Friday, December 30, 2005

a man with "an obvious appeal for an underclass still searching for a solution to the hardships of life in Peru's impoverished hinterlands"

The BBC reports that Ollanta Humala, a former army officer who led a brief coup attempt in 2000 against then-President Fujimori (Hugo Chavez, anyone?), will be running for the Peruvian presidency. He's already promised to cut the president's salary (a la Evo Morales), denounced the current Toledo administration's human rights policies, and has pledged to seek "tighter central control over Peru's energy assets."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

keeping poor people from riding public transport to serve neoliberal foreign policy objectives

According to an article in the New Standard, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is turning down the offer of Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, to aid those most affected by rises in gas and oil prices - an offer apparently dismissed out-of-hand, sticking with the Bush Administration's (and, more generally, that of the U.S. government as a whole) desire to ignore poor people. Excerpts below:

The Chicago Transit Authority is refusing an opportunity to alleviate commuting costs for hundreds of thousands in the Windy City's low-income neighborhoods. Instead of accepting deeply discounted fuel from the Venezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum Corporation, the city is instead raising fares to solve budget shortfalls.

In an October meeting with representatives from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the city's Department of Energy and other city officials, Citgo unveiled a plan to provide the Chicago with low-cost diesel fuel. The company's stipulation, at the bidding of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was that the CTA, in turn, pass those savings on to poor residents in the form free or discounted fare cards.

But two months later, despite claims of a looming budget crisis, the CTA president "has no intent or plan to accept the offer," according to CTA spokesperson Ibis Antongiorgi. She gave no explanation.


Chew's classmate, Linda Cox, works a minimum-wage job and has been a Public Aid recipient for 15 years. She also relies heavily on public transportation.

"I only earn $560 a month and of that, over $200 a month goes to my bus fare," Cox told The NewStandard. "I have a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who also need to get to school. If they change the prices and take away transfers, there are going to be a lot of days missed. I already see no money at the end of the month."

The offer of discount fuel is not just confined to Chicago. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the first of Venezuela's "oil-for-the-poor" programs in the US was launched. Citgo struck a deal with three nonprofit organizations in the Bronx to deliver 5 million gallons of heating oil at 45 percent below the market price. The deal will amount to a savings of $4 million for the 8,000 low-income households slated to benefit from the plan.

Citgo has made a similar arrangement with Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston for the sale and distribution of 12 million gallons, saving low-income and elderly residents there a total of $10 million. The company's website says that it expects to expand the program to other boroughs in New York City and that it is exploring the possibility of offering discounted fuel to residents in Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

However, in all of Illinois, only about 12,000 households use heating oil.

So instead of fuel for heat, Citgo representatives offered the CTA a 40-50 percent discount on diesel fuel for buses to benefit Chicagoans most in need of relief from soaring oil and gas prices this winter.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lethal Aerial Drones

There's something very scary in this vision of the future:

As for aerospace, he said the Pentagon would be looking for aircraft with longer ranges, and, therefore, did not need ships or nearby bases for them to land. Increasingly, the Pentagon will be depending on unmanned aerial vehicles, which can work longer hours than piloted craft and do not put Air Force lives at risk. In the future, he said, unmanned craft will be used not only for surveillance, as they are in Iraq, but for combat as well.

Excerpt from:
[LESLIE WAYNE, "Contractors Are Warned: Cuts Coming for Weapons," New York Times, December 27, 2005]

Jean-Juste Update

A brief update [BEN TERRALL, "Bush Frolics, Father Jean-Juste Rots in Jail: No Holiday Compassion for Haiti's Political Prisoners," December 26, 2005] on Haitian priest and Lavalas member, Father Gerard Jean-Juste. The following passage is of some interest, especially the revelation (to me at least) that the U.N. participated in his "illegal" arrest:

Jean-Juste was arrested in a fashion consistent with the hysterical demonization of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Party waged by right-wing elites who control most of Haiti's media. Never formally charged, the priest was taken into custody after being accused of responsibility for a killing which took place when Jean-Juste was in Miami. Jean-Juste was assaulted at a funeral, but instead of arresting his assailants, Haitian police detained the priest. Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon noted, "To their discredit, United Nations Civilian Police participated in the illegal arrest, by handing Fr. Jean-Juste to the Haitian police without ensuring that he would be treated legally."

Mario Joseph, Jean-Juste's Port-au-Prince based lawyer, told me, "Jean-Juste serves the poor, always goes to the poorest neighborhoods when there are demonstrations, and helps with funerals after police and UN soldiers kill protestors. Politicians say they'll serve the poor, but usually don't."

Joseph added, "He has the trust and love of the people for all he has done for them, which is why the government wants to stop him and he is in jail. The U.S. embassy and UN don't want to use him as a peacemaker, because that would make him politically stronger and a threat to elite interests."

Community Media in Venezuela

An interesting [Sujatha Fernandes, "Growing Movement of Community Radio in Venezuela," December 24, 2005] article on community radio stations in Venezuela which have proliferated since Chavez came to power. They appear to share much of the spirit of the Indymedia movement but perhaps with much greater integration into the communities in which they are based (little usage except by a small minority of leftists has been a serious limitation of the Indymedia centers I've known). The article notes that newly forming radio stations have often faced bureaucratic hurdles from the Chavez government but have been allowed to remain independent and critical, a crucial feature facilitated by basing their financial reliance on small local businesses.

But community radio stations have sought to retain their autonomy from the state, which is apparent not only in their struggles with state bureaucrats to ensure authorization, but in their willingness to criticize the Chávez government on important issues. In March 2005, activists of ANMCLA came together with social organizations and indigenous groups to protest the plan of the government to increase the extraction of coal in the oil-rich state of Zulia. The protesters pointed out that the plans would increase water contamination and health risks for the mostly indigenous population of the region who depend on scarce water supplies. They argued that the proposal violates the Kyoto Agreement and several articles of the Bolivarian Constitution that guarantee a clean and safe environment, and protection of indigenous resources. Although the outcome is still uncertain, community media activists have shown their willingness to criticize the government when community interests are at stake.

If we trust the author's observations, the following passage is quite revealing, illustrating not only the differences in content between community media and corporate programming, but the differing impulses they produce in people:
The community media gives voice to a range of groups and members of the community. There are talk shows, educational programs, cultural shows, sports segments, local history programs, children’s shows, cooking shows, and a variety of music programs, including salsa, bolero, hip-hop, rock, and llanero or country music. There are also social and political programs, which attempt to make visible certain issues such as race. Afro-Venezuelan radio journalist, Madera, has a program on Radio Negro Primero, which he says is “For black men and women.” These kinds of programs do not have space within the state-run media, and certainly have never been a possibility in the private media.

Community media broadcasts are a stark contrast to the stock fare of reality tv shows, soap operas, and game shows continually churned out by the private media. This latter programming nurtures a culture of consumerism that has grown along with globalization. Middle class youth compare expensive watches and brand name sneakers in the walkways of the prestigious Centro Sambil shopping mall in the eastern zone of Chacao. Wealthy parents hire companies to supply arcade video games to entertain their kids at children’s parties. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of barrio youth in the west of Caracas are creating their own forms of leisure that reflect much more closely the new community activism that has become a part of their lives.

Monday, December 26, 2005

U.S. Alone at UN on Trade Policy

The U.S. again finds itself alone at the UN, this time opposing the imposition of free trade rules for rich countries and not just the poor who are always hypocritically lectured about free trade while massive public subsidies go to the wealthy. It would be interesting to know which countries composed the 51 absentions. Europe no doubt accounts for much of the number. The resolution is hardly very radical though and may have picked up abstentions for other reasons as well.

Excerpt below:


Yesterday’s [General] Assembly resolution, adopted by a vote of 121 in favor to 1 against (United States), with 51 abstentions, underscored the need to enhance market access for developing-country goods and services, and called on developed, as well as developing countries, to provide immediate duty- and quota-free market access to all products from the poorest countries.

The Assembly’s text also called for the changes in trade policy in the area of intellectual property rights and public health, in order to make treatment more available for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.

It stressed the need for putting into place the already agreed-upon “aid-for-trade” initiative, which addresses economic adjustment helps build supply and trade capabilities along with infrastructure in developing countries.

Among several related resolutions on macroeconomic policy adopted yesterday, the Assembly also adopted a text that stressed the need to resolve the debt problems of low- and middle-income developing countries, as it considered the recommendations of its Second Committee on economic and financial matters.

Immigration system in the U.S. is biased and incoherent

The New York Times has an article today by Adam Liptak ["Courts Criticize Judges' Handling of Asylum Cases," December 26, 2005 - backup link here] that is scathing in its criticism of the courts' handling of immigration cases.

Lory Diana Rosenberg, "a former judge on the administrative body within the Justice Department that reviews decisions from immigration judges before they reach the federal appeals courts" characterized the behavior of immigration judges as "a pattern of unfettered misuse of authority."

The article is peppered by the obligatory quotes defending the quality of the system, most or all of which we can safely discount as meaningless due to the obvious self interest involved. It should, however, be emphasized that blame should clearly be placed on the systemic roots of the problem and not on individual judges who are undoubtedly overworked.

Some choice excerpts below:

Federal appeals court judges around the nation have repeatedly excoriated immigration judges this year for what they call a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions in asylum cases.

In one decision last month, Richard A. Posner, a prominent and relatively conservative federal appeals court judge in Chicago, concluded that "the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice."

Similarly, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said in September that it had "time and time again" been forced to rebuke immigration judges for their "intemperate and humiliating remarks." Citing cases from around the country, the court wrote of "a disturbing pattern" of misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution.

Mary M. Schroeder, the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, which hears almost half of all immigration appeals, said the current system was "woefully inadequate."

Immigration judges, she said, "are very unevenly qualified, and they work under very bad conditions."

"Immigration law can be life-or-death decisions in terms of whether you're going to send someone back to a place where they may be killed," Judge Slavin said. "I have over 1,000 cases on my docket. Most of us do about four decisions a day. In Texas, on the border, you might get 10 a day."

Judges at the top and bottom of the system blame the administrative body between them, the Board of Immigration Appeals, for the surge in appeals and the mixed quality of the decisions reaching the federal appeals courts. The board is meant to act as a filter, correcting erroneous or intemperate decisions from the immigration judges and providing general guidance. The losing party can appeal the board's decision to the federal courts.

But the board largely stopped reviewing immigration cases in a meaningful way after it was restructured by Mr. Ashcroft in 2002, several judges said.

Mr. Ashcroft reduced the number of judges on the board to 11 from 23. "They just hacked off all the liberals is basically what they did," said Ms. Rosenberg, who served on the board from 1995 to 2002.

Mr. Ashcroft also expanded the number of appeals heard by a single board member and encouraged the use of one-word affirmances in appropriate cases.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Evo's Cage

The pessimistic article below presents the profoundly anti-democratic state/corporate/finance pressures directed at the Bolivian government-elect in terms stark enough I thought it justified an extended excerpt.
[Daphne Eviatar, “Bolivia's Home-Grown President,” The Nation (web only), December 21, 2005]

...almost every major oil company--including Spain's Repsol, British Gas, ExxonMobil and Texas-based Vintage Oil--has already threatened to bring a claim in international arbitration against Bolivia. And if Morales nationalizes the industry, under the terms of the bilateral investment treaties between Bolivia and the companies' home countries, they could sue--in private, closed-door arbitration, without the safeguards normally provided by publicly appointed judges in an international court--for not only the approximately $3.5 billion private companies have already invested in the natural gas industry here but also for the loss of expected profits, which could total tens of billions of dollars. For a country like Bolivia, whose annual revenues are only a little more than $2 billion a year, that's no small threat. It's for that reason--and a host of other ways in which the United States, the World Bank, the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank can threaten to pull the noose tight around Bolivia's highly indebted neck--that an Evo Morales presidency may well remain largely a symbolic victory.

The threat of lawsuits by up to thirty major oil companies will thwart any new government's ability to significantly change the current system. Nor can Morales do much to address the plight of coca farmers: Although he has said he'll campaign to decriminalize the coca leaf on an international level, he knows he can do little to change the system at home. A refusal to continue the coca eradication campaign would require the United States, under US law, to vote against any Bolivian application for loans or grants from the World Bank, IMF or Inter-American Development Bank--all critical to Bolivia's ability to finance its debt and fuel its economy. In effect, any attempt by the newly elected president to do exactly what Bolivians just elected him to do would marshal the forces of the international financial community against the Bolivian government and doom the country's already-precarious financial stability.

"It's OK, there are plenty of other countries, like China, that will be willing to help us," Morales told me on a rare break from campaigning shortly before the election. Countries like China and Venezuela may be exactly where he turns. But many on the left in Bolivia think he's not likely to buck the American and international business pressure and will stick with a modestly reformed version of the status quo. That won't satisfy many of the more radical Aymara activists, who are intent on breathing real life into the powerful symbols of the indigenous movement.

"The identity of people and of communities has become a very important issue in the country," Pablo Mamani, a sociologist who teaches at the public universities in El Alto and La Paz, said. "The Aymara will all vote for Evo, because we want to see an Aymara in the presidency. But if he is not really allowed to govern, the militant social organizations can create a scenario of very severe conflict between the people and the state."

The nation's right-wing movements, particularly those concentrated in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's wealthiest province where the energy and agricultural export businesses are based, may well encourage that. "Bolivia is facing a big problem," Carlos Rojas, the burly president of an association of agriculture producers, told me from his Santa Cruz office. "We don't accept Mr. Morales's policy about land," he said, referring to Morales's support for redistribution of large idle estates, most of which are concentrated in Santa Cruz. "We will have a conflict with him.... The only way for the country to move up and get out of poverty is by working, every day and all the time. If the social movements go and block the roads, we cannot work. We believe it's important to give Mr. Morales the opportunity to work for this country. But if he's not effective, he's going to be out--probably before the end of his term."

In fact, some Bolivians are already planning on that. "We believe MAS (The Movement Towards Socialism, Morales's party) won't change anything," said Abraham Delgado Mancilla, a soft-spoken and serious 28-year-old law student and Aymara Indian who helped organize the massive protests that ultimately brought down the last two Bolivian presidents. "The state doesn't serve us with this system," he told me as we walked through the packed streets of El Alto, an impoverished, makeshift city of home-made brick buildings built high into the Andes that rise above La Paz, where Mancilla lives and continues to organize students and neighbors. "So we must move forward. What happens in Bolivia is twenty years of reforms, and nothing changes. We're still poor. The only road to solving poverty is by nationalization and radical redistribution of land," he said, growing more animated. "Evo will not be able to do what he says. His programs will change nothing. We're waiting for him to fail. And if he does, the people will come out with even more force," he said. I asked him what that would mean. "I think what's going to happen is there will be a civil war."

Friday, December 23, 2005

A History of Torture

Naomi Klein's much needed article [Naomi Klein, "'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate," The Nation, December 8, 2005] on the continuities of the use of torture by our government through at least the last half century is well worth reading. One might only add that, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman document in their 1979 book, "The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism," there is strong evidence that during the 1970s the U.S. was in fact the leading source of torture in the world.

Herman commented last year that [Edward S. Herman, "The United States As Torture Central: U.S. sponsors regimes using torture extensively,"” Z magazine, May 2004]:
Amnesty International's 1974 Report on Torture pointed out that torture, which had been at a low ebb for centuries, "has suddenly developed a life of its own and become a social cancer." AI located this cancer in the West and most particularly in the Third World client states of the West, given that torture in the Soviet Union had declined following the death of Stalin in 1953. In its 1978 Annual Report, AI noted that some "80 percent" of the "urgent cases" of torture were coming out of the National Security States of Latin America and in The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (South End Press), Noam Chomsky and I showed that 26 of the 35 states that were using torture on an administrative basis in the 1970s were U.S. clients, who had received military aid and police training from this country.
So the United States was truly torture central at that time, not by virtue of its own use of torture, but by its sponsorship of regimes that used it extensively.

To say that this flies in the face of popular awareness is an understatement. As Klein points out, even many left writers fail to mention the crucial context in discussing the currant torture scandals.

How the NYTimes sat on its NSA domestic spying story

The New York Observer reports [click here if the link is broken] that "President George W. Bush had specifically asked the [New York Times] not to run" a story "revealing that the National Security Agency had been wiretapping Americans without using warrants" 10 days before it was ultimately published on December 16, 2005.

“"The President had made the request in person in an Oval Office meeting with publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., executive editor Bill Keller and Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman, according to Times sources familiar with the meeting."

The story first surfaced 14 months earlier - before the 2004 election, the Observer article notes - but was quashed by the Times at the request of the White House, which claimed it "“could jeopardize continuing investigations."

The Observer piece strongly implies that the article would have likely never appeared at all were it not for the persistence of the journalist who spearheaded the story, James Risen, and the impending publication of his book which would have broken the news anyway.

The story "was shelved and regarded as dead, according to a Times source."

Inquiries into why the Times saw fit to acquiesce to the Administration for over a year have been rebuffed. "'‘Someone on high told reporters not to talk about it,'’ a Washington bureau source said."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dismissing Pinter and Le Carré

Media Lens attacks [Media Lens, "BRILLIANT FOOLS: Harold Pinter, John Le Carré And The Media," December 19, 2005]
the treatment Harold Pinter (Alex Cockburn highlights [scroll down] the most scathingly angry sections of his Nobel acceptance speech which can be viewed here) and John Le Carré have received in the media.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

keep in mind that....

This power, the people’s power, is actual: it cannot be taken away, as the power of the ruler, of the politician, or of the capitalist can be. It cannot be taken away because it does not consist in possessions but in ability. It is the ability to create, to produce; the power that feeds and clothes the world, that gives us life, health and comfort, joy and pleasure.

-Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hostility to Venezuela, the Bolivian Election, Action

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted yesterday [COHA Memorandum to the Press, "The State Department’s Shannon," Tuesday, December 20, 2005] that the new Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon is continuing his predecessor, Roger Noriega's hostility to Chavez's Venezuela. Speaking to the House International Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, "his indignation was selective: while both U.S. mainstay ally Colombia and the Haitian interim government, which was almost completely invented by U.S. officials, had attempted to pack their supreme courts, Shannon chose to only indict Venezuela for such a democratic lapse. Also, while Shannon is ever sensitive to tendencies and directions that are weakening Venezuelan democracy, he is hardly in a position to soundly denounce crimes that Chávez may commit in the future but is not guilty as of now."

The COHA piece continues:
In an outright warning to Morales, Shannon noted to Chilean daily La Tercera that while he hoped to have a good relationship with Bolivia’s government, this would “depend on the type of relationship they want to have with the U.S.,” and remarked that “much will depend on the type of policies that are carried out, particularly economic, energetic and anti-narcotic policies.” This proclamation reeks of Washington’s attempt to coerce regional leaders into accepting its self-serving policies, such as the FTAA, while slyly threatening those who do not comply.

Similarly, an article in The Scotsman [JEREMY MCDERMOTT AND ALFONSO DANIELS, "Bolivian election result makes US anxious," The Scotsman, 20 Dec 2005] comments:

The State Department issued a veiled warning when its spokeswoman, Amanda Rogers-Harper, said: "As with all nations, the quality of our relationship will depend on the convergence of our interests, and that includes counter-narcotics issues.

"We continue to support the government of Bolivia's long-standing counter-narcotics policy, and we expect the next government to honour its international commitments."

The article also provides some useful background:
BOLIVIA has its first indigenous Indian president after a landslide victory that leaves relations with the United States at a historic low and Washington's war on drugs in tatters.

Evo Morales, 46, who was the clear favourite, far exceeded expectations, with exit polls and quick counts of the ballots showing him passing the 50 per cent barrier.

He will be the first president to do so since the country returned to democracy in 1982.

But the overwhelming victory could push his reforms farther than originally planned. A euphoric Carlos Villegas, MAS's main economic adviser, told The Scotsman in the middle of celebrations at the party's headquarters, that the nationalisation drive will now be more ambitious. "The state will recover 100 per cent ownership over the hydrocarbon industry. We'll offer multinationals [including British Gas and BP] the option to recover their investments and generate a reasonable return, not the outrageous amounts they're making right now."

While the nationalisation issue most concerns Britain, drugs are central to the US relationship with the poorest South American nation.

Bolivia is the third largest producer of cocaine in the world, after Colombia and Peru. For many rural voters, particularly the farmers of Chapare, from where Mr Morales comes, the key issue was the decriminalisation of the growing of coca. Coca is an everyday feature of Bolivian life. Many people chew it to keep working at the high altitudes and all foreign visitors to La Paz, the Americas' highest capital, are offered coca tea to help ward off altitude sickness.

At the moment only 12,000 hectares of coca crops are legal, the amount calculated to supply traditional demand for leaves. Mr Morales has said this is not enough and more effort must be made to industrialise the legal products derived from the coca leaf. He insists a study must be commissioned to evaluate coca demand. Meanwhile, coca growing will be decriminalised.

Cocaine, which is the refinement and crystallisation of a coca extract, is not used in Bolivia and is a foreign invention. However much of Bolivia's coca production is sold to drugs traffickers, producing 90 tonnes of cocaine a year. Brazil recently expressed concern about Bolivian-sourced cocaine on its streets. The US fears that Mr Morales' plans to legalise coca production will create a bonanza for drugs traffickers to buy, undermining the multi-billion-dollar war on cocaine.

Also of deep concern to the White House is Mr Morales's friendship with outspoken critics of the Bush administration such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Mr Morales has said he will accept no bullying from the White House and wants dialogue, "not a relationship of submission".

Washington now has few friends in South America. Only Colombia's Alvaro Uribe is a stalwart ally and even he seems to be distancing himself, last week rebuking the American ambassador to Bogota for interfering in internal affairs.

The rest of South America divides into those fervently opposed to George Bush, headed by Mr Chavez, and other left-wing governments like that of Brazil, which keep Washington at arm's length. The US looks to have lost control of its "back yard".

Mark Weisbrot provides further context in a December 20, 2005 Institute for Public Accuracy email.
Evo Morales' election in Bolivia will be seen and analyzed here mostly in political terms. ... But we would do well to step back from the politics for a moment and look at this election in economic terms. Bolivia has also been subject to IMF
agreements almost continuously (except for eight months) since 1986. And it has done what the experts from Washington have wanted, including privatizing nearly everything that could be sold. ... The country's Social Security system was also privatized. But nearly 20 years of these structural reforms -- or 'neoliberalism' as Morales and most Latin Americans call it -- have brought little in the way of economic benefits
to the average Bolivian. Amazingly, the country's per capita income is actually lower today than it was 25 years ago. ... Evo Morales is now the sixth candidate in the last seven years to win a presidential race while campaigning explicitly against 'neoliberalism.' The others were in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Uruguay. And there will likely be more in the near future, as there are 10 more presidential elections scheduled in Latin America over the next year.

Lastly, an action from the Fellowship of Reconciliation:

According to the community of San José de Apartadó, at 9am on December 14, paramilitaries approached a member of the Peace Community at the bus terminal in the municipal capital of Apartado, saying, ''I want to warn you because I knew you years ago, you and your family should leave San Josesito because at the end of the year we are planning an incursion to carry out a massacre. It will be between the 24 and 31 [December] or around that time, we are negotiating with the police and army so that they are not implicated and we can enter and leave the area freely.''

At the same bus terminal on 12 December, two paramilitaries allegedly approached a bus which was going towards San Jose de Apartado. One of them reportedly threatened the passengers: ''Take it is easy because your time is almost here.''

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
¨ calling for full and impartial investigations into reported paramilitary threats against members of the Peace Community, for the results to be made public, and for those responsible to be brought to justice;
¨ calling for all measures, deemed appropriate by these communities, to be taken to guarantee their safety in line with the resolution issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Senor Presidente Alvaro Uribe Velez
Presidente de la Republica
Fax: 011 57 1 337 5890/342 0592

The Prison of Darkness

One of the notable features of the widespread mainstream attention to the U.S. use of torture in the past few years is the impression conveyed that U.S. practices don't amount real torture but just a little rough treatment that's not quite by the books. When the word "torture" is used by the media, it's often accompanied by debate about whether the term is appropriate. Electrical shocks applied to detainees are "simulated" when the U.S. government does it. We're gentle as kittens next to the real bad guys out there.

And indeed, there's no evidence U.S. officials have been pulling fingernails off or bodies apart - we send detainees to other countries to do the dirtiest work. Reading the document released by Human Rights Watch yesterday on the latest reports of U.S. torture, I shudder to think of what horrors could be too awful for the CIA to do itself.

["U.S. Operated Secret ‘Dark Prison’ in Kabul," December 19, 2005]

Accounts from detainees at Guantánamo reveal that the United States as recently as last year operated a secret prison in Afghanistan where detainees were subjected to torture and other mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today.

Eight detainees now held at Guantánamo described to their attorneys how they were held at a facility near Kabul at various times between 2002 and 2004. The detainees, who called the facility the “dark prison” or “prison of darkness,” said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time.

The detainees said U.S. interrogators slapped or punched them during interrogations. They described being held in complete darkness for weeks on end, shackled to rings bolted into the walls of their cells, with loud music or other sounds played continuously. Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise. The detainees said they were deprived of food for days at a time, and given only filthy water to drink.

M.Z., a detainee arrested in another country in 2002 (name and identifying details withheld at his attorney’s request), said he was held at the “prison of darkness” for about four weeks. He says he was sent to “an underground place, very dark” where there was “loud music” playing continuously. He said he was held in solitary confinement, where it was “pitch black... no light.” M.Z. said that when he was interrogated he was taken to a room with a strobe light, and shackled to a ring on the floor. During the interrogations, he says, an interrogator threatened him with rape.

It was pitch black no lights on in the rooms for most of the time.... They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb.... There was loud music, [Eminem’s] “Slim Shady” and Dr. Dre for 20 days.... [Then] they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. [At one point, I was] chained to the rails for a fortnight.... The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.

J.K., another detainee (name withheld at attorney’s request), also alleged that he had been held in the dark, shackled to the wall and subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation and constant loud music and noise, as well as being beaten during interrogations. “People were screaming in pain and crying all the time,” he told his attorney.

On November 18, ABC News reported that several CIA officials told ABC that the CIA had operated a secret facility in Kabul, and voiced concerns about interrogations there. The CIA officials, who requested anonymity from ABC, said that CIA officials authorized six techniques for use against detainees with “high-level” intelligence value, including long-term sleep deprivation, exposure to cold for more than 40 hours, and “waterboarding,” in which interrogators poured water over the detainee’s face until he believed he would suffocate or drown.

Human Rights Watch said that the alleged torture and other mistreatment of detainees, if proven, would amount to serious violations of U.S. criminal law, such as the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Statute, as well as the laws of Afghanistan. The mistreatment of detainees also violates the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which the United States has ratified, and the laws of war.

Anniversary of the US invasion of Panama

The New York Times notes that today is the 16th anniversary of Operation Just Cause, which found the U.S. "sending troops into Panama to topple the government of General Manuel Noriega." A brief overview of the event can be found in Noam Chomsky's Deterring Democracy, chapter 5, section 4 - available online here.

The indigenous of Colombia

The extent of the devastation wrought on indigenous communities in Colombia was recently highlighted by this United Nations Refugee Agency report.
[UNHCR Briefing Notes, "Colombia: Indigenous groups badly affected by conflict," December 9, 2005]

A few excerpts:
The armed conflict in Colombia is badly affecting the country's one million indigenous people and UNHCR is concerned that entire communities could disappear after being forced to flee their traditional territories.

According to a recent report of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, more than 19,000 indigenous men, women and children were forced to flee their homes and territories since the start of this year.

There are over two million internally displaced persons in Colombia and while forced displacement is always a very difficult experience, it is doubly catastrophic for indigenous communities. Indigenous culture is closely linked to the land and displacement often leads to the total collapse of traditional authority and cultural patterns. Like many other displaced people, indigenous families often end up in big urban centres where they face huge difficulties making a new life in an alien environment.

This tragedy remains largely invisible. Indigenous lands tend to be in remote and strategically important areas where irregular armed groups are heavily present. Crimes and human rights abuses against indigenous people often go unreported and stay unpunished. According to ONIC, more than 1,600 indigenous people were murdered in the past twenty years - 60 per cent of them during the past five years.

Thought the report does not mention any agent of the "Crimes and human rights abuses" other than the faceless "armed conflict," we can safely attribute much of the credit to Washington and the President's commitment to democracy promotion.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The flaws of Fanmi Lavalas

An interesting critique of Fanmi Lavalas by the Haitian activist and Lavalas insider Patrick Elie was published by Znet on December 14th. [Interview with Patrick Elie, "Taking us to democracy like cattle to a killing house"]

He believes the 2004 coup indicates how weakened Aristide's support among the peasantry and the poor in general had become:
ELIE: Well, we have to have a bit of historical background to understand my position on Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas does not have a monopoly on Lavalas. Lavalas is a large movement of the Haitian people. Fanmi Lavalas is a political organization that was built to go after political power...

And by going after power in the election of 1990, the movement exposed itself to the repression that would follow. And that repression exerted terrible casualties on this movement, either by killing the grassroots leaders or forcing - or enticing - them into exile. So when President Aristide came back, that movement had been weakened. He came under occupation, and the movement was only a shadow of itself in terms of grassroots organization. And also the conditions were different.

Then, also, we know about Preval's presidency. What we can say about it that is positive is that Preval kind of opened the Lavalas movement and his presidency toward the peasants, because Lavalas was really first based in the cities. It carried along the peasants because the peasants and the poor in the cities are related, but it didn't have an organic tie with the peasants. Under Preval that was opened as a possibility that offered new blood and an anchor for the movement.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Fanmi Lavalas was created as a political organization. But a lot of the people who came to it, especially the cadres, did not come as they did in the first wave of Lavalas, out of political conviction. They came and joined because they knew that this machine was going to win. They came for the personal advantage that running for office and being part of a political power structure brings to you. And it is this mentality that slipped into Fanmi Lavalas, and became hegemonic - even though there are very good militants, very honest people in Fanmi Lavalas, the tone was being given by these opportunists. Unfortunately, President Aristide was never able to rein them in.

During the three years of President Aristide's power, I must say that I could see in the people themselves, especially in the poor people, resentment toward Fanmi Lavalas, resentment against these guys who were running around in these huge cars, building houses, getting rich. This resentment tended, generally, to spare President Aristide himself. But the policy that was being followed and the head-honchos of Fanmi Lavalas - the senators, the deputies, the mayors - were being resented by the population because they were nothing but traditional Haitian politicians under a new disguise.

So many of these people actually participated in sabotaging the presidency of President Aristide. One thing that happened that for me was terrible was the fact that the policy of opening toward peasants that had been undertaken by Preval was ditched by President Aristide. And we started losing the power base in the countryside, which made it easy for the likes of Guy Philippe and Chamblain to come in and do their military-type raids. If the Haitian peasant had felt at the time a unity with the regime, these guys would not have walked 200 yards into Haitian territory. The peasants would have run them out. But that did not happen. The peasants were more or less indifferent to the power struggle that was going on because they didn't feel that it was about them.

Again, my critiques toward Fanmi Lavalas, as a party or a political organization, is that it relied too much on President Aristide's personal charisma and popularity, and never actually built a real network and a real structure to direct the party or the political fight. So when the enemy hit on February 29 and was able to kidnap the leader, the leadership either ran or didn't have a clue of what to do, how to adapt to the new situation, and how to serve as cadre to the popular resistance to this new situation. The result is that you had an army with soldiers that were very determined, especially in the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince or of Cap. But the generals were either outside of the country or fending for themselves.

And the other thing is that there was no strategy put forward by Fanmi Lavalas. They only had a slogan; "Bring President Aristide back." And I'd like to compare it to the situation back in the war of independence when the French came in and snatched away Toussaint Louverture. The masses then did not say "Bring Louverture back," they developed an alternative toward independence which had become indispensable because it was the only way to secure the abolishment of slavery. But they developed new tools. And this was what was [on the agenda] in this occupation: to develop new tools, new strategy. And that has not been done.

Elie goes on to contrast the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the popular movements in Venezuela today with Lavalas:
When President Mbeki was the only head of state to come to the celebration of Haiti's bi-centennial, and when South Africa was the country that extended its hand to President Aristide in exile, this got me thinking. South Africans had been kept out of the electoral process altogether for tens of years. And yet they were able to have a significant political impact, a significant diplomacy nevertheless, even though they didn't have a single mayor, a single deputy, a single senator. So I said, this is somewhere we can learn from: build grassroots organizations, network them, and evolve a political agenda from these grassroots organizations. It's going to take more time than simply organizing an electoral campaign. But it's going to have the ability to resist the reaction that we're going to meet, the opposition we're going to meet from the powers that be locally and internationally. Because it's going to become the property of the people themselves. They're not going to be simply relying on a Messiah who turns out to be powerless without the people behind him.

I think we have to build for at least the mid-term, so that when we regain our sovereignty it will be for a long time. We've lost it twice in ten years, so obviously something is wrong. And since I don't believe that we can regain our sovereignty with military action, the only way we're going to do it is by mobilizing, organizing, and by being able, also to wage a diplomatic campaign, an action on public opinion, networking with countries like Venezuela where you have a strong grassroots movement aside from Mr. Chavez himself, who is a charismatic leader, but you do also have a grassroots movement that is the best guarantee against the kind of operation that we've seen performed here on February 29th. They couldn't do it in Venezuela. And why is that? Because you had this ability to mobilize and resist.