The WikiLeaks You Missed
From blatant bribery in India to Hugo Chávez’s war on Domino’s pizza, here are the highlights from the last four months of the secret State Department cables.
Since the first few Julian Assange-saturated months of 2011, the U.S. media have largely moved on to Arab revolutions and other sex scandals. But WikiLeaks has continued releasing embassy cables — fewer than 16,000 of the more than 250,000 have been published so far. In contrast to its early, now-frayed partnerships with the Guardian and the New York Times, WikiLeaks is now working with local papers in countries like Peru, Haiti, and Ireland to release cables of national interest. Here are a few of the highlights:
With highly anticipated national elections approaching this weekend, the government certainly can’t be thrilled with the State Department’s candid assessments of the country’s political turmoil and the health of its aging king. And the circumstances surrounding the release of the cables are controversial, to say the least.
The cables were viewed and analyzed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a British journalist working in Bangkok for Reuters. But the news agency decided not to publish his reporting on them due to “questions regarding length, sourcing, objectivity, and legal issues.” Marshall says Reuters may be worried about the safety of its staff in Thailand, where insulting the royal family is an offense punishable by jail time. So, Marshall resigned, left Thailand, and is writing on the cables anyway.
One cable suggests that it is “hard to overestimate the political impact of the uncertainty surrounding the inevitable succession crisis which will be touched off once King Bhumibol passes” and that his presumed successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn “neither commands the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father.” Another relays reports that the king is “beset long-term by Parkinson’s, depression, and chronic lower back pain.”
But that’s not nearly the best of it. There are some more bizarre details as well. The crown prince, according to the cables, now spends most of his time in Europe “with his leading mistress and beloved white poodle Fufu” — the dog was named after one of his air marshals. Needless to say, Vajiralongkorn — next in line for the throne — isn’t much loved by the Thai people. Another suggests the Thais might have a hard time accepting the crown prince’s wife, Princess Srirasmi, as their queen because of a “widely distributed salacious video of the birthday celebration for the Crown Prince’s white poodel Fufu, in which Srirasmi appears wearing nothing more than a G-string.”
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In collaboration with the Nation, the Haitian newspaper Haiti Liberte has released a series of cables shedding light on U.S. involvement in the country between the 2004 coup that resulted in the removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the devastating 2010 earthquake.
In 2009, for instance, the U.S. Embassy closely monitored the controversy over a proposed raise in the country’s minimum wage — Haitian workers are the lowest paid in the Western Hemisphere. Students violently protested in support of the measure in June 2009. Then-President René Préval, however, delayed signing it into law under apparent pressure from factory owners. U.S. diplomats cited a study by the Association of Industries of Haiti, arguing that the increase would devastate the country’s textile sector, thereby provoking anger in Haiti over the perception that the United States was lobbying to keep the country’s wages low.
In another cable dating shortly after Préval’s inauguration in 2006, the U.S. Embassy stated that it “will continue to pressure Preval against joining PetroCaribe,” a Latin American oil alliance led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Haiti eventually joined the alliance anyway. In another, a group of ambassadors from donor countries discussed the country’s upcoming (2010) election and decided to continue their support for the election despite concerns that the leftist Fanmi Lavalas party was being excluded from the vote. Although there’s no smoking gun here showing U.S. interference in Haitian politics, media reports on the cables have portrayed them as a continuation of a long history of American meddling on the island.
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is already facing a long series of corruption allegations that have prompted street protests and calls for his resignation, and the soft-spoken economist took another hit in March when the Hindu obtained a U.S. Embassy cable from WikiLeaks detailing corruption in its most blatant form.
The cable, dated July 17, 2008, describes a meeting between the embassy political counselor and Satish Sharma, a high-ranking Congress Party MP, in the run-up to a parliamentary confidence vote on a U.S.-India nuclear deal, which was expected to be close. Sharma told the embassy official that the Congress Party was working hard to ensure the Parliament’s support for the deal and as proof, showed him “two chests containing cash and said that around Rupees 50-60 crore (about $25 million) was lying around the house for use as pay-offs.” Another Congress official at the meeting mentioned that about $2.5 million had been paid to four MPs to ensure their support for the agreement, considered one of the Bush administration’s signature foreign-policy achievements.
The release of the document caused a new uproar in parliament and renewed calls for Singh’s resignation. The officials mentioned in the cable denied the charges. The Congress Party refused to discuss the cable, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee describing it as “a correspondence between a sovereign government and its mission abroad, and it enjoys diplomatic immunity. Therefore, it is not possible for the government to either confirm it or deny it.”
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U.S. officials’ concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program were among the highlights of the initial burst of WikiLeaks releases, but the cables have continued to have an impact on Washington’s fraught relationship with Islamabad. WikiLeaks partnered in March with Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper along with India’s NDTV and the Hindu to release a series of cables related to Pakistan. These included a 2008 request from Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani that the United States provide “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas — confirming the open secret that Islamabad had provided far more than tacit support for the U.S. drone program, despite public statements to the contrary.
The cables also show that the United States tried in vain to urge the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence to visit India in a gesture of good faith and cooperation following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. The cables also included strong criticism from then U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson of President Asif Ali Zardari’s handling of his feud with rival Nawaz Sharif and warned that he was starting to exhibit the obsessive and erratic behavior that led to the downfall of his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.
Newly released cables also suggest that China may have continued to supply Pakistan with nuclear reactors as late as 2006, despite its agreement not to as a member of the international Nuclear Suppliers Group, contributing to growing U.S. fears of the proliferation risk posed by the Pakistan.
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Peru’s 2011 election, in which leftist former army officer and one-time coup leader Ollanta Humala defeated Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country’s jailed former president, may be the first time WikiLeaks revelations have had a major role in determining the outcome of an election.
The newspaper El Comercio obtained access to the cables and published reports throughout the election with new revelations about Keiko who had been leading in the polls up until election day. In one 2006 cable, U.S. officials recounted a meeting with Keiko and several other prominent Fujimoristas in which they suggest they might cut political deals with the government in order to end the “persecution” of Alberto, then imprisoned in neighboring Chile. For those wary of the Fujimoris, the cable reinforced the perception that Keiko was running simply to restore the political reputation of her family — though Keiko had promised that if elected she wouldn’t pardon her father. Equally damning was another indicated U.S. concerns that drug traffickers had infiltrated the Peruvian government and were tied to Keiko’s campaign. The candidate was forced to admit that she had taken campaign contributions from an alleged trafficker.
The revelations were certainly not the only reason for Keikos defeat, but with the two candidates running neck and neck for much of the race, their impact can’t be discounted.
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Just days after the deadly earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, Britain’s Telegraph reported on cables from December 2008 that quote an international nuclear official warning that the country’s nuclear facilities were vulnerable to seismic activity.
The unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official reportedly “explained that [Japan’s] safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years and that the IAEA is now reexamining them.”
In addition, the Japanese government opposed a court order to shut down another plant that did not meet earthquake-preparedness standards, according to the cable.
Aside from Japan, cables have raised concerns about nuclear safety in countries ranging from Vietnam to Azerbaijan to India.
ODDS AND ENDS
A number of other countries have been WikiLeaked in recent days, including Ireland, where the Independent newspaper obtained a massive tranche of cables in which U.S. officials dish on everything from local Islamic extremists, to the Catholic Church sex scandal, to the Northern Ireland peace process. The cables’ assessments of Irish politicians are quite blunt and contrast with the warm sentiments President Barack Obama expressed during his recent visit to the island. One cable says that then incoming Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s nickname BIFFO, or “Big, Ignorant Fucker from Offaly,” suits him “especially well.”
Ecuadorean officials have strongly denied allegations made in cables that suggest President Rafael Correa received campaign donations from Colombia’s FARC rebels.
A 2007 cable released by a Taiwanese paper discusses a rumor that China’s finance minister may have been forced to step down after it was discovered that he had an affair with a Taiwanese honey-pot spy.
A cable on Venezuelan arms exports to Russia provides clues on where Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi may be getting his surface-to-air missiles. On the lighter side, there’s President Hugo Chávez’s bizarre war on Western fast-food outlets, with health officials subjecting chains like McDonald’s to near daily inspections. Regulators “explained that in the case of Domino’s, ‘two for one Tuesdays’ discriminated against persons … who would like to eat pizza on the other days of the week.”
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