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The Little Engine that Can and Will? October 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: With some very rare exceptions, self-styled leftist/socialist  politicians, especially presidents, are almost always a disappointment.  I expect Evo Morales to someday have his moment, but for now let’s enjoy someone in power telling it like it is.  Bolivia may not be a military  threat to U.S. world hegemony, but to use Noam Chomsky’s phrase, it poses a serious “threat by good example.”

 

http://thenacirema.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/the-little-engine-that-can-and-will/

http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/general-assembly/general-debate/68th-session/watch/bolivia-general-debate-68th-session/2695838899001

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Bolivia’s willingness to stand-up and express their discontents with American policies; and express their own ideologies.

Judging from the empty seats while the President of Bolivia Evo Morales spoke at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, not much attention might have been paid to him, compared to that of the United States or Israel. Nonetheless, President Morale’s message was diplomatic, assertive, to the point and clear. He and his nation are anti-empirical, anti-United States but peaceful.

So as to set up his main point of anti US imperialism, President Morales made it clear that all economic and social gains in his country have been reached and achieved, not by outside help, but by a free and sovereign state. Bolivia’s advancement in the economic and social sector are all to evident with a 4.8% economic growth, (over twice as much compared to when the United States and transnational corporations were involved in Bolivian affairs)

But, you know that President Morales couldn’t stop there. He wanted to make his analysis of the United Sates and other empirical powers more descriptive. He made it clear that Bolivia’s advancements are because of a state “Free from the claws of the North American empire and economically free from the International Monetary Fund.”

You might ask yourself, Claws? As if the United States or the International Monetary Fund are some sort of demons or savage animals. Why so much hate towards the US and the IMF? Well, these organizations in the past where the ones responsible for pressuring the Bolivian government into privatizing their natural resources into the hands of transnational corporations who basically robbed the Bolivian people and government from their resources, with a measly 18% for the Bolivians profit cut and 82% for the transnational corporations.

Their subsequent message was clear. They are a nation with disputes but resort to peaceful means to obtain a resolution. Their disputes over land, or any disputes overall should not be handled violently, but rather peacefully, and diplomatically. Bolivia does not solely preach, they also practice what they say. In that, Bolivia wants back their land which was unjustly taken from them in 1879 and was their only access to an ocean. But, after unjust and unfulfilled treaties between Bolivia and Chile (this is where the peaceful Bolivian ideology kicks in) the Bolivian government has resorted not to violence or hostility but to the International Court of Justice. Demanding that the Chilenian government negotiate effectively the land which was unjustly taken from the Bolivians.

What is most impressive and interesting about Bolivia is their willingness to speak their minds and not afraid to drift from the status quo. Bolivian President Evo Morales called out the United States for using their war on terrorism as an excuse for unilateral interventions for capitalist gains. While speaking on the same topic he went as far as to say that, the business of capitalist is war. If you think he was done, President Morales got even more personal and asked for a consideration of submitting a demand against President Obama and his administration for crimes against humanity, due to their involvement with the bombardments in Libya. Reiterating that the Nobel peace prize president Obama was awarded was an award for peace, not a war prize.

Shockingly enough calling the United States capitalist mercenaries in their home land wasn’t enough. President Morales brought back up the topic of moving United Nation headquarters out of New York and out of American soil completely. As supporting statements president Morales brought to light the concept that UN headquarters should be in a place where the host nation has ratified all United Nation treaties. Indicating to the fact that the United States has not ratified treaties related to human rights nor Mother Earth. He also noted that US policies “scare away” representative because roughly 60 or 70 presidents out of the 193 attended the General Assembly. What seems to have bothered President Morales most was that the United States does not guarantee visas to visiting delegates, nor presidents. And if the United States does give out temporary visas they can give them for a few days only. Which visibly offended President Morales, as he noted that this caused them to “keep looking at the time because then they take our visas away.”

President Morales did not come out aggressive but assertive and expressing his concerns; his concerns with American imperialistic ideologies and policies; the concern that American policies not only affect Americans, but the rest of the world. Now, Evidently Bolivia does not pose a military threat to the United States. But, the Bolivians do pose an influencing threat to US interest and ideologies -especially in South America- which can be just as harmful to US relations.

Latin America: Counterinsurgency and Poverty. Interview with Raul Zibechi September 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Revolution.
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on August 24, 2010 by Gerard Coffey

 http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/

The Uruguayan journalist Raul Zibechi is one of the best, and best known, political analysts in Latin America. He has worked with numerous publications in the region and has a long list of books to his name. His latest, Latin America: Counterinsurgency and Poverty was published in June of this year in Bogotá Colombia, by desdeabajo http://www.desdeabajo.info . The book is critical of the current wave of progressive governments in the region, in particular regarding the Poverty Reduction Policies most of them have adopted. Zibechi calls these a new form of domination.

The principal problem, according to the author, is that these policies adopt the language and methodology of World Bank programmes, dividing and sub dividing the population into groups of ‘beneficiaries’ of programmes that do little more than smother the appetite for the structural change. To make things worse, the very social movements that until recently lead the fight for change have not only become institutionalised, but now form the leading edge of attempts by governments to create a world in which everything is resolved peacefully through a type of lop sided negotiation.  This is a world with only two ‘actors‘ : the state and business.

According to the author: “The strategy of domination and control of populations, of consolidation of states without problematic dissidence’, is taking on new forms and is becoming a reality in many places. This book allows us to get inside the details of these new forms, known by the name of the ‘Integrated Action Doctrine’, applied in Colombia with full force, but also in the majority of Latin American countries by means of the Poverty Reduction Policies promoted by the Multilateral Banks after the defeat of the United States in Vietnam.”

In the following interview Raul Zibechi answers questions about his book and the negative impact of this type of policy.

 

Interview with Raul Zibechi

LATIN AMERICA: COUNTERINSURGENCY AND POVERTY

Gerard Coffey

18th August  2010

G.C. Your book appears to be calling for revolution, or rather a non frontal resistance in the small spaces of daily life in order to overwhelm the capacity of the state to control, and from there go on to achieve structural change.

R.Z. I’m not in the habit of calling for anything in particular, least of all revolution. My interest in writing this book, is to make the new forms of  ‘open sky’  oppression and domination visible (the  idea  comes from Gilles Deleuze) , because I think that  by making domination visible it’s easier to neutralise it. I’m not someone who thinks that taking control of the state is a good idea, I do think that the best idea is to resist in the small spaces of daily life and, as a result, create non state forms of power in order to defend those small spaces. That’s where that “other possible world” can be created, not from above, nor through the state.

GC. You say that the fight against poverty, at least in the way it is carried out by progressive governments in Latin America is a mistake, that wealth, not poverty is the real problem.

RZ. Of course poverty is a problem, but poverty can’t be resolved with crumbs but rather with basic changes that impede a greater accumulation of capital at one end of the societal scale.  I’m not against fighting poverty, but I am opposed to only using this type of mechanism, because it’s something that doesn’t address the real issues. It’s like trying to cure a serious illness with aspirin. It helps alleviate the pain a bit, but the illness is still there. And this particular illness is called neoliberalism, whether due to accumulation by eviction or by robbery, as David Harvey has pointed out.

GC.  And these poverty reduction policies are nothing more than a form of governability, a way to make sure that the social movements lose ground vis a vis the state, and only serve to cover over the structural problems and dissipate the fight for structural change.

Compensatory poverty reduction policies, i.e. those that based on monetary transfers that compensate the loss of the right to an income, domesticate social conflict and push social movements into a dynamic of vying to present the most attractive projects in order to resolve the smallest problems. For example, pregnancy amongst rural adolescent girls. That’s fine, it’s a problem, but by presenting the issue like this you lose the wider perspective, which is that these families are being ruined because their land is being taken from them, or because they’ re being pushed into abandoning the countryside so that increasing amounts of soya or sugar cane can be produced for biofuels.  So while it is possible to apply a policy such as this as part of a structural reform, as an isolated proposal it achieves nothing. What it does do, is weaken social movements.

GC. Isn‘t this era of progressive governments inevitable after decades of right wing or corrupt administrations? And isn’t it also inevitable that, despite the risks involved, people are  willing to abandon the fight  when a government appears that gives them a good part of what they have been asking for during those decades of struggle for rights?

RZ.  Of course. An important phase of struggle has come to an end and people need something. And that something, whether it be a little or a lot, are progressive governments that do have some positive characteristics:  they have put poverty on the agenda, they’ re not so repressive, some have nationalised oil and gas; they have a more sovereign stance. It’s no small thing viewed from a historical perspective. There’s been a major change of direction in Latin America, a change that can be summed up by the reduced domination of the United States. To me this is all to the good, but it’s not enough. And if the consequence is that social movements are weakened, then there will be no one left to defend these progressive governments.

GC. If the only way to fight for real change is to break with the state and its social policies and challenge the NGO’s and the International Aid Agencies that have a negative effect on the social movements,  and in fact have had no effect on poverty or inequality, does this imply that that these institutions and their staff are always a problem rather than a solution, no matter that they  work in good faith.

RZ. My impression is that things are not black and white.  In the period when labour struggles were important, in the factory the foremen and other company people whose job it was to control, often sided with the workers, or at least maintained a neutral position that benefitted them. So it’s not always that clear. Although times are different, it’s the social workers on the ground, in the local areas, who are putting the policies into practice, that have now assumed that role. Many of have an activist background, at one time were part of a social movement, and this is an attractive for Social Development Ministries.  In the future these workers could play an important role, that is if they side more with those that receive the benefits rather than those that provide them.  It’s the same situation with many of the people that work for NGO’s, people who have a moral commitment to the people they work with. They can all be allies of the social movements, and in fact it’s evident that they’ re often very unhappy with these social policies.

GC . Isn’t it likely that the social movements will revive when these progressive governments start to lose legitimacy and are replaced by right wing governments more aligned with business and capital?

RZ. The movements were never inactive, even when some of them were co-opted by governments. And there are new social movements that have cropped up under these progressive governments. For example, in Argentina the fight against mining involves the more than 100 members of the Union of Citizen’s Assemblies; in Brazil the urban ‘Sin Techo’ movements that were fairly weak before Lula arrived on the scene, have acquired a new urgency; in Chile youth movements are an important element, and in Bolivia the lowland, i.e. Amazonian, indigenous groups are very active. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what’s  certain is that if the Right gets back into power it will be difficult for them to govern, but what is clear is that they’ll keep  using the same social policies.

GC. And you think that because the fundamentals of domination are no longer questioned, that’s  why financial power groups are willing to work –  given certain conditions of course – under governments led by left wingers, and even ex guerrilleros such as José Mujica in Uruguay where 1,500 business leaders pledged to work with his administration?

RZ. That’s the point of view of Chico de Oliveira, a Brazilian sociologist and a founder of the Workers Party (PT) but who has since left the organisation. And I share his analysis. When domination isn’t questioned, anyone can govern; the dominant classes don’t need to take control of power directly, or even indirectly. Now the businessmen and the rich say: the best way to maintain the Status Quo is for you, the leftists and ex guerrillas take charge. But don’t start questioning wealth. And if you don’t, then not only can you govern with no problem, we‘ll also give money to help the poor thought eh social responsibility of the companies who are paying their taxes. And they are right. The ex leftists look after their wealth and also look after the crowd.  That is, until the crowd wakes up to the illusion and begins to rebel.  This is what I’ve been writing about all these years, about dispelling the illusion.

GC. You talk about extractivism as another stage of a neoliberalism, a neoliberalism that hasn’t  been defeated, but simply changed its shape. On the other hand in Bolivia the state depends on, and presently has much more control over, natural resources such as oil and gas. Not only that, but the struggle to control these resources has been one of the major political changes that have taken place in that country. What’ s your opinion?

RZ. I don’t think that there is such a thing as good extractivism and bad extractivism. It’s a matter of defending the environment and of a system that creates exclusion. Whether the resource companies belong to the state or not doesn’t change this. Almost a century ago the same debate took place in the Soviet Union. It was said that when the companies belonged to the state there could be no exploitation. But when you go to a factory, and see that it functions on the basis or Fordism or Taylorism, with work rates like those in Chaplin’s film ‘Modern Times’, and you put yourself in the place of the worker, there’s  not the slightest difference.  In the USSR it took decades to wake up to the reality. These days in Bolivia they say that because the mines and the gas are state property there’s no problem. But the indigenous people are fighting for control over their resources, and this is a conflict that has no solution within the framework of the state, plurinational or not. There’s also conflict in Venezuela with the Yupka, and in Ecuador over water and mining, and conflicts are increasing in all parts of the continent.

GC.  In the Soviet Union everyone was expected to sacrifice for the good of the revolution, but here, now , we’re not talking about sacrifice. So isn’t it possible to resolve the problem by improving working conditions? And then if the government redistributes the income from the copper or gas or whatever, and improves the living conditions of the general population, doesn’t that legitimise the extraction?

RZ. The problem is that extractive industries employ very few people and the consumption takes place outside the country. So increasing salaries doesn’t change anything. And redistribution is exactly what they are doing now. How?  They haven´t nationalised gas in Bolivia for example, they’ve negotiated new contracts and the increased income has been distributed, even though it might be a small proportion, to the general population. Of course this increases the legitimacy of extractivism , but the population becomes dependent on subsidies and not work, which from my point of view affects self esteem as well as personal and collective sovereignty.

GC.  As a last question, if Brazil is now a middle class country, and increasingly powerful, what implications does this have in the medium term for the rest of the countries of the region, above all vis a vis the presence of the United States?

RZ. These are two different issues. That Brazil is a middle class country implies that the internal market is going to grow a great deal.  This offers the chance to depend less on the global market, and above all the North, which is in crisis and can’t buy what it previously imported. On the other hand, Brazil is the fifth ranking economy in the world and its reserves of oil and uranium and other resources are amongst the largest in the world, as are some of its multinationals. So you could say that its economy is in a major expansionary process. To complete it, Brazil needs South America as its back yard, in the same way that a century ago the Caribbean was, and still is, the United States backyard. On the one hand this is positive, because the United States will no longer be the region’s dominant power, but on the other the fact that Brazil could take its place would not be quite so positive. For the moment we’re are in an era of transition and this is important because in all situations of change cracks open that the marginalised sectors can use to exert influence on the process.

Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right to Work Here May 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Guatemala, Immigration, Mexico.
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Posted by Tikkun Daily at 2:41 pm
April 30, 2010

By David A. Sylvester. Cross-posted on Tikkun Daily.

Undocumented migrants have a right to work here because they deserve economic reparations for failed U.S. economic policies and disastrous military interventions.

Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. 

We hardly need another symptom of the spiritual and social bankruptcy of the system, but this new Arizona law targeting and criminalizing undocumented migrants is a good example. You might know that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week a new law that broadens police power to stop anyone at anytime for virtually any reason simply for looking suspiciously like an undocumented immigrant. It is supposed to take effect in August, but this is unlikely since it is probably unconstitutional and will face a barrage of court challenges.

This Saturday, May Day, the traditional day for workers rights, more than 70 cities are planning protests against the law, and boycotts against Arizona are spontaneously spreading — as they should. Mexican taxi cab drivers are apparently refusing to pick up anyone from Arizona, and the Mexican government has issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans of the danger of traveling through Arizona. In California, pressure is growing to join the boycott.

In the midst of this uproar, few are asking one simple question: Why? Why do so many Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans enter the U.S. by the most dangerous and expensive route possible? Just imagine yourself in their shoes: You leave your family and neighborhood to make a dangerous trip, including a difficult trek for three nights across barren deserts, pay as much as $7,000 person to put yourself in the hands of an unofficial guide of questionable character. On the way, you are prey to exploitation, robbery and especially if you are a woman, to rape. Then you arrive to live in crowded apartments, hopefully with some family members or people you know, but under constant fear of arrest and deportation. If you’re lucky, you get the brass ring you’ve been reaching for: casual work cleaning homes, gardening or working odd jobs in construction for $8 to $10 an hour. If you’re unlucky, you might stand on street corners for hours waiting without work, vulnerable to the temptations of drugs and alcohol to numb despair.

Sound like a bargain? Now, consider that, in spite of this, you decide scrape together another $7,000 to bring the next family member. How can this make any sense? It does if you take a close look at what has happened to the economies and social fabric of the countries below the U.S. border. Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and by the murderous civil wars that Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s has done to El Salvador and Guatemala.

This is the reality that none of the opponents of this “illegal” immigration want to face. And it is a reality that even the advocates of change have not fully articulated. In essence, the neoliberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power. As a result of these interventions, the U.S. has blocked democratic social change in these countries, sustained the exploitative legacy of the conquista and kept the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of rich, uncontrolled oligarchies.

In other words, Arizona is facing “blowback,” the natural consequences of failed U.S. policies trumpeted by the Arizona-style conservatives. These undocumented workers are economic refugees fleeing from broken economic systems — and they have every right to work here to earn the living that they cannot earn in their home countries. It’s a form of economic reparations. And the situation would be considered ironic if it wasn’t so tragic: The more the economic policies fail, the more the poor of these countries are impoverished and the more they seek to survive in el Norte, the more the supposedly anti-government, free-market fundamentalists want to put the government squarely on the backs of and into the lives of individuals through increasingly repressive measures.

It isn’t just some kooky left-wing thinking to blame Washington’s policies for a large part of the problem. This is widely known among the academic researchers. I spoke with Marc Rosenblum and Miryam Hazan, two staff policy analysts at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. who have studied the issues. “NAFTA has supported a low-wage development model, and with Mexico’s implementation, you haven’t seen integrated development,” Rosenblum said. “Almost everybody will agree it has increased migration.”

The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export. As Hazan describes it, the idea was to “modernize” the Mexican countryside.

The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these “new advanced industries” were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops and maquilladora along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call “a competitive advantage,” because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.

Hazan has found that each year, Mexico adds 1 million new workers to its labor force — but only creates half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what she calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country.

In fact, the criminal economy of the drug cartels, estimated at 2 percent of Mexico’s GDP, has become the new export-oriented industry. Again, for all the complaining about the Mexican drug traffickers, few people are wondering what kind of society has developed we’ve developed in the U.S. that generates such an incessant and growing demand for narcotics. Without the U.S. demand, the narcotraffickers would be largely out of business.

In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador.

Every week, I hear of new reports from Salvadoran friends: Six bodies showed up on the streets overnight in one small town, a man with an expensive car is kidnapped and killed, a schoolteacher threatened with a gun by a disgruntled parent of one of his students. During a visit three years ago, the student leader of the National University suddenly disappeared without explanation, and the newspapers were reporting a wave of killings of poor drug dealers in the slums as “social cleansing.” In addition, the phenomenon of femicide, the rape and murder of women, is not just a problem in Juarez or the border towns but has become a new problem throughout the countries. At one point, gang members had apparently infiltrated the telephone companies in El Salvador, found out who had been making calls to the U.S., then called those U.S. cell phone numbers with a simple message: Send us $500 within 24 hours or we’ll kill your family.

Guatemala is hardly any safer. A friend of mine who was a journalist in Guatemala City had to leave with his family after a government official took him aside and played for him tape recordings of his cell phone conversations with his sources — when he was inside his own home! Assassinations of the community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.

From my experience, when I asked about this violence, many people there said it was difficult to know exactly what to blame: the economic crisis, the unresolved conflicts of the civil wars, the habit of violence from the wars or the lure of fast money in the drug trade, the unraveling of families as the more and more parents head north into the U.S. to work. All of it is connected to U.S. policies and actions, particularly the 1980s wars.

“There’s no question that the civil wars were a big source of initial migration of Central America into the U.S.” Rosenblum told me. The problem has become worse in El Salvador, he said, because besides the violence, it has embraced the neoliberal economic policies of corporate development that has led to highly unequal growth among the rich and poor.

These economic and social problems are precisely why the U.S. will never solve the problem by enforcement, no matter what kind of walls we build or border patrol we fund. The “push” out of these countries has become much greater than the “pull” of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.

The Arizona law shows how much enforcement alone sacrifices basic moral values. The law itself is chilling to read. In the tradition of the double-standard legal system pioneered during the war on terror under Bush, it broadens police powers and makes enforcement much more stringent for non-citizens than for citizens. It requires all immigrants to carry documents, such as driver’s license, to prove their immigration status whenever asked by police with a “reasonable suspicion” about their status. If you are undocumented, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined (between $500 on the first offense up to $2,500) jailed for six months under mandatory sentencing. Courts are prohibited from suspending or reducing sentences. It also turns citizens into vigilantes: anyone can sue a government for failing to enforce this law. It prohibits picking up day laborers on streets to hire, transporting anyone in your car without documents if you do so “recklessly disregarding” their immigration status. And it expands the powers of police to pose as workers when they investigate employers who might be hiring the undocumented workers.

Where’s the Tea Party when you need it? Isn’t there supposed to be a revolt brewing in this country in favor of a “constitutionally limited government”? And isn’t this the free market at work, with workers responding to the market signals of wages to meet the demand for labor where there is a lack of supply? Oh, I forgot: Free markets and limited government are good — unless they interfere with U.S. dominance and privilege.

It’s easy to slip into bitter rhetoric, but the hypocrisy of the debate has its own spiritual significance. The U.S. seems to be afflicted by a strange blindness that prevents it from understanding the full dimensions of the problem it has created. I think this blindness is a natural spiritual consequence of the idolization of power and wealth. In my opinion, one of the best analyses of this was in the Nobel Prize speech of British playwright Harold Pinter. He spoke about the relationship of truth and lies in art, and then connected this to the relationship of truth and lies to political power.

To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Then he focused how lies played a part in the brutality of the U.S. government’s treatment of Central America:

I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

Pinter pointed out that at the time the U.S. maintained 702 military bases in 132 countries and said:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

This hypnosis isn’t just of the rest of the world; we’ve hypnotized ourselves so that we fail to understand the consequences of our actions. We’ve become like the violent drunk who trashes a motel room at night, then wakes up in the morning and demands to know who made such a mess.

In my brief search of the Web this week, I found only one person who had the courage to say aloud an obvious truth. Seth Minkoff of Somerville, Mass., a lone letter-writer to The Boston Globe of Somerville explained eloquently why the immigrants have a moral right to be here:

What goes unmentioned, however, is that some of us also feel that the fundamental aim of this law — enforcement of federal immigration regulations — is immoral.

A great many undocumented immigrants come here from countries that the United States has systematically devastated for generations by overthrowing democracy (as in Guatemala), sponsoring dictatorship and state terror (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti), and invading and annexing territory (Mexico). Actions such as these have helped the United States to control a grossly outsized share of world resources.

Until the US share of world resources is proportional to its population, so-called illegal immigrants will have a moral claim second to none on the rights of US citizenship. Arizona’s new law, like the federal laws it seeks to enforce, is an assault on people’s basic right to feed and clothe their families – in other words, on their right to access their fair share of the planet’s wealth, the patrimony of humanity.

The readers of The Boston Globe, profiled for advertisers as highly educated and high-income, responded with such comments as:

What a complete F$%KING MORON. Does that moral right include stealing, bank robbery, perhaps rape and why not murder too.

And:

Shame on you Minkoff, go take your nonsense to Cuba or talk to Chavez and see how you make out.

And:

This letter sounds like it was written from some fatuous far left wing Chomskyan elitist nutty northeast college professor.

Seth, Harold Pinter’s got your back.

It would be helpful if more people had his back as well. But some of the opposition to the Arizona law is disappointing. For instance, U.S. Catholic bishops couched their opposition entirely in terms of pragmatics. Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester called the law “draconian,” as if problem is only its severity, not its inherent nature. He worried that the law could “possibly” lead to racial profiling when racial profiling is almost unavoidable in spite of hypocritical language to the contrary in the law. He worried about how immigrants might be “perceived and treated” and the impact on U.S. citizens who are unfairly targeted.

This statement should have been much stronger in the light of Roman Catholic tradition. Basic Catholic teachings evaluate the moral value of actions and distinguish between morally good and evil choices. Actions are “intrinsically evil” if they are “hostile to life itself.” The examples of these actions include the obvious, such as homicide and genocide but also include:

whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit;

whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit and not as free responsible persons;

all these and the like are a disgrace and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator (Encyclical Letter of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor IV, italics mine).

By this Catholic standard, the Arizona law is not only badly designed and unconstitutional but quite possibly an intrinsic evil. One can argue that the law is also an attempt to stop human smuggling and trafficking in women and children, but if this was its aim, it would have been designed differently. As written, it subjects immigrants to the torture of insecurity and offends their human dignity with arbitrary imprisonment and deportation.

In the end, the crisis can be solved until we face the spiritual roots of the lies, the violence and the self-righteous myths we tell ourselves. We need to understand and address the real nature of the problem if we want to solve it. I’ve always remembered the words of a friend of mine as we participated in a memorial service for Monseñor Oscar Romero in San Salvador: “We have to start telling ourselves the truth.”

Ecuador’s Future for Canadian Transnationals: An Exchange of Indigenous Perspectives May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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Jennifer Moore

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

“The sorrows are ours; the cows are not.”

Translation of a lyric written by Atahualpa Yupanqui (born Hector Roberto Chavero; died 1992), an Argentinian Communist exiled to Paris and who lived out his life there. The original Spanish is “las penas son de nosotros, las vaquitas son ajenas.”

Image“Welcome to the future,” says the sign behind the gated area where Vancouver-based Corriente Resources is developing an open-pit copper mine in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon. Bumping along in the back of a pick-up truck on her way to visit one of several communities slated to be displaced by the project, the idea that the future is fenced off with restricted entry for local communities that have lived on the land for years, even generations, hit home for Anne Marie Sam.

From the Nak’azdli First Nation in central British Colombia, Sam is one of two indigenous representatives who visited communities affected by Canadian-financed mining activities in Ecuador earlier this month. “We don’t even want Canadian companies in our territory, so we don’t blame Ecuadorians for not wanting them here either.” The Nak’azdli Nation opposes a proposed gold and copper mine on their territory that they have determined “would not strengthen them as a community” which includes about 1,700 members.

The trip was a critical response to President Rafael Correa’s recent invitation to the Canadian Embassy to help delegitimate the position of various indigenous leaders who are critical of his mining policy. The Embassy is still responding and will soon host a second delegation of indigenous leaders. This most recent visit was coordinated by the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation in cooperation with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The CONAIE has criticized Correa for continuing with World Bank-backed policies to substitute the country’s dwindling oil reserves with metal extraction. Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years, but no large scale mining project has yet entered production here. The CONAIE is worried about possible impacts on both water and local livelihoods. They further argue that indigenous peoples and other affected communities should have the right to consent over what projects take place on their lands or territories. A position substantiated by international law.

However, Correa is unequivocally opposed to local communities having “a veto” over what he sees as a matter of national interest. He calls his critics “infantile environmentalists” and the “greatest threat” to his political project.

Coming from Canada – the world’s principal source of financing for global mining activities – Robert Lovelace, a leader from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in Eastern Ontario, says his experiences in the Andean nation reveal that indigenous communities in both countries “share a heck of a lot in common.” Not only does Canada have its share of environmental disasters from extractive industry and not uphold the right to consent for indigenous communities, it also lags behind Ecuador for not having ratified international conventions that recognize these rights including the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to see much more of each other and we need to compare notes,” Lovelace says. An ongoing relationship, he believes, could be mutually beneficial. “When people in Ecuador stand strong,” he says, “it also helps us because it tells the mining companies that nobody is going to take the stuff that they’ve been giving out regardless of where they are.”

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

While Correa hopes that indigenous leaders invited by the Canadian Embassy will drown out the CONAIE’s criticisms, the recent visit by Sam and Lovelace revealed that Canada’s story is not as harmonious as Correa would lead Ecuadorians to believe.

“[Canada] has understood how to respect and benefit its ancestral peoples,” said Correa during a national radio address. The first people to benefit in Canada from mining, he added, “are the ancestral peoples.”

But Lovelace, speaking during two events in Quito which included members of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and an international group of lawyers, called Canadian mining a “two fold problem: for us and the rest of the world.” He insisted that within Canada it has to be seen within the context of colonialism and poor regulation.

The firm but soft-spoken leader explained that indigenous peoples are the most impoverished group in Canada, with high rates of suicide particularly for those who have lost their traditional ways of life, and that they have suffered official attempts to destroy their social and cultural fabric leading to rampant addictions and many broken homes. This, he explained, is a cost of the extractive and commercial mindset with which Canada was founded and continues to operate.

Lovelace has been opposing a proposed uranium mine on Ardoch territory, and shared his experience about how his community was sued for $77 million dollars by Frontenac Ventures and about his three and a half months in jail as a result of efforts to prevent mining activities on their lands.1 Radioactive contamination of lakes and rivers from uranium mining, occupational health hazards, and the uses of uranium for nuclear energy and arms are a few reasons why they do not support the mine.

Speaking to the national press, he added that the proliferation of Canadian mining companies can be explained by the fact that “we don’t have tough rules” and have poor infrastructure to enforce the rules that we do have. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) lists almost 60% of mining companies worldwide with over 1,400 projects in Latin America and more than 8,000 around the globe.2

He thinks stronger regulation, backed up by good monitoring and enforcement, should be “the cost of doing business for companies that are invited into other countries and invited onto indigenous land, as a bare minimum. Canada has to acknowledge that and do that because it is immoral not to.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also urged Canada to develop such legislation.

But Canada has been reticent. It took the government four years to respond to parliamentary recommendations to strengthen its mining legislation for extractive industry abroad, and its recent decision reinforces voluntary guidelines rather than tightening regulations.

Interestingly, Ecuadorians from the northwestern valley of Intag recently launched a lawsuit against the TSX with the objective that the case will help lead to stronger regulations in Canada. Inteños have broadly opposed open-pit copper mining for over twelve years, but this has not stopped current project owner Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper) from trying to use forceful means to try to reach its concessions. The TSX was warned before the company was listed that further financing could lead to human rights violations and violence in the valley.3

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

However, Correa would have Ecuadorians believe that TSX-listed companies who are irresponsible, well, they are simply not Canadian. “Be careful!” he has warned on national radio. “There are some companies that try to pass themselves off as Canadian because they trade on the Canadian stock market, but they’re not Canadian. Canada has strict, very strict, environmental requirements.”

But the Canadian public does not even know how much pollution mining operations have generated.

Only several weeks ago, the Federal Court released a “strongly worded decision” ordering the Canadian government to “stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.”4 Indicating the strength of Canada’s mining lobby, it has taken sixteen years since the National Pollutant Release Inventory was created for the sector to be held to the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector.

When Anne Marie hears a question translated for her from an audience in Quito: “Mining companies say that their projects will be clean, that they won’t have serious enviromental impacts, what do you think?” she laughs at the coincidence. “We hear the same thing,” she remarks. “But the question isn’t whether a company will contaminate our water, it’s when.”

Given the industry’s track record in her home province, Anne Marie’s nation has not been swayed by company promises that environmental impacts will be mitigated. A recent press release from the Nak’azdli Nation states, “There are close to 2,000 abandoned or closed mines in BC and two third of them are still polluting the land and water.”5

So, when the Nak’azdli First Nation was approached by Terrane Metals to develop a gold and copper mine on their lands at the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, they did not jump at the opportunity for an agreement with the company. They did, however, take the chance to do some of their own investigations and accepted the company’s offer of $150,000 CDN without promising any further agreement.

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

“Our elders advised us not to focus just on the economic aspect, but to also seriously consider the social and cultural implications,” she said.

With the company funds, they hired their own experts and examined the social, cultural, economic, environmental and legal ramifications of the project put together in what she calls an “Aboriginal Interest and Use Study.”

They concluded that they could not support the project. Even when they hit a period during which many of their members were without work, they determined that the kinds of jobs they could qualify for based upon their education and experience – cleaning, cooking and construction – did not outweigh the impacts.

Their disapproval has not stopped the company from seeking other nearby First Nation communities that would accept the project. Nor did it stop the provincial government from recently approving the company’s Environmental Assessment despite not having consulted the Nak’azdli Nation. However, it has been a key tool in their resistance.

It is a challenge because “time is not on the side of First Nations when it comes to a mining project. It’s always the timeline of the company.” But, she laughs, thinking about the time it took to read through the 6,000 page environmental assessment that the company provided and in which they found many weaknesses, “if I didn’t read [the study], I wouldn’t be able to tell you this story.” Education and communication, she says, “are key.”

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

The newly elected Prefect of Ecuador’s southernmost Amazonian province, Salvador Quishpe, welcomed the Canadian delegation to their final event in El Pangui. The Condor Mountain Range stretches along the eastern horizon of this steamy jungle town situated near some of the most contentious mining developments in the country.

Whereas Bob Lovelace contextualizes Canadian mining in terms of colonialism, Quishpe frames Ecuadorian mining around twenty five years of neoliberalism that he says continues despite Correa’s slogan “Our patrimony belongs to all.” He jokes for a moment: “the Canadians came along and said, “Belongs to all, eh?” “Hey, that’s good, then that includes us too!”

Quishpe reminded the 400-strong crowd that UNESCO has declared part of the Condor Mountains a World Bioreserve which has over 48 distinct ecosystems and is one of the highest priority areas for scientific research in the neotropics. He also reminded the audience that vast stretches have been claimed for mining exploration and that the principal concession holders are Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

He observes that the industry’s principal proponents –  the Ecuadorian representatives of Canadian transnationals – are in large part former officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. So, he remarks, the same people who helped institute the neoliberal framework for mining in the 1990s are now sitting on top of some of the best deposits of gold and copper. “It is ultimately the companies, not the government, who makes mining policy in this country,” he concludes. “And while it’s a mortal sin to say it,” he continues, “mining should be nationalized.”

Having recently been called “an enemy of the government” and a “dumb leftist” by Correa, Quishpe adds, “We are not against development.” Rather, he emphasizes, his province needs proper planning with strong participation. He proposes at least one industry – tourism – that he plans to promote during his upcoming term in local office. “We want development for the well-being of our peoples, not so-called development by which a transnational company takes away our riches for itself.”

Sam has a similar comment. “Our community has always said, we’re not against development. But we need to have a say in what development happens in our area and where, and right now we’re not being given that opportunity.”

The Waterkeepers

As the event wraps up, Anne Marie hands Salvador a card. She explains that the image of a red and green frog was drawn by an artist from her community. The frog represents the waterkeepers, she says, and Salvador is a water defender just like she and the rest of her clan from the Nak’azdli First Nation.

“Coming here has opened my eyes to how connected we are,” says Sam reflecting on the visit shortly later, “and how similar the fight we have to protect the land and the connection [we have with the land] whether indigenous or not.” She thinks about El Pangui’s struggle at the headwaters of the Amazon, and recalls her own at the headwaters of the Arctic. “What we need,” she says, “is a stronger role for indigenous people that is not after the fact or after claims are made on the land.”

In British Colombia, she says they are using new technology that enables helicopters to identify and take images of what minerals are in the ground just by flying over their territories. “Instead of this information going direct to the internet so that people can begin staking claims,” she says, “the information should go to First Nations first. And then we can decide if we want to do small scale mining, or if we want to do something else because open pits are not a nice site to look at and a recreational lake in an open pit (which is what the Terrane Metals promises to leave behind in her territory) isn’t an ideal situation for us.”

Robert Lovelace also believes that a much more meaningful participation is necessary. He describes it as a spectrum that usually begins with information sessions or token consultations. “Consultation,” he explains, “is still a form of tokenism because to consult with someone does not mean that you’re going to agree with them or even take their advice into account especially when there’s a power differential, whether based on capital or politics.”

“But when the values of each of the parties are truly recognized,” he says “and we look at consensual partnerships where both parties are able to give consent, then if one party can’t give consent, a project or development doesn’t go ahead. But that’s honest partnership.”

“As long as the power of First Nations are recognized then they may assign their authority to a corporation or a level of government in order to facilitate something happening. But that’s their choice, they’re not being forced or imposed upon to do that. The last stage is true self-governance. That’s having full authority to choose to move forward with development or not, or to choose another future altogether.”

While it has yet to be seen what the Canadian Embassy’s upcoming delegation will share with Ecuadorian’s, it will most definitely get broader coverage from the Ecuadorian press. As well, one can be almost sure that free, prior, and informed consent; recognition of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples; and the possibility of different futures other than the Canadian-owned, open-pit and underground mines envisioned for El Pangui, Yantzaza, Intag, Victoria del Portete, Molleturo, Ponce Enriquez, and many other parts of Ecuador will not be up for discussion.

Notes:

1. For further detail see: Justin Podur, “Canada’s latest political prisoners” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17019
2. 2007 figures based upon the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Mining Presentation
3. For more information see http://www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com/index.html
4. Press release “Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines” available at http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/04/24-0
5. Press release “Proposed BC mines cannot proceed without Nak’azdli First Nation” available at http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Nakazdli_abuse_031909.html

Bolivia: Morales Enacts New Constitution in El Alto February 7, 2009

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Written by Benjamin Dangl   www. http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1523/1/
Saturday, 07 February 2009

 

ImageFog covered El Alto, Bolivia on Saturday morning as social movements from around the country marched into the city to mark the official passage of Bolivia’s new constitution. “This is the second independence, the true liberation of Bolivia,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said as he signed the new constitution.The new constitution was approved by 61.43% of voters in a national referendum on January 25th. Among many other changes, the document empowers Bolivia’s indigenous and Afro-Bolivian communities, establishes broader access to basic services, education and healthcare, limits the size of large land purchases, expands the role of the state in the management of natural resources and the economy and prohibits the existence US military bases on Bolivian soil.

Wilfredo, a Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, the political party of Morales) activist, attended the event in El Alto with his daughter Betty on his shoulders. He said “I am a MAS fanatic, it’s in my blood. It is very important that this event is happening in El Alto, because during the Gas War in 2003 it was El Alto that kicked out [President] Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and brought about this process. Now change will even come to Santa Cruz!”

ImageEl Alto, a rapidly growing city outside of La Paz, has been the site of numerous revolts in recent years, revolts which set in stone many demands – including the nationalization of gas and the re-writing of the constitution – that become major platforms of the MAS. El Alto was also the base for the 1781 seize of Spanish-controlled La Paz led by indigenous rebel Tupac Katari. Morales spoke at length of Katari’s legacy, describing the passage of the new constitution as the continuation of a struggle sparked in part by Katari in his fight for indigenous liberation.

“After 500 years of rebellion against invasions, against permanent looting, after more than 180 years of resistance against the colonial state, after 20 years of permanent struggle against the neoliberal model, today, 7th of February of 2009, a new Bolivia is born,” Morales said, his voice echoing across the altiplano.

ImageBolivian flag-colored kites flew in the sky, countless fireworks shot off from rooftops, some of them colliding in the air, and exploding onto neighboring buildings. Social organizations’ banners were draped from balconies around the neighborhood.

Daniel Quiroga, a union member of the Regional Workers’ Center who was born in El Alto, said “I support the constitution because I am handicapped and this new constitution supports handicapped people. The constitution will bring about change in Bolivia without corruption. This is why I voted for it.”

“For the first time in the history of Latin America, and in the world, basic services, water, electricity, telephone are now a human right, they will be a public service not a private business,” Morales said in his speech. When he announced that the new constitution prohibits foreign military bases on Bolivian soil, the crowd went wild.

ImageGuatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace prize, was in attendance. Regarding Bolivia’s new constitution, Menchu said, “It is something that will open a new era of struggle for the people of this continent.”

***

 

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). All photos by Dangl. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

The Seeds of Latin America’s Rebirth Were Sown in Cuba January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Cuba, Latin America, Venezuela.
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by Seumas Milne

On 9 October 1967, Che Guevara faced a shaking sergeant Mario Teran, ordered to murder him by the Bolivian president and CIA, and declared: “Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.” The climax of Stephen Soderbergh’s two-part epic, Che, in real life this final act of heroic defiance marked the defeat of multiple attempts to spread the Cuban revolution to the rest of Latin America.

But 40 years later, the long-retired executioner, now a reviled old man, had his sight restored by Cuban doctors, an operation paid for by revolutionary Venezuela in the radicalised Bolivia of Evo Morales. Teran was treated as part of a programme which has seen 1.4 million free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors in 33 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is an emblem both of the humanity of Fidel Castro and Guevara’s legacy, but also of the transformation of Latin America which has made such extraordinary co-operation possible.

The 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this month has already been the occasion for a regurgitation of western media tropes about pickled totalitarian misery, while next week’s 10th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela will undoubtedly trigger a parallel outburst of hostility, ridicule and unfounded accusations of dictatorship. The fact that Chávez, still commanding close to 60% popular support, is again trying to convince the Venezuelan people to overturn the US-style two-term limit on his job will only intensify such charges, even though the change would merely bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain.

But it is a response which also utterly fails to grasp the significance of the wave of progressive change that has swept away the old elites and brought a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments to power across the continent, from Ecuador to Brazil, Paraguay to Argentina: challenging US domination and neoliberal orthodoxy, breaking down social and racial inequality, building regional integration and taking back strategic resources from corporate control.

That is the process which this week saw Bolivians vote, in the land where Guevara was hunted down, to adopt a sweeping new constitution empowering the country’s long-suppressed indigenous majority and entrenching land reform and public control of natural resources – after months of violent resistance sponsored by the traditional white ruling class. It’s also seen Cuba finally brought into the heart of regional structures from which Washington has strained every nerve to exclude it.

The seeds of this Latin American rebirth were sown half a century ago in Cuba. But it is also more directly rooted in the region’s disastrous experience of neoliberalism, first implemented by the bloody Pinochet regime in the 1970s – before being adopted with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and duly enforced across the world.

The wave of privatisation, deregulation and mass pauperisation it unleashed in Latin America first led to mass unrest in Venezuela in 1989, savagely repressed in the Caracazo massacre of more than 1,000 barrio dwellers and protesters. The impact of the 1998 financial crisis unleashed a far wider rejection of the new market order, the politics of which are still being played out across the continent. And the international significance of this first revolt against neoliberalism on the periphery of the US empire now could not be clearer, as the global meltdown has rapidly discredited the free-market model first rejected in South America.

Hopes are naturally high that Barack Obama will recognise the powerful national, social and ethnic roots of Latin America’s reawakening – the election of an Aymara president was as unthinkable in Bolivia as an African American president – and start to build a new relationship of mutual respect. The signs so far are mixed. The new US president has made some positive noises about Cuba, promising to lift the Bush administration’s travel and remittances ban for US citizens – though not to end the stifling 47-year-old trade embargo.

But on Venezuela it seemed to be business as usual earlier this month, when Obama insisted that the Venezuelan president had been a “force that has interrupted progress” and claimed Venezuela was “supporting terrorist activities” in Colombia, apparently based on spurious computer disc evidence produced by the Colombian military.

If this is intended as political cover for an opening to Cuba then perhaps it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But if it is an attempt to isolate Venezuela and divide and rule in America’s backyard, it’s unlikely to work. Venezuela is a powerful regional player and while Chávez may have lost five out of 22 states in November’s regional elections on the back of discontent over crime and corruption, his supporters still won 54% of the popular vote to the opposition’s 42%.

That is based on a decade of unprecedented mobilisation of oil revenues to achieve impressive social gains, including the near halving of poverty rates, the elimination of illiteracy and a massive expansion of free health and education. The same and more is true of Cuba, famous for first world health and education standards – with better infant mortality rates than the US – in an economically blockaded developing country.

Less well known is the country’s success in diversifying its economy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just into tourism and biotechnology, but the export of medical services and affordable vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. Anyone who seriously cares about social justice cannot but recognise the scale of these achievements – just as the greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about lack of freedom and democracy in Cuba can make is to help get the US off the Cubans’ backs.

None of that means the global crisis now engulfing Latin America isn’t potentially a threat to all its radical governments, with falling commodity prices cutting revenues and credit markets drying up. Revolutions can’t stand still, and the deflation of the oil cushion that allowed Chávez to leave the interests of the traditional Venezuelan ruling elite untouched means pressure for more radical solutions is likely to grow. Meanwhile, the common sense about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism first recognised in Latin America has now gone global. Whether it generates the same kind of radicalism elsewhere remains to be seen.

Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor.

Bolivia Looking Forward: New Constitution Passed, Celebrations Hit the Streets January 27, 2009

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evoPresident Evo Morales of Bolivia holds up a copy of the new constitution at a political rally in La Paz. (Photo: Juan Karita / AP)

27 January 2009http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/25/AR2009012500625.html, “Today, there is not a serious opposition in the country.” When the right-wing led violence in the department of Pando http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1478/1/ in September of 2008 left some 20 people dead and many others wounded, the right lost much of its legitimacy and support. “With Pando, the regional opposition just collapsed,” George Gray Molina, an ex-United Nations official in Bolivia, and a current research fellow at Oxford University, told Partlow. “I think they lost authority and legitimacy even among their own grass roots.” http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1514/1/ (1/25/09) http://www.akpress.org/2007/items/priceoffireakpress (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com http://towardfreedom.com/home/, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org http://upsidedownworld.org/, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com.

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Report

La Paz – After Bolivia’s new constitution was passed in a national referendum on Sunday, thousands gathered in La Paz to celebrate. Standing on the balcony of the presidential palace, President Evo Morales addressed a raucous crowd, “Here begins a new Bolivia. Here we begin to reach true equality.”

    Polls conducted by Televisión Boliviana announced that the document passed with 61.97 percent support from some 3.8 million voters. According to the poll, 36.52 percent of voters voted against the constitution and 1.51 percent cast blank and null votes. The departments where the constitution passed included La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, Potosí, Tarija and Pando. It was rejected in Santa Cruz, Beni and Chuquisaca.

    The constitution, which was written in a constituent assembly that first convened in August of 2006, grants unprecedented rights to Bolivia’s indigenous majority, establishes broader access to basic services, education and health care, and expands the role of the state in the management of natural resources and the economy.

    When the news spread throughout La Paz that the constitution had been passed in the referendum, fireworks, cheers and horns sounded off sporadically. By 8:30, thousands had already gathered in the Plaza Murillo. The crowd cheered “Evo! Evo! Evo!” until Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, and other leading figures in the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) government crowded out onto the balcony of the presidential palace.

    “I would like to take this opportunity to recognize all of the brothers and sisters of Bolivia, all of the compañeros and compañeras, all of the citizens that through their vote, through their democratic participation, decide to refound Bolivia,” Morales said. “From 2005 to 2009 we have gone from triumph to triumph, while the neoliberals, the traitors have been constantly broken down thanks to the consciousness of the Bolivian people.”

    He shook his fist in the air; the applause died down. “And I want you to know something, the colonial state ends here. Internal colonialism and external colonialism ends here. Sisters and brothers, neoliberalism ends here too.”

    At various points in the speech, Morales and others on the balcony held up copies of the new constitution. Morales continued, “And now, thanks to the consciousness of the Bolivian people, the natural resources are recuperated for life, and no government, no new president can … give our natural resources away to transnational companies.”

    A Weakened Right

    Though news reports and analysts have suggested that the passage of the new constitution will exacerbate divisions in the country, some of the political tension may be directed into the electoral realm as general elections are now scheduled to take place in December of this year. In addition, the constitution’s passage is another sign of the weakness of the Bolivian right and their lack of a clear political agenda and mandate to confront the MAS’s popularity. The recent passage of the constitution is likely to divide and further debilitate the right.

    Even Manfred Reyes Villa, an opponent of Morales and ex-governor of Cochabamba, told Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post

    Celebrations

    Fireworks shot off at the end of Morales’s speech in the Plaza Murillo, sending pigeons flying scared. Live folk music played on stage as the crowd danced, and the TV crews packed up and left. The wind blew around giant balloon figures of hands the color of the Bolivian flag holding the new constitution.

    As the night wore on, more people began dancing to the bands in the street than to those on the stage. At midnight, when the police asked the thousands gathered to leave the plaza, the crowd took off marching down the street, taking the fiesta to central La Paz, cheering nearly every Latin American revolutionary cheer, pounding drums and sharing beer. After marching down a number of blocks on the empty streets, the crowd hunkered down for a street party at the base of a statue of the Latin American liberator, Simón Bolívar. The celebration, which included Bolivians, Argentines, Brazilians, French, British, North Americans, and more, went on into the early hours of the morning.

    Oscar Rocababo, a Bolivian sociologist working on his master’s degree in La Paz, was elated about the victory in the referendum. “The passage of this constitution is like the cherry on top of the ice cream, the culmination of many years of struggle.”

    Also See:

    From Bolivia’s Streets: What Voters Think About the New Constitution
    

    Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia and is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia”

Spilling Ink Instead of Blood: Bolivia Votes on a New Constitution January 25, 2009

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bolivia-voteIn Walata Chico, Bolivia, Aymara Indian men cast their ballots for a new constitution. (Photo: Juan Karita / AP)

www.truthout.org

25 January 2009Andean Information Network, indigenous organizations advocating a constituyente “sought greater participation in the political decisions regarding the use and distribution of land and natural resources, the allocation of state resources, and national development policies.” In fact, these demands correspond to many of the unapplied rights and guarantees made by previous constitutions. ¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution By Benjamin Dangl The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl@gmail.com

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Dozens of marches and rallies in support of Bolivia’s new constitution, being voted on today, have filled the streets of the La Paz in recent days. On Tuesday, at a rally for the constitution and to celebrate Venezuela’s donation of 300 tons of asphalt to the city of La Paz, President Evo Morales took the stage, covered in confetti and with a coca leaf wreath around his neck. The crowd cheered and waved signs, one of them saying, “Thanks for the asphalt and the progress.”

    The new constitution, written in a diverse assembly which first convened in 2006, is expected to pass in the January 25 national referendum. Other governments led by left-leaning leaders in the region have also passed new constitutions in recent years, including Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 and Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2008. In varying degrees, Bolivia’s new constitution is expected to play an important role in the implementation of progressive policies developed by the Morales administration and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).

    At the Tuesday rally in La Paz, the sun was strong as drums and roman candles pounded at the air. The screech of packing tape shot out as one bearded participant secured his indigenous wiphala flag to a plastic pole. A group of women blocked off the expanse of one street with a banner that said, “The right wing will not pass – Yes to Evo.”

    A giant blown-up balloon statue of Evo Morales – present in nearly every La Paz rally in the days leading up the referendum – stood over the crowd. On his chest was the ballot voters were to face on Sunday: the “Si” box was checked, and, on two boxes regarding what hectare amounts to limit new land purchases at, the 5,000 hectare box was checked, the 10,000 hectare box left blank.

    During his speech, Morales sounded a bit tired, no doubt from the nearly endless campaigning he’s been involved in for the new constitution. After the applause died down, he thanked various groups for arriving and urged people to vote for the new constitution. “Brothers and sisters, we believe in you, we believe in the people of Bolivia, so that democratically we can transform Bolivia for all Bolivians,” Morales said. He listed some of the highlights of his three years in office so far, which he said included the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas and the fight against corruption. “But we need to constitutionalize these changes,” he continued.

    Morales pointed out that in the new constitution, basic services – such as water, sewer, gas and electricity – would be a human right, as would education and health care. Morales also reflected on the recent history of US intervention in the country and pointed out that the new constitution prohibits the creation of US bases in Bolivia. He clarified that, in spite of the right wing’s claims, the new constitution does not (unfortunately) legalize abortion and gay marriage. Above all, he explained, indigenous rights and indigenous representation in government would be empowered.

    At this point in Morales’s speech, one security guard was already starting to yawn. A light rain began to fall, women pulled plastic bags over their bowler hats, and the “Viva La Nueva Constitución” cheers became weaker as people returned to work from their lunch breaks.

    History and Division

    Bolivian social movements have for decades been demanding that a constituent assembly be organized to rewrite the constitution. According to the book, “Impasse in Bolivia,” by Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing, from 1826 to 2004, Bolivia has had 16 constitutions and six reforms. The first constitution, drafted by Simón Bolívar himself in 1826, promised to create the “world’s most liberal constitution.” However, even the most liberal of constitutions is ineffective if its dictates are not enforced, which has been the case throughout Bolivian history. Kohl and Farthing also point out that, “Until 1945, all constitutions made a distinction between being a Bolivian – a person born in the country or married to a Bolivian – and being a citizen: a status restricted to literate, propertied men that specifically excluded domestic servants, regardless of income.”

    Calls for a new constitution as a tool to create a more egalitarian society re-emerged most recently in the 1990’s when indigenous groups in the east of Bolivia demanded a constituent assembly to open new space for their political participation in decision-making at the government level. According to the

    It’s this sense of overdue justice that is leading many people to support the new constitution. As university student Leidy Castro told Prensa Latina, “We will be in favor of a Constitution that for the first time includes all Bolivians, no matter how much money people have. In addition, it protects sectors that have been marginalized for a long time.”

    None the less, right-wing opponents to the constitution have been active in recent weeks as well, organizing marches and campaigns across the country parallel to the activities of those supporting the constitution. Recently, when these groups collided, there have been some violent confrontations, or at least some strong words exchanged.

    Around noon on Wednesday, January 21, a march against the constitution went down the central Prado street in La Paz. Participants were waving the pink flags of the right-wing Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) party with the message “Vamos por el No” written on them. They arrived in the Plaza de Estudiantes where the ever-present Evo Morales balloon was situated along with a giant “Sí” balloon. A crowd of supporters of the new constitution had already gathered there; one of them had a microphone through which he broadcasted his attacks on the right wing with comments such as “You traitors don’t have a real plan! We have a real plan with our new constitution!”

    The tension escalated, and the two groups began tossing their ample literature and pamphlets at each other, yelling opposing chants. On one side were the blue flags of the MAS, and the multicolored wiphala flag, and on the other were the pink flags of the MNR. After some spirited verbal battles and a few scuffles and pushing matches, the MNR contingent marched back up the street, while the MAS supporters remained in the plaza, giving speeches and firing off roman candles into the evening. At a nearby university, revolutionary folk music blasted throughout the day from a speaker next to Palestinian flags and literature about Israel’s attacks on Gaza. (Morales recently expelled Israel’s ambassador to Bolivia in protest of the bombings in Gaza.) The university’s students have been hosting almost nightly marches and torch-filled, bonfire rallies in support of the new constitution.

    Media and Change

    There have been numerous street battles throughout the process of re-writing and approving the new constitution. But another battle has been waged in the country’s media. Major newspapers in Bolivia seem almost unanimously critical of the constitution and the MAS, spreading regular misinformation about both. For example, a recent headline in El Diario newspaper said, “Bolivia Will Return To Barbarism With Community Justice.” (Community justice, practiced by many indigenous groups across the country, is officially recognized in the new constitution.) In numerous papers, opinion articles and pieces that draw exclusively from right-wing politicians and civic leaders are regularly passed off as straight news, with headlines full of outright lies about the new constitution’s contents.

    Edwin, a La Paz taxi driver who used to work hauling furniture and goods on his back at local markets, agreed that most media in Bolivia are against Morales and the new constitution. “But who cares what they say? The journalists are few, but we, the Bolivian people, are many.”

    In response to the media’s attacks against the government, Morales has announced the launch of a new state newspaper called “Cambio” (Change), which was released January 22. “We are organizing ourselves, we are preparing ourselves with media to broadcast the truth to the Bolivian people,” Morales said in a recent speech. “This new newspaper will be launched, that won’t humiliate anyone, but will inform and educate us.”

    Regardless of the extent to which the changes in the new constitution are applied, the document is significant in that it has been a central part of the political battleground for the bulk of Morales’s time in office. The constitution is also a kind of mirror held up to Bolivian politics, representing the hopes, contradictions and shortcomings of various sides of the political divide.

    There are many valid criticisms of the constitution from the left – that the document won’t allow for the breakup of existing large land holdings, that it won’t legalize abortion, that it doesn’t go far enough in combating neoliberalism, that there exists a lot of vague language about how these changes will be implemented, and more. But of the many people who will cast their ballot for the constitution today, a significant number won’t be voting specifically for the new document, or even the MAS government, but against the right wing and the racism, poverty and conflicts the right has exacerbated in recent years.

    In any case, passage of the constitution will open up a new phase for the Morales government, as well as a new period of electoral campaigning: if the constitution passes, general elections will be held on December 6 of this year. As Alfredo Rada, the Minister of the Government, said in an interview with Telesur, “The government is optimistic and believes that this Sunday we will win a majority triumph with the “Yes” vote, and with this open a new chapter in Bolivian history.”

    For more analysis on the new constitution and upcoming vote, see this previous article:

    ——-

     Benjamin Dangl is based in Bolivia and is the author of “

Barack Obama’s Kettle of Hawks December 7, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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obama-and-clinton

Barack Obama’s national security team has been called a cast of rivals. (Photo: Reuters)Monday 01 December 2008, www.truthout.org

by: Jeremy Scahill, The Guardian UK

The absence of a solid anti-war voice on Obama’s national security team means that US foreign policy isn’t going to change.

 Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton’s network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama’s staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.

    When announcing his foreign policy team on Monday, Obama said: “I didn’t go around checking their voter registration.” That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he saw.

    The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush’s time in office to the present.

    Obama has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees bear much relevance to future policy. “Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” Obama said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing.” It is a line the president-elect’s defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that their records do matter.

    We were told repeatedly during the campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of our day – the Iraq war. “Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so,” Obama said in his September debate against John McCain. “Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.” What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and McCain?

    On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as “the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation”, Biden and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush administration’s propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama’s hawkish, pro-Israel chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war, didn’t hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq’s possession of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the “major threat” must “be dealt with forcefully”. Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for “strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets”.

    It is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected President Bush’s choice for defence secretary, a man with a very disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his own. While General James Jones, Obama’s nominee for national security adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, he did not do so publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him as “the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war – and failed to publicly criticise the operation’s flawed planning”. Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain’s, has said a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, “would be against our national interest”.

    But the problem with Obama’s appointments is hardly just a matter of bad vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama’s team together is their unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to defend the America First doctrine.

    Obama’s starry-eyed defenders have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it for what it is. Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain”, called Obama’s cabinet selections, “reassuring”, which itself is disconcerting, but neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. “I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain,” Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence “all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign.”

    Boot added that Hillary Clinton will be a “powerful” voice “for ‘neoliberalism’ which is not so different in many respects from ‘neoconservativism.'” Boot’s buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement, that he sees “certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush in his second term.”

    There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat. And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over Obama’s new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past the speeches and Obama’s selections are very much in sync with his record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his “residual force” plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. “I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel,” Obama said in his famed speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. “Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation.”

    ——–

    Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush’s presidencies. He is the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

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