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Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It May 4, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Barack Obama, Capitalism, Chile, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Honduras, Human Rights, Imperialism, Iran, Latin America, Nicaragua, Racism, Saudi Arabia, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: United States foreign policy has never been interested in freedom, democracy or human rights.  Never. Going back, if you will, to Christopher Columbus.  The phrase “American interests” is often used to characterize U.S. foreign policy, and it seems more than obvious that that is what foreign policy should advance.  Now, of course, such things as freedom, democracy and human rights could be considered in America’s interest.  That would be nice, wouldn’t it.  

American interests in reality is a code word for advancing the interests of the military industrial complex.  It has little to do with the interests of American people, above all, American workers; unless you still believe in the trickle down theory.  It has everything to do with: oil and minerals, all other resources and products, and, of course, cheap labor.

So when a new president takes office, his advisers will, if need be, brief/him on what those interests are.  US friendly nations, unfriendly nations, inbetweeners.  So it is not in any way surprising that Trump would be eulogizing American friendly tyrants like Egypt’s Sisi, the Philippines’ Duterte, or Turkey’s Erdogan.  What would really be surprising and bring on fits of cognitive dissonance if Trump were cozying up say to Venezuela’s Maduro or Iran’s Khamanei.

But perhaps where Trump is crossing a line is in his friendly overtures towards France’s our and out neo-Nazi presidential candidate, Marine LePen (shades of his refusal to repudiate support domestically from the KKK).  I didn’t like the term that Baby Bush used: Axis of Evil.  But Trump, LePen and ???  It fits.  And it’s scary.

Read on below, another chapter in Your Tax Dollars at Work (to support violence, repression and human rights violations).

 

May 2 2017, 12:13 p.m.

SINCE AT LEAST the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: In a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policymakers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for its mass killings and aggressively enabled the genocide carried out by one of the 20th century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President Reagan, was regarded as a top-flight conservative intellectual because of her explicit defense of pro-Western, right-wing dictators, heaping praise on U.S.-supported savage oppressors such as the Shah of Iran and Nicaragua’s military dictator Anastasio Somoza on the ground that “they were positively friendly to the U.S., sending their sons and others to be educated in our universities, voting with us in the United Nations, and regularly supporting American interests and positions even when these entailed personal and political cost.” Unsurprisingly, U.S. foreign policy in the Reagan years, like the decades that preceded and followed them, was defined by economic, military, and diplomatic support for pro-U.S. dictators, death squads, and even terrorists.

Leading U.S. media outlets have long openly celebrated this pro-dictator stance. Upon the 2006 death of Augusto Pinochet — the military dictator imposed on Chile by the U.S. after it overthrew that country’s democratically elected left-wing president — the Washington Post editorial page heaped praise on both Kirkpatrick and Pinochet. While conceding that the Chilean tyrant was “brutal: more than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured,” the Post hailed “the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle,” concluding that like Pinochet, “Kirkpatrick, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”When a right-wing coup in 2002 temporarily succeeded in removing Venezuela’s elected left-wing President Hugo Chávez, the New York Times editorial page cast it as a victory for democracy: “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.”

[As I documented several years ago: In the same editorial, the Times announced that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably thereafter revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a vital role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez,” though the paper failed to note that it had not only denied that this happened but had itself celebrated that coup.]

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In 1977, Jimmy Carter attended a state dinner in Tehran for the Shah of Iran, the savage U.S.-supported despot who ruled that country for decades after the CIA overthrew its democratically elected leader. It took place shortly after Carter hosted the Shah at the White House. The U.S. president hailed the Iranian tyrant with a long toast, which began this way:

Your Majesties and distinguished leaders of Iran from all walks of life:

I would like to say just a few words tonight in appreciation for your hospitality and the delightful evening that we’ve already experienced with you. Some have asked why we came to Iran so close behind the delightful visit that we received from the Shah and Empress Farah just a month or so ago. After they left our country, I asked my wife, “With whom would you like to spend New Year’s Eve?” And she said, “Above all others, I think, with the Shah and Empress Farah.” So we arranged the trip accordingly and came to be with you.

As Carter spoke, his praise for the homicidal Iranian despot became more flowery and obsequious: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.” Two years later, those same people whom Carter claimed revered the Shah overthrew him and, to this day, loathe the U.S. because of the decades of support and praise it heaped on their dictator.

U.S. devotion to the world’s worst dictators did not end, or even recede, upon the end of the Cold War. Both the Bush and Obama administrations continually armed, funded, supported, and praised the world’s worst dictators.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually said of the murderous Egyptian dictator supported by the U.S.: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” When Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew that country’s first elected government, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, hailed him for “restoring democracy,” and as Sisi became more brutal and repressive, the Obama administration lavished him with more weapons and money. The U.S. government did the same for the human-rights abusing dictators in Bahrain.

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The U.S. gave at least tacit approval, if not outright encouragement, to the 2009 military coup against Honduras’s elected left-wing government. The Clinton-led State Department then repeatedly denied abundant evidence that the coup government it was supporting was engaging in an assassination program of critics and anti-government activists. Last year, the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah examined “how [the Clinton] State Department’s role in undemocratic regime changes has contributed to violence and political instability in Honduras and Haiti today,” particularly documenting the various steps Secretary Clinton took to protect the military leaders who engineered the Honduran coup.

And then there is Saudi Arabia, long one of the most repressive regimes on the planet and one of the U.S.’s most cherished allies. U.S. devotion to the Saudi tyrants by itself negates virtually every plank of U.S. propaganda about spreading freedom and democracy, given that one administration after the next has worked tirelessly to maintain and strengthen that regime.

Obama, like Bush before him, repeatedly hosted Saudi despots at the White House. When the monstrous Saudi King died in 2015, Obama terminated his state visit to India in order to fly to Riyadh to pay homage to the close U.S. partner, where he was joined by a bipartisan cast of U.S. political stars. As The Guardian put it: “Obama has been forced to defend his unwillingness to challenge Saudi Arabia’s autocratic rulers as he led a U.S. delegation to shore up relations with its new king, just hours after lecturing India on religious tolerance and women’s rights.”

Upon the Saudi King’s death, Obama said of a despot who killed and imprisoned dissidents: “At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.” Obama’s gestures of admiration were mild when compared to those of the U.K. government, which ordered all flags be flown at half-mast to honor the deceased monarch, but Obama was not remotely shy about publicly lavishing the Saudi regime with praise.

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In sum, the post-World War II foreign policy of the U.S. — independent of its massive human rights violations committed over and over around the world — has been predicated on overthrowing democratically elected governments and, even more so, supporting, aligning with, and propping up brutal dictators. This policy has been applied all over the world, on multiple continents and by every administration. It is impossible to understand even the most basic aspects of the U.S. role in the world without knowing that.

ALL OF THIS history is now being erased and whitewashed, replaced with jingoistic fairy tales by the U.S. media and leading political officials. Despite these decades of flagrant pro-dictatorship policies, the U.S. media and leading political officials have spent months manufacturing and disseminating a propagandistic fairy tale that casts Donald Trump’s embrace of dictators as some sort of new, aberrational departure from the noble American tradition.

They have repeatedly claimed that the pre-Trump U.S. was devoted to supporting and spreading democracy around the world, while condemning and opposing tyranny. This is rank revisionism of the worst kind: jingoistic propaganda that should shame anyone endorsing it.

Like U.S. support for dictators, these recent bouts of propaganda are too numerous to comprehensively chronicle. Some of the more influential instances will have to suffice.

In February, the New York Times editorial page — writing under the phrase used by Jeane Kirkpatrick to demonize 1984 Democrats as unpatriotic: “Blame America First” — attacked Trump with this propagandistic garbage: “Since taking office, Mr. Trump has shown little support for America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.” Imagine what a shock it would be to the people of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Chile, Bahrain, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and the countless other countries that lived under a U.S.-supported dictator to hear about “America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.”

Perhaps the worst example yet came yesterday in a Washington Post article by its White House bureau chief Philip Rucker, who made this claim: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” He added: “In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders.”

Cultivating authoritarian leaders is everything except a “shift in American foreign policy.” Nonetheless, this propagandistic lie has now become commonplace among über-patriotic journalists eager to tell the world that the U.S. before Trump had been devoted to liberating the oppressed peoples of the world from tyranny. Here’s the New York Times political reporter Maggie Haberman — in a widely shared tweet — endorsing these jingoistic falsehoods from Rucker:

Trump, fundamentally uninterested in spreading small-d democracy in dramatic break w predecessors. @PhilipRuckerhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-keeps-praising-international-strongmen-alarming-human-rights-advocates/2017/05/01/6848d018-2e81-11e7-9dec-764dc781686f_story.html?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.aec73ffae856 

Photo published for Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates

Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates

Trump’s affection for autocrats beyond Putin marks a major shift in U.S. foreign policy.

washingtonpost.com

How can someone possibly be a journalist and believe that Trump’s being “uninterested in spreading small-d democracy” is a “dramatic break” from his predecessors? Yet this is now standard fare for the U.S. media, as evidenced by this segment from CNN this morning pronouncing Trump’s praise of rogue leaders to be “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

CNN took a policy that has been standard U.S. posture for decades and told its viewers that it represented “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

One would be remiss to omit this blatantly false propaganda from one of the Democrats’ most beloved members of Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff, who — in a predictably viral tweet — yesterday chided Trump for inviting to the White House the mass-murdering ruler of the Philippines and thus defacing noble U.S. traditions:

There was a time when the U.S. condemned extrajudicial killings, not rewarded them with WH visit. That time was 103 days ago. https://twitter.com/politico/status/858673343670751232 

Aside from the fact that the U.S. has spent decades supporting tyrants and despots whose calling card is “extrajudicial killings” — including many who were feted at the White House — the central war on terror approach of the Obama presidency was exactly that. For years, Obama bombed multiple Muslim countries in order to kill people — including his own citizens — who his administration suspected, but never proved, had connections to terrorism. In other words, he killed thousands of people extrajudicially. It takes a special kind of propagandist to claim that this is a new Trumpian innovation.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING on here is self-evident. Nobody remotely rational, nobody with even a fleeting understanding of U.S. history, believes that the U.S. only began supporting and heaping praise on dictators upon Trump’s inauguration. Responding to criticisms, the Post yesterday edited Rucker’s patriotic tribute to the U.S. by adding the italicized words: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office at least occasionally to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.”

But that claim is still false. Can anyone possibly believe that — even when U.S. leaders paid lip service to human rights improvements — there was anything remotely genuine about it? Condemning human rights abuses is an instrument that the U.S. cynically uses to punish adversaries. And officials admit this when being candid, as this extraordinary passage from a 2013 Washington Post article revealed:

Human-rights groups have also accused the U.S. government of holding its tongue about political repression in Ethiopia, another key security partner in East Africa.

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The Post article went on to note that the Bush administration “took the same approach,” and that while “many U.S. diplomats and human-rights groups had hoped Obama would shift his emphasis in Africa from security to democracy … that has not happened.” In fact, “‘There’s pretty much been no change at all,’ the official said. ‘In the end, it was an almost seamless transition from Bush to Obama.’”

That’s how the U.S. uses human rights advocacy: as a weapon to “ream” uncooperative countries to punish them for their disobedience. For regimes that “cooperate” with U.S. dictates, they get “at least a free pass” to abuse human rights as extensively as they want, if not outright support and funding for doing so.

What’s really infuriating those attacking Trump for doing what the U.S. government has been doing for decades — supporting and praising heinous tyrants — is that he’s denying them the ability to maintain the myths they desperately tell themselves about their own country. Being able to claim that the U.S. is devoted to spreading freedom and democracy in the world is central to their internal monologue. From the Washington Post newsroom to the corridors of the State Department, this is the fairy tale that they tell themselves every day in order to justify their position as global arbiters of the behavior of other countries.

Once that veneer is removed, once that fairy tale is dispensed with, then the harsh reality stands nakedly exposed: What they are defending is nothing more than the illegitimate and arbitrary exercise of imperial power. The loss of this fiction imperils their entire moral framework. They aren’t angry that Trump is hugging dictators, obviously. All the other presidents whom they revere did the same. It goes without saying that a political culture that admires Henry Kissinger has no objection whatsoever to embracing tyrants.

They are furious that Trump isn’t as effective or as willing to pretend that he’s not doing this. That means they can no longer pretend that the violence, the wars, the coercion, the interference, the dictator support that they routinely condone has a moral purpose to it.

The reality is that even the fiction, the pretense, of the U.S. as some sort of defender of human rights and democracy is being wildly overstated. As the above examples (and so many others) demonstrate, U.S. officials, including U.S. presidents, have openly feted and praised despots at least as monstrous as Duterte.

Just as it’s comforting to believe that Trump is the byproduct of a foreign villain rather than an American phenomenon, it’s also comforting to believe that his embrace of despots is some sort of novelty. But, especially for journalists, the fact that it feels good to believe a myth does not justify disseminating it.

Watching the U.S. media tell everyone that Trump’s predecessors were devoted to spreading democracy, and that supporting tyrants is a “dramatic break” from the U.S. tradition, is such an obvious break from reality that it is staggering to see, even for those who already view the U.S. media as principally devoted to spreading patriotic state propaganda about the U.S. government.

 

Berta Cáceres court papers show murder suspects’ links to US-trained elite troops March 3, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: “Violence against social activists has surged since a military backed coup d’état ousted populist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then at least 124 land and environmental campaigners have been killed.”  This violence along with government repression of civil dissent is a direct result of that coup, which was welcomed by the United States government in the person of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  President Zelaya had proposed moderate reforms, which were viewed as a threat by Honduran ruling classes; who with U.S. tacit support carried out the coup for the purpose of promoting and protecting U.S. investments in the country.  The major military leaders who carried out the coup and instituted a new puppet government were ultra right evangelical christian conservatives.  I character the dis-stabilisation of Honduras under the category “your tax dollars at work.”

Today an email from Amnesty International contained the following:

“A year ago, beloved water defender and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres was gunned down in Honduras, causing shock waves around the world. The message from Berta’s killers and those who gave the orders was clear: no one was safe if their defense of human rights and the environment challenged powerful economic interests.

Over the past year, more courageous women and men, raising their voices for human rights, for the rights of Indigenous peoples, for defense of land and the environment, have been shot to death in Honduras.

Since bravely assuming leadership of Berta’s organization, COPINH,Tomás Gómez Membreño has suffered multiple attempts on his life.
He and other activists are in grave danger for work that should be commended for its integrity and service to the human rights of the most vulnerable. 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/28/berta-caceres-honduras-military-intelligence-us-trained-special-forces

The Honduran environmental activist’s killing a year ago bears the hallmarks of a ‘well-planned operation designed by military intelligence’ says legal source

Indigenous Hondurans and peasants march to demand justice for the murder of Berta Cáceres on 17 August 2016 in Tegucigalpa.
Hondurans demand justice for Berta Cáceres on 17 August 2016 in Tegucigalpa. Officials have denied a state role in the killing despite the arrest of one serving and two ex-soldiers. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Leaked court documents raise concerns that the murder of the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres was an extrajudicial killing planned by military intelligence specialists linked to the country’s US–trained special forces, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Cáceres was shot dead a year ago while supposedly under state protection after receiving death threats over her opposition to a hydroelectric dam.

The murder of Cáceres, winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize in 2015, prompted international outcry and calls for the US to revoke military aid to Honduras, a key ally in its war on drugs.

Eight men have been arrested in connection with the murder, including one serving and two retired military officers.

Officials have denied state involvement in the activist’s murder, and downplayed the arrest of the serving officer Maj Mariano Díaz, who was hurriedly discharged from the army.

But the detainees’ military records and court documents seen by the Guardian reveal that:

  • Díaz, a decorated special forces veteran, was appointed chief of army intelligence in 2015, and at the time of the murder was on track for promotion to lieutenant colonel.
  • Another suspect, Lt Douglas Giovanny Bustillo joined the military on the same day as Díaz; they served together and prosecutors say they remained in contact after Bustillo retired in 2008.
  • Díaz and Bustillo both received military training in the US.
  • A third suspect, Sgt Henry Javier Hernández, was a former special forces sniper, who had worked under the direct command of Díaz. Prosecutors believe he may also have worked as an informant for military intelligence after leaving the army in 2013.

Court documents also include the records of mobile phone messages which prosecutors believe contain coded references to the murder.

Bustillo and Hernández visited the town of La Esperanza, where Cáceres lived, several times in the weeks before her death, according to phone records and Hernández’s testimony.

A legal source close to the investigation told the Guardian: “The murder of Berta Cáceres has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins.

“It’s inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorisation of military high command.”

The Honduran defence ministry ignored repeated requests from the Guardian for comment, but the head of the armed forces recently denied that military deaths squads were operating in the country.

Five civilians with no known military record have also been arrested. They include Sergio Rodríguez, a manager for the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had opposed.

The project is being led by Desarrollos Energéticos SA, (Desa), which has extensive military and government links. The company’s president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer, and its secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister. Desa employed former lieutenant Bustillo as head of security between 2013 and 2015.

Cáceres had reported 33 death threats linked to her campaign against the dam, including several from Desa employees. Desa denies any involvement in the murder.

Cáceres was killed at about 11.30pm on 2 March, when at least four assassins entered the gated community to which she had recently moved on the outskirts of La Esperanza.

Berta Cáceres speaks to people near the Gualcarque river in 2015 where residents were fighting a dam project.
Berta Cáceres speaks to people near the Gualcarque river in 2015 where residents were fighting a dam project. Photograph: Tim Russo/AP

A checkpoint at the entrance to the town – normally manned by police officers or soldiers – was left unattended on the night she was killed, witnesses have told the Guardian.

Initially, investigators suggested the murderer was a former lover or disgruntled co-worker. But amid mounting international condemnation, Díaz, Bustillo and two others were arrested in May 2016.

Hernández, who was eventually arrested in Mexico, is the only suspect to have given detailed testimony in court. He has admitted his involvement, but says he acted under duress.

All eight have been charged with murder and attempted murder. The other seven suspects have either denied involvement or not given testimony in court.

Prosecutors say that phone records submitted to court show extensive communication between the three military men, including a text message which was a coded discussion of payment for a contract killing.

American experts have been involved in the investigation from the start, according to the US embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said US support should not be unconditional: “It is essential that we not only strengthen our commitment to improving the rule of law in Honduras, but we must also demand greater accountability for human rights violations and attacks against civil society.”

Last year, the Guardian reported that a former Honduran soldier said he had seen Cáceres’s name on a hitlist that was passed to US-trained units.

1Sgt Rodrigo Cruz said that two elite units were given lists featuring the names and photographs of activists – and ordered to eliminate each target.

Cruz’s unit commander deserted rather than comply with the order. The rest of the unit were then sent on leave.

In a follow-up interview with the Guardian, Cruz said the hit list was given by the Honduran military joint chiefs of staff to the commander of the Xatruch multi-agency taskforce, to which his unit belonged.

Cruz – who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym for fear of retribution – deserted after Cáceres’s murder and remains in hiding. The whereabouts of his former colleagues is unknown.

Following the Guardian’s report, James Nealon, the US ambassador to Honduras, pledged to investigate the allegations, and in an interview last week, said that no stone had been left unturned.

“I’ve spoken to everyone I can think of to speak to, as have members of my team, and no one can produce such a hitlist,” said Nealon.

But the embassy did not speak to the Xatruch commander, Nealon said. Activists, including those with information about the alleged hit list, have told the Guardian they have not been interviewed by US or Honduran officials.

Lauren Carasik, clinical professor of law at Western New England University, said America’s unwavering support for Honduras suggests it tolerates impunity for intellectual authors of high-profile targeted killings.

“Washington cannot, in good conscience, continue to ignore mounting evidence that the Honduran military was complicit in the extrajudicial assassination of Cáceres.”

Extrajudicial killings by the security forces and widespread impunity are among the most serious human rights violations in Honduras, according to the US state department.

Nevertheless, the US is the main provider of military and police support to Honduras, and last year approved $18m of aid.

The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam.
The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Global Witness

In recent years, US support has focused on Honduras’s special forces units, originally created as a counterinsurgency force during the 1980s “dirty war”.

The elite units ostensibly target terrorism, organised crime and gangs, but campaigners say the Honduran intelligence apparatus is used to target troublesome community leaders.

Violence against social activists has surged since a military backed coup d’état ousted populist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then at least 124 land and environmental campaigners have been killed.

A recent investigation by corruption watchdog Global Witness described extensive involvement of political, business and military elites in environmentally destructive mega projects which have flourished since the coup.

One of the most troubled parts of the country has been northern Bajo Aguán region, where a land conflict between palm oil companies and peasant farmers has claimed more than 130 lives over the past six years.

The Bajo Aguán is also home to the 15th battalion – one of two special forces units in the Honduran army – and the special forces training centre.

Two of the suspects, Díaz and Hernández, served in the 15th battalion together; Cruz’s elite unit was also stationed in the Bajo Aguán.

Ambassador Nealon said that there was no record of Díaz, Hernández or Bustillo attending any US training courses in Honduras.

“Our training programmes for police or for military are not designed to instruct people in how to commit human rights violations or to create an atmosphere in which they believe that they are empowered to commit human rights violations, in fact, just the opposite,” said Nealon.

Honduran military records show that Díaz attended several counterinsurgency courses at special forces bases in Tegucigalpa and in the Bajo Aguán.

He also attended cadet leadership courses at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1997, and a counter-terrorism course at the Inter American air force academy in 2005.

The court documents also reveal that at the time of his arrest, Díaz, 44, was under investigation for drug trafficking and kidnapping, while also studying for promotion.

Military records show that in 1997, Bustillo attended logistics and artillery courses at the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia, which trained hundreds of Latin American officers who later committed human rights abuses.

Images (2) March 1, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Religion, Uncategorized, Women.
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Roger’s note: here are some funny and not so funny memes on the subject of religion.  Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” is my Bible on the subject, and I recommend it highly.  I have little use for organized religion and many of its beliefs.  My cynicism comes out strong in what I have selected here.  Enjoy.

 

Here we see the elegant and mocking fusion of science with Biblical history.  

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“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Bob Dylan

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This is wicked.  I love it.

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Sometimes that which unifies ain’t that pretty.

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This too is wicked, but a powerful arrow slung at the Church for its protection of clerical child abusers.

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Horror of horrors, Evangelicals at our door!

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This is more like it.

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And our friendly Muslim fundamentalists.

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The poor murdering the rich.  Don’t tempt me.

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IMAGES (1) February 20, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, First Nations, Human Rights, Police, Racism, Republicans, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: I have become addicted to surfing Instagram for interesting images; and I am collecting those I find to be interesting, ironic, funny, poignant and politically biting.  I share some of them with you here.

 

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Through observation and study it has become clear to me that police forces in North American have become bastions of racism, misogyny and homophobia, at the same time as they have become militarised (i.e. armed to the teeth a la S.W.A.T. teams, which now routinely crash into homes like Gangbusters to serve simple warrants).  These police forces are already the front line storm troops used to repress legitimate dissent (e.g. Occupy Movement).  It helps greatly that the members of these forces are ideologically inclined to help stamp out protest movements).

 

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Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen. Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister. January 31, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Trump, Uncategorized, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: As we confront the groundwork for massive atrocities being laid in these first days of the neo-Fascist Trump government, perhaps we need to be reminded that a substantial amount of the groundwork had already been put in place, much of it by the Obama administration.  That the political classes and the mainstream media have no problem with the president of the United States ordering bombings that kill dozens of civilians, including American citizens, it an abomination.  I had read in the New York Times that an American soldier died in these attacks.  That was it.  No mention of the atrocity described in this article.

In 2010, President Obama directed the CIA to assassinate an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, despite the fact that he had never been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime, and the agency successfully carried out that order a year later with a September 2011 drone strike. While that assassination created widespread debate — the once-again-beloved ACLU sued Obama to restrain him from the assassination on the ground of due process and then, when that suit was dismissed, sued Obama again after the killing was carried out — another drone killing carried out shortly thereafter was perhaps even more significant yet generated relatively little attention.

Two weeks after the killing of Awlaki, a separate CIA drone strike in Yemen killed his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis. The U.S. eventually claimed that the boy was not their target but merely “collateral damage.” Abdulrahman’s grief-stricken grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, urged the Washington Post “to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman,” which explained: “Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies. His Facebook page shows a typical kid.”

Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the arguments of the Obama DOJ for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.” 

The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the U.K. armed, supported, and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvationseemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the U.S.-U.K.-supported air attacks. Because of the West’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.

In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.

But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.

 

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As noted by my colleague Jeremy Scahill — who extensively interviewed the grandparents in Yemen for his book and film on Obama’s “Dirty Wars” —  the girl “was shot in the neck and killed,” bleeding to death over the course of two hours. “Why kill children?” the grandfather asked. “This is the new (U.S.) administration — it’s very sad, a big crime.”

The New York Times yesterday reported that military officials had been planning and debating the raid for months under the Obama administration, but Obama officials decided to leave the choice to Trump. The new president personally authorized the attack last week. They claim that the “main target” of the raid “was computer materials inside the house that could contain clues about future terrorist plots.” The paper cited a Yemeni official saying that “at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13, had been killed in the raid,” and that the attack also “severely damaged a school, a health facility and a mosque.”

As my colleague Matthew Cole reported in great detail just weeks ago, Navy SEAL Team 6, for all its public glory, has a long history of “‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities.” And Trump notoriously vowed during the campaign to target not only terrorists but also their families. All of that demands aggressive, independent inquiries into this operation.

Perhaps most tragic of all is that — just as was true in Iraq — al Qaeda had very little presence in Yemen before the Obama administration began bombing and droning it and killing civilians, thus driving people into the arms of the militant group. As the late, young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana told Congress in 2013:

Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants. … Unfortunately, liberal voices in the United States are largely ignoring, if not condoning, civilian deaths and extrajudicial killings in Yemen.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, the rage would have been tremendous. But today there is little outcry, even though what is happening is in many ways an escalation of Mr. Bush’s policies. …

Defenders of human rights must speak out. America’s counterterrorism policy here is not only making Yemen less safe by strengthening support for AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] but it could also ultimately endanger the United States and the entire world.

This is why it is crucial that — as urgent and valid protests erupt against Trump’s abuses — we not permit recent history to be whitewashed, or long-standing U.S. savagery to be deceitfully depicted as new Trumpian aberrations, or the war on terror framework engendering these new assaults to be forgotten. Some current abuses are unique to Trump, but — as I detailed on Saturday — some are the decades-old byproduct of a mindset and system of war and executive powers that all need uprooting. Obscuring these facts, or allowing those responsible to posture as opponents of all this, is not just misleading but counterproductive: Much of this resides on an odious continuum and did not just appear out of nowhere.

Congress voted on border wall in 2006, Hillary, Schumer, Feinstein voted Yes https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00262  Bernie voted no http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2006/roll446.xml 

 

It’s genuinely inspiring to see pervasive rage over the banning of visa holders and refugees from countries like Yemen. But it’s also infuriating that the U.S. continues to massacre Yemeni civilians, both directly and through its tyrannical Saudi partners. That does not become less infuriating — Yemeni civilians are not less dead — because these policies and the war theories in which they are rooted began before the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s not just Trump but this mentality and framework that need vehement opposition.

U.N. Admits Role in Cholera Epidemic in Haiti August 18, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Haiti, Health, Hillary Clinton, Human Rights, Labor, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note:10,000 dead, hundreds of thousands sick.  What a difference a few kilometers makes.  Haiti is closer to Washington D.C. and New York City than the rest of the United States.  But they are not White and they are not American.  What a difference a color and a nationality makes.  Five times as many dead as in the 9/11 attack, and in the hemisphere that the United States laid claim to as long ago as 1823 (Monroe Doctrine).

Maybe in our back yard but not our fault, you say?  Look again.  From the U.S. led coup against President Aristide to the involvement of the Clintons, the disaster in Haiti has been a made in the U.S. tragedy (see the second article in this post).  Bill Clinton named Special Envoy to Haiti in 2009 foreshadows the cholera slaughter; and the Clintons’ dirty hands in U.N. intervention, election fixing, and support of family and friend business interests (at the cost of Haitian workers) — this is U.S. “peacekeeping” in action.  As most third world nations have learned, with the United States as a friend, who needs enemies?

By JONATHAN M. KATZ, AUG. 17, 2016, New York Times

17mag-cholera-1-master768Protesters marching to the United Nations base housing Nepalese peacekeepers in Mirebalais, Haiti, on Oct. 29, 2010. Credit Associated Press

 

For the first time since a cholera epidemic believed to be imported by United Nations peacekeepers began killing thousands of Haitians nearly six years ago, the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged that the United Nations played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis.

The deputy spokesman for the secretary general, Farhan Haq, said in an email this week that “over the past year, the U.N. has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.” He added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.”

The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Mr. Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization on human rights issues, the draft language stated plainly that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.”

The secretary general’s acknowledgment, by contrast, stopped short of saying that the United Nations specifically caused the epidemic. Nor does it indicate a change in the organization’s legal position that it is absolutely immune from legal actions, including a federal lawsuit brought in the United States on behalf of cholera victims seeking billions in damages stemming from the Haiti crisis.

But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands. Cholera victims suffer from dehydration caused by severediarrhea or vomiting.

Special rapporteurs’ reports are technically independent guidance, which the United Nations can accept or reject. United Nations officials have until the end of this week to respond to the report, which will then go through revisions, but the statement suggests a new receptivity to its criticism.

In the 19-page report, obtained from an official who had access to it, Mr. Alston took issue with the United Nations’ public handling of the outbreak, which was first documented in mid-October 2010, shortly after people living along the Meille River began dying from the disease.

 The first victims lived near a base housing 454 United Nations peacekeepers freshly arrived from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was underway, and waste from the base often leaked into the river. Numerous scientists have since argued that the base was the only plausible source of the outbreak — whose real death toll, one study found, could be much higher than the official numbers state — but United Nations officials have consistently insisted that its origins remain up for debate.

Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

Mr. Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to blame the entire United Nations system. “As the magnitude of the disaster became known, key international officials carefully avoided acknowledging that the outbreak had resulted from discharges from the camp,” he noted.

His most severe criticism was reserved for the organization’s Office of Legal Affairs, whose advice, he wrote, “has been permitted to override all of the other considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of seeking a constructive and just solution.” Its interpretations, he said, have “trumped the rule of law.”

Mr. Alston also argued in his report that, as The New York Times has reported, the United Nations’ cholera eradication program has failed. Infection rates have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the organization struggles to raise the $2.27 billion it says is needed to eradicate the disease from member states. No major water or sanitation projects have been completed in Haiti; two pilot wastewater processing plants built there in the wake of the epidemic quickly closed because of a lack of donor funds.

In a separate internal report released days ago after being withheld for nearly a year, United Nations auditors said a quarter of the sites run by the peacekeepers with the organization’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, that they had visited were still discharging their waste into public canals as late as 2014, four years after the epidemic began.

“Victims are living in fear because the disease is still out there,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer representing cholera victims, told demonstrators in Port-au-Prince last month. He added, “If the Nepalese contingent returns to defecate in the water again, they will get the disease again, only worse.”

In 2011, when families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the United Nations for redress, its Office of Legal Affairs simply declared their claims “not receivable.” (Mr. Alston called that argument “wholly unconvincing in legal terms.”)

Those families and others then sued the United Nations, including Mr. Ban and the former Minustah chief Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New York. (In November, Mr. Ban promoted Mr. Mulet to be his chief of staff.) The United Nations refused to appear in court, claiming diplomatic immunity under its charter, leaving Justice Department lawyers to defend it instead. That case is now pending a decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000 affected would reach $40 billion, Mr. Alston wrote — and that figure does not take into account “those certain to die and be infected in the years ahead.”

“Since this is almost five times the total annual budget for peacekeeping worldwide, it is a figure that is understandably seen as prohibitive and unrealistic,” he said. Still, he argued: “The figure of $40 billion should stand as a warning of the consequences that could follow if national courts become convinced that the abdication policy is not just unconscionable but also legally unjustified. The best way to avoid that happening is for the United Nations to offer an appropriate remedy.”

Mr. Alston, who declined to comment for this article, will present the final report at the opening of the General Assembly in September, when presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from nearly every country gather at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Haq said the secretary general’s office “wanted to take this opportunity to welcome this vital report,” which he added “will be a valuable contribution to the U.N. as we work towards a significant new set of U.N. actions.”


  June 3, 2016

Clinton Fuelled a Crisis in Haiti: Why Is Nobody Talking About It?

Hillary Clinton is to blame for Martelly’s disastrous presidency, says Nikolas Barry-Shaw of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti

Hillary Clinton’s responsibility for creating the ongoing political crisis in Haiti has not received sufficient attention during the 2016 presidential campaign, says Nikolas Barry-Shaw of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Clinton’s involvement in Haiti began before the 2010 earthquake, and the country soon became the “centerpiece” of State Department policy under her leadership.

In 2009, Clinton worked with Haitian elites and multinationals, such as Hanes and Levi’s, to stop a raise of the minimum wage.

She “played a key role” in the 2011 election of former president Michel Martelly after she “personal intervened” to pressure Rene Preval to end his candidacy, says Barry-Shaw.

While the Sanders campaign has not given much enough attention to Clinton’s record in Haiti, the Trump campaign is picking up the issue (though Barry-Shaw doubts that this is out of concern for Haitian workers).

A Haitian committee recently said there is enough evidence of fraud to nullify the results of the recent US-funded election, including 28,000 untraceable votes.

US organizations have since halted the delivery of humanitarian aid.


Comments 

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    Haiti is the biggest of Hillary and the Clinton Foundations latest scandals! It is textbook on how the Clinton Foundation really operates!!!!!

    Hillary’s brother owns 50% of Haiti’s goldmine and a former leader owns the other half!

    Nothing really has been done for the Haitians! Approximately 30 silly gaily corrugated metal tiny bungalows have been built for the Haitians AND NO RUNNING WATER!

    In the meantime, they have built an industrial park for the corporations and a luxury hotel because, “…the workers need a place to stay.”

    I believe it was a year ago that a group of Haitians protested outside Bill Clinton’s Harlem office asking, “…where’s our $$$?!!!”

    It seems that Haiti has turned into a money pit for the Clinton’s as well as the Bushes, yes, they are in on this as well!

    In the meantime, Haiti is worse off than they were before! I understand Monsanto is trying to strong arm them with planting their crops!

    George Bush 2 went there after the quake with Bill Clinton and had to shake Haitian hands…he was photographed wiping his hands on the back of Clinton’s shirt afterwards! Shows ya what he thinks of ’em!

 

Chilean ex-soldier found liable for 1973 death of singer Victor Jara July 2, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Democracy, Human Rights, Latin America, Torture, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note:  notice that the headline reads “liable,” and not “guilty.”  That is because the judgment was won in a civil suit and not a criminal one.  The reason there has been no criminal trial is that the United States government refuses to extradite the accused murderer to Chile to be held criminally accountable.  For decades now, at the infamous School of the Americas,  the U.S. has been training  members of Latin American military to return to their countries to largely assassinate those struggling to achieve social and economic justice.  The Salvadorian Death Squads amongst the most notorious.

A sort of anti-Peace Corps.

At the same time the U.S. has been actively imposing and supporting military dictatorships and oligarchies masquerading as democracies (Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Grenada, etc.).  The most recent being the Hillary Clinton backed military coup in Honduras, where in its aftermath Clinton’s proxy governments have been oppressing and assassinating Indigenous, labour and other social justice activists in large numbers.  Don’t forget to vote for this “progressive” Democrat, and …

God Bless (Latin) America.

 

 

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Nearly 43 years after the assassination of a famed Chilean folksinger, a Florida jury has found a former Chilean lieutenant liable for his grisly murder in the days after a U.S.-backed coup brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power.

A six-member Orlando jury found Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez liable Monday (June 27) for the torture and murder of Victor Jara, rejecting the main defense argument that Barrientos never stepped foot in Chile Stadium where the folksinger was held with 5,000 others immediately after the coup.

Former Chilean soldiers under his command testified during the trial that Barrientos was stationed at the stadium, and one said that Barrientos repeatedly bragged that he had fired the two fatal gunshots into the songwriter’s head.

Barrientos — a Florida resident who lied on immigration forms about his military past to gain entry into the U.S. in 1989 — also claimed that until 2009 he had never heard of Jara, one of the most famous musicians in Chile at the time of the coup, who influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, U2 and Peter, Paul and Mary. Rolling Stone magazine voted him one of the top 15 protest artists of all time.

Jara — who was shot 44 times after his wrists and hands were broken in torture sessions at the stadium — had been a key supporter of the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet overthrew on Sept. 11, 1973, ushering in a 17-year reign of terror. Jara’s politically charged songs about poverty and injustice were anathema to the dictatorship.

(For more background, see our earlier story: Chilean ex-soldier stands trial for 1973 death of singer Victor Jara)

The federal jury also awarded Jara’s family, which had filed the lawsuit under the Torture Victim Protection Act, some $28 million in damages. It is money the family never expects to see, however.

Barrientos had protected his assets in a trust before the trial where he was represented by Luis Calderon of The Baez Law firm. The firm has represented such clients as George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator acquitted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American teen, and Casey Anthony, who was found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter.

During the trial, Calderon portrayed Barrientos as a poverty-stricken retiree who drives an old car and lives in a modest 2-bedroom house.

After the verdict, Joan Jara — the slain singer’s 88-year-old widow who testified about finding his tortured lifeless body in a morgue — said it was never about money, but justice and accountability that the family has been seeking for four decades.

“It has been a long journey,” she said. “Today, there is some justice for Victor’s death, and for the thousands of families in Chile who have sought truth.  I hope that the verdict continues the healing.”

C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountabilitythat filed the torture suit for the family in 2013, said the verdict “is a testament that justice can prevail, no matter how long it takes.”

It is not clear if the verdict will facilitate the extradition request by Chilean courts to have Barrientos sent back to Chile to face a criminal trial for murder. The U.S. government has yet to act on the 2013 request.

However, two former Salvadoran defense ministers have been deported and another high-ranking Salvadoran officer is awaiting extradition as the result of lawsuits brought by CJA, an international human rights firm based in San Francisco.

Former Salvadoran defense minister Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was deported in 2015 and former defense minister Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia was deported this year. Both were tied to the rapes and murders of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador in 1980, among other war crimes. Both had been living comfortably for years in Florida.

Meanwhile former Salvadoran Col. Inocente Orlando Montano is awaiting extradition to Spain to stand trial for helping plot and carry out the murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989.

[Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas.]

Saying no to Canada’s death game June 22, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Arms, Canada, Human Rights, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: it is a widely held myth that Canada is a basically peaceful nation, a kind of antithesis to its bellicose neighbour to the south.  Despite some nuances to Canadian government policy (e.g. staying out of the initial invasion of Iraq, but not Afghanistan), Canada has been and remains a faithful ally of U.S. war mongering foreign policy.  Yet the myth persists, not only internationally but as well as amongst the Canadian population.

Here is the true story.

 

| JUNE 22, 2016, http://www.rabble.ca

Matthew Behrens

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

 

In a reminder that the warfare state is never affected by who gets elected in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals are about to embark on a militaristic spending spree that will draw no opposition from the Conservatives or the NDP. All major parties are firmly committed to spending obscene amounts of money on war, and in Canada, the War Department’s annual sinkhole of over $20 billion is by far the largest use of discretionary federal spending (i.e., spending that is not mandated by any legal commitment).

While Parliament is away this summer, Justin Trudeau is expected to pony up countless billions for Super Hornet fighter jets whose only purpose is to drop bombs on human beings. The Super Hornets are expected to play the role of “interim” tools of mass murder from the air until the Liberals can figure out the best sunny ways PR to massage the Canadian public into accepting even greater spending on F-35 fighter jets further down the road. In addition, the Liberals are on board for a $26-billion Canadian warship investment that will continue to leave the cupboard bare when it comes to daycare, desperately needed investments in Indigenous communities, environmental clean-up, affordable housing, and dozens of other social programs that remain miserably underfunded.

As the Canadian military quietly wages war in Iraq with Trudeau’s earlier, expanded commitment on the ground and continued contribution to aerial bombardment of people below, the Liberals are also considering sending hundreds of troops to the Russian border in yet another provocation against Moscow. This is in addition to the hundreds of troops already stationed in the region who, instead of helping refugees cross the dangerous Mediterranean, are playing war games to provoke the Russian Bear. Such escalations all help set the stage for bigger investments in war just as War Minister Harjit Sajjan gets set to hold his window-dressing consultation with Canadians over war policy.

Absurd assumptions

The idea that Canada “needs” warplanes and warships is absurd. The only ones who “need” Canada to have them are those corporations who profit from such massive purchases. Sajjan claims Canada faces a “capability gap” by not purchasing new warplanes, but in saying so he is merely acting as the pathetic public face of a muscular military industry that, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out in his brilliant play Major Barbara over a century ago, is the real force conducting and forming foreign policy.

In that play, arms dealer Andrew Undershaft (of the munitions firm Undershaft and Lazarus), declares quite clearly to the small group who raise moral concerns about the nature of his business:

“I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

It is not just the arms-makers like Undershaft who call the tune. The tune is also hummed, eerily enough, by human rights NGOs who have bought so far into the system that they cannot reject its core principles. The language they use in opposing things like the $15-billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia is compromised by accepting the assumption that there is nothing wrong with the production of killer brigade vehicles: they just should not be used by certain countries.

A compromised letter

On April 25, a group of NGOs released an open letter, expressing “profound concerns” about the Stéphane Dion-issued export permits for these warrior vehicles, calling the decision “immoral and unethical.” Fair enough. But the letter suffered from a fatal flaw: it accepts as legitimate far too much of state violence. And it proposes that peace groups, rather than working for disarmament, work with the government to facilitate the weapons trade.

They also ask the government to “rescind the export permits, ensuring that this deal does not go ahead unless and until relevant human rights concerns have been resolved.”

A question arises: what human rights concerns would have to be resolved to ensure that it is safe to supply a regime with vehicles whose sole purpose is the crushing of human rights? The letter continues that the Canadian government’s arms control regime’s “integrity has been utterly compromised with the government’s decision to proceed with the largest arms sale in Canadian history to one of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

No similar letter appears to have been issued with respect to the billions annually sold to governments which commit gross violations of human rights on a scale that makes Saudi war crimes in Yemen and surrounding countries small potatoes. Like the United States, for example, the single-largest purchaser annually of Canadian-made weapons. The groups argue that Canada’s arms control regime is designed to prevent deals like those that went to Saudi. But how can a regime that simply regulates who gets the killing machines have any sense of “integrity”?

While the letter is a welcome voice on the one hand that says no to this particular sale, it serves to legitimize the execrable business of the production of mass murder by Canadian manufacturers. Here is the rub. The letter states: “Our export control system must ensure that export authorizations are granted for only end-users that are in full compliance with applicable safeguards.” But when you produce a killer brigade vehicle or a machine gun that rattles off 4,000 rounds a minute, it has only one purpose: legalized murder.

Human rights groups to facilitate weapons trade

The groups hope Canada will soon sign an additional arms control measure that legitimizes the wholesale profit from slaughter, but under more stringent conditions. They even offer their assistance in helping Canada figure out a more sanitized manner of pursuing the death merchant business “to improve the legal and political machinery for regulating Canadian arms exports, and we stand ready to contribute to any and all efforts in this regard.”

Such entreaties are not helpful. The role of human rights groups is not to assist in the better regulation of the business of murder. It would instead, one would hope, call into question the whole nasty business itself, and recognize that, if one wants to go by law, Canada is a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, which comes as close to outlawing war as any treaty could hope for.

The letter finishes with the standard salute to Canada’s ultimate goodness, those “core values that define Canada’s character as a nation.” They don’t mention those values, but it is assumed, since such groups repeat them with nauseating consistency, that Canada is an honest broker, a peaceful player on the world stage, a Pearsonian boy scout in a world of dangers lurking in the shadows.

If we are truthful, however, the Saudi arms deal, and the implicit support for the war crimes being committed with them, does not violate Canada’s core values. It is a reflection of them. Indeed, a core value of Canada, as history repeatedly shows, is genocide and the profiting from murder. The Truth and Reconciliation was only the latest reminder that Canada as a nation is built on, and continues to pursue, policies of genocide against Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

One would have hoped for a more principled approach to taking on one of the signature issues of our time. But it has always been thus in Canada, where the very cautious approach (including the endless accolades for Pearson, a prime minister whose government contributed to major war crimes against the people of Vietnam, as documented by Victor Levant) was once skewered by the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who passed away just over a month ago at the age of 94. Berrigan, a long-time recidivist who was constantly arrested for resisting war, challenged Canadians in the 1980s in his review of a book by Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum, The Road to Peace.

While this quote is lengthy, it does speak to the heart of what ails so much advocacy, whether it be against the war industry or for an end to climate change. This would be an inability, or a refusal, to plainly call things for what they are, for fear of losing the “ear” of governments who are all too happy to appear democratic by “consulting,” all the while going ahead with their original plans. This is indeed the PR job being shovelled at Canadians who were tired of not being heard by Harper. Trudeau has promised he will listen, but there is no guarantee he will act on what he hears.

In the Berrigan review of this tome on nuclear weapons, he writes that:

“[O]ne can imagine certain academics, scientists, researchers…soberly assessing matters, assembling a volume whose chapters would read like this (if I may adapt from “The Road to Peace)” “Auschwitz and the “Possibilities” (quotes mine) of No More Auschwitzes; A Mad Mad World: The Evolution of Auschwitz Strategies; How Our Vision of Auschwitz has Changed; Verification of Auschwitz: Promise, Politics, and Prospects; Canada’s Auschwitz Policy: redefining the Achievable; New Approaches to Auschwitz. But perhaps the point is something else. Certain unquenched Canadian spirits, deciding simply that Auschwitz had no conceivable right to pollute the human scene, might ‘break and enter’ the vile place, rendering it at least symbolically inoperative. That story, no figment, lies outside the book in question. Outside the law, it goes without saying. Outside true history, and the blessing of the unborn? Perhaps not.”

That reference to breaking and entering came out of Berrigan’s own experience, whether during draft board raids (in which hundreds of people, many of them Catholic priests and nuns, invaded U.S. government offices and destroyed almost 1 million draft files with homemade napalm) or as part of the Ploughshares movement, in which nuclear weapons and warplanes have been symbolically disarmed with hammers and blood, beating swords into ploughshares.

Berrigan’s point is rendered clear enough: by using the government’s official language, we dehumanize and decontextualize what is going on, erasing the victims at all ends of the weapons process, whether they be those who suffer at home for want of social spending or those who live and die under the bombs once they are “delivered” overseas.

An absolute refusal to co-operate

On May 25, the very first absolute, complete refusal to comply with any aspect of the current Saudi arms deal (and the idea that it is OK to export killer weapons to some nations but not others) took place when eight members of Homes not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams entered the Global Affairs edifice in downtown Ottawa and, after unfurling a banner, simply refused to move. Despite repeated entreaties to leave and demonstrate on the street, they refused to do so until Dion cancelled the deal and opened a dialogue on ending the arms trade once and for all. Three were arrested and will face trial later this year. Mr. Dion can expect a subpoena.

While ending the weapons trade is a multifaceted campaign that requires work at all levels, hopefully that work can proceed by refusing to accept the assumptions of the Undershafts of the world. Opposition to Canadian military spending is difficult to muster in a culture that so idolizes the War Dept. and buys its noble aims propaganda. Hence, many groups fashion their approach to the issue based on tinkering with the spending or shifting some resources from the air force to the navy (the Jack Layton approach) without recognizing that if love really is better than hate, as so many MPs are wont to be saying these days, then investments in an institution based on murder is certainly not a good route for conflict resolution.

Decades upon decades of buying into the idea of arms control (instead of disarmament) have left us at a point where the most recent Global Peace Index indicates the world is increasingly a less peaceful place, with the gap between those countries insulated from war versus those suffering through violent conflict continuing to widen:

“The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms… or $1,876 for every person in the world.”

Which brings us back to the immediate problem. The self-proclaimed “feminist” in the PMO who is selling $15 billion worth of weapons to arm Saudi misogyny is eagerly perusing the latest in bomb-dropping killer aircraft, Super Hornets that will split the eardrums of overseas children, rip their legs off, blow apart the faces of their mothers, demolish their schools and places of worship, poison their land and water, and permanently scar countless people for life.

Trudeau’s killer priorities

This is the priority for Trudeau, and many will accept it because it’s coming from the nice guy who isn’t Harper. At home, those who will be hurt by the purchase are many. Each Super Hornet will cost approximately $100 million, in addition to the ongoing costs of fuel (and the outrageous contribution the military continues to make to climate change), maintenance and upgrades that provide even niftier means of murdering people.

What could we use with each $100 million spent on Super Hornets? Some 4,000 students could attend university for four years for free. Some 400 affordable hosing units could be built. Over 6,563 free, year-round child-care spaces would open up. The price of Two Super Hornets would meet the funding gap that Cindy Blackstock identified as missing for First Nations children in Budget 2016. The price of one Hornet is three times what the Trudeau government has committed annually to meeting the mental health needs of Indigenous youth.

Warplanes of any type and variety are offensive by nature. Their use is in violation of the Nuremberg Principles (which prohibits “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) as well as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (a.k.a. the Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, signed by Canada in 1929), in which:

“[T]he high contracting parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another….The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

Purchase of warplanes, in addition to the countless tens of billions spent annually on warfare (and the planned $26 billion in warships) stand Canada in contravention to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees all people an adequate standard of living, “including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions…. the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Canada cannot meet the huge need for mental health services, environmental clean-up, and income equality measures while it continues to make war spending its highest use of federal discretionary funds.

While Canada undergoes a summertime “review” of War Dept. priorities, it provides us with an opportunity not to play the arms control game, but to ask serious questions about why we continue to pump untold capital into an institution that — while no doubt peopled with many good folks who have good intentions — serves no truly useful social purpose. We don’t need heavily armed people to help with flood relief or to stop forest fires. Rescue at sea can be conducted by ships and planes that are not armed to the teeth.

What helps, as a step forward, is to name things for what they are. Writing while underground and always staying one step ahead of the massive FBI manhunt for a man who committed a crime of peace, in 1970, Father Daniel Berrigan, in an open letter to other war resisters then underground, put it thusly: “When madness is the acceptable public state of mind, we’re all in danger… for madness is an infection in the air. And I submit that we all breathe the infection and that the movement has at times been sickened by it too … In or out of the military, in or out of the movement, it seems to me that we had best call things by their name, and the name of this thing, it seems to me, is the death game, no matter where it appears.”

Perhaps the best way to end the death game is to stop playing along with it.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

An Unvanquished Movement May 31, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America, Mexico, Revolution, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: this is an update on the Zapatista movement and its history, and a discussion of strategies of resistance.  The Zapatistas remind me in a sense of the Paris Commune about which Karl Marx commented that its importance was its very thriving existence.  “Orthodox” Marxists are offended that the Zapatistas are not following their misguided “blueprint” towards revolution.  Revolutionary acts take different forms, and Marx would be the last person to impose ideological criteria.  The Zapatistas have been a major inspiration for the writings of the Irish born Marxist philosopher, John Holloway, and his seminal work, “Change the World Without Taking Power.” 

 

Twenty-two years after their formation, the Zapatistas continue to resist Mexican state repression.

Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Elizabeth Ruiz

Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Elizabeth Ruiz

In February, a federal judge in Mexico admitted that he had no choice but to accept that the state’s case against the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (ELZN) could not move forward. The charges of terrorism, sedition, riot, rebellion, and conspiracy filed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1994 against Insurgent Subcomandante Marcos and the indigenous leaders of the resistance were null and void: the statute of limitations had expired.

That the two-decade-long battle the Zapatistas waged against the Mexican government’s policy of privatization and neoliberalization would end with a legal whimper seems, at first blush, anticlimatic. But it is part of the famous black-balaclava-clad fighters’ long-term strategy: silence in the face of oppression and opposition.

The San Andrés Accords

The Zapatistas appeared for the first time on the morning of January 1, 1994 to protest the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Armed members of the Tsotsil, Tseltal, Ch’ol, and Tojolabal indigenous peoples — the poorest of the poor, some barefoot, some carrying guns dating from the 1910 Mexican Revolution, others carrying cardboard cutouts of rifles — seemed like characters from the novels of Carlos Fuentes or Laura Esquivel. Upon their arrival, they took over cities throughout Chiapas, freed prisoners in San Cristobal de las Casas, burned military outposts, and claimed the ranches of wealthy landowners as their own.

Although the world learned of their existence when their battalions came down from the mountains that freezing morning, they had been secretly organizing for the moment in their communities for ten years prior to the 1994 uprising.

“Our date of birth is November 17, 1983,” Subcomandate Insurgent Marcos — who has now changed his name to Galeano to honor a comrade assassinated by paramilitaries in 2014 — recalled. “We prepared in silence for a decade to shout ‘Enough!’,” he said. “By keeping our pain inside, we prepared to cry out in pain, because we could no longer wait and hope to be understood by those who didn’t even understand that they didn’t understand.”

Marcos, an eloquent, pipe-smoking mestizo (the government claimed he was a Mexico City philosophy professor influenced by radical liberation theology), became the public face of the Zapatistas’ struggle. In January of this year, he outlined the reasons for the indigenous uprising:

The resistance of those from below is to wake those who sleep, to enrage those who are content, to force history to say what has been kept silent and to expose the exploitation, killings, displacement, contempt and forgetfulness that is hidden behind the museums, statues, books and monuments to the lies of those above.

In their silence, Carlos Fuentes wrote, the Zapatistas “won the hearts of a nation,” declaring a “war against being forgotten.”

The Mexican government charged Marcos and the indigenous leaders of the Zapatista movement with terrorism, sedition, riot, rebellion, and conspiracy. They met the Zapatistas’ cardboard guns with tanks, soldiers, and helicopter gunships. But when the army failed, the government was forced to negotiate with the indigenous peoples, promising official recognition of ancestral lands, their culture, and their languages.

The San Andrés Accords — signed by the Zapatistas and the state in January of 1995 — marked the first time since the Spanish Empire’s invasion five hundred years previously that indigenous peoples’ collective rights to territory, autonomy, and self-determination had been recognized by the dominant elite.

But, as was apparent almost immediately, the agreement was not worth the paper it was written on. Eight months later, the PRI intensified anti-revolutionary activity in the Chiapas region: daily harassment at military checkpoints, constant overflights by helicopter gunships, and soldiers on patrol in villages with hunting dogs. Even more frightening was how the state outsourced terror to paramilitaries who threatened, intimidated, and forcibly evicted rebel sympathizers and their families from their land at gunpoint — and killed those who opposed them.

The Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center in Chiapas reports that the military’s “paramilitary strategy has been effective because it relies not only on direct attacks perpetrated with impunity, but also on the psychological effect of the presence of paramilitaries recruited from among supporters of the government within indigenous communities, to create fear and tear apart those communities.”

Why would the government so quickly turn its back on the agreement? Francisco López Bárcenas, a preeminent campaigner for indigenous rights, explained that the accords “would make it more difficult for foreign capitalists to appropriate the resources on collectively owned land.” Mexican intellectual newspaper La Jornadaexplained, “Instead of establishing a new and inclusive social pact, respectful to the original peoples’ right to autonomy, the state decided to maintain the old status quo”: forcing autonomous indigenous peoples submit to government control and work as cheap labor for capitalism. As the Fray Center put it, the government wanted to make sure that wealth “accumulates in as few hands as possible.”

Once the conservative and neoliberal National Action Party (PAN) succeeded in ousting the corporate PRI in 2000, “all México was put up for sale, and the state opted for a low intensity war in an attempt to end the Zapatistas’ resistance,” Bárcenas added.

Little Islands

The silence that followed the accords and the military’s oppression in Chiapas following them is, in large part, due to the media. After portraying Marcos as a postmodern Ché Guevara and the Zapatistas as quixotic revolutionaries, it quickly lost interest. But the silence around their activities has allowed them to create an autonomous society deep in the Lacandon jungle, working quietly against the increasing neoliberalization of Mexico.

There and throughout Chiapas, hand-painted signs at the entrances to hamlets and pueblos mark the frontiers of Zapatista territory: “Here, the people command and the government obeys.” Painted spirals representing caracols, or snails, emphasize the rebels’ intention to “slowly, but surely” continue moving forward to organize their own society, whether the state recognizes it or not.

Sergio Rodríguez Lascano, editor of the Zapatista magazine Rebeldía, describes the Zapatista economy as “based on small agro-ecological parcels of land, tended by families for their own sustenance, together with ranches where the collective production of cattle, corn, coffee, bread, and honey provides an income for the community and contributes to the building of schools and medical clinics.” Zapatista communities train their own teachers, medics, and midwives, run their own pharmacies using traditional herbal medicines, and even organize their own autonomous banks.

Not everyone on the Left agrees with Marcos’s “silence as a strategy” approach or with the Zapatista’s emphasis on local self-reliance.

Mike Gonzalez, a Marxist and Latin American studies professor, thinks “the Zapatistas’ rhetoric of rights is posited on the assumption that a capitalist state is governed by principles and laws rather than class interests,” and while the EZLN’s “heroic resistance” is inspiring, a retreat into local autonomous communities is “a renunciation of any claim to lead society in a different direction. There is not a choice between power and its absence.”

Former Mexican Revolutionary Workers’ Party activist and academic Arturo Anguiano recognizes that the Zapatistas’ attempt to escape capitalism has left the indigenous resistance open to the criticism that it is presenting an alternative that is “too exceptional, too specific, and probably unrepeatable.”

“Marcos explains the Zapatista communities as ‘little islands’ or ‘spaces of resistance’ where social relations can be transformed without waiting for the revolution,” Anguiano relates.

But Lascano doesn’t see it that way. He says the Zapatistas are using the territory seized from the wealthy landowners to “construct an equalitarian alternative” that “is located outside the thinking and practice of the traditional left.”

Part of the ELZN’s distance from recognizable left practice, Lascano argues, is that Zapatista supporters “are not working class and the EZLN is not a workers’ party because the traditional Marxist concept of class consciousness doesn’t exist in these communities. But we have a number of things that have something to do with Marxism. For instance, everyone is involved in the communities’ democratic political organization,” he adds, which range from local assemblies to high-level juntas (councils) that are responsible for running the Zapatista territory’s political, economic, and judicial affairs.

Lascano has declined invitations to join the current national campaign, led by radical Catholic priests, to rewrite Mexico’s Constitution, and was uninterested in the presidential campaign of the left-wing former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Quoting Marcos, he declared, “The Zapatistas are going to build something else.”

Historian Severo Martínez Peláez, known for his work on indigenous resistance during Spain’s occupation of Mexico, says

It is a mistake to believe that the oppressed social classes live their “normal” lives when they are resigned to their fate by the inability to change it, and that their lives become “abnormal” when they rebel. This can only seem that way to those who are concerned that that supposed normality is not altered. The Zapatistas take pride that their indigenous communities — belonging to original peoples whose Tsotsil, Tseltal, Ch’ol and Tojolabal names are still unknown even to most Mexicans — are living “abnormal” lives.

Isolated from the country’s left — or, as Anguiano describes it, with the Left isolated from the Zapatistas — the indigenous resistance continues unheralded and out of sight for most Mexicans.

Work from Below

Yet with the return of the PRI to power in 2012, the Zapatistas showed that, even while silent, they have the power to resonate from the mountains of Chiapas to the presidential palace.

That year, the Zapatistas, together with hundreds of thousands of supporters, took to the streets in massive demonstrations throughout Mexico to demand that the original San Andrés agreement to recognize indigenous rights be respected by the political party that signed it.

The demonstrations were silent, but the message was clear: “Can you hear us?”

The Zapatistas have since applied their strategy not just to their old enemies in the PRI, but to the entirety of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt political process, declaring that elections “don’t interest us, nor do they concern us.”

“Mexicans should organize for a world in which the people command and the government obeys. While others wait for those above to solve problems, we Zapatistas have already started building our own liberty, from below,” the EZLN stated.

“We are building a new system and another way of life,” Galeano/Marcos explained on January 1 of this year to the assembled EZLN fighters, Zapatista campesinos, and a few foreigners attending in solidarity, a celebration in the heart of the Lacandon jungle to commemorate three decades of resistance.

Before, to know if someone was a Zapatista, they had to be seen wearing a red bandana or a black balaclava. But now you know if someone is a Zapatista because they know how to work the land; because they care for their indigenous culture; because they know how to work collectively, and because if, when someone claims that the Zapatistas no longer exist, they respond: “Don’t worry, there will be more of us – it may take a while, but there’s going to more of us.”

Despite the continued virtual military occupation of the jungles and mountains of Mexico’s southern frontier, and despite the helicopter gunship patrols, the hunting dogs, and the threats, intimidation, and violence of paramilitaries in the pay of government-supporting political parties, the Zapatista resistance remains proudly undefeated.

Paul Salgado is a former labor union organizer working in communications for indigenous community organizations in Mexico.

The new issue of Jacobin is out this month. Buy a copy, or a special discounted subscription today.

The Rabbi Who Renounced Zionism May 26, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Human Rights, Religion, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: personally I can do without religion, which I believe for the most part has been a violent and destructive force in human history (including today, especially including today).  Nonetheless, minorities of religious Jews, Catholics, Protestants (including even some Evangelicals), Muslims, Hindus, etc. have fought for justice and human rights and against the hypocrisy withing their own ranks.  They are to be embraced.

 

 

BY ELI MASSEY, In These Times (no date available)

In 2014, Rabbi Brant Rosen resigned his post at the Jewish Reconstructinist Congregation in Evanston.  III., after serving for over 15 years.  His Palestinian solidarity work had become a divisive issue within the community.  Rosen was not always an advocate for Palestinian human rights – he started a blog in 2006, Shalom Rav, in which he chronicled his growing disillusionment with much of the Jewish community’s blind support for the state of Israel.  His painful and public reckoning with Zionism unfolded in the midst of the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead.

In July 2015, Rabbi Rosen founded Tzedek Chicago, a non-Zionist and social justice-focused synagogue, where he serves as rabbi.  (Full disclosure: I’m a congregant.) He also serves as the Midwest regional director for the American Friends Service Committee.

In These Times sat down with Rosen to discuss Tzedek Chicago, Israel and Palestine.

What led you to become an advocate for Palestinian rights?

It was gradual.  Israel had always been a part of my life, and I identified-if I had to put a label on it-as a liberal Zionist.

I, like many Jews, identified with the Zionist narrative.  It’s a very powerful, intoxicating, redemptive story: These people who have been hounded for centuries around the world finally find a way to make it back to their ancestral homeland and liberate themselves.

But there were also, along the way, nagging voices.  I did a good job of keeping those voices locked away and never really following them to their conclusion.

I always wondered about this business of creating a Jewish state when there are so many people who are not Jewish in this land-and how to create a state that was predicated on the identity of one people in a place that historically has been multi-ethnic, multi-religious.

And the whole issue of demographics: Liberal Zionists talk a great deal about what’s called the “demographic problem”: In order to create a Jewish state, you need a demographic majority of Jews.  Back in the day, I used words like “demographic threat” [in reference to the growth in Israel’s Arab population] to advocate for the importance of a two-state solution.  When the two-state solution was still a very edgy thing to be advocating for, it was very, very liberal to talk about it in those terms. But every once in a while I’d think, “They’re a demographic threat, because they’re not Jewish?” As an American, if I called another people a “demographic threat” to the national integrity of my country, that would just be racist.  Those were the kinds of things I would entertain for a while but never completely unpack.

Was there a moment when you “wiped the slumber from your eyes,” so to speak?

It was a gradual process.  I can trace important milestones.  The first important one was the 1982 Lebanon War and Sabra and Shatila massacre.  I remember thinking, “This is Israel’s My Lai.” That was the first time that my romantic Zionist ideals developed cracks.  The Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo peace process and seeing what happened in the wake of Oslo-and the creation of the separation wall, the blockade on Gaza-was when it started to crumble.

Then the final breaking point was in 2008 and 2009 with Operation Cast Lead.  By this point, I had been a congregational rabbi for a little over 10 years, so it became very complicated for me to break with this Zionist narrative, which is so cherished still in liberal Jewish circles.  Operation Cast Lead was where I finally said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Why do you think that so many Jews who are otherwise progressive ignore Israel’s violations of human rights?

In the circles I travel, it’s called the “PEP phenomenon.”

Progressive Except Palestine.

Yes.  That phenomenon is where the struggle for the soul of the Jewish community is taking place right now.

I know that because I’ve been living in that nexus point almost my entire life. For liberal Jews, largely, it goes back to the Zionist narrative, which is a sacred narrative, for Jews who don’t consider themselves religious. It’s a redemptive story, emerges out of the ashes of one of the worst catastrophes in Jewish history, but in human history. The legacy of the Holocaust still looms large in the psyches even young Jews today. The trauma still lingers, and in many ways, it’s exploited by the Jewish community. A lot it boils down to fear.

On Dec. 28, 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, you posted on your blog, “We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass. It’s a fascinating double standard, and … I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it. So no more rationalizations.” You then add: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?” Seven years later, do you have an answer for yourself?

Almost immediately, many people reached out to me. People in the Palestine solidarity movement, but also people in an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, some of whom were members of my congregation and were patiently waiting for me to come around on this issue. They gave me a Jewish community where I realized I could engage in Palestine solidarity work and be a truly progressive Jew on all issues and still have a Jewish institutional, spiritual home. Jewish Voice for Peace then has grown by leaps and bounds.

Describe what Tzedek Chicago is and how it came to be.

I left my congregation because of the circumstance that I’ve described. I didn’t have any intention of starting a new congregation when I left. Shortly after that, I started my full-time job with the American Friends Service Committee. But it became clear to my wife and me that we didn’t have a Jewish spiritual community. A number of us-including some who left the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation when I left because of the pain of the breakup, and others I knew who, because of this issue, didn’t have a congregation where they could feel completely at home – would get together in a havurah, an informal participatory group, mostly for Shabbat dinners. A group of them approached me with the idea of starting a new congregation that was predicated on values of justice and values of human rights and universal democracy, and not predicated on nationalism and Zionism and such. I became very excited about creating a new kind of Jewish congregation that was predicated on the social justice values that are deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition and are not attested to in most Jewish congregations.

What has the response been from the wider Jewish community?

The response to Tzedek Chicago exceeded what even I was hoping for. When we had our High Holiday services in September 2015, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up averaging about 300 people for all of the services. It was clear there is a deep thirst for a community like this.

Israel is at the heart of Jewish communal life for many people.

If we shift the focus of Judaism away from Israel or take Israel out of the equation entirely, what fills this space?

A venerable, centuries-long spiritual tradition that looks at the entire world as our home, the entire diaspora as our One that is predicated on values of justice and decency and morality, being able to find God wherever we live, and seeing all people as created in the divine image, as the Torah teaches us. One of the things Zionism was to colonize the Jewish religion itself. It eclipsed that incredibly beautiful and profound Jewish notion which saw the world as our home.

God isn’t geographically specific to only Israel or Jerusalem or the temple. We bear witness to an ancient truth that is still very relevant in the world today – more than relevant, essential. Universalism is central to our core values and our congregation. And that is a problem for many Jews, too. There’s a strand of Judaism that is very parochial and tribal. It looks at the outside world with suspicion and looks at the Jewish cornmunity as the be-all and end-all. Our future is predicated on finding common cause with all people, particularly those who are oppressed.