The Invasion Of Panama December 16, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Imperialism, Latin America, Panama.
Tags: canal zone, cia drugs, george h.w. bush, history, human rights, International law, Latin America, manuel noriega, matt peppe, noriega, panama, Panama Canal, panama deception, panama drugs, panama invasion, panama massacre, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: This article represents a look at history, a “looking back.” if you will. The president of the United States does not believe in looking back. “Look forward,” he tells us, when it comes to the issue of what to do about gross legal and moral violations represented by the American torture machine (as if, by the way, that torture is over with, which is a big lie, but that’s not my point). If you take a wrong turn at the fork in the road and refuse to look back, then you are doomed. That is what Obama’s strategy amounts to. I chuckle as I am reminded of the efforts of another war criminal president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to pressure CBC television not to broadcast Pete Seeger singing a certain song on the pioneering Smothers Brothers Show. The punch line of that song was “Waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on.” An obvious reference to the U.S. bogged down in Vietnam (I’ve pasted the full lyrics at the end of this post). So, whether it’s looking back 25 years to the U.S. massacre in Panama; or back to the other 9/11, the CIA backed bloody Pinochet coup in Chile; or all the way back to the slave trade and the genocide of the First Nations Peoples; I say it is the only way we’re ever going to get off this road to Hell. Summed up perhaps, in four of the most insightful words in the English language: NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
The Proclamation Of A Lone Superpower Above The Law
Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.
The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: “People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere,” writes William Blum. 
Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose “hands still tremble” when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.
“I take pills to calm down,” Marín told the paper. “It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things.”
In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.
U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush’s needed to shed his image as a “wimp.” So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.
Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.
Washington began disseminating propaganda about “human rights abuses” and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.
“It’s all quite predictable, as study after study shows,” Noam Chomsky writes. “A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to ‘villain’ and ‘scum’ when he commits the crime of independence.”
Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama – from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.’s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.
The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors’ harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.
The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response.
“Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama,” said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended “to create an international incident… have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. 
After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the “Hard Chargers,” was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began.
Targeting Civilians and Journalists
Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: “It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed.” 
Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire,” recounted an anonymous witness in the film. “They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.” 
People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.
Spanish fotographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.
“’Get back!’ the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot,” she wrote. “’We just want to pick up our things.’ He didn’t pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn’t return.”
While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.
American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began – before the killing in El Chorillo – by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was “100% certain” of Noriega’s location “but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities.”
No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.
The report stated that “most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare.”
The CODEHUCA report documented massively “disproportionate use of military force,” “indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians” and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.
When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: “Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it.”
‘Flagrant Violation of International Law’
Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.
“The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter,” wrote the New York Times.
After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a “flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States.”
The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.’s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over ‘nonintervention.’”
In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that “the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights” in Panama. The violations occurred on a “massive scale” and included “illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and … tight control of the Panamanian media.”
Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen “since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d’ etre after the fall of Communism.
No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations. Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of “humanitarian intervention.”
“Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies,” writes James Peck. “A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time.” 
The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.
The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military’s obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.
Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme international crime,” different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains “the accumulated evil of the whole.” People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.
Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate.
 Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II – Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.
 The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-p4cPoVcIo&list=PLBMiR6FLgz2-BEFx0w_V-jE6hKb9uP3Wh&index=3, (30:54)
 Ibid (31:40)
 Ibid (34:08)
 Ibid (37:06)
 Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.
WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were — neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.
We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.
Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!
Writer: PETE SEEGER
Copyright: Lyrics © T.R.O. INC.
Ferguson and Ayotzinapa December 15, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Police.
Tags: ayotzinapa, deportation, enrique ochoa, eric garner, ferguson missouri, gilda ochoa, Mexico, mexico povety, michael brown, NAFTA, police brutality, police racism, racism, state violence, tamir rice, undocumented, war on drugs
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The Ties that Bind
Mourning and outrage are shaking parts of the United States and Mexico. As U.S. families grieve and demonstrators denounce the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many more at the hands of the police, people are also protesting state violence and police impunity throughout Mexico. Just this past week, the body of Alexander Mora was identified as one of the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Guerrero who were disappeared after being confronted by police.
In recent interviews, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry critiqued the crimes happening in Mexico as having “no place in civilized society.” They offered U.S. assistance “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened [to the missing students in Mexico].” Such a response is part of a long practice of demonizing Mexico as a corrupt nation in need of the assumed superior support of the U.S.
U.S. officials would do well to heed their own words and get to the root causes of what is happening in both the U.S. and Mexico. These struggles in Ferguson and Ayotzinapa are tied. The state violence against Black and poor indigenous young people must be seen in the context of rabid class inequality and racism where the working poor and people of color are criminalized and treated as disposable.
Corporate-driven economic transformations and policies such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have ravaged communities in the U.S. and in Mexico. Once industrial hubs, U.S. urban areas have been gutted of industry leaving a crumbling infrastructure and few living-wage jobs in their wake. Many of these neighborhoods are now being “revitalized” by pushing the Black and Brown urban poor out through gentrification. In the Mexican countryside, imports of subsidized U.S. grain, the growth of industrial farms, and the expansion of foreign companies combine to expel families from their livelihoods and communities. As a result, inequality has grown in both countries, and is among the worst of all developed economies.
According to a 2013 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, of its 34 member countries the United States has the 4th highest level of income inequality, and Mexico the second. When controlling for inflation, the income of those in U.S. households in the top ten percent of the economic ladder – those making over $150,000 per year – has increased over 30% since the 1970s. In contrast, the income of those in the bottom half of the economy has basically stagnated, or slightly decreased. And, the minimum wage in both countries is far from a livable wage. The working poor often have to work several jobs to try to make ends meet.
Wealth and power disparities are closely correlated with race. Both countries have witnessed a boom in the number of millionaires and billionaires, including producing the two wealthiest people in the world Carlos Slim and Bill Gates who according to Forbes have a combined net worth of over $150 billion. In contrast, researchers with Mexico’s national evaluation agency, find that 46% of the total population lives below the poverty line, and 20% reside in extreme poverty. Throughout the county, the rate of extreme poverty is five times higher for indigenous peoples than for the general population. In the southern states, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations live, poverty rates are between 15 and 30 points higher and in the state of Guerrero (the home of the disappeared students) 70% of the population lives in poverty. In the U.S., the compounding generations of racism and class inequality are such that Latina/o and Black households have a median net worth of less than $7,000 compared to over $110,000 for White households.
Since the 1980s, as a result of neoliberal reforms, both countries have slashed public programs in education, health care, transportation, social security, and public housing. Privatization and the ideology of free trade seeks to eliminate most state social programs leaving the poor to fend for themselves in an economy that looks to bargain down wages to maximize profits. While these support systems were not as strong as they could have been, they were important reforms that were won through popular struggle, and their erosion has hurt the working poor and the historically marginalized most. For the youth of working poor there are diminishing opportunities.
As the U.S. and Mexico disinvest in social programs, they divert funds to police poor communities through the war on drugs and other tough on crime policies. In the U.S., according to a Justice Policy Report, since the early 1980s spending on police protection has skyrocketed over 400% — from about $40 billion to nearly $200 billion. The number of state and local sworn officers has also increased over 50% during this period.
The war on drugs has been a war on poor people of color. Although multiple studies suggest that the majority of drug users are White, Blacks have been the most impacted by drug prosecutions and punitive polices such as mandatory minimums. As Law Professor Michelle Alexander reports, there are more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850 – devastating families and fueling the prison industrial complex where private prisons and immigration detention centers are big business.
The power elite in Mexico has increasingly militarized the state in an attempt to maintain order for foreign investors and domestic capitalists to expand their markets. Under the guise of the war on drugs and Plan Mérida, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into military and police assistance in Mexico. Critics argue that the training and weaponry has been used against social movements and human rights activists. Collusion between criminal operations, military, government, and police officials occurs making it difficult to distinguish who is perpetrating the violence. Over the past decade, approximately 100,000 Mexicans have been killed in the failed “War on Drugs.” According to the UK newspaper The Telegraph, since 2007 nearly 23,000 Mexicans have been disappeared (over 5,000 this year alone!) through cartel and police violence, the two often working together.
The recent killings and grand jury verdicts in communities from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Ayotzinapa must also be placed in the context of a legacy of racism. The roots of racism in both the U.S. and Mexico are as deep as the economic fissures. They are embedded in society’s laws, institutions, and government structures. In the U.S., they are apparent in police profiling and the unequal application of zero tolerance and stop and frisk policies, the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, the deportation and destruction of immigrant families, and the impunity by which members of the police force can kill primarily Black boys and men and have those atrocities supported by state policies — such as the Supreme Court’s 1980s rulings justifying the use of deadly force by officers. In Mexico, similar disregard for the lives of poor and indigenous people is rampant. Mexican journalist Fernando Camacho Servín reporting in La Jornada finds that the “effects of racism include the criminalizing of certain groups by their physical appearance, to blame them for their poverty, to displace them from their lands, or simply depriving them of their basic rights.”
In the wake of massive dissent against state violence, Presidents Barak Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have suggested new policies. These focus on policing, impunity, and corruption. While they are small step, none of these changes will go very far unless the foundations of such atrocities are addressed head-on.
Enrique C. Ochoa is professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.
Gilda L. Ochoa is professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College
31 Years After the U.S. Invasion of Grenada October 21, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Grenada, History, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: grenada, grenada invasion, history, imperialism, Latin America, maurice bishop, mickey z, roger hollander, ronald reagan
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Roger’s note: Having failed for decades to dislodge the thorn in its side known as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the United States in 1983 invaded a tiny island in the Caribbean which had had the audacity to form a socialist government. Following the usual paradigm for Latin America intervention (otherwise known as “send in the Marines!”), including the slaughter of civilians, it was little challenge for the United States brave army to defeat the defenders of a nation of barely one hundred thousand inhabitants.
As I’m sure everyone knows, we’re fast approaching the 31st anniversary of a truly momentous American victory — a crucial military operation that not only warmed Ronald Raygun’s cold, cold heart but was also deemed film-worthy by the former mayor of Carmel, California.
Yes, of course, I’m talking about the Oct. 25, 1983, “liberation” of Grenada.
In March 1979, socialist leader Maurice Bishop took over Grenada in a bloodless coup. Once deemed “a lovely piece of real estate” by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, Grenada is a small East Caribbean island of some 133 square miles and 110,000 inhabitants. At the time of the U.S. invasion, half of Grenada’s nationals lived in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.
The United States worked to destabilize the Bishop regime but, in early October 1983, he was ultimately deposed and later murdered by a group even more to the “Left” than he. That’s when America decided to risk awakening this sleeping Caribbean giant by launching a preemptive military strike.
After adding the obligatory statements about Soviet and Cuban designs on the island, the Great Communicator sent roughly 8,000 U.S. soldiers in to lead an operation called “Urgent Fury.” The fighting was over in a week. Casualties included 135 Americans killed or wounded along 84 Cubans and some 400 Grenadians dead.
“Forced on Us”
“The American media rarely mentioned Grenadian casualties of U.S. aggression,” explains Ramsey Clark. “It barely reported the mental hospital destroyed by a Navy jet, leaving more than 20 dead.” (Sound familiar?)
Raygun declared that the invasion was “forced on us by events that have no precedent in the eastern Caribbean,” leaving the United States with “no choice but to act strongly and decisively.” (Sound familiar?)
By a vote of 108 to 9, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Sound familiar?)
A Wall Street Journal headline blared: U.S. INVADES GRENADA IN WARNING TO RUSSIA AND CUBA ABOUT EXPANSION IN THE CARIBBEAN. It was also a warning to potential critics.”The invasion was already under way, so even if we opposed it, there was nothing any of us could do,” Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil said at the time. “I had some serious reservations, and I’m sure my Democratic colleagues did as well, but I’d be damned if I was going to voice any criticism while our boys were out there.” (Sound familiar?)
Let’s not forget the “Grenada 17.” Amnesty International’s UK media director, Lesley Warner, wrote in 2003 that these 17 prisoners were “initially held without charge in cages, before being tried before an unfair, ad-hoc tribunal. They were denied access to legal counsel and to documents needed for their defense. After sentencing, the Grenada 17 were held in tiny cells with lights left permanently on.” (Sound familiar?)
“Stepping on a Flea”
In October 1983, Raygun stopped short of donning a flight suit, but did make a speech on the fourth day of the invasion, which, according to William Blum, “succeeded in giving jingoism a bad name.”
“The president managed to link the invasion of Grenada with the shooting down of a Korean airliner by the Soviet Union, the killing of U.S. soldiers in Lebanon, and the taking of American hostages in Iran,” says Blum.
“Clearly, the invasion symbolized an end to this string of humiliations for the United States. Even Vietnam was being avenged,” Blum adds. “To commemorate the American Renaissance, some 7,000 U.S. servicemen were designated heroes of the republic and decorated with medals. (Many had done no more than sit on ships near the island.) American had regained its manhood, by stepping on a flea.”
It’s all so familiar, but when will we learn?
Bolivians Demand Justice for 2003 Gas War Massacre October 21, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: benjamin dangl, Bolivia, bolivia gas war, Bolivia Massacre, el alto bolivia, Evo Morales, foreign policy, imperialism, Latin America, roger hollander, sanchez de berzain, Sánchez de Lozada
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Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado. The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world). It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them. Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency. God Bless America.
by BENJAMIN DANGL
Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.
“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”
Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)
On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.
There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.
“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”
The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.
El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.
Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.
A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”
A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.
A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.
All photos by Benjamin Dangl
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl
WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
Tags: Bolivia, democracy, dictatorships, egypt coup, Evo Morales, foreign policy, glenn greenwald, Hugo Chavez, imperialism, journalism, Media, new york times, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela coup
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):
This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on development, military cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”
It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.
But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.
Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.
To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Tags: arbenz, banana republic, brendan fischer, chiquita banana, Edward Bernays, gordon liddy, guatemala coup, hard choices, hillary clinton, history, Honduras, honduras corruption, honduras coup, lanny davis, Latin America, mark weisbrot, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, zelaya
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The chapter on Latin America, particularly the section on Honduras, a major source of the child migrants currently pouring into the United States, has gone largely unnoticed. In letters to Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, more than 100 members of Congress have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating security situation in Honduras, especially since the 2009 military coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. As Honduran scholar Dana Frank points out in Foreign Affairs, the U.S.-backed post-coup government “rewarded coup loyalists with top ministries,” opening the door for further “violence and anarchy.”
The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.
Despite this, however, both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton describes her role in the aftermath of the coup that brought about this dire situation. Her firsthand account is significant both for the confession of an important truth and for a crucial false testimony.
First, the confession: Clinton admits that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton writes. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
This may not come as a surprise to those who followed the post-coup drama closely. (See my commentary from 2009 on Washington’s role in helping the coup succeed here, here and here.) But the official storyline, which was dutifully accepted by most in the media, was that the Obama administration actually opposed the coup and wanted Zelaya to return to office.
The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton’s defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.
Clinton’s false testimony is even more revealing. She reports that Zelaya was arrested amid “fears that he was preparing to circumvent the constitution and extend his term in office.” This is simply not true. As Clinton must know, when Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and flown out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, he was trying to put a consultative, nonbinding poll on the ballot to ask voters whether they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the constitution during the scheduled election in November. It is important to note that Zelaya was not eligible to run in that election. Even if he had gotten everything he wanted, it was impossible for Zelaya to extend his term in office. But this did not stop the extreme right in Honduras and the United States from using false charges of tampering with the constitution to justify the coup.
In addition to her bold confession and Clinton’s embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as secretary of state. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere’s governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Floridian Cuban-Americans and their political fundraisers.
Like the 54-year-old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere.
Please vote for YASunidos October 7, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: Ecuador, ecuadorian amazon, environment, indigenous, oil exploitation, oil exploration, roger hollander, yasuni
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The Fight to Keep Toxic Mining—and the World Bank—Out of El Salvador September 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Environment, Latin America, Water.
Tags: canadian mining, central america, diana anahi torres-valverde, el dorado mine, El Salvador, environment, Fair Trade, Free Trade, free trade agreement, gold mining, Latin America, mining, ocean gold, roger hollander, toxic mining, water rights, World Bank
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Roger’s note: Free trade agreements between North American industrialized nations and third world Latin American nations are inherently unequal and designed to promote and protect mega-corporate interests. Specifically, they enshrine in law the right to capital investment regardless of damaging effects to workers and to the environment. Corporate and military interests on both sides of the “partnership” use their clout over (ownership of?) the respective governments to enter into these legally binding agreements. The NAFTA agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has had the effect of destroying small corn farming in Mexico,which is in part responsible for the massive migration of Mexicans to the U.S. Cf. my 2003 article in the L.A. Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2003/nov/20/opinion/oe-hollander20
Hundreds of protesters recently gathered at the World Bank to shame a gold mining firm’s shakedown of one of Central America’s poorest countries.
More Arrests in Chile, But Still No Justice in the U.S. September 19, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Chile, Criminal Justice, Latin America.
Tags: Chile, chile dictatorship, jara murder, Pedro Barrientos, pinochet, roger hollander, victor jara
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September 18th is Chile’s Independence Day, but for many the month of September is more about the heavy memories of the Chilean coup that happened 41 years ago on September 11th, 1973 and its continued legacy. As you may know, one of the most prominent victims of the military regime is the folk singer and activist Víctor Jara.
Last week, three more soldiers accused of his murder were arrested in Chile and more details about his assassination and murderers have beenrevealed (this article is in Spanish!). Pedro Barrientos, the SOA grad who was last known to reside in Florida and has been accused of pulling the trigger, was not on the list of new arrestees, because so far the U.S. government has not acted on the extradition request issued by the Chilean Supreme Court in 2013. When our allies in Chile are making strides toward justice and accountability, we must not remain on the sidelines.
As you know, our Justice for Víctor Campaign has been central to our work over the last year. In 2013, an SOA Watch delegation held asomber vigil at the gates of a U.S.-funded urban warfare training center and outside the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile on 9/11. In April, we held a Víctor Jara Memorial Forum as part of our 2014 Spring Days of Action to share the undying spirit of Jara’s music. Thanks to you and thousands of SOA Watch activists around the globe, we’ve kept the pressure on the US Department of Justice to do the right thing by extraditing Barrientos to face justice in Chile.
Now, as we oppose yet more war and intervention by the U.S. throughout the world, we must hold the killers of yesteryear to account by demanding justice for Víctor and all the other victims of the Chilean coup! Only when the current power elite see their henchmen publicly disgraced will they think twice about repeating the sins of the past.
In solidarity as we remember the Chilean 9/11,
The SOA Watch Team
Tell Majority Leader Harry Reid – Respect Venezuela’s Sovereignty, Reject Sanctions Bill September 17, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: harry reid, Latin America, McCain, menendez, roger hollander, Ros-Lehtinen, rubio, soa, Venezuela, venezuela democracy, venezuela sanctions, venezuela sovereignty
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Roger’s note: please sign the petition.
As an SOA Watch supporter who has previously taken online action defending Venezuela’s sovereignty, it should be no surprise to you that Venezuela is once again under attack by the powerful far-right Cuban-American lobby and its allies. Senators Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, John McCain, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are desperately attempting to ram through a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials based on exaggerated claims of human rights abuses that do not match up with the facts on the ground.
The sanctions bill is seen by the rest of Latin America as politically-motivated and a continuation of the typical intervention by the U.S. in the internal affairs of a democratic Latin American country. Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio sent Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid a letter calling on him to bypass Sen. Mary Landrieu’s committee and bring the sanctions bill to a vote. This after hypocritically attacking Sen. Landrieu in a Louisiana newspaper for holding up the vote due to concerns about the sanctions bill. Please take a moment to urge Senator Reid to continue supporting diplomacy, resist the far-right fear-mongering, and not bring up the Cold War era sanctions bill for a vote.
We should also take this opportunity to push him to deepen his opposition to the bill, which is currently based on protecting Senator Landrieu’s reelection bid and the Democratic Senate majority in November, to include support for U.S.-Venezuela dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for Latin American sovereignty.
Sen. Reid’s actions as Majority Leader are vital to ensuring respect for democracy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Your voice and the voice of your community are essential and can make the difference for setting the tone for U.S.-Latin American relations for decades to come. Urge Sen. Harry Reid (through his Foreign Policy Aide, Jessica Lewis) to do the right thing. It only takes 1 minute, please take action today and share this link widely!
Owen, Arturo, and the SOA Watch Legislative Working Group
P.S. In addition to taking online action, a follow-up call to Sen. Reid’s DC office will drive our message home. Call (202) 224-3542 and ask to speak with Jessica Lewis, his Foreign Policy Aide. Tell Ms. Lewis you oppose the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 because you support diplomacy with Venezuela’s democratically elected government, and want to see the U.S. respect the sovereignty of Latin American nations.