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During Barack Obama's first three months in office, his administration took several tentative steps toward rehabilitating the U.S. relationship with Cuba. Up to now such ties have been dominated by unremitting hostility towards the Castro Regime of over the last five decades since the 1959 communist revolution as well as the installation of the U.S. embargo in 1962. On April 13, as a sign of a political opening, Obama lifted the restrictions that his predecessor, George Bush, had placed on Cuban-Americans' ability to send remittances at will back home and to visit their relatives on the island. He also relaxed rules governing the activities of the U.S. telecommunications industry there.
Such changes in policy, despite being heralded by some as the initial phases of a process to end the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, in reality fall short of accomplishing this feat. Rather, these controlled and very modest moves can only sustain the U.S.-Cuba standoff even if they serve to reignite a debate over the nature of Washington's relations with Havana. With Obama's reform deserving to be seen as only a minimum gesture of detente between the two foes. His efforts are more representative than a Mickey and Minnie mouse de-marche than a courageous move aimed at proving results. It is a fallacious view that upholding the embargo will give his administration a leveraged position with Havana. Nevertheless, Obama's recent actions are significant because they may serve to reopen discussions regarding an enormously important 1998 espionage case involving the apprehension, trial and sentencing of the "Cuban Five".
The Cuban Five
The "Cuban Five," Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, and Rene Gonzalez were volunteer members of the fourteen-member Wasp Network, La Red Avispa, which was headed by the Direccion de Inteligenica (DI), a branch of Havana's foreign intelligence service. The network was disbanded that year after FBI agents obtained evidence that the group was engaged in illegal espionage activities against violence prone anti-Castro organizations based in Florida. Four Wasp members are believed to have fled to Cuba before they could be apprehended and five other members cooperated with U.S. federal authorities by pleading guilty to being unregistered foreign agents and are currently serving time (29 years collectively) in federal prison.
The remaining five attracted brief media attention in the U.S. after having plead innocent to charges ranging from false identification to the far more serious accusation of conspiracy to commit murder. These detainees remain imprisoned after being found guilty by a jury. Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to face intense international criticism for having committed human rights violations, which were allegedly carried out before and during the course of their trial. The perpetrators of these gross obstructions of justice were carried out by officials in the heavily politicized Miami Federal Attorney's office and a Federal Branch , including Joan Lenart, which were veritable "shock" troops for a radically right wing campaign to "get" the Cuban Five. The defendants were denied visitation with their families, had limited communication with their lawyers, and were also subjected to seventeen months of solitary confinement during the trial. The fate of the five now lies in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is due to decide in 2010 whether or not it will hear the defendants' appeal against the Bush administration's era charges.
The Cuban Five and Wasp Operations
A significant element of the case against the Cuban Five relates to their interaction with the Wasp Network, which was assigned to monitoring and infiltrating the virulent anti-Castro organization, Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR). BTTR was founded to help rescue Cuban refugees trying to flee the island by raft. Its tactics include broadcasting information such as the text of the UN Declaration of Human Rights from airplanes flying in international airspace, in order to encourage Cubans to stand up to the authorities. On February 24, 1996, the Wasp Network launched a fatal mission, Operation Scorpion, which was to later form the basis of the charges of alleged conspiracy of murder that was brought against the Cuban Five.
Having received secret radioed instructions from the DI, Hernandez gave orders to undercover operative Rene Gonzalez and another Wasp member, Jose Pablo Roque, that they were not to fly with the BTTR between February 24 and February 27, 1996. On February 24, three BTTR planes, flying over the Florida straits, crossed into international airspace then purportedly into Cuban airspace. Havana, over the course of several months, repeatedly asked the U.S. to stop the BTTR from attempting to breach Cuban airspace, due to the dire consequences that might be forthcoming. In fact, U.S. officials did communicate such information to the anti-Castro forces. While the U.S. authorities nominally did move to discourage such flights, as a consequence of Washington's basic inaction regarding these provocative moves, two Cuban military aircrafts were launched to intercept the three BTTR aircrafts; two were shot down with the loss of four lives. A subsequent investigation was ordered by the International Civil Aviation Authority to determine if the hostile aircrafts were in Cuban or international airspace when they were downed. The operation ultimately earned Cuba a unanimous condemnation by the UN Security Council in July 1996.
The DI, which opportunely was located in Miami, also sent Hernandez to oversee the success of Havana's efforts to penetrate U.S. military facilities. The overarching goal of infiltrating these bases was to report on the quantity and types of aircrafts arriving and departing from the bases, monitor U.S. military personnel in key zones, identify new communication devices which had been installed, establish radio frequencies, gauge physical security procedures being followed, as well as to identify those who could potentially be recruited as spies or serve as subjects of interest to the Cuban intelligence services. The DI also planned for two Wasp Network agents to penetrate the re-election campaign of hard line Cuban-American Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who was known to be aggressively opposed to the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. The purpose of this move was to gather information that could later be used to discredit, harass or neutralize him and other well-known Cuban-American congressional ideologues.
The FBI had been monitoring the Wasp Network since 1995, and in September 1998, it moved to dismantle the group by apprehending its members and unearthing the information that the intelligence organization had collected. U.S. federal prosecutors submitted more than 1,200 pages of detailed communication reports between the DI and the Cuban Five, which it had obtained from the computers being utilized by Wasp members.
In certain respects, the proceedings involving the Cuban Five were the longest of its kind in U.S. legal history. All told, 119 volumes of testimony and more than 20,000 pages of exhibits and evidence were presented. Great controversy surrounded the defendants' June 8, 2001 conviction on all charges. Since their 1998 arrests, they have remained incarcerated, awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court on whether it will review their case.
Central to the decision of the Cuban Five's defense team, led by Thomas Goldstein, has been the decision to appeal the verdict (filed January 30, 2009), based on the argument that the selection of the jury, and the environment in which the trial took place, prejudiced the proceedings. The equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution states that no one can dismiss jurors on the basis of race. In the filed appeal, defense lawyers claimed that prosecutors unfairly removed seven potential African American venire men from the jury pool. In the end, three African Americans jurors were selected, but no Cuban-Americans. However, the defense team will argue that the Cuban-American presence nevertheless was felt throughout the trial.
Moreover, despite the increasing silhouette in international law allowing for a person to be tried in a location different from that in which a crime was allegedly committed, federal district judge Joan A. Lenard, known for her right-wing proclivities, refused to grant a change of venue from Miami, even though this would have advanced the prospects of fair trial. The fact that Miami is home to many Cuban exiles that hold strong opinions and sentiments against the Castro regime in Havana failed to sway Lenard. As CNN reported at the time, the danger was that, "The pervasive and violent anti-Castro struggle of the Miami community would not only infect the jury with hostility but would cause jurors to fear for their (and their families') safety, livelihoods, and community standing if [they're] acquitted."
On its first appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with the defense's assessment and overturned the Cuban Five's convictions because the appellate judges felt that the trial took place in a prejudiced environment. In spite of this reasoning, the full Court of Appeals later disagreed with that judgment and reinstated the convictions of the Cuban Five, a move which now leaves the men to wait for the results from the Supreme Court's deliberations. The new judgment also expanded the charges pending against Hernandez to include conspiracy to commit murder, for his direct involvement in the 1996 shooting of the two BTTR planes, and the resulting four deaths of members of that organization. During their collective trials, the Cuban Five did not deny their covert service in favor of Cuba's DI, but rather tried to give the impression that, in fact it was they who were fighting against terrorism and protecting Cuba. Their defense was that they were monitoring the terrorist actions of Miami-based anti-Castro groups, who were actively involved in terrorist activities, and who they feared would attack their native country.
Guerrero, Hernandez and Labanino were all convicted of conspiring to commit espionage in the United States. Hernandez was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder based on his role in the February 1996 BTTR plane crashes and deaths of their four passengers (who were all U.S. citizens). All five have been convicted of conspiracy to act in the U.S. as agents of a foreign government without notifying the Department of Justice, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Hernandez has been sentenced to two life terms, Guerrero and Labanino each have been given one life sentence, Fernando Gonzalez has been sentenced to nineteen years and Rene Gonzalez is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence.
Human Rights Violations
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have criticized the U.S. government's policy regarding the Cuban Five and have accused it of perpetrating human rights violations against the group. Beginning with their arrest and subsequent trial three months later, the five Cuban defendants have been held without bail for a period of thirty-three months. They were incarcerated in solitary confinement cells for seventeen months with all contact between the defendants and their families cut off. Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez, the wives of Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez, were deported back to Cuba, and their requests for temporary U.S. visas were denied. The U.S. government justified its draconian treatment of the alleged culprits by stating it was exercising its legitimate authority to protect itself against covert spies and their affiliates. Evidence was presented at the trial, which revealed that both wives were in fact members of, or at least affiliated with the Wasp Network, and thus were labeled as bona fide threats to Washington's national security.
In August 2001, upon being found guilty, the Cuban spies were remanded to serve solitary confinement once again, this time for a period of forty-eight days, prior to their pre-sentencing hearings, and then, in March 2003, when they were sent to isolation cells on orders from the Bush Department of Justice. Justice continued to claim that the Cubans were still active threats to U.S. national security. Throughout this period, the Cuban inmates were prohibited from receiving correspondences from their families as well as their lawyers, which the defense contended was a clear violation of domestic and international law. These human rights violations have been submitted along with procedural complaints over aspects of the original trial, as part of the basis of the defense team's later appeal to the Supreme Court.
Cuba's Response to the Convictions
In Cuba, the defendants have become national icons and are today more commonly known as the "Five Heroes," serving as symbols of the political struggle between their native country and the U.S. Their images decorate the entire country, with posters as well as block-long murals invoking their names along with inspirational quotes from them, one of which says "volveran," meaning, "they will return". A mural honoring their service to Cuba was dedicated to the national heroes in Santa Clara, Cuba on March 13, 2009. The imprisoned Cubans have been transformed into major propaganda figures for Havana, with their personal virtues and willingness to sacrifice for their country praised and memorialized on postcards, factory walls, billboards, and in newspapers, as well as being invoked during formal ceremonies and in speeches by Cuban officials. Additionally, there are websites, such as the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, which points to the patent violations of justice during their trial and the unbalanced treatment of those the U.S. describes as spies. As a result, there is a clear sentiment in Cuba that justice is only blind when it is conducive to U.S. ideological interests.
As reported over NPR, the Cuban population regards the Cuban Five as heroes who are "prisoners of the empire, unjustly held in the United States." Cuban officials maintain that the incarcerated prisoners are Cuban nationalists and patriots who are enduring excessively harsh punishment, as a consequence of the ongoing hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. Many ordinary Cubans feel that the U.S. employs a double standard in its War on Terror, because as violent opponents of the Castro regime sometimes kill pro-Havana militants, the U.S. government casts a blind eye to these malicious crimes. Furthermore, these aggressors have launched repeated criminal acts of violence against Cuba, which have not been subject to the same rigid judicial standard as those who are avowedly pro-Castro. Elizabeth Palmero, the wife of Labanino, drafted a statement defending the cause of the Cuban Five, stating the reason why they are regarded as national heroes in Cuba, was that, "The [five] personify the resistance of the Cuban people. They personify the will of the Cuban people to decide their destiny to have the government that we wish."
Domestic and International Reactions
Five Latin American presidents, ten Nobel Prize Laureates, prominent intellectuals, religious figures, union leaders, head of legal and human rights organizations, artists, members of parliament, and leading civic personalities around the world have been calling for the release of the Cuban Five. There have been petitions, which have sought to win over the interest of both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Apologists for the actions of the jailed Cubans have hammered away at Washington's alleged violations of international law, due process and fair trial. All of these efforts have been focused on calling for the pardoning and release of the jailed Cubans and the granting of humanitarian visas to their deported wives to provide for visitation rights for them immediately.
The recent lifting of travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans suggests that the U.S. may slowly be trying to create a new relationship with Cuba, replacing a policy which for so long has crippled relations between Havana and Washington. The current Cuban president, Raul Castro, has suggested a prisoner swap if need be, which should be staged in a manner that would send all of Cuba's political prisoners and their families to the United States in exchange for the five convicted Cuban spies. Yet it appears that quite a few of the Cuban political prisoners do not want to be part of such a deal, reflecting a distinct spirit of plurality that exists among the group. As the Washington Post has recently reported, some of these prisoners "prefer to stay in their homeland with their families and culture and fight for changes to the political system of their own country."
Taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court
Unlike other judicial chambers, the Supreme Court is vested with the authority to decide which cases will be heard. In a February 6, 2009 interview with their lawyer Thomas Goldstein and Democracynow.org, Goldstein claimed that the Wasp members did not steal any American secrets, and that its members were only trying to gather information on people violently opposed to the Castro regime. Goldstein also asserted in a comment to the press that the Cuban Five were "tried by jurors who took out their instinct for revenge over their anger at the Castro government and what they perceive it's done in Cuba." The defense team also claims, that Hernandez was wrongly convicted of a crime that he did not commit. Furthermore, Goldstein and the defense team feel that the defendants should have been charged as no more than unregistered aliens, which would have greatly reduced the length of their sentence. The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case in June 2009, and if it does, it will decide the merits of the case in 2010. Until then, the Cuban Five will be serving their time and will remain a deep source of concern for all Cubans as they continue their struggle against what they perceive as American political prejudices.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Deanna Cox
Founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks."
An analysis of previously secret documents published Wednesday sheds new light on how chemical corporations aped Big Tobacco by conspiring to conceal the extreme toxicity of a class of synthetic compounds contaminating the Earth's air, water, soil, plants, and animals—including most of the world's people.
Commonly called "forever chemicals" because they do not biodegrade and accumulate in the human body, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—which include PFOS, PFOA, and GenX—have myriad uses, from nonstick cookware to waterproof clothing to firefighting foam. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS is linked to cancers of the kidneys and testicles, low infant weight, suppressed immune function, and other adverse health effects. It is found in the blood of 99% of Americans and a similar percentage of people around the world.
"The industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse."
But that wasn't known until recently. Scientists and public health officials were some of the first to understand the dangers of PFAS, and in recent years, exposés like Stephanie Soechtig and Jeremy Seifer's 2018 documentary feature The Devil We Know and a 2022 episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" in which host John Oliver called PFAS "the devil's piss" raised awareness of the "forever chemicals." In 2018, Congress held its first hearing, and around that time it emerged that chemical giants DuPont and 3M understood—and covered up—the dangers of PFAS.
The Devil They Knew: Chemical Documents Analysis of Industry Influence on PFAS Science—a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Global Health—enriches understanding of the chemical industry's role in concealing the dangers of PFAS. It includes documents like a 1970 DuPont internal memo stating the PFOA C8—used to make the nonstick surface Teflon—is "highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when injected."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks," Tracey J. Woodruff—who wrote the paper with Nadia Gaber and Lisa Bero—toldPhys.org.
\u201cSee our new article using the valuable @UCSF @industrydocs to categorize strategies the industry uses to distort and hide science\u201d— Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH (@Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH) 1685645614
One 1979 DuPont report describes a range of highly toxic effects from testing PFAS on animals, including two beagles who died after being administered a single 450 mg dose of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, and rats that suffered enlarged livers and eye ulcers.
Another document, from 1980, shows DuPont and 3M learned that two out of eight pregnant employees who worked making C8 had babies with birth defects, but then lied the following year in a memo declaring that "we know of no evidence of birth defects" caused by C8.
"Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse," the paper states.
The paper's authors did not find "evidence in this archive of funding favorable research or targeted dissemination of those results."
Among the paper's key findings:
"The lack of transparency in industry-driven research on industrial chemicals has significant legal, political, and public health consequences," the paper's authors concluded. "Industry strategies to suppress scientific research findings or early warnings about the hazards of industrial chemicals can be analyzed and exposed, in order to guide prevention."
Recent years have seen an exponential proliferation of PFAS-related litigation, sometimes resulting in verdicts like the $40 million awarded by an Ohio jury to a man who claimed exposure to PFOA in his drinking water gave him testicular cancer twice.
In recent days, states including Arizona, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington have sued companies that manufacture PFAS.
"These companies have known for decades that so-called 'forever chemicals' would contaminate water supplies for generations to come but chose to sell their products anyway," said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat. "The failure by these polluters to inform the state about the risks associated with these chemicals has harmed our environment and the health of Arizonans—and they must be held accountable."
Last week, Common Dreamsreported that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also a Democrat, signed into law the nation's broadest PFAS ban. The legislation gradually phases out most PFAS use until "forever chemicals" will be prohibited in all products not essential for public health by 2032.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe," said one advocate.
Economic justice advocates cried foul Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed legislation that aims to block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with right-wing Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), joined Senate Republicans in supporting H.J. Res. 45.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which House Republicans approved last week with the help of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), passed the Senate by a margin of 52-46. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) didn't vote. The White House has vowed to veto the measure.
Passage of the legislation elicited a firestorm of criticism from progressive advocates and lawmakers.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe by passing this reckless CRA resolution," Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) executive director Mike Pierce said in a statement.
"The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill."
The Biden administration's popular move to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes below $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment (IDR) program is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges. A decision in the case is expected sometime this month, but right-wing lawmakers are doing everything in their power to sink the president's relief initiative regardless of how the high court rules.
Last week, the SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers warned of the "ruinous impact" H.J. Res. 45 would have on millions of working-class households nationwide, with AFT president Randi Weingarten condemning it as "an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower as well as money-saving changes to the IDR program, the CRA resolution would nullify the seventh and possibly eighth extensions of the federal student loan payment freeze first enacted by President Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it would retroactively undo several months of already-canceled payments and waived interest charges, immediately leaving tens of millions of people past due on their loans.
Furthermore, the CRA resolution seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean since September 2022. If that were to happen, a combined debt burden of nearly $20 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, would be put back on the shoulders of teachers, nurses, first responders, and others who recently finished making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
"Despite right-wing proponents' attempts to gaslight their own colleagues and the American people on the impact of this bill, this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions of borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," said Pierce. "If enacted, it will cause irreparable damage to an already severely broken student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in our government."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning in the debt despair of our nation's student loan crisis," he added. "The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill and deliver on his promise of student loan debt relief once and for all."
\u201cRepublicans in the Senate + Dem Senators Manchin, Sinema and Tester just voted to kill student debt relief and *raise* student debt balances by retroactively adding interest.\n\nTester, Sinema and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024 and will have to explain their votes.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685644460
Ahead of a Wednesday vote to bring H.J. Res. 45 to the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that "Republicans in Congress have shown time and time again that they'd much rather deliver relief to giant corporations and protect tax cheats than help working Americans whose biggest sin was trying to get an education."
On Thursday, the Massachusetts lawmaker called the bill's passage "shameful," and expressed confidence that Biden "will veto" it. Congress doesn't appear to have the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto.
\u201cSenate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS' student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants. It's shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1685644466
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member and former chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed that "this Republican bill wouldn't only rip away relief for borrowers who qualify under the president's plan."
"This CRA could impact the pause on loan payments and cause major problems for borrowers who have received relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs," Murray continued. "That means these Republican efforts could create the perfect storm for more than 260,000 public service workers who have already earned relief."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning."
"If Republicans were to get their way and pass this bill into law," she added, "people across the country would have relief they are counting on snatched away from them, plans they have made upended, less money in their pockets, and monthly payments not just abruptly restarted—but maybe even abruptly jacked up by hundreds of dollars."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the HELP committee, echoed that sentiment.
"Republicans' cruel attempt to stand in the way of President Biden's plans to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans suffering under the crushing weight of student loan debt is damaging to our economy and wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing working families," said Markey.
"The loan forgiveness the president is proposing would mean the difference between buying a home, starting a business, and getting an economic leg up for nearly 50 million working and middle-class Americans, particularly for borrowers of color and their families," he concluded. "If you kicked Republicans in the heart, you'd break your toe."
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners on Thursday said that within days, President Joe Biden's promises to end public finance for fossil fuel projects may prove empty if plans that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has indicated it has for an LNG project in Poland come to fruition.
The DFC, which oversees U.S. investments in development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, listed on its pending project list on May 23 a $500 million guarantee to support the Polish oil and gas company PKN Orlen to increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The pending transaction was listed ahead of the DFC's board meeting, which is scheduled for June 7.
Oil Change International (OCI) noted that the LNG listing was removed on May 30, but the "public information summary" remained live as of Thursday, suggesting the board could still approve the project.
The project, which would involve Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs helping the company to increase its imports, would be in direct contradiction to President Joe Biden's statement at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 that his administration would end public finance for fossil fuel development after 2022.
"President Biden has cited his promise to end international public funding for fossil fuels as a sign of his ongoing commitment to climate leadership, even as he boosts fossil fuels and breaks many of his core climate promises at home," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at OCI. "The Development Finance Corporation approving this dirty project would show once and for all these claims are nothing but empty words."
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels."
LNG is gas that has been cooled and liquefied after being extracted by drilling or fracking. As Common Dreamsreported in April, 116 climate action groups wrote to Biden ahead of the Group of 7 (G7) climate and energy meeting in Japan last month to warn that "the global LNG boom" must be stopped.
Campaigners say the continued expansion of LNG would harm communities that lie near fracking and drilling sites as well as LNG export terminals, while disregarding the warnings of scientists and energy experts who are unequivocal in their warnings that new fossil fuel extraction projects have no place on a pathway to keeping planetary heating under 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said Rees. "A rapid buildout of 100% renewable energy is the only pathway to global energy security."
The DFC's potential approval of the project would mark the second time in less than a month that the Biden administration has agreed to finance new fossil fuel development. In May the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved nearly $100 million for the Balikpapan oil refinery in Indonesia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also spoke at a recent Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference about a proposal for an 807-mile gas pipeline across Alaska and an LNG export terminal that he claimed would be in the United States' economic and national security interests.
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels," wrote Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, at Common Dreams on Thursday. "LNG is methane compressed and chilled to make it easier to transport. Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, in the short term."
While Biden said at COP26 and at the G7 meeting that he is committed to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects past 2022, the White House has not released guidance outlining how that promise will be kept.
"Biden's refusal to publish public guidance upholding the international fossil fuel pledge is enabling DFC to keep funding dirty fossil fuel expansion," said Rees. "In removing this massive handout to the U.S. LNG industry from its pending project list, DFC is following Biden's lead and keeping ongoing fossil fuel support hidden from the public eye."