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Mandela, A Life of Struggle: The History Most Mainstream Obits Omit December 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in South Africa.
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Roger’s note: In the mid 1980s the United States Congress voted to demand South Africa recognize the ANC and free political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela.  When Reagan vetoed the act, Congress voted to override the veto.  A young congressman from Wyoming by the name of Dick Cheney voted both times against the initiative, insisting that the ANC was a terrorist organization.  Today Cheney says he does not regret his votes,  although he now considers Mandela to be a great man who in his old age has “mellowed.”  I kind of agree with Cheney (god help me) in the sense that the post-Apartheid Mandela has been much less threatening to the ravages of racist capitalism than he was in his radical youth.  Not that I have any grounds  to judge a man who survived 27 years in prison and came out of it with his heart and soul intact.  But there is no doubt that the mainstream corporate media and the political whores love the “mellowed out” Mandela and don’t want to think about the kind of principled revolutionary activism he represented and implemented, which spelled the death knell of Apartheid in South Africa.

 

 

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1964, Nelson Mandela — along with many other comrades in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa from racist white domination under apartheid — was sentenced to life in prison. His statement to the court, made when he was facing the real threat of execution, remains an historic demonstration of defiance and resistance.

(Credit: JamesPlowman.com)

Mandela’s sentence was “reduced” to life imprisonment. He would spend 27 years caged by the brutal racist regime in South Africa, before the resistance movement there and a worldwide solidarity campaign helped to force his release.

Many times, the apartheid government dangled a pardon for Mandela — if he would agree to publicly renounce the armed struggle. Contrary to liberal, depoliticized histories of the life of Mandela, he was in fact a political leader who believed in achieving liberation by any means necessary. Indeed, in 1961 he helped to found Umkhonto we Sizwe — which means ‘Spear of the Nation’ — an armed struggle wing of the liberation movement. Earlier that same year, Mandela gave his first ever television interview. In it, he alluded to the sense of futility of fighting against a violent apartheid regime with only non-violent means.

On non-violence and the use of political violence, Mandela wrote in his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom:

Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me,nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.

In the end, we had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. Over and over again, we had used all the nonviolent weapons in our arsenal – speeches, deputations, threats, marches, strikes, stay-aways, voluntary imprisonment – all to no avail, for whatever we did was met by an iron hand. A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor.

Mandela spent nearly three decades in prison for his defence of principles and for his role in the struggle — alongside hundreds and thousands of other political prisoners. During those years, many others were felled by the apartheid regime: for instance, the hundreds massacred in Soweto in 1976, and Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who was beaten and tortured before dying in police custody in 1977.

On February 11, 1990, Mandela finally walked free. On that day, he gave a speech to a joyous mass of humanity gathered to hear him on the steps of Cape Town’s City Hall.

“I great you all in the name of freedom and democracy for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people … I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands…”

International solidarity with South Africa took many forms. One under-analyzed factor in understanding the defeat of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela was the military support given by Cuba to Angolan forces battling South African invasion in the late 1970s and 1980s, in addition to Cuba support for Namibian independence and the liberation of other “front line” states neighbouring Apartheid South Africa. In the documentary film, Fidel Castro: The Untold Storyactor and activist Harry Belafonte reflected on the importance of Cuba to the freedom of South Africa:

Had it not been for the Cuban presence in Africa, and in particular in Angola, the history of Africa would have never been what it is now. One of the greatest friends that Cuba has in Nelson Mandela, and his appreciation for what the Cuban people did… If you don’t understand that history, then you’ll never really understand the enormous success and importance of the Cuban Revolution.

In 1991, Cuba was one of the first countries Nelson Mandela visited — in order to thank the Cuban people for their contributions.

Mandela has also been an outspoken proponent of the liberation movement in Palestine, drawing analogies between these two struggles against racism and apartheid: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela said.

In 1998, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Order of Canada. On that visit to this country, speaking before tens of thousands gathered in Toronto’s SkyDome, Mandela launched his children’s education fund.

In 2001, Mandela was honoured by Parliament with Honourary Canadian citizenship. One Member of Parliament, Rob Anders — who now sits as a Conservative MP — objected, shouting ‘No!’ during the vote in the House, and referring to Mandela as a “communist and terrorist.”

Mandela’s stature in history is now unarguable, and the just nature of the struggle against apartheid is denied only by outright racists and bigots. The likes of Rob Anders today sound like extremists, but in the 1980s it was standard practice for right-wing politicians around the world to disparage Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists.” In 1987, for instance, then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization … Anyone who thinks it’s going to run a government is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

Mandela and the ANC did indeed run the government of South Africa; Mandela was democratically elected to the presidency in 1994. And while his, and the ANC’s, record in government was contradictory and is contested because of its failure to reject neoliberal economic measures and eliminate poverty, the democratic struggle he came to personify put the lie to racists and right-wingers like Thatcher.

Mandela made fewer public statements after stepping down from his former role in government. But he did speak out strongly at times on urgent issues. For instance, in 2003 he condemned the invasion of Iraq in unequivocal terms.

Nelson Mandela. Madiba. A voice for justice has gone silent. But the words and example of Mandela will live as long as people struggle against injustice and oppression.

Derrick O'Keefe

rabble.ca Editor Derrick O’Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.

 

 

Jahanzeb Hussain

Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage Magazine.

Allende Vive: Latin America’s Left and the Reunion of Socialism and Democracy September 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Art, Literature and Culture, Canada, Chile, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: There are three items in this post.  Following Derrik O’Keefe’s article you will find the full transcript of the DemocracyNow! program featuring the widow of the Chilean folk singer and activist who was murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship.  After that I have posted David Heap’s article that tells the story of the Canadian response to the Pinochet coup and the Canadian movement to receive refugees from the Pinochet’s Chile.  And, of course, all this to remind us of Chile’s notorious 9/11.

Last night, Barack Obama spoke in defence of his threats to launch U.S. air strikes against Syria. In justifying his push for an attack illegal under international law, the constitutional lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner appealed explicitly to American exceptionalism. Obama also prefaced his case for bombing Syria with a stunningly ahistorical assertion of American benevolence:

 

“My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.”

Imagine how this nonsense sounds to Chileans, who are today marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile against the democratically elected government led by Salvador Allende. More than 3,000 were killed in Chile; tens of thousands were jailed, tortured and exiled.

Chile bore the heavy burden of all those who have shown leadership in fighting for a better world. For over seven decades — was Obama’s metaphorical anchor of global security the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? — any people combining too much democracy and some measure of national development or socialism that threatens U.S. interests has been met with blood and suffering imposed by that enforcer of global capitalism, the U.S. Empire.

I’ve learned a lot about Chile’s tragedy through my wife and her family. She was born in a refugee camp in Buenos Aires, and came to Canada as a baby after activists in this country agitated and successfully pressured the Liberal government of the day to admit Chileans fleeing the coup (for more on this history, read David Heap’s piece.) Both of her parents were social activists and part of the resistance. So I have some knowledge of the almost unimaginable human toll of the coup.

However, on this anniversary, I don’t want to just repeat a denunciation of the U.S. and the neoliberal economists and their generals who plunged Chile into darkness. I’d rather think about the light that has emerged over the past decades from Latin America, against all odds.

Henry Kissinger et al carried out the coup in Chile because they couldn’t countenance the union of socialism and democracy. An elected Marxist president just could not be tolerated. Allende was a strict constitutionalist and democrat. The coup was a bloody reminder that the ruling classes will never fight fair. They killed thousands in a vengeful attempt to forever separate socialism and democracy. But you cannot kill an idea. Forty years later, they have failed. Socialism and democracy have been reunited. That’s why we can say today: Allende vive. Allende lives.

Allende lives in the governments of countries like Bolivia and Venezuela; Allende lives in the vibrant social movements all across Latin America; Allende lives in ALBA, a regional integration and mutual benefit alliance the likes of which could barely have been fathomed in the 1970s; Allende lives in the steadfast refusal of Latin America to accept U.S. isolation and demonization of Cuba. In fact, it’s the U.S. and Canada who are isolated in Latin America these days, notwithstanding recent coup d’etats in a couple of ALBA’s weaker links, Paraguay and Honduras. And Allende lives in the massive student movement in Chile, which has challenged Pinochet’s legacy of privatization and nudged the whole political spectrum in that country to the left.

Latin America today is the only part of the world where the political left has made concrete gains and broken the stranglehold of neoliberalism. It’s the only part of the world where the left can consistently run in elections as the left — and win.

Today’s resurgent left in Latin America poses a real challenge to timid mainstream social democracy in North America and Europe, not to mention to the small constellation of sects clinging to the certainties of 1917 and other similarly dogmatic or scholastic leftists.

On this 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, progressives would do well to recommit to learning about and defending the myriad left movements and elected governments of Latin America.

So don’t remember Allende just as a martyr. His descendents have learned from his terrible fate, as Greg Grandin outlined in his London Review of Books article, ‘Don’t do what Allende did.’ The headline refers to reported instructions from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez during the hours after the (thankfully failed) coup against Venezuela’s elected leader in 2002.

Emir Sader, the Brazilian left scholar and activist, has summed up the new generation’s political project in his essential book, The New Mole, which looks at the trajectories of today’s Latin American left. Sader explains that, having learned from the Allende government’s failure to “prepare to confront the right’s offensive with strategies for an alternative power,

…processes like those in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador — at the same time as they try to implement an anti-neoliberal economic model — seek to combine this with a refounding of the state and the public sphere… it is still a process of reforms, but one that leads towards a substantial transformation of the relations of power that underpin the neoliberal state.”

It’s an enormous and worthy undertaking. We should learn from Latin America and we should join them. That’s the best way to honour the legacy of the Chileans who fell forty years ago to the enforcers of global capitalism.

Derrick O'Keefe

rabble.ca Editor Derrick O’Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.

 

 

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we look at another September 11th. It was 40 years ago this week, September 11, 1973, that General Augusto Pinochet ousted Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in a U.S.-backed military coup. The coup began a 17-year repressive dictatorship during which more than 3,000 Chileans were killed. Pinochet’s rise to power was backed by then-President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state and national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.

In 1970, the CIA’s deputy director of plans wrote in a secret memo, quote, “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. … It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [that’s the U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden,” unquote. That same year, President Nixon ordered the CIA to, quote, “make the economy scream” in Chile to, quote, “prevent Allende from coming to power or [to] unseat him.”

After the 1973 coup, General Pinochet remained a close U.S. ally. He was defeated in 1988 referendum and left office in 1990. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London on torture and genocide charges on a warrant issued by a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón. British authorities later released Pinochet after doctors ruled him physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

Last week, Chile’s judges issued a long-awaited apology to the relatives of loved ones who went missing or were executed during the Pinochet dictatorship. This is Judge Daniel Urrutia.

JUDGE DANIEL URRUTIA: [translated] We consider it appropriate and necessary. We understand, for some citizens, obviously, it’s too late, but nothing will ever be too late to react to what may happen in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: The relatives of some victims have rejected the belated apology and called for further investigations into deaths and disappearances during the dictatorship. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said the country’s courts had failed to uphold the constitution and basic rights.

PRESIDENT SEBASTIÁN PIÑERA: [translated] The judiciary did not rise up to their obligations or challenges, and could have done much more, because, by constitutional mandate, it’s their duty to protect the rights of the people, to protect their lives—for example, reconsidering the appeals, which they had previously massively rejected as unconstitutional.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Sunday thousands of Chileans took to the streets of Santiago to mark the 40th anniversary of the military coup and remember the thousands who disappeared during the brutal regime that followed. This is the president of the Families of Executed Politicians group, Alicia Lira.

ALICIA LIRA: [translated] Forty years since the civil military coup, the issue of human rights, the violations during the dictatorship are still current. This denial of justice, there are more than 1,300 processes open for 40 years, for 40 years continuing the search for those who were arrested, who disappeared, who were executed without the remains handed back. Why don’t they say the truth? Why don’t they break their pact of silence?

AMY GOODMAN: Just last week, the wife and two daughters of the legendary Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against the former military officer they say killed Jara almost exactly 40 years ago. Víctor Jara was shot to death in the midst of the 1973 U.S.-backed coup. First his hands were smashed so he could no longer play the guitar, it is believed. Jara’s accused killer, Pedro Barrientos, has lived in the United States for roughly two decades and is now a U.S. citizen. Jara’s family is suing him under federal laws that allow U.S. courts to hear about human rights abuses committed abroad. Last year, Chilean prosecutors charged Barrientos and another officer with Jara’s murder, naming six others as accomplices.

Well, today we’ll spend the hour with the loved ones of those who were killed under Pinochet, and the attorneys who have helped them seek justice. First we’re joined by Joan Jara. She is the widow of Chilean singer Víctor Jara. She is the author of An Unfinished Song: The Life of Victor Jara, first published in 1984.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!

JOAN JARA: Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us and in studio here in New York, as victims and those who have worked for justice in Chile gather for this 40th anniversary of the September 11th coup.

JOAN JARA: Indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the lawsuit you have just filed.

JOAN JARA: Well, this lawsuit, which is for the central justice and accountability, is a civil lawsuit, but the—our aim is not to receive pecuniary, because this doesn’t help at all. It’s to reinforce the extradition petition, which was approved by the Chilean Supreme Court and is now in United States territory. It’s somehow to support that and to appeal to public opinion here in the United States. We know we have—there are many people here. In repeated visits here, I have met so many friends who have condemned the coup on the 11th of September, 1973. And I appeal to all the people who listen to Víctor’s songs, who realize—and for all the victims of Pinochet, for their support and appeal to their—your own government to remit a reply positively to this extradition request.

AMY GOODMAN: After break, we’ll also be joined by your lawyer to talk more about the lawsuit. But describe what happened on September 11, 1973. Where were you? Where was Víctor?

JOAN JARA: Yeah, well, we were both at home with our two daughters. There was somehow a coup in the air. We had been fearing that there might be a military coup. And on that morning, together, Víctor and I listened to Allende’s last speech and heard all the radios, the—who supported Salvador Allende, falling off the air as, one by one, being replaced by military marches.

Víctor was due to go to the technical university, his place of work, where Allende was due to speak to announce a plebiscite at 11:00, and Víctor was to sing there, as he did. And he went out that morning. It was the last time I saw him. I stayed at home, heard of the bombing of the Moneda Palace, heard and saw the helicopter’s machine gun firing over Allende’s residence. And then began the long wait for Víctor to come back home.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you wait?

JOAN JARA: I waited a week, not knowing really what had happened to him. I got a message from him from somebody who had been in the stadium with him, wasn’t sure what was really happening to him. But my fears were confirmed on the 11th of September—well, I’m sorry, on the 18th of September, Chile National Day, when a young man came to my house, said, “Please, I need to talk to you. I’m a friend. I’ve been working in the city morgue. I’m afraid to tell you that Víctor’s body has been recognized,” because it was a well-known—his was a well-known face. And he said, “You must come with me and claim his body; otherwise, they will put him in a common grave, and he will disappear.”

So then I accompanied this young man to the city morgue. We entered by a side entrance. I saw the hundreds of bodies, literally hundreds of bodies, that were high piled up in what was actually the parking place, I think, of the morgue. And I had to look for Víctor’s body among a long line in the offices of the city morgue, recognized him. I saw what had happened to him. I saw the bullet wounds. I saw the state of his body.

And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I had to face at that moment that—what had happened to Víctor, and I could give my testimony with all the force of what I felt in that moment, and not that horror, which is much worse, of never knowing what happened to your loved one, as what happened to so many families, so many women, who have spent these 40 years looking for their loved ones who were made to disappear.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was so well known, there have been many stories about his death. Some said because he was this famous folk singer, guitarist, his hands were cut off.

JOAN JARA: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Others said they were smashed. How did you see—what did you see when you saw his body?

JOAN JARA: No, I—this is not true. There was this invention of myths that I people, I suppose, thought would help. The truth was bad enough. There was no need to invent more horrors. Víctor’s hands were not cut off. When I saw his body, his hands were hanging at a strange angle. I mean, his whole body was bruised and battered with bullet wounds, but I didn’t touch his hands. It looked as though his wrists were broken.

AMY GOODMAN: How long had Víctor played guitar? How long had he been singing?

JOAN JARA: Oh, how long had he been singing? Since he was small. Since he was—he didn’t really learn to play the guitar until he was adolescent, but his mother was a folk singer, and he learned from her, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you meet?

JOAN JARA: We met because in the University of Chile we—Víctor was a student in the theater school, and I was a dancer in the national ballet, but I also gave classes in the theater school. That’s how I met him. He was an excellent student. He was at least the best of his course. But we actually got together after, later, when I was recovering from when I was sort of ill, and he heard I was ill. He came to see me with a little bunch of flowers that I think he took out of the park, because he was penniless.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have two daughters together?

JOAN JARA: No, not together. My first daughter is actually the daughter of my first husband, whom I had separated from, but she was very, very small when Víctor came to see us that day. She was only a year old, slightly less than a year old. And she always felt that Víctor was her father, and Víctor always felt that he—she was her daughter. She—he—sorry, I’m not used to speaking English. So, they were very, very close.

AMY GOODMAN: And the hundreds of bodies you saw in this morgue. How many of them were identified?

JOAN JARA: Can’t tell you that. This particular young man who worked in the identification, civil—civil registry—I don’t know what you call it—he was overwhelmed with what he had to do. I can’t—I can’t tell you. I can’t—I can’t tell.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to claim his body and bury him?

JOAN JARA: I was—I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to claim his body, but we had to take it immediately to the cemetery and inter it in a niche high up in the back wall of the cemetery. There could be no funeral. And after that, I had to go home and tell my daughters what had happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Joan Jara, the widow of Víctor Jara. And we’re going to continue with her, as well as her lawyer. She’s just brought suit against the man she believes was responsible for his murder, among others. We’re also going to be joined by Joyce Horman, another widow of the coup. Her husband, Charles Horman, American freelance journalist, was also disappeared and killed during the coup. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. It’s been 40 years since the September 11, 1973, coup that overthrew the first democratically elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, who died in the palace that day as the Pinochet forces rose to power. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Vivir en Paz,” by Víctor Jara, the Chilean singer, songwriter, tortured and executed during the Chilean coup of Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973. This week marks the 40th anniversary the U.S.-backed coup. You can also go to our website at democracynow.org to see highlights from our coverage over the years. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Our guest is Joan Jara, the widow of the legendary Chilean singer Víctor Jara. Last week she filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against the former military officer they say killed Jara almost exactly 40 years ago. Víctor Jara was shot to death in the midst of the 1973 U.S.-backed coup within the next week. Joan Jara is author of An Unfinished Song: The Life of Victor Jara.

Also with us is Almudena Bernabeu, attorney who helped file the lawsuit last week against Víctor Jara killers. She’s with the Center for Justice and Accountability, where she directs the Transitional Justice Program.

Tonight there will be a major event where people from around the world will gather who have been involved with seeking justice since the coup took place. Pinochet rose to power on September 11th, and over the next 17 years more than 3,000 Chileans were killed.

Almudena, describe this lawsuit, the grounds, the legal grounds on which you bring this 40 years after Víctor Jara was killed.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: Absolutely. This is under—these lawsuits are happening in the United States, and there’s an important number of them. They are civil by nature, because it’s what the—it’s a tort, which is a legal word, but, I mean, it’s—what they really look for is a reward on damages. But really, the nature of the evidence and the relevance of the documents and everything that goes into the case really doesn’t distinguish, in my mind, between criminal and civil. It’s under two federal statutes in the United States called the Alien Tort Statute from 1789—ironically, first Congress—and the Torture Victims Protection Act, which is later on in 1992. And what they provide for is the right to victims, whether they’re aliens under the ATS or also U.S. citizens under the TVPA, or what we call the TVPA, to bring suit for human rights violations. The second statute provides for torture, extrajudicial killing, specifically. And the Alien Tort Statute allows you to bring in a more open or wide number of claims, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and slavery, many claims over the years. Colleagues and friends have brought suit under these laws.

In, I guess, the jurisdictional basis, not to be overtechnical, but one of the more solid ones has been the physical presence of the defendant in the United States, which is what I will say the Center for Justice and Accountability specialize. Other colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights and other institutions have more experience with corporate cases and so forth. And in this particular instance, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, the guy who has been investigated and identified by Chilean prosecutors and judges as the author, through testimony, of Víctor Jara’s assassination, was living—has been living for number of years, for almost 20 years, in Florida, of all places. So—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you find this out?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: We—actually, came to the attention Chile television first, and they did a big program about both the investigation in Chile and the likelihood of this person—it was an interesting step—likelihood of this person being the Barrientos that was named in the pleadings in Chile. And after the program, the judge ordered a couple of extra, you know, steps from a criminal investigation standpoint, and they were able to identify him. And I was contacted by the prosecutors in Chile, with whom we have a relationship from prior work, to see if we could actually corroborate one more step to see if he was the person. And he is the same officer that left Chile, we believe between 1989 and 1990, and relocated in Deltona.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe the U.S. knew?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: That he was in the United—

AMY GOODMAN: Who he was?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: I’m not sure he was high enough, to be frank, from all the information that we have right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was granted U.S. citizenship.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: He was granted U.S. citizenship. And what I don’t—I don’t necessarily know that at the time that he was probably requesting to file his naturalization application, that the U.S. will know of his involvement. And I think that these guys specialize in lying in those applications, in my experience. So there’s no way necessarily for the U.S. to know, although I do believe that, overall, the U.S. looked somewhere else when all these people were coming from Latin America in the aftermath of their conflicts, no question, particularly military men.

AMY GOODMAN: This Alien Tort Claims Act, which we have covered many times in the past, you yourself have used in other cases. Very briefly, if you could talk about the archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: This really was an important case, on a personal and professional level. It was filed in 2003. And also with a little bit of this twisting of fate, the—a guy who was crucial to the assassination had been identified by the truth commission, by U.S. important declassified documents and other sources, as the driver, as the sort of right-hand man of Roberto D’Aubuisson, who conceived the assassination and sort of the whole plot. And he was the guy who drove the shooter to the church, and he was living in Modesto, California, running an auto shop. And after we were able to establish that truthfully and corroborate it, we filed suit, which was a very important suit, I will say. It was the only time in the history of the crime for the conditions of El Salvador when any justice has been provided for this emblematic killing, and it was the first case—

AMY GOODMAN: He was killed March 24th, 1980.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: 1980.

AMY GOODMAN: The archbishop of El Salvador, as—

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: While celebrating mass, absolutely. And he was kind of marks—in the history and the imaginary of Salvadorans, marks the beginning of their 10-year civil war. It really was a declaration of war in the old-fashioned sense. It was—and against all civilians and against the pueblo that he defended so much. It was one—a provocative statement, killing the archbishop, who had been in his homilies and publicly condemning the actions of the army against the people of El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan Jara, how did you figure out that—who was responsible for the killing of Víctor, your husband?

JOAN JARA: I didn’t figure it out, because the—the Chilean army would not give the information of who—of the officers who were responsible for the Chile stadium where Víctor was killed. But gradually, within the proceedings of the case, officers were named, especially by the conscript, under whose—become orders, they were, yeah. And it’s these people who were these soldiers of lesser ranks who have identified the officers who were responsible for the crimes.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: That’s a very important point. Sorry, just to—there’s been no desire or willingness on behalf of the armed forces in Chile to collaborate with the families and the victims struggling for 40 years. They have to rely, the investigators, in now testimony from these low-level soldiers, who don’t have that kind of pact of silence, and they’re providing information that is crucial for their work.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan?

JOAN JARA: Well, they say that they have had to have a pact of silence during many decades because they have been threatened by the armed forces, they should not speak. And there have been many who have been very scared to give their testimony until now.

The Right to Live in Peace: Forty years on, the coup in Chile still has lessons for us today

 

| September 9, 2013

Mural for Victor Jara. (Photo: aullidodelaika.blogspot.com)

Aerial bombings, tanks in the streets, widespread terrorizing of civilians by soldiers and secret police: this was the horror unleashed on September 11, 1973 by the military coup d’état in Chile. Led by Augusto Pinochet and other generals with U.S. backing, the coup overthrew President Salvador Allende’s democratically elected Popular Unity government, and brought in a brutal military dictatorship that lasted for 17 years.

Canada’s official attitude towards the coup might be politely called ‘ambivalent.’ Some Canadian banks and mining interests openly supported the military take-over as a good investment opportunity. Our ambassador to Chile’s rather sympathetic attitude toward the generals led to a rapid recognition of the military junta.

When embassy officials Mark Dolgin and David Adam allowed a handful of asylum-seekers to take refuge at our Santiago embassy, Foreign Affairs tried to shut the door on any more. The ambassador’s classified cables, which called asylum-seekers ‘riff-raff’ and the military killings ‘abhorrent but understandable,’ were leaked by Bob Thomson, a federal CIDA employee in Ottawa.

Those leaks cost Thomson his job but helped build a public clamour in favour of offering refuge to those who needed it. At the time, Canada’s lack of a formal refugee policy left these life-and-death decisions to ministerial discretion. Questions were raised in Parliament, church groups and unions called for more asylum, the media picked up the story, and solidarity activists occupied federal offices in four cities across the country: this growing groundswell in the fall of 1973 eventually led to ‘Special Movement Chile’ opening the doors for thousands of Chilean refugees fleeing Pinochet’s terror to find safety in Canada.

That historic example of citizen action underscores the importance conscientious dissent. Whether high-profile whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden or rank-and-file war resisters who refuse to participate in war crimes, conscientious dissenters deserve honour and protection, rather than vilification and prosecution. Though their individual circumstances may be less dramatic, the same lesson applies to many conscientious scientists and researchers whose work is threatened or suppressed by the Harper government’s ideological preference for evidence-free policy-making.

Many victims of military repression never reach asylum of course, but those who remember the tortured, murdered and ‘disappeared’ can take some comfort in the knowledge that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The renowned Chilean folk-singer Victor Jara was among those tortured and killed in the early days of the coup, and this year several military officers deemed responsible for his death are finally coming to trial. Some of the accused trained at the infamous School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins: they put Pinochet’s ceremonial sword on display) at Fort Benning Georgia, where human rights vigils continue to call for closure every year.

Whatever the outcome of these belated trials, let’s recall that General Pinochet was fond of lecturing about the health benefits of ‘just forgetting.’  So historical memory really matters: remembering can be an act of resistance in itself. Not only those officially sanctioned memorials, which prescribe just which atrocities ‘We must never forget,’ but also (especially!) independent grassroots initiatives that document and remind us of crimes our governments would prefer us to forget. Such is the case of Zochrot (‘remembering’ in Hebrew), which aims to ‘commemorate, witness, acknowledge, and repair’ the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, in the face of widespread (and increasingly state-enforced) nakba denial in Israel and around the world.

Jara’s poetic legacy lives on in song, of course. Better known for her satirical songs on CBC, topical folksinger Nancy White recorded a (now hard-to-find but recently recovered) medley of his songs called Victor Jara Presente, where she sings in part: ‘His struggle is the struggle of all who would live free. We mustn’t let a Victor Jara die again.’

But we do keep letting it happen, alas. Canada’s governments have either participated in or tacitly supported coups against elected governments in Haiti and Honduras (just to name two recent examples). And with the Conservatives’ increasing political interference in our asylum adjudication system, it is far from clear whether those 1970s Chilean refugees would even be allowed into Canada today under current rules. Refugees who do make it into Canada now also face a much harder time settling here, with mean-spirited federal cuts to health and other services — another area where we see active resistance from conscientious professionals.

Let’s also remember the real motivation for many coups. Henry Kissinger infamously explained why the U.S. set about to destabilize and then overthrow Allende’s democratically elected government: “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” Democracy doesn’t count for much when voters ‘irresponsibly’ elect a government Washington doesn’t like.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial is even clearer about who they support and why: about a more recent military coup, they wrote on July 4 that Egyptians would be “lucky” if their new ruling generals turn out like Chile’s Pinochet, who “hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” Apart from the slur on midwifery, Pinochet’s rule was a ‘transition to democracy’ like bacon is a transition to vegetarianism. His regime savagely opposed the return to democracy in Chile, relinquishing power only when forced to by national and international pressure, and after decreeing immunity for himself and his henchmen — all the while continuing to receive support from hypocritical U.S. politicians who now lecture us about the immorality of talking with dictators.

But don’t let the WSJ’s chilling historical revisionism mask the cynicism of their underlying message: international finance approves of dictators who bring in ‘free-market reformers.’ The 1973 coup gave free reign to the Chicago-school free market fundamentalists to create havoc in the Chilean social fabric, and similar failed policies are now being pushed down our throats under the guise of ‘austerity.’ Those who revere the ‘invisible hand of the market’ ultimately also rely on its all-too-visible fist.

The poignant title of one of Jara’s most famous songs and albums (El derecho de vivir en paz, 1971) is still relevant today as it sums up the deepest wishes of so many people. A film about his life and an exhibit* of rare historic materials from the Chilean resistance against the coup both bear the name of the same song, inviting us to remember and reflect on those ideals for today and tomorrow: ‘The right to live in peace.’

 

David Heap works with the Latin American-Canadian Solidarity Association (LACASA) and People for Peace in London, Ontario, and is on the international Steering Committee of Gaza’s Ark.

A shorter version of this article appeared in UWO’s Western News on September 5.

Photo: aullidodelaika.blogspot.com

*’The Right to Live in Peace’ is an exhibit of historic materials from Toronto’s Colectivo Alas documenting Chilean resistance against the military dictatorship, running at Beit Zatoun in Toronto until September 11, and then opens at Medium Gallery in London on Friday September 13, where it will stay until September 20.

 

 

 

Grief, Love and Politics: Jack Layton’s Last Letter Calls Forth the Best in Us September 1, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada.
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Published on Thursday, September 1, 2011 by Rabble.ca

 

I don’t think anyone could have fathomed the scale of the remarkable outpouring of emotion and grieving that has swept across Canada since last week’s announcement of the death of Jack Layton.

 

What explains this extraordinary week, in which one person’s death seems to have become such a significant moment in the life of this country?

In part, it is Jack’s story and the themes it contains with which we are hardwired to connect. The love story with Olivia; the story of a political underdog exceeding all expectations; and, of course, the story of a heroic journey cut short just as the improbable victory came within sight. The astute John Doyle noted the echoes of Terry Fox — a tale of daring and selfless virtue absorbed by Canadians from childhood — and his tragic, premature end.

There are other reasons Jack Layton’s death hit so hard and impacted such a breadth of people. One factor was that last letter from Jack, written just two days before he died, which appeared in the inboxes and social media feeds of a country right in the midst of our grief and shock on the day he passed away. Reading Jack’s last testament — simple, yet profound and eloquent — multiplied the impact on both our hearts and minds.

The letter made a series of very deliberate, political points, wrapped up in a personal and emotional appeal for readers to take action for a better world motivated by hope, optimism and love.

Jack’s final message and the reaction to his death rankled some conservatives; unsurprisingly it was Christie Blatchford who spewed bile in the National Post, openly expressing what some others on the Right had the good sense merely to whisper amongst themselves.

Essentially, her objections were that Jack’s letter contained political content and purpose; that the media and other public figures were showing respect and expressing fondness for him on the day that he died; and, most of all, that the public response was so big and overwhelming. (Andrew Coyne, the ubiquitous conservative pundit, subtly implied his own, similar critique of the letter on CBC’s The National on Monday, later tweeting that he felt Blatchford made some valid points: “@acoyne I don’t disagree with a lot of what Christie Blatchford wrote. I’m just not inclined to judge things quite so harshly…”)

That Jack’s letter was political cannot really be any surprise whatsoever. He lived politics something pretty close to 24/7. Besides, surely just about everyone has the right to the last words of their own choosing — even jurisdictions that still practice the barbarism of capital punishment routinely offer the damned a choice over their last meal and the freedom to express a final message.

Progressive or radical political leaders, quite naturally, tend to feel the need to rally their forces one last time. After all, almost by definition the committed reformer or revolutionary leaves this life with work still left unfinished. Dying members of the wealthy elite, or political defenders of the status quo, probably feel less urgency to use their last breaths to issue manifestos. (On our side, perhaps the simplest and most famous final injunction came from labour radical Joe Hill — “Don’t mourn, organize!”)

Jack’s final letter was no call to the barricades, but it did feature more stirring and idealistic language than any widely read Canadian political tract in recent memory. I hope that’s part of why it has resonated. That would give reactionaries like Blatchford good cause to be worried. The spread of a politics that calls forth the best in all of us, and that dares to imagine changing the world, would greatly devalue her rhetorical currency of fear and loathing.

Blatchford’s other complaint — that people were being respectful, or even reverential, on the day of Jack’s death — is laughable. It amounts to lamenting that her fellow humans were acting human when they could have been joining her unseemly grave dance. (It’s also utterly contemptible for the sheer hypocrisy, given the endless maudlin “tributes” to fallen Canadian soldiers — and never Afghan civilians — Blatchford has written to buttress her pro-war positions.)

Personally, whether it’s a family member or a friend or just a prominent public person, I reserve the absolute right to remember and celebrate the best of someone when they pass away (exceptions made for outright moral or political monsters). You know, because life is short, we are all flawed and contradictory, never send to know for whom the bell tolls… and so forth.

That’s why these past few days I’ve been thinking about and sharing my memories of the good political fights that Jack Layton fought and the movements for social justice to which he contributed.

I’ve disagreed with plenty of things said — or, as often, not said — and done by the NDP under Layton’s leadership, including serious recent disappointments. This is not the time to dwell on and rehash these matters, though of course in the longer-term full and critical analyses of Layton’s tenure as NDP leader should be made and debated.

These criticisms were not so much about an individual and his choices, but rather about a political system stacked in favour of the interests of the rich and powerful. It’s a system with tools aplenty to take the edge off of sincere reformers, and in which frank talk of anti-capitalism, Canadian imperialism or genuine systemic change is almost entirely verboten.

The mainstream media acts as a limiter of possibilities in our current political set-up. Witness, for instance, the Globe and Mail editorial on Jack’s death. While respectful and even laudatory, the editors take pains to praise his “moderate” approach in recent years as federal NDP leader, supposedly in contrast to his “fairly hard-left” stance while a Toronto city councillor.

Now, I’ve seen the amazing pictures of the messages chalked outside Toronto’s City Hall. And I’m not in Toronto to check each and every one of them, but I’m guessing no one has kneeled down to scrawl in orange, “Thanks for being a political moderate.”

Who says we should be moderate in sharing our love, hope and optimism? Who says we should be moderate in fighting oppression, bigotry and injustice? There would be a lot less mourning this week if Jack Layton had been moderate in advocating for AIDS victims, moderate in demanding action on homelessness, or moderate in pushing ahead for gay marriage and equal rights for all.

I dare say that much of the impact of Jack’s death is a result of a public perception that he was in fact bordering on immoderate when it came to advocating for social justice, and that despite the political system he worked within he remained an authentic and sincere person.

To take just two more contemporary examples, it makes absolutely no sense to advocate moderation in curtailing the tar sands to fight climate change or in working to stop the wars being fought over control of energy and other resources.

What it will take to tackle these and other dire problems is passion, determination and political courage — hopefully some of this can manifest within the NDP in the years ahead, but much of it will by necessity be driven by social movement activists outside the fetters of the current electoral set-up.

If we are going to tackle the crises of inequality and environmental destruction caused by global capitalism, I submit that our politics really must be a collective expression of our better selves — solidarity, infused with heavy doses of hope, optimism and love.

Across this land, as the tears dry up, Jack’s letter and the best of his legacy should help point us to new horizons and inspire new generations of activists to step forward.

For that we can only say: thank you and farewell, Jack.

© 2011 Rabble.ca

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Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O’Keefe is a writer, editor and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. Derrick is the co-chair of the Vancouver StopWar Coalition and the Canadian Peace Alliance, the country’s largest network of anti-war groups. He is the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, and the author of a forthcoming Verso book on Michael Ignatieff. Derrick served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. Topics covered on this blog will include the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy, Canadian politics, media analysis, climate justice and ecology. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.