting of the female relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents. The women attend Catholic Mass every Sunday in white dresses, then walk through the streets in silent protest against the Castros’ tyranny.

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The Ladies in White

But they weren’t allowed to carry on their silent protest while Obama was around. On the day of his arrival, wrote Totten, secret policemen “dragged women to a police bus and threw men onto the ground and handcuffed them.” Yet when an American reporter, CNN’s Jim Acosta, stood up at Obama’s joint news conference with Raul Castro and asked about political prisoners, the Cuban leader replied with a royal combination of utter contempt and absolute mendacity: “If there are political prisoners, give me a list, right now. What political prisoners? Give me their names, and if there are political prisoners, they will be free by tonight.”

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Michael J. Totten

The Ladies in White weren’t alone. Mike Gonzales of the Heritage Foundation wrote that during Obama’s visit, a number of other dissidents were “beaten, arrested, dragged through streets, stripped naked, and threatened with the rape of their daughters.” Gonzales quoted anti-Castro leader Antonio Rodiles, who was brutalized and detained (as was his wife), as saying that the American president’s trip had engendered “a festival of repression.”

Gonzales made a crucial point that has been almost completely lost in recent commentary about Cuba and its future. “While the vast majority of commentators speak of Fidel, 89, and Raul, 84,” he suggested, “the Castros to keep in mind are Raul’s son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espin, 50, his daughter, Mariela Castro Espin, 53, and his son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, 54.” The point being, of course, that the death of the two octogenarian brothers will not necessarily mean the end of brutal totalitarianism in Cuba. After all, Alejandro, an officer in Cuban intelligence, is “an unrepentant ideologue who sports a Lenin mustache and goatee.” Alejandro wrote a 2009 book, The Empire of Terror, that Gonzales describes as “an anti-American screed.” And “he speaks in the hackneyed jargon of a Marxist-Leninist.” This is Raul Castro’s heir apparent – the man who’s in line to inherit the throne when the old men bite the dust. Does anyone really expect such a person to relinquish absolute power the moment he inherits it?

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Mike Gonzales

Gonzales also offers an important observation about Mariela, who, as he notes, is a “member of Cuba’s rubber-stamp National Assembly.” This is a woman who has received a boatload of positive press in the Western media in recent years because she is – or at least professes to be – a gay-rights activist. This self-identification is food for thought. These days, many far-left enemies of Israel and apologists for oppressive Islamic regimes have been trained by their cynical capos to accuse Israel of “pinkwashing” – that is, of using its excellent gay-rights record to promote itself as a beacon of human rights, when in fact those enemies’ prime objective is to ensure that Israel is viewed in the West as a first-class violator of human rights. 

Mariela Castro is Cuba's most prominent gay rights activist
Mariela Castro

Now the pinkwashing charge, when leveled against Israel, is of course nothing more than an obscene slur. It’s highly interesting, however – though hardly surprising – to note that those who promote the concept of pinkwashing don’t ever use it against Cuba and Mariela, even though, in her case, the otherwise preposterous concept actually makes a kind of sense. How, after all, can there be such a thing as gay rights in a country with no basic freedoms whatsoever? How can a loyal, lockstep member of a Communist ruling family and of a Communist rubber-stamp parliament be seriously considered an activist for any kind of rights whatsoever? Never mind: as Gonzales puts it, Mariela’s “position as an LGBT activist will ensure that Western useful idiots continue to lionize the Revolution” even after the old revolutionaries kick the bucket.