issue #. 137. September 2007

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog THE ISRAEL LOBBY & AND GLOBAL HEGEMONY: REVISITED The Mearsheimer-Walt Thesis Deconstructed by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT YEMEN: THE NEXT QUAGMIRE Washington’s New Terror War Flashpoint? by Mohamed Al-Azaki, WW4 REPORT MAURITANIA: WILL NEW ANTI-SLAVERY… Read moreissue #. 137. September 2007

AGAINST THE CARBON CULTURE

by Michael Niman, ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY

People living within five miles or so of any major American waterway can hear their psychotic roar on hot summer evenings. They’re “dick boats”—long, sleek, overpowered speedboats that can cut a sunset cruise into a deafening four-minute drag race. Their nickname is based on common beliefs that their owners are compensating for anatomical deficiencies.

A dick boat on the Niagara River, for example, can be heard by more than 100,000 people. One circling Manhattan could be heard by millions. But the noise pollution only makes this summer pastime obnoxious, like the midlife crises cruising their throaty Harleys up and down urban avenues. What makes the dick boat fetish criminal is that they burn upwards of 25 gallons of gas per hour.

Perhaps dick boat operators can afford $75 per hour for their thrills—Viagra’s expensive too, I guess. But the real cost here isn’t in dollars, it’s in pollution and the squandering of dwindling oil reserves. While the focus lately has been on carbon dioxide and global warming, oil consumption also fouls waterways through spills and runoff and is a main cause of smog, both in its refinement and in its end-use burning. Obtaining oil, more and more, leads to global political instability as nations compete for dwindling reserves, fight wars over control of oil fields and often fund despotic regimes and terrorists with their oil dollars. Your dick boat operator isn’t just some poor, pathetic bastard loudly masturbating—he’s destroying the planet.

Every month new studies link global warming to human activities. Other studies attribute radical weather patterns to global warming. This summer headlines report a massive drought in California, heat waves in Europe, floods across Britain and the American Southwest (Arizona’s new “monsoon season”) and so on. In response, some of us are buying more efficient light bulbs, carpooling, insulating our homes and basically downshifting our consumptive ways. Others are partying like there’s no tomorrow.

This summer I’ve been observing carbon culture. In Buffalo I listen to air conditioners hum on 65-degree nights. Their owners never open their windows, so they don’t know how cool the outside world is, and the magic that a small fan could accomplish. I’ve been in office buildings that were hypercooled so their inhabitants could wear the standard white-collar uniform of jackets and ties on hot, humid days and still be comfortable. The business class in Miami wears the same coats and they air-condition their buildings to the same temperature despite being in the subtropics.

In New York’s Finger Lakes there’s a 7,000-square-foot house. Its windows never open. Air conditioning runs during the months when the heat is off. It’s usually occupied only by a caretaker. The owner flies in on a chartered seaplane a few weekends a year. This house is not an anomaly. It’s actually small compared to the trophy homes recently built up and down the eastern seaboard. And its owner’s chartered seaplane, while guzzling far more gas than a dick boat, is still frugal compared to the private jets so prized by the nouveau ultra-rich. America’s upward transfer of wealth is hell on the ecosystem.

On the New Jersey coast I stayed in a friend’s family bungalow, purchased by a grandfather in 1948 and maintained by a circle of siblings who struggle to pay the taxes. It’s one of the last of its kind—a 900-square-foot beach house. Its neighbors have all been torn down so that colossal beach chateaux could be jimmied onto their lots. In this neighborhood of newly minted multimillionaires, SUVs are standard transport, clogging all the arteries leading to New York City and its North Jersey suburbs like big blobs of metal cholesterol.

The SUVs of the Jersey Shore seem well adorned with a bumper crop of oversized American flag stickers, like frontline assault vehicles in a patriotic push against salt marshes. Despite the semiotic jingoism, there’s nothing patriotic about driving around in a giant car. Of course we don’t call them giant cars, nor do we use the 1980s descriptive, “suburban assault vehicle.” No, they’re “sporty.” Get it, sport? Their drivers wear them like high-fashion body armor despite the social cost of this consumptive fetish. Insecure neurotics feel powerful in their 250-horsepower, 6,000 pound, obese cars—and super-hurricanes batter Haiti.

A middle-class American family saves for years to take the dream vacation of a lifetime—an 8,000-mile sojourn in a rented RV. Three thousand gallons later they’re home, having taken a toilet, shower, stove and refrigerator for a tour of the country. Other families head out to local lakes, “personal water crafts” in tow. The worst of these jet-skis, the old two-stroke buzz bombs, still commonly in use, consume seven gallons of gas per hour, burning five and dumping two raw, mixed with foul exhaust, into whatever waterway they operate in. This is sort of like pissing in the swimming pool, only gas is a much nastier pollutant then urine.

When the consuming classes in America come home from vacation, they’re returning to larger and larger houses. Since 1970, the average size of a new American home grew by over 60 percent, while the average size of families occupying those homes dropped by over 15 percent. This translates into lots of heated and air-conditioned empty spaces. One of the biggest differences between older homes and newer ones is in storage space, with closets and garages growing like tumors. The most prominent architectural feature on new suburban homes is the two- or three-pod attached garage—or loading bay.

Let’s go back to New Jersey, which seems like an epicenter for apocalyptic consumerism. While there I saw an ad in a local newspaper: “Replace your old obsolescent home,” on your own lot, with a new modern home. The advertiser offered a complete demolition-construction service. You just move out of your “obsolete” old home, wait a few months and move back into your new McMansion. Same neighbors. Same view. New digs. The old house gets trucked off to a landfill. Lots of new plastic and flake board is delivered. Your new home is built. Voila!

Even with these bloated new homes, however, Americans still can’t find places to store all the useless stuff we feel compelled to buy and somehow need to hoard—so there’s recently been a boom in the self-storage industry, which has grown by 740 percent over the last 22 years. Last year Americans spent almost $23 billion dollars renting storage spaces from over 59,000 storage facilities, totaling 78 square miles of indoor storage. Those unlucky enough to still be living in old, obsolete, closet-deprived homes can load giant cars with big green and red plastic tubs of Christmas gear, orange tubs of Halloween frights and clear tubs of miscellaneous goods for a trip to the storage locker. For nearly 11 million American families, such trips are becoming ritual.

The problem is a runaway culture of consumerism where commercialism conditions people to seek fulfillment in the purchase of products. Only, products aren’t fulfilling—not for long, at least. So like good addicts, obedient consumers take their credit cards out for a spin, perpetually trying to fill permanently empty vessels: their souls.

All of this consumption squanders precious, non-renewable resources both in production and shipping while producing all sorts of waste products such as carbon, the effects of which we are only now beginning to understand. Fetishistic consumerism isn’t harmless—it’s adding up to the biggest threat humanity and the world has ever faced.

So one more time, let’s go back to the New Jersey shore. All those giant cars. The dick boats. Air-conditioned trophy homes. This all adds up to one motherfucker of a carbon footprint. And that adds up to the global climate crisis we’re just seeing the beginning of. And oil spills killing oceans. And sewage, garbage and global-warming-induced offshore dead zones. And, by most accounts and models, ocean level rise and an increase in hurricane activity that together or separately will wipe out all those multi-million dollar homes built on a series of barrier islands we call the Jersey Shore. I guess we reap what we sow.

——

Dr. Michael I. Niman teaches journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His columns are available online at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com and available globally through syndication.

This column first appeared Aug. 9 in ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY
http://artvoice.com/issues/v6n32/carbon_culture

See also:

THE GAS-GUZZLER LOBBY STOPS TIME
Is There a Model-T in Your Future?
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice, Buffalo, NY
WW4 REPORT, July 2007
/node/4158

From our weblog:

Gas-Guzzler Lobby strikes back
WW4 REPORT, July 4, 2007
/node/4178

Climate change threatens Andes water supplies: World Bank
WW4 REPORT, July 23, 2007
/node/4253

——————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingAGAINST THE CARBON CULTURE 

NYC: HEALTH HAZARDS RISE FROM DUST OF GROUND ZERO

by Al Huebner, Toward Freedom

In his column of July 19th in the New York Daily News, Juan Gonzalez reported that the polluted air at Ground Zero seems to have claimed two more victims. The story adds to his chronicle of how heroes of events following the attack on the World Trade Center — and just ordinary people — were harmed by those who should have been protecting them.

On June 22, Fred Ghussin, an Arabic-speaking detective in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, who had worked on all of the city’s biggest Middle East terrorist cases over nearly two decades, died at the age of 58. Three days later George Allen, 47, a former inspector with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, succumbed in Denver after a two-year battle with colon cancer.

Ghussin and Allen never met but each was convinced that his illness had the same origin — exposure to toxins in lower Manhattan after 9-11. In Ghussin’s case the New York City retirement system agreed. Last November the system’s board ruled that his cancer had been caused by on-the-job exposure and awarded him an accident disability pension. Allen, who spent just a week at Ground Zero after 9-11, had monitored the safety of many rescue and recovery workers. He died while still locked in a battle to overturn the federal government’s denial of his application for workman’s compensation. Both Ghussin and Allen said they started suffering respiratory problems immediately after spending time at or near Ground Zero.

In the hours following the terrorist attacks on the WTC, firefighters, police, and emergency medical technicians performed acts of enormous courage. Many of them died while performing these heroic deeds, and many more were exposed to health-threatening substances. Unfortunately, while bureaucrats were unctuously praising these heroes, irresponsible and deceptive post-attack actions by some officials paved the way for more illnesses and deaths among workers and residents in Lower Manhattan. “What happened here is at the level of Watergate,” charged Dr. Marjorie Clarke, scientist-in-residence at Lehman College in New York and an expert on toxic emissions.

Clarke’s charge is quoted in Gonzalez’s book Fallout, the product of his in-depth investigation of initial handling of the WTC collapse. He turned up outrageous disregard for the health and welfare of rescue workers, residents, and others, raising fears that these people would pay a terrible price. Accumulating evidence, including the experience of Ghussin and Allen, shows that the price has been tragically high, and will continue to rise far into the future.

Although it took some time to be completed, a 2003 report by the Inspector General (IG) of the EPA confirmed abundant but scattered unofficial observations that the agency often misled New Yorkers about the risks that the collapse of the WTC buildings posed to their health. But the most shocking revelation was that the EPA suppressed warnings about the deadly pollution at White House direction. Reflecting on the IG’s report, Joel Shufro of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) concluded that it “clearly places responsibility on the White House for the sickness of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of workers and Lower Manhattan residents.”

Despite reassurances from federal, state, and city agencies — unquestioningly accepted by most local press — that the air and water were safe, a significant number of people began to suffer from respiratory and other health problems, as displaced workers and residents returned to their jobs and homes near the disaster site. A few nongovernmental organizations made measurements of contaminant concentrations that contrasted sharply with agency assertions. In Fallout, Gonzalez reported that air-monitoring tests by a team from the University of California at Davis revealed air pollution levels worse than during the oil fires in Kuwait after the Gulf War. The UC Davis scientists recorded these levels one mile north of the WTC, at a station that wasn’t even in the path of the path of the prevailing winds.

Fallout describes the thousands of rescue workers as abandoned heroes, praised yet treated as so much expendable fodder. Gonzalez notes “top city and federal officials failed to enforce even the most basic health and safety procedures at the World Trade Center site for weeks and even months.” By continuing to classify the Ground Zero operation as an emergency rescue effort, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani kept operational control in his hands, so that the city was able to ignore federal and state laws regulating health and safety procedures.

With Giuliani receiving constant media accolades for his “management” of the crisis, federal and state officials were unable or unwilling to confront the mayor on the city’s lack of compliance with safety laws. Similarly, they neglected to confront Giuliani’s failure to properly monitor indoor air quality in the rest of Lower Manhattan. Remarkably, the area’s councilwoman, Kathryn Freed, denied permission by City Hall to conduct independent environmental testing in a few buildings, had to sneak a team of scientists past police barricades. They found several instances of extremely high asbestos contamination.

No matter. With the creation of the myth of Giuliani as a great leader, he was named Time magazine “Person of the Year,” made an honorary knight by the Queen of England, even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. His presidential aspirations received an enormous boost.

Even before the IG’s report Dr. Stephen Levin, medical director of the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in New York, had responded skeptically to a National Public Radio reporter’s statement about EPA tests after the attack. The agency mentioned that dangerous pollutants in and around Ground Zero were either non-detectable or below established levels of concern. “Well, they were wrong,” said Levin. As the IG confirmed, the tests didn’t measure for lead, pulverized concrete, or many other toxic materials that were released.

When the EPA did give reasonable warnings, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) compelled changes that endangered public health. In one of its first post-attack press releases the EPA stated accurately, “Even at low levels the EPA consider asbestos hazardous in this situation.” That was changed to read, “Short term, low level exposure to asbestos of the type that might have been produced by the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is unlikely to cause significant health effects.” This is precisely the opposite of the original.

The person in charge of the CEQ was James Connaughton, an industry lawyer who previously represented some major corporate polluters. “You can definitely blame the president,” concluded Gonzalez. “Connaughton and the people from the Council on Environmental Quality refused requests from the EPA Inspector General to be interviewed on their role or on who gave them the order to do what they did.”

Another example of White House interference was its insistence that instructions about having nearby residences cleaned by professional crews be removed from a release. (Cleaning up the contamination left by the attack was a recurring matter of conflict.) Following months of public outcry after September 11, the EPA finally agreed to do a clean-up, but only of residential apartments and only when people requested it. The IG’s report deplored this approach, maintaining that buildings have to be cleaned as systems. If there is central air conditioning, for example, and only some apartments are cleaned, the pollution can travel back into the cleaned apartments.

Furthermore, businesses that conducted their own tests found intense levels of dioxins, asbestos, and other dangerous pollutants. In response, the IG report recommended that some commercial buildings as well as residences had to be cleaned. But many cleaning workers, residents, and employees were already experiencing chronic health problems, joining those lauded as heroes after 9-11. Medical screenings revealed that about half of the police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and construction workers at Ground Zero have illnesses caused by their unnecessary exposure to toxic dust and fumes.

In response to the recommendations for thorough clean-up, the EPA noted that this would cost a lot of money. That contrasted sharply with President Bush’s promise of ample assistance issued shortly after the attack. In fact, he told New York Senator Charles Schumer that the city had a “blank check.” But that was before huge tax cuts for the rich, and deceitful and expensive military adventures abroad, combined to plunge the economy into record deficits that will extend far into the future.

Later reports by medical groups commissioned by NYCOSH that have been screening victims of the pollution, along with an in-depth investigation by the Sierra Club that picks up where the IG’s report left off, add to the catalog of health-threatening deceptions and outrageous failures to act. The Sierra Club report, for example, revealed the presence of some especially virulent pollutants, the EPA’s failure to acknowledge them, and its gross negligence in protecting people.

According to the Sierra Club report, the EPA website claimed that the agency found no polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) “in any air samples,” although four independent tests found them at high levels. Even the EPA’s own research scientists reported in a scientific journal that they found PAHs at levels worthy of “the most serious kind of concern.” (PAHs are cancer-causing chemicals that may also produce genetic effects.)

The Sierra Club report elaborates on how deceptions about the presence of toxic substances were made much more health threatening by the failure of federal agencies — the EPA and also FEMA of Katrina notoriety — to assure proper clean-up of residential buildings and workplaces. Officials of these agencies advised residents to clean up the contaminated dust themselves with wet rags, and even discouraged then from wearing safety masks. This brought residents into contact with a plethora of toxic substances including dioxins, PAHs, asbestos, and lead. The latter, present in much of the dust, is a special threat to young children in whom lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage and a spectrum of other problems.

The cleanup of workplaces was bunged just as badly as the cleanup of homes. The FEMA-funded EPA indoor cleanup program completely excluded non-residential buildings. Many employees did their best to clean their own work areas, although some reportedly were forbidden even to wear safety masks on the job.

In short, employees in inadequately cleaned workplaces face the same hazards as residents in inadequately cleaned homes. In both cases the witch’s brew of contaminants that may be left behind is an ongoing health hazard.

Betrayal of the original victims of the attack on the WTC was made more reprehensible by the many betrayals that followed. White House deceptions and the failure of city and state officials to protect the public added significantly to the death and disease that resulted. This amounts to a second, albeit homegrown, terrorist attack, one so criminal that Dr. Clarke’s reference to Watergate seems like a considerable understatement.
——

This article first appeared Aug. 28 in Toward Freedom
http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1110/1/

RESOURCES:

Shocking victims of 9-11
by Juan Gonzalez
New York Daily News, July 19, 2007
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/07/19/2007-07-19_shocking_victims_of_911-1.html

EPA Misled Public on 9/11 Pollution
Newsday, Aug. 23, 2003
Online at CommonDreams.org
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0823-03.htm

New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH)
http://www.nycosh.org/

See also:

9-11’s HIDDEN VICTIMS
New York’s Hero Rescue Workers Face Kafkaesque Nightmare
by Joe Flood
WW4 REPORT, June 2006
/node/2026

From our weblog:

NYC: new health threat at Ground Zero
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 21, 2007
/node/4319

——————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingNYC: HEALTH HAZARDS RISE FROM DUST OF GROUND ZERO 

QUEBEC: PROTESTS ROCK NAFTA SECURITY SUMMIT

As Reports Reveal Free Trade’s Empty Promise

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa and US President George W. Bush met Aug. 20-21 in Montebello, in the west of the Canadian province of Quebec, for a third session on the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP, ASPAN in Spanish). The SPP is an agreement increasing military and police cooperation between the three countries and expanding the unpopular North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in effect since January 1994. Calderon had to leave early on Aug. 21 to return to Mexico, which was being hit by Dean, a major Atlantic hurricane.

About 5,000 protesters, some dressed as clowns and guerrilla fighters, chanted “Bush go home!” near the Chateau Montebello, where the three leaders were meeting. Riot police, using tear gas, pepper spray and clubs, blocked the protesters at the gates. During the protest David Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, ordered three men dressed as “Black Bloc” anarchists and covering their faces with scarves to put down the large rocks they were carrying. As actual Black Bloc protesters shouted “policiers” (“police agents”), Coles pulled down one of the scarves. Riot police quickly whisked the three men away, after making a show of arresting them.

A video of the incident was widely viewed on YouTube on the Internet. Federal and provincial authorities initially denied that the three men were infiltrators, but on Aug. 23 Quebec Security (SQ) admitted that they were provincial police agents. SQ officials denied that the agents were acting as provocateurs. Coles disagreed. “They were there armed with boulders,” he told reporters. “I witnessed them trying to incite a riot. I saw it… They were there to provoke trouble.” Critics pointed out that security at the summit was under the control of the federal government’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and asked how the RCMP could not have known what the SQ agents were doing. (Brisbane Times, Australia, Aug. 21 from AFP; Torotno Globe and Mail, Aug. 24)

President Calderon encountered another protest on Aug. 23 when he went to the central Mexican state of Hidalgo to inspect damage from heavy rains from Dean. Residents of Tulancingo’s Santa Cecilia neighborhood tried to block the convoy carrying Calderon and Hidalgo governor Miguel Angel Osorio Chong to complain about the lack of government assistance. “Stop, show your faces!” they shouted as the motorcade sped by. Calderon and Osorio came back later and listened to the protesters’ concerns. But when they left, two residents shouted: “Let the fake go!”—referring to the belief in some sectors that Calderon’s July 2006 election was fraudulent. (La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 24)

World Bank Reports on Mexico, NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement has failed to meet predictions that it would bring Mexico closer to the economic level of its partners, Canada and the US, according to a June study from the World Bank (WB). The study, “Mexico 2006-2012,” reports that Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was 36% of that of Canada in 1994, when NAFTA took effect, and 28% of that of the US. In the 13 years since, it has fallen slightly, to 32% of Canada’s rate and 25% of the US rate.

The situation is especially bad in agriculture, where Mexico’s last tariff protections will be eliminated next year. “Mexico faces new competitors in the US,” the WB said, “and has achieved a small penetration of new markets.” The main advances have been in horticulture, in processed foods and drinks, and agriculture requiring irrigation; these sectors are a relatively small part of Mexican agriculture. (La Jornada, Aug. 20)

Growth in industry, which accounts for about a fourth of Mexico’s GDP, has virtually stopped in the last 12 months, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information Systems (INEGI). The annual growth rate was 7.1% in June 2006; by June 2007 it had fallen to 0.1%. Mexico’s economy is now closely linked to the US economy, and on Aug. 17 the Banco de Mexico warned about possible effects from the mortgage crisis in the US, which may result in a downturn in the US. (LJ, Aug. 26)

At the beginning of August the US-based publications Fortune and The Wall Street Journal Americas reported that Mexican business leader Carlos Slim Helu was now the richest person in the world. According to Fortune, his assets had reached $59 billion, more than those of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and more than 5% of Mexico’s GDP. Slim told reporters: “I don’t know if I’m the richest, or the 20th richest, or the 2,000th. It doesn’t matter to me.” (LJ, Aug. 7)

Maquilas Hit in CAFTA Partners

Growth in maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing for export) in Central America and the Caribbean has fallen significantly in recent years because of competition from Asian manufacturers, according to the Intelligence Unit of the British weekly The Economist. This is happening despite trade preferences with the US, especially for textile and apparel production, in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was signed in 2004 and took effect in most of the region during 2006. Since 2005 the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Textiles and Clothing has reduced tariffs for Chinese textile and apparel products in the US. In 2006, China accounted for 30.4% of this market in the US, and other Asian countries, notably Bangladesh and Indonesia, accounted for another 25%.

The Dominican Republic is the main exporter to the US among the CAFTA countries, with $5.3 billion in exports in 2006. Employment has dropped sharply in the textile and apparel industry, which consists largely of maquiladoras; 147,959 Dominicans worked in the sector in 2006, down by 52,069 since 2004. About 40% of the employees in the maquiladoras were the principal support of their
families.

The clothing and apparel industry has lost about 25,000 jobs in El Salvador over the last four years, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador. Exports fell by 16% in 2006. In Guatemala, the net value of exports in the industry fell by 6% in 2006, to $511 million a year, while employment fell by 6.3%, to 82,100 workers. About 89% of Guatemala’s exports go to the US.

Clothing exports continued to grow in Honduras until this year, when they fell by 5.9% in the first quarter, to about $746.5 million a year. But the assembly of electronic parts for automobiles grew dramatically in the same period, by 23.3%, to $137.5 million for the quarter. Only Nicaragua seems to have had no problem with apparel exports, because of a special agreement with the US which allows it to use textiles imported from countries outside CAFTA. (La Jornada, Aug. 14 from EIU)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 26

———

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

RESOURCES:

YouTube video from Montebello protests:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St1-WTc1kow

See also:

COSTA RICA: CAFTA REFERNDUM PLANNED
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT, May 2007
/node/3737

From our weblog:

Energy, security top secretive NAFTA talks
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 27, 2007
/node/4338

—————————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingQUEBEC: PROTESTS ROCK NAFTA SECURITY SUMMIT 

GUATEMALA: MAYA RECLAIM LAND FROM MINERAL CARTEL

by Sandra Cuffe, Rights Action

“Why are we gathered here tonight?” asked community elder Roberto Caal, looking around at the dozens of women, men and children gathering under the palm-thatched roof of the open-air community hall in Barrio Revolución, in the municipality of El Estor, in eastern Guatemala.

“We have come to recuperate our land once again,” he explained. “This land is for our sons and daughters.”

The indigenous Q’eqchi community of Barrio Revolución was among the six groups displaced during three rounds of forced evictions in November 2006 and January 2007. Canadian mining company Skye Resources, which acquired the controversial property rights granted in the 1960s by a repressive military dictatorship to International Nickel Company (INCO), sought the evictions. Decades after the brutal repression linked to the INCO nickel mine that operated briefly in the area in the late 1970s through 1981, state security forces are once again being employed against the local Mayan population.

By the light of the near-full moon in the early evening and of the lightening flashing through the torrential downpour into the night, Barrio Revolución was gathering for a ceremony in honor of the ongoing collective process of rebuilding. Nearby, in the neighboring municipality of Panzos, department of Alta Verapaz, the community of La Paz was also gathering in preparation for a simultaneous ceremony.

“How can they call us squatters?” a resident of La Paz had asked a few days earlier, when a human rights delegation made up of activists from Mexico, Canada and the United States visited three of the evicted communities.

La Paz (approximately 60 families), Lote 8 (100 families) and Barrio Revolución (currently 95 families) have historic territorial claims to the recuperated lands from which they have each been evicted twice over this past year. They are linked to the traditional communities of Santa Maria, Cahaboncito and Chichipate, respectively. In some cases, lands were expropriated from these villages and turned over to mining interests during the years of Guatemala’s military dictatorship. In other cases, residents from expropriated lands resettled in these communities. Barrio Revolución (and Chichipate) are located in El Estor, Izabal department. Lote 8 (and Cahaboncito) and La Paz (and Santa Maria) are both in the neighboring municipality of Panzos, Alta Verapaz department. Together, these communities have now revived a decades-long struggle to reclaim their expropriated lands.

Memories of Silence: They Never Came Home

Reports by both the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala and the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala found INCO subsidiary EXMIBAL complicit in grave human rights violations against opponents of the mining project, including threats and assassinations. Prominent lawyers involved with an ad hoc commission established in 1970 in Guatemala City to investigate and oppose the mining concessions granted to EXMIBAL were promptly attacked and killed.

Local leaders struggling for their communities’ lands were also targets for persecution and repression during the 36 years of armed conflict that left an estimated 250,000 people dead or disappeared. In each place, there were stories to tell about the leaders murdered in previous decades.

In La Paz, residents remembered relatives and neighbors from Santa Maria who had gone to the municipal office in the town of Panzos to participate in a peaceful demonstration for indigenous land rights in the region. Among the hundreds killed in the infamous Panzos massacre in 1978, they never came home. The beginning of the 1980s saw other community members killed or forcibly detained because of their involvement in the land struggle.

Lote 8 elders recalled a meeting of some hundred people at the site nearly three decades ago. Community leader Apolonio Tux Rax left the meeting to go into the town of Panzos to get copies of documents related to Lote 8’s struggle for their land. The elders explained that he went to the municipality, but company security agents surrounded the building and detained him. He never came home.

The next day, residents of nearby Lagartos informed Lote 8 that they had seen a strangled body float by down the river, matching the description of the missing community leader. When other Lote 8 organizers went to Panzos to inquire about the whereabouts of their leader, they were met with silence.

“The only thing they said was that they knew nothing and that nothing had happened,” they recalled.

Engraved in Our Minds: What Our Grandparents Told Us

Back in Barrio Revolución, the storm subsided and community elders and leaders began to share their own stories while preparing the materials for the ceremony. Barrio Revolución itself is the missing piece of Chichipate, the former surrounded on three sides by the territory of the latter. The community cemetery, at least 80 years old, lies within Barrio Revolución.

“It stayed when they removed us from here,” explained elder Santiago, who was born in Barrio Revolución. His own son, a leader in the local land struggle, was murdered in 1981. The murder of Pablo Bac Caal was one of the cases documented by the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification.

“Pablo Bac gave his life for the community of Chichipate… We want to take that example,” said Alfredo Ical, a leader in Barrio Revolución. “Years ago, our grandparents engaged in a struggle to obtain this little piece of land.”

“We carry engraved in our minds what our grandparents told us,” said Ical.

“They explained that this land belongs to Chichipate,” related Tomas Chub, also a community leader. “It does not belong to [Skye Resources subsidiary] CGN, nor to the EXMIBAL company.”

Community accounts narrated a history involving the gradual encroachment by INCO subsidiary EXMIBAL onto the Chichipate lands that are now being recuperated, the eviction of families and the destruction of their crops. Never used for mining activities, the lands were controlled for decades by the company, which granted their use to cattle ranchers.

“The EXMIBAL company killed poor people over land,” said Chub. “They took lands away from the poor people of Chichipate.”

He explained that now, with the new company, “what they’re doing is the same.”

Fenix: Rising up from the Ashes of Repression

Vancouver-based mining company Skye Resources was essentially created in order to take over the Fenix nickel project when the 40-year mining concession granted to INCO subsidiary EXMIBAL back in 1965 was approaching its expiry date. Skye Resources operates through its subsidiary, the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), which claims on its website that it “has nothing to do with the old EXMIBAL.”

Despite the company’s attempt to distance itself from the past, the links between EXMIBAL/INCO and CGN/Skye are numerous. Skye Resources CEO Ian Austin himself is a former executive of INCO, which has since become CVRD-Inco. The latter has retained rights to receive payments from Skye based on future production at Fenix and will also market any finished nickel products. Another important element revealing the corporate connection is the fact that Inco is a major investor in Skye, holding almost 9% of the company’s shares.

The publicly funded Canada Pension Plan is another shareholder in Skye Resources, with roughly $8 million invested in the company. The dominant player in the global mining industry, Canada funds and promotes Canadian mining corporations and the industry in general. The Canadian Embassy in Guatemala has been denounced on various occasions for its active role in promoting mining despite concerns regarding indigenous, environmental and human rights.

In the Fenix project, however, the Guatemalan government itself is also a direct participant, through its 7% ownership of CGN. Thus, the company has had no trouble obtaining the appropriate permits. By January 2006, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) had already approved the Environmental Impact Assessment related to actual mining activities. The exploitation license—for almost 250 square kilometres—was then granted to Skye/CGN in April 2006.

Earlier this year, on June 7, Skye announced that its Guatemalan subsidiary CGN had received official approvals for the four Environmental Impact Assessments related to the processing plant. More recently, in a July 3 press release, Skye announced that it had received the construction permit, the last remaining permit required to break ground at the plant for the Fenix project.

In July, it was announced that a resolution by the Ministry of the Economy (#843, dated June 25, in file #487-2007) had determined that Skye subsidiary CGN would receive tax exemptions due to the company’s classification under the Law for the Promotion and Development of Export and Maquila Activities (Decree #29-89). This classification allows the mining company to import materials and equipment duty-free and also exempts CGN from paying value-added tax.

While on paper things have been moving forward for the company, the future is much less clear not only for the evicted families who continue to rebuild, but also for many other indigenous communities in the hills above.

“This primarily is a land issue that is separate from the project,” remarked Skye Resources CEO Ian Austin when asked about the recent evictions and land conflicts at the company’s annual shareholders‚ meeting this past May 17. According to Austin, none of the land where evictions have taken place contains mineral desposits, although “some of it is of use to the project, such as housing.”

The forced evictions took place on lands for which controversial mining company property claims and in some cases third-party property titles overlap with the collective rights claimed by the indigenous population. The actual mineral deposits, however, are elsewhere. According to the local indigenous rights organization Defensoría Q’eqchi‚, an estimated 90% of the nickel lies under lands that in no way belong to the company, but to farmers, ranchers and some of the indigenous villages up above Cahaboncito and Chichipate. The majority of the 16 communities located on top of the nickel deposits are staunchly opposed to any and all mining activities and have, in some cases, carried out direct actions against the company.

Skye Resources has repeatedly claimed that the company has carried out “extensive consultation activities” and that the project has a “very high level” of community support. However, ever since Skye has resuscitated the project, local indigenous residents have denounced the fact that no consultations ever took place, in violation of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, to which Guatemala is a signatory. The ILO itself accepted a petition regarding the total lack of consultations, filed in 2005 by a Guatemalan workers’ confederation.

We Want Peace, Not Evictions

“The Peace Accords are not being carried out now,” asserted Alfredo Ical back in Barrio Revolución. “We are very worried. They offer us evictions. They offer us deceit. That is what we feel.”

These collective feelings were prevalent when the ceremony got underway towards midnight, as the residents of Barrio Revolución gathered around the offerings burning in the fire lit by community elders. A cacophony of prayers poured out into the night, flowing in each of the four cardinal directions. Among the tears and voices of anguish, rage and hope, certain words in Spanish cut through the Q’eqchi‚ over and over: Police. Soldiers. Eviction. Mining company…

Barrio Revolución and the other communities will not soon forget the series of evictions carried out on November 12, 2006, and the first two weeks of January 2007. Tear gas was fired at unarmed groups of women, men and children. Company employees burnt homes to the ground. In November, no eviction order was presented, while in January one order was used to evict several communities. Soldiers were involved, contravening the Peace Accords, which prohibit Army participation in internal policing activities.

The evictions are not the only thing worrying local residents. Leaders in La Paz expressed deep concern over reports that Skye/CGN has a list with the names of 27 community leaders in the area, including their own. Given the long history of persecution that has accompanied nickel interests in the region, they feel that they have cause for concern. In fact, over the past few years, activists working with the regional environmental organization Association of Friends of Lake Izabal (ASALI) and the indigenous rights organization Defensoría Q’eqchi‚ have received numerous threats.

Dialogue established between community and company representatives after the evictions in January fell apart after some six encounters in Puerto Barrios facilitated by the bishop in the region. No record of the meetings was permitted, nor did the company ever reveal to the community representatives the land deeds it claims to own. The latter grew tired with the proceedings and the lack of any positive outcome. They explained that the company has made many promises—jobs, electricity, houses, animals—but that their struggle has a clear objective: “We want the land.”

A Better Future?

Only a few days after the ceremony in Barrio Revolución, reports were confirmed of yet another round of evictions, scheduled to be carried out on August 9—the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, no less. In the end, whether for political reasons or public relations interests, Guatemalan governmental authorities and Skye Resources suspended the evictions—for now. Instead, the company decided to establish yet another round of dialogue, with professional facilitators.

It remains unclear, however, how even professional facilitators will manage to reconcile the two disparate worlds and the development they envision for this region of eastern Guatemala. On the one hand, indigenous communities continue their struggle for their rights to live on and from the land. On the other, a foreign mining company advances its business plan to extract metals from the land and turn a profit. In fact, Skye Resources may not be the only one with such a plan; Canadian mining company Nichromet and Australian mining giant BHP Billiton have enormous exploration licenses in the region.

“What we can do is try to offer a better future,” said Skye Resources CEO Ian Austin at the May 17 shareholders meeting. “They need to move beyond subsistence farming.”

“The work that we need is farming,” clarified Tomás Chub of Barrio Revolución. “Just like everyone says, it would be better if the company would just leave.”

Today, rain has washed through the ashes that remained from the ceremony in Barrio Revolución. The community continues to rebuild, home by home. Some 75 families have been cultivating the land and soon the corn will be ready to harvest.

“We know that there are many here who call us invaders, but we are not invading the land. We are recuperating the land that belongs to us,” explains Ical. “We are engaged in this struggle for the well-being of our families.”

“Barrio Revolución continues the struggle.”

———

Sandra Cuffe wrote this article after leading a Rights Action educational-activist delegation in Guatemala, including visits to mining-affected communities.

This article ran Aug. 22 on Upside Down World
http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/860/1/

It also appears on the Rights Action site:
http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Guatemela_Land_821.html

See also:

GUATEMALA: MINERAL CARTEL EVICTS KEKCHI MAYA
Security Forces Burn Peasant Settlements for Canadian Nickel Firm
by Bill Weinberg, Indian Country Today
WW4 REPORT, February 2007
/node/3117

From our weblog:

Two dead in Guatemala riots
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 27, 2007
/node/4354

—————————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingGUATEMALA: MAYA RECLAIM LAND FROM MINERAL CARTEL 

BOLIVIA: END OF THE NEW SOCIAL PACT?

Fears of “Civil War” as Constituent Assembly Deadlocks

by Federico Fuentes, Green Left Weekly

Having come out of an intense period of political confrontation, including the biggest mobilization in Bolivia’s history, this landlocked country situated in the heart of rebellious South America seems on the verge of plunging into a new phase of open conflict. At the center of this is the country’s Constituent Assembly—a central plank of Bolivia’s cultural and democratic revolution, led by the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales—which was convened over a year ago with the goal of achieving a new social pact between Bolivia’s conflicting sectors and drafting a new constitution that would for the first time include the country’s indigenous majority.

Both sides of the political line now openly talk about the possibility of the closure of the assembly, which has already passed its initial Aug. 6 deadline to present a new draft constitution without a single article having been approved. Outside the assembly, in the streets of Sucre, the number of pickets and people on hunger strike continues to grow. Protests by locals in Sucre continue to radicalize, angered by the assembly’s vote to leave out any debate over where the capital of Bolivia should be.

On Aug. 22, the ABI news service reported that “mobilizations in Sucre, spilled over this Wednesday into acts of vandalism, persecution of constituent delegates, attacks against houses, looting of union headquarters, destruction of media installations, and physical aggressions against journalists.” The assembly indefinitely suspended its sessions due to the lack of any guarantees for the safety of delegates. While Sucre is the historic capital of Bolivia, ever since the 1899 civil war La Paz has been the country’s political capital. The cries for the return of the capital to Sucre, stoked by the right-wing opposition to the Morales government, have raised tensions across Bolivia and revived fears of another “civil war.”

The previous day, brawling broke out in Bolivia’s congress following moves by Morales’s party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), to elect new members to the Constitutional Tribune and replace the current judges—aligned with the neoliberal right—who had suspended four members of the Supreme Court legally appointed by Morales at the end of last year. MAS. pushed through its agenda in the chamber of deputies, without the presence of the opposition. The vote now must go to the opposition-controlled senate.

Responding to the increased threats to the process of change the country is undergoing, Maximo Romero, a cocalero (coca-grower) leader from the Chapare region, was quoted by ABI on Aug. 20: “If some sectors, political parties and others, do not allow the Constituent Assembly to advance, it will be necessary for the social organizations to organize ourselves, and we will respond to the provocations by surrounding Sucre” in order to “defend the continuity of the assembly.”

Romero’s comments came as the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba—Bolivia’s chief cocalero organization, where Morales began his political career in the ’80s—began to mobilize 7,000 cocaleros to march on Sucre. Other campesino groups, including the Union Confederation of Campesinos of Bolivia (CSCB), will join them. The ABI article quoted CSCB relations secretary Rosendo Mita declaring that “whether they [the opposition] want it or not, the assembly will continue its work until December.”

“They [the right-wing opposition] are calling for violence. If we don’t resolve this via consensus, it has to be resolved via violence,” said Bolivia’s Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. “Those that don’t want the assembly are proposing violence.”

Warning of the impact of the impending mobilizations of the cocaleros and campesinos, first vice president of the Constituent Assembly Roberto Aguilar said, “We are searching for channels of dialogue to impede confrontation.”

On Aug. 22 Garcia Linera was quoted by ABI as saying: “To wear down the old powers will cost a lot, it will be conflictive, the population needs to be conscious of this, and the best way to defend the continuity of the process of change is through democratic mobilization to back this transformation and to put an end to the history of these old elites, of their old privileges, of their old shameful quotas, so that they never return to the country.”

Troubles in the Constituent Assembly

Since convening on Aug. 6, 2005, the Constituent Assembly has been plagued by confrontations as a re-emergent opposition—organized out of the city of Santa Cruz in the east of Bolivia and which has at its core the Santa Cruz elite, gas transnationals, large agribusiness, and the United States embassy—has attempted to derail the process of change.

Aiming to mobilize the white, middle-class sectors in opposition to Morales’s indigenous revolution and defend their economic power, these elites have raised the banner of departmental (regional) autonomy as a way of shielding themselves from the measures taken by Morales’s government.

By blocking any steps forward by the national government, particularly in the Constituent Assembly, they hope to sow disillusion and pave the way for their return to government. These same interests, which never wanted the Constituent Assembly, have been working from within it and from without to ensure it fails.

For the first eight months, the assembly was deadlocked over rules of procedure and debate, with the opposition demanding a two-thirds majority for all votes as a way to prevent the possibility of any radical measures being introduced into the new constitution.

Once this was won, a combination of factors soon acted to again stall the process. First, when voting began within the assembly’s 21 commissions over what report to present to the assembly as a whole, MAS. maneuvered in a few of the key commissions so that, in alliance with some smaller parties, it could essentially present both the majority and minority report and lock out the right.

Threatening to walk out of the assembly, the right wing retreated to its trenches in Bolivia’s east. On July 2, the anniversary of a national referendum on departmental autonomy, the opposition in Santa Cruz launched its proposed statutes for autonomy, warning that the eastern half of the country would reject any constitution that did not incorporate its proposals.

At the same time, almost out of nowhere, the demand for the return of the capital to Sucre emerged. The protests, which began in Sucre, were supported by the opposition so as to create a diversionary debate and heighten tensions. It also saw it in its interest to have the capital closer to the east and away from the combative social movements predominately based in the country’s west. In response, around 1.5 million people mobilized in La Paz on July 20 to defend its position as the capital.

As the Aug. 6 deadline continued to draw closer, a debate opened up as to who had the power to extend the assembly’s mandate. Given the opposition’s majority in the senate, allowing it to block any extension, the ultra-right separatist wing of the Santa Cruz elite began to raise fears of MAS imposing its own constitution against the will of the “half moon” (Bolivia’s four eastern states—Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija) and forcing the country into a “civil war.”

The specter of an indigenous-military parade scheduled to occur in Santa Cruz the day after the assembly’s deadline, with the legendary “Red Ponchos” (Aymara militants with a long history of armed resistance) marching side by side with the armed forces in heart of the east, was used to conjure up the threat of “indigenous revenge” against the region. Meanwhile, more and more evidence emerged of the movement of illegal arms into the hands of right-wing militias in the east.

From One Challenge to the Next

Only at the last minute did the Bolivian congress vote to extend the Constituent Assembly deadline until Dec. 14. Then, on Aug. 7, rather than the prophesied “racial revenge” and threats of clashes, thousands flocked to view the indigenous-military parade.

Venezuela’s El Nacional reported the following day that during his speech at the parade, Morales stated: “The presence of the armed forces and indigenous peoples is in no way a provocation against anyone, it is so that all of us can get to know each other. We are united with the social movements to take forward the cultural revolution and the process of change within democracy.”

Sending a clear message to Santa Cruz’s ultra-right separatists, Gen. Wilfredo Vargas, chief of the armed forces, was quoted as saying: “Today the institutionality of the country is threatened by abominable enemies who are not in agreement with our development and independence.” The general added that Bolivia’s armed forces “are always alert in order to confront the enemies of the homeland.”

However, protests continued over the issue of the capital, and the east continued to maintain its threat to boycott the assembly and reject any constitution that does not enshrine the version of departmental autonomy pushed by the elite.

The groundwork for a future confrontation has already been laid.

At stake with the question of the extension of the assembly’s deadline was the possibility that, needing to produce a constitution in a few days, the assembly would end up with a majority report from MAS, supported by the indigenous and social movements, and a minority report from the opposition. The aim of the opposition would then have been to get a majority for its draft in the east and demonstrate in practice the “validity” of the concept of “two Bolivias,” triggering a possible disintegration of the country.

While that threat was averted, the pact agreed to by all the parties—including MAS and the opposition—in order to facilitate the extension may have created a minefield for assembly delegates. According to the agreement, once the deadline is over, those articles where a two-thirds majority could not be reached in the assembly will be put to a national referendum. Those that are supported by voters will then go back to the assembly and be incorporated into the draft constitution. The draft would then, in turn, go to a national referendum.

This could create a number of future problems for MAS. First, the whole process could take up to the end of next year, increasing the possibility of general discontent with constitutional reform as a whole. While the polls still show a large majority support the assembly, the opposition’s campaign of stalling has had an impact.

Secondly, the opposition may be able to present its “alternative” constitution, in the form of numerous key articles that will go to the first referendum. It will undoubtedly be aiming to win a majority in the east for these articles. In fact, the process may act as an incentive for the right to not seek any consensus and instead to test the strength of the two camps in the referendum.

Bolivia’s Future

Lastly, as MAS constituent delegate Raul Prada pointed out to Erbol radio station on Aug. 4, the law to extend the deadline means that “the Constituent Assembly has been converted into an appendix of the congress and lost all its originario character.” This pact has demonstrated in practice that the Constituent Assembly, despite all the discussion over whether it is originario—that is, above the current constituted state bodies—is for now subordinated to the constituted powers. This is undoubtedly part of the reason why MAS is intent on electing new judges to the Constitutional Tribunal.

Bolivia’s mainstream media portrays the pact as a decisive step by MAS toward the center of politics and away from the radical left and indigenous movements, playing on divisions that have begun to emerge.

However, faced with a growing polarization, an emergent right with a real base in the east, transnationals that continue to oppose nationalization of the country’s significant gas reserves, the presence of American troops over the border in Paraguay and the very real threat of the disintegration of Bolivia, attempting to reach pacts in order to buy time and build up forces for future confrontations may be a sensible move by MAS.

Moreover, it is necessary for MAS to avoid unnecessary and premature confrontation. Part of the political struggle is projecting a viable and convincing course to defend the territorial integrity of Bolivia and overall social stability. These issues weigh heavily on the minds of middle-class elements and on important sections of the armed forces. They add weight to the need to concentrate on widening the scope of political struggle against the right.

The right, well aware of this, resorts to provocations, street violence and threats to defy constitutional authority wherever it senses it has the strength to do so.

This is why the government has been quick to charge that those who are in favor of closing the assembly are in favor of violence and are actually acting against the call for autonomy—because departmental autonomy can only be agreed to within the framework of the assembly.

Nevertheless, Argentine journalist Pablo Stefanoni, a former adviser to Morales, warned in an article in Pulso of a current policy of “unfocused pactism” being pushed by MAS—seeking pacts at all cost—which could send the Constituent Assembly to “the cemetery,” or produce a constitution that suits neither the social movements nor the Santa Cruz elite.

For Prada, it seems that only two exits to the current situation exist: conclude working in an honorable way within the rules of the game, or definitively kick over the table and search for new conditions, breaking with the constituted powers. Either way, MAS will need to continue to mobilize Bolivia’s poor majority, centered around the country’s powerful indigenous and campesino movements, behind a firm defense of indigenous self-determination and national integrity against imperialism, and against the separatist Santa Cruz oligarchy. The actions of MAS and the social movements up until now, and the renewed calls for mobilization emanating from the heart of MAS—the cocaleros—are, on the whole, signs for optimism in this dangerous battle for Bolivia’s future.

——

This story first appeared Aug. 27 Green Left Weekly, New South Wales, Australia
http://www.greenleft.org.au/2007/722/37494

See also:

BOLIVIA: STREET HEAT FOR NATIONALIZATION
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
WW4 REPORT, March 2007
/node/3264

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN BOLIVIA
Between Electoral Theater and Revolution
by Ben Dangl, Upside Down World
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 2006
/node/2261

From our weblog:

Bolivia: massive march for national unity
WW4 REPORT, July 23, 2007
/node/4254

——————-

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingBOLIVIA: END OF THE NEW SOCIAL PACT? 

MAURITANIA: WILL NEW ANTI-SLAVERY LAW BE ENOUGH?

from IRIN

The Mauritanian government must take additional measures to ensure a new law criminalizing slavery has an effect, human rights activists say.

“The new law is a very positive first step. It is only a first step though,” said Romana Cacchioli, Africa Program Coordinator for the British nongovernmental pressure group, Anti-Slavery International. “We don’t eradicate slavery just by introducing a law.”

On Aug. 8, Mauritania’s National Assembly unanimously adopted a law criminalizing slavery, which continues to exist in Mauritania in both traditional and contemporary forms. The law, passed by the Senate on Aug. 22, makes slavery punishable by 5-10 years in prison. It marks the first time in Mauritanian history that slaveholders have been sanctioned.

However, in the wake of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on Aug. 23, local and international organizations are calling on the government to do more to give the law real meaning for the estimated half million slaves in Mauritania.

“Accompanying measures are necessary so that this law is not forgotten-so that it actually contributes to the emancipation of former slaves,” said Mamadou Moctar Sarr, executive secretary of the forum of national human rights organizations in Mauritania.

“It’s not too soon to start talking about the next steps that should be taken,” said Julia Harrington of the Open Society Justice Initiative, an international program for law reform. “The existing law is not really going to be effective all by itself,” she told IRIN from Nouakchott, where she was meeting with NGO’s to discuss how best they could lobby the government.

Other Steps Are Necessary

NGO.s are asking for a monitoring and implementation mechanism that would apply the law, investigate allegations of slavery, mediate the release of slaves, and award compensation.

“The passage of this law is incredibly important and symbolic, but there’s still a lack of clarity about what its practical effect is going to be,” Harrington said.

As it stands now, victims of slavery must take their complaints to the police, “who probably don’t have the mentality and definitely don’t have the resources to implement the law.” She said victims also need the legal right to take their masters to court in a civil suit, a provision that was not included in the law.

The NGOs insist former slaves need social and economic reintegration projects if they are to be truly free. They want the government to set up welcome centers for slaves who leave their masters and give them access to land and income-generating activities.

“Even if they are no longer slaves, as long as there is financial dependency, they will never be totally free,” said Sarr, of the forum of Mauritanian human rights organizations.

Another key demand is free education for children of slave descent. “All these people need to know their rights, so that they know that they are whole persons who should be proud of themselves,” Sarr added.

The groups say an awareness campaign is essential to spread the news that slavery is a criminal offence, and that it has been deemed incompatible with Islam. Mauritania is West Africa’s only Islamic republic. According to Cacchioli, religious leaders have promised to talk about the abolition of slavery in their sermons.

The groups are also pushing for a comprehensive law against discrimination, which would address the relationship between slavery and discrimination. “Many of the legacies of slavery are around discrimination,” Cacchioli added, noting some people of slave descent have been prevented from owning land, accessing water, and running in elections.

Longstanding Practice

Slavery has existed for centuries in Mauritania, a Sahelian country that falls geographically and culturally between Arab North Africa and black sub-Saharan Africa. The enslavement of the black Arabic speakers (Haratines) is not limited to the upper class white Moores (Berber-Arabs) but also exists among black Africans, mostly of the Halpulaar and Soninké ethnic groups.

Prevalence of the internationally banned practice is hard to quantify. One estimate by the Open Society Justice Initiative places the number of slaves and former slaves at 20 percent of the population – or about 500,000 people – but the organization says the numbers are impossible to confirm. According to most estimates, the Haratine cast-slaves, former slaves, or the descendants of slaves-make up between 40-50 percent of the Mauritanian population, although the government has not officially released results from the last census.

Forms of slavery in Mauritania range from people who live independently but cannot get married without their master’s permission to people who “don’t get a single bit of food unless it comes from their master’s hands, spend their lives looking after their masters, and get beaten every day,” according to the Justice Initiative’s Harrington.

Shift in Attitudes

NGOs say that despite its shortcomings, the new law marks a huge shift in government attitude. Slavery was banned in Mauritania in 1981, but previous governments always denied the practice existed and the subject remained taboo.

“This law is a recognition that the practice exists,” said Boubacar Messaoud, president of SOS-Esclaves, the local NGO that led the push for an anti-slavery law.

All NGOs contacted by IRIN said they believed Mauritania’s first democratically elected government-elected in March 2007-was sincere in its promise to eradicate slavery and would take their requests seriously.

“We are optimistic,” Messaoud said. “And we will continue to push for these accompanying measures until one day we get them because they are the solution to the problem.”

———

This story was first run Aug. 24 by the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a United Nations news service
http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=73936

RESOURCES:

Anti-Slavery International
http://www.antislavery.org/

Open Society Justice Initiative
http://www.justiceinitiative.org/

Mauritanian Human Rights Watch
http://www.almarsad.org/

SOS-Escalves
http://www.sosesclaves.org/

See also:

FROM DARFUR TO MAURITANIA
The African Liberation Forces of Mauritania Speak
On Slavery and Genocide in the Sahel
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT, October 2006
/node/2572

From our weblog:

Mauritania to repatriate 20,000 refugees?
WW4 REPORT, June 23, 2007
/node/4111

—————————-

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingMAURITANIA: WILL NEW ANTI-SLAVERY LAW BE ENOUGH? 

YEMEN: THE NEXT QUAGMIRE

Washington’s New Terror War Flashpoint?

by Mohamed Al-Azaki

MARIB, Yemen – “After the Spaniards, who will be next to die in this vibrant, ‘living museum,’ as Yemenis call their country?” So asked one member of a group of Italian tourists leaving Yemen after the horrible attack.

It is a dreadful question after the al-Qaeda car bomb attack detonated near the Sun Temple archeological site in Marib province, some 150 km east of the capital Sana’a, killing eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis on July 2.

There have been no arrests in the case, and a $76,000 reward offered by President Ali Abdullah Saleh for any information about those responsible for the attack is still valid. Exactly one month after the attack, Yemen’s Interior Ministry published photographs of 10 men it said were involved in the attack.

The photographs of the suspects appeared in the military newspaper 26 September, which reported that the Interior Ministry identified the bomber as Abdo Saad Rahiqa—who is said to have carried out the attack with the help of five Yemenis, a Saudi Arabian and an Egyptian national.

“It was almost a revenge story for the killing of their senior al-Qaeda operative, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harthi,” says a security official in Marib, who declined to provide any further details because of the sensitivity of the situation. Al-Harthi was a suspect in the USS Cole bombing that his car was attacked in Marib by a Hellfire missile launched from an unmanned Predator drone in November 2002

Yemen’s oil and gas industry—tiny by global standards but the source of two thirds of Yemen’s GDP—was also attacked last September. The attacks on the state-owned refinery at Safer in Marib, and Canadian-owned storage facility at Athubah in Hadhramout, left a security guard and the four attackers dead.

An al-Qaeda message at the time of the attacks warned that they were “only the first spark” and that future operations would be “severe and bitter.” Now it has turned its sights on the tourism industry, the second arm of the national economy and the source of a third of Yemen’s GDP.

“Al-Qaeda group vows to turn Yemen into a ‘quagmire’ for the West and US in particular, due to the Yemen’s alliance with the US-led war on terrorism that targeted Islam, as they see it,” says Abdul-Elah Shayiee, Yemeni specialist in terrorism affairs at the state-owned SABA news agency.

Could Yemen follow on the heels of Afghanistan and Iraq as the third major venue in the war on terrorism?

Thirty-six suspects are on trial in the capital Sana’a, accused of forming an “al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula-Yemen.” Accused of involvement in the oil facility attacks, they have pleaded not guilty, saying they were tortured by security forces and forced to sign false confessions.

This swathe of ancient Arabia—a magical mix of green mountains and deserts and cloud-high villages where time often seems to stand still—has become a “living museum” where tourists are escorted by soldiers dressed in white robes, combat jackets and checkered head clothes. They often demand tourists give them money for buying qat—“hag-al-qat” in Yemeni dialect—a mildly narcotic leaf which is chewed by the majority of Yemeni adults near the end of every day across the country.

Travel roads are dotted with checkpoints controlled by soldiers—or by tribesmen with a proclivity for abducting foreigners to pressure the government into providing better services or to secure the release of jailed relatives. Usually hostages are treated like honored guests and released unharmed, but in 1998, four Westerners were killed during a botched rescue attempt.

A former German government minister, his wife and three children were kidnapped in Yemen in December 2005. Five Italian tourists were kidnapped in Yemen in January 2006 and then released. In all these cases, the hostages were released unharmed. But even a very short news story on the abducting of Western tourists in Yemen is enough to erase the efforts of several years of investment and tourism promotions.

Extreme patience is required for a tour outside the capital to Marib, the most important archeological zone, where the Queen of Sheba once ruled over an empire of myrrh and frankincense. Tribes in Marib have had a strained relationship with central government for decades.

The local economy has suffered since the July attacks. “Everything went upside down,” says Ahmed Salim, owner of a tourism company in Marib. “Tourism is the backbone of economy here, but the challenge is how to get the trust of tourists over again.”

Yemen has been trying to make the Queen of Sheba temple, known for its imposing columns marking the entrance, a major tourist attraction following its recent renovation.

Yemen is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world, its locales referenced in the Old Testament and Koran. According to Yemen’s folklore, Sana’a was built by the eldest son of Prophet Noah, Shem or Sam in Arabic; it may also have been the town of Azal referenced in the book of Zechariah. To this day, Sana’a is locally nicknamed “Sam City.”

About 150 kilometers east of Sana’a, Marib was the capital of Sheba, or Saba, the mightiest kingdom of ancient Arabia, and the most famous archaeological site in modern Yemen. Islam’s holy book, the Koran, in a chapter called “The City of Saba,” describes the Sheba kingdom this way: “There was indeed a sign for Sheba in their dwelling place: Two gardens on the right hand and the left (as who should say): Eat of the provision of your Lord and render thanks to Him. A fair land and an indulgent Lord!” (Surah 34:15)

The Bible talks about a visit made by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon in Jerusalem, where she took with her camels bearing spices, gold and precious stones. “Never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon,” according to 1 Kings 10.

In Old Marib, now deserted on top of a small hill, mud-brick buildings built by local tribespeople sit among the remains of the ancient city. A few kilometers away are the remnants of the throne and Mahram Bilqis (Temple of Bilqis)—Bilqis being the name given to the Queen of Saba in the later stories in the Islamic tradition. Not far away lies what remains of the famous old dam of Bilqis, which was built in the 8th century BC and stood for well over 1,000 years.

But uncomfortable relations between the government and the Marib tribes on one hand, and al-Qaeda’s deadly threats on the other stand as a barrier against the exploitation of these wonders.

Marib, home to four powerful tribes with more than 70 branches, has earned a reputation for being lawless—and, more recently, a hotbed of support for al-Qaeda and related militant networks.

“In Marib, the hotels are not the perfect places to relax,” says one of soldiers in yellow and brown camouflage fatiguestationed at the gate of a main hotel. “If the hotel was left unguarded, tribesmen could easily grab tourists from their beds, or maybe al-Qaeda comes to blow it up.”

———

Mohamed Al-Azaki is a Yemeni independent journalist and researcher on Islamic militants at the Saba Center for Political and Strategic Studies based in Sana’a, Yemen.

RESOURCES:

Yemeni court charges 35 suspects over oil attacks
Reuters, March 4, 2007
http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSL04670927

See also:

YEMEN: ON THE BRINK OF SECTARIAN WAR
Shi’ite Insurgency in Washington’s Strategic Red Sea Ally
by Mohamed Al-Azaki
WW4 REPORT, April 2007
/node/3491

From our weblog:

Al-Qaeda behind Yemen suicide blast?
WW4 REPORT, July 4, 2007
/node/4173

From our archives:

US citizen dead in CIA hit an al-Qaeda in Yemen?
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 11, 2007
/static/59.html#elsewhere1

—————————-

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingYEMEN: THE NEXT QUAGMIRE 

Issue #. 136. August 2007

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog COLOMBIA’S PARAMILITARY PARADOX Far-Right Militias Survive “Peace Process” and “Para-Politics” Scandal by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT COLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS from Weekly News Update on the Americas IRAN: THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST CASE AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER… Read moreIssue #. 136. August 2007

COLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

The latest headlines from Colombia focus on the ups and downs of the “peace process” with the ultra-right paramilitary network. Talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have—on paper, at least—led to the “demobilization” of some 30,000 paramilitary fighters, and the uncovering of several mass graves where AUC had dumped its victims. Meanwhile, high-ranking figures in President Alvaro Uribe’s administration have been sacked—and even imprisoned—for their ties to the paramilitaries. Yet despite these developments, all too little seems to have changed on the ground in Colombia’s violence-torn countryside. Weekly News Update on the Americas provides this round-up of recent atrocities by paramilitaries—and points to their continued collaboration with elements of the official security forces.

Paramilitaries Kill Five Near Bogotá

At 1:30 AM on July 1, about eight heavily armed members of a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group, dressed in camouflage and wearing ski masks, arrived in a pickup truck in the municipality of Viota, just two hours from Bogotá in Cundinamarca department. The paramilitaries entered a public establishment known as El Tigre, where 70 people were celebrating father’s day, and shot five people to death, including a 14-year-old boy. A 10-year-old boy was seriously wounded.

The paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare has been active in Cundinamarca department since 2003, and has carried out numerous selective murders and forced disappearances in Viota. Most of the victims have been community leaders or people active in social or campesino organizations. This past Jan. 5, the National Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s office charged Col. Rodrigo Alfonso Gonzalez Medina, Maj. Alexander Lizarazo Parra and Maj. Alejandro Robayo Rodriguez, who served in the Air-Transported Battalion Colombia 28 in 2003, with crimes including multiple aggravated homicide, forced displacement, aggravated kidnapping, forced disappearance and terrorism. As part of the same case, the attorney general’s office ordered the investigation of Capt. Mauricio Arbelaez for similar crimes and charged four other men as members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare. Nine bodies have been uncovered in Viota, but hundreds of other victims remain disappeared. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 2)

Army-Para Collaboration in Meta Terror?

On June 28, soldiers from the Bacna Battalion of the Colombian army’s Mobile Brigade No. 4 entered the farm of campesino Bertulfo Reyes in the rural community of Palmar in Vista Hermosa municipality, in the lower Ariari region of Meta department. Reyes was away; he had taken his wife to the doctor’s office. The soldiers stayed in the house for three days, and stole and destroyed many of the family’s personal items, according to a complaint sent to the Notimundo agency by the Human Rights Commission. When Reyes returned to the home, the soldiers had gone, but left behind a message reading: “Don’t hide, we came for you, your destiny is to die at our hands: Battalion Bacna.”

On June 29, in the rural community of La Victoria, in Puerto Rico municipality, Meta department, soldiers from the army’s Joaquin Paris Battalion stopped several campesinos who were coming from La Cascada community in Puerto Concordia municipality. Among the soldiers was a paramilitary known as “Pantera,” who told the campesinos: “Greetings to the guerrillas Cachirre and the others from the FARC’s 44th front,” referring to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “Pantera” also referred in a threatening tone to campesino Edilberto Daza Bejarano, human rights coordinator of the zone and member of the Human Rights Commission of La Victoria. “Pantera” said of Daza: “we’re going to cut that son of a bitch’s head off, because he’s a informer.”

On June 30, a phone message was left with an operator in the town of Santo Domingo, Meta department, for Jaime Ortega, coordinator of the town’s Human Rights Commission, telling him: “Don’t be an informant, son of a bitch guerrilla helper, very soon we’re coming for you.”

On July 1, at 2 PM, three paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothing boarded a canoe ferry transporting passengers on the Ariari river from Puerto Rico to the rural community of Chispas. They violently seized rural worker Oscar Camelo, one of the passengers, and forced the ferry’s operator to continue without him. Camelo has not been heard from since.

“All this takes place in a context of re-engineering of the paramilitary strategy, which combines disarmament processes with the creation of new paramilitary structures like the so-called ‘Black Eagles’ [Aguilas Negras],” said Hector Hugo Torres of the Human Rights Commission. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 3)

Army Murders More Campesinos

On June 27, Colombian soldiers publicly displayed the body of campesino Cruz Aldelio Brand at the Nueva Granada Battalion base in Barrancabermeja, Norte de Santander department, claiming he was a “guerrilla killed in combat.” Cruz Aldelio was the president of the Communal Action Board of the rural community of La Union, in Yondo municipality, Antioquia department. He had been missing since June 25, when he left to take part in a community road repair project. (Asociacion Campesina del Valle del Rio Cimitarra-ACVC, June 27 via Agencia Prensa Rural)

On May 26, soldiers from the army’s 21 Vargas Battalion under the command of an officer with the last name Ferro, detained Genaro Potes, a 51-year-old campesino with mild physical and mental disabilities, as he left his brother’s home in the rural community of Campo Alegre, in El Castillo municipality, Meta department, and headed on horseback for a meeting about property taxes in the community of Puerto Esperanza. Witnesses say the soldiers tied up Potes in a cacao plantation next to the community’s school and accused him of being a guerrilla. The soldiers interrogated another campesino who was passing by, and asked if he knew Potes. The campesino said he did know him, as an honest worker. On May 27, residents of Puerto Esperanza saw soldiers take Potes’ body in a military truck to Granada municipality in Meta. On May 28, a local radio station reported that the army had killed a guerrilla in an armed clash in El Castillo.

Commander Perez of the 21 Vargas Brigade repeatedly identified Potes as a guerrilla and obstructed his family from recognizing and claiming the body, arguing that Potes had no identification. His family says Potes left his house with his personal identification documents as well as the titles relating to his farm. Potes was easily recognized in the community by his mild disability, caused by childhood polio, which gave him a distinctive off-balance walk. (Statement from Movimiento Nacional de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado, Corporacion Claretiana Norman Perez Bello & Comite de Solidaridad con Presos Politicos, May 3 via dhcolombia.info]

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 8

———

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

From our weblog:

Colombia: soldiers arrested in killing spree
WW4 REPORT, June 12, 2007
/node/4058

Colombia: new armed groups profilerate —despite para “demobilization”
WW4 REPORT, May 16, 2007
/node/3863

—————————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS 

COLOMBIA’S PARAMILITARY PARADOX

Far-Right Militias Survive “Peace Process” and “Para-Politics” Scandal

by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT

On July 24, Colombia’s imprisoned paramilitary warlords announced they were cutting off cooperation with prosecutors investigating massacres and other atrocities—throwing into question the country’s peace process. The move was taken to protest the July 11 ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice that paramilitary fighters and “parapoliticos” (politicians who collaborate with the paras) are not automatically charged with “sedition”—meaning politically motivated violence, carrying reduced penalties under the legislation establishing the peace process.

“With this decision the reconstruction of the historical truth, the handing over of mass graves and other legal obligations assumed under the peace pact are frozen,” said Antonio López, once-commander of Medellin’s feared Bloque Cacique Nutibara and now appointed spokesman for the imprisoned warlords. “We can’t allow our fighters to be treated like common criminals.” López said he was speaking for some 30 top commanders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and 30 other mid-level commanders, being held at Itagüí maximum security prison outside Medellin.

The ruling came in the case of Orlando Cesar Caballero, an Antioquia AUC commander accused of arms smuggling and other crimes. The court’s decision denies him benefits such as a maximum eight-year sentence in exchange for renouncing violence and confessing crimes to special prosecutors.

“To accept that instead of criminal conspiracy, paramilitary members committed treason not only supposes they acted with altruistic aims for the collective good, but also flaunts the rights of victims and society to obtain justice and truth,” the court wrote.

President Alvaro Uribe also protested ruling, asserting that “if the sedition of the guerilla is recognized, the sedition of the same elements paramilitarismo should be recognized, and if the sedition of paramilitarismo is denied, the sedition of the guerilla should be denied for the same reasons.”

Administration Shaken by Para-Scandal

However, the “sedition of the guerilla” is only recognized theoretically, as Uribe has never re-established talks with Colombia’s left-wing insurgents. In fact, it was his hardline anti-guerilla creds that allowed him to bring the AUC into a peace process.

The peace process has officially led to the disarmament of some 31,000 paramilitary fighters, and the exhumation of several mass graves earlier this year, mostly in the Putumayo rainforest region along the Ecuador border. But it has not yet secured reparations for the AUC’s victims, or won major confessions from the 60 imprisoned warlords.

Ironically, Uribe—the man who was able to effect the AUC’s official “demobilization”—has simultaneously seen his administration rocked by a scandal over links to the outlawed paramilitaries.

On July 7, Jorge Noguera, former chief of Colombia’s secret police, was arrested on charges of paramilitary collaboration—for the second time. Noguera, freed from prison three months earlier due to procedural errors, was ordered detained again by Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Mario Iguaran. He is accused of providing the paras with information that led to several slayings.

Noguera, who ran Colombia’s Administrative Security Department (DAS) from 2002 to 2005, was but the closest Uribe ally to be imprisoned in the co-called “para-politics” scandal.

Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo stepped down Feb. 19, four days after the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the arrest of her brother Senator Alvaro Araujo, and 12 other legislators for their ties to the AUC. The court also called for an investigation into the suspected paramilitary activities of Araujo’s father, Alvaro Araujo Noguera, including the kidnapping and extortion of a businessman.

In early May, imprisoned AUC jefe Salvatore Mancuso fingered the vice president, defense minister and top Colombian businessmen as collaborators in an explosive judicial hearing. He also said the paramilitaries were aided by top army brass in training and logistics. Uribe told national radio that he had “every confidence in the honesty and moral fiber” of Vice President Francisco Santos and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.

National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro and his intelligence boss Gen. Guillermo Chaves were forced to retire May 14 following claims that agents illegally tapped calls of opposition political figures, journalists and members of the government. The scandal broke when news-weekly Semana reported the interception of phone conversations revealing that the imprisoned warlords continued to operate their networks from behind bars. The scandal was dubbed the “Colombian Watergate.”

Colombia’s lower house voted overwhelmingly May 23 to request President Alvaro Uribe “immediately remove for incompetence” Sergio Caramagna, head of the OAS peace mission in the country, responsible for overseeing the “safe haven” established for demobilizing AUC fighters at Santa Fe de Ralito, in Cordoba department. José Castro Caycedo, the legislator who sponsored the resolution, told the Associated Press that paramilitaries made a mockery of the peace talks by “holding orgies on the negotiating table.” The resolution followed press reports that paras held all-night, whiskey-fueled orgies with high-class prostitutes, football stars and famous Mexican mariachi bands. The revelations were based on transcripts of phone conversations between paramilitary bosses and several madams published by Semana.

Corporate Connection Emerges

Captains of industry in the US as well as Colombia have been touched by the scandal.

In June, advocates for the families of 173 people murdered in the banana-growing regions of northern Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brands International, in US District Court in Washington, DC. The families allege that Chiquita paid millions of dollars to the AUC. “This is a landmark case, maybe the biggest terrorism case in history,” said attorney Terry Collingsworth. “In terms of casualties, it’s the size of three World Trade Center attacks.” Collingsworth has filed similar suits against Coca Cola, Drummond, and Nestle for the targeted killings of union leaders by the AUC.

The case began with an investigation by the US Justice Department, which filed criminal charges in March. Chiquita admitted the truth of the charges, and agreed to cooperate in the DOJ’s ongoing investigation. Although Chiquita got off with a $25 million dollar fine and no prison time for executives‚ their admissions set the stage for the multi-billion dollar lawsuit.

“Chiquita’s victims are living in dire poverty,” said Paul Wolf, co-counsel in the case, who met with victims’ groups at shanty towns in northern Colombia where terrorized families have sought refuge. “Reparations can’t bring back the dead, but there are a lot of widows and orphans with no means of support. Most of them have fled their homes, and don’t know where their next meal will come from,” said Wolf.

Also in June, a lawyer for the United Steelworkers asked the US State Department to investigate AUC infiltration of Uribe’s first electoral campaign, based on a video showing then-candidate Uribe meeting with a group that included a man identified as Frenio Sánchez Carreño, AKA “Comandante Esteban”—AUC chief for the violence-torn oil city of Barrancabermeja. The footage was apparently taken at a 2001 campaign stop outside the city. In a statement to Miami’s Nuevo Herald, Uribe’s office replied to questions about the video: “I beg you to abstain from making malevolent insinuations.”

“This video raises grave concerns about the interconnection between the AUC and the Uribe campaign, and quite possibly, the current Uribe administration,” United Steelworkers attorney Daniel Kovalik wrote in his letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It stands to reason that Mr. Uribe must have known that he was meeting with members of the AUC, including ‘Comandante Esteban,’ given his broad notoriety.”

Kovalik represents relatives of three employees of the Alabama-based Drummond coal company murdered by paramilitaries in 2001, who have filed a civil suit against the company. Kovalik wrote in his letter that he obtained the video during his investigation for the suit, but could not reveal the source for reasons of security.

Aid, Trade Deal Threatened

As the scandals mounted, Congressional Democrats proposed unprecedented amendments to the Bush administration’s annual foreign aid appropriations request for Colombia. If the Democrats prevail, overall funding will be cut by 10%, while 45% of the total package will be devoted to economic and humanitarian aid, the remainder to the military. While this still means the majority of the aid would go to the military, it represents the most significant reduction since Plan Colombia was launched under the Clinton administration.

Even if the aid cuts go through, Colombia is “expected to get an additional $150 million in purely military and police assistance through a separate appropriation in the defense budget bill,” the Houston Chronicle reported June 7. But years of activist pressure on Congress does appear to be finally bearing fruit.

“The Uribe government’s support of the paramilitary preserves a situation of misery, exploitation and exclusion, which, on a daily basis, tramples upon labor rights and robs the Colombian people of freedom,” wrote Jorge Enrique Gamboa, President of the Colombian Oil Workers Union (USO) in a letter to the US Congress in February. Up to 77 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2006, and many more were threatened, attacked or kidnapped. Even the. State Department’s annual human rights report on Colombia found: “Violence against union members and antiunion discrimination discouraged workers from joining unions and engaging in trade union activities, and the number of unions and union members continued to decline.”

The AFL-CIO reports that more than 400 unionists have been murdered since Uribe took office in 2002, with only seven convictions. Of the 236 murdered from 2004 to 2006, there has been only one conviction, according to AFL-CIO figures.

The para scandal is also taking a toll on another lynchpin of Bush’s strategy for Latin America: a free trade pact with Bogotá—already passed by Colombia’s congress, and seen as a step towards an Andean Free Trade Agreement. “You cannot put together a free-trade agreement when there isn’t freedom for workers in terms of their basic international rights,” Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, told the Washington Post in April.

When Uribe was in Washington the following month to petition for the deal (and continued economic and military aid), he was dressed down by Democratic lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: “Many of us expressed our growing concerns about the serious allegations of connections between illegal paramilitary forces and a number of high-ranking Colombian officials.”

Pelosi’s statement failed to actually mention the pending trade agreement. And a statement from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) included an implicit promise of capitulation. “It is possible we can work out something” to address the concerns of US lawmakers, Rangel told reporters.

“We are going to find a way to get Colombia passed. It is very important,” Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) would tell the press in July. But his statement revealed that real obstacles had emerged. Some House Democrats want a vote delayed for one to two years to see if Colombia has reduced violence against unionists and brought more killers to justice. Pressure from labor groups prompted Pelosi and senior Democrats to say they could not support the agreement until Colombia has shown “concrete evidence of sustained results on the ground.”

Uribe reacted bitterly to the Congressional humiliation. In a June 30 press release, he protested that he’s no “Somoza” (US puppet dictator), and that Colombia is no “banana republic” (rather an ironic assertion in light of the Chiquita revelations). He claimed many of the dead unionists were killed in “proven vendettas and clashes between the guerrilla bands of FARC and ELN.”

He had some especially strong words for Congress: “US congressmen forgot that they were actually addressing a sovereign allied republic and not a puppet nation… We are not going to allow our relationship with the United States to become that of Master and Colombia as the servile republic.”

The Struggle for Narco-Power

While Uribe has barred extradition of AUC figures to face drug charges in the US in the interests of the “peace process,” two members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were tried in Washington federal courts this year: Sonia (Anayibe Rojas), charged with drug trafficking, and Simón Trinidad (Ricardo Palmera), accused of kidnapping. Uribe and Bush alike were clearly hoping convictions would demonstrate the “narco-terrorist” nature of the FARC.

Sonia was convicted in February, but Trinidad had to be tried twice for the same crime, after a hung jury in November 2006. Even the second time, the jury had difficulty reaching a verdict, and asked Judge Royce Lamberth to declare a mistrial. In a bizarre compromise, Trinidad was convicted of conspiring to kidnap three US military contractors, but mistrial was declared for the charges of actually kidnapping them, or of providing material support to the FARC.

Meanwhile, the para-scandal was revealing the AUC’s narco-corruption in no uncertain terms. The New York Times July 28 ran a profile of imprisoned AUC top commander Salvatore Mancuso, who openly admitted to drug trafficking to finance his operations, ostensibly because the guerillas were doing so. “I could not lose the war,” Mancuso said. “We have a narco-economy. We are a narco-society.”

“New Generation” Paramilitaries

In May, a special report from the International Crisis Group, which monitors the Colombian conflict, warned that despite the supposed AUC demobilization, there is “growing evidence that new armed groups are emerging that are more than the simple ‘criminal gangs’ that the government describes. Some of them are increasingly acting as the next generation of paramilitaries…”

Citing data from the OAS Peace Support Mission in Colombia, the report, “Colombia’s New Armed Groups,” found: “These new groups do not yet have the AUC’s organisation, reach and power. Their numbers are disputed but even the lowest count, from the police and the OAS mission, of some 3,000 is disturbing, and civil society groups estimate up to triple that figure.” The report especially cited the New Generation Organization in southern Narino department, and the Black Eagles in Norte de Santander.

Colombia’s paramilitaries have been, perhaps, downsized by the demobilization process and para-scandal—but by no means broken. The real question is whether the ties to official power have really been cut, and rogue elements are now sustained entirely by cocaine profits. Or, is there a shadow play at work—with Uribe, Mancuso and their collaborators in the security forces and private sector alike quietly running the new generation of right-wing terrorists?

———

RESOURCES:

Simon Trinidad Convicted of Conspiracy to Take Hostages
ANNCOL, July 11
http://www.anncol.org/uk/site/doc.php?id=295

Uribe press release, June 30
translated by Publius Pundit
http://publiuspundit.com/2007/07/colombias_president_responds_t.php

See related story, this issue:

COLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
/node/4287

See also:

AUTOPSY OF A NARCO-GUERILLA
Justice Department Scores One Against the FARC
by Paul Wolf
WW4 REPORT #131, March 2007
/node/3262

COLOMBIA: THE PARAS & THE OIL CARTEL
State Terror and the Struggle for Ecopetrol
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007
/node/2975

From our weblog:

Colombia: para commanders break off peace process
WW4 REPORT, July 28, 2007
/node/4277

Congress to cut Colombia military aid?
WW4 REPORT, June 29, 2007
/node/4143

Democrats dress down Colombia’s Uribe —sort of
WW4 REPORT, May 5, 2007
/node/3763

—————————-

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA’S PARAMILITARY PARADOX 

Dear WW4 REPORT Readers:

As you read this, I am flying to Japan at the invitation of the National Assembly for Peace & Democracy (Zenko) to attend a second conference in solidarity with Iraq’s civil resistance, and especially the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC). Our readers will know that the IFC is a coalition of trade unions, women’s organizations and neighborhood assemblies which have come together around two demands: an end to the occupation, and a secular state. Despite the best of my efforts to excite stateside interest in this civil resistance struggle, WW4 REPORT is one of the few sources of information in English on the IFC.

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We have a few more copies left than we thought of our last pamphlet series, “Iraq’s Civil Resistance Speaks: Interviews with the Secular Left Opposition, Part 1 & 2.” (We’d also made them available as premiums to WBAI Radio, and they need fewer than expected.) So we are offering them—for the last time—for a minimum donation of $10 each ($20 for the pair).

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WORLD WAR 4 REPORT

Aug. 1, 2006

Continue ReadingDear WW4 REPORT Readers: