Tags: central america, children, gaza, Immigration, netanyahu, Palestine, palestinian children, refugee children, refugees, todd miller, u.s. border
add a comment
Roger’s note: “Suffer little children …” Matthew 19:14 KJV
A week ago was when I first saw the picture that appeared in the The Telegraph of children in the Gaza Strip trying to break the Guinness world record for kite-flying. The kites floating mid-air off the Mediterranean shore were a sight to behold. I was taken with the photo and the happiness of the Gazan children on the beach, considering that all the news had been about the sustained Israeli bombardment of that besieged Palestinian territory. At first glance, it seemed like a triumph of the human spirit, or at least of the joy of childhood in the face of war. But then I realized that the picture had been taken at a previous time.
Again, I looked at the photo of all the children grouped on the beach, with the breaking, blue waves in the distance. Flying kites was still quite a feat with an unseen Israeli naval blockade six miles out to sea. However, with the sustained attack on the Gaza Strip, which has been going on since July 7, I realized that it was possible—if not probable—that some of these children were dead.
This U.S.-funded Israeli attack (on a 72-hour ceasefire since Tuesday, August 5) was a rallying point for several Los Angeles-based organizations to organize a march on July 25to protest the visit of President Barack Obama, who was on a trip to raise money for the Democratic Party and its upcoming election campaigns. But there was another reason for the protest. As that march moved forward down the L.A. streets in the mid-day heat, it was visually dominated by people holding flowing flags from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The defense of Palestinian and immigrant children converged, as a response to the similar strategies of dehumanization used to justify violence against them.
The focus of the march was children: Not only the close to 400 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of July, but also the 60,000 unaccompanied kids who have arrived at the U.S. southern border from Central American countries, often fleeing desperate circumstances, since October 1. And in doing so, these Latin American youngsters have entered into the jaws of the largest border, detention, and deportation regime that we have ever experienced in the United States. This summer official disdain and violence against children—or certain “types” of children—has been on pure, raw display across the globe.
As people marched, these two apparently separate issues joined together in a chant “Emigrantes, Palestinos, Estamos Unidos.” (“Migrants, Palestinians, We Are United”—it rhymes better in Spanish). The demands were not only that the United States stop its $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, but also that it put to a halt its deportation machine, especially with calls to expel many of these Central American children back to situations of certain violence.
Of course, there are huge differences between what is happening in Israel-Palestine and the exodus of children from Central America.
On that same Gazan beach where the children so ecstatically flew their kites, for example, on July 16 an Israeli missile killed four Palestinian children, between the ages of seven and 11, who had been playing on the shore. On July 28, another Israeli rocket obliterated a playground near a hospital in a Gaza refugee camp, killing eight children. “The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” an eyewitness told Russia Today. Israel’s military offensive has taken more than 1,900 Palestinian lives. In the last month, 419 Palestinian children have been killed in missile strikes hitting schools, mosques, and hospitals. 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed, mainly in gun battles in Gaza. No Israeli children have been reported dead thus far, though three of its citizens have perished.
For the children of Gaza, there is no place to run to when the Israeli Defense Forces bombs them. “The offensive has had a catastrophic and tragic impact on children,” said Pernille Ironside, head of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, who also mentioned that 2,502 youngsters have also been wounded.
In contrast many of the children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are able to run from their own war: A vast, complicated situation that, like in Israel-Palestine, is impacted and fomented by U.S. political, economic, and military policies in the region, both in a historical and contemporary sense.
U.S. media outlets have regularly described the Central American children as a “flood,” “tsunami” or “tidal wave” as if they were some sort of natural disaster. Others use the term “surge” as if the young ones were an advancing military “invasion,” one worthy of deploying the military to protect the “homeland.” This sort of language set the stage for the likes of Fox News host Sean Hannity to sit with Texas Governor Rick Perry, with a camera-friendly machine gun placed between them, as if the kids really did represent the “asymmetric warfare” against the United States as claimed by the ex-Border Patrol agent Zack Taylor.
“If asymmetrical warfare is going to be successful, the first thing that has to be done is to compromise America’s defenses against invasion,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s idea that Border Patrol “babysitting” has taken “the resources that are protecting America at the border, off of the border,” has been repeated across the media landscape and throughout officialdom ad nauseum. Along with this comes the incessant mantra of a “porous” border that, as Taylor describes, gives people “that are trying to get their infrastructure, their personnel, their drugs, their dirty bombs, their biological weapons, their chemical weapons into the United States without being noticed” a free pass. That is why civilian militia groups are roaming the borderlands again. This is one of the main reasons that Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the international divide. Current media and official framing of the border crisis may also explain why the Obama administration (and U.S. Congress) will likely ramp up the border enforcement apparatus even more, and expel the children at a rapid rate from the country.
In other words both the Central American and Palestinian children have been transformed rhetorically into a full-fledged national security threat. This sort of wholesale dehumanization can be found again when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas wants topile up “telegenically dead Palestinians” for their cause.
Predating the Israeli attack on Gaza Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked stated on her Facebook page that “Palestinian people have declared war on us, and we must respond with war.” In her vividly written post she suggested that the destruction should include “[Palestine's] elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” And at the end she said that women whose families play any part in Palestinian resistance give birth to “little snakes.” It is no wonder Israeli soldiers have no problem posing for photosas they hold a detained Palestinian boy in a chokehold.
Similar were anti-immigrant protestors in Murrieta, California who called the Central American children “wet dogs.” Like in Israel-Palestine, there is example after example of how such words can go from a xenophobic sign in a protest, to the very way agents of the U.S. Border Patrol treat the Central American children in short-term detention. An ACLU report compiled the testimonies of many children, almost all whom complained of freezing conditions in the cells.
B.O., a 14-year-old boy, said he was never able to sleep because Homeland Security agents didn’t turn out the glaring lights. G.G. complained of agents feeding her moldy bread. When her stomach became upset and she asked for medicine Border Patrol told her “it’s not a hospital.” When she vomited, the Homeland Security agents accused her of being pregnant, and called her a “dirty liar.”
K.M. was a 15-year-old girl who said that agents woke her every 30 minutes in the “hielera” (the Spanish word for ice box), the freezing cell where she tried to sleep. She claimed that officials regularly called her and other children “sluts,” “parasites,” and “dogs.”
R.D., a 17-year-old girl, slashed her hand while climbing the fence to get into the United States. She said that in Border Patrol custody an agent squeezed her wound with immense pressure causing her great pain.“It’s good that you are hurt,” the agent told her, “you deserve to be hurt for coming to the US illegally.”
The protestors in Los Angeles were putting this world in dispute, at least in part created by billions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers were giving to Israel and the U.S. border/immigration enforcement apparatus, that dehumanizes children with the same cold efficiency that it deports, or even kills them. Obama, representing the U.S. administration “has the opportunity to help and he’s decided to expedite policies that basically send children to certain deaths,” said Kelly Flores, a teacher at the demonstration. “These are children. It’s our duty to oppose inhumane policies.”
And the Gaza kids did indeed shatter the Guinness world record with their kite-flying in 2011. There, on that joyful day on the beach, indeed was a much better example of what it means to be a child.
© 2014 NACLA
Tags: border crossing, central america, child refugees, deportation, El Salvador, gabriel stargardter, guatemala, Honduras, Immigration, Obama, refugee children, refugees, roger hollander, undcocumented
add a comment
Roger’s note: what the mainstream media in its news and analyses universally fail to note is that the root cause of the migration from Central America lies in the actions and policies of the U.S. government over the years that have supported repressive business oriented governments controlled by oligarchic elites. In particular the Obama/Hillary Clinton policies in support of the military coup in Honduras have resulted in Honduras being perhaps the most violent country on the face of the globe. The lucrative drug trade and the attendant violence is a symptom of US directed imperial military supported corporatism, and not the fundamental cause of the massive migration. As for the costs of implementing a humanitarian policy of dealing with children refugees, a fraction of the dollars spent on the illegal wars in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan would be sufficient. That the U.S. government at the direction of a president who is both heartless and gutless, is sending Honduran mothers and their children back to the most violent city in the world, that while in custody these mothers and children are treated like animals, is beyond disgusting. That the commonly held perceived solution is increased border security and deportation is not only an example of tunnel vision, but a head in the sand approach to a problem that the US government has created, and along with corporate media and both political parties, refuses to acknowledge. Imperialism and xenophobia go hand in hand.
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, July 14 (Reuters) – The United States deported a group of Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old on Monday in the first flight since President Barack Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back undocumented immigrant minors from Central America.
Fleeing violence and poverty, record numbers of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into the United States over the past year, testing U.S. border facilities and sparking intense debate about how to solve the problem.
Monday’s charter flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, returned 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, aged between 18 months and 15 years, the Honduran government said.
Looking happy, the deported children exited the airport on an overcast and sweltering afternoon. One by one, they filed into a bus, playing with balloons they had been given.
Nubia, a 6-year-old girl among the deportees, said she left Honduras a month ago for a journey that ended when she and her mother were caught on the Mexico-Texas border two weeks later.
“Horrible, cold and tiring,” was how Nubia remembered the trip that was meant to unite the pair with her three uncles already living in the United States.
Instead, her mother Dalia paid $7,000 in vain to a coyote, or guide, to smuggle them both across the border.
Once caught, U.S. officials treated them like “animals”, holding them in rooms with as many as 50 people, where some mothers had to sleep standing up holding children, Dalia said.
During the eight months ended June 15, some 52,000 children were detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, most of them from Central America. That was double the previous year’s tally and tens of thousands more are believed to have slipped through.
So chaotic are the circumstances of the exodus that some of the children are not even correctly reunited with their parents, said Valdette Willeman, director of the Center for Attention for Returned Migrants in Honduras.
“Many of the mothers are sometimes not even the real mothers of the children,” she said.
Monday’s flight departed as Obama faces increasing pressure to address the surge of unaccompanied minors.
Immigrant advocates urge him to address the humanitarian needs of the migrants. At the same time, Republicans in Congress have blamed the crisis on Obama’s immigration policies and have called on him to secure the border.
Obama’s administration has stressed that Central American children who cross the border illegally will be sent home, and last week said it would speed up the deportation process.
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have suffered from gang violence and incursions from Mexican drug cartels using the region as a staging post for their trafficking operations.
Honduran President Juan Hernandez, in an interview published on Monday, blamed U.S. drug policy for sparking violence and ramping up migration to the United States. His wife urged the United States to do more to help.
“The countries consuming drugs need to support (us) and take joint responsibility because if there wasn’t demand, there wouldn’t be production and we wouldn’t be living like we are,” Ana Garcia de Hernandez said as she awaited the children.
Obama’s administration has projected that without government action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 could flee the three Central American nations next year.
The proposed actions will test Obama’s ability to negotiate effectively with Republican lawmakers who have blocked much of his agenda ahead of a November election when they hope to capture the U.S. Senate from his Democratic Party. (Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in San Pedro Sula and Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)
No real refuge in Canada for some refugees June 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Immigration.
Tags: anti-semitism, bernie faber, Canada, canada refugees, canadian government, clayton ruby, holocaust, jewish refugees, phil berger, refugee health care, refugees, roger hollander
add a comment
PHILIP BERGER, BERNIE FARBER AND CLAYTON RUBY
The Globe and Mail Friday, Jun. 15 2012, 2:00 AM EDT
As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government’s closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.
In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.
When Hitler’s forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.
Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.
However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.
Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees’ health care, the federal government is creating what it calls “designated countries,” or DCOs, that it considers “safe.”
Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.
While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.
While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.
Judaism teaches the concept of “ tikkun olam,” an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.
Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called “safe” countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.
Pressure must continue. It’s never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government’s new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired “None is Too Many” must be rejected.
Half of World’s Refugees are Running From US Wars June 25, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Iraq, Iraq war, refugees, roger hollander, sarah bufkin, un refugees, unhcr, us wars, war
add a comment
(Photo: isafmedia / Flickr)
America’s wars are forcing Afghans and Iraqis to flee their homes in greater numbers. According to a recent U.N. High Commission for Refugees study, nearly one half of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq, 3.05 million and 1.68 million, respectively. But neither the United States nor much of the developed world bears the burden of the 10.55 million refugees under the UNHCR’s purview globally. Instead, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria serve as the top host countries. The Economist has charted the numbers:
Tags: andrew buncombe, Major-General Athar Abbas, pakisani taliban, pakistan, pakistan bombing, pakistan civilian casualties, pakistan war, pakistani refugees, refugees, roger hollander, sharia law, swat valley, Taliban, taliban fighters, taliban militias, u.s. bombing, yousaf gilani
Prime Minister appeals for unity amid growing anxiety over spread of militants
Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.
As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.
The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
The struggle to drive the Taliban from Swat comes amid intense pressure from the US and deepening anxiety in Pakistan about the spread of the militants to areas no more than 60 miles from Islamabad. The government had initially hoped to bring an end to two years of violence in the former tourist haven by signing a controversial peace deal which saw it agree to the establishment of sharia law in the valley and in neighbouring areas. However,the ceasefire appeared to encourage Taliban militias and their fighters slipped into the adjacent area of Buner.
Last night a military spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, told a Pakistani television channel: “To a rough estimate there are between 4,000 to 5,000 militants present in Swat. We are looking forward to the return of the writ of the state.”
Yet the operation – which the military says had already killed scores of militants – could yet present Pakistan with one of its greatest humanitarian challenges. In Geneva, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said there was now a “massive displacement in north-west Pakistan”.
He added: “The provincial government estimates between 150,000 to 200,000 people have already arrived in safer areas of North West Frontier Province [NWFP] over the last few days, with another 300,000 already on the move or about to move. Those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities … join another 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who had fled their homes in the tribal areas and NWFP since August 2008. The new arrivals are going to place huge additional pressure on resources.”
What also remains unclear is exactly what the military will have to do to clear and secure the Swat valley and how long that might take. While the Taliban may be outnumbered, the offensive is far from one-sided. “They are putting up very stiff resistance, there is no doubt. I don’t think this is going to go away very quickly. It will be weeks, if not months,” said General Talat Masood, a former military officer turned analyst. “But it’s not just about pushing them back. The military then have to hold the territory and then set in place the administrative structure that will give people confidence to return.”
The military operations are taking place in three districts over some 400 square miles. Much of the fighting has been in the city of Mingora, home to 360,000 people before the insurgency. Among those who remain, some have said they had been prevented from leaving by the Taliban who may to use them as human shields.
Tags: Afghanistan War, Amnesty International, Canada, canadian parliament, Chris Teske, cliff cornell, dean walcott, house of commons, Iraq war, jason kenney, Kimberly Rivera, Patrick Hart, refugees, robin long, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, War Resisters
add a comment
The Honourable Jason Kenney
“…immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.”
That motion further recommended that the government should:
“…immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.”
Since then, on July 15, you allowed Robin Long, a United States soldier who had fled to Canada after refusing to take part in the Iraq War, to be deported.
Upon his return to the U.S., Robin was punished for acting on his objections to this unsanctioned war by refusing to fight and for speaking out while he was in Canada.
He is now serving a 15-month jail sentence as a prisoner of conscience and was given a felony conviction that will cause him hardship for the rest of his life—including preventing him from visiting his Canadian son in Ontario—because you did not stop him from being deported.
Canada has a well-founded tradition of welcoming war resisters such as Robin and the estimated 200 other U.S. soldiers who have sought refuge here since the Iraq War began.
Now more than ever, it is obvious that Canada made the right decision not to take part in this unnecessary conflict and even you, Mr. Prime Minister, have agreed that the Iraq War is
“absolutely an error”
Amnesty International wrote to you, Minister Kenney, earlier this month to communicate its condemnation of the,
“…forced removal from Canada of individuals who conscientiously express their opposition to serving with U.S. forces in Iraq” because it “does not generally believe that there are reasonable options open to individuals who conscientiously object to military service with U.S. forces in Iraq.”
As a country, Canadians continue to face a major economic crisis that demands the utmost attention. Members of Parliament need not be distracted from the task at hand by matters that should have been solved previously, nor should time be wasted re-taking decisions that have already been taken by our democratically elected representatives and are supported by the majority of Canadians.
With five Iraq War resisters—Chris Teske, Cliff Cornell, Kimberly Rivera, Patrick Hart and Dean Walcott, most of them combat veterans—facing deportation before the end of this month, we write to respectfully urge you to take action on behalf of the 64 per cent majority of Canadians who agree to give these U.S. soldiers, their immediate families and all Iraq War resisters who are here, the opportunity to remain in Canada as permanent residents.
Please implement the June 3, 2008 motion in support of war resisters today.
, Gord Perks, Adam Vaughan
and many other prominent Canadians
n June 3, 2008, the House of Commons passed a motion calling for the government to:
EDITORIAL: Resisters of a ‘dumb’ war January 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Canada, canadian parliament, canadian public opinion, draft dodgers, Iraq war, Kimberly Rivera, refugees, robin long, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, Vietnam War, War Crimes, War Resisters
add a comment
Toronto Star, January 25, 2009
To U.S. President Barack Obama, the invasion of Iraq was “a dumb war” and “a rash war.” Despite George Bush’s claim, Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. And now that he is president, Obama plans to get most American troops out, as fast as he can.
This recalibration of U.S. policy offers Prime Minister Stephen Harper a chance to adopt a more humane approach to the 200 or so American war resisters who have sought refuge in Canada. Now they face deportation and prison.
One resister, Robin Long, already has been deported, and got a 15-month jail term. The U.S. military regards resisters as deserters because they voluntarily signed up to serve but then fled. A handful more have been ordered out of Canada, including Chris Teske, who planned to leave Friday, Cliff Cornell and Kimberly Rivera, a mother of three.
Others still have their cases pending before the immigration and refugee board. But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has seriously prejudiced those hearings by calling the resisters “bogus” refugees. “The position of the government is that they don’t face genuine persecution,” says a spokesperson for Kenney. Apparently 15 months in jail don’t count.
In light of the shift in Washington, Ottawa’s inflexible stance is hard to justify. The House of Commons in 2008 passed a resolution calling on Harper to stop deporting resisters. And an Angus Reid survey last year found that 64 per cent of Canadians feel the resisters should be allowed to take up permanent residence here.
Canada took in 50,000 American draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War, another dubious conflict tainted by war crimes. We should be able to find room today for 200 more people who share their new president’s view that targeting Iraq was a huge mistake.
Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration December 29, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, algiers accord, Ann Wright, Barack Obama, bbc news, codepink, gay rights, gaza, George Bush, hamas, hezbollah, hillary clinton, hostage crisis, human rights, Iran, iran iraq war, iran nuclear, iran women, Iran-Contra, Iraq war, israel, Khamenei, khomeini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nonproliferation, nuclear energy, nuclear enrichment, Palestine, Rahm Emanuel, reagan, refugees, regime change, revolutionary guard, roger hollander, Seymour Hersh, shah, Taliban
add a comment
29 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Embassy hostage crisis.expanded in 2007 by this authorization.time frame unchanged from previous estimates. Mr. Ahmadinejad. Nazi-style extermination of a people. regional wind power manufacturer . We met with the director and staff at the modern state-of-the-art factory in south Tehran. Saba Niroo has installed some of the 143 wind turbines planned for the wind farm in Manjil, Guillan Province and the 43 wind turbines planned for the Binalood wind farm in Khorasan Razavi Province. They have installed four wind turbines in the Pushkin Pass wind farm in Armenia.Danish wind energy company with whom the Iranian company has had a contractual relationship has now refused to honor its 15-year contract to furnish critical parts for the wind turbines.compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals – in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” criminally sexually assaulted another youth. As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view. Channel 4′s role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds.”promoting Western hairstyles.” to protect against attacks from rogue states” is perceived by many Iranians as a strategy to ensure that tensions in the region continue to escalate. The United States is planning to deploy 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Poland and batteries of shorter-range Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missiles to protect the Interceptors.»Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”
An Iranian woman holds up a lamp during a power outage in Tehran, Iran. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazi / Reuters)
Traveling to Iran as a Citizen Diplomat for Peace
Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country.
We went to Iran with no illusions. We knew well the history of United States involvement in Iran. We knew of Iranian support for organizations U.S. administrations have labeled as “terrorist” groups. And we were very familiar with international concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and human rights record.
We wanted to talk with members of the Iranian government as well as with ordinary Iranians. We ended up meeting with officials in the Iranian president’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with two women members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles). We also spoke with businesspersons, members of nongovernmental organizations, writers, filmmakers and university students and faculty.
Writing about the concerns of the Iranians we met leaves one open to comments of being one-sided, not speaking with enough Iranians to provide the “real” voices and of picking and choosing voices to record. I acknowledge the possible criticism in advance, but believe our discussions are worthy of presentation to those who have not been so fortunate to have traveled to Iran to see and hear for themselves. So here goes.
Iranians Want Peace, Not War
Codepink Women for Peace co-founders Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, Fellowship of Reconciliation Iran program director Laila Zand and I were reminded in virtually every conversation that Iranians want peace with the United States, not war. Not one person in Iran told us that first, she believed her country would begin a war with the United States or any other country, to include Israel, and second, that if the United States initiated military actions against Iran, that those actions would resolve problems in Iran or with the United States.
They reminded us that, unlike the United States, which has invaded and occupied Iran’s neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has not attacked any country in the last 200 years. They reminded us that Iran was the victim of an eight-year war in the 1980′s when Iraq invaded Iran and the United States and European countries provided Iraq with military equipment, intelligence and chemical weapons that were used at least 50 times against Iranian civilians and military forces. We learned that during the eight-year war the Revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini had mandated that it would be against Islamic precepts to bomb Iraqi cities or use chemical or unconventional weapons on Iraq – and Iranian military forces complied – even though the Iraqi military bombed Iranian cities, including Tehran, and used chemical weapons on Iranians.
Most Iranians Have Issues With Their Government, as Most Americans Have Issues With Theirs
Iran is a county with a population of about 70 million (two and one-half times as many people as Iraq) and a geographic area about the size of Alaska (four times as large as Iraq). Tehran, the Iranian capital, has 7.5 million people in the urban area and 15 million in surrounding areas. It is a modern city, with a beautiful subway and cosmopolitan shops, as well as a huge traditional bazaar and an incredible number of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Tehran and Iran have recovered from the Iraq war that ended 20 years ago and are holding up remarkably well to US and international sanctions.
Most Iranians with whom we talked openly said they have issues with many aspects of their government. Many said the Iranian people share a common dislike with Americans – dislike of their government – noting that President Bush’s and the US Congress’s approval ratings with the American people are extremely low, as is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ratings, particularly in urban areas. But, they strongly said they do not want outside interference in the internal political events of their country and definitely do not want a political system and government installed by invasion and occupation. Their democracy, even with its flaws, is better than a US-enforced democracy, they said.
America’s best policy would be to treat Iran with respect and not with threats of military action. Any attempt to overthrow the Iranian government would be met with stiff opposition, even from those who don’t like the government, they repeated. “Regime change” will come in due time and in an Iranian manner.
US Interference in Iran’s Internal Affairs
Several reminded us that in January 1981, the United States signed the Algiers Accord, in which the US agreed “not to intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” The Algiers Accord was the agreement signed by the United States and Iran to end the 444-day US
However, this Accord has been violated numerous times by the United States. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote that, in late 2007, President Bush requested and received from Democratic Congressional leadership $400 million reprogrammed from previous authorizations to fund a presidential finding that substantially increased covert activities designed to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership. These covert actions involved support for the Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. Hersh also revealed that United States Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with presidential authorization, since 2007, including seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” who could be captured or killed. Hersh said operations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were significantly
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Iran has had a nuclear program for almost 50 years, having purchased a research reactor from the United States in 1959 during the Shah’s reign. The Iranian government states that its nuclear energy program will allow increased electricity generation to reduce consumption of gas and oil to allow export of more of its fossil fuels. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made public December 3, 2007, concluded with “high confidence” that the military-run Iranian nuclear weapons program had been shut down in 2003, but that Iran’s enrichment program could still provide enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon by the middle of the next decade, a
Virtually everyone with whom we spoke said they believe that their country has a right to have a nuclear enrichment program and to produce nuclear energy. Many questioned why Iran would ever need a nuclear weapons program, unless as leverage against the United States’ 30-year antagonism toward their country. They reminded us that Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike nuclear states Israel, India and Pakistan, which refused to join the NPT and developed nuclear weapons purposefully outside the treaty.) Additionally, they insist that Iran is in compliance with the IAEA standards, according to the November 2008 IAEA report, despite interpretations of the report by the United States and Israel.
Some reminded us that on August 9, 2005, at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, 60 years after the US atomic bombing of Japan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced that he had issued a fatwa, or religious mandate, forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Importantly, the Supreme Leader controls the Iranian military and the nuclear program of Iran, not the President of the country,
Iran, Israel and the United States
Iran, Israel and United States have had a disturbing, but fascinating, history over the past 30 years. Iran’s current relationship with Israel and Western countries seems to be defined by President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 statement – widely reported, but tragically and dangerously mistranslated and misinterpreted – that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth.” According to highly respected Middle Eastern scholar Juan Coles, Ahmadinejad was “not making a threat, but was quoting a saying of Ayatollah Khomeini that urged pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope – that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government. Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of
But the history of Iranian-Israeli relationships is more than just Ahmadinejad’s misinterpreted statement. Israel, like the United States, had a long history of selling arms to the Shah, which Iran’s revolutionary government was willing to exploit secretly, despite its public animosity toward the state of Israel. In the early years (1980-82) of the Iranian Revolution and during the war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini’s government sold oil to Israel in exchange for weapons and spare parts. Even during the American hostage crisis (1979-1981) in which 52 US diplomats were held for 444 days, Israel made weapons deals with Iran. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig gave permission to Israel to sell US-made military spare parts for fighter planes to Iran in early 1981.
In another remarkable relationship known as the Iran-Contra affair, funds from Israel’s sale to Iran of US weapons in 1985-1986 were used by U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (President Reagan’s first National Security Adviser) and National Security Council staffer US Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North to fund the Contras’ war against the revolutionary government in Nicaragua. This was in violation of a Congressional ban on funding the Contras and took place during the Iraq-Iran war when the US was also providing military equipment including chemical weapons to Iraq, Iran’s opponent in the war. Iranians remember that those convicted for their actions, including Weinberger, Poindexter, McFarlane and North, were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president during the period of criminal actions conducted by government officials during the illegal Contra affair.
Iranian Support for Hamas and Hezbollah
When asked about one of the most contentious points in US-Israeli-Iranian relationships – the Iranian government’s support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon – Iranians pointed out that the US has consistently and heavily funded Israel during its 62-year existence (US provides about $4 billion per year to the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces.) Many Iranians suggested that Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps during those 62 years must be provided assistance. Hezbollah began in 1982 as a small militia fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and is now not only a military group but a political organization that won seats in the Lebanese government, has a radio and satellite television station and provides social development and humanitarian assistance for much of southern Lebanon. Iranians strongly felt that Hamas, the elected (and they emphasize elected) government of Gaza, needs financial support, particularly now in current extraordinary humanitarian crisis due to the lengthy Israeli blockade of foods and services into Gaza.
On the question of Iraq, many Iranians who lived in the border regions with Iraq during the eight-year war said they personally knew the agony of deaths, injuries, destruction and other costs of war and do not wish that on their former enemies. They talked of the irony of the political outcome of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, in which many Shi’a Iraqis, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam’s regime and have long-standing ties to the Iranian government, are now in leadership positions in the new US-backed Iraqi government.
Other Iranians reminded us of Iran’s help to the US in 2001 and 2002 in the early days of the US military action in Afghanistan. When we asked about recent United States intelligence analysis that indicated Iranian support for the Taliban, we were met with laughs. The Taliban are of the Sunni branch of Islam, while Iranians are of the Shi’a branch. They reminded us that in 1998 the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats and one Iranian newsperson at the Iranian consulate in Afghan northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, an incident which Iranians have not forgotten. The Iranians consider the Taliban their adversaries and feel that a Taliban government in Afghanistan would make the region more unstable.
Sanctions Are Drying Up Lines of Credit for Businesses
We found that Iranians are proud of their creativity to outwit the 29 years of various sanctions the US has placed on their country. They say the US has only isolated itself commercially by its sanctions, as Iran trades with many other nations. Europeans, Chinese, Russians and Indians have had flourishing businesses with Iran. However, the recent international sanctions clampdown on lines of credit for Iranian banks has had a rippling effect into the business community, where money for loans to Iranian businesses for purchase of materials is drying up. Oil dollars that paid for an incredible amount of imports are drying up with the downturn in oil prices, and the government is beginning to reevaluate the large subsidizes given to the population for food, gasoline and services.
We spoke with four businesswomen (an architect, a chemist, a business consultant and an agricultural professional) who said each of their businesses had been affected negatively with the shrinking of money available for purchase of materials from outside the country and for continuation of current levels of operation or expansion of their business.
One of the most incredible stories we heard about the effect of the sanctions was on the alternative energy sector. Since there is so much rhetoric in the US about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program, we decided to see if there were alternative energy companies in the country. On the aircraft flying into Iran, we met a European businessman who said he would put us in touch with the director of a wind energy company. He introduced us by telephone to the director of Saba Niroo, an Iranian company that makes wind turbines and is the largest
However, the director told us that because of US sanctions pressure, Vestas, a
As a result, Saba Niroo has 50 huge 70-foot-long wind blades and corresponding chassis and installation towers lying useless in its warehouse and warehouse yard. Saba Niroo may go bankrupt in six months if it is unable to complete and sell the wind turbines – all because of US sanctions and pressure.
As a part of citizen diplomacy, we decided to defy sanctions and show our support of alternative energy programs, by purchasing shares in Saba Niroo. We have also decided to purchase shares in the Danish company Vestas, which has a big US headquarters in Portland, Oregon. As shareholders, we could put shareholder pressure on Vestas to honor its contract with the Iranian company.
Human Rights in Iran
On the question of human rights in Iran, executions, political prisoners and rights of gays and lesbians, many Iranians strongly want changes in their government’s policies. In response to a question on September, 24, 2007, from an audience at Columbia University in New York, President Ahmadinejad drew widespread criticism when his answer was translated as “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals in our country, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who told you that we have it.” In October 2007, one of Ahmadinejad’s media advisers said that the President had meant that “
Homosexual acts are punishable by law: sodomy (defined as “sexual intercourse with a male) is punishable by execution and punishment for “lesbian acts” is 100 lashes. However, conviction takes the testimony of four witnesses and if the accused recants before witnesses testify, the accused will not be punished. The discussion of human rights of youth and gay youth combined in the much-publicized 2005 execution by hanging of two young men in Iran. Some say they were executed because they were solely because they were gay and others say the two young men – minors – were convicted and hanged because they
Interestingly, sex change is legal in Iran and there are more sex change operations in Iran than any other country except Thailand. The Iranian government provides grants up to $4,500 for the operation and further funding for hormone therapy on the theory that persons wanting a sex change have a “treatable disorder.”
Iranians want change to come from within their society, not imposed by another government, especially one, as we were reminded, that has its own human rights issues, including incarceration of the highest percentage of its citizenry of any country in the world, high rates of execution (Texas in particular), state-sponsored kidnapping from other countries (known in the Bush administration as extraordinary rendition), imprisonment without due process, extrajudicial courts and a military and an intelligence agency that are notorious for torture.
When thinking of women in Iran, many in the West immediately respond with comments about the clothing women must wear. Few realize that 70 percent of all university students are women, 30 percent of doctors in Iran are women, 80 percent of women are literate (88 percent of men can read), women receive 90 days of maternity leave at two-thirds pay and right to return to their jobs, and the number of children per woman has declined from seven in 1979 to 1.7 now. Abortions are illegal in Iran, but it’s the only country I know of where couples must take a class on modern contraception before being issued a marriage license. It has the only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East, and it produces 45 million condoms a year in 30 different colors, shapes and flavors.
In one of the most successful instances of women’s grassroots organizational pressure on the government, in September 2008, over 100 advocates for women’s rights successfully lobbied against proposed changes to marriage laws which were detrimental to women and forced the Iranian Parliament to drop the regressive amendments.
Yes, there are mandatory clothing rules for women, including wearing a scarf and clothing that covers the arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles, and they are cited by Western women as a form of human rights concern. In fact, as our aircraft arrived at the Tehran International Airport terminal, the aircraft crew announced “By the law of the country of Iran, women cannot leave the aircraft without a scarf on their heads – and there will be an Iranian official outside the aircraft to return women who are not properly covered.” While some Iranian women say wearing the scarf is burdensome, others are comfortable with the dress code. In any case, clothing restrictions are not the main focus of women’s rights advocates. Rights to custody of children and property after divorce, right to education and health care are more important than mandatory wearing of a scarf.
In the Month Since Our Visit
Sparks Fly Over Iranian President’s BBC Christmas message – “Jesus Christ Would Stand Up to Bullying, Ill-Tempered and Expansionist Powers”
In what they surely knew would be a very controversial request, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked Iranian President Ahmadinejad to deliver the BBC channel 4′s traditional “alternative Christmas message” to the Queen’s Christmas address.
The head of BBC News and Current Affairs said the decision to ask President Ahmadinejad was because “
It turned out that Ahmadinejad’s short, 36-second message in Farsi with English subtitles broadcast on Christmas Day 2008, probably resonated with much of the world, but predictably provoked a British government hornet’s nest with his comment that if Jesus Christ lived today he would stand up against bullying powers. “If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.” Ahmadinejad, a devout Muslim, criticized the “indifference of some governments and powers” towards the teachings of the “divine prophets, including Jesus Christ” and said that “the general will of nations” was for a return to “human values.” He declared, “The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy … have come about because the prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.”
Ahmadinejad’s remarks received very little media coverage in the United States, minuscule when compared to the news story of the month – President Bush’s encounter with the Iraqi shoe thrower. However, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in predicting anticipated Bush administration displeasure, said: “President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offense and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad.”
Labor Member of Parliament (MP) Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labor Jewish Movement, said: “I condemn Channel 4′s decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.” Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: “Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.”
Media Relations Not a Strong Suit of the Iranian Government
It’s almost as if Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is up for re-election in summer 2009, has hired lame ducks US Vice President Dick Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as his foreign policy, national security and media consultants. How else could the Iranian government have come up with so many incidents in the past weeks that give ammunition to those in the United States and Israel who do not want dialogue with Iran on nuclear and regional security issues, who want human rights issues to publicize and who wish ill to the Iranian government and people?
For example, on December 22, 2008, the Iranian government closed down two human-rights organizations headed by 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. The government accused the organization of carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences. The Center for Participation in Clearing Mine Areas helps victims of landmines in Iran and Defenders of Human Rights Center reports human rights violations in Iran, defends political prisoners and supports families of those prisoners. Ebadi was also taken into police custody briefly following the raids.
The first week in December 2008, in a campaign against Western cultural influence in Iran, Qaemshahr city police arrested 49 people during a crackdown on “satanic” fashions and unsuitable clothing and closed five barbershops for “
And now, there is the predictable increased international criticism about the Russian government providing the Iranian government with S-300s, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, triggered by the Bush administration’s decision to put a “missile shield” in Poland and the Czech Republic. On December 23, 2008, United Press International reported that the Russian government had begun delivery to the Iranian government of some of its most modern anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, the S-300s. These missile systems can shoot down ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes as far away as 100 miles. Iran conducted well-publicized air force and ballistic missile defense exercises in September 2008.
The Bush administration’s ballistic poke in the eye of Russia and Iran by the deployment of ballistic missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic “
Iranians Not Optimistic About Future Relations with the United States Under an Obama Administration
Despite President-elect Barack Obama’s comments during the presidential campaign that he would have dialogue with the Iranian government without preconditions, many Iranians with whom we spoke are not optimistic that there will be meaningful change in US policy during an Obama administration. Citing appointments of former Israeli Defense Force member and US Congressman Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff; Hillary Clinton, who during the summer campaign said she would “obliterate” Iran if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel (a statement that Iranians find incomprehensible since it is Israel that has nuclear weapons, not Iran, and Israel continues to threaten Iran), and Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Iranians said they hoped the AIPAC lobby in the United States had not already determined Obama’s agenda toward Iran.
Iranians Want Peace
To emphasize again, the overwhelming comment from Iranians during our visit was that they want peace with the United States. They hope that the new president of the United States will talk with their government to resolve issues, instead of resorting to the threat, much less the use, of military action.
Our Future With Iran – a Hope for Diplomacy, Not Military Action
As we have seen from the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of our military to resolve security issues kills and injures innocent civilians, destroys cities and villages, creates more people who dislike/hate our country and who may be willing to use violence against us, and jeopardizes, not enhances, the security of the United States.
As a retired US Army colonel and a former US diplomat, I hope that the Obama administration will throw away the old template of 30 years of crisis, threats of military action, vindictiveness and retaliation and look to diplomacy to develop a peaceful future with Iran!
Chesa Boudin on Colombia’s Civil War December 26, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
Tags: aerial fumigations, Alvaro Uribe, auc, beond begota, chesa boudin, coca, cocaine, Colombia, Colombia atrocities, Colombia Civil War, Colombia civilian deaths, convivir, farc, gary leech, guerrilla, human rights, ingrid betancourt, Latin America, neoliberal, paramilitaries, paramilitary, plan colombia, refugees, right wing terrorists, roger hollander, us military aid
add a comment
Posted on Dec 26, 2008, www.truthdig.com
By Chesa Boudin
In February 2007 I visited Colombia’s Chocó region as a guest of local Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that had previously suffered forcible eviction from their communal lands. The phenomenon, known as forced migration or internal displacement, is so widespread across Colombia that the country trails only Iraq and Sudan in its number of internally displaced people. The communities that hosted me in Curvarado and Cacarica had recently returned to their homes after years of abuse at the hands of illegal paramilitary organizations intent on controlling their ancestral lands. Thanks to their determined efforts and support from a local NGO, Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), my hosts had been able to obtain legal title to their communal lands, an anomaly in a country where most forcibly displaced people lack the necessary resources or connections to navigate the legal bureaucracy. Despite their title to the land these communities remained frightened about threats from armed groups, so Justicia y Paz stationed observers to help document trespassing or attacks.
The farmers who hosted me, and countless more farmers across Colombia, are caught in the midst of a conflict more complicated than most. Fueled by cocaine profits and U.S. military aid, it has raged for decades, pitting the government security forces and illegal paramilitary groups against various Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements. It is in this broader national context that fundamental human rights and self-determination of peoples come into constant, direct conflict with global economic growth and wealth accumulation in Colombia’s northwest Chocó region. The narrow isthmus, covered in mountainous tropical forests and dense swamplands, is increasingly the target site for potential development projects, including the completion of the Pan-American Highway, a pipeline to carry Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports, and an alternative shipping channel to the Panama Canal. In 1996, the price of land doubled following then-President Ernesto Samper’s announcement of a plan for a new inter-oceanic highway link connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. The Chocó has also attracted agriculture, timber, coal and mining interests both from Colombia and abroad. Peasants who happen to live on resource-rich territory suffer from a violent form of land speculation. In Colombia, neoliberal economic policies have gone hand in hand with militarization of a historic conflict.
“Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia,” Gary Leech’s new book on Colombia, provides an engaging firsthand account of the country’s drug war. The book is structured around an 11-hour detention ordeal Leech underwent at the hands of the largest guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in August 2006. Each of the 11 chapters in the book corresponds to one of the hours during which he was held at gunpoint on a coca farm in rural Colombia while the FARC higher-ups decided his fate. As Leech anxiously waits out his detention, he reflects back on his first trips to Latin America and his years reporting on Colombia’s drug war. The literary device succeeds; suspense and drama remain present throughout the book, and he provides an easy-to-follow background to the country’s civil strife, mostly narrated through first-person accounts. Luckily for Leech and his readers, he safely made it home to tell the tale. He writes with the raw passion and vivid energy of a wartime correspondent who regularly risks his life to cover stories ignored by major international media outlets. While most writers on Colombia only talk abstractly about policy, Leech goes into villages, speaks with people on the front lines and peels back the skin.
Demonstrating considerable courage and persistence, Leech managed to visit the hottest areas of Colombia’s conflict, survive shootouts and detentions, interview high-ranking leaders of the FARC and the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and visit coca farms and cocaine labs. He describes all this with compelling narrative and evocative characters, taking the reader with him on his investigative adventures. While his descriptive ability makes the reading enjoyable, it is his conclusions that leave the strongest impression.
President Alvaro Uribe, currently in his second term, is a darling of the U.S. State Department and has funneled billions in U.S. aid into a military strategy for solving the country’s problems. Meanwhile, he implements neoliberal economic policies that exacerbate the very wealth disparities that Leech sees as the root of the ongoing violence. As governor of the province of Antioquia, Uribe was instrumental in establishing a civilian vigilante organization, CONVIVIR, that quickly became a right-wing paramilitary network fighting a vicious war against the country’s leftist guerrillas and anyone accused of sympathizing with them. Uribe’s own father was killed by the FARC in a botched kidnapping attempt, blurring the line between the political and the personal in his support for those fighting against the guerrillas. As Leech reports, the paramilitaries that grew out of Uribe’s CONVIVIR are widely believed to be responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and human rights abuses in Colombia. Like the FARC and sectors of the state military apparatus, the paramilitaries became involved in drug trafficking and use cocaine profits to fund their arms purchases and operations. The FARC taxes growers in the regions it controls, and Leech suggests that the paramilitaries and military are actively involved in the more lucrative processing and trafficking as well.
Leech explains how, after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military aid to Colombia under the heading “Plan Colombia” rapidly shifted from anti-drug trafficking to combating “narco-terrorism.” The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the national paramilitary organization AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) appeared on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. While Leech is quick to condemn all of the armed groups in the conflict, much of his criticism is reserved for U.S. policy in the region. “There was also plenty of anti-American sentiment in Colombia, particularly in the rural regions targeted by Plan Colombia’s fumigations [of illegal coca crops]. Again, this anger wasn’t rooted in a hatred for U.S. freedoms; it resulted from U.S. government policies that destroyed the livelihoods of Colombian peasants without offering them any viable alternatives.” “Beyond Bogotá” gives voice to people whose opinions and perspectives are rarely included in mainstream media reports.
Leech investigates a peasant massacre and finds that “U.S. military aid was being used as much to wage a war of terror as to fight a war against terror. At best, it appeared to be funding a selective war on terror—one that targeted civilians seen as suspected leftist terrorists, yet supported a military responsible for perpetrating state terrorism and maintaining close ties to right-wing terrorists.”
Moreover, according to Leech, the U.S.-led aerial fumigations of coca crops throughout Colombia have backfired; there is now a “super herbicide-resistant strain” of coca that is capable of yielding four times as many leaves from the same acreage. Thus, “although the U.S. and Colombian governments claimed that Plan Colombia was working because the fumigations were reducing the number of acres under cultivation … in reality coca production had remained relatively stable.” Meanwhile, Leech tells us, “Not only do coca farmers earn the least amount of profit among all those engaged in the production, trafficking, and sale of cocaine, but they are also the most vulnerable link in the chain because of their poverty and lack of mobility. Even with the widespread cultivation of coca, 85 percent of rural Colombians live in poverty. And at the close of the twentieth century, those poor farmers became the principal target in the U.S. war on drugs.”
President Uribe, a willing partner in the war on drugs, has succeeded in improving Colombia’s image in the international business community and increasing urban security. Yet the government presence in many rural areas is limited to military incursions without meaningful investment in development or economic and social infrastructure. Leech shows us the divide between rural and urban Colombia, narrating multiple political perspectives throughout. In one scene that takes place over a three-hour period, he interacts with pro-FARC rural peasants, then with nonaligned, pro-peace small-town residents, and finally with right-wing pro-Uribe urbanites.
Leech clearly knows Colombia intimately, and this makes the book. One area where “Beyond Bogotá” falls short, however, is that it lacks regional context. Colombia is just one country in a fascinating and rapidly changing region. In many ways Colombia is an outlier among its neighbors: While Colombia is still a close ally of the U.S. and an adherent to the Washington Consensus, Andean neighbors Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, have elected left-wing, anti-neoliberal, populist presidents, including Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales. Uribe appears to represent the old guard of Latin American governments, while Chavez’s 1999 election was the vanguard of a wave of progressive democratic victories across the region. This regional context has shaped U.S. aid to Colombia, as well as Uribe’s domestic policies, but is largely absent from the book. Also missing are recommendations for how Colombia might find its way out of its quagmire, or how the international community can help it do so.
Latin America is a rapidly changing region, and perhaps no country illustrates this better than Colombia. Writers focusing on current events there inevitably face the pitfall that nothing remains current for long. While this book is one of the most recent, most up to date on Colombia available today, crucial developments occurred after “Beyond Bogotá” went to press. Several of the key FARC leaders Leech writes about or interviewed for this book, including Simón Trinidad, Raúl Reyes and Manuel Marulanda, are no longer on the field of battle: Trinidad was caught and extradited to the U.S., where he is currently in prison; Reyes was killed by the Colombian military; and Marulanda died of natural causes. Moreover, the FARC’s most valuable hostages, among them one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and several American civilian contractors, were rescued last summer in a daring raid coordinated by the Colombian military. What implications these developments have for the FARC’s viability as a national rebel army remain to be seen. For those interested, as I am, in Leech’s ongoing analysis of these issues and future developments in Colombia, it should be noted that he is the editor of a regularly updated Web site called Colombia Journal [under construction as this review is published].
As I was finishing reading “Beyond Bogotá”, I received an e-mail from Justicia y Paz, detailing threats and kidnappings of its members working in the communities in Curvarado. A series of anonymous phone calls had preceded the kidnapping of a human rights worker based in one of the formerly displaced communities I visited in 2007. Throughout Colombia, paramilitary groups are engaged in ongoing assaults on poor communities living on resource-rich land. U.S. military aid continues unabated, even as the Colombian military is complicit with these illegal attacks or simply looks the other way. This book is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with a multifaceted conflict that sadly shows no sign of letting up soon.
Chesa Boudin is the author of “Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America,” forthcoming from Scribner. He studied forced migration and public policy in Latin America at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and is currently enrolled in the Yale Law School.
Rape’s Vast Toll in Iraq War Remains Largely Ignored November 26, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: anna badkhen, human rights, Iraq war, jordan, rape, rape survivors, rape victims, refugee camps, refugees, roger hollander, sexual assault, women's rights
add a comment
Monday 24 November 2008
by: Anna Badkhen, The Christian Science Monitor
Iraqi women beg for assistance from the international community as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees suffer from violence and the fear of being deported. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
Many rape victims have escaped to Jordan but still don’t have access to treatment and counseling.
Amman, Jordan – As though recoiling from her own memories, Khalida shrank deeper into her faded armchair with each sentence she told: of how gunmen apparently working for Iraq’s Interior Ministry kidnapped her, beat and raped her; of how they discarded her on a Baghdad sidewalk.
But her suffering did not end when she fled Iraq and became a refugee in Jordan’s capital, Amman. When Khalida’s husband learned that she had been raped, he abandoned her and their two young sons.
Rumors spread fast in Amman; soon, everyone on her block knew that she was without a man in the house. Last month, her Jordanian neighbor barged into her apartment and attempted to rape her.
Khalida never reported the incident. Like tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, she does not have a permit to live or work here, and she is afraid that if she turns to authorities for help she will get deported. So instead of seeking punishment for her assailant, she latched the flimsy metal door of her apartment and stopped going outside.
Her story sheds light on a problem that is little researched, poorly understood, and largely ignored: Iraqi rape victims who now live in Jordan illegally and without protection. Sexual assault is heavily stigmatized in the Middle East, and victims are often afraid to talk about it to anyone, fearing that their families will abandon them. And their shaky status in Jordan leaves them afraid to seek help and vulnerable to new assaults and abuse. They fear persecution by Jordanian immigration authorities almost as much as they fear returning to Iraq.
“The lack of legal status does lead to these sorts of protection issues [and] puts them in very exploitative situations,” says Imran Riza, who heads the mission in Jordan of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main international agency that assists Iraqis in Jordan. Women like Khalida, he says, “are certainly vulnerable, and much more vulnerable than others.”
Rape is a common weapon of any war; no one knows how many Iraqi women have been raped since the war began in 2003. Most crimes against women “are not reported because of stigma, fear of retaliation, or lack of confidence in the police,” MADRE, an international women’s rights group, wrote in its 2007 report about violence against women in Iraq. Some women, like Khalida, are raped by Iraqi security forces. A 2005 report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights found that women held in Interior Ministry detention centers endure “systematic rape by the investigators.”
A handful of organizations are working to help rape victims in Iraq. MADRE, together with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, operates several shelters and safe houses in Baghdad for Iraqi rape victims, where the women have access to healthcare and counseling.
But militias often target women’s rights advocates in Iraq, so these facilities are “a clandestine network,” operated by “mostly somebody who at a great risk to themselves has opened a room for these victims,” says Yifat Susskind, MADRE’s communications director. The shelters have helped several thousand Iraqi women since 2003. Most rape victims learn about the shelters from other women.
Documenting sexual assault in Iraq by international researchers remains complicated because of widespread violence. “There’s been a security issue, so we haven’t been able to get people on the ground to look at the issue for a long time,” says Marianne Mollmann, who leads women’s rights advocacy at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which published its last report about rape in Iraq in 2003.
Similarly, no one has tried to estimate how many Iraqi refugees have been raped while in Iraq or in Jordan, says Mohamad Habashneh, a Jordanian psychiatrist who works with Iraqi rape victims.
Mr. Habashneh has treated approximately 40 Iraqi rape victims for clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But he estimates that they are just a fraction of Iraqi refugees who had been raped.
Psychiatrists like Habashneh charge between $25 and $40 per visit, too expensive for most Iraqi refugees, who, like Khalida, live hand-to-mouth on monthly handouts of about $100 from international agencies.
Many victims are afraid to go outside or travel to a clinic out of fear of being detained by Jordanian authorities.
To help these women, women’s rights organizations in Jordan must coordinate with larger agencies, such as UNHCR, to provide care and programs that would help the victims earn money “because rape survivors are alienated from their family and therefore have no way to sustain themselves,” Ms. Susskind says.
But so far, these resources are not available for most Iraqi rape victims in Jordan. There are no support groups, no counselors, no hot lines, an no one to soothe Khalida when she has flashbacks that make her relive the day when assailants dressed in police uniforms arrived at the Oil Ministry where she worked and said they were taking her in for questioning.
She did not tell her husband that she had been raped but he figured it out. Now, Khalida does not blame him for going away, or for leaving her so vulnerable to men who wish to prey on her.
“I have his phone number,” she says, sobbing quietly. “I dial it sometimes for the kids to talk to their father. Sometimes, because I love him, I like to hear his voice. But when I say ‘hello’ he hangs up.”