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Inside The Immigrant-Prosecuting Machine That Transformed America’s Deportation Policy April 28, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Grenada, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, Racism, Refugees, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: Democrats.  Republicans.  A pox on both their houses.  When it comes to the inhumane treatment of those who cross our borders in flight from conditions in their countries that US policy has helped to create, both parties are equally corrupt.  The spike in prosecutions and deportations began under Clinton and made a dramatic upturn under Obama.  The nations’s first Black president turned out to be a master oppressor of Latinos seeking refuge in the United States.

Democratic and Republican presidents spent two decades building Donald Trump’s most powerful tool against undocumented immigrants.

 

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TUCSON, Ariz. ― One morning last October, Irlando sat hunched over a table in the back of a federal courthouse, looking to a court-appointed lawyer for help. Border Patrol agents had found him the day before, wandering through the desert 150 miles away outside Lukeville, Arizona, and he still hadn’t showered. His hands were black with grime and he smelled of dried sweat after spending almost a week trekking in the hot sun.

 

Irlando had worked as a commercial truck driver in a town north of Guatemala City and fled his homeland after a local gang started extorting his company. First, they killed drivers when the company didn’t pay up. Then gang members killed his boss, and Irlando decided he had to escape.

 

A friend suggested he try to make it through Mexico and into the United States, where he could earn enough money to help support his wife and four children he was leaving behind. His youngest daughter was just two months old. When Border Patrol picked him up crossing into Arizona, he’d been thankful just to have a sip of water. But now the reality was sinking in: He was going to be deported back to Guatemala.

 

Irlando’s lawyer, Eréndira Castillo, said she was sorry, but none of his backstory would matter to the judge. He wasn’t in immigration court. He was facing a criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally, and this judge had no authority to decide whether he should stay in the country. All the judge would see is that he was arrested while trying to jump the border and that he had a prior conviction for attempting to do the same thing in Texas in 2013.

 

(Castillo talked to Irlando privately about his right to confidentiality and he decided to waive that right so his story could be told, on the condition that only his first name be used.)

 

Irlando could accept the plea agreement in front of him, which came with a 75-day jail sentence, or he could take his case to trial, where virtually all defendants lose, and then face two years in prison. Either way, he’d almost certainly be deported after his release.

It was about 9:30 a.m., and Irlando needed to make up his mind before the proceedings started that afternoon. After a few minutes of discussion, he took the plea deal, which was typed in English. Castillo verbally translated the document for him before he signed it.

 

“There’s no one to tell that I’m here trying to save my life?” Irlando asked his lawyer. “My baby girl needs three bottles of milk every week. Who’s going to give them to her?”

“It’s very sad, but that’s the way it is,” Castillo replied, patting him on the knee. “The law doesn’t have a heart.”

Improvising An Immigrant-Prosecuting Machine

58ffac711400002000a9bce2CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, to crack down on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that take steps to shield immigrants from deportation. The order contained a provision calling for more prosecutions for immigration violations. 

When President Donald Trump took control of the immigration enforcement system, he inherited a well-oiled machine for prosecuting immigration violations that has continued to grow even as illegal border crossings decline. When Trump talks about imposing a “deportation force,” most observers interpret that as a  to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol. But the most powerful tool he wields against unauthorized immigrants may well be the criminal courts.

 

While residing in the U.S. without authorization is a civil offense, the act of crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. Those who get caught again face the felony charge of “illegal re-entry,” with a prison sentence of up to two years that can expand to two decades if the offender has a criminal record.

 

Today, roughly one-quarter of immigrants expelled from the U.S. face criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally and serve jail time before they are deported. Immigration prosecutions topped 91,000 in 2013 ― 28 times the number of prosecutions in 1993.

 

This marks a fundamental transformation of both deportation policy and the federal courts. While less than 5 percent of federal prosecutions involved immigration in 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, illegal entry and re-entry prosecutions now account for roughly half the federal criminal docket, sapping limited resources to prosecute violent or white-collar crimes.

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Immigration authorities have had the power to refer migrants caught making illegal crossings to the criminal courts since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952. But the Justice Department’s priorities didn’t begin their steady shift until the Clinton era.

 

Entering office during one of the largest mass migrations from Mexico in U.S. history and nearly a decade after President Ronald Reagan extended a pathway to U.S. citizenship for some 3 million people, Clinton faced major public backlash against illegal immigration and bipartisan hostility toward incoming migrants. Prior benevolence, Democrats and Republicans largely agreed, had only encouraged more illegal crossings.

 

Clinton signed immigration reform laws that fast-tracked deportations and helped lay the foundation for the sprawling immigrant detention system that now reserves space to lock up 34,000 immigrants at a time. In a less-publicized development of his presidency, the number of immigration prosecutions ― particularly felony cases ― also steadily crept up, although the process was haphazard and no formal policies governed whether the migrants arrested should face criminal or civil penalties.

 

That changed dramatically during George W. Bush’s presidency. Seeking a way to deter unauthorized immigrants more effectively, Customs and Border Protection began formalizing a whole host of previously informal policies.

 

In one of the most sweeping changes, CBP teamed up with the Justice Department to funnel more people who jump the border into criminal court. The model program, called Operation Streamline, was implemented in southern Texas in 2005, when a sudden influx of Central American migrants left immigration authorities with a shortage of bed space in immigrant detention facilities.

 

“We were taking a look at what consequences were available to us within existing law,” David Aguilar, a top Border Patrol official in the 1990s and CBP commissioner from 2011 to 2013, told HuffPost. “Prosecution was in fact one of those consequences.”

 

Because the laws were already on the books, neither CBP nor the Justice Department needed to ask Congress for approval. The new system spread over the next decade, immigration violations swallowed up an ever-larger chunk of the federal criminal docket. The number of criminal immigration prosecutions doubled over Barack Obama’s two terms in office, despite the fact that illegal crossings plummeted by roughly half between 2009 and 2016.

 

The continued criminal prosecution of illegal border crossings meant America’s first black president jailed more people of color on federal charges than any president in modern U.S. history. But because the Justice Department classifies almost all Hispanics as “white” in official statistics, that fact has largely been obscured.

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The immigrant-prosecuting machine improvised under Clinton, formalized under Bush and institutionalized by Obama barely merited a mention during last year’s immigration-obsessed presidential election. But Trump noticed.

 

On the campaign trail, he pledged to raise the mandatory minimum sentence for illegal re-entry to five years. Within a week of taking office, he issued an executive order cracking down on sanctuary cities that contained a provision calling for more immigration prosecutions.

 

On April 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to consider criminal charges for any person caught in the U.S. who has been deported before, regardless of where they’re arrested ― a massive expansion of a constitutionally questionable process that routinely sucks in asylum-seekers and people with long histories in the United States.

 

“It’s going to break the bank in terms of paying for the jail and prison beds that these people are going to occupy if they are prosecuted,” said Judy Greene, the author of the book Indefensible: A Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border.

 

But that’s only one way to look at the cost,” she added. “The other way to look at it is to realize there is a huge cost in human misery for the people who are prosecuted ― their families, their neighbors ― if this happens the way Trump and Sessions have envisioned.”

Two Decades Defending Immigrants 

58ffa5082600004500c47ad6ROQUE PLANAS/HUFFPOST  Eréndira Castillo, who has defended immigrants facing criminal deportation charges for the last two decades, stands in front of the federal courthouse in Tucson, Arizona. 

After meeting with Irlando that morning last fall, his lawyer, Castillo, walked to a nearby restaurant where she half-heartedly picked at a pair of tacos. A first-generation Mexican immigrant who speaks Spanish with native fluency, Castillo wears her black hair in a ponytail and an indigenous embroidered shirt called a huipil beneath her dark blue blazer. She loves practicing law, but hates cases like Irlando’s.

 

“It’s so upsetting, because I feel complicit,” she told HuffPost.

 

Castillo has worked these cases since 1998, when she joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Tucson to help expand its immigration unit. The job initially excited her: She’d already begun to specialize in immigration before going to law school, processing legalization applications for undocumented immigrants who became eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship under Reagan’s 1986 reform law.

 

But Castillo’s enthusiasm faded as she faced uncomfortable situations that seemed to flout basic protections for criminal defendants, like the right to due process or the right to keep communications with your attorney confidential. The process from initial hearing to conviction and sentencing ― which routinely takes months, even years, in felony criminal cases ― was collapsed into a few hours for dozens of people at a time. She only got a few minutes to speak with each client, and they spoke in an open room where others could hear their conversations.

 

“I was a brand-new lawyer,” Castillo said. “[Our bosses] never said, ‘This is the right way, this is the wrong way, this is what we expect from you.’ We just did what they said. I think, in retrospect, I would say, ‘No, the federal public defenders office shouldn’t be doing it this way. This is unconstitutional.’”

 

Many legal experts agree. But their objections haven’t kept the system from growing. Within five years of joining the public defender’s office, the immigration unit Castillo helped pioneer had grown larger than the office’s entire criminal defense unit ― a reflection of the Justice Department’s shifting priorities.

 

Castillo left the public defender’s office for private practice three years ago, but still defends immigrants accused of illegal crossings once a week. She takes pride in making small gestures to make the process less painful: offering her clients a glass of water, or calling their family members so she can tell them what’s happening. (The clients aren’t allowed to use the phone in court, so she calls on speakerphone while they listen in silence.)

 

“I have to explain it’s not my fault,” Castillo said. “I’m a lawyer, I was appointed by the court.”

‘This Process Does Get Somewhat Repetitive’ 

Illegal migrants from Guatemala, deported from Phoenix, Arizona in the U.S., arrive at an air force base in Guatemala CityJORGE LOPEZ/REUTERS  Immigrants deported from Arizona arrive at an air force base in Guatemala City on July 22, 2014.

Irlando’s hearing started at 1:30 p.m. A row of five microphones stood in front of Judge Bruce Macdonald. Each of the 41 defendants, lined up on benches before the judge, was a brown-skinned national of Mexico or Central America. They’d already signed plea agreements like Irlando’s, differing only in the length of their sentences.

 

Macdonald took the bench and explained the process. Everyone would acknowledge their guilt in groups of five. He asked the 14 defense attorneys if their clients were competent to go forward with their hearings. They affirmed in unison. “You’ll quickly notice that I’m asking the same series of questions,” Macdonald told the defendants. “This process does get somewhat repetitive.”

 

When Irlando’s turn came to plead guilty, Castillo mentioned his fear of returning to Guatemala. The judge said Irlando would be able to raise the issue once he was transferred to immigration court for deportation proceedings after his jail sentence.

At least three other defendants said they feared for their safety if deported. Border Patrol policy dictates that they should have been channeled to an asylum officer or a civil immigration court to hear those claims, but the judge gave them the same reply he gave Irlando.

 

Several people seemed only hazily aware they faced criminal prosecution at all. One woman, asked how she pleaded, said “yes.”

 

Three defendants, all of them Guatemalan and all represented by the same attorney, said they didn’t speak Spanish as a first language. (A foreign government official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media, later told HuffPost there were seven indigenous defendants that day who didn’t speak fluent Spanish.) Macdonald quickly moved on after the lawyer insisted the indigenous language speakers understood the agreement.

 

The lawyer representing the three indigenous Guatemalans declined to comment about their cases, but acknowledged he wasn’t well qualified to handle their claims. “I don’t really know about immigration,” he said. “I usually call up a friend if there’s an asylum issue to get advice.”

The Consequence Delivery System

A U.S. border patrol agent patrols the U.S. border with Mexico in NogalesLUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS A view of the U.S.-Mexico border from Nogales, Arizona, on Jan. 31, 2017.

About the same time Castillo first went to work defending immigrants facing prosecution in Tucson, John Lawson arrived in the Arizona town of Douglas as a newly minted Border Patrol agent. The town is roughly 260 miles east of where Irlando was picked up crossing.

 

In 1997, Lawson found only about 100 yards of fencing separating the United States from Mexico. That was a year authorities caught 1.4 million people crossing the border illegally ― almost four times the rate of apprehension in 2016. At that time, Border Patrol had half as many agents trying to stop those migrants, and the barrier between the U.S. and Mexico in that area was an opaque wall, so agents couldn’t see people throwing rocks and or lobbing cinder blocks at passing patrol cars.

 

“It was kind of Wild West out here,” Lawson said as he led a tour of the border at Nogales in October. “It was insanity, everyone trying to catch who they could.”

 

In the 1990s, Border Patrol agents usually escorted people they apprehended back to the other side ― a procedure known as “voluntary return.” Unlike a formal deportation, a voluntary return has no legal consequences and returnees can apply for a U.S. immigration visa a minute after returning to Mexico. It wasn’t uncommon for Lawson to catch the same person crossing illegally three times in a single day.

 

Border Patrol agents struggled to deter people from simply crossing again. Mexico was limping through an economic crisis in the mid-1990s, just as the country’s 1970s baby boom generation reached working age. The 1994 North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement made matters worse, compelling some 2 million Mexicans to flee the country’s farms when they couldn’t compete with subsidized agricultural imports from the United States. Foreign-owned assembly plants sprouted in border towns to take advantage of the cheap labor and lower import taxes NAFTA offered, which pulled out-of-work Mexicans to cities within walking distance of the United States like magnets.

 

Border Patrol couldn’t control the underlying reasons for the immigration explosion, so the agency worked to make deterrents more effective. Rather than returning the migrants they arrested to the same cities where they crossed, agents might bus them hours away, making the crossing more expensive and breaking the link between migrants and their smugglers. Instead of voluntary removals, Border Patrol increasingly sent unauthorized immigrants to get fingerprinted and face formal deportation proceedings.

 

“Now everyone gets an alien registration number,” Lawson said. “That’s as permanent as it gets. It stays with you for the rest of your life.”

 

By the mid-2000s, CBP had institutionalized these policies into a list of penalties the agency calls the “consequence delivery system.” The harshest of those consequences is criminal prosecution.

 

Lawson is proud of CBP’s work. The sporadic links of opaque fencing have stretched into hundreds of miles of steel beams, which are reinforced with cameras and underground sensors. People scale the barrier so often that the rust has scraped off some of the beams, but Lawson is confident that agents catch most of the people who make it over.

 

When they do, the migrants’ fingerprints tell them everything they need to know. If a person has tried to cross illegally within the last two decades, a record of the deportation appears. If he or she has ever committed a crime in the United States, that’s there too. Though there are some exceptions ― children, asylum-seekers or people who appear sick ― agents are supposed to deal out a consequence to every unauthorized migrant they apprehend.

 

There’s only enough slots at the federal courthouse in Tucson to prosecute 70 border-crossers per day. If agents find more unauthorized migrants near that jurisdiction, they’ll face deportation instead. But these days, there are far fewer illegal crossings, so the courthouse rarely fills to capacity for its daily three hours of illegal entry and re-entry cases.

 

“There’s a bunch of reasons why that could be happening,” Lawson said. “But we’re fairly certain that a lot of it has to do with these consequences.”

Prosecuted Far From The Border

The Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse is seen in Phoenix, ArizonaERIC THAYER/REUTERS The Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix routinely tries illegal re-entry cases against immigrants apprehended far from the border.

These prosecutions aren’t just happening to migrants picked up along the border. Felony illegal re-entry charges were filed in all but four of the 94 U.S. district courts last year.

Around the time Irlando was convicted, a gray-haired woman stood before a judge in a federal courtroom in Phoenix in a red jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles. Two of her daughters, both born in the United States, watched from the benches.

 

The woman, whom HuffPost is not identifying because her family fears she’ll be deported, was born in the Mexican state of Michoacán but came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old. In 2003, she spent two months in jail for heroin possession and distribution charges, and was then deported. She returned illegally soon after, as unauthorized immigrants with U.S.-born children often do.

 

She found work cleaning houses and avoided trouble with the law, but ICE arrested her last year. Her daughters are unsure why their mother was targeted, but suspect someone may have reported her.

 

Given her 13-year-old drug charges, the woman had little choice but to take a plea agreement. To secure a conviction, the only evidence prosecutors needed was a prior order of deportation. Each conviction on a person’s record can enhance their jail sentence. She faced the possibility of 10 years in prison, but was released on time served ― seven months ― in February after taking the deal.

 

It’s very sad, but that’s the way it is. The law doesn’t have a heart.Attorney Eréndira Castillo

It’s unclear whether she was deported. The woman’s attorney, Kaitlin Verdura, declined to discuss the specifics of her client’s case, but said her situation is not uncommon. “There are people in the United States that have been here for a very long time, who have assimilated into the country, and get prosecuted for the crime of illegal re-entry,” she said.

 

When Sessions announced on April 11 the Justice Department’s plans to consider prosecution for anyone who enters the country illegally, he likely wasn’t directing his attention at border-crossers like Irlando. People like the woman in Phoenix will probably bear the brunt of the Trump administration’s changes. The Justice Department did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.

 

It’s unclear how many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States have deportations on their records. But the number is likely high, given Border Patrol’s efforts to make sure most people the agency apprehends pass through formal deportation proceedings.

 

Since prosecutors can easily secure convictions for illegal re-entry, Sessions’ order could fundamentally transform the federal justice system in a way CBP never imagined when it recommended systematically hauling border-crossers into criminal court with Operation Streamline in 2005. People nowhere near the border who would’ve previously been deported could further swell the court system and federal prisons.

‘Legalized Racism’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Ethics and Compliance InitiativeYURI GRIPAS/REUTERS Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered U.S. attorneys across the country to consider prosecuting undocumented immigrants with deportations on their records for felony illegal re-entry, regardless of where they’re arrested.

Castillo sees the direction the Justice Department is moving under Trump and it unsettles her. Even after two decades of serving agreements to people pleading guilty of immigration violations, she rarely thinks of her clients as criminals. She sees parents trying to return to their children, jobless people looking for work, and people like Irlando who are scared for their lives.

 

She’s fought losing battles to convince judges that the weight of the law falls too heavily on her clients. She’s represented people who grew up in Phoenix and wound up with criminal records at a time when former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio famously targeted Hispanics for traffic stops to identify undocumented immigrants.

 

A federal court ruled in 2013 that those tactics amounted to racial profiling and ordered him to stop. But some of the people who got profiled and wound up with convictions and deportations showed up later in federal court for illegal re-entry charges. They face enhanced penalties that can boost their sentences up to 20 years.

 

“It’s legalized racism,” Castillo said. “That’s the whole problem with the criminal justice system ― we’re not allowed to talk about racism as a factor of a person’s story. But their criminal records are overrepresented … I’ve brought this up in court and the judges just sort of look at me with this blank stare.”

 

Like most of Castillo’s clients with immigration convictions, Irlando served his 75 days in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, then faced a swift deportation back to Guatemala. Despite Judge Macdonald’s assurances, the immigration court never heard his appeals about how he feared for his safety back home. “They didn’t listen to anything I had to say,” Irlando said on a phone call from Guatemala last month.

 

Unable to return to his old job, he now works planting corn. He said he feels safe for the moment, but is unsure about his future in Guatemala. “Who knows,” he said. “I might try to cross again.”

Brazil/Canada: Toxic Mega-Mine Looms Over Belo Monte’s Affected Communities April 12, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: it may be that Canada has a young hip looking (if vacuous) Prime Minister and a reputation for being more peace loving and less aggressively capitalistic than the United States, but that image is belied by Canadian mining companies in Africa and Latin America.

On the banks of Brazil’s lower Xingu River, a toxic controversy looms large, threatening to heap insult upon the grievous injuries of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. In early February, the Canadian company Belo Sun received the final operational licence for its proposed Volta Grande mine from the Pará state environmental agency (SEMA-PA). The sprawling nearly 620 square-mile concession would become Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine, straddling the territories of three indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that are already reeling from the many social and environmental impacts of Belo Monte.

Since field research for the mine began in 2008, the peoples of Xingu have publicly decried the occurrence of human and environmental rights violations in the lead-up to the mine’s construction. They have also warned of the likely negative social and environmental impacts that the mine project will cause, and recently they and their allies have taken these complaints to the courts.

First, they have denounced that some of the land on which the mine will be constructed was purchased illegally, given that it is land that the federal government designated for agrarian reform in the 1980s. Second, the mine is close to the village of Ressaca, a community of 300 families, all of whom would be displaced and have not been relocated by the company as required.

Third, local communities fear that the project may well end in a tragedy, like the Samarco Mariana dam collapse in 2015, given that Belo Sun intends to use a mining waste storage dam similar to the one used in Samarco. And even if the mine did not suffer a major catastrophe, the environmental and health impacts of the liberal application of cyanide, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals frequently employed in gold mining would lead to dire implications for communities already dealing with the dramatic changesto their way of life caused by the Belo Monte dam.

In a small piece of good news for communities, on February 21st a judge issued a 180-day injunction on the license in response to a legal complaint filed by the local public prosecutor’s office. In doing so, Judge Álvaro José da Silva Souza recognized that the license issued by SEMA-PA had ignored the community’s complaints, that the allegations of illegal land purchases warrant further investigation, and that the company had not fulfilled its promises to properly relocate the families that would be displaced by the mine. As Judge da Silva said in issuing the injunction, “I understand it to be completely absurd and unjustifiable that the families are currently still at the mercy of their own luck.”

The ruling gave the company 180 days to develop a plan to reallocate impacted communities. The company insists that it will appeal the decision.

Public hearing airs concerns and condemnations

Such concerns were front and center at a March 21st public hearing in the city of Altamira, where Belo Monte’s affected communities aired their grievances to a panel of government and corporate representatives, including from Belo Sun.

After attending the hearing, local analysts described the companies’ neglect of the affected communities as an intentional tactic meant to give them no recourse but to accept meager resettlement plans far from the river and their traditional livelihoods.

During the hearing, Janete Carvalho, an environmental licensing agent from the Brazilian indigenous agency (FUNAI), recalled the toxic legacy of the 2015 Samarco disaster on the Doce River, which killed nineteen people and left another 700 homeless, as a warning to those threatened by Belo Sun. “The closest indigenous territory to Samarco is more than 300 kilometers away and the Krenak people still do not have enough clean water to live,” she stated. “Any accident by Belo Sun will create a situation of ethnocide. The risk is unacceptable.”

FUNAI representatives reiterated that their office does not recognize the mine’s original environmental impact studies and demanded that a new, more rigorous, analysis be conducted that respects the communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

“We would like prior consultation to be conducted,” said Chief Gillarde Juruna of Miratu village, located only six miles from the mine’s epicenter. “I was born and raised in that region. We never asked for any project and now there are two of Brazil’s largest projects there. We have no guarantees.”

To address these irregularities, FUNAI filed a lawsuit against Belo Sun in February charging that its installation license was issued by completely ignoring the indigenous agency and its demands that the project’s impact assessment and licensing adhere to a specific study of its impacts on nearby indigenous communities. That case is currently pending.

“Who are you lying to, Belo Sun?”

At the close of the contentious hearing, public prosecutor Humberto Alcântara Ferreira Lima raised serious concerns about the true size and scope of the Volta Grande mine. He revealed a major discrepancy between the mine’s projected gold production as reflected in the license granted by SEMA-PA (pending resolution of Judge da Silva’s injunction) and what the company is telling its investors it will extract. Licensed on the basis of a 2012 estimate that the project will yield roughly 37.7 million tons of gold, Belo Sun has separately touted different projection numbers to its investors: 88.1 million tons in 2013 and most recently 116 tons in February of this year.

“What is the real dimension of Belo Sun’s Volta Grande gold mining project?” asked Mr. Lima. “The one disclosed to Brazilian public institutions or the one disclosed the company’s shareholders, which is more than three times as large? Who are you lying to: the investors or the [licensing agencies]?”

Map of proposed Belo Sun operations

Like Belo Monte, Belo Sun is likely to cause more harm than good

One thing is clear: Belo Sun’s mega-mine is shrouded in irregularities and incalculable risk, much like its neighbor, the Belo Monte dam. Like Belo Sun, local communities and allies warned of the serious environmental and social impacts of Belo Monte, and, unfortunately, those dire warnings have proved prescient. And also like Belo Monte, the corporate interests behind the mine demonstrate neither concern nor prudence, rushing instead to initiate operations at any cost.

Belo Sun is owned by Canada’s Forbes & Manhattan, a private merchant bank. Canadian mining giant Agnico Eagle Mines is the company’s largest shareholder, with a 19% ownership of Belo Sun. Known for its notorious Malartic urban gold mine in Quebec, Agnico is subject to no fewer than 4,000 violations of environmental laws and regulations and is subject to a CAD $70 million lawsuit for its impacts on local residents.

The struggle to preserve what is left of the lower Xingu’s environment and communities from another catastrophic mega-project is not over. Even as political and economic forces line up behind Belo Sun and the region’s untapped riches, the local communities and their allies prepare to resist them. Amazon Watch has been standing with the communities of the Xingu for many years, and we will we not give up our support for them now!

Ecuador: Reflections April 4, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Health, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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galapagos-islands

Reflection 1) For many years now my mantra has been: no more voting for the “lesser of evils.”  I have dual U.S / Canadian citizenship, and in North American elections I vote Green, but with no illusions that if the Greens ever came to power they wouldn’t act any different than than the existing major parties.  We’ve seen this time and time again where Social Democratic parties that call themselves Socialists form governments, they soon don’t smell any different than the others.  Why is this inevitable?  Because governments of capitalist democracies are basically there to protect the interests of capital over people; and the parties that win elections are basically tasked with administrating those interests.

 Anything different would be, in fact, revolutionary.  Fidel Castro understood this, which is why the Cuban Revolution didn’t devolve into wishy-washy social democracy.

So my Green vote is basically a protest vote.

But I digress.  Back to the lesser of evils.  As a Canadian / American it has become painfully obvious over many decades of observation and participation that when it comes to the big ticket items (military, finance, commerce, labor, etc.) there really is no substantial difference between the established parties.  The Democrats in the U.S. and the New Democrats in Canada can only attempt to create the illusion that there is indeed such a difference.

Well I suppose mantras are made to be broken.  Because the minute Trump was elected (no, the mini-second), which I never believed could happen, I was sorry I hadn’t voted for Clinton (whose policies on major issues I detest).  The lesser of evils.

Which brings me to Ecuador.  Sunday’s presidential election pitted the government supported candidate against a far right ex-banker (which the former won with a slim two percent advantage).  While I do not support the Correa government’s actions with respect to environmental protection (its expansion of oil and metal extraction in sensitive areas) or its aggressive repression of protest; unlike any government before it, going back to the end of the dictatorship in 1979, it has invested heavily in health, education, housing and infrastructure and considerably reduced the level of poverty in the country.

On the other hand, the election of the ultra-right ex-banker Guillermo Lasso, who has ties with rightest governments across the hemisphere, the quasi-facist Opus Dei, and almost certainly our friendly CIA, would have signalled a return to the neo-Liberal economic policies so inimical to workers and the poor.  The Lasso campaign played on the manufactured-in-the-USA fear that electing the government candidate would be turning Ecuador into Venezuela.

If I had a vote in Ecuador it would have been for the government candidate, so much for my mantra.  The name of the president-elect, by the way,  is Lenin Moreno (I would have preferred Vladimir, but you take what you can get).

(On a side note, you may remember that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been living for several years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was given asylum by the Ecuadorian government.  Well, Lasso had commented before the election that, if he won the presidency, he would cordially give Assange 30 days to leave the Embassy.  Yesterday, upon receiving the election results, i.e., Lasso’s defeat, Assange made a statement calling for Lasso to cordially leave Ecuador in 30 days!)

Reflection 2) My friend, David, who is a professor at a state university in the States, vacations every year in the Galapagos Islands, which is a province of Ecuador.  This year, a week prior to his scheduled return home, he had a nasty bike accident and seriously injured his leg.  He was carried back to his hotel, where he remained bed-ridden and unable to stand up.  This was on the distant and less populated island of Isabella, which has a small under-supplied medical clinic and one doctor, who examined David and thought there might be a fracture.  David was hoping that it was only severe ligament or muscle damage that would ease up in days so that he could rest up and return home on schedule.

On the Sunday prior to his scheduled departure on Tuesday, things still didn’t look good.  The doctor suggested that they get him to the central island of Santa Cruz, where there is a hospital with an X-ray facility.  The idea was that if there were no fracture, he could fly home Tuesday on schedule; but if it was serious, then he would probably have to remain in Ecuador for surgery.

On Monday, David flew to Santa Cruz, where his X-ray showed that he had indeed fractured his femur.  However, in spite of this finding, David decided he would tough it out and fly home the following day loaded up with pain killers and have his operation in the States.  This he did and is now resting post-surgery in a New Jersey hospital.

The point of my story?  Here are the medical services that David received.  The doctor who attended him on Isabella provided pain killers and spent an hour with him every day at his hotel.  On Monday, an ambulance met him at the hotel and took him to the small Isabella airport, where he boarded for the island of Santa Cruz.  At Santa Cruz and ambulance and a crew were waiting for him to take him to the hospital.  When he decided, in spite of the X-ray result, to return home on Tuesday, he had to be taken from the hospital in Santa Cruz by boat to the Island of Baltra, where he would catch his flight to Guayaquil (Ecuador’s largest city) from whence he would take his American Airlines flight home to the States.

All these services: the doctor’s fees, the medication, the X-ray, the overnight hospital stay in Santa Cruz and the ambulance services were paid for by the government of Ecuador.  And when David was informed that policy did not allow him to use an ambulance to get from Santa Cruz to his flight to Guayaquil because he was not being transported to an Ecuadorian hospital, David contacted his best friend and chess rival on the Galapagos, whose brother was the head of tourism there, it was arranged for an exception be made for him.  Otherwise he could not have made it home.

This entire episode did not cost David a red cent!

Now I want you to imagine an Ecuadorian tourist to the United States experiencing a similar traumatic accident and what they would have gone through and what it would have cost them.  And tell me, which country is the Banana Republic and which the “civilized” nation.

I experienced something similar in Cuba many years ago, but I will save that for another time.

OAS Fails to Reach Consensus on Venezuela Suspension in Latest Extraordinary Session April 1, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America, Uncategorized, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: it has been some time since the United States directly invaded a Latin American country to institute regime change, although they were pretty close to the action behind the military coup in Honduras in 2009 (alas with a Trump presidency we very well could see a reversion to “gunboat diplomacy.”)

In more recent times the CIA and its fronts, especially the National Endowment for Democracy, have financed and instigated instability in countries that are unfriendly to Washington.  Most recently it was active in the Ukraine in the overthrow of its elected president, and in 2002 it was involved behind the scenes in the failed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.  Just last year the Obama State Department ludicrously declared Venezuela to be a threat to United States’ security.

The U.S. mainstream media has been taking advantage of Venezuela’s instability and internal struggles to promote the image of its President Nicolás Maduro as dictator.  Today’s online New York Times had no less than two articles on its front page which promote that party line.  As with Iraq and its imaginary WMDs, a justification for intervention is being developed.

This week the Organization of American States (OAS), historically a lapdog of the United States, attempted to suspend Venezuela’s membership.  I post here first the statement of a pro-Venezuela organization and then reporting on the event by an independent news source.  While the rhetoric of the former may sound somewhat propagandistic (“sniveling servile agent, Luis Almagro,” I love it!), I stand by its analysis.

Statement from the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.
March 27 and 28 will be days remembered in history because of the battle waged by Bolivarian Venezuela at the Organization of American States (OAS) in defense of their dignity and sovereignty.
Since its establishment the nefarious OAS has conspired against the independence of the people of Latin America. Through its legacy of interventions and coups and because of its silence and shady complicity, the OAS is also responsible for the crimes, disappearances and torture of more than 250 thousand Latin Americans.
And now the OAS allows Luis Almagro, a mediocre agent of Washington, to function as its Secretary. The same individual who stood by rightist Marco Rubio this week as he threatened to remove U.S. assistance to the  Dominican Republic, Haiti and El Salvador if they did not vote for the suspension of Venezuela from the OAS. What does it say about this organization that allows someone to hold the position of “Secretary” who is lacking in morals, ethics and respect for the sovereign will of a people and stoops so low as to label their democratically elected leader, President Nicolas Maduro, a “dictator”?
For the last two years the OAS has conspired to expedite an intervention into this member state in open violation of its own founding statutes – all against a country that has had the audacity of wanting to build its own destiny in peace.
But they could not deal with the strength of Venezuela. Neither the conspiracies, nor the pressures, nor their spurious meetings and right-wing regional and international forums could they make this happen. Even as the rivers of ink flowed in the media with such urgency trying to make the world believe, and seek its endorsement, that there should be an end to the government of Maduro. This push is not just about undoing the work and legacy of the beloved Commander Hugo Chavez but is to fulfill its main goal of breaking up the unity of CELAC and expedite the imperial intervention into the region.
History will not forget the words of Venezuela’s brave Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez (whose socialist father was assassinated by the police in 1976) at the OAS headquarters in Washington DC earlier this week as she articulated the unconditional defense of the sovereignty of her homeland by denouncing the crimes being carried out by the OAS and also for disclosing the subservient role of Luis Almagro as he sat nearby. The honesty and frankness of her speech was given on behalf of all the people of Latin America and contained all the truth, reason and justice for which so many have given their lives.
Unfortunately the governments who respond to this type of pressure fill their mouths with talk about human rights but at the same time blatantly violate them daily in their own countries. Shame on them, they will not only be forgotten but are also taking the risk of being swept away sooner rather than later by their own people.
But this time every reactionary maneuver failed against truth and dignity and no vote was taken and the application of the Democratic Charter could not be invoked on behalf of the imperial roadmap. This has been a defeat for imperialism with the side effect of discrediting the OAS and its sniveling servile agent, Luis Almagro.
What carried the day was the dignity of the small countries of the Caribbean, painfully poor as Haiti is it took a stand, and the Dominican Republic who remembers the OAS support for the 1965 invasion of their country stood strong as well. The FMLN led El Salvador also supported Venezuela along with Dominica and others.
Today for a moment we should celebrate this triumph of dignity and human decency.
While Washington and its lackeys of the OAS plan new tricks, we should always remember the words of Che when he said: “You can’t trust imperialismnot even a little bit.”
 
Compañeros we cannot lower our guard. Let’s use all avenues at our disposal to denounce the interference of the regional right, imperialism, and its servants like Luis Almagro and Marco Rubio. We must denounce them constantly. #AlmagroAgenteImperial
 @Almagro_OEA2015 
Let’s continue generating written materials, op-eds, and systematic work on social networks. We must defend and support the mobilizations in the streets of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, we must defend the Cuban Revolution and all of the achievements of the people of Latin America.
Venezuela is not alone! Venezuela has to be respected! 
International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity

OAS Fails to Reach Consensus on Venezuela Suspension in Latest Extraordinary Session

Los Angeles, March 28th 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Organization of American States (OAS) extraordinary session came to a close late Tuesday afternoon after hours of debate as member states failed to reach a consensus over Venezuela’s suspension.

Despite OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s insistent attempts to push for Venezuela’s expulsion, member-states expressed mixed opinions regarding the application of the regional body’s Democratic Charter against the South American country, and the session ended without a vote.

Tuesday’s meeting commenced with Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada calling for clarification regarding the validity of the extraordinary session, which Venezuela previously argued represented a violation of the organization’s non-interventionist founding principles.

Bolivia and Nicaragua echoed Venezuela’s condemnation, also requesting to suspend the meeting citing similar concerns over the precedent such a discussion would set for the regional body. Nonetheless, the OAS permanent council approved the discussion, with 20 out of the organization’s 35 member-states voting in favor.

Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, United States, and Paraguay actively expressed their support to slap Venezuela with the Democratic Charter throughout the session.

Alternating between English and Spanish, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Michael Fitzpatrick advocated for “swift actions”.

“We need to act with urgency and clarity of purpose for indeed, as the saying goes, the whole world is watching,” he said.

“This is an important for the day for the OAS, which is fulfilling its responsibility to safeguard democracy,” he continued.

The US delegate also urged “the Venezuelan government to comply with its constitution and constitutional functions, hold elections as soon as possible and release all political prisoners, including Leopoldo López.”

However, several nations came to Venezuela’s defense expressing solidarity, and emphasizing the need to push forward with dialogue between the government and the opposition in the South American nation. Notably, Caribbean nations such as Dominica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Barbados all challenged the call for Venezuela’s suspension.

“Dominica stands in solidarity with the Bolivarian government and people of Venezuela. The resolution needs to be through a dialogue between all parties that respects the sovereignty of Venezuela,” expressed the Caribbean nation’s permanent representative Dennis Moses.

The Dominican Republic’s official delegation referenced the country’s own complicated history with the OAS stating, “What guarantee do we have that if we impose external solutions on Venezuela that we will not have to apologize again in the future?”

Last year, Dominican President Danilo Medina called on the OAS to “pay off its historical debt” for its support of Washington’s 1965 invasion of his nation.

Venezuela’s Moncada also called attention to the hypocrisy of specific OAS member states by citing the inconsistency of political postures and ongoing conflicts in other member states.

As Moncada continued to expose OAS members states’ contradictions, Mexico’s permanent representative to the OAS, Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora, threatened to abandon the session unless OAS Permanent Council Chair Patrick Andrews of Belize request Moncada “correct” his tone.

While none of the pro-suspension coalition walked out before the meeting was called to order, tensions escalated throughout the remainder of the session.

“What happened yesterday with Marco Rubio threatening member states if they did not agree to suspend Venezuela is serious,” stated Moncada, referring to the Florida Republican senator’s threats to cut aid to Haiti, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic if they did not vote in favor of the Democratic Charter.

The Venezuelan diplomat also took the opportunity to repudiate a recent US-led statement by 14 countries in the hemisphere demanding snap elections in the South American country.

 “We sincerely believe that Venezuela needs a group [from the OAS mediating elections in our country] as much as Mexico needs that wall,” he said, referencing President Donald Trump’s plans to expand and heighten militarization along the Mexico-U.S. border.

Additionally, Moncada stressed the alleged US role in orchestrating the consistent right-wing attacks against Venezuela.

“This [campaign against Venezuela] is all tied to the US and the State Department. We ask that if the US wants to help they should revoke Obama’s decree and deport all of the criminals here in this country [the United States] that work against our people. That would be a first goodwill step. We reject forcibly what has happened here today and we will fight any attempt to intervene in the affairs of Venezuela,” stated the diplomat.

Moncada closed his speech to a roomful of applause despite being interrupted by Canada’s permanent representative to the OAS, Jennifer May Loten, who denounced allegations that the US rallied support against Venezuela.

In recent weeks, Almagro has repeatedly called to suspend Venezuela from the regional body, blaming the Bolivarian government for frozen talks with the opposition.

However, international mediators have continued to express their support and hope for dialogue among all Venezuelan parties.

PUBLISHED ON MAR 28TH 2017 AT 8.12PM

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Ecuador Election: No Good Option for the Amazon March 31, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America, Right Wing, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: This is a good, if limited, analysis of the Ecuadorian presidential run-off election that takes place this Sunday. In the first round of voting, the Government candidate, Lenin Moreno, needed 40% of the vote to avoid a second round.  He won by a large amount against the rest of the field, but with 39.3% of the vote, he fell short of election.  

Ten years of the Correa government has left the Ecuadorian left in shambles.  The coalition that brought Correa to power — the Indigenous and campesino communities, the environmentalists, most of the social movements and labor  unions  — have been shut out and for the most part are considered “enemies” by Correa, and not only to him personally, but to the Ecuadorian state.

Watching the Indigenous organizations and most of the political lefts coming out in support of the Banker, Guillermo Lasso, is almost surreal.  Lasso was the chief economic advisor (Superminister of  Economy and Energy) to Jamil Mahuad, whose presidency was responsible for the infamous “banking holiday” in 1999 where thousands of Ecuadorians lost their life savings.  Mahuad had to flee the country and landed at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where he lectures on economics in spite of the fact that he is on INTERPOL’s wanted list (I am not making this up).

Candidate Lasso is connected to right wing governments throughout the region and to the alt-right Roman Catholic Opus Dei.  Regardless of what he has told the Amazonian Indigenous in order to gain their support (a la Trump), his election would certainly mean a return to the pre-Correa belt-tightening neo-Liberal corruption that plagued the country for decades.  For these reasons it is mind-boggling to see much of the left behind his candidacy.

Whether he wins or loses on Sunday, the Lasso phenomenon is another example of that notion that presidential elections in our so-called democracies do not give genuine options for social justice, that voters get fed up with existing governments and vote in whatever opposition option they are given, even those oppositions that are contrary to the self interest of those who vote them in (again, a la Trump).

0331-ecuador-election-no-good-option-for-the-amazon

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

By KEVIN KOENIG

All over the capital city of Quito and throughout the small towns in the countryside, campaign propaganda is everywhere. Posters choke telephone poles, flags hang from windows, awnings, and corner stores, entire houses are painted with the respective colors of Alianza PAIS – Ecuador’s governing party of the last ten years – and those of the opposition CREO party, which is running on the promise of change. This Sunday, Ecuadorians will take to the polls and vote again for president, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the country’s Amazon rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants.

The April 2nd run-off election pits Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing former banker against the former vice president of the outgoing and controversial current president, Rafael Correa. It will be the first time in recent memory that Correa, the country’s longest-standing elected president, won’t be on the ballot. The Alianza PAIS ticket is led by both vice presidents who served under Correa: Lenin Moreno and Jorge Glas.

Ten years ago, Correa embarked on what he dubbed a “Citizens’ Revolution,” the largest expansion of public sector spending in the country’s history, which included investments in schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure development like port expansions and hydroelectric dams. The administration also greatly expanded subsidy programs for housing and monthly cash payments to the country’s poor.

But it has all come at a price. To implement these popular measures, and to maintain the national economy after being shut out of the finance world due to a debt default, Correa borrowed heavily from China, amassing loans for more than US $15 billion. But many of these loans must be paid in oil, committing the majority of the crude the country extracts to China through 2024. As oil prices have dropped, the quantity of oil needed to repay those loans has increased, essentially guaranteeing new oil drilling in Ecuador’s pristine, indigenous rainforest territories in the Amazon.

In other words, Correa made poverty reduction depend upon the exploitation of natural resources in one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet. Correa once promised to “drill every drop of oil” in the Amazon, ignoring the ecological and cultural harm this would cause as well as the “resource curse” and likelihood of corruption (which has occurred in Ecuador) resulting from relying heavily on oil, gas, or mineral extraction as the mainstay of a country’s economy.

For his part, opposition leader Guillermo Lasso, a former banker from the port city of Guayaquil, promises a return to U.S.-aligned, right-wing policies and reliance upon traditional lending institutions like the IMF and World Bank. However, these very same institutions deserve much of the blame for the country’s historic natural resource dependence and austerity policies favoring export-led development and “free trade,” and these policies provoked a full-fledged banking collapse that forced the country to dollarize its economy in 2000. The backlash against these neoliberal policies by civil society and the indigenous movement led to the ousting of several presidents and a period of great political instability that set the stage for the ascendancy of Correa and his self-described “revolutionary” agenda.

Despite this history, in this campaign Lasso has endorsed the platform of CONFENAIE, the indigenous Amazonian confederation, which calls for an end to new oil and mining concessions, an amnesty for indigenous leaders currently facing charges of terrorism for leading anti-government protests, respect for the right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC), and several other legal reforms affecting indigenous rights. This endorsement came after direct pressure on all the candidates from CONFENAIEand Yasunidos, an active environmental coalition that made a series of viral videos pressuring them to take strong stances on environmental protection and indigenous rights, especially in Yasuní National Park in the Amazon.

How he would implement such policies while also fulfilling his neoliberal campaign promises is an open question. If Ecuador elects him, it risks a return to past policies that were historically hostile to indigenous rights, including a likely re-opening to multinational companies that have run roughshod over the environment and human rights, as exemplified by the notorious Chevron-Texaco case.

Moreno, for the most part, has been largely silent on these issues, and so Ecuadorians and observers are left to expect a continuation of Correa’s extractivist policies.

In the first round, most Amazonian provinces chose Lasso, in a clear rejection of Correa’s efforts to expand oil and mining projects on indigenous lands, his crackdown on indigenous rights that has seen several leaders jailed and persecuted, and a state of emergency that lasted 60 days in the ongoing conflict between the Shuar, the government, and the Chinese mining conglomerate Explorcobres.

Nationally, the polls for the run-off election currently show a statistical dead heat, with Moreno at 52.4% and Lasso at 47.6%, with a margin of error of 3.4% and roughly 16% of voters undecided. Moreno’s lead is surprising, given that first-round voting split the conservative vote among several candidates who were predicted to coalesce around Lasso for the run-off. Each side has accused the other of dirty tricks: Lasso has accused the governing party of using state-run media and coffers to support its campaign, and Alianza PAIS has promoted allegations made public last week that Lasso has suspicious investments in several offshore businesses and properties. Each side has warned of possible fraud and both predict widespread protests after Sunday’s vote.

Regardless of who wins, the response to the escalated social conflicts over extractive industry projects, rollback of indigenous rights, and criminalization of civil society protest will be an early and pressing challenge for the incoming administration. Further oil and mineral development will only make the country’s economy more vulnerable to fluctuations in the world oil market, whose recent crash has Ecuador reeling. This, combined with the country’s extreme wealth disparity, means that further income from oil alone will not solve the problems of poverty in Ecuador. The country must create a diverse economy that addresses wealth inequality in order to reduce poverty.

How the new president responds will serve as an indicator of whether Ecuador can transition to a post-petroleum economy, save what remains of its pristine rainforests, and respect the rights of its indigenous inhabitants, or whether it will continue to see the Amazon and the indigenous peoples there as solely a source of short-term financial gain.

As Domingo Peas, an Achuar leader, told me today, “No matter who wins, our agenda is the same: a platform based on indigenous rights, territorial protection and defense, and solutions that maintain our forests intact, keep the oil in the ground, and show the world how frontline indigenous peoples have been protecting the sacred for millennia.”

The future of Ecuador’s Amazon – one of the most ecologically and culturally important places on the planet – hangs in the balance.

Momentum Builds for Reforming El Salvador’s Abortion Ban March 14, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Health, Hillary Clinton, Latin America, Uncategorized, Women.
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Roger’s note: El Salvador has what may be the most repressive abortion laws in the Western world.  There are cases of young women jailed for years because of a miscarriage.  It is barbaric.  And no one is more responsible for such barbarism than the Catholic Church.  When I read that abortion is a sin, that there are campaigns to totally eradicate abortion in the struggle for good over evil, it takes me back to the Dark Ages.  Such attitudes and laws reflect inhuman religious ideology in the service of patriarchy. It has been said jokingly, but I believe it literally, if men could have babies then abortion would be a sacrament.

The movement to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador described in the article below, if successful, would only eliminate the most Draconian elements of the anti-abortion legislation (abortion in the case of rape, for example); but there still would be a long way to go to reach the ideal of abortion being solely a matter between a woman and her physician.

Mar 10, 2017, Kathy Bougher, rewire news

“Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?” asked theologian María Lopez Vigil at a talk organized by advocates. 

In 1997, the legislature in El Salvador was considering a vote to criminalize abortion under all circumstances. Morena Herrera, a feminist activist, “was facing the legislature, alone, trying to defend and justify why they should not change the law,” recalled Mariana Moisa, communications director at the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.

“They were transmitting live, and they shut off her microphone,” Moisa recalled.

The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly went on to ban abortion in all circumstances. In addition to making abortion illegal no matter what, this unjust law has been misapplied in cases of obstetric emergencies or miscarriages—leading to the imprisonment of dozens of women in the country because of pregnancy complications.

Now, however, the legislature is considering a bill from Vice President of the Legislative Assembly Lorena Peña that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or human trafficking, fetal non-viability, or to preserve the pregnant person’s health or life. It would also legalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or statutory rape of a minor, with the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. Although it would not necessarily shield women from prosecution when the law is misapplied, it effectively returns the law to its pre-1997 state.

On February 27, the legislature’s Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points, where the bill is being heard, convened a first-ever public hearing on abortion in response to the unexpected number of requests they received to present testimony. Twelve out of the seventeen organizations and individuals who testified spoke in support of decriminalization, including nationally and internationally recognized professionals in public health and law, representatives from two progressive Protestant churches, and a variety of activists.

Marcela Zamora, a well-known Salvadoran filmmaker, shared her recently published essay, “I Aborted,” a rare public statement in El Salvador. She recounted how more than ten years earlier, while living in a country that allowed abortion, she experienced a pregnancy with complications that threatened her life. Although she was able to obtain an abortion, she questioned what would have happened to her if she had been in El Salvador at that time.

Moisa said she was struck by the contrast with the tenor of the hearing in 1997. “This time, in 2017, they invited us to the legislature, and our voices were heard. They made clear that the discussion would be based on scientific and legal information. Morena was there again, [this time] with a whole panorama of diverse voices who stood up alongside her to express their support for a possible reform,” she remembered.

This change didn’t come out of nowhere. Activists on the ground have been working for two decades to engage allies and elected officials on this issue—and in the last few months, that momentum has ramped up on a number of fronts.

Abortion as a Health Issue

Those speaking out in favor of the bill are, for the most part, concentrating on the exceptions to the ban it enshrines into law.

At a January forum organized by the Alliance for the Life and Health of Women—a coalition in which the Agrupación is a key player—members of the medical profession provided the medical and scientific justifications for the proposed change to the law.

Gynecologist Guillermo Ortiz, currently a senior adviser for Ipas and formerly chief of obstetrics at the Women’s Hospital in El Salvador, said that physicians who support the proposal for reform “are in favor of saving lives. But there are conditions that make [abortion] necessary, and we are talking about those situations so that exceptions can exist within the law.”

As part of that convening of medical experts, seven nationally and internationally recognized OB-GYNs signed off on a memo to the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points. The memo, viewed by Rewire, says the society must “generate legal instruments that guarantee protection for [patients’] lives,” in at least the four cases defined in the proposed reform.

The memo cited the Ethics Committee of the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians: “There exists a broad consensus … that abortion is ethically justifiable when it is carried out for medical reasons to protect the life and health” of the pregnant person.

“It is fundamental to remember that the global experience shows that the frequency of abortion does not depend on legislation and that the rates of abortion do not increase with more liberal legislation,” the memo continued. “To the contrary, they can diminish, if at the same time other measures are adopted,” such as information and free access to highly effective contraception.

As part of its scrutiny of the proposal, the legislature had requested an opinion from the El Salvador Health Ministry.

In a February 21 symposium on health and bioethics organized by the ministry, El Salvador Minister of Health Dr. Violeta Menjivar responded, “As the Ministry of Health, we consider it appropriate that the legislature and society together participate in a reflection and deliberation on the harm the absolute prohibition on abortion causes to the health of Salvadoran women.”

She supported the move to reform the law, noting that the United Nations had made a request in January 2015 that El Salvador repeal its broad criminalization of abortion under all circumstances.

At the February 27 hearing, Sofia Villalta, a nationally recognized gynecologist with more than 40 years of professional experience, testified on the causes of unwanted pregnancies and emphasized the underlying role of the “subordination of women to masculine power.” She cited a study within the Salvadoran society of gynecologists which showed that 80 percent of them want to return to the prior legislation allowing abortion.

The Consequences of Criminalization

At the February 21 forum organized by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Virginia Rodriguez of the National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador posed the question, “If a woman has rights from conception, at what point does she lose her rights? When do the rights of the fetus in development take priority over her rights to life?”

Rodriguez was referencing a February 15 decision from the El Salvador Supreme Court, when it ruled on a 2007 case involving conflicting laws over when life begins and when the State must protect that life.

Although the Court agreed that the the El Salvador Constitution declares life as beginning at “conception,” it said “it is necessary to weigh each case.” It also stated that the idea of fetal rights does not “claim a duty of absolute and unconditional protection of life in gestation.”

Alberto Romero of the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Movement for Secular Culture wrote in a booklet published by the Salvadoran Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law, FESPAD, that the Court’s decision “permits a resolution of the vacuum that exists in the current legislation, which does not establish legal mechanisms to resolve the collision of rights that takes place between the [fetus] and the woman who is pregnant.”

On the day of the hearing, the nine-member National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador—which also includes Morena Herrera and Margarita Rivas of the Agrupación—published a paid ad in La Prensa Gráfica, noting the ways in which existing law infringes on the rights of pregnant people and women in general.

The ad stated that the existing law promotes gender discrimination against women; prevents women with high-risk pregnancies or obstetric complications from accessing medical treatment in accordance with existing scientific knowledge; and has provoked cases of discrimination against women within the justice system based on economic conditions, effectively criminalizing poverty.

The law has also, the committee said, generated legal conflicts whereby physicians’ responsibilities to protect doctor-patient confidentiality conflict with their mandates under the anti-abortion laws. Overall, the ad said, the broad criminalization of abortion violates the rights of pregnant people by treating their constitutional rights as equal to or subordinate to those of the fetus.

Responding to Questions of Faith

The Alliance for the Life and Health of Women also organized a series of events from February 17 through 21 to address the realities and contradictions around religion in El Salvador.

“The Alliance knew it was important to address religious concerns in a society as deeply religious as El Salvador, where almost 99 percent of the population professes a belief in God and about 91 percent belong to a religion,” said Romero, who researches secularism and social issues in El Salvador.

“For many people, both legislators and citizens in general, it’s difficult to reconcile [many religions’] mandate against abortion with the rational arguments for permitting it. It’s important to present a variety of interpretations that do not condemn and criminalize abortion,” he said.

Advocates noted that different religions take varied stances on abortion. “The Anglican Church here in El Salvador talks about abortion not being a theological issue, but a pastoral one of accompaniment of women,” said Alejandra Burgos, a member of the Agrupación and a progressive feminist theologian.

Indeed, during the February 27 hearing, Martin Barahona of the Anglican Church in El Salvador explained that “in this case the Anglican bishops consider that the only people who have the right to decide are the women who are pregnant.”

“Even Pope Francis, who maintains that abortion is a sin, mandates priests to have compassion and accompany women,” Burgos pointed out.

“It’s necessary in this society to provide alternatives to people who are living with these contradictions; to show that a religious believer can also support the right [to] interrupt a pregnancy,” she concluded.

In one talk, María Lopez Vigil, a Cuban-Nicaraguan theologian, author, and editor of the progressive Nicaraguan magazine Envio, proposed looking at abortion in a broader perspective, considering the realities of the country.

“Consider the commandment ‘do not kill’ with situational ethics. There is nothing more abortive than poverty,” she said.

In arguing for a compassionate, merciful view of God, she asked the audience of more than 300—many of whom had not attended Alliance events in the past—if it was “the will of a compassionate God that women suffer and die for ‘not having enough faith’ when they experience obstetric emergencies? Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?”

She challenged structural injustices and spoke of “abortive societies,” in which countries obligate pregnant girls and adolescents to give birth, but after the birth do nothing to help them support and raise their children. That, she said, is a “structural sin.”

What’s Next?

Responses to the campaign for decriminalization are diverse.

After the various hearings and forums, Legislative Representative Juan Valiente of the right-wing ARENA party spoke on a TV talk show supporting debate on the reform, going against his party’s stance.

In addition, he tweeted, “I’m against abortion, but I recognize that there is a collision of rights and it’s important to investigate and debate. I’m not afraid.” And to another constituent opposed to decriminalization, he posted, “I prefer to lose your vote than my conscience.”

Even with these sea changes in some public opinions and attitudes, there is still strong religious opposition.

A group of Catholic churches initiated “40 days of prayer” leading up to Easter Sunday with the goal of “ending abortion in the world and in the country” in a war “between good and bad.” Regarding the Ministry of Health position, prayer campaign leader Karla de Lacayo told La Prensa Gráfica, “it’s a lie” that women’s lives are at risk.

“With [medical] advances now, there is no way the woman is going to die. And, if it’s true, if the child dies in the process, then that’s what God wanted,” de Lacayo said.

In the legislature itself, there remains the fact that supporters of the reform must form coalitions in order to get the majority vote necessary to first pass the measure out of committee, and then win a majority of votes in the full body. Neither the right-wing ARENA party nor the left-leaning FMLN has a numerical majority in the committee or the full legislature.

Supporters hope for a positive resolution in the next few weeks, before the next election cycle gets underway. At that point, they say, chances of any substantive vote on any matter disappear.

As Sara Garcia, coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire, “This is a historic moment. International organizations such as the UN are speaking out. More and more social movements are making pronouncements. Professional medical organizations and the universities declare their support.”

“The government can’t keep ignoring the realities of women in this country,” she said.

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.

To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination February 27, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Capitalism, Congo, Cuba, History, Imperialism, Latin America, Race, Racism, Revolution, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe.
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Roger’s note: This is a long read on the life and impact of Malcolm X and will serve as an excellent primer for anyone who desires to be reminded of one of the greatest revolutionaries of the twentieth century.  To my regret, I missed Malcolm when he spoke at U.C. Berkeley where I was an undergraduate, because I had no idea who he was.  I later was profoundly influenced by Haley’s “Autobiography,” and Linda and I chose to name our first child after him.  For decades Malcolm was virtually forgotten, then he emerged as a harmless icon, mostly as a popular logo, sanitized.  Much of the popular media continues, as it did in his day, to portray him as a man of  hatred and violence and racial discord.  It is long overdue to reveal him as the humanist revolutionary that he was, and to celebrate a life that went through a series of changes that brought him forward as one of the most dangerous for revolution against capitalist imperialism.  Hence the need for his assassination.

Half a century after his murder, Malcolm X has been transformed into “a harmless icon, with his sharp revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political program diluted and softened.” Therefore, it is vital that we celebrate and study the real Malcolm X, who “rejected lesser-evilism and the two-party set up and division of labor that oversaw the capitalist system of racism, imperialism, and exploitation.”

by Ike Nahem

This article previously appeared in Dissident Voice.
Steadily, and more and more explicitly, Malcolm X embraced anti-capitalist and pro-socialist standpoints as he understood them.

“I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…”  — Malcolm X, One Month Before His Murder

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain – and we will smile. Many will say turn away – away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man – and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate – a fanatic, a racist – who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him. Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people.” — Eulogy delivered by Ossie Davis at the Funeral of Malcolm X, Faith Temple Church Of God, Harlem, February 27,1965

The Assassination

On February 21, 1965 – 50 years ago this week – Malcolm X, the great African-American and US freedom fighter and outstanding world revolutionary leader, was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights on Broadway and 165th Street in New York City. Commemorations of this bitterly sad anniversary that truly altered US and world history have been held in New York City, Malcolm’s home base, across the United States, and throughout the world.

Malcolm X was a peerless orator of tremendous wit and power as well as an indefatigable and effective political organizer. On that fateful and horrible 1965 day he was murdered in cold blood, in front of his wife and children, while addressing a full house of over 400 people, under the auspices of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the non-religious political formation he founded after his split from Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (called the “Black Muslims” in the US media).

The gunmen were undoubtedly agents and operatives of the Nation of Islam (NOI). From the moment Malcolm X left the NOI he was subjected to the most vile personal attacks and slanders from Louis Farrakhan and other NOI leaders, including open calls for his death. While the evidence directly linking NOI leaders to the murder plot continues to be covered up, their moral and political responsibility is unquestionable. But this truth also begs the larger question of the direct or indirect responsibility of the United States government in Malcolm X’s death. It is known that US government agencies, that is, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) within the United States, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which took over during Malcolm’s international travels, had stepped up their illegal surveillance, harassment, and hounding of Malcolm X after his departure from the NOI. Federal and local cops and spooks had Malcolm X under constant surveillance. The New York Police Department (NYPD) knew two weeks in advance that Malcolm X was being targeted for assassination. NYPD had at least one undercover agent in the OAAU and had a wiretap on Malcolm X’s phone. Yet no police were in sight at the Audubon Ballroom when he was murdered right in the open. It is also known that part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation directed against Malcolm X included exploiting and instigating person venom against Malcolm by his former associates and manipulating the atmosphere of hostility and provocation.

Much of the documentation of this outrageous and illegal US government harassment – which included poison pens letters, instigating and promoting false rumors, personal antagonisms, the leaking and planting of disinformation in the media, and so on has come to light from lawsuits under Freedom of Information Act legislation. In a then-secret 1968 memorandum, Hoover wrote that the FBI must, “Prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. [Malcolm X] might have been such a ‘messiah’…”

A Hero of My Youth and Always

My first lasting memory of Malcolm X was when, as a 13-year old boy in southern Indiana I was shaken by a graphic photo-spread of his assassination in the old LOOK magazine which my parents subscribed to. I had developed the habit of reading newspapers and following what was called “current events” in school so I was aware of and instinctively sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement, as were my parents, although they had no direct involvement. A year or two later, we moved to the relatively big city of Cincinnati, Ohio, and I went from a segregated small-town high school to a late-1960s urban cauldron.

The racial and social composition of my new high school was, more or less, about 40% “white” working class and middle class, 40% Black working class, with the rest, including me, mostly Jewish. It was a volatile mix in extremely volatile times, with the Black rights struggle literally exploding nationally as the Vietnam War — and mounting opposition to it — escalating. Interesting alliances and struggles formed in my new high school alongside racial antagonisms and tension. Black and white students united to change the schools draconian dress code; T-shirts, long-haired “hippies,” and Afros proliferated. My high school was even written up in LIFE magazine in one of the era’s ubiquitous pieces on the alienation and rebelliousness of “today’s youth.”

A few of my radicalizing Jewish friends and I gravitated to some of the outspoken Black students. I started sneaking off to attend civil rights protests. At one point we organized a controversial protest over the required recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the US flag at morning homeroom. Where the closing line says, “One Nation Under God, With Liberty and Justice For All,” we added, “If You’re White.” That landed us in the Principal’s office.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Black ghetto in Cincinnati exploded and my high school was shut down by students who refused to attend classes, considering it an insult to King’s memory that schools remained open.

“I found out that the feared and hated (by some) Malcolm X was funny as hell!”

One day in 1967 I was looking to spend my sparse allowance money on some music at a rock-and-roll and “soul music” store in downtown Cincinnati when there in the stacks, in a section called “Spoken Word,” I saw an LP titled “The Wit and Wisdom of Malcolm X,” excerpts from his speeches. At $1.49 I could afford it. It was an earthshaking experience for me. What eloquence and logic I found within those grooves. What powerful use of language, what masterful employment of analogy and metaphor. What uncompromising exposure of hypocrisy and duplicity. What passion and compassion.

Perhaps most unexpected for me was the profound and brilliant humor. At the time I had ambitions to be a comedian and I devoured comedy albums and movies as well as books on comedy “theory” — Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Slappy White, the Marx Brothers, Burns and Allen, Flip Wilson, Don Rickles, and all the regulars on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. I found out that the feared and hated (by some) Malcolm X was funny as hell! I played that soon-to-be scratchy album on my rickety record player to the point where I’m sure I drove my mother crazy. Soon after that purchase I stayed up all day and night and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X nonstop barricaded in my room. Like so many millions of others, reading The Autobiography was a real turning point in my life outlook and in the development of my political and social consciousness.

The Autobiography

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a riveting and astonishing book that rises to great literature. Translated into over 30 languages, it should be essential reading for any literate human being in this country and indeed on this Earth. But if your only introduction and exposure to Malcolm X is this wonderful book, you will be unable to grasp and understand his world historical significance and true legacy, both the continuity and the profound transformation of his short, remarkable life.

The Autobiography was a book dictated by Malcolm X to Alex Haley on the run over the last two years of his life, while he was engaged in a grueling schedule of intense political organizing in the United States that was intertwined with extensive international travel that broadened and sharpened his moral and political outlook. His collaboration with Haley began while Malcolm X was still a member of and under the discipline of the Nation of Islam. But by the end of 1963 Malcolm’s estrangement from the NOI was reaching a climax. For Malcolm X the radical split, which had been building for some time from moral and political motivations, became a personal and political liberation that was the catalyst pushing him forward. Responding later to a reporter trying to tie him to old NOI dogmas, he stated, “I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind, sir!”

Malcolm X was unable to edit and correct many specific mistakes and misinterpretations in The Autobiography. He was unable to explain and elaborate on the new positions and his rejection of NOI nostrums he had promulgated by rote as an NOI leader. One example of this was his position against interracial marriages which he changed as he dumped Muhammad’s “Yacub’s theory” that “all whites” were the devilish offsprings of the experiments and machinations of an evil scientist from way back when. An expression of his old position was contained in The Autobiography. But in a November 23, 1964 press conference – less than three months before his murder – Malcolm was asked, “Are you against the love between a black person and a white person.” His answer: “How can anyone be against love? Whoever a person wants to love that’s their business – that’s like their religion.”

In general, Haley’s editing of The Autobiography transcripts dilutes or deletes what was a sharp shift and trajectory to the left in Malcolm’s political and philosophical views. Steadily, and more and more explicitly, Malcolm X embraced anti-capitalist and pro-socialist standpoints as he understood them. Within the Nation of Islam, Malcolm had always positioned himself on the side of the Black masses, the working people, as opposed to the more “respectable” “Black bourgeoisie,” as he put it, who were afraid to “rock the boat.” His blistering, uproarious popularization of the class divides within the oppressed Afro-American nationality at the time of the mass struggles of the 1960s was articulated brilliantly in his classic oratorical construction, “The House Negro and the Field Negro” that he inserted into many speeches. (This can be easily found on YouTube and elsewhere online.)

“His collaboration with Haley began while Malcolm X was still a member of and under the discipline of the Nation of Islam.”

Outside the NOI, and in close contact with revolutionary internationalists of all skin colors and nationalities who were influenced by Marxist ideas and working-class struggles, these questions had moved more and more to the center of Malcolm’s consciousness at the end of his life.

Malcolm wished to change and reformulate many things in The Autobiography, especially in the last chapters covering the period of his split from the NOI. Haley resisted, citing deadline pressures and Malcolm was murdered before the book was published. The printed book focuses on – doing a generally beautiful job — the narration of Malcolm’s turbulent and searing life experiences. But the published narrative is incomplete. To fully appreciate the complete journey and legacy of Malcolm X, The Autobiography must be supplemented by reading and studying the man and his ideas directly in his own words.

Fortunately this is possible in print, audio, and video. Pathfinder Press is a small but prestigious socialist publishing house (www.pathfinderpress.com), affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a Marxist group which developed a close relationship with Malcolm X, and published his speeches, before his death. Pathfinder undertook immediately after Malcolm X’s death a major project, in collaboration with his wife Betty Shabazz, to gather and publish as much direct material of Malcolm X’s considerable output – speeches, essays, transcripts of interviews and press conferences, and so on from the crucial last year-and-a-half of his life. All of this remains in print today, completely uncensored and in basic chronology, so the reader can see for themselves the development and political evolution of this genuine American revolutionary. (I was a member of the SWP for over 20 years from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s and played a small part in helping Pathfinder to proofread and prepare for print some of the later published volumes.).

Targeted for Destruction

During this last period of his life Malcolm X functioned under and confronted – almost alone – tremendous pressures and life-threatening circumstances. He was literally marked for death by the NOI. A week before his assassination, his Queens, New York home was firebombed as he, his pregnant wife, and their four daughters were sleeping, all narrowly escaping death. The NYPD “investigation” was slovenly and perfunctory, implying he did it himself!

The Split

Malcolm X’s accumulating and mounting estrangement from the Nation of Islam intensified with his deep revulsion and abhorrence at a sordid sexual scandal and cover up involving Elijah Muhammad. This brought to the fore growing and irreconcilable political differences between Malcolm X and the conservative NOI hierarchy over how to achieve Black freedom in the United States. The differences were not abstract or theological in content, but had red hot immediacy because the context was the exploding movement among the Black masses for freedom that characterized the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. The obscurantist and hidebound Nation of Islam (NOI) preached religious piety and individual self-improvement and abstained from the mass political struggles and mobilizations that were rocking Black communities North and South.

Malcolm was attracted to these struggles and wanted the NOI, which his organizational skills had largely built into a significant presence in the Black ghettos and among Blacks incarcerated, as Malcolm had been, in US prisons, to jump into these struggles. But under Muhammad’s extreme sectarian outlook – which disdained mass political struggle and counterposed “self-reform,” abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and promoting the NOI’s growing business interests (which made Muhammad a rich man), this was rejected. Malcolm began to feel like a prisoner within the NOI. It was not only the growing mass mobilizations of the Civil Rights Movement and the growing political militancy and radicalization among Black youth and working people that found resonance within Malcolm X. He was also increasingly conscious of the contradictions and absurdities of the philosophical rationalizations put forward in the above-mentioned “Yacub’s theory” for the “separatist” program of the NOI. Malcolm’s accumulating break with all this quasi-religious mystification and hocus-pocus became definitive once he was liberated from the NOI straightjacket. Among the elements of the NOI positions that Malcolm jettisoned was his open rejection of the anti-Semitism and scapegoating of Jews that was embedded in the NOI outlook.

Rid of NOI dogma, Malcolm’s trip abroad across the African continent and to the Middle East and Mecca facilitated his final break with race-based theories and generalizations about “white” people. He sharpened his view that “race” is, at bottom, itself a myth and a wholly artificial political construct. In the United States, he said, “white” essentially means “boss,” that is, that “white supremacy” has no rational scientific content or meaning other than as an expression of and rationalization for the oppression, subordination, and degradation of the Afro-American people or nationality.

Anti-Imperialism

A voracious reader of history and politics Malcolm began to develop a coherent anti-imperialist world outlook. He knew his facts and he had a keen grasp for the historical framework to sort out and understand factual contradictions. As a result he was a master at sniffing out and untangling media distortions, lies, and half-truths. With withering contempt he exposed media disinformation and lying spin regarding anti-colonial struggle for independence and national liberation across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. He bristled when “Western” media, echoing Washington’s line, attacked the Mau-Mau freedom fighters in Kenya who were fighting the brutal rule of a declining British imperialism, as “savages.” The bourgeois media, Malcolm never tired of pointing out, were masters at “turning the criminal into the victim, and the victim into the criminal.”

Even before his split with the NOI, Malcolm was, like Martin Luther King and the emerging new generation of US civil rights leaders and activists, deeply affected by the African independence struggles that burst onto world politics in the post-World War II period through the 1950s and 60s. He connected the experience of what he termed “Afro-Americans” to the struggles in Africa and the rest of the so-called Third World. The Black freedom struggle, he argued, was part of, not separate from the worldwide anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle. Both were interconnected and exploding at the same time under the dynamics unleashed by the massive revolutionary changes ushered in by World War II and its end. Malcolm sought to build practical relations of political collaboration with leaders of oppressed peoples around the world.

Washington Targets Malcolm

The powers-that-be in Washington were at this time the unchallenged leader of the capitalist world and facing the post-World War II explosion of colonial independence and national liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Washington sought to prevent the vacuum left by the weakened and withered ex-colonial empires of Britain, France, and other European powers from resulting in radical social revolutions along the lines of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban Revolutions. These national liberation struggles were seen as both a threat to US and “Western” economic and financial interests as well as an arena of “geopolitical” “Cold War” competition with the Soviet Union and “Red” China.

As previously said, Malcolm X was under permanent surveillance and harassment by agencies of the United States government – the Lyndon Johnson White House and its J. Edgar Hoover-led FBI. The US State Department and CIA dogged his every step during his overseas travels to newly independent African countries and elsewhere. A month before his murder, Washington pressured the French government to bar his re-entry to the country where he had been invited to speak before a huge gathering. Washington feared his broad political appeal after he gained his moral and political independence from the NOI and began to devote his indefatigable energy to organizing in the United States and internationally.

In particular, Washington was horrified over Malcolm’s outspoken condemnation of the brutal US intervention in the Congo, his early, sharp opposition to the escalating US war in Vietnam, and his open, enthusiastic embrace of the Cuban Revolution. Additionally, Washington undertook a big effort to counter Malcolm X’s major campaign to bring before the United Nations General Assembly for a vote the human rights violations against African-Americans in the United States, which was gathering support internationally and in the US. In the period before his murder Malcolm was preparing to go on a speaking tour of US campuses to speak out against US aggression in Vietnam.

The Congo

Events in the Congo had a powerful impact on the political consciousness the evolution into a revolutionary of Malcolm X.

What transpired in the Congo was surely one of the greatest crimes of both the 19th Century, repeated again in the 20th Century. A Belgian colony, the Congo, in the 19th Century under the rule of King Leopold, was essentially a semi-slave territory where huge profits for Belgian capitalists were extracted among rubber workers and other toilers under the most horrid conditions, including amputations of workers limbs for supposed labor infractions. Belgian Congo was a laboratory for the genocides of the 20th Century, with an estimated 4-8 million indigenous Congolese killed under Leopold’s reign of terror. (For documentation see the classic indictment by Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, written in 1905 by the great American novelist, essayist, and satirist and Adam Hochschild’s grim and vivid 1998 best-seller, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.)

By the 1950s Belgian rule was in crisis and no longer tenable as the Congolese people became a leading contingent of the post-World war II struggles for independence that swept the African continent from top to bottom. The decrepit, declining Belgian rulers conceded the holding of elections to be followed by a formal process leading to independence. The central figure and inspiring leader of the Congolese independence struggle was the teacher Patrice Lumumba who handily won the promised elections and established a popular government that began to implement desperately needed measures in a large country which the Belgian colonialists had left destitute with a puny number of schools and hospitals and no infrastructure other than what was needed to transport the country’s vast mineral and other wealth out of it. Lumumba’s government also staked out an independent non-aligned foreign policy which Washington found intolerable.

The departing Belgians, with Washington’s backing, began from day one to subvert and work to destroy Lumumba’s government. Along with the South African apartheid state they financed, armed, and promoted separatist forces led by the notorious mercenary and killer Moishe Tshombe. With growing chaos, and under United Nations cover, Washington and Brussels engineered a coup against Lumumba in September 1961. Lumumba was taken hostage and brutally murdered in January 1961. The CIA had a direct hand in all of this. The imperialist coup installed a lackey regime led by the tyrant Tshombe that Washington and Belgian could depend on to protect the nation’s vast copper, rubber, and other mineral holdings for super-profitable exploitation by imperialist capital.

“Malsolm continuously spoke out against Washington’s crimes, in solidarity with the Congolese people.”

As resistance to the pro-imperialist coup mounted among the Congolese followers of the martyred Lumumba, Washington and Belgium organized a racist mercenary army. In cahoots with apartheid South African and the British colonial-settler state of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) they recruited racist and ultra-rightist mercenaries from the United States, other European states, and some anti-Castro counter-revolutionary exiles from Cuba. These forces, under barely covert US CIA supervision, carried out murderous bombing raids against “rebel-held villages” and other terrorist atrocities and massacres that resulted in many thousands of Congolese deaths.

These crimes, and the shameless lies turning reality on its head in the big-business US media towing the US government’s line, infuriated and galvanized Malcolm X. He continuously spoke out against Washington’s crimes, in solidarity with the Congolese people. He spoke the bold and unvarnished truth in the face of imperialist propaganda. In the last interview he gave before his death to the Young Socialist magazine, Malcolm stated, “Probably there is no greater example of criminal activity against an oppressed people than the role the US has been playing in the Congo, through her ties with Tshombe and the mercenaries. You can’t overlook the fact that Tshombe gets his money from the US. The money he uses to hire these mercenaries – these paid killers supported from South Africa – comes from the United States. The pilots that fly those planes have been trained by the US. The bombs themselves that are blowing apart the bodies of women and children come from the US. So I can only view the role of the United States in the Congo as a criminal role.”

US-led “Western” policy action eventually led to the installation of the dictator Joseph Mobutu (aka Mobutu Sese Seko) who led an exceedingly venal and vicious regime for over 40 years, becoming a multi-billionaire until his regime collapsed in 1997.

Malcolm X and the Cuban Revolution

Malcolm X was a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution even before he left the NOI. Among the first acts of the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959 was the radical extirpation of all laws and state practices upholding Jim Crow-style segregation in Cuba. Afro-Cubans were among the greatest beneficiaries and most enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution and as fighters in the guerrilla army. Malcolm X was prominent among a large layer of Black intellectuals and activists including W.E.B. DuBois, LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), Robert F. Williams, William Worthy and many others who welcomed and defended the Cuban Revolution, which was coming under increasing US attack.

The Cuban Revolution had already begun to implement radical social programs (of which smashing legal segregation was one), including a radical land reform, that was having a definite material impact on those US economic and financial interests which utterly dominated Cuban society. The Eisenhower Administration was already deeply involved in the initial planning of what became the Bay of Pigs invasion, and was leading the bipartisan consensus across the US government that the revolutionary Cuban government had to go down.

In September 1960, while still in the NOI, Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro in Harlem. The circumstances of Malcolm and Fidel’s meeting have become legendary (for details see Rosemari Mealy’s excellent Fidel and Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting, Ocean Press). Faced with unacceptable impositions and expenses by the management of the Shelburne Hotel, the Cuban delegation to the special fall gathering of world heads of state at the United Nations packed up and moved uptown to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem and enthusiastic crowds of African-Americans and other friends and supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

Malcolm’s attitude to the Cuban Revolution was favorable before he exited from the Nation of Islam: “The Cuban Revolution, that’s a Revolution. They overturned the system,” he said in his last major speech as an NOI representative. But his political attraction to its revolutionary internationalist and socialist program deepened after his split from the NOI.

Malcolm’s admiration for the Cuban revolutionaries not only flowed from his consciousness of the vigorous anti-racist measures carried out by the Revolution, but also from the words and deeds of the revolutionary Cuban government in support of African liberation in general and the Congolese anti-imperialist struggle in particular. Che Guevara not only spoke eloquently at the United Nations condemning imperialist policy in the Congo, saying “All free men must be prepared to avenge the crime of the Congo,” but later actually fought there with followers of Lumumba, attempting to organize an effective revolutionary resistance.

Malcolm X personally invited Che to speak in Harlem in December 1964, but his appearance had to be put off over security concerns. As Malcolm read Che’s solidarity message, he said, “I love a revolutionary. And one of the most revolutionary men in this country right now was going to come out…” When the crowd responded to Che’s solidarity message with strong applause, Malcolm said the applause “lets the man know that he’s just not in a position today to tell us who we should applaud for and who we shouldn’t applaud for.”

From Pariah to Icon

It would be hard to find a figure in US history more slandered, vilified, and misrepresented while he was alive than Malcolm X. He was labeled a “hatemonger,” a “racist-in-reverse,” a promoter and man of violence, and worse. This was not confined to blatant racists and segregationists but was the standard line in more respectable and genteel liberal society. When it came to Malcolm X, especially after he broke free from the dogma and narrow confines of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, moved sharply to the left, and began to speak out and organize freely, the gloves came off among most liberal voices, and a furious hatred came to the surface. This was captured in the classic Phil Ochs satiric ballad, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” whose opening stanza goes, “I cried when they shot Medgar Evers, Tears ran down my spine, And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy, as though I’d lost a father of mine…But Malcolm X got what was coming, He got what he asked for this time, so love, love me, love me…I’m a liberal.”

Perhaps the most notorious example of this was a scurrilous editorial in the liberal, sophisticated, pro-civil rights New York Times, published the day after he was murdered. To the Times editorial board Malcolm X was “an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purpose.” With a stunning and brazen disregard for the slightest accuracy and truth, the editorial asserted that Malcolm X held a “ruthless and fanatical belief in violence…[that] also marked him for notoriety and for a violent end.” Continuing on the insinuation that Malcolm X was responsible for his own death, the Times editorial continues, “He could not even come to terms with his fellow black extremists. The world he saw through those horned-rim glasses of his was distorted and dark. But he made it darker still with his exaltation of fanaticism.

“Yesterday someone came out of the darkness that he spawned, and killed him…[T]his murder could easily touch off a war of vengeance of the kind he himself fomented.” ( all emphasis added)

The bile and vitriol of that shameful editorial was echoed in the even-more liberal Nation magazine which placed Malcolm X on the “Negro lunatic fringe” that was, furthermore, “defeatist.”

Later that year, the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Malcolm X Speaks, unedited and uncensored full presentations of his actual speeches and words, were published by the maverick Grove Press, the latter book in conjunction with Pathfinder Press. They became instant classics and best sellers, especially among Blacks and students. It was no longer possible to write such lies and garbage about Malcolm X and both the New York Times and The Nation changed their tune, publishing reviews and articles that were highly favorable and sympathetic to Malcolm X, reflecting the new esteem and appreciation of him in growing layers of society, Black and Caucasian. Over time a new mythology regarding Malcolm X began to congeal, a new distortion of his political and moral trajectory, this time not from open opponents but purported friends and admirers. Of course, it helped that he was dead.

Today, fifty years after his murder Malcolm X has become as icon. There is a US Stamp issued with his likeness, major streets are named after him, the legendary Autobiography is considered a classic, still selling briskly and assigned to numerous high school and college classes. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and numerous other liberal and conservative political figures have cited it as a major influence on their lives.

“There is a US Stamp issued with his likeness, major streets are named after him.”

Nevertheless, this latter iconization of Malcolm X, more often than not, is the other side of the coin that previously disparaged him when he was alive, in the sense that he has been transformed by “mainstream” forces into a harmless icon, with his sharp revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political program diluted and softened. The conscious or unconscious operation strains to turn Malcolm X, who was above all else a genuine revolutionary, into a conventional liberal or conservative, someone who can be folded into the traditional spectrum of bourgeois Democratic and Republican party US politics. This is a travesty of the actual Malcolm X and his actual political and moral trajectory.

The death of Malcolm X was a devastating blow to the Black freedom struggle in the United States and for oppressed and exploited people in every continent worldwide. In the US, Malcolm was trying to establish the Organization of Afro American Unity as an independent Black political movement, that is, completely independent of both the Democratic and Republican parties. He rejected lesser-evilism and the two-party set up and division of labor that oversaw the capitalist system of racism, imperialism, and exploitation. “The difference between the Republican and the Democrats,” Malcolm would say, “is that the Republicans stick the knife in your back six inches, and the Democrats pull it out one.” That perspective of complete political independence and principled opposition to both capitalist parties has never since had such a powerful voice.

The absence of Malcolm after 1965 had a deleterious impact on the revolutionary upsurge of the “Black Power” movement in the late 1960s which he greatly inspired. The movement had its greatest organizational advance with the mass growth of the Black Panther Party led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, but the Panthers floundered and collapsed under heavy illegal government harassment and murderous repression, as well as its own ultraleftist, militaristic, cultist, and opportunist mistakes under tremendous pressure. The Panthers and the 1960s generation of revolutionary-minded fighters would have benefited greatly from Malcolm X’s political clarity, organizational skills, tactical savvy, and discipline.

A new political reality is opening up in the United States today. A new generation of youth, of all nationalities, is radicalizing and mobilizing from Ferguson, Missouri to Staten Island, New York and across the US. This has been sparked by a wave of police killings of unarmed, mostly Black and Latino, civilians and subsequent Grand Jury exonerations in clearly manipulated settings. This reality now confronts the US ruling Establishment. The framework for this new consciousness and struggle is the grotesque obscenities that now mark the so-called criminal justice system in the US, with its mass incarceration of youth, especially Black and Latino youth, the virtual impossibility of seeing any kind of justice in case after case of police killings and brutality, and more broadly the mounting impact of the permanent capitalist economic crisis, growing impoverishment, and increased working-class struggles for decent jobs and wages, against obscene inequality in education, health care, and so on. Those coming into the fight will find no greater historic champion and inspiration in the fight for their better future than Malcolm X. For those who take the time to search, discover, and study this towering human being, beautiful vistas will open up before you.

Ike Nahem is a longtime anti-war, labor, and socialist, and activist. Nahem is the coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York and a founder of the New York-New Jersey July 26 Coalition (july26coalition.org). Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. He can be reached at ikenahem@mindspring.com with comment or criticism.

 

Footnotes

1.When Columbia University threatened in 1989 to demolish the property, Black community activists, Columbia students, and landmark preservationists protested vigorously and forced the University to retreat. Today the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center stands in the lobby of the old Ballroom containing that portion where Malcolm X was assassinated which is now protected and restored.

2.Malcolm X never advocated, promoted or called for the initiation of “violence.” He was a personal victim of racist violence as his father was murdered by KKK-inspired racists. He was fully versed in the violent history of “American democracy” which he called “disguised hypocrisy” against African-Americans from slavery to his own time, where in face of mass struggles against the dying system of Jim Crow-segregation in the US South vicious violence was unleashed against peaceful civil rights activists. He led disciplined, peaceful struggles against police killings and brutality in New York City and Los Angeles. But he was not a pacifist and did not believe in turning the other cheek. He was for disciplined, legal, peaceful protest. But he believed in the right of self-defense. “I am non-violent to people who are non-violent to me.” “It doesn’t mean I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.” “I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everyone would like to achieve his objectives peacefully.” “Concerning non-violence: It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.” These views were shamefully twisted and distorted by Malcolm X’s political enemies.

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.]

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.

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