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Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exporting the War

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Drug-War Failure

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

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

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

drug war protest by Fronteras Desk

Photo by Fronteras Desk

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Zapatistas Return Amid Failed Drug War June 11, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
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After Javier Sicilia spoke to the crowd of thousands, he called for a 5-minute period of silence to honor the memory of victims of the drug war. (Photo: Kara Newhouse / Flickr)
Saturday 11 June 2011
by: Michael McCaughan, The Indypendent

 

San Cristobal, Mexico – This nation is caught in the grip of an escalating drug war that has cost 40,000 lives in the past five years. The daily body count varies but is usually measured in the dozens.  Methods of extermination range from decapitation and mutilation to asphyxiation and a bullet in the head. Most Mexicans have become numbed to the extreme cruelty and hope they don’t get swept up in the river of blood.

Once in a while, however, a single incident can trigger a powerful reaction. Juan Francisco Sicilia was one of seven friends found bound and murdered on March 28 south of Mexico City, with evidence pointing to a drug cartel. His killing has sparked a national mobilization and a new movement aimed at shifting government policy away from perpetual warfare and toward an integrated political solution.

Javier Sicilia, poet and father of Juan Francisco, launched “The March for Peace with Justice and Dignity,” a three-day event that culminated in a rally in Mexico City. The idea was simple – a silent march and a single slogan: “Estamos hasta la madre, no mas sangre.” “We’ve had it up to here, no more bloodshed.” This idea captured the popular imagination and on May 8 hundreds of thousands of people marched all over Mexico demanding a radical change to government policy.

In southeast Mexico, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) answered the call and announced their plan to march into San Cristobal de las Casas on May 7, the town where the Zapatistas first appeared in January 1994. It has been five years since the Zapatistas last mobilized in this manner, and many people remember the movement as a noble insurrection that inspired millions but ultimately fizzled out, victim of a bitter debate over the pitfalls and possibilities of electoral politics.

The return of the Zapatistas to San Cristobal thus seemed like a reckoning. Could the Zapatistas match the years when they could gather more than 10,000 masked rebels to occupy the city, watched by nervous local elite who pulled the shutters down and held their breath till the indios left?

Since 2006 the Zapatistas have consolidated their autonomous rule across five “caracoles,” self-governing councils whose delegates take turns to “be the government,” learning the ropes before passing the torch to delegates from another village. The goal is to allow many people to learn how to “be the government” without giving birth to a professional, bureaucratic political class.

The Zapatistas have also largely severed ties with visiting NGOs and no longer encourage foreigners to visit their communities. Thousands of outsiders, trekking in to jungle communities to learn how to make revolution, came in good faith. They served as an important buffer against army and paramilitary forces in the late 90s, but they also disrupted daily life and generated inequalities and jealousy as gifts and money were left behind.

When May 7 arrived, San Cristobal was drenched in warm sunshine and an air of expectancy filled the main square where TV crews jostled for position in front of an improvised stage. The Zapatistas arrived in a long, winding trail of men and women of all ages, each one wearing a ski mask that bore a number representing the caracole from which they came. The square quickly filled to overflowing, and by the time the Zapatista comandantes opened the event with Mexico’s national anthem, the rebels had already won a major victory by organizing the biggest march San Cristobal has ever seen. Some 20,000 rebels were present, bringing with them the fragrant aroma of corn and wood smoke, and the elusive element of community cohesion, described by one analyst as “the sacred fire of the movement.” Getting that many rebels to San Cristobal was an enormous effort as each community was in charge of its own transport and food at a time when corn, rice and beans are scarce.

The Zapatistas have an ambivalent relationship with the rest of Mexico. “Here we are,” their silence seems to say. “We have territory and self rule in our small corner of the country, what have you done?”

The images of Javier Sicilia, a lone individual leading a march of the indignant and the impotent in Mexico City, contrasted sharply with Zapatismo. The rebels moved as one, arriving and leaving in formation, sharing transport and territory. This cohesion is amplified by the shared “means of production,” the milpa or cornfield that forms the basis for survival across regional and linguistic boundaries.

The 30 comandantes of the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee who formed a guard of honor on the stage melted into the crowd after the event, their faces unknown, their words attributable to no one.

Nonetheless, the situation is fragile as the Zapatista communities struggle to survive and withstand the twin pressures of army and paramilitary aggression and state funds used to tempt rebels away from the Zapatista ranks.

Meanwhile, the next day in Mexico City, at least 70 victims of violence took turns to speak out, including Patricia Duarte, whose infant son was burned to death in a crèche in Sonora along with 47 other children. In Mexico today, the state of insecurity covers everything from the village of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, whose inhabitants were forced to flee en masse last year due to state-sponsored violence and the parents of those children who died in the nursery. San Juan Copala declared an autonomous zone, Zapatista-style, on Jan. 1, 2007 and was immediately besieged by paramilitaries with close links to the state governor. Unlike the Chiapan rebels they had no weapons to back up their claims.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon responded to the march with a televised address in which he equated the call for an end to state violence with surrender to the drug cartels. “We have might, right and the law on our side,” said a belligerent Calderon, insisting that the army would remain on the streets and at the center of his national security strategy.

Mere days after the march, Amnesty International released a report accusing Mexican security forces of torture, disappearances and murder, including charges of disguising innocent victims of army violence as members of drug gangs. Amnesty also criticized Mexico’s justice system for failing to charge a single member of the armed forces with criminal activity despite dozens of well-documented cases.

Juan Sicilia countered, “We are not trying to overthrow the government. We want to rebuild the social fabric of this nation.” Sicilia said that the Mexican people were paying an intolerable price for an unwinnable war that no one asked for, the course of which is determined by politicians “in upscale restaurants and offices paid for by us.” By the end of the three-day march Sicilia’s tone had hardened, recognizing perhaps that Calderon had no intention of paying him any heed. Sicilia called for civil disobedience should the government ignore their demands. “It takes balls to strike back, to refuse to pay taxes, and it will take all of us to surround parliament until our demands are heard.”

Sicilia has launched a citizen initiative that is gathering momentum and which has no affiliation with Mexico’s discredited political parties. In 2006 the EZLN launched “la otra campana,” the other campaign – an attempt to build a popular movement that would eschew elections and challenge the state from below. If there is one lesson learned since 1994, it is that the Zapatistas cannot carry the burden of hope alone and that the rest of Mexico must do its own share of the heavy lifting.

“We know you didn’t understand anything,” joked one Zapatista delegate in San Cristobal, referring to the translation of each speech into several indigenous languages. “But that’s the way it goes, you just had to put up with us. Thank you for your patience.”

The Zapatistas remain the ever-patient outsiders in a country rent by violence and corruption, quietly building an autonomous alternative, a living example of what a disciplined, long-term struggle can achieve. “You are not alone,” said Comandante David during the rally, addressing victims of violence throughout Mexico. The Zapatistas have been alone for too long, and derided for lacking “common sense” and refusing to throw their weight behind the lesser of three evils at election time.

With just a moment in the limelight Javier Sicilia has already concluded that if Mexico’s political system fails to respond to the current crisis of representation, and if a sweeping new security law is approved, the 2012 presidential elections shall be a pointless exercise: A candidate bound and gagged by institutional corruption will be elected to lead a nation edging dangerously close to a politico-military dictatorship.

Michael McCaughan is a writer and researcher based in the Burren, Ireland. He is working on a biography of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

And:

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

Seth, Harold Pinter’s got your back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Published on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Miguel Tinker Salas

The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.

Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.

But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.

The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.

Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!

The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.

All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.

None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.  

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of History, Latin American and Chicano/a Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of several books including In the Shadow of Eagles, Sonora and the Transformation of the Border during the Porfiriato by the University of California Press. The book has been translated and is being published in Mexico by the Fondo de Cultura Económica. In addition, he also has published articles on transnational migration, ethnic identity and labor matters in Latin America. His current research examines the interconnection between politics, culture and oil in Venezuela. With Steve Ellner he co-edited, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy published by Rowman and Littlefield. On the eve of the Mexican Presidential election he co-edited with Jan Rus, The Mexican Presidency, Neoliberalism, Social Movements and Electoral Politics (Latin American Perspectives) which appeared in both English and Spanish (Porrua and Universidad de Zacatecas). His new book, The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela, was published by Duke University Press in May of 2009.

Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.

Anti-Mexican Media Hysteria Makes Life More Dangerous for Latinos in the U.S. May 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Mexico, Racism, Uncategorized.
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By Leslie Savan, TheNation.com. Posted May 13, 2009.
Mexicans have recently been the prime target of the most rancid typecasting in the media — can more racist violence be far behind?
Amid the anti-Mexican media hysteria festering since the outbreak of swine flu, Dave Letterman’s portrayal last week of potential Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a hot-blooded Hispanic Judge Judy wasn’t the ugliest stereotyping of Latinos. It was actually weak tea compared to the mouth-foamings of Jay Severin, the Boston radio host who called Mexicans “leeches,” “the world’s lowest of primitives,” and exporters of “women with mustaches and VD.” WTKK-FM has suspended but hasn’t fired Severin, even as some advertisers have bailed.
No, Letterman’s bit was far more mainstream, and more feasibly “acceptable” than, say, the kneeslappers of Betsy Perry, a branding consultant whose Huffpost musings about Mexican “banditos” and “the Mexican help with hands washed in parasite-infested tap water” resulted in Mayor Bloomberg axing her from the New York City Women’s Issues Commission. Clearly, not all Perry’s issues are about women. (She has since apologized.)
With the rightwing smuggling in the lie that immigrants are responsible for swine flu in the U.S. (when, in fact, it’s been spread here primarily by Americans who’ve visited Mexico), Mexicans have been, of course, the prime target of the most rancid typecasting. But once the type has been cast, it has jumped easily to Latinos of any origins. A summa cum laude graduate at Princeton, an editor of the Yale Law Journal, now a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and a Bronx native raised by her single mom (like Obama), Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent, and so this:
Not even a gulp from the Morning Joe gang. Mika laughed, and Willie Geist mumbled something about “fit for the Supreme Court.” We may never learn whether Sotomayor is or isn’t “fit,” because before we or the Senate Judiciary Committee see her in reality, we’ll visualize that hot tamale from the courtroom TV show losing control of her fellow Hispanic hotheads.
This particular ethnic skewering seems out of character for Letterman, who often slices through idiot-think brilliantly. Maybe he was, as conservative blogger Ann Althouse suggests, “mocking the mocking of Sotomayor.” What is up? I asked a Letterman show spokesperson, who answered, “We’re going to decline comment on this.”
Whatever Dave’s intentions, the Sotomayor brand he’s helped put into play seems to have grown out of a controversial post, “The Case Against Sotomayor,” by The New Republic‘s legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen. Relying primarily on anonymous former law clerks as sources and admitting that he didn’t research Sotomayor’s opinions much, Rosen nevertheless deduced that “the most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was ‘not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.'” His unnamed sources, he wrote, questioned “her temperament…and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices.” One of the unnamed said another unnamed said, “she’s not the brainiest.” From that, a National Review blogger further deduced that Sotomayor is “dumb and obnoxious.”
Rosen has since backpedaled a bit, and testimonies to Sotomayor’s intellect (“she’d be the kind of justice who could change some minds”) and temperament (“one of the best mentors I’ve ever had”) are coming in from named sources. But, as Media Matters asks, in a terrific, detailed piece, “Where does Sonia Sotomayor go to get her reputation back?” A TPM commenter adds, “It’s this allegation about intelligence that most deeply plays into the hands of anti-‘affirmative action’ conservatives who just love to suggest that this woman, despite graduating summa cum laude at Princeton and so on, isn’t as smart as a white guy.”
Maybe playing fast and loose with Latino caricatures isn’t the best idea in times of plague and economic dislocation. Remember how Jews were blamed for bringing the Black Death to Europe in the 14th century, setting off the mother of all pogroms?
Last week, Maria Hinojosa, senior correspondent for NOW on PBS and managing editor of NPR’s Latino USA, spoke about how swine flu hysteria is hitting home. On New York radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Hinojosa said a friend of hers, a domestic worker in Spanish Harlem, told her that she was recently “hassled by groups of women who said, ‘Go ahead, tell them you’re sick.'” Later that same day, she “was hassled again on the bus, and she saw a group of women physically push a Mexican man away.”
“This has very human consequences,” said Hinojosa, who is amazed that “in 2009…all of us here, suddenly we have to protect the lives of Americanos in New York City. It’s crazy.”
Hinojosa also cited the case of Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant who was killed 10 months ago in the predominantly white town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, apparently for walking with a white woman.
“A group of teenagers beat him to a pulp, beating his head in till his brains came out,” said Hinojosa. “All of them, last week, just a few hours from here, were found nonguilty, only guilty of lesser charges, and in the courtroom when that was announced there was a crowd of cheers and applause.
“That’s the country that we live in and the area that encompasses all of us.”
Leslie Savan is the author of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever.

Obama’s Real Plan in Latin America April 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Colombia, Cuba, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Shamus Cooke   

 

Wednesday, 29 April 2009, www.towardfreedom.com

 

At first glance Obama seems to have softened U.S. policy toward Latin America, especially when compared to his predecessor.  There has been no shortage of editorials praising Obama’s conciliatory approach while comparing it to FDR’s “Good Neighbor” Latin American policy.

It’s important to remember, however, that FDR’s vision of being neighborly meant that the U.S. would merely stop direct military interventions in Latin America, while reserving the right to create and prop up dictators, arm and train unpopular regional militaries, promote economic dominance through free trade and bank loans and conspire with right-wing groups.

And although Obama’s policy towards Latin America has a similar subversive feeling to it, many of FDR’s methods of dominance are closed to him.  Decades of U.S. “good neighbor” policy in Latin America resulted in a continuous string of U.S. backed military coups, broken-debtor economies, and consequently, a hemisphere-wide revolt.

Many of the heads of states that Obama mingled with at the Summit of the Americas came to power because of social movements born out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy.  The utter hatred of U.S. dominance in the region is so intense that any attempt by Obama to reassert U.S. authority would result in a backlash, and Obama knows it.

Bush had to learn this the hard way, when his pathetic attempt to tame the region led to a humiliation at the 2005 Summit, where for the first time Latin American countries defeated yet another U.S. attempt to use the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), as a tool for U.S. foreign policy.

But while Obama humbly discussed hemispheric issues on an “equal footing” with his Latin American counterparts at the recent Summit of Americas, he has subtly signaled that U.S. foreign policy will be business as usual.

The least subtle sign that Obama is toeing the line of previous U.S. governments — both Republican and Democrat — is his stance on Cuba.   Obama has postured as being a progressive when it comes to Cuba by relaxing some travel and financial restrictions, while leaving the much more important issue, the economic embargo, firmly in place.

When it comes to the embargo, the U.S. is completely unpopular and isolated in the hemisphere.  The U.S. two-party system, however, just can’t let the matter go.

The purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere.

The real purpose behind the embargo is what Cuba represents. To the entire hemisphere, Cuba remains a solid source of pride.  Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans.  This profound break from U.S. dominance — in its “own backyard” no less — is not so easily forgiven.

There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo.  The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism).

And although the “fight against communism” may seem like a dusty relic from the cold war era, the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question:  is there another way to organize society?

Even with Cuba’s immense lack of resources and technology (further aggravated by the U.S. embargo), the achievements made in healthcare, education, and other fields are enough to convince many in the region that there are aspects of the Cuban economy — most notably the concept of producing to meet the needs of all Cubans and NOT for private profit — worth repeating.

Hugo Chavez has been the Latin American leader most inspired by the Cuban economy.  Chavez has made important steps toward breaking from the capitalist economic model and has insisted that socialism is “the way forward” — and much of the hemisphere agrees.

This is the sole reason that Obama continues the Bush-era hostility towards Chavez.  Obama, it is true, has been less blunt about his feelings towards Chavez, though he has publicly stated that Chavez “exports terrorism” and is an “obstacle to progress.”  Both accusations are, at best, petty lies.  Chavez drew the correct conclusion of the comments by saying:

“He [Obama] said I’m an obstacle for progress in Latin America; therefore, it must be removed, this obstacle, right?”

It’s important to point out that, while Obama was “listening and learning” at the Summit of Americas, the man he appointed to coordinate the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, was busily spewing anti-Venezuelan venom in the media.

This disinformation is necessary because of the “threat” that Chavez represents.  The threat here is against U.S. corporations in Venezuela, who feel, correctly, that they are in danger of being taken over by the Venezuelan government, to be used for social needs in the country instead of private profit.  Obama, like his predecessor, believes that such an act would be against “U.S. strategic interests,” thus linking the private profit of mega-corporations acting in a foreign country to the general interests of the United States.

In fact, this belief that the U.S. government must protect and promote U.S. corporations acting abroad is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Latin America, but the world.

Prior to the revolutionary upsurges that shook off U.S. puppet governments in the region, Latin America was used exclusively by U.S. corporations to extract raw materials at rock bottom prices, using cheap labor to reap super profits, while the entire region was dominated by U.S. banks.

Things have since changed dramatically.  Latin American countries have taken over industries that were privatized by U.S. corporations, while both Chinese and European companies have been given the green light to invest to an extent that U.S. corporations are being pushed aside.

To Obama and the rest of the two-party system, this is unacceptable.  The need to reassert U.S. corporate control in the hemisphere is high on the list of Obama’s priorities, but he’s going about it in a strategic way, following the path paved by Bush.

After realizing that the U.S. was unable to control the region by more forceful methods (especially because of two losing wars in the Middle East), Bush wisely chose to fall back a distance and fortify his position.  The lone footholds available to Bush in Latin America were, unsurprisingly, the only two far-right governments in the region: Colombia and Mexico.

Bush sought to strengthen U.S. influence in both governments by implementing Plan Colombia first, and the Meridia Initiative second (also known as Plan Mexico).  Both programs allow for huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to be funneled to these unpopular governments for the purpose of bolstering their military and police, organizations that in both countries have atrocious human rights records.

In effect, the diplomatic relationship with these strong U.S. “allies” — coupled with the financial and military aide, acts to prop up both governments, which possibly would have fallen otherwise (Bush was quick to recognize Mexico’s new President, Calderon, despite evidence of large-scale voter fraud).   Both relationships were legitimized by the typical rhetoric: the U.S. was helping Colombia and Mexico fight against “narco-terrorists.”

The full implication of these relationships was revealed when, on March 1st 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC base in Ecuador without warning (the U.S. and Colombia view the FARC as a terrorist organization).  The Latin American countries organized in the “Rio Group” denounced the raid, and the region became instantly destabilized (both Bush and Obama supported the bombing).

The conclusion that many in the region have drawn — most notably Chavez — is that the U.S. is using Colombia and Mexico as a counterbalance to the loss of influence in the region.  By building powerful armies in both countries, the potential to intervene in the affairs of other countries in the region is greatly enhanced.

Obama has been quick to put his political weight firmly behind Colombia and Mexico.  While singing the praises of Plan Colombia, Obama made a special trip to Mexico before the Summit of the Americas to strengthen his alliance with Felipe Calderon, promising more U.S. assistance in Mexico’s “drug war.”

What these actions make clear is that Obama is continuing the age old game of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, though less directly than previous administrations.  Obama’s attempt at “good neighbor” politics in the region will inevitably be restricted by the nagging demands of “U.S. strategic interests,” i.e., the demands of U.S. corporations to dominate the markets, cheap labor, and raw materials of Latin America.  And while it is one thing to smile for the camera and shake the hands of Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, U.S. corporations will demand that Obama be pro-active in helping them reassert themselves in the region, requiring all the intrigue and maneuvering of the past.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

Swine Flu: It’s Not Race, It’s Capital April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Health, Latin America, Mexico, Racism.
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25mexico2_6001

Written by danielschmidt

April 29, 2009, www.latinamericanmusings.wordpress.com

Swine flu did not begin because of Mexican genetic fallibility, terrorism, or otherwise. These accusations are baseless, ignorant and racist.

Swine flu is about capital, not race. Swine flu is the fault of multinational pig farms (despite their “moans”) – housing pigs who lay in their own shit, are fed antibiotics so as not to die from diseases they swim in, and are quickly processed and eaten. One does not get swine flu from eating swine, pigs, but develops a strain of disease from a pig, which is then transferred person to person.

Recently, it is almost impossible in the media to receive any sort of information. Think of the Somali pirates (no mention that we pour toxic nuclear waste and shit into their harbors). This time, we hear no word about Smithfield, the conglomerate pork processor that is headquartered miles from my home. It has been the policy of the United States to export its ability to produce massive amount of food across the world. Smithfield’s plants, in Mexico and elsewhere, did not happen overnight, but this was something that we should have seen coming.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Perote, Veracruz, where it is believed the strain of swine flu came from, houses an enormous “half-owned” agricompound, run by Smithfield, that produces mass amounts of swine. As Mike Davis notes, in his wonderfully needed “Capitalism and Flu,” this morning:

In 1965, for instance, there were 53 million American hogs on more than 1 million farms; today, 65 million hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities–half with more than 5,000 animals.

This has been a transition, in essence, from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, unprecedented in nature, containing tens, even hundreds of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems, suffocating in heat and manure, while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates and pathetic progenies.

Mexico has been our haven for cheap labor and lax standards. Not only is the world in an economic mess, but in an environmental one too. However, I am not suggesting that everything is known about the flu (it travels unpredictably, springs up in any season: where does it go? how does it travel?), but our drive towards capital at the cost our health has cost us, at best, a health scare, at worst, a pandemic. Washing ones hands will do not good if one is living in shit.

Our contempt for the environment, capital, human beings had led us here. It is not Mexico, or Mexicans. They, unfortunately for us, are not the problem. Mexico does not lack the genetic code to be productive humans or healthy humans, they deal with a lack or resources and a disdain from the US, both in policy circles as well as cultural circles. (In fact, Mexico learned about the swine flu strain six days before it was even picked up by the press in the US – but that speaks to our arrogance as much as our ignorance).

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storagecanoecaDespite Mexico becoming a scapegoat for the US and the West’s responsibility in this health scare (guns, drugs, and swine…), Mike Davis suggests that we not sit back in our understanding of what I outlined above. He emphasizes, in his article and in his 2006 book, Monsters At Our Door, that pandemics are real, and should be feared. The Spanish Influenza of 1918 began as a benign flu and roared back with a vengeance just as World War I came to a close. It is not too much assume, according to some, that this could happen once again.

The governments of the world project readiness. President Obama suggests that we should be concerned. Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Director, declared a state of emergency on Sunday and has freed up the distribution of antibiotics, Thermaflu and such in case of emergencies. But Davis doesn’t think this is enough.

The swine flu, in any case, may prove that the WHO/Centers for Disease Control (CDC) version of pandemic preparedness–without massive new investment in surveillance, scientific and regulatory infrastructure, basic public health and global access to lifeline drugs–belongs to the same class of Ponzified risk management as AIG derivatives and Madoff securities.

It isn’t so much that the pandemic warning system has failed as it simply doesn’t exist, even in North America and the EU.

I cannot comment on the readiness or reliability of our ability to stop this flu from killing more people (almost 200 have died in Mexico alone, no other casualties have occurred from other nations). But I will emphasize that Mexico, and specifically Mexicans, are not the problem. It may have originated in Mexico, but if it happened in, say, Fort Riley, Kansas, like the 1918 flu, we would not be having this discussion. This would be a global tragedy instead of an occasion to once again ignore one’s role and perpetuate the same fractured stereotypes that have led us here in the first place.

U.S. Is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels February 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Mexico.
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(Roger comment: the US government puts massive resources into keeping PEOPLE from crossing the border and token resources with respect to WEAPONS that kill)

JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.

New York Times, February 25, 2009

PHOENIX — The Mexican agents who moved in on a safe house full of drug dealers last May were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them.

When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store here called X-Caliber Guns.

Now, the owner, George Iknadosian, will go on trial on charges he sold hundreds of weapons, mostly AK-47 rifles, to smugglers, knowing they would send them to a drug cartel in the western state of Sinaloa. The guns helped fuel the gang warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died last year.

Mexican authorities have long complained that American gun dealers are arming the cartels. This case is the most prominent prosecution of an American gun dealer since the United States promised Mexico two years ago it would clamp down on the smuggling of weapons across the border. It also offers a rare glimpse of how weapons delivered to American gun dealers are being moved into Mexico and wielded in horrific crimes.

“We had a direct pipeline from Iknadosian to the Sinaloa cartel,” said Thomas G. Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

The ease with which Mr. Iknadosian and two other men transported weapons to Mexico over a two-year period illustrates just how difficult it is to stop the illicit trade, law enforcement officials here say.

The gun laws in the United States allow the sale of multiple military-style rifles to American citizens without reporting the sales to the government, and the Mexicans search relatively few cars and trucks going south across their border.

What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

Smugglers routinely enlist Americans with clean criminal records to buy two or three rifles at a time, often from different shops, then transport them across the border in cars and trucks, often secreting them in door panels or under the hood, law enforcement officials here say. Some of the smuggled weapons are also bought from private individuals at gun shows, and the law requires no notification of the authorities in those cases.

“We can move against the most outrageous purveyors of arms to Mexico, but the characteristic of the arms trade is it’s a ‘parade of ants’ — it’s not any one big dealer, it’s lots of individuals,” said Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, who is prosecuting Mr. Iknadosian. “That makes it very hard to detect because it’s often below the radar.”

The Mexican government began to clamp down on drug cartels in late 2006, unleashing a war that daily deposits dozens of bodies — often gruesomely tortured — on Mexico’s streets. President Felipe Calderón has characterized the stream of smuggled weapons as one of the most significant threats to security in his country. The Mexican authorities say they seized 20,000 weapons from drug gangs in 2008, the majority bought in the United States.

The authorities in the United States say they do not know how many firearms are transported across the border each year, in part because the federal government does not track gun sales and traces only weapons used in crimes. But A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In 2007, the firearms agency traced 2,400 weapons seized in Mexico back to dealers in the United States, and 1,800 of those came from dealers operating in the four states along the border, with Texas first, followed by California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian is accused of being one of those dealers. So brazen was his operation that the smugglers paid him in advance for the guns and the straw buyers merely filled out the required paperwork and carried the weapons off, according to A.T.F. investigative reports. The agency said Mr. Iknadosian also sold several guns to undercover agents who had explicitly informed him that they intended to resell them in Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian, 47, will face trial on March 3 on charges including fraud, conspiracy and assisting a criminal syndicate. His lawyer, Thomas M. Baker, declined to comment on the charges, but said Mr. Iknadosian maintained his innocence. No one answered the telephone at Mr. Iknadosian’s home in Glendale, Ariz.

A native of Egypt who spent much of his life in California, Mr. Iknadosian moved his gun-selling operation to Arizona in 2004, because the gun laws were more lenient, prosecutors said.

Over the two years leading up to his arrest last May, he sold more than 700 weapons of the kind currently sought by drug dealers in Mexico, including 515 AK-47 rifles and one .50 caliber rifle that can penetrate an engine block or bulletproof glass, the A.T.F. said.

Based on the store’s records and the statements of some defendants, investigators estimate at least 600 of those weapons were smuggled to Mexico. So far, the Mexican authorities have seized seven of the Kalashnikov-style rifles from gunmen for the Beltrán Leyva cartel who had battled with the police.

The store was also said to be the source for a Colt .38-caliber pistol stuck in the belt of a reputed drug kingpin, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, when he was arrested a year ago in the Sinaloan town of Culiacán. Also linked to the store was a diamond-studded handgun carried by another reputed mobster, Hugo David Castro, known as El Once, who was arrested in November on charges he took part in killing a state police chief in Sonora.

According to reports by A.T.F. investigators, Mr. Iknadosian sold more than 60 assault rifles in late 2007 and early 2008 to straw buyers working for two brothers — Hugo Miguel Gamez, 26, and Cesar Bojorguez Gamez, 27 — who then smuggled them into Mexico.

The brothers instructed the buyers to show up at X-Caliber Guns and to tell Mr. Iknadosian they were there to pick up guns for “Cesar” or “C,” the A.T.F. said. Mr. Iknadosian then helped the buyers fill out the required federal form, called the F.B.I. to check their records and handed over the rifles. The straw buyers would then meet one of the brothers to deliver the merchandise. They were paid $100 a gun.

The Gamez brothers have pleaded guilty to a count of attempted fraud. Seven of the buyers arrested last May have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and have agreed to testify against Mr. Iknadosian, prosecutors said.

In one transaction, Mr. Iknadosian gave advice about how to buy weapons and smuggle them to a person who turned out to be an informant who was recording him, according to a transcript. He told the informant to break the sales up into batches and never to carry more than two weapons in a car.

“If you got pulled over, two is no biggie,” Mr. Iknadosian is quoted as saying in the transcript. “Four is a question. Fifteen is, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Mexico Unconquered: Reviewing a People’s History of Power and Revolt February 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl    www.upsidedownworld.org
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
ImageReviewed: Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, 356 Pages, City Lights Publishers, (January, 2009).

Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, calls Mexico home, as do millions of impoverished citizens. From Spanish colonization to today’s state and corporate repression, Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, is written from the street barricades, against the Slims of the world, and alongside “the underdogs and rebels” of an unconquered country. The book offers a gripping account of the ongoing attempts to colonize Mexico, and the hopeful grassroots movements that have resisted this conquest.

Gibler, a Global Exchange Media Fellow, has been reporting from Mexico since 2006. While writing for dozens of media outlets, he has covered events such as the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, the teachers’ revolt in Oaxaca and other stories of police repression and popular resistance. These reports form the basis for much of the book. (His articles are collected at the Global Exchange website.)

In the prologue, Gibler writes of Mexico Unconquered: “each chapter bleeds into all the others: they all share the same blood.” It’s true: the chapters flow together smoothly, bonded by Gibler’s steady class analysis and excellent story-telling skills. He breathes poetry and anecdotes into the history, and empathy and prose into the reporting, so these stories can be understood and felt, not just read.

Mexico Unconquered starts off with an engaging people’s history of Mexico. Gibler guides the reader through the country’s various presidencies and popular uprisings. From Oaxaca, Gibler offers a first hand account of the incredible teachers’ revolt, with unbelievable reports on police brutality and people’s solidarity. From Chiapas, Gibler provides a concise overview of the Zapatistas’ history, contextualized with background information on indigenous autonomy and reports on the Other Campaign. The book also tells stories from Mexico’s ghost towns, with numerous interviews with families that bear the burden of immigration to the US.

But the book is more than just an account of neoliberal nightmares and grassroots revolts. It cuts to the heart of the problems ravaging Mexico today, dissecting the roots of the country’s corruption, state repression, drug wars and poverty. In this respect, the book’s approach reflects what the late folk singer Utah Phillips once said: “The Earth is not dying it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Well, Gibler offers the names and addresses of the people – and companies and ideologies – that are still trying to conquer Mexico.

“I hope that the thoughts and stories presented herein will be of use to others reflecting on similar social conditions in other lands,” Gibler writes. Indeed, harrowing accounts of Mexican police using torture to spread fear and expand power – but not necessarily get information – recall the torture methods employed in the US-led “War on Terror.” The book’s stories of how the drug war in Mexico is used as a pretext for police to murder and repress with impunity is shockingly similar to the drug war in the Andes. Numerous examples are also given in the book of how the law in Mexico – as in so many other countries – works only for those with political power and weapons.

Beyond its analysis, history and reporting, this book is also call to revolt. Readers around the world could learn much from the popular uprisings in Mexico. Just as the tactics of repressive states and exploitative corporations are similar around the world, the strategies of resistance could be also be connected and shared across international borders. Toward the end of the book, Gibler recalls the words of a friend, “[I]f we are all complicit in the damage, then we all share responsibility in the solutions; that is, we are united, or can be united, in taking a stand, in revolt.”

***

 

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.

Obama and the Lethal War on Drugs February 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Mexico.
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The death toll in Tijuana, Mexico, is now higher than in Baghdad

by Johann Hari

With the global economy collapsing all around us, the last issue President Barack Obama wants to talk about is the ongoing War on Drugs. But if he doesn’t – and fast – he may well have two collapsed and haemorrhaging countries on his hands. The first lies in the distant mountains of Afghanistan. The second is right next door, on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Here’s a starter for 10 about where this war has led us. Where in the world are you most likely to be beheaded? Where are the severed craniums of police officers being found week after week in the streets, pinned to bloody notes that tell their colleagues, “this is so that you learn respect”? Where are hand grenades being tossed into crowds to intimidate the public into shutting up? Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a “rapid and sudden collapse”?

Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad. The story of how this came to happen is the story of this war – and why it will have to end, soon.

When you criminalise a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn’t disappear. The trade is simply transferred from chemists and doctors to gangs. In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up – and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, where teen gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

Drugs syndicates control 8 per cent of global GDP – which means they have greater resources than many national armies. They own helicopters and submarines and they can afford to spread the woodworm of corruption through poor countries right to the top.

Why Mexico? Why now? In the past decade, the US has spent a fortune spraying carcinogenic chemicals over Colombia’s coca-growing areas, so the drug trade has simply shifted to Mexico. It’s known as the “balloon effect”: press down in one place, and the air rushes to another.

When I was last there in 2006, I saw the drug violence taking off and warned that the murder rate was going to rocket – but I didn’t imagine it would reach this scale. In 2007, more than 2,000 people were killed. In 2008, it was more than 5,400 people. The victims range from a pregnant woman washing her car, to a four-year-old child, to a family in the “wrong” house watching television. Today, 70 per cent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

The cartels offer Mexican police and politicians a choice: plato o plomo. Silver or lead. Take a bribe, or take a bullet. Juan Camilo Mourino, the Interior Secretary, admits the cartels have so corrupted the police they can’t guarantee the safety of the public any more. So the US is trying to militarise the attack on the cartels in Mexico, offering tanks, helicopters and hard cash.

The same process has happened in Afghanistan. After the toppling of the Taliban, the country’s bitterly poor farmers turned to the only cash crop that earns them enough to keep their kids alive: opium. It now makes up 50 per cent of the country’s GDP. The drug cartels have a bigger budget than the elected government, so they have left the young parliament, police force and army riddled with corruption and virtually useless. The US reacted by declaring “war on opium”.

The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the NATO commander has ordered his troops to “kill all opium dealers”. Seeing their main crop destroyed and their families killed, many have turned back to the Taliban in rage.

What is the alternative? Terry Nelson was one of America’s leading federal agents tackling drug cartels for over 30 years. He discovered the hard way that the current tactics are useless. “Busting top traffickers doesn’t work, since others just do battle to replace them,” he explains. But there is another way: “Legalising and regulating drugs will stop drug market violence by putting major cartels out of business. It’s the one sure-fire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?”

Of course, the day after legalisation, a majority of gangsters will not suddenly join the Hare Krishnas and open organic food shops. But their profit margins will collapse as their customers go to off-licences and chemists, so the incentives for staying in crime will largely end. We don’t have to speculate about this. When alcohol was legalised, the murder-rate fell off a cliff – and continued to drop for the next 10 years. (Rates of alcoholism, revealingly, remained the same.) No, Obama doesn’t want to spend his political capital on this. He is the third consecutive US President to have used drugs in his youth, but he knows this is a difficult issue, where he could be tarred by his opponents as “soft on crime”.

Yet remember: opinions are febrile in a depression. At the birth of the last great downturn, support for alcohol prohibition was high; within five years, it was gone. The Harvard economist Professor Jeffrey Miron has calculated that drug prohibition costs the US government $44.1bn per year – and legalisation would raise another $32.7bn on top of that in taxes if drugs were taxed like alcohol. (All this money would, in a sane world, be shifted to drug treatment.)

Can the US afford to force this failing policy on the world – especially when it guarantees the collapse both of the country they are occupying and their own neighbour?

Drug addiction is always a tragedy for the addict – but drug prohibition spreads the tragedy across the globe. We still have a chance to take drugs back into the legal regulated economy, before it’s too late for Mexico and Afghanistan and graveyards-full of more stabbed kids on the streets of Britain. Obama – and the rest of us – have to choose: controlled regulation or violent prohibition? Healthcare or warfare?

To join the fight to legalise drugs, good organisations to join are Transform or Stop the Drug War.

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