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Zapatistas at Twenty January 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: In my opinion the Zapatistas are the most important humanist revolutionaries our time.  They have shown us that the notions of individual dignity and communal responsibility are not in opposition to one another.  As revolutionaries they have avoided the pitfall of vanguard-ism and dogmatism.  From the beginning Zapatista women have struggled for and won equality within the movement.  By all traditional logic they should have been wiped out by the U.S. supported democratically elected undemocratic Mexican governments.  But through determination and having captured the imagination and support of  freedom loving peoples around the globe, they not only have survived but continue to maintain authority over various Chiapas regions.  They are a revolutionary example and inspiration for all of us.

 

By January 14, 2014.  Foreign Policy In Focus

There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.

zapatistas-20th-anniversary-mexico-indigenous-autonomous-communities

Mexico’s Zapatistas, one of the world’s most unclassifiable revolutionary movements, celebrated the 20th anniversary of their movement with high hopes for passing it on to the next generation. (Photo: Void Network / Flickr)

There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.

Thousands of Zapatistas turned out this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). At the New Year festivities in the five Caracoles, or regional centers of Zapatista autonomous government, veterans and adolescents not yet born at the time of the insurrection danced, flirted, shot off rockets, and celebrated “autonomy” — the ideal of self-government that lies at the heart of the Zapatista experience.

Public Re-Emergence

The Zapatistas came out by the thousands for their anniversary parties, surprising some. Their death, it turns out, had been greatly exaggerated. Accustomed to the face of politics as a white man talking, the press and the political class began writing obituaries for the movement when Subcomandante Marcos retired from public view in 2006.

Although Zapatista communities have continued to emit a steady stream of communiqués denouncing military and political attacks, land grabs, and the presence of paramilitary forces in Zapatista communities, the media has ignored them. It smugly predicted that the movement was moribund and would soon merit nothing more than a folkloric footnote in the history of the inexorable advance of global capitalism. The return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power in 2012 seemed to reaffirm the idea that Mexico was “back to normal.”

When nearly 50,000 Zapatistas marched in silence on December 21, 2012, they challenged the official line that their movement had all but died. The EZLN communiqué was brief and to the point: “Did you hear that? It is the sound of your world crumbling. It is the sound of ours resurging.”

The 20th anniversary and New Year celebrations this month marked a second moment in that resurgence. The festivities were a family affair. Press was banned, and although a series of articles by Subcomandante Marcos came out before the events, the organization put out no public documents on January 1st, the day of the anniversary itself. It was a time for Zapatistas to pat themselves on the back, an internal affirmation more than a political statement.

It may have been “just family,” but the Zapatistas have a wide extended family. Thousands of supporters and students, mostly youth from Mexico and abroad attending La Escuelita (the Little School), fanned out to theCarcacoles to join in ceremonies and all-night dancing.

The Little School was launched in August to teach “freedom according to the Zapatistas.” Students paired up with tutors from among movement members and were placed in families throughout Zapatista territory. Classes consist mostly of accompanying Zapatista families during their daily chores and long talks over beans and tortillas.

The experience opened up the Zapatista experience to outsiders, who were encouraged to ask questions of their host families. It also enabled the organization to hold up a mirror to itself — to see itself through the eyes of the students, reflect on the ground covered, and get to know other communities.

On New Year’s Eve, many of the 4,000 students attending the school’s winter sessions went out to Oventic, a foggy village in the highlands close to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, or remained in more remote communities with their host families to join in the sports competitions, music, speeches, and dancing.

zapatista-revolution-mexico-indigenous-autonomous-community

(Photo: Clayton Conn)

The anniversary sparked a debate on the movement, two decades after thousands of masked Mayans came out of the jungles and mountains in military formation to take over municipal seats in the southeastern state of Chiapas.

Subcomandante Marcos published a series of his characteristic communiqués, weaving meditations on death(“it’s not death that worries us and keeps us occupied, but life”) and biography (“historiography feeds on individualities; history learns from peoples“) with reflections on the organization and a story from a beetle named Durito.

Critics rushed to point out that poverty still exists in Zapatista communities — a fact not denied by the organization and obvious to the many visitors. Journalists and pundits invented and then passed around statistics on the number of Zapatista adherents, or lack thereof, as well as on the extension of Zapatista territory and on living conditions in autonomous regions. Many pronounced the world-famous uprising dead or dying for failing to resolve problems or maintain its high profile.

What reporters missed as they snuck into celebrations closed to the press is the significance of “autonomy.”

Zapatistas say the word with pride, much as you’d talk about your children or grandchildren. These communities have moved steadily off the traditional power grid. Disappointment at the Mexican government’s betrayal in rejecting its own signature on the San Andres Accords of 1996 led to a decision to de-prioritize pressuring institutions and instead build from below.

Imagine communities where local officials rotate to avoid accumulating power, political parties have no role or presence, and state and government programs — long used to buy off advocates for a more equal society — are banned. Much of the food is produced by the community, cooperatives do buying and marketing, and decisions are made collectively rather than being imposed by a state. The Zapatistas have attempted to resurrect this model, practiced for centuries in indigenous Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest.

Comandante Hortensia addressed the crowd in Oventic. “We’re learning to govern ourselves according to our own ways of thinking and living,” she said. “We’re trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen ourselves — men, women, youth, children, and old people.”

She added that 20 years ago, when the Zapatistas first said ¡Ya basta!(“Enough!”), “there wasn’t a single authority that was of the people. Now we have our own autonomous governments. It may have be good or bad, but it’s the will of the people.”

The Zapatistas acknowledge that progress in improving material conditions has been slow and hampered by obstacles and errors. But they express deep pride in what has been built, in “their” organization. Local health clinics — often poorly stocked and precariously staffed — use natural medicines made by community cooperatives and have special areas where trained midwives attend childbirth. Schools with rudimentary equipment teach in the indigenous languages of the communities, focusing on understanding the world the children live in and basic concepts of freedom, equality, and cooperation. The organization of defense and production in the communities shows discipline and commitment.

The anniversary revealed that at 20 years old, this military-political organization that defies easy categorization is what a democracy should be: an ongoing effort at building a better life collectively. When Zapatistas came together from communities throughout their lands to celebrate, the main achievement they marked was the survival of the organization itself — after 20 years of attacks, they’re still there, running their own communities, raising new generations of Zapatistas, and carrying on the dialogue with the outside world that has enriched both sides.

Communities have survived the moment in a long distance race when the runners pass the baton. Youths make up a large part of the Zapatistas’ base, representation, and more and more, leadership. Educated in the Zapatista school system and raised in Zapatista communities, a new generation is beginning to take on positions of authority. Their eagerness to assume the collective identity of their organization is another mark of the staying power of the autonomy experiment.

The role of women has also transformed visibly — not just in the number of women in leadership positions, but also in aspects of daily life, such as increased male participation in housework and childcare, and sanctions against violence towards women. The shift from downtrodden alienation to indigenous self-government makes a huge difference in their lives, even as poverty remains.

In evaluating the two-decade experience, most criteria ignore these subjective factors. By opening up the communities to participants in La Escuelita, the Zapatistas did something governments almost never do: let the people publicly evaluate the experience themselves. Returning studentsrecounted the experience enthusiastically, describing how their hosts revealed a world that wasn’t perfect by a long shot, but a world where each person mattered and each effort, each achievement, and each mistake was their own.

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(Photo: Clayton Conn)

As the Zapatistas celebrated their accomplishments, vowed to correct their mistakes, and honored their dead, they also enjoyed more traditional New Year’s activities like setting off bottle rockets and dressing up in their finest. The solid continuity of Zapatismo was joined by a portent of change, the sense that yet another phase of one of history’s most unclassifiable revolutionary movements had begun.

As visiting students from all over the world joined together with veterans of the movement and younger members of the community, new possibilities shimmered under the moon of a new year. Contact with a new generation of supporters proved that the indigenous autonomy movement continues to attract people from all over. For now, the schools will continue. The Zapatistas have also jump-started the dormant National Indigenous Congress, holding an event in August where hundreds of indigenous representatives described the situation in their lands.

Amid mud, guitars, vivas, fireworks, and embraces, thousands of Zapatistas welcomed 2014. The debate on whether the movement is dead or alive, victorious or defeated, was left behind along with 2013. It wasn’t just the alcohol-free festivities that made people optimistic; it was a feeling of collective accomplishment, under tough conditions. A feeling of finally having a future.

“I know you don’t care,” Subcomandante Marcos noted in a missive to his critics, “but for the masked men and women from around here, the battle that matters isn’t the one that’s been won or lost. It’s the next one, and for that one, new calendars and grounds are being prepared.”

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen directs the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
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            by Laura Carlsen

            Since its inception, the War on Drugs has cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The civilians caught in the crossfire say it’s time for change.

posted Sep 16, 2011. www.yesmagazine.org
Reefer Madness video still
A still from the 1936 film, Reefer Madness.

In the 1930s, a church group commissioned a film “to strike fear in the hearts of young people tempted to smoke marijuana.” But it was not until the 1970s that Reefer Madness—billed as “the original classic that was not afraid to make up the truth” due to its grotesque portrayal of the supposed dangers of marijuana—obtained cult status.

After the scare tactics of the 1930s, U.S. marijuana policy varied depending on the political climate, even as scientific research consistently debunked extreme claims that the plant caused uncontrollable violent behavior, physical addiction, and insanity.

Then on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon launched his signature “war on drugs.” The new crackdown on illegal drug use shifted the issue from a local health and public safety problem to a series of federal agencies under the direct control of the president. President Ronald Reagan later doubled down on the drug war, ushering in an age of mass incarceration.

The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness.

The drug war model not only criminalized but also, like teh film before it, demonized illegal drug dealing and use—and the individuals involved—in moralistic and military terms. In many states, selling marijuana carried longer sentences than murder. Although the abuse of legal drugs now kills more people than illegal drugs, the architects of the drug war continues to promote the view that it is some inherent evil of the substance, rather than the way individuals and groups use it, that determines whether a drug is a threat to society or an accepted social custom.

Needle exchange photo by D.M. GillisWhy Punish Pain?
A hit of compassion could keep drugs from becoming a crime problem.

The Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that U.S. authorities arrest some 800,000 people a year
for marijuana use. Two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons
for drug offenses are black or Hispanic, even though consumption rates
for whites are equal. Largely because of drug laws and draconian
enforcement, the United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people, often destroying the hopes and futures of its youth. The United States spends more than $51 billion a year on the domestic war on drugs alone.

Exporting the War

The export version of the drug war has an even darker side. It makes the implicit racism of the domestic war overt. Foreign drug lords are stereotypically portrayed as the root of an evil enterprise that, in fact, takes place mostly in the United States, where street sales generate the multibillion-dollar profits of the business. Under the guise of the drug war, the U.S. government has sponsored military responses in other countries that the Constitution prohibits domestically—for good reasons.
Attention is diverted from the social roots of drug abuse and addiction at home to a foreign threat to the American way of life—a way of life that, regardless of one’s moral beliefs, has always been characterized by the widespread use of mind-altering drugs. The false war model of good vs. evil, ally vs. enemy precludes many community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective. U.S. taxpayers pay billions of dollars to fumigate foreign lands, pursue drug traffickers, and patrol borders as well as land and sea routes to intercept shipments.

None of this has worked. More than a decade and $8 billion into Plan Colombia, that Andean nation is the number-one cocaine producer in the world. Mexico has exploded into violence as the arrests and killings of cartel leaders spark turf battles that bathe whole regions in blood.

Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on
drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country.

Last month, 52 people lost their lives in an attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico. The news shocked Mexico since it represents yet another escalation of violence, but it’s become almost routine alongside daily drug-war deaths. For U.S. citizens, it was further proof that Mexico is under an assault by organized crime.

According to some Mexican researchers, the sudden rise in violence in Mexico correlates directly to when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown in the war on drugs by sending troops and federal police into the streets in 2006. Meanwhile, Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country and demand a change in strategy. Calderon has refused to consider alternative models.

Obama’s Drug-War Failure

This year the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that concludes that “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead, the Obama administration has added fist and firepower to the drug wars. Ignoring 40 years of policy failure, Obama has broken campaign promises to seek a more humane and effective drug policy. His administration has failed to support international harm reduction models, reversed a decision not to
go after state medical marijuana regimes voted by popular referendums,
reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 controlled
substance with no medical value, and expanded drug wars in Mexico and
Central America.

The United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people.

The government reprehensibly continues to expand the failed drug war in the face of the budget crisis and drastic cutbacks in schools, healthcare, and basic social programs. A good example is the multimillion-dollar boondoggle called the “Merida Initiative.” Under this ill-conceived regional security cooperation measure, the United States sends intelligence and defense equipment and provides military and police training for Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central American countries. This drug-war strategy has increased violence in Mexico and led to a severe deterioration in public safety, rule of law, and human rights. The resources go to Mexican security forces notorious for corruption and even complicity with organized crime.

drug war protest by Fronteras Desk

Photo by Fronteras Desk

The results of the drug war in Mexico have been nothing short of catastrophic. Since it began, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-war-related violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, children have been orphaned and traumatized, men, and thousands have been kidnapped and still missing.

The attacks on cartels—including the killing or capture of leaders—spark turf wars that rage throughout Mexico, with the worst concentrated along the northern border. In response, some cartels have reorganized, with splinter groups frequently employing far more violent tactics than their parent organizations. Military operations have pushed the violence around the country in what experts call a “whack-a-mole” strategy that shows no signs of letting up.

The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness—government perseverance with lethal and ineffective policies. The
drug war, with its exaggerated claims and mistaken focus on confronting
drug trafficking with police and military force, has cost the United States and its targeted suppliers like Colombia and Mexico millions of dollars and thousands of lives.

In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions.

In Mexico, a peace movement has arisen against the drug war. It has opened up dialogue with the government but been met with an absolute refusal to consider other options. In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions, but politicians dismiss the issue because it’s taboo or too risky for their political aspirations.

Policymakers must come to their senses regarding the madness of the drug-war strategy. If they don’t voluntarily propose reforms, then citizens will have to force them to do so.


Laura CarlsenLaura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, and a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, where this column originally appeared.

War Crimes against Women: A Private Hell May 16, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, War, Women.
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Published on Sunday, May 16, 2010by Laura Carlsen

Gender justice is an unfamiliar term to most people. Many assume it is merely a feminine (and therefore diminutive) form of justice, created by adding an awkward adjective to an abstract ideal.

But thanks to years of documenting gender-based crimes, pressure from women’s movements, testimony from victims and legal arguments, there is now a body of jurisprudence and a history of movements that define gender justice and promote it internationally. At an historic conference in April, organized by the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, fifty women gathered in a Mexican beach town to evaluate the progress of gender justice and set forth a three-year work agenda.

I had the good fortune and tremendous responsibility of being among the luchadoras -women who struggle-charged with beginning this task. Participants made a collective promise to work closely with organizations back home and with the International Criminal Court and other bodies to end gender-based crimes in armed conflict and attain justice.

No small task. In a place as orienting as the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I often found myself disoriented by the enormity of it. I was part of a world linked by common values, but fragmented by hundreds of seemingly senseless wars-each with a political complexity and historical intransigence that defied solutions. The room filled with the stories of how women from diverse cultures, rich in resistance but plagued by discrimination and traditions of gender violence, seek peace and justice in equally diverse ways.

Some are immersed in internationally recognized conflict situations, others in peace processes, and others in rebuilding post-conflict societies. The law provides some framework, albeit insufficient, for their demands for punishment and reparations for gender-based crimes. They are learning to use those legal tools.

But many of us from Latin America came from countries where conflict situations are not internationally recognized; peace in Honduras and Colombia has been restored, we are told, even as murder, displacement and crimes against women continue on a daily basis. Mexico’s growing violence against women in the context of the drug war and impunity is the dirt that is routinely swept under the political rug. We grappled with questions of where we fit into the international legal system, how we could build movements to stop gender-based crimes in low-level local conflicts, how a stronger gender perspective could help fend off the growing militarism that marks our lives.

Some women spoke the language of the courtroom and explained the international instruments that have been developed to document and punish gender-based war crimes. Other women talked of grassroots organizing tactics and how to build peace movements that take women’s demands and realities into account. Their experiences combined provided a broad and complex range of strategies. They reflected what Brigid Inder of WIGJ called “the tension between the punitive formal justice model and the more comprehensive and complex agenda for what we call transformative justice, where the finding of guilt or innocence is accompanied by efforts to transform both communal and gender relations.”

Common themes soon emerged. Testimonies from brave women revealed that within the hell of war lies a private hell. The hell of sexual violence-an inner circle shielded from scrutiny by the socially imposed shame of its victims and the willful ignorance of legal and political systems.

Our Latin American perspective required us to interpret from a framework of recognized conflict with an applicable body of international law, to a continent of emerging threats including the drug war and local battles over natural resources. The thread that united our experiences was the role of women as the leaders of social justice movements and the victims of conflict.

The sands beneath our feet shifted during the conference. Not when the tide rolled over during early morning walks on the beach-although those moments were also an important part of forging a common commitment-but when we heard survivors´ stories and statistics like these, from Joan Chittister:

* At the turn of the 20th century, 5% of war casualties were civilians
* In World War I, 15% were civilians
* In World War II, the figure leapt to a 65% civilian death toll, as whole cities were bombed
* By the mid-nineties, 75% of war deaths were civilians
* Today, 90% of the human war toll are civilians-the majority women and children

Forget the complaints of “collateral damage”. As military leaders brag that modern technology has produced the most accurate weapons in history, during war strikes in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, women and children die.

They are not the collateral damage-they are the targets.

When finally, through the efforts of women like those at the Dialogue, international agencies produce some statistics on rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict situations, the figures are so staggering, the stories so shockingly brutal, that all attempts to explain away the phenomenon as the acts of a few rogue soldiers or part of the pillage of war fall away. Rape is a calculated weapon of war. It decimates communities, destroys families, spreads disease and leaves deep physical and psychological scars. That is the purpose.

No geographic region has a corner on barbarity when it comes to gender-based crimes. For example, women reported sex crimes and violence by paramilitary and military forces against displaced populations in Burma, Colombia and Sudan.

Many speakers noted that the use of women’s bodies as both the spoils and the battlefields of war appears to be on the rise. In some cases, women organizers for peace and justice have made progress, such as the fight against land mines and for peace in Northern Ireland, but new and terrible challenges have emerged in unexpected points of the planet, like Honduras. The opportunity to compare notes, to learn what works, what doesn’t work, who are allies and who are enemies gave renewed commitment and shared knowledge to women peace organizers who girthed themselves to return home to local battles.

Gender Justice is now an international issue

The International Criminal Court as a Tool of Gender Justice

The timing of the Dialogue responded to an immediate challenge: in early June the Assembly of State Parties will hold a 10-year Review Conference of the International Criminal Court. In addition, the year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women, the tenth anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the dawn of a new “gender architecture” within the UN to promote women’s rights. As the organizers explained, “This is an opportune moment to reflect on the progress and work of the ICC, the possibilities embodied in the Rome Statute for the accountability of conflict-related crimes, and the responsibilities of the United Nations for the deterrence and resolution of armed conflicts, women’s global citizenship and gender-inclusive international justice.”

The ICC is currently hearing cases from four armed conflicts-Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan-and all include charges of gender-based crimes. It has provided a forum to seek justice and to create public awareness of these crimes and has launched innovative projects, including the ICC Trust Fund for Victims. For women involved in giving testimonies-women and girls who live with the scars of war-time rapes and mutilations-the work of the court may be far away but the concept of justice that it seeks to provide is at the core of their daily lives.

The ICC takes a case when national systems of justice will not or do not function. It can be a blow against impunity. It is easy to think of impunity as a sin of omission. The hand not raised in protest appears genteel alongside the hand stained with the blood of the victim. And yet we learned from the testimonies of women on the frontlines of the battle for gender justice that impunity not only perpetrates crimes against women, it teaches generation after generation how to continue the practice.

Dialogue members noted that the international system offers both opportunities and limitations. Joanne Sandler of UNIFEM warned that Resolutions are not always proof of resolve. Since the Security Council issued Resolution 1325, there have been 24 formal peace processes. Women have been only 10% of the negotiators and 2% of the signatories. Worse yet, she said, there doesn’t seem to be progress. More formal mechanisms are needed to assure compliance with gender policies. Without permanent pressure from women organizers and experts, legal advances could remain a dead letter.

From the Courts to the Streets and Back Again

Gender-based crimes require responses in three areas: Prevention, protection and reparation. Experts working in the international legal system noted that prevention, the most important of all, is given fewer resources because it does not have measurable benchmarks. How do you measure the number of lives not nearly destroyed by horrors we can scarcely imagine? Participants agreed that although bureaucrats have yet to come up with a formula, prevention should be our ultimate goal.

To prevent sex crimes requires nothing short of a revolution in cultural, political and social norms. This group has demonstrated its willingness to step up to the task. The Nobel Women’s Initiative was founded by six women Nobel Prize winners who refused to rest on their laurels. Then there is Yanar Mohammed of Iraq, who went out into a Baghdad street to speak on International Woman’s Day in a bullet-proof vest, following numerous death threats, and then went on to denounce the rape of women in detention centers and sex trafficking, and create a vibrant cultural movement for youth.

Or Gilda Rivera, who was kidnapped and beaten during Honduras´ dirty wars of the eighties, then saw the nightmare return when a military coup d’état took over her country in June of 2009. It would be enough to drive anyone into exile or retreat. It drove Gilda into the streets of Tegucigalpa. Every morning she marched against the coup and every afternoon organized with Feminists in Resistance to protect women and document the crimes against them.

Too often the cry is not heard. Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in a taped message, called rape “the silent crime against communities.” Then she immediately questioned the terminology, asking “Is rape really silent?” Women scream, yet far too often no one hears. Just sharing stories was a sort of catharsis for women who see far too much suffering in their work and lives. The Dialogue provided a forum to cry out to a gathering that will not only hear, but act.

What to do faced with such a daunting challenge?

The question was on the table, and since this was an action-oriented gathering there was no escaping it. The International Gender Justice Dialogue sketched out ideas for the coming years in three areas: peace talks and implementation, justice and jurisprudence and communications. Dialogue members came up with lists of tactics, hints, strategies and challenges for the coming years, from Nobel Laureate Jody Williams´ creative messaging in the successful campaign to ban land mines, to lawyers´ advice on using the court.

But the key message was just one: Don’t give up. Ever.

As I write this, we have just received word that human rights defender Bety Cariño was murdered by paramilitary forces in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. She was part of a humanitarian aid caravan and is the third woman murdered in the conflict in this region recently. Bety wasn’t necessarily singled out as a woman, but it’s no coincidence that she was one. The same concerns and qualities that make it imperative for women to be among the peace negotiators and the leaders in social reconstruction and justice proceedings are the qualities that led Bety to become a defender of grassroots movements and to be carrying aid to an autonomous indigenous community when she was shot to death.

Bety´s assassination, the recruitment of girl soldiers in the DRC, rape in Sudan all are issues of gender justice. Jody William points out that that doesn’t mean they are “women’s issues.”

Gender justice is not a subcategory of social justice; it’s an essential component.

This article was originally published by Open Democracy.

Copyright © Fluxxus Digital Limited 2010

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(at)ciponline.org) is director of the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org) in Mexico City, where she has been an analyst and writer for two decades. She is also a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

Honduran Elections a Parody of Democracy December 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focusby Laura Carlsen

The production Honduran Elections, staged at a small, rundown theater in Central America on November 29, left the audience unconvinced, and failed to resolve a confused and conflict-ridden plotline.

Written and directed by the Honduran elite and the Honduran armed forces, with the help of the U.S. State Department, the play opens on the empty streets of Tegucigalpa in what is announced as the most participatory elections in the history of the nation.

This is just the first of the inexplicable contradictions between the narrative and reality that run through the play.

Honduran Elections tells the story of a poor nation rocked by a military coup d’état and occupied by its own armed forces. The contrived plot then attempts to convince the audience that the same forces that carried out the coup —kidnapping the elected president and launching a wave of bloody repression — are now carrying out “free and fair elections” to restore democracy. The play follows these characters throughout election day, in a series of charades that leaves the viewer with the unsavory sensation of having been played as a pawn in a theater of the absurd.

For example, during the entire multi-million-dollar production, the elected president of this nation remains offstage. It is never explained in the play why this key figure was not given a role. The audience is expected to accept the fact that his absence is insignificant to the plot. Since the supposed message of the drama is that democracy has been restored to a country held under an illegitimate regime, the missing president makes no dramatic sense.

The major characters in the drama are a large group of miscast national and international observers, who remember their lines but frequently fall out of their roles as impartial observers; a mostly invisible Supreme Electoral Tribunal that issues undecipherable and contradictory statistics; and candidates who attempt to lend credibility to the plot but are so self-serving and devoted to the anti-democratic forces that their actions mock the very cause they claim to support.

This reviewer can only hope that the disastrous Honduran Elections will never be produced on another stage again. The writers, directors, and actors of the debacle have insulted the intelligence of viewers throughout the world and degraded the noble theme of democracy that purports to lie at the center of this deceptive drama.

Witness to a Sham

The mock theater review above is how it felt to witness the Honduran elections from my seat in Tegucigalpa last week. I arrived on November 27 to monitor human rights violations, and observe the context and accompanying conditions of an electoral process that could under no circumstances be validated, due to the fatal flaws in its origin.

The news is not that Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National Party beat Elwin Santos of the Liberal Party. Since the military ousted the elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28, the bipartisan system gave way to a far deeper duality — for and against the coup d’etat. Both Lobo and Santos favored the military takeover of the Honduran democracy and supported the illegal regime of Roberto Micheletti. Both sought to gain power by laundering the coup through these elections and to lock in a transition that guaranteed the continued power of the Honduran economic elite.

In fact, the November 29 national elections for president and congress shouldn’t have taken place. The voting was organized and overseen by an illegal coup regime. This regime officially suspended basic civil liberties, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. It closed down independent media, or repeatedly blocked transmissions.

In Honduras, normal electoral activities were redefined as criminal behavior, including holding rallies and proclaiming the right to abstain. Reports of coercion in factories and among public employees came in from individuals who suffered the threats firsthand. The army enforced the dictatorial decrees in the street.

Some 100 registered candidates, ranging from presidential candidates to local mayors, withdrew from the elections in protest of the continued coup and the internal exile of the elected president. The popular resistance called a boycott and a “popular curfew,” urging people to stay at home on election day. This was in part to avoid confrontations with the over 30,000 security forces called out to “protect order,” in a nation where these same forces are responsible for massive human rights violations and scores of murders of members of the resistance.

The Honduran elections should never have taken place because Honduras, under the coup regime, failed to meet the basic criteria of “free and fair elections” set out in documents like the one issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Council in 1994. The Honduran state didn’t even come close to meeting the basic criteria of free elections by assuring freedom of movement, assembly, association, and expression. The security forces responsible for human rights violations before, during, and after voting have been granted complete immunity from justice. In San Pedro Sula, the police violently repressed a nonviolent march supporting the boycott, beating and arresting various people.

From Polls to Percentage Points

But the elections did take place. On November 29, some Hondurans, particularly in the wealthiest neighborhoods, came out to vote while most of the poor stayed home. Those of us who drove from poll to poll to check for participation, militarization, and incidents confirm this phenomenon.

Concerned that the eyewitness accounts of sparse participation could undermine the U.S. message of “mission accomplished” in Honduras, Ambassador Hugo Llorens appeared at the polls to make the pre-emptive declaration that the “elections are a technical issue and the statistical results will tell the real story.” We were all told not to believe our own eyes, as all eyes then turned to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

On the night of November 29, the Electoral Tribunal (TSE by its Spanish initials) triumphantly announced that 61% of registered voters had turned out to vote. This was a bald-faced lie. Their own statistics showed that only 49.2% of Hondurans had voted — a considerable decrease from past elections. Real News reports that an elections official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of his life, claimed that Saul Escobar, the head of the Tribunal, invented the statistic.

The elections observation organization, Hagamos Democracia (Let`s Make Democracy) contracted by the TSE to deliver early results, reported a 47.6% turnout. In an exclusive interview with journalist Dick Emanuelsson, Rolando Bu of Hagamos Democracia attempted to explain the discrepancy, “We are working on the basis of the voter registration list we received of 4.6 million. I haven’t spoken with the magistrates (of the Tribunal) yet, but it is likely that they are subtracting aspects such as migration and deaths.” Needless to say, it is not acceptable practice to alter the voter registration list during the counting process.

Hagamos Democracia is financed by the National Democratic Institute, an arm of the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. The NDI issued an elections report, sidestepping the critical issue of turnout and noting only that a discrepancy existed. It stated that it could not send a formal observation mission because there was no pre-electoral observation, which is a critical part of the process. Yet the NDI’s 22 members wore “elections observers” vests during their work.

The NDI report also noted the compromised impartiality of many of the international observers. “Regrettably, the TSE offered funding for transportation, lodging, and meals, and a number of observers accepted this offer. The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation states that international election observers “should not accept funding or logistical support from the government whose elections are being observed, as it may raise a significant conflict of interest.”

This conflict of interest soon became painfully obvious. Interviewed on international television about the elections, I noted that the elections would not solve the political crisis in Honduras due to the lack of legitimacy of coup-run elections and the climate of violation of human rights, and because many nations would not recognize the results. A crowd of “observers” gathered around the interview in the hall in front of the Electoral Tribunal and verbally attacked me, shouting “liar” and ordering that I be thrown out of the country. I tried to engage in debate but the attacks continued and, fearing for my safety, I was escorted out of the area by a Tribunal security guard.

The Crisis Deepens

The United States played out the script written since mid-October. The newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela immediately called the elections “a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup.” He went on to emphasize that it was just a first step, and that the nation must establish a government of national unity within the framework of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.

But on December 2, the Honduran congress closed the circle on the consolidation of a military takeover in the country by voting against the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya. “We’re disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped the Congress would have approved his return,” Valenzuela said in a statement. “And our policy since June 28 has been consistently principled, and we’ve condemned the coup d’état and have continued to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected and legitimate leader of Honduras throughout this political crisis. However, the decision taken by Congress, which it carried out in an open and transparent manner, was in accordance with its mandate in Article 5 of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti agreed to this accord on October 30th.”

The loophole in the Tegucigalpa Accord that allowed the coup-controlled congress to first delay the vote until after the elections and then vote against reinstating the president allowed for the violation of the main point of the San Jose Accords, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The U.S government played a major role in inserting this loophole. State Department official Thomas Shannon negotiated with Republican Senator Jim DeMint over recognition of the elections without reinstatement of Zelaya in return for Senate confirmations of Valenzuela and Shannon’s own confirmation as ambassador to Brazil.

Now the State Department has launched a concerted campaign, along with the coup regime, to get foreign nations to recognize the Honduran elections. Regional countries that have or hope for free trade agreements with the U.S. have agreed to play along. So far the countries that have announced they will recognize the elections include Panama, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica.

Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and several European countries have announced they will not recognize the elections. President Lula da Silva reiterated Brazil’s position from the Summit of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, stating that his government would not recognize the Honduran elections or enter into dialogue with Pepe Lobo. “It’s not possible to recognize a coup supporter. Period,” he said in reference to Lobo. Lula added, “This is a matter of common sense, a question of principles, we cannot make agreements with the forces of political vandalism in Latin America.”

International media such as CNN, along with the State Department and the Honduran coup leaders, are heading up the charge to call the elections “clean and fair”, as The New York Times put it, and use the false voter turn-out rate as the sole indicator of the election’s legitimacy. Some allies appear to be weakening their stance against recognition.

Opposition Regroups

President Zelaya, who remains holed up in the heavily barricaded Brazilian embassy, told the BBC that the elections were fraudulent and would only intensify the crisis. The National Front Against the Coup has decided to cease the daily demonstrations in the street and move on to building a broad movement for a constitutional assembly. Juan Barahona, a leader of the Front, announced that the focus on reinstating Zelaya has ended. Zelaya has announced that he would not return to government until the end of his term on January 27 because it would be validating a coup-managed transfer of power.

Human rights groups have stated that the violations committed under the coup will not be forgotten. Honduras suffered a wave of human rights violations including assassinations, rapes, beatings and arbitrary detentions of resistance members. An Amnesty International delegation, after 10 days in the country, noted in a press statement that the “crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results, the authorities cannot return to business as usual without ensuring human rights safeguards…There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future.”

Roberto Micheletti has now returned to power after a “leave of absence” in a new stage of the political and legal limbo that has characterized this nation since June 28. Some wonder how long any president can remain in office now that a military coup has been deemed successful. “Many Hondurans fear that the coup’s success represents a threat to the future stability of a democratic state,” writes Robert White of the Center for International Policy, who then poses the following rhetorical question. “If the few dozen men who hold the strings of power and wealth can escalate one of the nation’s recurring political brawls into the overthrow of an elected president, how can future democratic leaders dare to challenge the culture of wealth and impunity that has made Honduras one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden, and unjust nations in the world?”

The spectacle mounted to justify the coup leaders’ retention of power has now played out. In the sequel, the excluded character — the people of Honduras who joined together to reject the hijacking of their democracy — will play a key role. Throughout the country, farmers, feminists, union members and citizens are more organized than ever before. The demand for the constitutional assembly to change one of the world’s most obsolete constitutions is at the center of this new phase.

In the end, the Honduran political crisis cannot be resolved without a legal means to channel dissent and eliminate the gross injustices of Honduran society. A broad swathe of the population that rejects the “elections panacea” scenario is determined to fight for just that, and nothing less. They deserve the support of the U.S. government and the rest of the international community.

Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen (at) ciponline (dot) org) is director of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

 

Published on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 by Agence France-Presse

Mercosur Leaders, Venezuela Reject Honduras election

MONTEVIDEO – Leaders of five key South American countries vowed Tuesday not to recognize last month’s presidential election results in Honduras, which they condemned as “illegal.”

[The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc -- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay -- as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras' first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AFP)]
The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras’ first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AFP)

The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras’ first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. 

In a statement released after a summit here, the leaders said that because Zelaya “had not been reinstated to the duties to which he was democratically elected… (we) completely reject the November 29 elections.”

Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup last June, remains holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa under threat of arrest, after Congress last week voted against bringing him back to the presidency. His term in office was to have ended on January 27.

The joint statement, read out by Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and signed by the five heads of state, underscored their “strongest condemnation of the coup in Honduras” and rejected the “unacceptable, serious violations against the human rights and freedoms of the Honduran people.”

The declaration added that the Honduras elections had been conducted “in an unconstitutional, illegitimate and illegal” manner, and were a blow to the region’s democratic values.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the elections as a first step forward out of the five-month crisis. Costa Rica, Panama and Peru also have backed the polls.

Honduras’s military ousted the left-leaning Zelaya on June 28 with the backing of the courts, Congress and business leaders, because of his plans to alter the constitution, which was viewed as a bid to extend his term in office.

Meanwhile, the winner of the November 29 election, president-elect Porfirio Lobo, told a news conference Monday that he hoped foreign countries would “open up a little” to Honduras, which had suffered widespread international condemnation and aid freezes after the coup.

Lobo was set to meet in Santo Domingo Thursday with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez. Lobo was expected to ask Fernandez to help mediate in the lingering Honduran political crisis, Dominican media reoprted.

Lobo will arrive in the Dominican capital from San Jose, where he was to meet first with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on a tour to rally support for his bid to lead Honduras.

© 2009 Agence France-Press

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