BETWEEN DYNCORP AND THE A.U.C: Glyphosate and Paramilitary Terror in Colombia’s Cimitarra Valley

by Bill Weinberg

Leaving Barrancabermeja in a canoa — a small launch with an outboard motor — the perilous patchwork of armed groups that vie for control of Colombia’s Medio Magdalena region becomes immediately obvious. Navy gunboats painted in camo line the shore along the huge oil refinery that looms over the Rio Magdalena. Just a few minutes later, a little past the edge of the city, paramilitary checkpoints on either bank survey the river traffic. They don’t stop our boat because we are flying the flag of Peace Brigades International from the bow, and the paras like to give foreign human rights observers a wide berth. There are practically no suburbs — just past the para checkpoint we find ourselves in an endless expanse of wetlands and jungle broken only by the most primitive of campesino settlements. Herons laze on the green banks as we make our way north to the Rio Cimitarra — a tributary of the Magdalena where coca growers, paras and guerillas have all staked their turf.

I’ve come to this remote and conflicted region with a commission from the Colombian rights group Humanidades Vigentes, accompanied by two representatives of the Peace Brigades for our protection. We spend a mosquito-haunted night at Puerto Machete, the little riverside settlement where the canoa drops us off. Then it is a four-hour hike along an unimproved dirt road and jungle trails to our destination: the little campesino vereda (settlement) of La Floresta. The last hour on the trail seems endless. We wade streams, sink knee-deep into mud, crawl under barbed-wire fences, climb and descend hill after hill. When a campesino from La Floresta passes us on his mule, I ask hopefully "Falta mucho?" (Is it much further?) He nods gravely and answers "Si, siempre." Yes, always.

Poison from the Skies, Fear on the Land

There is no electricity in La Floresta, and no running water. The only sign of any government presence is in the form of destroyed land.

Our commission has come to document the impact of aerial glyphosate fumigation of the settlement’s lands to wipe out coca crops. The impacts are obvious as soon as we arrive. Marina Salguero, the official health promoter for Floresta and nearby settlements, who is licensed by the local municipal government of Cantagallo, maintains an extremely makeshift clinic in a little hilltop hut. A thin old man with big rash on his leg sits in the hut with a penicillin IV in his arm. His skin irritation, a result of being caught in his fields when the fumigation overflight swooped down, has become infected, Salguero says.

"I get cases like this all the time," she says. "Children with head pain, vomiting, diaorrhea, skin irritation. Every time the planes come." She points out a stretch of land on a nearby hill glaringly brown and dead in the green landscape — the result of the last fumigation, 15 days earlier. The brown stretch is right beside to a house. "Their home, their kitchen was fumigated. Their crops all destroyed–maize, platano, yucca."

Salguero admits that coca is grown at La Floresta — "just to have a little money," she says. "You saw how bad the road is here." She notes that having to haul out legal crops on the road–followed by a river trip to nearest town, with paras sometimes stealing whatever goods the campesinos carry — means the cost of getting crops to market eats virtually all profits. In contrast, men come to the vereda to buy the coca and carry it out themselves.

"We are completely abandoned by the government here–municipal, departmental, national," Salguero protests. "What alternative do we have? I’m responsible for three veredas, and I don’t even have a thermometer."

On this recently-settled agricultural frontier, where land is cleared from the rainforest with no oversight, the campesinos have no ability to interact with the bureaucracy for credit or aid. "Here the land is not titled," says Salguero. "Everyone has his predio (plot) and works it."

When the campesinos take us on a tour of the vereda, showing us the plots which have been destroyed by fumigation flights, they all tell same story — legal food crops and forest destroyed along with the coca bushes. They pull up the dead stalks of yucca, killed before they could be harvested. They claim over 100 chickens have been killed by glyphosate spraying in the village since first fumigation flights in 2001. Sometimes it is clear that the legal crops were destroyed because they were planted amid coca crops. Sometimes it looks as if the glyphosate drifted, or was sprayed wildly wide of its target. Everywhere it is clear that the spraying is degrading these hard-won lands not only by direct poisoning, but by destroying the plant cover the holds down the soil, leading to erosion and muddy streams.

The fumigation flights, carried out by planes from the private firm Dyncorp under contract to the US State Department, are accompanied by up to seven helicopters from the Colombian army or National Police. They take off from airport in Barrancabermeja. Army ground troops also come to burn down coca paste labs from time to time, or to search for guerillas. The campesinos complain that the troops demand mules for transport and chickens for food without compensation.

But it is the paramilitaries from the Central Bolivar Bloc (BCB) of the notorious Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) that have a far tighter grip on the community, and demand periodic payments of war taxes. The campesinos show us a document from the BCB’s local "Frente Conquistadores of Yondo" ordering the president of Floresta’s peasant council, the Junta de Accion Comunal, to show up in paramilitary-controlled Yondo town on Sept. 7 to make a "declaration" about production on their lands for taxes to the outlaw army. The campesinos also pay taxes to the guerillas — "Whoever has guns," says Uriel Nieto, a member of the peasant council.

La Floresta is one of several communities that make up the Cimitarra Valley Campesino Association (ACVC), which has been pressuring for a better deal for the marginal region since it was founded in 1996. Yondo’s mayor Saul Rodriguez calls ACVC a front for the guerillas. "Itâ€ss a lie," says Uriel. "We work as a community, not as an arm of the guerilla."

Government Targets Campesino Activists, Not Paras

In 1998, following a series of cross-country marches and other protest campaigns, the ACVC worked out plan for the "Integral Development and Protection of Human Rights in the Magdalena Medio." The plan was drawn up with the allied Federation of Agricultural Workers and Miners of Southern Bolivar (Fedeagromisbol), an alliance of campesinos and small-scale gold miners in the Sierra San Lucas who have been increasingly pushed out of the region by corporate gold interests in recent years. The plan was conceived as an alternative to government plans to forcibly eradicate coca in the region. The ACVC argued that with government investment in the region and a crackdown on paras, the campesinos could wean themselves off the coca economy.

Things have worked out differently. A special army unit called the Bloque de Busqueda, or Search Bloc, was formed specifically to target the paras, but never accomplished much. And since President Alvaro Uribe came to power last year, the paras have increased their hold on the region — while the ACVC itself has been the target of a crackdown.

Since March of this year, ACVC leaders Gilberto Guerra and Andres Gil have been wanted on "rebellion" charges related to past protest campaigns and alleged collaboration with the guerillas. They are currently in hiding. Says Miguel Cifuentes, secretary of the ACVC’s governing junta: "There are paras and assassins in the prisons. They are worth more alive than dead."

Cifuentes denies that the ACVC has ever collaborated with the guerillas. "This is part of the Uribe government strategy to debilitate the movement," he says. "They use denunciations in the press, charges against us — and when that fails, they try to kill us."

Cifuentes speaks from experience. On March 4, days before charges brought against Guerra and Gil, Cifuentes was on the Rio Magdalena on his way to the Cimitarra Valley, when he was the target of an assassination attempt. He was just 15 minutes past the Navy presence at Barrancabermeja when paras opened fire on his canoa from their shoreline checkpoint. Cifuentes was only on the river because he had been given bad information that there was no para checkpoint up that day. "I knew if we stopped they’d kill me," he says. His finger was grazed by a bullet, and his cellular radio hit, but he managed to get away to a nearby island, where he hid for 12 hours — at one point, while paras searched the island for him with flashlights. Local human rights workers finally rescued him. He has not ventured back into the Cimitarra Valley since, but helps staff the ACVC’s office in Barrancabermeja.

Laboratory of the Counter-Reform

The Medio Magdalena region, which includes the Cimitarra Valley and straddles the departments of Antioquia. Santander, Cesar and Bolivar, has ironically been dubbed by the Colombian government and foreign aid agencies a "Laboratory of Peace." The program includes a European Union-backed proposal to promote African palm oil as an alternative crop and a spur to economic development in the region. Cifuentes opposes the African palm proposal as a technocratic pseudo-solution. "It is a monoculture, and it displaces traditional crops, worsening the food crisis in region and increasing campesino debt," he says.

Jorge Enrique Gomez is Medio Magdalena regional chief of the Defensoria del Pueblo, an official human rights watchdog created by Colombia’s 1991 constitutional reform. He has been at his post since February 2002, when he returned to the Medio Magdalena alter ten years in exile in El Salvador and Guatemala. He fled Colombia after receiving death threats for his work documenting local human rights abuses with CREDHOS, the Barrancabermeja-based non-governmental watchdog. Gomez believes that as long as fumigation continues, no alternative crop program will make much difference.

"To fumigate licit crops is a bad investment and a mixed message to the campesinos," he says. "Cultivation of illicit crops is a result of the lack of any government presence in the zone. Fumigations affect the poorest sector of the populace." He argues that the fumigations are not only counter-productive, but illegal.

"Itâ€ss the position of the Defensoria del Pueblo that the fumigations are against international humanitarian law. Article 93 of the Colombian constitution recognizes the Geneva Conventions and other international codes. So the fumigations are also illegal under Colombian law." He cites the Defensoria’s Resolution 026-02, issued in response to fumigations in Putumayo department, which officially found the program illegal. He acknowledges that the Defensoria’s resolutions are nonbinding, but says they have "moral power."

The ACVC’s 1998 accord with the government was supposed to instate a more meaningful alternative development program. The accord, signed by Gil and Guerra with President Andres Pastrana, established the Cimitarra Valley as a "Campesino Reserve Zone," or ZRC, where small holdings are protected by law, and large holdings or latifundios are banned. The ZRC proposal set maximum holdings based on 72-hectare Family Agricultural Units, with no more than three allowed in a single private holding within the Zone. The Cimitarra ZRC, which covered the municipalities of Remedios and Yondo in Antioquia and San Pablo and Cantagallo in Bolivar, was officially declared in December 2002, in accordance with the 1998 accord. It was one of five declared throughout Colombia, with the other four in Meta and Guaviare departments. But in April 2003, the Cimitarra ZRC was eliminated by official decree of the Colombian National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCORA), on the grounds it was exacerbating conflict in the region.

The INCORA decree disbanding zone, Resolution 046-03, was protested by dissident members of INCORA’s governing junta, who sent a letter to the body arguing that overturning the ZRC was illegal. INCORA was a semi-democratic body, with junta members representing campesinos elected via the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC) and the National Federation of Agriculture (FANAL); members representing Indians elected via the Colombian Indigenous Organization (ONIC); members representing Afro-Colombians elected via the Process of Black Communities (PCN); and members representing women elected via National Association of Campesino, Black and Indigenous Women (ANMUCIC). But the majority on the INCORA junta–representing government agricultural agencies and the landed elite (via the National Ranchers Federation, or FEDEGAN, and the Colombian Farmers Society, or SAC)–voted in favor of overturning the Cimitarra ZRC.

In May, shortly after the vote, INCORA, established in the 1960s, was officially dissolved by President Uribe. It has been replaced by the Colombian National Institute of Rural Development (INCODER), which is charged with titling colonized lands, rather than land redistribution. Campesino organizations charge that the bureaucratic change is the final nail in the coffin of Colombia’s tentative agrarian reform measures.

Big ranches in Yondo municipality which existed before the ZRC was declared are still intact. Under the ZRC, they were supposed to be bought by the government and redistributed to campesinos — but they never were before the ZRC was overturned. ACVC’s Miguel Cifuentes claims these ranches both launder narco profits and serve as a base of support for paramilitary activity.

"We developed our own plan for a sustainable economic alternative," says Cifuentes. "We called for roads, schools, hospitals, mills for sugar and rice, local cooperatives to exploit fish and timber, so the campesinos can take their product directly to the market without intermediaries. We called for rational exploitation of gold that doesn’t pollute the water. These solutions could work. But there is no political will to provide the resources. The region means nothing to those in power."

(August 27, 2003)

Continue ReadingBETWEEN DYNCORP AND THE A.U.C: Glyphosate and Paramilitary Terror in Colombia’s Cimitarra Valley 

BARRANCABERMEJA

Paramilitary Terror and the Struggle for Colombia’s Oil


by Bill Weinberg

For over two months now, Colombia’s most important oil refinery, at the tropical river port of Barrancabermeja, in central Santander department, has be en under occupation by the military. The army’s Energy and Transport Battalion No. 7 — created in 1995 ostensibly to protect oil infrastructure from guerilla attack–took control of the refinery in late June, following protests by the oil workers themselves. It was not wages or benefits which were at issue, but the future of the state-owned Colombian Petroleum Company, or Ecopetrol, which runs the facility.

Represented by the Syndicated Workers Union (USO), the refinery employees launched a permanent vigil at the plant gates to protest the lock-out of unionized workers and military seizure of the plant. They were dispersed days later by National Police troops, who fired tear gas and water cannons, sparking days of street fighting. The confrontation came days after Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe signed a decree reorganizing Ecopetrol and the nation’s oil industry.

Says Juan Carlos Galvis, Barrancabermeja president of the Central Workers Union (CUT), Colombia’s main labor federation, which covers the USO oil workers: "Uribe’s reform was a blow to the heart of the company. This is setting the groundwork for privatization. We could compete on a global level with the multinationals. But the state has no commitment to investing in Ecopetrol. Uribe follows the mandates of the International Monetary Fund, and is paving the way for the FTAA. He can’t admit this because it would be seen as a surrender of national sovereignty. But his agenda is to deliver national resources to foreign capital. It is savage capitalism, without a human face."

And Galvis says that this agenda is enforced in Barrancabermeja not only by the official security forces of the army, navy and National Police, but by the unofficial ultra-right paramilitaries — who have an invisible but near-total control over Colombia’s central oil town.


Petrol and the Paramilitaries: A "Totalitarian Agenda"

Galvis should know. Since he started receiving death threats in 2001 — mostly delivered through friends, neighbors and relatives by "para" operatives in civilian clothes — Galvis has had a personal round-the-clock bodyguard contracted by the Administrative Security Department (DAS), Colombia’s equivalent of the FBI. On August 22, Galvis was leaving the office of Barrancabermeja’s municipal workers union shortly after noon. He got into his car with his two bodyguards. As they were passing a local school, two men on a motorbike jack-knifed in front of the car, and pulled pistols. The bodyguards called out "DAS!" The aggressors opened fire, the body guards returned fire with their Uzis, and the gunmen fled. "It only lasted a few seconds, but bullets were flying, and right outside a school," says Galvis. "We’re lucky nobody was hurt."

Others haven’t been so lucky. Barrancabermeja’s former mayor Julio Cesar Ardila has been in hiding since June, when he was charged with murder of radio journalist Juan Emeterio Rivas who accused him of corruption and links paramilitary violence. Invited to a party April 6 where he was ambushed, seven youths who accompanied Rivas were also killed as "collateral damage." An interim mayor is now in power.

Galvis says that last year the young daughter of William Mendoza, president of the local of the food workers un ion, SINALTRAINAL, representing workers a t the Barrancabermeja Coca-Cola plant, was the target of attempted kidnapping. Galvis also works at the Coke plant, where unionists have long received death threats from the "paras."

"The paras do whatever they want here in Barranca," says Galvis. "They have the political power. They have the economic power." He cites a thriving black market in gasoline pirated by paramilitaries from the refinery with the connivance of authorities. The Aug. 26 headline in the daily Vanguardia Liberal of nearby Bucaramanga boasted of a big crackdown on a para gasoline pirating operation, with much petrol recovered by the National Police — but failed to note any arrests. Galvis also says the paras are funded by their control of local cocaine producti on and by big cattle ranches in the broad valley of the Rio Magdalena, where Barrancabermeja is situated.

The paramilitary campaign against organized labor in Barancabermeja really began with the 1988 murder of Manuel Chacon, a now-legendary USO leader at the refinery. Nobody was ever arrested for the assassination, but Barrancabermeja’s Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), founded one year earlier by church and union members, blames the killing on a shadowy group known as the Red Armada 07 — Navy Network 07, the last two digits being a reference to the "license to kill." According to CREDHOS, the Colombian Navy, whose First Brigade patrols the Rio Magdalena from Barrancabermeja, cooperated and overlapped with loca l paramilitary forces in the 07 network.

CREDHOS accuses Col. Rodrigo Quinones, who was sacked from the Navy in 2002, of having overseen the 07 network. As director of Naval Intelligence in the early 1990’s, Quinones was fingered by Colombian prosecutor s as mastermind of a paramilitary network responsible for the killings of 57 unionists, human rights workers and members of the leftist Patriotic Union. In 1994, Col. Quinones and seven others were charged with "conspiring t o form or collabora te with armed groups." But Quinones was acquitted after the main witness against him was killed in a maximum security prison and the case was moved from a civilian court to a military tribunal.

CREDHOS claims the Quinones network also collaborated with paramilitaries in the February 2000 El Salado massacre, in which 300 para troops shot up a local village, killing over 30, including women and children, and forcing the rest to flee. Also attributed to the former colonel is the M ay 16, 1998 massacre in B arrio El Campin and Mariaeugenia, two working-class Barrancabermeja neighborhoods. Paras entered the barrios in trucks, killed seven, and took 25 captive — their whereabouts remain a mystery. There have been no arrests in the case. Several military and National Police troops were investigated–and cleared. More charges against para members are still outstanding, but they are on the lam–presumably somewhere in the sprawling ranches and jungles of the Medio Magdalena region. Violence against USO members has continued after Quinones’ fall from grace. On March 25, 2002, Rafael Jaimes Torra, treasurer of the Barrancabermeja USO local, was assassinated as he left his home in the Galan district. His nephew, who was with him at the time, was also seriously wounded.

CREDHOS, which has lost seven members to assassinations since the organization was founded, says that 8,000 have been forced to flee Barrancabermeja (pop. 300,000) since 2001. But homicides in the city have dropped from 546 in 2000 to 117 in 2002. "The reduced level of terror reflects the fact that the paras are now maintaining control, implementing their totalitarian project," says CREDHOS investigator Ademir Luna.


National Campaign to Defend Ecopetrol



The unionized workers remained locked out at the refinery for several weeks, despite protests even from the Bishop of Barrancabermeja, Jaime Preito Amaya. A lock-out and days of street violence also followed a one-day strike on February 19 of this year. There is no real resolution in sight — because the workers are pitted against President Uribe’s entire energy policy. Says Hecor Vaca, secretary of energy issues for USO and a system engineer for Ecopetrol: "We are waging a national campaign to defend Ecopetrol as a state company."

The Barrancabermeja refinery daily turns 230,000 barrels of oil into gasoline, diesel and petrochemicals, and employs 2,000. Pipelines deliver oil to the refinery from Arauca and Cesar departments, in links branching off from the Cano-Limon pipeline that brings Occidental Petroleum’s oil from the Arauca oilfields to the Caribbean coast for export. Ecopetrol also has operations in Boyaca and Meta departments, with smaller ops in Putumayo, in the Amazon basin.

Private multinationals have a growing presence in Colombia’s oil sector. In addition to Occidental’s operations in war-town Arauca, BP is exploiting oil in Casanare. Texaco recently signed a deal to exploit natural gas on the Caribbean coast in La Guajir a department. Under Uribe’s Presidential Decree 17-60 of June 23, reorganizing Ecopetrol and Colombia’s oil sector, these foreign corporations are given a far freer hand.

Decree 17-60 created a National Hyd rocarbons Agency (ANH), taking over the former Ecopetrol functions of administrating and mapping Colombia’s petroleum resources, establishing exploration blocks, and granting contracts to foreign firms. It changed Ecopetrol from a wholly state entity with responsibility to re-inv est in Colombia to an "anonymous society" or "SA" (the Latin American equivalent of "Inc."), open to investment — although, thanks to USO pressure, only to investment from other state entities rather than the private sector. It also overturned the policy, in place since 1974, of maintaining Ecopetrol as a 50-percent investor in all foreign oil ops, with 20% of profits going into National Royalty Fund for impacted municipalities as compensation. Finally, it created a Colombian Energy Promotion Society, another SA, to promote private investment in the energy sector — not only in oil, but also gas, coal, electrical generation, et cetera. Uribe is also floating a proposal to take money from the National Royalty Fund (now invested in potable water, health, education and other local social infrastructure) to build infrastructure such as roads, rail or power lines to make energy resources more attractive to investors.

"The majority of private investment in energy sector is already foreign — from Spain, the Unit ed States, Britain," says Hector Vaca. He sees Uribe’s reorganization as "a program of globalization, at the expense of Colombia."

Since 2001, Shell Global Solutions — a subsidiary of the multinational oil giant–has had a team of technical advisors at both Barrancabermeja and Cartagena, where Ecopetrol’s second refinery is located (and which has also seen a wave of assassinations and "disappearances" of USO workers in recent years). Vaca protests the presence of the Shell team at Barrancaber meja as redundant and wasteful. "They have appropriated information and ideas from our own technicians and presented them as their own," he says. USO also opposes cost-cutting measures recommended by the Shell team as dangerous to workers.

The local rumor among Barrancabermeja oil workers is that Shell has plans to actually buy the refinery at some point in the future. Shell had oil operations in the region in the 1960s, and local campesinos still complain that a canal the company built to access remote wells altered the flow of the Rio Cimitarra, a tributary of the Magdalena, causing fish-rich wetlands to disappear.

Uribe’s ambitious plans to remake the Colombian economy extend beyond oil. On Aug. 12, a CUT-led protest and walk-out of state workers (and thousands of supporters in the private sector) brought 20,000 to Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar. At issue was the reorganization of Ecopetrol as well as Uribe’s recent liquidation of the state telecom — which resulted in 7,000 workers being laid off–and reform of the labor code. But oil remains the Colombian resource most coveted by foreign capital.

"Our fear is that little by little Ecopetrol’s functions will be turned over to the private sector and the state wil l have only a regulatory role," says Vaca. "We cannot allow that. Potable water, education, health, employment opportunities — if this is not the role of the state, what is it?"

(August 27, 2003)

Continue ReadingBARRANCABERMEJA 

STATE OF SIEGE IN ARAUCA


Indigenous Peoples, Civil Society Under Attack in Colombia’s Oil Zone

by Bill Weinberg

"When there was no petroleum, there was no war," says Dario Tulivila, a traditional Guahibo Indian leader from Colombia’s bloodily conflicted department of Arauca. "When the oil came, the war came. Before that, we had a digified life here. Our council of cabildos does not permit them to take the blood from the earth in our territories. The wealth goes to other countries, and only bri ngs war to us Colombians."

Tulivila is president of the Association of Cabildos and Traditional Indigenous Authorities of the Department of Arauca (ASCATIDAR), which was officially launched in June 2003 to promote the local autonomy of the department’s Guahibo and Uwa Indian peoples. This autonomy is ostensibly protected by provisions of Colombia’s 1991 constitution–but, ironically, since that constitution was enacted the threats to indigenous self-rule in Arauca have grown at a terrifying pace.

We are speaking at the ASCATIDAR offices in Saravena, a once-quiet farm town where now helmeted army troops lugging M-16s control the streets in intimidating numbers, routinely stopping pedestrians for searches, endlessly circling blocks in conv oys of motorcycles–or, less often, rumbling through in columns of huge, gun-turreted tanks. In the surrounding countryside, leftist guerillas of the loosely-allied Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) operate wit h a freer hand than almost anywhere else in Colombia, and attacks even within Saravena’s urban center are frequent.

Saravena is situated at the northwestern corner of Arauca, just south of the Rio Arauca, a tributary of the Orinoco that forms the border with Venezuela. The town is just east of where the forested mountains of the Cordillera Oriental slope down to the broad savannas of the Orinoco basin, once viewed by Colombia’s ruling elites as a solution to the crisis of landlessness in the cord illera. Saravena sprang up over the past 40 years, as the region was opened to peasant colonization with the official encouragement of Colombia’s government. The Uwa, who inhabit the mountain cloud forests, and the Guahibo, the indigenous people of the Or inoco plains, have learned to live with their campesino settler neighbors, even if on reduced lands. But over those same years, this land once seen as an expendable fronteir has become a top priority for the national government–as it has been targetted b y both armed guerilla groups and multinational oil companies.

"Unity, territory, autonomy and culture–if we don’t have this, we don’t have anything," Tulivila outlines the priorities of the contested zone’s indigenous peoples. "We have been main taining our traditions for over 500 yrs. We are not with the guerillas, nor the army, nor the paramilitaries. We are our own authorities."

However, making that authority real has never been more of a challenge, as the army, National Police and th e officially illegal paramilitary groups with which they seem to closely coordinate now charge nearly every organization of civil society with being a guerilla front.

Army-Paramilitary Impunity on Indigenous Land

In the latest of several round-ups of community leaders in Saravena, on Aug. 21, army troops and agents of the Administrative Security Department carried out a series of raids on homes and workplaces in the town, arresting 26 on the usual charge of "rebellion"–specifically, collaborating with the ELN guerillas, as widely reported in the Colombian press. Ismael Uncacia, a traditional Uwa leader from the resguardo (reservation) of Sinciga (actually in the moutains, in nearby Norte de Santander department), was among those appa rently taregtted for arrest. Soldiers and agents showed up at the ASCATIDAR office demanding to know his whereabouts. Uncacia, former president of ASCATIDAR’s predecessor organization, the Regional Indigenous Council of Arauca, wasn’t at the office that d ay, and remains at large.

But the greater terror comes from the completely unaccountable forces of the paramilitary groups, who operate in a shadowy network of groups with names like the Vencedores de Arauca, and seem to overlap with the official security forces in Arauca with greater bltancy than elsewhere in Colombia.

At the Guahibo resguardo of Parreros, about an hour southeast of Saravena in Tame municipality, an April 2-3 attack by paras left three dead–including a pregnant woman. Several other were raped. Most of community–some 400–fled, as well as 300 more local mestizo campesinos from the nearby village of Betoyes. The refugees mostly made for Saravena, where they were put up in town’s Cathlic Church. They only returned to the ir villages in mid-August, with army accompaniment and security guarantees negotiated by church leaders.

The attack fit the para model. The gunmen arrived at dawn on April 2, rounded up the residents at rifle-point, carried out the atrocities, an d sacked the village schoolhouse, leaving paramilitary graffiti scrawled all over the chalkboard. Adding to the chaos, guerillas attacked later that day, apparently aware that the paras had seized the village. The guerilla presence, in turn, brought in th e army. Military aircraft bombed the resguardo, destroying forest and yucca and platano crops. The following day, another man was taken from from nearby Betoyes by the paras. His mutilated body was found April 8 in Puerto Rondon, one municipality to the e ast.

There were plenty of warning signs that such atrocities were coming. On March 30, days before the attack, armed men had detained and roughed up local mestizo residents at Betoyes, accusing them of being guerilla collaborators. Witnesses were not even sure if these gunmen were army or paramilitary.

The pregnant woman who was killed, Omaira Fernandez, also had reason to believe she was targetted. Her husband, Nilson Delgado Lopez, had been killed in a similar attack in Betoyes Dec. 31, 2002.

Survivors of the April atrocities reported to ASCATIDAR and the Saravena-based Joel Sierra Regional Human Rights Committee that they recognized soldiers from Arauca’s 18th Batallion waering para armbands in the attack. The 18th Batallion’ s Col. Montoya Sanchez later told Arauca’s Radio Caracol that the refugees had fled under orders from the ELN, and that the claims of a paramilitary attack were a "manipulation of the NGO Joel Sierra."

Oil and the Geography of Terror

U ntil a few months ago, Saravena and much of the rest of Arauca were a "Zone of Rehabiliation and Consolidation," or ZRC, declared by President Alvaro Uribe, granting the army extraordinary powers. The ZRC allowed detentions and searches without judicial o rders, and required foreigners to get special permission from the military to visit the zone. The zones were the subject of much controversy in Colombia, and technically no longer exist. But Juan Carlos Torregroza of the Joel Sierra committee (which is na med for a young local leader of the National Association of Campesino Land Users who was killed by the army in 1989) says, "Nothing has really changed here. The zones were only abolished on paper."

The ZRCs were established following Uribe’s imme diate post-election Decree 18-37 of Aug. 11, 2002, declaring a state of "internal commotion" in Colombia. The decree was approved by Colombia’s congress, allowing Uribe’s Sept. 9 declaration of the ZRCs–requiring only the signatures of his cabinet member s. On Nov. 27, following a required judicial review of the extraordinary measures, the Constitutional Court, Colombia’s highest, overturned the most onerous provisions of the ZRCs–although certain provisions were left standing, such as military restricti ons on the sale of gasoline. Human rights organizations throughout Colombia filed briefs opposing the zones.

The ZRCs geographically followed the Cano-Limon pipeline that links Occidental Petroleum’s Cano-Limon oilfields in central Arauca with th e Caribbean port of Covenas in the department of Sucre. In Arauca, the ZRC covered the municipalities of Arauca and Arauquita (which the Cano-Limon field straddles) and Saravena (which the pipeline crosses). A second ZRC was declared in a cluster of munic ipalities straddling the borders of Sucre and Bolivar departments also traversed by the pipeline. The pipeline is a favorite target of the guerillas, who have repeatedly blown it up, spilling oil into the fields and forests. On Sept. 1, when I was in Sara vena, guerillas blew up a power line tower just outside the Cano-Limon complex, leaving the complex as well as the towns of Arauca (the departmental capital) and Arauquita–125,000 residents–without electricity.

Last year, a contingent of US Spe cial Forces troops arrived in Arauca to train units of the 18th Battalion in "counter-terrorism" to protect local oil infrastructure. The Mechanized Group Rebeiz Pizarro, based in Saravena (and named for a former defense minister), is also being trained b y the gringos.

In April, the ZRCs were allowed to sunset altogether. But the de facto state of siege in Arauca was in place before Uribe’s official declaration, and persists since its demise. In 2001, Arauca’s popular governor Hector Federico Gal lardo, elected on the ticket of the local grassroots Communal and Communitarian Movement, was removed from office by the national Council of State after only six months in power–on the technicality that he had briefly served as interim governor six month s earlier (a constitutional violation). Interim governors and mayors frequently find themselves in power in Arauca, as elected officials are forced to flee to Bogota or elsewhere under threat from either the paramilitaries or guerillas (or both). Gallardo was replaced by a presidentially-appointed interim governor–a recently retired army colonel. The former colonel was followed by a string of more presidentially-appointed interim governors. Even elected officials of the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) hav e been forced to resign under death threats from the FARC–as was Arauquita’s UP mayor Orlando Ardila in November 2002. The interim mayor named by the interim govenror to rule in his place was, once again, a retired army colonel.

This period of interim rule has seen a wave of nightmarish bloodshed in Arauca. The Nov. 20, 1998 massacre of five residents by paramilitaries at the mestizo village of La Cabuya, in Tame municipality, was less notable for the level of violence than for the fact that it was actually followed by arrests. Several members of army are now in prison in connection with the attack at La Cabuya, including majors and lieutenants. Last year, more than 500 were killed in Tame municipality. Jose Rusbel Lara, a member of the Joel Sie rra board and author of a 2002 human rights report on Arauca published by the Bogota-based legal collective Humanidad Vigente, was gunned down in Tame town in broad daylight on Nov. 8. He had recently petititioned Inter-American Commission of Human Right s to pressure the Colombian government for protection of Joel Sierra leaders. There have been no arrests in his case.

On June 28, 2002, reporter and director Efrain Varela of Meridiano 70 radio in Arauca town was assassinated by unknown gunmen on the road between Arauca and Cano-Limon. A former mayor of Saravena and former president of the Arauca department peace commission, he had been vocally critical of both the paramilitaries and guerillas. Numerous other reporters in Arauca–especially at th e community-run station Radio DIC–have been threatened by the paramilitaries.

In November 2002, Saravena’s interim mayor Crispulo Cacares killed by unknown gunmen. The elected mayor, Jose Trinidad Sierra, was in Bogota, having left Arauca follow ing threats from the FARC.

In 15 days in February 2003, twenty were killed at various places around Saravena. One police officer is in prison in Bogota in connection with the murders, and four civilians are also facing charges.

From Community Control to Corporate-Military Occupation

The decline of legitimate government in Arauca reflects a generalized attack on the local institutions of civil society. The 26 arrested in the August sweep include representatives of the CUT trade union federation; members of the local construction, education and municipal workers unions; a worker from the Colombian agrarian reform institute; nurses from the Saravena hospital; a reporter from community-run Radio DIH; promoters of a project to deve lop a local university for Saravena; the director of Saravena’s Casa de Cultura commuity center; three workers from the mayor’s office; and a taxi driver. Jose Murrillo, president of the Joel Sierra Regional Human Rights Committee, was detained in a local barrio, where he was meeting with the family of another man who had just been detained. Another Joel Sierra official, Ismael Pabon, and three more CUT officials remain at large, apprently under arrest orders. Those arrested are now awaiting trial in a Bo gota prison.

The previous sweep was even more harsh. Last Nov. 12, in the midst of Saravena’s annual country fair, members of the 18th Battalion and National Police rounded up several hundred people from their residences and workplaces at dawn. T hey were held for several hours in the local sports stadium, and interrogated. 43 social leaders among the detainees were arrested, including three women. They are still being held in Bogota on "rebellion" charges–allegeldy, once again, collaborating with the ELN. Local peasant leader Juan Evangelista Rocha of the National Association of Campesino Land Users is among the imprisoned. The army dubbed the sweep "Operation Heroica."

Also arrested in both sweeps–five in November and four in August–were members of the Communitarian Aqueduct and Sewer Corporation of Saravena, or ECASS. "The story of ECASS is very beautiful," says Juan Guerra, ECAAS chief of internal control, who is openly proud of the organization. ECASS, which now supplies water thr oughout Saravena’s urban center, began as a local self-help project in the 1970s, when residents came together to built an aqueduct to bring water to the young town from the Rio Sataca, several kilometers to the south.

Aracua was at this time con ceived as a "campesino zone," with a 50-hectare limit on family holdings titled by Colombia’s agrarian reform bureuacracy as campesinos settled the region from the Cordillera Oriental. The region’s economy was based on local consumption of locally-gown ri ce, yucca, beef, platano and maize. The settlers were largely left to their own devices. "There was no state presence," says Guerra. "The local population built the sewers by their own means. It all changed with the oil boom in the 1980s, when the Cano-Limon pipeline was built."

ECASS remains true to its roots, maintaining a grassroots-democratic structure. The local Junta de Accion Comunal in each of Saravena’s 37 barrios has two delegates to an Assembly of Delegates, which in turn elects seven representatives to the ECASS Junta Directiva, which also includes members from CUT, the National Association of Campesino Land Users and the Chamber of Commerce. A portion of the profits go to community aid, and the rest is re-invested. Three simialr such community water corporations also exist in rural areas of the municipality.

In July, ECASS worker Uriel Ortiz Coronado was killed in Saravena while eating at a local comedor (family-run food stall). Three others who were with him were also kille d. Witnesses said two men in civilian clothes shot them with pistols–mere moments after they had been accosted by the National Police. There have been no arrests in the case.

Other ECASS members and employees have been threatened by phone. The a rmy has detained employees at roadblocks, and accused them of giving ECASS money to the guerillas. The Fiscalia, the national government’s criminal investigative arm, is is said to be probing ECASS president Luciano Pinto for suspected links to the gueril las.

ECASS worker Rito Hernandez Porras says that in mid-August, men in civilian clothes stopped him in the streets, threatened him with death, and showed him list of ECASS workers and others targetted for death as guerilla collaborators. Another time he was detained by police, who threatened to bring in paras to kill him.

Guerra denies that ECASS has any links to the guerillas, but acknowledges that ECASS equipment is sometimes commandeered by the FARC. He says that two ECASS vehicles h ave been stolen by FARC guerillas at gunpoint in the field over past two years.

"This is a dirty war," he says. "The state is incapable of defeating the guerillas, so they attack the people."

On the night of August 31, despite (or perhap s because of) the massive army presence in Saravena’s streets, paramilitary graffiti appeared on walls throughout the town. Most read ACC-AUC HAS ARRIVED–an apparent reference to the para group Campesino Self-Defense of Casanare (the department immediate ly to the south of Arauca) and the notorious United Colombian Self-Defense Forces, grandfather of the paramilitary movement. Another graffito read DEATH TO TOADS, MILITIAS AND COLLABORATORS–toads apparently being para slang for guerilla informants. Among the buildings prominently marked with graffiti were the Joel Sierra offices, the ECASS building and (unnervingly, but probably coincidentally) the hotel where I was staying with my photographer. The graffito on the ECASS building read: FINAL SENTENCE: DEATH TO ECASS COLLABORATORS.

Fast Bucks vs. "Millennial Law"

In addittion to the Occidental oilfields at Cano-Limon (in which the Colombian state company Ecopetrol is a 50% partner), the Spanish company Respol also has an exploration block in nearby Capachos. "Oxy" also had exploration blocks on Uwa traditional lands to the west in the Cordillera Oriental of Norte de Santander department, and faced roadblocks and other organized resistance from local Uwa communities seeking to halt expansion of the oil industry from the plains to the mountains. Occidental recently abandoned the test block, citing unpromising finds. The Uwa and their international supporters in groups such as Amazon Watch claim popular pressure prompted the company to pull out.

ASCATIDAR president Dario Tulivila notes that the oil development continues to take a toll on indigenous lands and lives in Arauca, even as the war grinds on. "Cano-Limon was our territory," he says. "We had big fish there–now there ar e no fish. The oil has destroyed all the flora and fauna. The rivers are all contaminated. The forests where we gathered our medicinal plants are all gone. The rivers are all contaminated. If I cut myself and my blood flows out, I will die. It is the same with the earth."

Even on the Arauca plains, where oil is already big business, indigenous peoples are struggling to halt expansion of the infrastructure–especially a new highway linking Arauca town and the Cano-Limon fields to the main Saravena-Bogota road. To connect with Venezuelan highways to Caracas, the project has been dubbed the "Ruta de los Libertadores" because it follows Simon Bolivar’s 1819 march from Venezuela to Colombia. The Ruta is to cut through the Guahibo resguardo of Betoyes. "We will struggle to the finish to stop the highway," says Tulivila.

In contrast to the new paved Ruta, on which construction has just started, the road we take south from Saravena to the recently-built Uwa community center on the resguardo of P layas del Bojaba is rocky and poorly maintained. We pass campesinos heroically struggling on bicycles over the rocks and ruts. The landscape slowly changes from pasture and cropland to forest as we approach the mist-shrouded mountains.

Uwa leader and ASCATIDAR vice president Jose Perico Salon tells us that the campesino holdings we pass, full of grazing cattle and banana trees, were favorite Uwa hunting grounds. Just a little more than a generation ago, Uwa ventured down to these lands from their mountain resguardos to hunt deer and other "carne de monte" with traps and bows and arrows. He says that this land was titled to the Uwa by Simon Bolivar when he passed through in the liberation campaign of 1819, and that title was reconfirmed by the Col ombian government with Law 89 of 1890. A bridge over the Rio Satoca also takes us over the subterranean Cano-Limon pipeline.

Perico Salon also complains of army and paramilitary incursions onto local indigenous lands. "They can’t enter our resgua rdo without the permission of the community. But they persist in entering. They threaten us, accuse us of collaborating with the guerillas, threaten to kill us. We don’t let the guerilla enter wither, But they also come, and have threatened us at times, accuse us of talking to the soldiers. This is the problem throughout the department of Arauca."

"We always say supposed paramiliaty groups," adds Victor Chivaraquia, an Uwa elder and ASCATIDAR member. "They don’t really exist. They are a creation of the military."

At the school at the Uwa community center, the kids gather around us, smiling and eager for an impromptu English lesson. The building’s roof is of thatch in the traditional choza style, but the walls are concrete and solid. The center was recently built with aid from the Arauca departmental government. The school has five teachers, of whom two are Uwa. Education is bi-lingual, in Uwa and Spanish.

Tulivila sees this as a model for Arauca’s 28 resguardos. "We want teachers in our communities," he says. "Professionally trained, but of our own people–not strangers." He sees ASCATIDAR’s work as to ready Arauca’s indigenous communities for the 21st century while keeping centuries-old cultural traditions intact. ASCATIDAR is largely made up of "cabildos" from Arauca’s resguardos–the leaders traditionally charged with representing the communities to the outside world. The "capitanes" and "caciques," the leaders responsible for mainting internal peace in the communities, rarely leave the resguardos, he says.

Victor Chivaraquia is insistent that if my photographer and I visit the Uwa center that his words reach our readers. He makes me take notes as he speaks, and read what I have written back to him for his approval.

"Do you know what millennial law means?" Victor asks. "It means it has no beginning, and no end. It was given to us by Sira. What is the word for God in your language? We Uwa say Sira."

"The ideology of the rich is destroying the world," Victor dictates. "Who authorized the multinationals to be the owners of the black gold on indigenous land? Did Sira, Dios, give them that right? If the multinationals like Oxy, Ecopetrol and Shell keep exploiting the black gold, the earth won’t be able t o produce for us. The ideology of the Uwa is that every tree is our brother. The water is our brother. The rocks are our brothers. This is our millenial law. Because it is a chain of life, and we cannot live without every part of the chain. The police and army say that the indigenous, the protectors of the mountain, are protecting the guerilla. But we are just carrying out the responsibility that Sira gave us. The governments cannot give us another world to live in."

(Sept. 4, 2003)

Continue ReadingSTATE OF SIEGE IN ARAUCA 

WAR ON TERROR USED TO JUSTIFY LONG-TIME RACIST POLICY AGAINST HAITIANS

 Haitian refugees a "security threat" held in detention for over 10 months.

by Nirit Ben-Ari, Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT

For years, Haitian refugees detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have been reptriated upon landing at US shores–unlike Cuban refugees, who are granted political asylum automatically upon arrival. Cubans are allowed to apply for residency after one year and one day under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Media Alert, March 21)

Following the arrival by boat of 219 Haitian refugees in October 2002, a request came in March 2003 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to Attorney General John Ashcroft to block their asylum for national security reasons. The request, directed only at asylum-seekers from Haiti, keeps the refugees in detention for an indefinite period, while their claims are processed–which can take months.

Attorney General Ashcroft, in his administrative decision, said "the State Department asserts that it has noticed an increase in third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.) using Haiti as a staging point for attempted migration to the United States."

According to a State Department spokesperson, the information was based on US embassy reports in Haiti and interdiction trends at sea, but officials would not release the documents or provide details about what led officials to their conclusion. (Miami Herald, April 25)

Ninety-three of those Haitians intercepted in October were deported in the months following the Attorney’s General decision, while 32 of them remain in detention. Fifty-four have been granted political asylum; however two men are still held behind bars despite having been granted asylum by a federal judge. Immigration officials have ruled that the men should remain in detention while the government appeals the asylum ruling. Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, Inc., told WW3 REPORT it was "unprecedented" that refugees who are granted political asylum in this country remain in detention.

"America’s supposed to welcome someone who is a refugee," said Gabriel Joseph, one of the two men, from the Krome detention center in Florida. "it’s four months ago that they gave me asylum and they still keep me in prison." Rochenel Charles, the second person, said, "I got saved. I got to America. I got asylum. Why am I still in prison?" (New York Times, July 25)

On August 25, seventeen more Haitians were caught in boat off Palm Beach County. Four men and three unaccompanied minors are being held in Krome detention center, one woman is in the hospital recovering from dehydration, one woman is being held in the Work Release Center in Broward County, FLA, and two familes, of four people each, are at Krome Detention Center as well. Bastien told WW3 REPORT that her organization opposes their planned transfer to Pennsylvania because the detainees will be far away from their support system and extended familes. All of those kept in detention are subject to the Attorney General’s March administrative decision.

Bastien told WW3 REPORT that it is the first time that national security has been used to justify restrictive actions against Haitian nationalities. Before, she said, the INS used to justify its racist policies against Haitians by citing fears of mass exodus from Haiti to the United States. 9-11 provided a new excuse–namely terrorist threats to national security. "It is laughable to believe that terrorists are using shiftmade boats from Haiti packed with black refugees as a cover to sneak into the United States," Bastien said.

Humanitarian situation detoriates in Haiti

For over three years the United States and other international donors have blocked finanical aid desparately needed in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. In June, $146 million was released in loans that will be used for water, health, road and education projects. And in July, the Haitian government was granted loans of almost $220 million by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The money was held up after Haiti’s disputed legislative elections in May 2000. (Miami Herald, July 25)

Other aid is still tied up. The World Bank has pulled out of Haiti and will not resume its loan program, and the European Union terminated its 14 million-euro budget support grant in 2001, until Haiti complies with an IMF plan and reaches a political settlement. (Miami Herald, July 10)

The opposition parties and the Organization of American States (OAS) disputed the way Haiti counted the votes for seven seats in the Senate. However, on Aug. 9 the US issued a statement that if Haiti carries out its intention to hold elections this fall, the vote wouldn’t get the recognition of the United States. A day before the statement, the head of Haiti’s electoral council, Alix Lamarque, announced the country was preparing for a first round of legislative elections in November. The US disapproves of holding elections that don’t comply with an OAS-brokered agreement. (Voice of America, June 9)

Continue ReadingWAR ON TERROR USED TO JUSTIFY LONG-TIME RACIST POLICY AGAINST HAITIANS 

Global South and Anti-Corporate Activists Clinch Major Victory at Cancun WTO Summit

 



by Soren Ambrose

The fifth World Trade Organization ministerial conference has ended in Cancun, Mexico, and the measure of the organization’s worth can again be seen by the fact that for the majority of its member countries (as well as the non-governmental organizations and street protesters who plague it), the outcome–no agreement whatsoever–was precisely the greatest triumph they could have hoped for. When the day will come that governments begin to question the point of remaining in an organization they are mostly seeking to stall is an open question, but it certainly seemed to draw much closer in Cancun.

As at other international summits, Cancun had an"inside" and an "outside"–that is, opponents of the institution were to be found both in street protests and inside the meeting hall, where they attempted to counter the full-time media spinners employed by the wealthy governments. And as at the November 1999 protests in Seattle, these two forces–together with dissatisfied delegations from developing countries–all share credit for preventing the WTO from reaching an agreement. The greatest part, however, was played by the blind arrogance of the imperialist-capitalist nexus formed by the governments of the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union.

Opponents of the WTO came from at least 40 countries. The numbers were smaller than some predicted–particularly those influenced by the inflated-expectations game now a familiar part of local authorities fear-as-fundraising tactics at each "globalization" gathering. Many articles had predicted 50,000 protesters, with one or two simply doubling that number to hype it even more. But organizers in Mexico always knew that such numbers were unlikely to materialize in Cancun, which was chosen for the summit because of the difficulty of organizing protests there. Indeed, the city itself is largely a product of contemporary globalization: the year-round inhabitants are mostly internal migrants drawn by the approximately 100 resort hotels catering to foreign tourists that have popped up in the last 30 years along the beautiful Caribbean coast. The workers often receive daily wages roughly equivalent to the price charged for two 20-ounce bottles of water in the Hyatt, Marriott, or Ritz Carlton resorts, and the city of Cancun–as distinct from the 21-kilometer strip of land where the bulk of the hotels stand–is dominated by districts with limited or no public services such as water. Gazing upon huge swimming pools lined up along the Gulf of Mexico must provoke vertigo for those who commute every day from the poorest parts of Cancun.

There were probably about 10,000 people at the height of the protests, maybe a few more. And despite the worldwide call for solidarity actions on September 13 (Saturday), the peak of the protests actually came earlier, on Wednesday, September 10. That was the day reserved for the peasants and farmers, or campesinos. Among the speeches that started the day were those recorded by two prominent Zapatista leaders and played for the assembled campesinos and international activists. Commandante Esther issued a hard-hitting message that focussed on gender relations, both global and local–which is to say both within the capitalist world and the revolutionary movements like the Zapatistas. Subcommandante Marcos’s statement was a more generic welcome to activists from around the world to southern Mexico, one which put a sort of official seal of Zapatista approval on the actions in the Yucatan peninsula.

Led by Via Campesina, the international network of small-scale agricultural producers, Wednesday’s march was both spirited and somber, conscious of the gravity of the issues of agricultural subsidies, which were center-stage at summit, for small farmers around the world. A contingent of nearly 200 farmers came from South Korea, along with some members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

The march on Wednesday had several contingents. The Mexican and Latin American campesinos generally sought to avoid direct confrontation with the authorities. But Mexican students, many of them masked, were more daring. And the Korean delegation seemed the most determined of all, though the language barrier made it difficult to know exactly what was in the offing. The Koreans ended up surprising the other marchers by mounting a charge against the barricade erected some 10 kilometers from the convention center where the conference was going on. The charge–with a battering ram reported to look like a large dragon–and attempted scaling of the fence, heightened the intensity of the action. It was at that point that a Korean farmer named Lee Kyun-Hae climbed to the highest reachable point with a sign reading "WTO Kills Farmers" and stabbed himself in the chest, performing a "self-immolation," or honor suicide. Such deaths have become common among small-scale farmers in Asia, and even the US, when they find they cannot live through their farming work.

Lee’s death, which did not become general knowledge for some hours, galvanized the opponents of the WTO. Most did not know what the "proper" reaction was, but as it emerged that Lee had been dogging the WTO for several years, it became clear that this former head of a farmersâ€s union was not acting out of whim, but out of a determination formed over several years. Within the next 24 hours, he became the focal point for explaining the gravity of the issues being discussed, especially on agriculture.

Some of the campesinos came from Chiapas, which is relatively nearby. Many of them were known Zapatista sympathizers, and some of them were willing to identify themselves as such, including at an "encuentro" which was largely attended by people committed to solidarity with the Zapatista movement.

The march that was more widely publicized–Saturday’s–actually ended up being smaller than Wednesday’s, largely because most of the campesinos who had participated in the first action could not afford to stay so long in Cancun. It was, however, better organized–an expression of full solidarity between students and farmers, gringos and Mexicans. It culminated in a police barrier being taken down, but the action was largely symbolic, as the police did not intervene, and had subsequent barriers to ensure that no protesters could get close to the convention center.

The Mexican police were remarkably reserved most of the time in Cancun. They clearly had been instructed to let protesters blow off steam rather than confront them directly. Some incidents of violence did occur, however–though on several occasions it was introduced by activists throwing rocks. That inspired retaliation by the authorities, with at least 20 or so injured, and at least one taken to the local hospital.

While the authorities were able to close down the road connecting downtown Cancun to the hotel zone, and did so intermittently, they did not actually prohibit anyone from moving around the hotel zone. Doing so would have meant preventing hotel employees and tourists from getting to the restaurants and other attractions, essentially shutting down the tourist trade that constitutes Mexico’s most lucrative source of foreign exchange, already hit hard by cancellations because of the WTO meeting. At times of tension the authorities stopped all vehicles except those contracted to the WTO, boarding public buses and questioning occupants of taxis and private cars to check identification and suspicious objects. If anyone was detained in the process, we did not hear about it. By adopting innocuous poses, activists were thus able to get near the convention center to mount small street actions. And among the approximately 1,000 non-governmental organizations and several hundred media outlets accredited to the meetings, were many activists with access to parts of the convention center willing to make some noise. In fact, media stunts took place several times a day in the area closest to the press center.

For these smaller actions inside the hotel zone and near the convention center, the "hands-off" policy seemed to be the norm for the authorities–with the notable exception of a vigil held by Mexican students, who were forced out of the street and onto the sidewalk. A number of other actions, including a street take-over just outside the convention center that lasted nearly two hours, were resolved by negotiations and patience. In that way the "inside" actions were allowed to have their dramatic impact. They too were vital in setting a tone, a "buzz," for journalists and delegates alike.

The ultimate collapse of the Cancun talks will likely be looked back upon as a momentous event. It represents the first time that a large number of developing countries–including Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and reportedly Turkey and Indonesia–held firm and united to a position rejecting the demands of the United States and European Union. More than any single bargaining position, the important thing was the very existence of the so-called Group of 21, which first met in late August in Geneva. The commitments to unity made at a Tuesday press conference will be pledges that these Southern governments can and should be held accountable to.

With the failure of Cancun, countries in Latin America and throughout the world will next have to resist the US push for bilateral and regional trade treaties, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA). If the refusal to continue being bullied by the wealthy countries holds through the Miami ministerial of the FTAA in November, then Cancun may look more and more like an historic turning point, at which the current hyper-exploitative version of globalization was kicked to the curb, and at which developing countries began to unite forces to take control of their destinies.

Around the US, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, activists are now making plans now to be in Miami for the FTAA ministerial, on November 20 and 21, in Miami. If the wealthy countries are again denied the submission of the developing world, Cancun may well be viewed as a significant turning point in the history of North-South economic relations–the moment when the South stopped acquiescing to the clout of the North.

Soren Ambrose is a policy analyst with the 50 Years Is Enough Network

MORE CANCUN NEWS

MEXICO DENIES VISAS TO GLOBAL ACTIVISTS
The National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (UNORCA), the Mexican campesino group that took the lead in organizing the Cancun peasant contingent, issued a formal protest to the Mexican government after visas were denied to 38 peasant leaders from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. Among those denied entry for the protests was the Bolivian indigenous campesino leader and national legislator Evo Morales. (La Jornada, Sept. 6)

GREENPEACE BLOCKS GM CORN AT VERACRUZ
On Sept. 12, Greenpeace activists blocked the freighter Ikan Altamira from entering Veracruz harbor for 13 hours. The freighter was delivering 40,000 tons of genetically modified corn from New Orleans. It finally reached the Veracruz port with a Mexican Navy escort. Greenpeace says the imports violate the International Protocol on Biosecurity. Mexico says it may prosecute the activists for interfering with international shipping. (La Jornada, Sept. 14)

Photo essay: Cancun WTO 2003, by Orin Langelle

Continue ReadingGlobal South and Anti-Corporate Activists Clinch Major Victory at Cancun WTO Summit 

INDIGENOUS ECUADOR MEETS THE NEW BOSS

Indian Leaders Helped Get President Lucio Gutierrez Elected—But Now Say the IMF and Big Oil Are Calling the Shots

by Bill Weinberg

On Aug. 21, Ecuador’s President Lucio Gutierrez was pictured in the Quito daily Hoy, smiling and clad in a hard-hat as he turned the valves at an Andean pumping station, officially opening the new pipeline which is to bring 450,000 barrels of crude daily over the towering moutains from the Amazon Basin oilfields of Occidental Petroleum and other industry majors. The Heavy Crude Oilduct (OCP) was built by a consortium led by Canada’s Encana, Spain’s Repsol and California’s Occidental–or Oxy. Gutierrez hailed the mega-project as "a new artery for Ecuador’s development."

But the very indigenous leaders who helped bring Gutierrez to power on a populist platform in last year’s elections say the OCP violates Ecuador’s constitution, and is bringing war to the remote Shuar and Quichua Indian communities of the Amazon.

The break between Gutierrez and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s powerful new coalition representing all indigenous groups, came in August, and has been dramatic. The split was sparked when Gutierrez–a former army colonel who had helped lead a coup in support of Ecuador’s January 2000 indigenous uprising–signed a Letter of Intent with the International Monetary Fund, agreeing in principle to a series of "structural adjustments" the IMF had demanded in exchange for a $205 million loan. The letter included a commitment to precisely the same policies which had sparked the 2000 uprising–including a pledge to boost oil production and re-channel the revenues from social spending to foreign debt payments.

Aug. 21 saw protests in Quito and across the country by Indians, campesinos, workers, students and retirees. One group of leaders from the Andean regional indigenous alliance ECUARUNARI and the activist group Accion Ecologica issued a demand that Bob Traa, head of the IMF mission in Ecuador, be expelled from the country "for improper use of his visitor’s status and for inciting national authorities to adopt measures prejudicial to the public interest and national security."

The indigenous-led Pachakutic Plurinational Unity Movement–created by CONAIE, but conceived as an indpendent political organization–had four ministers in the Gutierrez government, for the exterior, agriculture, education and tourism. Two were mestizos, but–unprecedentedly–two were Indians. All have now stepped down. In a rapid reversal, Gutierrez is now seeking a new alliance with the conservative Social Christian party–which Pachakutic representative Antonio Posso described as a "barbarity" in an interview with the Quito daily La Hora Sept. 21.

The rift was evident immediately after Pachakutic and CONAIE threw their support behind Gutierrez for the December run-off election which brought him to power. On a lightning trip to New York and Washington right after his deal with indigenous leaders in Quito, Gutierrez portrayed himself as far more conciliatory to US interests than he had in his campaign. He backed off from his promises to reconsider the dollarization of Ecuador’s economy that his predecessor Gustavo Noboa had imposed, and to expel US troops from the Pacific coast military base Manta. He praised balanced budgets and foreign investment, and pledged a prompt new agreement with the IMF. He also expressed support for boosting petrol production and granting new foreign concessions in the oil-rich Amazon.

Since the break with CONAIE and Pachakutic, Gutierrez has accelerated this trajectory. On Sept. 26, the Guayaquil daily El Universo ran twin front-page headlines–one on an announcement by the state oil firm Petroecuador that $13 million in new investment would be needed to fill the OCP; another on Gutierrez’ recent appearance before the Council of the Americas in New York City (an arm of David Rockefeller’s Americas Society), in which he pledged to guarantee a favorable climate for foreign investment. Gutierrez promised the assembled corporate dignitaries his new labor code would break up the "union mafias" and that oil workers who have led work stoppages in the past "are going to be fired."

CONAIE AND PACHAKUTIC: BACK IN OPPOSITION

The indigenous movement–which has twice led national uprisings that were instrumental in bringing down the government–are now back in opposition after their first taste of official power. At presstime, Pachakutic–named for the legendary Inca who first extended Quechua rule to what is now Ecuador–is meeting in the highland town of Riobamba to vote in new leadership for the organization and hash out a new stance. While there is contention over the future of the organization–as a political party or a grassroots movement–here is broad consensus on complete opposition to the Gutierrez government.

As Pachakutic convened in Riobamba, I spoke with CONAIE president Leonidas Iza at the group’s offices in a post-industrial district of Quito. I showed Iza the clip of Gutierrez opening the new pipeline and asked for his reaction.

As Iza read the entire text of the article, a sad smile came to his face. "OCP was built to facilitate expanded exploitation in the Amazon," he said finally. "The government is not respecting the constitution. They are obliged to consult with the indigenous peoples of the region. Gutierrez pledged to respect usos y costumbres. It was a pure lie. During 30 years of oil exploitation indigenous peoples have not seen one benefit–it all goes to the foreign debt."

"Usos y costumbres" means the traditional system of indigenous self-government that has persisted in Ecuador for over 500 years. But Gutierrez, despite his pledge, never explicitly took a stance against the OCP. The real betrayal, Iza says, was the deal with the IMF.

"When Gutierrez signed his accord with the IMF, we were not consulted. Forty-two percent of the national budget goes to the foreign debt–this with illiteracy and poor health care throughout the countryside, and no real agrarian policy from this government."

Iza says CONAIE and Pachakutic support an agrarian policy of making credit available for campesino micro-enterprises–and a resumption of Ecuador’s long-suspended land redistribution program. "A great percentage of Ecuador’s territory remains in the hands of the hacendados, especially the best lands," he says. "Many of these lands should be bought by the government, with just compensation to the current owners, and turned over campesino collectives and enterprises."

Iza emphasizes that the Pachakutic political program being hashed out in Riobamba is not just for the Indians. "We don’t want to indigenize the political process," he says. "We want an open struggle for transparency and against corruption–against the neoliberal policy of this government, against privatization, the cutting of services. The citizens voted for the proposals of Pachakutic, and they were betrayed."

Iza also protests what he calls Gutierrez‚ "involvement in Plan Colombia." On Aug. 21, the eve of a visit to Quito by Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez to enlist Gutierrez‚ support for his "anti-terrorist" crusade, CONAIE issued a communique declaring Uribe persona non grata in Ecuador. Some 3,000 police were mobilized to protect the Colombian president–over twice the number assigned for the previous day’s protests on economic policy.

"It has nothing to do with us," Iza says of Uribe’s counter-insurgency program. "It isn’t our war. We want a peaceful Ecuador." He says that Gutierrez‚ militarization of the Colombian border zone, especially in the Amazon, is forcing native peoples from their territories–as are the anti-drug fumigations that drift into Ecuador from across the frontier. "The indigenous are abandoning their lands and heading for the cities in these zones," Iza says.

43 years old, Iza is a Quechua from Cotopaxi, the central Andean province dominated by the towering snow-peaked volcano of the same name. He still has land there, which is worked by his wife when he is in Quito, and by his seven kids on the weekends, when they are not in school. (An eighth is studying medicine in Havana.) The farm produces potatoes, onions, carrots and milk.

A reporter and cameraman from Ecuador’s Gama Vision TV, who shared the first part of the interview with me in Iza’s office, asked him the inevitable question: will there be a new national uprising of the kind that brought down President Jamil Mahuad in January 2000 and dealt a fatal blow to his now-disgraced successor Gustavo Noboa a year later? "It all depends," came Iza’s reply. "It depends on the government. If they continue with their policies, the people will inevitably rise up. If they change to a policy of betterment of all the Ecuadorian people, there will be no reason. We will maintain our vigilance."

WHO’S DOWN WITH OCP? (YEAH, YOU KNOW OXY!)

Preliminary tests have now been completed on the OCP, which passes through 11 nature reserves–including the expansive Cayambe-Coca cloud forest reserve that straddles the divide between the Amazon Basin and the Pacific. The pipeline is now ready to begin exports at the Pacific port of Esmeraldas. Points along the way where construction met physical resistance include the Mindo-Nambillo protected forest, a pocket of tropical selva in a valley east of Quito where locals who have staked their economic future to eco-tourism repeatedly blocked consortium workers who came to cut trees for the pipeline right-of-way. Construction also met resistance from Shuar and Quichua communities at Shushufindi in the Amazon province of Sucumbios.

The OCP starts at Lago Agrio, the capital and central town of Sucumbios. From there, feeder pipelines reach down to the oil exploitation blocks of Oxy, Encana, Italy’s Agip and the trans-European firm Perenco, another minor OCP consortium member which recently bought exploration rights to several blocks from the US energy giant Kerr-McGee. These exploitation blocks also frequently overlap with both indigenous territories and official protected areas. Oxy operates wells within the Limoncocha biological reserve of the Ecuadorian Amazon, a region collectively known as Oriente.

Lago Agrio’s mayor opposed the pipeline, which nearly cuts through the urban center. So did the prefect of Sucumbios, the province’s elected leader. But under Ecuador‚s centralist political system, real power lies with the provincial governors, who are appointed by the president.

Alexandra Almeida of the group Accion Ecologica, which coordinated the campaign against the OCP, says the project has grave implications for both the environment and human rights. "There were four spills while the OCP was still under construction, and more than 70 illegal detentions," she says.

The most recent spill, in May, was caused by a landslide, and sent an undetermined amount of oil into the Rio Reventador, an Ecuadorian Amazon tributary. In March, a rupture at a pumping station near Lago Agrio sent 60 barrels into the surrounding rainforest. The May rupture affected both the OCP and a pre-existing pipeline that it parallels for much of its route, the Trans-Ecuadorian Oilduct System (SOTE). The SOTE was built in the 1970s for Texaco, and is now run by the Ecuadorian state.

Almeida charges that the OCP was built under the false pretext that separate pipelines were needed for light and heavy crude. "The Mineral Industry of Ecuador" by Pablo Velasco, in the US Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 2001, states the basic case: "In 2001, heavy and lightcrude from the Oriente were mixed and transported together through SOTE, thereby degrading the value of the lighter crude. However, when the OCP is completed, it will transport theheavy crude, and SOTE will transport the light."

But now, Almeida says, a tunnel near Lago Agrio mixes light oil from the SOTE with heavy oil from the OCP to dilute it and make it possible to pump over the mountains cheaply. This light oil is sold below cost and constitutes a state subsidy of the OCP, according to Almeida. "The entire argument for the project was trickery," Almeida charges.

SARAYACU: CORPORATE MILITARIZATION OF QUICHUA LAND

Nowhere have the human rights impacts of the OCP been felt as harshly as at Sarayacu, the extremely remote territory of a Quichua people in Pastaza province. This is the most inaccessible part of Oriente, hundreds of miles south of where the pipelines currently reach. But, in anticipation of a new phase of development spurred by the OCP, the government has already divided the region into blocks leased out to foreign oil companies. This has sparked a crisis at Sarayacu which Almeida says is in danger of escalating into a small regional war–in an isolated territory invisible to the outside world.

The oil blocks at Sarayacu were leased to a consortium consisting of ChevronTexaco (as the conglomerate is called since a recent merger) and the Argentine firm CGC. Last Nov. 22, a seismic crew contracted by the consortium entered Sarayacu territory without authorization from local indigenous authorities–and were forcibly detained by the Sarayacu. The workers were released following negotiations by both the consortium and provincial police authorities. But the tensions in the region only escalated after the incident–as the consortium brought in an armed security force, backed up Ecuadorian army troops.

On Jan. 13, CGC/ChevronTexaco armed guards reportedly opened fire on Sarayacu who were travelling by the Rio Bobonaza on a mission to demarcate the traditional limits of their territory. According to a report on Sarayacu.com, a website maintained by the community and their supporters in Puyo, the provincial capital: "The people had to lay down in the bottom of the canoe while gunfire passed above their heads. Meanwhile, other petrol workers, apparently intoxicated, approached in canoes, armed with machetes." A Sarayacu man in a second canoe returned fire with his shotgun, wounding a man who later proved to be a CGC cook. Arrest warrants have now been issued for four Sarayacu men in the incident–but none of the CGC-contracted gunmen.

In April, with exploration in the region stalled by the tension, ChevronTexaco announced that it was withdrawing from the consortium and selling its share in Block 23˜which includes nearly all the Sarayacu communities˜to the firms Burlington and Perenco. The Sarayacu counted this as a victory˜but CGC continues to hold a 50% stake in the block, and vowed to pursue exploration.

On May 5, following a petition by the Sarayacu and their supporters, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ordered the Ecuadorian government to take cautionary measures to protect the Sarayacu, and open an investigation into the violence. But on May 29, Pastaza‚s Governor Fernando Ordoñez was quoted in the Guayaquil daily El Universo that "the decision of the regime is to initiate the petrol activity in the blocks number 23 and 24even it has to use the public force."

In September, CGC announced that it intends to resume seismic tests within Sarayacu territory by year‚s end, and President Gutierrez told a radio interview: "We will guarantee complete security for the petrol companies. We have already talked with Sarayacu and we are about to reach an agreement, only four leaders are in opposition of this, but the rest of them agree." Sarayacu responded by issuing a statement that the community "excludes for perpetuity the possibility that the state promotes projects of extraction of non-renewable resources within their territories." Marlon Santi, president of the Sarayacu community, stated that "the Ecuadorian Government has not maintained any conversation with us since February 2003, neither has it implemented the cautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Instead, it has initiated a campaign of intimidation and pressure".

Pastaza‚s own ombudsman‚s office˜in contrast to the presidentially-appointed provincial governor˜ruled in April that CGC and the former minister of energy and mines who granted the concession, Pablo Teran, violated articles 84 and 88 of Ecuador‚s constitution that mandate indigenous communities be consulted about development projects on their territories. But these provisions took effect in the constitutional reform of 1998, while the Block 23 concession was granted in 1996˜and the government maintains the constitutional guarantee should not be considered retroactive.

Accion Ecologica‚s Almeida warns that the militarization of Oriente is spreading south from the Colombian border˜and that the real targets are not guerrillas or narco-trafficantes but indigenous peoples who stand in the way of oil industry designs. "They are killing the people of the Amazon for this petroleum," she says. "And it is all the fault of the OCP."

In his final words in my interview, CONAIE‚s Leonidas Iza also invoked the threat of Colombia‚s war spreading south into the Ecuadorian Amazon˜and the global implications of the rainforest‚s disappearance. "We want to live in peace, we don’t want to bloody our hands with terrorism," Iza says. "Our work is to protect the Mother Earth. What is happening here in Ecuador is a danger for the whole world."

(Sept. 27, 2003) .

MORE ECUADOR NEWS

RIOTS ROCK QUITO
On Sept. 26, as Ecuador’s Congress approved a measure revising the country’s labor code, hundreds of public-sector employees held an angry protest outside the Congress building, breaking through police barricades that surrounded the building. Thousands of riot police responded with clubs and tear gas, and some protesters repotedly retaliated with Molotov cocktails. One police officer and several protesters were injured. The new law freezes wages for many public-sector workers, bans strikes and includes supposed anti-nepotism measures which union leaders say are actually designed to weaken organized labor. The indigenous-led political movement Pachakutic expelled legislator Jose Columbo from the organaztion for voting in favor of the measure. (Expreso de Guayaquil; Hoy, Guayaquil; El Universo, Guayaquil, Sept. 26)

"WHITE LEGION" RE-EMERGES
The Quito daily El Comercio received items for their condolences column announcing the death of four living journalists and academics who are critical of the government. Fortunately, the scam was caught before the condolences were printed. The Ecumenical Commission on Human Rights (CEDHU) claimed that the sinister joke was the work of the Legion Blanca, a clandestine ultra-right organization that has repeatedly threatened journalists, social leaders, intellectuals and human rights observers in recent years. (Ultimas Noticias, Quito, Sept. 24)

NOTE: One of the threatened journalists is Kintto Lucas, who reported for Inter Press Service May 29, 2002 on the IMF making new loans conditional on channeling OCP oil export profits from public healthcare to servicing the foreign debt. The IMF demands repeal of an Ecuadorian law under which ten percent of state oil revenues must go to public healthcare.

25 "DISAPPEARANCES" IN PAST 19 YEARS
Ecuador’s Ecumenical Commission on Human Rights (CEDHU) released a report detailing violations since 1994 (five years after the military dictatorship ended), including 25 "disappearances," 115 extrajudicial executions, 1,183 cases of torture and over 6,800 arbitrary arrests. CEDHU and the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared called on Ecuador’s Congress to reopen investigations into some cases, including the disappearance of the writer Gustavo Garzon and the death of Arturo Jarrin, leader of the now-disbanded guerilla group Alfaro Vive Carajo (AVC). (El Comercio, Quito, Sept. 21)

HIGH COURT: AMAZON SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM VIOLATES INDIGENOUS RIGHTS
Ecuador’s Constitutional Tribunal, the nation’s highest court, struck down a contract between the Environment Ministry and the French firm Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) for construction of a satellite system to monitor the Amazon region. The contract, signed last year under then-President Gustavo Noboa, was to build a system mirroring the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM) which the US firm Raytheon recently completed for Brazil, to monitor drug trafficking and other activities in the rainforest. But the Constitutional Tribunal found that the government acted unconstitutionally in approving the contract without consulting the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, invoking "the right of said peoples to participate in the use, usufruct, administration and conservation of resources that are found in their territories." (La Hora, Quito, Sept. 21)

ARMY CRACKS DOWN ON FARC ARMS PIPELINE
Following charges against several Ecuadorian armed forces officials of allegedly pilfering arms to sell to Colombia’s FARC guerillas, a Junta of Transparency has been declared to oversee the public investigation into the case. The five-member Junta is made up of prominent civilian officials and ex-officials. Meanwhile, the US Embassy denied that it had intercepted a supposed November 2002 radio-transmitted conversation between Ecuadorian army captain Carlos Taipe and a Colombian guerilla commander. A tape of the conversation is the main piece of evidence in the case against Taipe, but the source of the tape is still uncertain, and Taipe denies that it is his voice on the tape. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Sept. 24)

See also WW3 REPORT 92: http://ww3report.com/article.pl?sid=03/09/23/02582 32&tid=6

COLOMBIA WAR DESTABILIZES NORTHERN FRONTIER
Ecuadorian army commander Gen. Luis Aguas has ordered 7,000 troops to the border with Colombia, citing the presence of 5,000 Colombian irregulars–guerillas and paramilitaries–in the zone. "Definitely, we have a subversive threat in the country, with the presence of the FARC and ELN," said Gen. Aguas. Noting that with the exception of the main Panamerican Highway border crossing at Ipiales the Colombian government maintains no military bases along the Ecuadorian border, the Bogota daily El Tiempo recently theorized that Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe has a secret strategy to draw Ecuador into the war. Reporting on El Tiempo’s speculation, the Quito daily El Comercio noted that three months after Uribe’s June announcement that he intended to crush the guerilla insurgency within 18 months, the border with Ecuador still remains permeable to illegal armed groups. The Ecuadorian armed forces maintain that 97% of the frontier is under guerilla control on the Colombian side. Gen. Aguas admitted the possibility that "the Colombian government has an interest in regionalizing the conflict." (El Comercio, Quito, Sept. 21)

MASSACRE ON COLOMBIAN BORDER
The bodies of three local campesinos in the village of Mataje, along the Colombian border in the Pacific coastal province of Esmeraldas, were fuond by an Ecuadorian army patrol Sept. 26–two days after an apparent incursion by Colombian gunmen. A fourth–a seven-year-old girl who had been left tied to a tree with a gaping wound in her throat–died upon arrival at the local hospital. Residents say that at least 20 more villagers are missing since the attack. Authorities are investigating survivors’ claims that the attack was retaliation for refusing orders from a Colombian armed gang to plant coca and opium on Ecuadorian territory. Army sources also claimed that at least 45 families have been assassinated by FARC guerillas on the Colombian side of the border in recent days in that zone, as the guerillas search for a stolen cache of arms and munitions. The Esmeraldas border region is the scene of escalating gunplay. On Sept. 4, in the nearby village of San Lorenzo, a street gunbattle left two Colombian nationals dead–each with over 20 bullets. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Sept. 27)

Continue ReadingINDIGENOUS ECUADOR MEETS THE NEW BOSS 

YES, ORWELL MATTERS—BUT DOES CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS?

by Bill Weinberg

WHY ORWELL MATTERS
by Christopher Hitchens
Basic Books, New York, 2002, 211 pp., $24

(Published in the UK as ORWELL'S VICTORY, Penguin, London, 2002)

Here is a little exercise in historical ironies.

Few seem to remember it now, but in the 1980s, forgotten little Nicaragua was one of the last front-lines of the Cold War. When I was there in those years, one of many idealistic gringos who came to witness the besieged revolution, the right-wing opposition was distributing a Spanish translation of a classic parable of revolution betrayed. This was a probable element of the CIA "psychological operations" campaign aimed at subverting the revolutionary Sandinista regime, which also included distribution of the notorious "dirty tricks" manual advocating sabotage and assassination. The regime responded by denouncing the parable as a counter-revolutionary polemic written by a reactionary pro-imperialist writer. The work, of course, was Animal Farm by George Orwell.

This same author was in Spain in the 1930s, supporting a besieged revolution of his own day–fighting in an independent communist militia ("Trotskyist," to use the common misnomer) then allied with anarchist militias in resisting Gen. Francisco Franco's fascists in Catalonia. These anarchists and independent communists were collectivizing land and industry in Catalonia–much as the Sandinistas would in Nicaragua 50 years later. Together, these forces would also resist the center-left Popular Front government in Madrid, which paradoxically moved to crush Catalonia's revolution in 1937 at the behest of Josef Stalin—who feared that the Catalan movement was too uncontrollable. In his war memoir Homage to Catalonia, the habitually critical Orwell relates how, arriving in Spain purely to fight fascism, he wound up bearing arms in defense of the Catalan revolution. "I have no particular love for the idealized 'worker' as he appears in the bourgeois Communist's mind," he wrote, "but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."

Orwell even expressed enthusiasm for the anarchists' vicious habit of torching churches! In one passage he describes a brief touristic excursion to Barcelona's modernist cathedral—clearly Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, although he doesn't mention it by name—and finding it appallingly ugly. "I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up," he mused. He did, however, take some comfort from the fact that the anarchists had hung their red-and-black flag between its spires.

The irony is exquisitely nuanced. Nicaragua's Sandinistas revived the anti-fascist slogan of the Spanish war, No pasaran! (They shall not pass!)–coined in the 1930s to refer to the Nazi-backed Franco forces, and then in the 1980s to refer to the US-backed "contra" guerillas. And the Sandinistas' own flag was a direct descendant of that which Orwell hailed on the spires of the Sagrada Familia. The flag of the Spanish anarchists was a field equally divided into red (for revolution) and black (for the negation of authority). The 1930s Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Cesar Sandino, who resisted the occupying US Marines, was inspired by the anarchists, and adopted this flag—putting a skull and cross-bones on it in place of the acronym of Spain's National Labor Confederation, CNT. When the Sandinista National Liberation Front launched their struggle against the US-imposed Somoza dictatorship a generation later, they revived this flag, replacing the logo this time with their own acronym, FSLN. With a few minor differences, it was the same flag flown by the anarchists in the '30s. At the same time that they flew it, their regime tilted towards Moscow in the Cold War, ran Moscow-line denunciations of Poland's Solidarity union in the government daily Barricada –and denounced Orwell as a counter-revolutionary.

Meanwhile, the architects of the Nicaraguan counter-revolution, Reagan's "privatized" spy network that undermined the US Constitution and international order by organizing a lawless mercenary army out of basement of the White House—the "contras," led by thugs from the ousted Somoza dictatorship—had the chutzpah to call themselves "Project Democracy." This abuse of the English language was of precisely the kind that Orwell relentlessly satirized. Yet these architects, for their own cynical interests, apparently promoted Orwell in revolutionary Nicaragua.

And now, in 2003, one of those architects, former National Security Council chief John Poindexter—who was convicted (later overturned on immunity grounds) of lying to Congress about his role in the Nicaraguan affair—has been appointed head of a Pentagon agency, the Office of Information Awareness, which is building the capacity to peer into the intimate details of the private lives of the citizenry. Your credit card, telephone and personal computer have conspired to become the all-seeing "telescreens" of Orwell's 1984. A final irony–now that the Cold War is over, the telescreens have finally arrived. So has the Ministry of Truth, in the form of a special Pentagon office for "black" propaganda (lies, in the vernacular), the quite Orwellianly-named Office of Strategic Information, revealed in the New York Times last year.

Orwell was a man of the left whose biggest boosters since his death in 1950 have been on the right, and whose biggest critics have been on the left. Both the boosters and critics have a lot invested in the notion that 1984 was only a satire of the East—despite the fact that Orwell explicitly denied this, more than once. This lie—this appropriation of a socialist, anti-colonialist writer in the interests of empire—can be termed the Orwellian manipulation of Orwell. The writer's own personal obsession with the very concept of truth makes the manipulation even more perverse. Now that the telescreens are finally here—under capitalism, not Communism—it is more important (and one would think easier) than ever for the left to reclaim Orwell.

Yet the man who would rise to this task has problems of his own. The most disappointing thing about Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters is its lack of passion–especially in light of the current terrifying historical juncture. Hitchens argues that Orwell matters because he was prematurely correct about Fascism, Stalinism and Empire. But there is a distinct absence of outrage against the machine here—which is not surprising, given Hitchens' own recent rightward trajectory. Hitchens may argue that Orwell was right about Empire—but he now supports imperial military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. He recently left The Nation, where he was a columnist of many years, in disagreement over such issues. The title of his book's British edition, Orwell's Victory, is especially telling–implying that the world, or at least those who run it, has actually heeded the dystopian prophet's warnings.

Does it help Orwell to have Hitchens leading the charge in his defense? Even in Orwell's lifetime, the agents of empire were seeking to exploit his work, and he was cognizant of this. Hitchens actually does a good job of illustrating this reality. In his chapter "Orwell and Empire," he notes an episode in November 1945—on the very cusp of the Cold War—in which the Duchess of Atholl asked Orwell to speak at a meeting of her League for European Freedom protesting Communist brutality in Yugoslavia. Orwell responded: "I cannot associate myself with an essentially Conservative body which claims to defend democracy in Europe but has nothing to say about British imperialism. [O]ne can only denounce the crimes now being committed in Poland, Jugoslavia etc. if one is equally insistent on ending Britain's unwanted rule in India. I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian totalitarianism and its poisonous influence…"

More irony: Hitchens himself was apparently willing to share a bill with Jeanne Kirkpatrick–Reagan's UN ambassador and a contemporary ideological pillar of empire–at a George Orwell Centenary Conference, held this May at Wellesley College. Unless Hitchens called out Kirkpatrick as inimical to Orwell's true spirit in his remarks (of which we have not heard), it seems his own standards of who he will "associate himself with" are considerably lower than those of his hero.

It is admittedly a useless exercise, but a bug which has been in my ear since (as a matter of fact) 1984: If Orwell had lived to the see that year, would he have applauded the distribution of his work in Nicaragua, as he did in fact applaud the distribution of Animal Farm in the Soviet Bloc, as a form of resistance to Communist tyranny? Or would he have perceived that his work was being manipulated in a neo-colonialist venture to return Nicaragua to the US orbit? Would he have perceived this in spite of the Sandinistas' own authoritarian tendencies and pro-Soviet tilt?

If he had lived only a little longer than he actually did, would Orwell have taken sides in the Cold War? Would he have, like post-communist Dwight McDonald in 1952, "chosen the West"? And if he had lived to be a very old man indeed, how would he have viewed the post-Cold War interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq? Some of us Orwell fans would like to think he would be neither among the neo-interventionists such as Hitchens, nor with much of the actually-existing anti-war movement—such as International ANSWER, led at its core by the Stalin-nostalgist Workers World Party, stateside cheerleader for Slobodan Milosevic.

While Hitchens doesn't mention the Nicaraguan case, he does note approvingly that the opposition in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is making good use of Animal Farm. The book's serialization in a Zimbabwe opposition newspaper in 2001 was cut short by a bomb attack on the presses—almost certainly the work of the regime. Mugabe is assuredly an anti-democratic thug. But Hitchens fails to note the complexities—that the issue of land reform that Mugabe exploits (however ineptly and cynically) is, in fact, a legitimate one; that the Bush/Blair moves towards intervention in Zimbabwe are, once again, a neo-colonialist campaign.

Even in Russia, where the tyranny of the Czar gave way to that of Stalin—so that the metaphorical farm animals could look "from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which"—a decade after the fall of Communism the New Boss is once again starting to look suspiciously like the Old Boss. In May, when Hitchens was schmoozing with the triumphant anti-Communist Jeanne Kirkpatrick at Wellesley, Yelena Bonner, widow of the famous Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was protesting that authorities in St. Petersburg were erecting a statue to her late husband—despite a deteriorating human rights climate which he certainly would now be protesting were he alive. "It is out of place to erect a monument to Sakharov in today's Russia," she said.

Surprisingly, Hitchens' book takes no overt swipes at his great nemesis, The Nation's requisite Orwell-basher, Alexander Cockburn. He even passes up the opportunity to take on Alex's father Claud Cockburn–who, strangely, is only mentioned in the acknowledgements. Under the pen name of "Frank Pitcairn," Claud wrote for The Daily Worker about the Spanish war–and was called out in Homage to Catalonia for (not to mince words) lying about Madrid's crushing of the left-dissident elements in Spain in 1937, portraying the "Trotskyist" group which Orwell's militia was attached to (the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, or POUM) as a crypto-fascist front.

Hitchens does, to his credit, take on the stickiest question: Did Orwell collaborate with Big Brother? Orwell's notorious "list" of perceived crypto-Communists and fellow travelers has provided his leftist critics with powerful ammo. Orwell initially drew up the list—consisting almost entirely of public figures he did not know personally—in 1949 for his personal edification. But, as Alex Cockburn took great glee in pointing out in the pages of The Nation, he eventually turned it over to the British government. The affair is an unavoidable one for any contemporary defense of Orwell.

What makes the affair doubly damning is Orwell's annotation, which took an unhealthy interest in the ethnicity of the figures on the list. After Charlie Chaplin, he scrawled "(Jewish?)" (he wasn't). This is sleazy stuff, even for something not intended for public consumption. (One thing can be said in Orwell's defense on this point: his essay "Anti-Semitism in Britain" so successfully exposed the phenomenon by examining how he shared in it–precisely the kind of brutal honesty and moral complexity that his fans admire.)

Embarrassingly, the list accused Paul Robeson of being "Very anti-white"—a crude caricature of his politics. But Robeson indeed was actually too soft on the Soviets—as were many of our culture heroes on the left. Woody Guthrie was not on the list, but maybe he should have been, with his now near-forgotten lyrical homages to Stalin. Is it really mere red-baiting to point this out?

Far more problematic is that Orwell turned the list over to the Information Research Department (IRD) of the British Foreign Office—particularly to one Celia Kirwan, who was his editor at Polemic (and unrequited crush of many years). Kirwan (the twin sister of Arthur Koestler's wife Mamaine) was apparently connected to the IRD, a burgeoning Cold War propaganda unit.

Hitchens avoids taking on Alex Cockburn's writing on this question, but focuses on Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, authors of Britain's Secret Propaganda War, a 1998 history of the IRD. The first (and smallest) point is the authors' claim that the list was revealed in 1996 by The Guardian. Hitchens says it was actually revealed in Bernard Crick's 1980 biography George Orwell: A Life. But Crick only mentions that Orwell kept the list–not that he turned it over to Kirwan, the salient point. In fact, none of the numerous references to Kirwan in Crick even note that she worked for the IRD.

Next, Hitchens claims—contrary to the assertions of Lashmar and Oliver—that nobody was "blacklisted" or targeted by the "Thought Police" for being on the list. This is also questionable. The IRD was akin to the US Information Agency—it published and distributed books and articles by intellectuals who were thought to further British imperial interests (or "democracy"—although this takes on an Orwellian meaning in some cases, such as the IRD's complicity with the CIA-backed coup in Indonesia). Orwell was familiar with such efforts, having served as a BBC war propagandist from 1941-3 (despite profound criticisms of the Allies). In sending the list to Kirwan, he was warning a colleague against promoting writers he felt were Communist dupes. There was clearly a possibility that, at a minimum, these writers would be blacklisted by the IRD! And even if the IRD was not engaged in surveillance, once the list had been passed on to one government office, it could always be forwarded to another–theoretically, to MI6 or even the CIA. In fact, Britain's Secret Propaganda War details the close links between the IRD and these two sinister agencies.

So if Cockburn overlooks context and disingenuously refers (in The Nation of Dec. 7, 1998) to Kirwan as a "secret agent" (was her work with the IRD secret?), Hitchens is also off the mark to exculpate Orwell on this ugly episode.

It's again to Hitchens' credit that he avoids hagiography. He deals forthrightly with Orwell's downright anti-feminism and undisguised homophobia. Although his 1946 essay "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" brilliantly presaged ecological politics, Orwell rarely missed an opportunity to diss vegetarians, pacifists, "sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers" (The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 182). Time has not treated these stodgy prejudices as well as it has Orwell's lonely refusal to accommodate lies and mass murder.

Hitchens also provides worthwhile discussions of Orwell's "Englishness" and the related question of how his beliefs in clarity and objectivity (at least as an ideal, if not a fully attainable one) set him apart from the Continental philosophers and post-modernists.

But Hitchens makes almost no attempt to apply Orwell's ideas to the contemporary world situation–even as the ubiquitous surveillance and unending military conflict of 1984 become realities at the dawn of the 21st century. Orwell, despite his many contradictions, may matter more than ever–precisely because an uncompromisingly anti-imperialist, seriously democratic left remains such a marginal prospect as the world moves into a state of permanent war.

Continue ReadingYES, ORWELL MATTERS—BUT DOES CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS?