El Salvador: protests as CAFTA starts

An estimated 4,000 Salvadoran street vendors, students and union members marched in San Salvador on Feb. 28 to protest the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR- CAFTA), one day before the accord took effect in the country.

Violence broke out when students and members of the Union of Salvadoran Social Security Institute Workers (STISSS), which includes many medical workers, attempted to enter the Rosales hospital to force out riot police, who had occupied two hospitals the night of Feb. 27. The police were reportedly trying to block a planned strike by hospital workers for higher wages. Masked students threw rocks at the police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. At least five people were wounded by rubber bullets, including a cameraperson from the Hialeah, Florida-based Telemundo television network. Vendors of DVDs, cassettes and pirate goods burned tires and obstructed some streets leading into the capital to protest changes to the legal code intended to bring the country into line with DR-CAFTA’s “intellectual property” provisions. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, March 1; Boston Globe, Feb. 28; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, March 1)

As of March 1, El Salvador and the US were the only countries complying with the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), which was supposed to go in effect for seven countries on Jan. 1. The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have failed to enact legislation that the US insists is necessary for compliance with the accord. Some of the opposition now comes from business groups that feel the US is asking for more than was in the agreement. Guatemalan public health experts say the accord’s “intellectual property” requirements will make it harder for Guatemala to import or produce generic anti-AIDS drugs. US negotiators “are responding to the demands of the American pharmaceutical industry to protect their products,” Guatemalan deputy trade minister Enrique Lacs told the New York Times.

In Costa Rica the legislature has failed even to ratify the agreement. DR-CAFTA supporter Oscar Arias appears to have won the Feb. 5 presidential vote [see Update #839], but with a narrow victory in the balloting and without a majority in the legislature, he will have trouble pushing the accord through the Legislative Assembly. (NYT, March 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5

Continue ReadingEl Salvador: protests as CAFTA starts 
The Andes

Bolivia: bombing kills two

We sure hope this is just a couple of lone wackos and not the beginning of a destabilization campaign against Evo Morales. An AP report indicates suspect Triston Jay Amero of California “has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals… Read moreBolivia: bombing kills two

Southeast Asia

Australia-Indonesia cartoon wars

From Reuters, March 30: CANBERRA – An Indonesian cartoon depicting Australia’s prime minister and foreign minister as fornicating dingoes was “grotesque”, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Thursday as bilateral tension flared with Jakarta. Prime Minister John Howard acknowledged that… Read moreAustralia-Indonesia cartoon wars

Issue #. 120. April 2006

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog HOUZAN MAHMOUD INTERVIEW: The Iraqi Freedom Congress and the Civil Resistance by Bill Weinberg BLAMING “THE LOBBY” AIPAC Takes the Hit for US Imperialism by Joseph Massad NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Stalin’s Shadow Looms Over Trans-Caucasus Pipeline by… Read moreIssue #. 120. April 2006

C FOR COOPTATION

The Wachowski Brothers Commodify Your Dissent—Again!

by Shlomo Svesnik

“Guerilla war struggle is the new entertainment.”
—”5.45,” the Gang of Four, 1979

“They got Burton suits—ha! They think it’s funny; turning rebellion into money”
—”White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” The Clash, 1978

The posters for the Wachowski brothers’ latest futuristic dystopia thriller, V for Vendetta, now plastered all over New York City, consciously evoke political propaganda of the 1930s—the era of Hitler and Stalin, the era that shaped Orwell. Like 1984, the film depicts a near-future totalitarian England, with many elements lifted directly from Orwell’s nightmare vision: the all-powerful leader peers from screens everywhere, his hate-filled propaganda pours from loudspeakers on every street, his electronic eyes and ears surveil everything, and all relics of the past decadent culture have been purged from society. But is this movie Orwellian in the positive sense or negative? Is it an Orwellian prophecy or itself Orwellian propaganda? Is it warning of dystopia, or, paradoxically, part of the dystopia?

The vision of fascism in the UK is all too plausible, with draconian “anti-terrorism” laws now passing there, criminalizing not only violence and conspiracy but advocacy of (vaguely-defined) “terrorism.” The postponement of Vendetta‘s release date by five months reveals how the film cuts a little too close to reality for comfort. It was supposed to open on Nov. 5—the pivotal date of the film’s story, that of Guy Fawkes’ 1605 “Gunpowder Plot.” Release was allegedly pushed back because the Wachowski brothers superstitiously wanted the film to open at the same time of year as their 1999 blockbuster The Matrix. But it is widely held that the real reason was last summer’s London Underground terrorist attacks. (The delay was announced weeks after the attacks.) The film essentially glorifies a terrorist who succeeds where Guy Fawkes failed, blowing up Parliament and other London landmarks, and thereby bringing down the state.

Vendetta‘s opening was attended by controversy for other reasons too. The film was disavowed by Alan Moore, who wrote the early ’80s comics series it was based on—allegedly because he was unhappy with the script. But the deviations from his original story are minimal. Moore’s dystopic future was set in 1997 and extrapolated from his Reagan-Thatcher Cold War context, with a fascist England emerging from a US-Soviet nuclear exchange. The Wachowskis push the year back to circa 2020 and bring the dystopia up to date with a War on Terrorism context—biological terror attacks in England provide the spark for the fascist coup, while the US, torn apart over a Middle East military quagmire, descends into civil war. Immigrants, gays and leftists years ago disappeared into concentration camps in a purge known as the “Reclamation”—an obvious echo of the post-9-11 sweeps in the US. Heretics and misfits are still dragged away in the night by ski-masked agents—black hoods thrown over their heads, a visual reference to Abu Ghraib. One character is “disappeared” for owning a copy of the Koran—while here in the real world, German anti-immigrant groups have just brought legal proceedings to get the Koran banned. Nice timing, Andy and Larry.

Perhaps Moore’s real critique is that the mainstreaming of his dark vision by Hollywood inherently defangs it. V for Vendetta was originally serialized in the UK’s quasi-underground Warrior magazine, then picked up by DC Comics as a graphic novel. Perhaps Moore thought a silver screen version of his work would be too much—making it a mere entertainment and distraction from the very sinister trends he was warning against. After all, how else can we explain the lack of opprobrium directed at such a movie without turning to Marcuse’s concept of “repressive tolerance”? Even if the Wachowskis had the highest of intentions (which is doubtful), inevitably a part of the message is: “Relax, it’s only a movie.”

The film’s muddied moral world makes this dismissal all the easier. Sweet young thing Evey (Natalie Portman) is rescued from a police patrol gang-rape by masked terrorist “V” (Hugo Weaving—ironically the same guy who played authority figure Agent Smith in The Matrix) and then sequestered away in his (implausibly lavish) underground hide-out. He subjects her to brainwashing—complete with extended torture sessions, shaving her head as she cries piteously. She, of course, develops a whopping case of Stockholm Syndrome, and becomes his collaborator. V, her savior/tormentor, perpetually faceless behind a grinning Guy Fawkes mask, straddles the line between hero and anti-hero for most of the flick—demented and ruthless, but swashbuckling and romantic. However, he is decisively vindicated in the finale.

V is very English. He quotes the outlawed words of Shakespeare and Blake (and, in the comics version, Mick Jagger) as he dispatches his victims. While the film attacks xenophobia as a pillar of the fascist state, all non-whites seem to have been vaporized in the “Reclamation” and play no role in the action. V himself is a survivor of the concentration camps, where he was the vaccinated victim of Mengele-like human guinea-pig genetic experiments which (of course) gave him super-(anti-)hero powers. He also figures out that the experiments were linked to the bio-terror attacks, which were actually carried out by the government itself to lubricate the fascist take-over (a vagary that will vindicate the “9-11 skeptics”). The title is actually a little misleading, because V’s personal vendetta—to exact deadly vengeance on those who ran the camp where he was interned—is really a sideshow to his revolutionary ambitions.

V’s supposed role model Fawkes was actually a militant Catholic incensed at the imposition of Anglican hegemony under James I. The real template for V is the cliché of the 19th-century bomb-throwing anarchist. From the 1880s to the First World War, anarchists, taking their cue from theorists like Mikhail Bakunin, terrorized Europe and America with an audacious wave of bombings and assassinations (although nothing approaching the scale of the contemporary jihadists). Bakunin believed that such individualistic acts of “propaganda by the deed” could spontaneously spark a social upheaval and bring down the state. Then, as now, draconian measures were taken against not only violence and conspiracy, but advocacy and propaganda. Then, as now, immigrant communities were targeted for sweeps, deportation and persecution in backlash against the terror—including (ironically, from today’s perspective) Jews. The analogy was not lost on The Economist, that sacred guardian of the neoliberal order, which carried a retrospective on the anarchist terror wave after the London attacks: “Bombs, beards and backpacks: these are the distinguishing marks, at least in the popular imagination, of the terror-mongers who either incite or carry out the explosions that periodically rock the cities of the western world. A century ago, it was not so different: bombs, beards and fizzing fuses.”

The Bakuninist model is the prototype for V’s strategy, and the popular caricature in newspaper cartoons of the old anarchists’ day is the prototype for his black-caped image. This period distancing is a part of the reason the film gets away with it. Can you imagine a big, successful Hollywood production in which the hero is an Islamic terrorist rather than an anarchist one? Didn’t think so.

And while the movie treats real political activists favorably (Evey’s parents were “disappeared” for being anti-fascists—socialists, in the comic book), it is the individualist, adventurist, terrorist V who is glorified. When mass protests are sparked at the end, it is entirely by the clandestine machinations of V. There is no strategy or analysis behind the protests—only the naive Bakuninist faith that chaos will lead to freedom. History indicates it generally works the other way—chaos leads to tyranny. Of course, for the Bakuninists, this was part of the strategy—state terror in response to the chaos will only fuel further rebellion. The comic-book caricature V doesn’t even have that much strategy. His “revolution” that triumphs at the movie’s climax is pure deus ex machina.

It’s another twist of the real-life story of V for Vendetta that it was released simultaneously with Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, a German film on the White Rose, the clandestine student group that resisted the Nazis. The films are a vivid contrast despite obvious parallels. A central character in both is a young woman who is imprisoned for resistance activities. But while Evey and V blow up buildings, Sophie and her brother Hans distribute leaflets—for which they were beheaded after conviction on treason charges by a Nazi kangaroo court in Munich, 1943. (Some ten other White Rose members would be executed following later trials, both in Munich and Hamburg.) While Vendetta is a roller-coaster ride, Sophie achieves a stark, haunting realism through understatement. In Vendetta, the viewer is not supposed to question the apparently endless money and resources V has at his disposal. In Sophie, a mere ream of paper and book of stamps are precious and precarious—both because of wartime shortages and their potential as incriminating evidence if they are discovered (as, of course, they are).

Hans Scholl’s last words as he is dragged to the guillotine are “Long live freedom!”—while Vendetta‘s promo kicker is “Freedom! Forever!” But the genuine heroism of the White Rose group contrasts the glib adventurism of V. OK, the comparison is unfair, as one really happened and the other is fantasy—but both films exist in the real world, and the question of which will get more viewers and attention says much about that world.

The White Rose leaflets, calling for “passive resistance” against the Nazi war machine, were intellectual, idealistic, almost naive. They quoted Europe’s great philosophers (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis) and appealed to universal moral values; they never advocated violence or armed resistance. The only explosions in Sophie are a brief sequence in which Munich comes under Allied bombardment. Sophie watches through the window of her prison cell, wondering if the falling bombs will bring about the fall of Hitler in time to save her from the guillotine. And this points up a contradiction in the pacifistic ethic of the White Rose. Ultimately, lots of explosions were (presumably) needed to bring down fascism. This work was left to the RAF and US Army Air Corps, while the White Rose advocated “passive resistance” (although this was taken to include industrial sabotage in the arms plants, as well as boycotts of the Nazi party and its functions).

So in their own way, both Sophie and Vendetta serve the propaganda system. Sophie dodges the tough questions about the potential moral necessity to get one’s hands dirty with violent struggle in extreme circumstances, while Vendetta reduces violent struggle to an entertainment spectacle, grappling with none of its grim implications. And the heroes of Sophie are Germans and devout Christians—not Communists or Jews. It is not that their story isn’t worth telling. But there are other stories of equal heroism that could be told from the war years, which would raise more difficult questions for the contemporary world. It doesn’t detract from the selfless courage and sacrifice of the White Rose to note that their rhetoric—which repeatedly invoked a future European order based on shared values of democracy—is a little self-congratulatory when invoked in a contemporary European film. And a little ironic when European democracy is being challenged by terrorism and its xenophobic backlash.

The totalitarian enemy in Sophie is “safely” in the past, just as in Vendetta it is “safely” in an imagined future.

Like The Matrix, Vendetta skillfully taps into popular alienation and fear, and the Wachowskis are obviously trying to replicate its success. But the execrable sequels to The Matrix—which had nothing to say, and merely milked a brand-name cash-cow—betrayed any spirit of prophetic warning in the original. Does Vendetta redeem the Wachowskis? Or does it represent mere capitalist recuperation of mass alienation?

The Economist concluded that the anarchists shot their wad eventually, and so will the jihadists. The capitalist order survived the anarchist onslaught, and it will survive the jihad. However, in the interval, The Economist failed to note, it had to resort to fascism throughout much of the industrialized world in order to do so. The threats by the time of fascism’s rise came less from anarchism than Communism, and from capitalism’s own internal crisis. But the anarchist violence was an early symptom of the same contradictions that plunged the system into crisis in the ’30s, and the Bolsheviks exploited the same groundswell of popular anger that animated the anarchists. The current jihadi terror also reveals fault lines in the global system, even if the nearly complete evisceration of all forms of radical left ideology (the Wachowskis’ Bakuninist revenge fantasy notwithstanding) has this time left fundamentalist Islam to fill the vacuum. In this light, The Economist’s reassurance is less than reassuring. The years to come may reveal Sophie and Vendetta as both having more to do with the real world than their creators ever intended.

RESOURCES:

“For jihadist, read anarchist,” The Economist, Aug. 18, 2005
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4292760

“Al-Masri conviction reveals ‘free speech’ double standard,” WW4 REPORT, Feb. 8, 2006
/node/1565

“Germany: call to ban Koran,” WW4 REPORT, March 25, 2006
/node/1778

——

See Shlomo Svesnik’s last piece:

“SYRIANA: REAL-TIME DYSTOPIA
Is Apocalyptic Fiction Now Redundant?”
/node/1441

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingC FOR COOPTATION 

BRAZIL: MASSIVE LAND OCCUPATIONS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

RIO GRANDE DO SUL: MST SEIZES ESTATE

On Feb. 28, more than 2,000 members of Brazil’s Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) from 14 encampments in the state of Rio Grande do Sul began occupying the Fazenda Guerra, a large estate in Coqueiros do Sul municipality. It was the largest single land occupation since the late 1990s. According to Ana Hanauer, of the MST’s coordinating body in Rio Grande do Sul, the occupying families are using wooden construction materials to build permanent housing and an educational facility on the site, turning the property into an MST settlement, instead of the more typical encampment of temporary plastic-covered tent-like structures. The MST is demanding the immediate settlement of the 2,500 families still living in such temporary encampments in Brazil’s southernmost state. Some of these families have spent seven years living in the encampments; only 220 families have been able to move into settlements over the past three years in Rio Grande do Sul. Most of the families who participated in the Feb. 28 occupation were forcibly displaced by Military Police on Feb. 23 from an encampment on the side of Highway RS-406, in Nanoi.

“The federal government doesn’t meet the goals of the National Plan for Agrarian Reform, and the state government treats the land question as a police affair, forcing us to live on the sides of the highway. Our only other option is to occupy unproductive lands and report to society that Agrarian Reform is stopped in our state. It is not a priority for [President Luis Inacio] Lula [da Silva of the leftist Workers Party, PT] or for our governor, [Germano] Rigotto [of the centrist Party of the Democratic Movement of Brazil, PMDB]. There is more than enough land for settlements,” said Edenir Vassoler of the MST’s coordinating body for the state.

Fazenda Guerra is one of the largest latifundios in Rio Grande do Sul, with 7,000 hectares in the municipalities of Coqueiros do Sul, Carazinho and Pontao. The owner of the property, Felix Tubino Guerra, has a history of unpaid debts and violations of labor laws. The area is large enough to settle roughly 350 families. This is the third time the MST has occupied the estate. (Friends of the MST, Feb. 28)

In the northeastern state of Pernambuco, the MST reported that 15 landless rural workers were “detained and tortured” during a police operation to evict 200 campesinos from an estate they were occupying in Cabrobo, one of 19 estates occupied by MST members in Pernambuco since Mar. 5. The MST says that over the coming weeks, some 120,000 campesinos will occupy large landed estates in 23 of Brazil’s 26 states and in the federal district of Brasilia. (La Jornada, Mexico, March 9 from DPA, Reuters)

WOMEN OCCUPY PULP PLANTATION

On March 8, International Wome’s Day, nearly 2,000 Brazilian women affiliated with the international peasant movement Via Campesina occupied the Barba Negra estate, a eucalyptus plantation owned by the wood pulp company Aracruz Celulosa in Barra do Ribeiro, Rio Grande do Sul state, to draw attention to the environmental damage caused by the pulp industry. The protesters occupied the Aracruz site for about 40 minutes, and reportedly destroyed some five million out of a total 30 million plants there which were part of a company research project. Following the incident, the company announced it would reconsider its plan to invest $1.2 billion in the construction of a new facility in Rio Grande do Sul. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, March 8; Manifesto Text, March 8; La Jornada, March 9; Inter Press Service, March 8)

“Where the green desert advances, biodiversity is destroyed, the soil deteriorates, the rivers dry up, not to mention the tremendous pollution generated by the cellulose factories that contaminate the air and water and threaten human health,” the women wrote in a Via Campesina manifesto. The women were also protesting in solidarity with indigenous people whose lands were taken by Aracruz Celulosa in a violent police eviction in January of this year in Espirito Santo state. Police used the company’s machinery to carry out the expulsion.

Aracruz Celulosa has more than 250,000 hectares of land, 50,000 of them in Rio Grande do Sul. Its factories produce 2.4 million tons of bleached cellulose per year. Aracruz Celulosa has received $2 billion reais (more than $917 million) in public money from the Brazilian government over the past three years, yet the cellulose business only generates one job for each 185 hectares planted, while small-scale agriculture generates one job per hectare. “We don’t understand how a government that wants to end hunger sponsors the green desert instead of investigating in agrarian reform and campesino agriculture,” says the women’s manifesto. The women also pointed out the destructive impact of the cellulose industry on water: each eucalyptus consumes as much as 30 liters of water a day. (Minga, March 8; Manifesto text, March 8)

After ending their action on Aracruz land, the demonstrators went in buses back to Porto Alegre, the state capital, where they joined an International Women’s Day march. Roughly 3,500 women marched to the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, where the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was holding its International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development March 7-10. The protesters managed to get past the closed gates and the 20 police agents guarding the university to stage a demonstration in the parking lot. (LJ, March 9; IPS, March 8; Minga, March 8)

After half an hour of negotiations, a committee of 50 women was allowed into the main auditorium where the FAO conference was taking place. They entered chanting “Agrarian Reform, Urgent and Necessary” and “Women, United, Will Never Be Defeated,” then read their manifesto to the delegates. The manifesto was supported by the Movement of Campesina Women (MMC), the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), the Movement of Small Farmers (MPA), the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), the Rural Youth Pastoral (PJR) and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). (Minga, manifesto, March 8) Grassroots campesino groups and other social movements also sponsored their own parallel Land, Territory and Dignity Forum in Porto Alegre Mar. 6-9. (IPS, March 10. MST website)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 12

——

Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also WW4 REPORT #117
http://www.ww3report.com/node/1438

See our last update on land struggles in Brazil:
/node/1450

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingBRAZIL: MASSIVE LAND OCCUPATIONS 

COLOMBIA: TRADE PACT CONCLUDED, RIGHT SWEEPS ELECTIONS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Feb. 27 Colombia and the US concluded a trade pact after two years of negotiations. Peru signed a similar accord in December, and the US is seeking an agreement with Ecuador. The US hopes to consolidate the three accords into an Andean Free Trade Agreement (known as the TLC, for “free trade treaty” in Spanish) before the end of the year, when current agreements end. But there are doubts about how quickly the administration of US president George W. Bush can get required approval from its own Congress for the package.

The pact with Colombia is the most significant trade agreement the US has worked out with a Latin American country since the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which included Canada and Mexico. Colombia’s annual economic output is more than $100 billion, and trade between Colombia and the US was $14.3 billion last year. But the US–which has repeatedly failed to advance its plan for a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)–had problems negotiating even with the pro-US government of right-wing president Alvaro Uribe Velez. Three members of Colombia’s “intellectual property rights” negotiating team quit last year over what they called US intransigence. (NYT, Feb. 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5

FAR RIGHT SWEEPS CONGRESS

Right-wing supporters of President Alvaro Uribe Velez swept Colombia’s March 12 legislative elections, winning 72 of the 100 seats in the Senate and at least 57% of the 167 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Abstention was nearly 60%. Center-left sectors united in the Alternative Democratic Pole won 11 seats in the Senate and now form the fifth largest force in the legislature. Presidential elections are scheduled for May 28. (Inter Press Service, AFP, March 13)

More than half the votes cast for the two Senate seats reserved for indigenous candidates were left blank, so those elections may be repeated. (IPS, March 13) Nasa indigenous leaders blamed a badly designed ballot for the confusing results; they say that the elections should not be repeated, and that the two candidates of the Indigenous Social Alliance–Jesus Enrique Pinacue and Eulalia Yagari–won the vote and should be able to take their senate seats. (Asociacion de Cabildos Nasa, March 16)

A new organization, Daughters and Sons for Memory and Against Impunity, had on March 9 publicly called on Colombians to vote against 13 candidates linked to right-wing paramilitary groups. Six of those 13 candidates did win their seats. Among those who didn’t was retired general Rito Alejo del Rio, accused of responsibility for massacres in 1997. Ivan Cepeda of Daughters and Sons for Memory and Against Impunity said that for now, “there are 17 or 18 legislators that come from highly doubtful forces” linked to paramilitary groups.

Authorities did not report any major incidents during the voting but “29 violent acts” were recorded. Blackouts took place along the Atlantic coast and in Cauca department, and in Arauca, an attack on an aqueduct left the town of Saravena without drinking water. The attack was blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (IPS, March 13)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19

MURDER IN CIMITARRA VALLEY

The Campesino Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC) has reported a recent increase in paramilitary murders, threats and other activities in the Cimitarra Valley of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region, where the departments of Bolivar, Santander and Antioquia intersect.

On Feb. 18, presumed paramilitaries murdered Guido Romero, vice president of the Communal Action Board in the rural community of La Victoria in Cantagallo municipality in the south of Bolivar department. The paramilitaries, said to be from the urban center of Cantagallo, came to La Victoria asking for Romero. The detained him and took him to the community’s soccer field, where they murdered him in front of other community members. Romero’s murder came two days after he met with ACVC leaders to plan a series of community actions. (Corporacion Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos-CREDHOS, Feb. 22 via Colombia Indymedia; ACVC, Feb. 23)

At a subsequent meeting in Cantagallo, a paramilitary member from Barrancabermeja in Santander department announced that the legalized paramilitary groups known as Convivir must be reestablished in the town. On Feb. 22, in nearby San Pablo, a “demobilized” paramilitary commander called a meeting where he announced that the Convivir groups would be reestablished, and that the community must finance them. The Convivir “security cooperatives” were first established in neighboring Antioquia department by then-governor Alvaro Uribe Velez, now president of Colombia seeking a second term in elections in May. (ACVC, Feb. 23; CREDHOS, Feb. 24)

On Feb. 22, the body of Robinson Alberto Gonzalez was found with five bullet wounds–two in the head–between the rural communities of Campo Bijao and Cano Tigre, at a site known as Cano Panela, in the northeastern area of Antioquia, near the borders with Bolivar and Santander departments. Gonzalez worked as a traveling vendor; he had disappeared on Feb. 6 between the rural communities of Puerto Nuevo Ite and Dosquebradas in Remedios municipality.

No one has claimed responsibility for murdering Gonzalez. The Calibio Battalion of the army’s 14th Brigade operates in the area, and is said to collaborate with rightwing paramilitary groups which supposedly demobilized in Remedios several weeks ago. Leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are also active in the area. (ACVC, Feb. 23)

Jose Gustavo Castaneda disappeared on Feb. 15 between the Estrella farm and Puerto Nuevo Ite; as of Feb. 22 he remained missing. On Feb. 13 campesino Albeiro Meza was disappeared in Cantagallo municipality. He remained missing as of Feb. 16. Julio Cesar Aparicio Diaz, a member of the Communal Action Board in Puerto Matilde, was detained in Campo Bijao, Remedios municipality, by six hooded armed men dressed in camouflage. He was tortured for two hours and threatened with death. He was reportedly released, but his whereabouts were unknown as of Feb. 16. (ACVC, Feb. 16)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5

On March 23, the ACVC said it had determined that guerrillas from the FARC were responsible for the Feb. 18 murder of Romero. The mayor of Cantagallo and the regional newspaper Vanguardia Liberal, based in Bucaramanga, had maintained all along that the FARC’s 24th Front was responsible. The ACVC said it “deplores and rejects this murder and demands that the FARC observe the principle of…not turning civilian residents into targets.” Since the murder, several families have been displaced from La Victoria. (ACVC, March 23 via Prensa Rural)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 26

——

Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also WW4 REPORT #119
http://www.ww3report.com/node/1661

See our last update on Colombia’s shift to the hard right:
/node/1771

——————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA: TRADE PACT CONCLUDED, RIGHT SWEEPS ELECTIONS 

ECUADOR: PROTESTS PARALYZE COUNTRY

from Weekly News Update on the Americas


OIL STRIKE IN AMAZON

The Ecuadoran government decreed a state of emergency in the Amazon provinces of Napo, Orellana and Sucumbios on March 8, two days into a strike that shut down oil production in the region. The 4,000 striking workers were employed by subcontractors to provide maintenance, security, transport, clean-up and construction for the state oil company Petroecuador. The workers are owed three months worth of salaries by the subcontractors, who have themselves not been paid by Petroecuador since last September. On March 7, the workers shut down six major oil facilities in the region; the same day, army soldiers used tear gas bombs to eject the strikers from several oil company sites. The workers released three of the sites on March 11 and ended the strike on March 12 after the government promised to arrange payment of the debts and to release three arrested strike leaders. The state of emergency was to be lifted gradually beginning on March 13. (Agencia Pulsar, March 8; AP, March 8, 12; El Comercio, Quito, March 11)

Workers and other social sectors blocked roads on March 8 in several areas of Ecuador to protest the government’s negotiations with the US over the Andean Free Trade Treaty, press for a wage increase and demand that the government cancel its contract with the US oil company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). Mesias Tatamuez, leader of the Unitary Workers Front (FUT), called the strike “a warning message,” and said that if the government doesn’t attend to the protesters’ demands, more extreme actions will be taken. (Agencia Pulsar, March 8)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 12

INDIGENOUS PROTEST TRADE PACT

Early on March 13, indigenous Ecuadorans began a national mobilization against the Andean Free Trade Treaty (known in Spanish as the TLC), which the Ecuadoran government has said it intends to sign with the US, Colombia and Peru. The mobilization is also demanding that the government cancel its contract with Oxy, that Ecuador not participate in the US-led “Plan Colombia,” and that a National Constituent Assembly be called to write a new constitution. The mobilization was organized by the indigenous organizations Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of the Peoples of Kichua Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari). In a joint March 13 communique announcing the start of the mobilization, the two groups called the TLC “a mortal weapon for the economy of millions of indigenous people, campesinos and small businesspeople.”

“Now 50 of every 100 indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition–that is, hunger–and with the TLC, which will affect the production of foods from our fields, there will be millions of children and adolescents who together with their parents will suffer hunger and will have to migrate to the big cities or to other countries,” said the communique.

March 13 began with actions in at least 14 of Ecuador’s 22 provinces and in the capital, Quito. In Carchi, some 1,500 people shut down traffic on the road leading from Tulcan to Quito. Protesters also blocked roads in Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Canar, Loja and Zamora. In Canar, access roads to nearly every town were blocked, and 3,000 indigenous Kanari people blocked traffic in the village of Suscal along a road to the coast. Ten busloads of protesters left from Imbabura to join protests in Quito. In Latacunga, Cotopaxi, some 2,000 people took part in a protest march. In Bolivar, protesters marched and seized the governor’s offices. In Azuay, thousands marched in the city of Cuenca, and a roadway was blocked in Giron. Police repression against protesters was reported in Ayora, Pichincha. In Esmeraldas, some 200 people marched in the provincial capital. From the eastern provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago, some 500 people reached Banos de Ambato on a march toward Quito. In Quito, some 100 members of Campesino Social Security seized the cathedral. (CONAIE/Ecuarunari Communique, March 13)

On March 14, the second day of the mobilization, protesters who arrived that day from Imbabura joined local Quito residents in marching past the US embassy to the cathedral. Police attacked the marchers in the area around the provincial council, and at the theater plaza. Protesters continued to block roads in Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha, Tungurahua, Bolivar and Chimborazo. Some 10,000 people marched in Latacunga, capital of Cotopaxi province; hundreds of people also marched in Salcedo, another city in Cotopaxi, before blocking a nearby highway. In Suscal, Canar, police unleashed repression on protesters–mainly women and children–and arrested several protest leaders. Despite the attacks, protesters in Suscal continued to block the road leading to Guayaquil. The march from the Amazon region continued, with 600 people reaching the city of Ambato from Zalazaza. (CONAIE/Ecuarunari Communique, March 14)

In a March 15 communique signed by CONAIE president Luis Macas, CONAIE condemned the repression faced by protesters. “At a time when the Ecuadoran government and army are incapable of defending the country from incursions by the Colombian armed forces, and they have rather turned into security guards for the oil corporations, they have sharpened their weapons against their own people, causing numerous wounded, disappeared and persecutions against peaceful, democratic and united mobilizations,” said CONAIE.

CONAIE reported that in a meeting that morning with Governance under-secretary Felipe Vega, its leaders had protested the violation of human rights and questioned the government’s lack of transparency and democracy in the TLC negotiations, and delays in the cancellation of the Oxy contract. CONAIE leaders told Vega that the mobilization would continue until the TLC negotiations are suspended, the government publishes everything it has negotiated up to now, the Oxy contract is cancelled as requested by the state prosecutor’s office, and a Constituent Assembly is convened. (CONAIE communique, March 15)

By March 15, the protests were starting to affect the economy, disrupting deliveries of corn, potatoes and milk in the central provinces where traffic was blocked, and preventing flower exporters from transporting their shipments. (Al Jazeera, March 16) In a televised speech on March 15, Ecuadoran president Alfredo Palacio criticized the protests and called on Ecuadorans to “close ranks to protect democracy.” Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Alfredo Castillo resigned after publicly stating that the protesters “are right” to demand that the TLC negotiations be “much clearer.” (El Barlovento, Mexico, March 15)

On March 17, Oxy proposed an accord with the Ecuadoran government in which the company would provide oil assistance and funds for social projects, would give up legal claims and would renegotiate its contracts in exchange for the cancellation of legal proceedings threatening its current contract. It was not clear whether the government had responded to the offer. (Reuters, March 17) Ecuarunari president Humberto Cholango responded by warning Ecuadorans that Oxy was attempting to evade the legal proceedings with the offer of $293 million in funding for public works. (Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18)

On March 18, the indigenous mobilization continued into a sixth day, with roads blocked in at least seven provinces, mainly in the central Andean region, the north and the Amazon. In Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo, wire services reported that some 4,000 people demonstrated before holding an assembly to plan subsequent actions. (CONAIE and Ecuarunari reported that 10,000 people from the surrounding areas attempted to enter Riobamba, and 5,000 eventually made it past police to the city’s central square.) In other provinces, indigenous organizations also called assemblies to plan actions for the coming week, as the Ecuadoran government prepares to hold its final round of TLC negotiations in Washington on March 23. (ANSA, March 18; Cadena Global/DPA, March 18; Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18) The provinces of Tungurahua, Cotopaxi and Pastaza reportedly ended their strikes between March 16 and 17 after the government assigned more funds for public works they were demanding. (Cadena Global/DPA, March 18)

In a March 18 communique, Ecuarunari and CONAIE reported that their respective presidents, Cholango and Macas, along with provincial protest leaders, had been threatened with arrest if they did not end the mobilization. They also reported more repression: the march from the Amazon provinces to Quito was detained for more than three hours in the area of Chasqui, though marchers finally broke through police lines to continue their trek; protester Alberto Cabascango lost his left eye in the area of Cajas, between Imbabura and Pichincha provinces; and protesters Rosa Cristina Ulcuango from Cayambe and Olga Alimana from Chimborazo were hospitalized after being injured by police and army troops.

The worst repression continued to be in the community of Suscal, in Canar province, where on March 18 army and police forces attacked a march of some 500 people along the road leading to the coast, beating, dragging and kicking the participants, including many women, children and elderly people. Many people were injured, including two pregnant women who had to be taken to the health center in Suscal for emergency treatment. The military and police patrols then continued their assault on the community by violently invading homes, destroying doors and windows, firing tear gas bombs, threatening people at gunpoint and carrying out mass arrests. (Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19


PROTESTS SUSPENDED—FOR NOW

On March 21, thousands of indigenous people from around the country arrived in Quito and blocked main highways with their protests. Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators; some protesters threw rocks at police. About 30 people were seriously injured and 100 were arrested. Another 300 people, including a number of minors, suffered asphyxia from police tear gas. (El Barlovento, March 21) CONAIE leader Luis Macas and the alternative news source Altercom reported that police were boarding buses headed for Quito and detaining anyone who looked indigenous or looked like a protester. (Adital, March 21; EB, March 21)

Late on March 21, Ppresident Palacio responded to the protests by decreeing a state of emergency in the provinces of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Canar and Imbabura and in the districts of Tabacundo and Cayambe in Pichincha province. Under the state of emergency, constitutional rights are suspended. (EB, March 22) Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed on March 22 to clear blocked highways. (AP, March 22)

On Mar. 23, the uprising began to lose some strength in the Andean region, but more than 3,000 indigenous people from around the country marched in Quito, with the support of students and other sectors. Police used tear gas to disperse university and high school students marching through the center of Quito, and clashes between demonstrators and police left dozens of people injured. In the northern city of Otavalo, indigenous people defied the state of emergency and blocked several roads. (La Jornada, Mexico, March 24; Adital, March 23)

CONAIE suggested a dialogue with the government, mediated by the Catholic Church, but the government refused. “The ball is in CONAIE’s court,” said Minister of Government (Interior) Felipe Vega. “They should stop this action now, and five minutes later they will converse with President Alfredo Palacio.” Palacio had said hours earlier that he would dialogue with the indigenous groups if they ended the mobilization.

Later on March 23, CONAIE announced that the mobilization would be temporarily suspended. CONAIE was to meet March 31 in the Andean city of Riobamba to “redefine actions” in the continuing struggle against the TLC, and for the cancellation of the government’s contract with Oxy.

“We’re going to withdraw, but the uprising will resume after the assembly in Riobamba, if by then the government doesn’t commit to at least convene a people’s referendum to decide about the TLC,” said CONAIE vice president Santiago de la Cruz. The government will maintain the state of emergency until the country is “totally pacified,” said Communication Secretary Enrique Proano. (LJ, March 24) Proano said some protests were continuing in Otavalo on the night of March 23. By March 24, indigenous protesters had dismantled most of the road blockades.

The Ecuadoran and US governments began their 14th round of TLC negotiations in Washington on March 23. (AFP , March 24)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 26

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Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also WW4 REPORT #119
http://www.ww3report.com/node/1670

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingECUADOR: PROTESTS PARALYZE COUNTRY 

BLAMING “THE LOBBY”

AIPAC Takes the Hit for US Imperialism

by Joseph Massad

In the last 25 years, many Palestinians and other Arabs, in the United States and in the Arab world, have been so awed by the power of the US pro-Israel lobby that any study, book, or journalistic article that exposes the inner workings, the substantial influence, and the financial and political power of this lobby have been greeted with ecstatic sighs of relief that Americans finally can see the “truth” and the “error” of their ways.

The underlying argument has been simple and has been told time and again by Washington’s regime allies in the Arab world, pro-US liberal and Arab intellectuals, conservative and liberal US intellectuals and former politicians, and even leftist Arab and American activists who support Palestinian rights: namely, that absent the pro- Israel lobby, America would at worst no longer contribute to the oppression of Arabs and Palestinians and at best it would be the Arabs’ and the Palestinians’ best ally and friend. What makes this argument persuasive and effective to Arabs? Indeed, why are its claims constantly brandished by Washington’s Arab friends to Arab and American audiences as a persuasive argument? I contend that the attraction of this argument is that it exonerates the United States’ government from all the responsibility and guilt that it deserves for its policies in the Arab world and gives false hope to many Arabs and Palestinians who wish America would be on their side instead of on the side of their enemies.

Let me start with the premise of this argument, namely its effect of shifting the blame for US policies from the United States onto Israel and its US lobby. According to this logic, it is not the United States that should be held directly responsible for all its imperial policies in the Arab world and the Middle East at large since World War II, rather it is Israel and its lobby who have pushed it to launch policies that are detrimental to its own national interest and are only beneficial to Israel. Establishing and supporting Arab and other Middle East dictatorships, arming and training their militaries, setting up their secret police apparatuses and training them in effective torture methods and counter-insurgency to be used against their own citizens should be blamed, according to the logic of these studies, on Israel and its US lobby. Blocking all international and UN support for Palestinian rights, arming and financing Israel in its war against a civilian population, protecting Israel from the wrath of the international community should also be blamed not on the United States, the studies insist, but on Israel and its lobby.

Additionally, and in line with this logic, controlling Arab economies and finances, dominating key investments in the Middle East, and imposing structural adjustment policies by the IMF and the World Bank which impoverish the Arab peoples should also be blamed on Israel, and not the United States. Finally, starving and then invading Iraq, threatening to invade Syria, raiding and then sanctioning Libya and Iran, besieging the Palestinians and their leaders, must also be blamed on the Israeli lobby and not the US government. Indeed, over the years, many pro-US Arab dictators let it leak officially and unofficially that their US diplomat friends have told them time and again how much they and “America” support the Arab world and the Palestinians were it not for the influence of the pro- Israel lobby (sometimes identified by the American diplomats in more explicit “ethnic” terms).

While many of the studies of the pro-Israel lobby are sound and full of awe-inspiring well- documented details about the formidable power commanded by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its allies, the problem with most of them is what remains unarticulated. For example, when and in what context has the United States government ever supported national liberation in the Third World? The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groups. Why then the US would support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain.

The United States has had a consistent policy since World War II of fighting all regimes across the Third World who insist on controlling their national resources, whether it be land, oil, or minerals. This extends from Iran in 1953 to Guatemala in 1954 to the rest of Latin America all the way to present-day Venezuela. Africa has fared much worse in the last four decades, as have many countries in Asia. Why the would United States would support regimes in the Arab world who would nationalize natural resources and stop their pillage by American capital absent the pro-Israel lobby?

Finally, the United States government has opposed and overthrown, or tried to overthrow, any regime that seeks real and tangible independence in the Third World, and is especially galled by those regimes that pursue such policies through democratic elections. The overthrow of regimes from Arbenz to Goulart to Mossadegh and Allende and the ongoing attempts to overthrow Chavez are prominent examples, as are the overthrow Sukarno’s and Nkrumah’s nationalist regimes. The terror unleashed on populations who challenged US-installed regimes from El Salvador to Zaire to Chile and Indonesia, resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands, if not millions by repressive police and militaries trained for these important tasks by the US. This is aside from direct US invasions of South East Asian and Central American countries that killed untold millions for decades. Why would the US and its repressive agencies stop invading Arab countries, or stop supporting the repressive police forces of dictatorial Arab regimes, and why would the US stop setting up shadow governments inside its embassies in Arab capitals to run these countries’ affairs if the pro-Israel lobby did not exist? This is never broached by these studies, let alone explained.

The arguments put forth by these studies would be more convincing if the Israel lobby was forcing the United States government to pursue policies in the Middle East that are inconsistent with its global policies elsewhere. This, however, is far from what happens. While US policies in the Middle East may often be an exaggerated form of its repressive and anti-democratic policies elsewhere in the world, they are not inconsistent with them. One could make the case that the strength of the pro-Israel lobby is what accounts for this exaggeration, but even this contention is not entirely persuasive. One could argue that it is in fact the very centrality of Israel to US strategy in the Middle East that accounts, in part, for the strength of the pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around. Indeed, many of the recent studies highlight the role of pro-Likud members of the Bush administration (or even of the Clinton administration) as evidence of the lobby’s awesome power—when, it could be easily argued that it is these American politicians who had pushed Likud and Labour into more intransigence in the 1990s and are pushing them towards more conquest now that they are at the helm of the US government.

This is not to say that the leaders of the pro-Israel lobby do not regularly brag about their crucial influence on US policy in Congress and the White House. That they have done so regularly since the late 1970s. But the lobby is powerful in the United States because its major claims are about advancing US interests and its support for Israel is contextualized in its support for the overall US strategy in the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobby plays the same role that the China lobby played in the 1950s and the Cuba lobby still plays to this day. The fact that it is more powerful than any other foreign lobby on Capitol Hill testifies to the importance of Israel in US strategy and not to some fantastical power that the lobby commands independent of and extraneous to the US “national interest.”

Some would argue that even though Israel attempts to overlap its interests with those of the US, that its lobby is misleading American policy-makers and shifting their position from one of objective assessment of what is truly in America’s best interest. The argument runs as follows: US support for Israel causes groups who oppose Israel to hate the US and target it for attacks. It also costs the US friendly media coverage in the Arab world, affects its investment potential in Arab countries, and loses it important allies in the region, or at least weakens existing alliances. But none of this is true. The United States has been able to be Israel’s biggest backer and financier, its staunchest defender and weapons-supplier while maintaining strategic alliances with most if not all Arab dictatorships, including the Palestinian Authority under both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

Moreover, US companies and American investments have the largest presence across the Arab world, most prominently but not exclusively in the oil sector. Also, even without the pathetic and ineffective efforts at US propaganda in the guise of the television station Al-Hurra, or Radio Sawa and the now-defunct Hi magazine, not to mention US-paid journalists and newspapers in Iraq and elsewhere, a whole army of Arabic newspapers and state-television stations, not to mention myriad satellite television stations, all celebrate the US and its culture, broadcast American programs, and attempt to sell the US point of view as effectively as possible, encumbered only by the limitations that actual US policies in the region place on common sense. Even the offending Al-Jazeera has bent over backwards to accommodate the US point of view, but is constantly undercut by actual US policies in the region. Al-Jazeera, under tremendous pressure and threats of bombing from the United States, has nonetheless stopped referring to the US occupation forces in Iraq as “occupation forces” and now refers to them as “coalition forces.” Moreover, since when has the US sought to win a popularity contest among the peoples of the world? Arabs no more hate or love the United States than do Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, or even and especially Europeans.

Finally we come to the financial argument, namely that the US gives an inordinate amount of money to Israel—an exorbitant cost that is out of proportion to what the US gets in return. In fact, the United States spends much more on its military bases in the Arab world, not to mention on those in Europe or Asia, than it does on Israel. Israel has indeed been very effective in rendering services to its US master for a good price, whether in channeling arms to Central American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, helping pariah regimes like Taiwan and apartheid South Africa in the same period, supporting pro-US (including Fascist) groups inside the Arab world to undermine nationalist Arab regimes from Lebanon to Iraq to Sudan, coming to the aid of conservative pro-US Arab regimes when threatened (as it did for Jordan in 1970), and attacking Arab nationalist regimes outright—as it did in 1967 with Egypt and Syria and in 1981 with Iraq, when it destroyed that country’s nuclear reactor. While the US had been able to overthrow Sukarno and Nkrumah in bloody coups, Nasser remained entrenched until Israel effectively neutralized him in the 1967 war. It is thanks to this major service that the United States increased its support to Israel exponentially. Moreover, Israel neutralized the PLO in 1982—no small service to many Arab regimes and their US patron who could not fully control the organization until then.

None of the American military bases on which many more billions are spent can claim such a stellar record. Critics argue that when the US had to intervene in the Gulf, it could not rely on Israel for the job because including it in such a coalition would embarrass Arab allies; hence the uselessness of Israel as a strategic ally. But the US also could not rely on its military bases to launch the invasions on their own and had to ship in its army. American bases in the Gulf did provide important and needed support, but so did Israel.

AIPAC is indeed powerful insofar as it pushes for policies that accord with US interests and that are resonant with the reigning US imperial ideology. The power of the pro-Israel lobby is not based solely on its organizational skills or ideological uniformity. In no small measure, anti-Semitic attitudes in Congress play a role in belief in the lobby’s (and its enemies’) exaggerated claims about its actual power, resulting in lawmakers toeing the line. One could argue it does not matter whether the lobby has real or imagined power—for as long as Congress and policy-makers believe it does, it will remain effective and powerful. I, of course, concede this point.

What, then, would have been different in US policy in the Middle East absent Israel and its powerful lobby? The answer in short is: the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies. Is the pro-Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not. The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests (including Israel). Absent these policies—and not the pro-Israel lobby which supports them—the United States could expect a change in its standing among Arabs. Short of that, the United States will have to continue its policies in the region that have wreaked, and continue to wreak, havoc on the majority of Arabs and not expect that the Arab people will like it in return.

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Joseph Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. His recent book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question was published by Routledge.

This story first appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt,
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/787/op35.htm

See also:

“Arab scholar: ‘Jewish lobby’ scapegoat for imperial interests,” WW4 REPORT, March 25
/node/1774

Pappe refutes Chomsky on Israel Lobby
/node/1826

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingBLAMING “THE LOBBY” 

EL SALVADOR:

No Business as Usual as CAFTA Takes Effect

by Paul Pollack

SAN SALVADOR, March 1 — There was little fanfare and much protest today as the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) went into effect in El Salvador. The country is the first Central American nation to honor CAFTA and for the second straight day, thousands marched and traffic was snarled throughout San Salvador. Five other signatory nations have failed to meet US requirements necessary to join the agreement.

The day before, Salvadoran President Tony Saca proclaimed the start of CAFTA by announcing to George Bush (who was not present), “Come with your basket empty and take it home full.”

Today’s march started at the Salvador del Mundo Plaza and streamed for blocks to the Civic Plaza, in the heart of downtown San Salvador. Vendors of pirated CD’s and small farmers took to the streets next to unionists, students and anarchists. All declared their opposition to CAFTA, or the “TLC,” as it is known in Spanish.

The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) political party announced that it intended to repeal CAFTA legislation, based on its inconformity with the Salvadoran constitution. The party submitted a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Justice, but acknowledged that without a majority in the country’s Legislative Assembly behind them, there was not much hope for success.

Many people are looking towards the March 12 elections to decide CAFTA’s fate. If CAFTA opponents can gather 43 votes in the Legislative Assembly, they will be able to repeal enacting laws that the US deems essential for CAFTA participation.

CAFTA regulates trade in goods, services and investment, and forces governments to extend “national treatment” to foreign corporations. The agreement creates special courts to adjudicate trade disputes. These courts allow corporations to sue governments for “anticipated lost profits” if they can prove that local laws impede business. Protesters say that CAFTA will destroy local agricultural production by allowing cheap produce and grain from the US to enter tariff-free.

Perhaps the most heartening resistance to CAFTA in El Salvador has come from the informal sector. Months ago, the US demanded that El Salvador pass more stringent laws protecting copyright and brand-name logos. National police immediately launched a campaign to eliminate vendors who sold copies of popular CD’s, DVD’s and other name-brand merchandise. Instead of closing up shop however, vendors organized and fought back for their right to sell the gray-market merchandise. These vendors were in the streets yesterday in full force. One sign read: “No to originals!”

Protesters vowed to continue the fight and very few in the crowd felt that CAFTA was permanent.

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This piece originally appeared in Upside Down World
http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/221/1/

See also:

“El Salvador: Protests as CAFTA Starts,” Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5
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“Water Privatization for El Salvador?” by Paul Pollack, WW4 REPORT #119
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“CAFTA’s Assault on Democracy,” by Tom Ricker and Burke Stansbury, WW4 REPORT #119
/node/1665

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingEL SALVADOR: